Want to know how to spend a 7 day trip to Hawaii? I spent two months on the Big Island and explored far and wide during my time there – check out my epic Big Island 7 Day Itinerary to get ideas for your own Hawaii Big Island vacation!
While I love all of the Hawaiian Islands that I have been to – the four largest of the island chain – I have absolutely no qualms about picking a favorite: it’s the Big Island for the win, every time.
If you have the time, I definitely suggest doing a bit of Hawaii island hopping, but if you only have time to visit one island – it should be the Big Island.
You see, the Big Island offers so many of the things that I love – unspoilt nature, natural wildlife encounters, a laid-back lifestyle, lush greenery and friendly locals. Oh, and a lack of tourists compared to some of the other Hawaiian Islands – I’m looking at you Oahu and Maui.
The Big Island of Hawaii is truly a special place that must be experienced. But be careful, you may never want to leave – I sure didn’t.
History of The Big Island of Hawaii
The Big Island of Hawaii is, as the name suggests, the largest island of the Hawaiian Island chain, and it is bigger than all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.
The island is made up of five volcanoes, with two of them dominating the island. One of them – Mauna Kea – is the tallest mountain in the world if the measurement was from the bottom of the ocean, not sea level (then it would be Everest). The other giant volcano is Mauna Loa, and it is the largest volcano in the world by mass.
Hawaii is the official name of the Big Island as well as the island chain. King Kamehameha I united the islands under his reign in 1810, naming the entire chain after his home island.
My Ultimate Big Island Itinerary: 7 Days
After spending a total of two months over two separate trips to the Big Island, I wanted to put together a Big Island itinerary that will showcase the best things to do over one week in Hawaii – as this seems to be the amount of time that most people have to visit.
I have included some bonus things to do on the Big Island as well because there are so many amazing things to do here – 7 days in Hawaii gives you a good overview but only scratches the surface of this incredible island.
Also, everyone has different tastes and you can sub some things out of this Hawaii Itinerary that you aren’t interested in doing and replace with some of the bonus activities I included. I am a big fan of history, beaches, local events and hiking so these are all big focuses in this Hawaii one week itinerary, as is food.
I have been to almost all of these places myself. The places that I haven’t been to have been recommended to me. I spent most of my time in South Kona so you will notice I have a lot more food recommendations for there, and hardly any for the east side of the island where I didn’t spend much time on my most recent trip.
To make the most of your 1 week in Hawaii, it is best to stay in at least a couple of different places otherwise your drive times are going to be pretty long – although it is still doable to have one base. In my Hawaii itinerary I have you staying in three different parts of the island – Kailua-Kona, Volcano and Hilo.
So are you ready for the most detailed Big Island 7 Day Itinerary out there?
Make sure to get Travel Health Insurance for your trip if you are not a US Resident!
Day One – Kailua-Kona and Kohala Coast
To ease you into your full-on 7 days in Hawaii, spend the first day getting to know the cute beach town of Kailua-Kona, and then hit one of the best beaches on the Big Island for a relaxing afternoon. If you want to throw in a bit of adventure – either self-drive (if you have hired a 4WD vehicle) or book a tour to go stargazing at the top of Mauna Kea in the evening.
Known interchangeably as both Kailua and Kona by locals – this laid back city is a great place to start your Big Island exploration. Located on the dry leeward side of the island, Kailua is a hot spot for tourism, but amid the souvenir shops and tourist restaurants, there is still enough of a local flavor to make it a charming and worthwhile destination for people who don’t generally enjoy touristy places.
Start your Kailua exploration by wandering the waterside Ali’I Drive where there are a number of shops and restaurants geared towards tourists – some better than others. We saw dolphins just offshore a few times so make sure to stop for a while and look out at the water.
If you are into history, stop by Mokuaikaua Church – Hawaii’s oldest Christian Church, and you can do a tour of Hulihe‘e Palace if you feel so inclined: It was once home to Hawaiian Royalty.
Stop by the Kona Farmers Market which is open daily and is a great place to stock up on tropical fruits and vegetables.
For lunch, you have a couple of really good options – my favorite is the Cool Runnings Food Truck that offers out of this world Jamaican dishes, check out their Facebook page to see where they are parked for the day. Alternatively, if you are dying to try something a little more local, head to Umeke’s – their poke is awesome, and they do some good Hawaiian bowls too.
Save room for a delicious donut from Holy Donuts – there are so many amazing flavors! – or get one for the road.
Spend the afternoon at one of the most beautiful beaches on Hawaii – Hāpuna beach on the South Kohala coast. It is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Kailua-Kona but is totally worth the trip. It has been ranked as one of the best beaches in the world on numerous occasions and is my favorite beach on the Big Island.
With pure white sand and azure water, half-mile long Hāpuna beach is absolutely gorgeous and a great place to relax for an afternoon, to swim and sunbathe.
If you get antsy and want to explore more – you could do a bit of a South Kohala Coast beach-hop – Kaunaʻoa (Mauna Kea) beach and Anaeho’omalu Bay (A Bay) are also very beautiful and are in the same area as Hāpuna beach.
After getting your fill of beach life, drive back to Kailua-Kona for dinner and drinks. If you are a craft beer fan, you absolutely have to go to Kona Brewing Company, their food menu is almost as good as their amazing beer.
Try to get there early enough to catch Happy Hour if you can – it runs from 3-6pm on week days and is well worth it. If you love garlic, try the Roasted Garlic pupu – a whole head of roasted garlic with herb flatbread and melted gorgonzola cheese. I am still dreaming about this.
Another option for dinner is Humpy’s – which has a selection of delicious seafood and local dishes, along with pub classics such as burgers, nachos and pizzas. Grab a table on the patio if you can to enjoy the beautiful harbor views.
Star-gazing from the Top of Mauna Kea
If you are really feeling adventurous, why not make the trip up to the top of the tallest mountain in Hawaii, where, depending on when you are traveling there, you may even see snow!
If you have hired a 4WD vehicle you can drive up there yourself, otherwise you will need to take a tour – there are a number of sunset and stargazing tours to the summit of Mauna Kea, with the cheapest tour priced around $220 and up. They generally leave around mid-afternoon and include dinner.
If you do drive up there yourself, I recommend getting up there in time for the sunset as the views are incredible and you are well-above the clouds. I haven’t been up there in the evening – we went late afternoon – but I have been told that the sunset and star-gazing is incredible up there.
Are you on a super tight budget, love adventure and only have a 2WD drive car? We actually started walking up the road from the Visitors Center and managed to hitch a ride the rest of the way up so it is possible, just not guaranteed.
Day Two – South Kona
Day Two of my Hawaii Big Island Itinerary will be spent in one of my favorite parts of the Big Island – South Kona. We did a six week Help X placement there so I know this part of the island better than any other, and there is so much on offer here.
South Kona is known for its world-class coffee and macadamia nuts, and a great place to try Kona coffee is at the Royal Kona Coffee Center, where there is a small museum and lots of free coffee samples. It is also a great spot to buy local products.
This perfect day in South Kona will be spent hiking or kayaking to a remote bay where Captain Cook was killed, snorkeling with colorful fish and turtles, hanging at a local beach, and swimming with wild dolphins – if you are lucky.
Hiking or Kayaking to the Captain Cook Monument on Kealakekua Bay
After an early breakfast and coffee at The Coffee Shack in Captain Cook – the views from the deck here are some of the best on the island – it’s time for an adventure!
The best thing to do in South Kona in my opinion is to go snorkeling off the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay – and if you are lucky you will get to swim with the pod of wild spinner dolphins that are frequently spotted in the bay like we did.
You can reach the monument by either hiking, kayaking, or on a boat tour. I have hiked there and kayaked there and although hiking there was my favorite as we had the place to ourselves for an hour before anyone else arrived, it really comes down to whether you are much of a hiker or not, as it is very hot and reasonably strenuous to hike back out of the bay. You can read about my experience hiking to the Captain Cook Monument and the logistics here.
You used to be able to kayak across the bay to the monument by just hiring a kayak and going for it – this is what I did back in 2010. These days you need to have a permit, which means you need to join a guided kayaking tour. There are only three tour companies that have permits to do this, you can find more information on the Hawaii State Parks website about this.
If you do decide to kayak, it takes around half an hour one way to kayak across the bay, and it is usually reasonably sheltered so it’s not too hard going.
Whatever way you get there, make sure to go snorkeling once you get to the monument as the bay offers some of the best snorkeling on the Big Island. And keep an eye out for dolphins. They came quite close to shore when I was there last and we just swam out to them – no fins needed.
If you do manage to see the dolphins, make sure to give them their space and don’t chase or touch them. They are inquisitive and will likely swim around you for a while, so just float there and enjoy – it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Once you are done, grab lunch on the quiet back deck of Keoki’s for fish and chips or try traditional Hawaiian Chicken or Pork Lau Lau at Ka’aloa’s Super J’s.
Snorkeling at Two Step and Learning About Ancient Hawaiian History
If you haven’t had your snorkeling fix yet, go to one of the other best places to snorkel on the Big Island: Two Step. On the way, stop at the Painted Church – a cute historic church with murals and pictures painted on the walls inside.
Two Step is fantastic for the huge variety of tropical fish, and from my personal experience, the snorkeling is even better than around the Captain Cook Monument. There is also a great chance that you will see turtles here, either when you are out snorkeling or around the rocks and boat dock.
Right next to Two Step is one of the most important historic sites in all of the Hawaiian Islands: Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. This park is one of the only remaining places of refuge that is still at least partially standing. In ancient Hawaiian culture, if you violated a kapu (sacred laws) you would be put to death, to stop the gods taking their vengeance on everyone.
The only way you could escape this fate was to make it across treacherous waters to the Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau, or one of the other places of refuge that once existed across the Hawaiian Islands.
If you were lucky enough to make it here, the priests would perform a number of rites to basically forgive you of your sins, so that you wouldn’t have to be put to death.
This historic site is now run by the National Parks service and you will need to pay a fee to enter, or if you have a year-long National Parks pass like us, you won’t need to pay anything.
There is a free audio tour you can take, and the small beach in the site nearly always has turtles basking in the shallow waters.
Sunset and a Picnic Dinner at Ho’okena Beach
Ho’okena Beach is a popular spot with locals and we went there a lot with our hosts, to have breakfast or dinner, to swim and to watch the sunset.
Ho’okena is another popular spot for the local spinner dolphins, and we saw humpbacks pretty close to shore here a couple of times too (in winter). Make sure to walk around the coast to the blow holes and ruins of an old church.
There are a number of picnic tables so it is a perfect spot to have a picnic dinner, or after the sunset you could stop at the historic Manago Hotel in Captain Cook on the way back to Kailua for dinner – the menu offers classic dishes like mahi, steak and teri chicken with Hawaiian sides like mac salad, and hearty scoops of white rice.
Day Three – North
Day three is one of my absolute favorites of this Hawaii 1 week itinerary, with a visit to a laid-back hippie town, an important Hawaiian historic site, lots of scenic driving, a hike into one of the most beautiful valleys in Hawaii, and dinner in the cute artist village of Holualoa. You are going to love it!
Drive along the coastal Akoni Pule Highway from Kailua up the coast towards Hawi and keep an eye out for whales offshore along the way – it’s pretty common to see them along this road in winter.
Your first stop will be to visit Mo’okini Heiau, an important pre-European historic site, and the first temple ever built in Hawaii – way back in 480 A.D. The temple was dedicated to Ku, the god of war, and many human sacrifices took place here.
You need a 4WD to drive the treacherous road to the temple, but alternatively you can hike along the road, which is what I did. It’s a lovely and easy hike, 4 miles return and mostly flat. We saw whales breaching offshore here too.
The site is beautiful and creepy, and definitely worth a visit – especially if you are interested in Hawaiian culture and history.
Once you are finished with your visit to Mo’okini Heiau, head into hippie Hawi for lunch and a wander around the shops. Hawi is super laid back and such a cute town. I recommend eating at the charming Bamboo Restaurant – I really liked the chicken sate potstickers and the coconut prawns.
From Hawi, continue driving east to the end of the road at Pololu Valley Lookout. This valley is one of the most beautiful in Hawaii and if you are feeling up to it, I highly recommend hiking down into the valley – it is 3 miles return and a bit of a slog to hike back out but totally worth it.
If you do make it into the valley, walk the wild, black-sand beach and explore the forest. It is so peaceful down there and incredibly lush and beautiful.
On the way back to Kailua, drive the scenic Kohala Mountain Road – one of the most beautiful drives on the island.
Holualoa Art Village
After relaxing for a couple of hours back at your accommodations (or even at one of the South Kohala Coast beaches if you can fit it in), drive the short drive up the mountain to Holualoa, a small but vibrant arts village that is full of galleries and shops.
If you are lucky enough to visit on First Fridays, grab something from one of the food stands and enjoy live music and late closing times at the galleries, otherwise have dinner at Holuakoa Gardens which offers dishes made with local ingredients, served on their gorgeous patio lit with fairy lights.
Day Four – South
Day Four will take you to one of the least visited parts of the island, the South. Along with hiking to one of the world’s only green sand beaches, and maybe cliff diving if you are game, you will also have lunch at a Hawaiian icon – Punalu’u Bake Shop – as well as spending the afternoon at the beautiful black sand Punalu’u beach which is well known for its basking turtles.
South Point and Papakōlea Green Sand Beach
Get an early start for the drive to South Point, also known as Ka Lae. Rugged South Point is the southernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii and of the 50 United States, and is worth visiting for one big reason: The Papakōlea green sand beach.
This morning you will be hiking to one of the only green sand beaches in the world!
The hike is around 5.5 miles return and is easy, although there is no shade so bring lots of water and sunscreen.
Once you get to Papakōlea beach, you will be so glad that you slogged it out in the sun – the setting is perfect! The sand is a green-gold color and like nothing I have seen before.
It’s a bit steep getting down to the beach, but its easy enough. We swam but be careful of powerful waves and rip currents – if it is rough, stick close to shore.
If that wasn’t enough adventure for you, head to South Point where you can cliff dive – that’s a bit too out there for me though.
Reward yourself for a morning of exercise and adventure with lunch at the iconic Punalu’u Bake Shop, where you have to try their malasadas (donuts).
After lunch, hit up the beautiful Punalu’u Black Sand Beach where you can easily spend a lazy afternoon swimming, and lounging around under the perfect palm trees that stretch out along the sand. Don’t miss seeing the turtles that are usually on the sand, basking in the sun. The easiest way to find them is to look for the crowd of people.
If lying on a beach for a few hours isn’t your thing, you could drive the scenic Mauna Loa Road to hike some of the Mauna Loa Trail for great views of this massive volcano. Or if you want some serious relaxation, head to the Hale Ho‘ōla Hawaiian Spa in Volcano, which offers a number of Hawaiian massages and treatments.
Tonight you are going to be staying in the small town of Volcano, just outside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is an interesting little town with a handful of restaurants and its own subtropical highlands micro climate – which means it is very possible that it will rain while you are there.
For dinner, I recommend Thai Thai Bistro if you like thai food, otherwise I have heard good things about ʻŌhelo Café as well.
Alternatively, you could camp at one of the two campgrounds in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Day Five – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Hilo
Day Five is all about exploring the excellent Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where you can see steaming vents and hike trails through old lava flows, followed by an afternoon and evening in Hawaii’s most local city – Hilo.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
I recommend starting early because there is a lot to see in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
The first thing you should do is check out the Visitor Center, where you can learn more about the park and what formed it. Make sure to pick up your National Parks map and hiking guide from there too.
After the Visitor Center, head to the crater rim trail with views into Kilauea’s summit caldera – when we were there in February, there was a lot of different points in the caldera that were steaming and the views were amazing. From there, it is only a short walk to the steam vents and the easy 1.2 mile return hike to the colorful sulphur banks.
You have two choices next, you could either drive the scenic Chain of Craters road to the coast, or you could hike the spectacular Kilauea Iki Trail. If you start early enough, you may have time to do both.
If you choose to drive the Chain of Craters road, you can expect stunning views over black lava fields that slope down to the ocean. At the end of the road is the impressive Hōlei Sea Arch, and you should stop to do the short 1.4 mile return Pu’u Loa Trail to petroglyphs.
The Kilauea Iki trail was closed when we were visiting the park in February but most of the trail has now reopened and is 4.8 miles return. The trail passes through lush rainforest and down into the now solidified but still steaming Kilauea Iki crater lake. I have heard that this hike is spectacular, and if it had been open when I visited, I would have definitely done it.
As of July 2019, the Thurston Lava Tube is still closed, but if it is open when you are there, I recommend checking it out as it is on the way out of the park and doesn’t take long to visit.
Depending on the time, you could either grab lunch in Volcano or head straight to Hilo to grab something there. On the way, consider visiting pretty Rainbow Falls.
Once you are in Hilo, the best way to get a feel for the Big Island’s largest city is to explore on foot. Hilo has a more local feel than tourist-focused Kailua, and the east side of the Big Island is much more lush and tropical than the dry west side of the island.
Make sure to admire the gigantic banyan trees in the lovely Japanese style Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens and walk over the bridge to small Coconut Island.
Learn about the devastating tsunamis that hit Hilo at the Pacific Tsunami Museum, and make sure to visit Hilo Farmers Market, which is open every day but has big market days on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
You will be spending tonight staying in Hilo. Have dinner in Hilo – there are a number of highly rated options including New American cuisine at Pineapples or classic Hawaiian at Hawaiian Style Café Hilo.
If you are visiting on a Wednesday, consider driving down to Uncle Robert’s Night Market in Kalapana, Puna. I unfortunately didn’t make it there myself, but it is a big event in the south east of the island and a great place for good local food and people watching.
Day Six – East
Day Six will be spent roadtripping the lush east coast – with scenic drives, botanical gardens, beautiful waterfalls and the must see Wai’pio Valley, one of the most magical places on the island.
Roadtrip the East Coast
After breakfast, say goodbye to Hilo and start the drive north. Take the scenic Old Mamalahoa Highway from Papaikou to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which is home to over 1,800 species of tropical plants, including an impressive amount of orchids. Stop at What’s Shakin for a tropical fruit smoothie once you hit the road again.
Your next stop is the famous Akaka Falls. Park on the street rather than the parking lot to avoid a $5 parking fee – pedestrian entry is $1 per person. Walk the short trail for views of the 422 foot waterfall surrounded by tropical jungle.
Grab lunch and some of the famous malasadas from Tex Drive-In in Honokaa before continuing the drive to the Wai’pio Valley.
This valley is a sacred place to Hawaiians and was once home to many Hawaiian kings, and a number of inter-island battles took place in this area.
The Wai’pio Valley is incredibly beautiful and although you may think that just seeing it from the viewpoint is enough, I highly recommend walking into the valley – it is even more beautiful from the bottom. No rental car companies will let you drive into it – even with a 4WD, but I wouldn’t recommend it anyway as the road is SKETCHY AF.
Wear sturdy shoes with good grip because the steep road down can get very slippery in the rain, and take lots of water for the steep hike back up (although don’t feel shy about sticking your thumb out for a ride out – I have caught rides with locals out of the valley both times I have been there).
Once at the bottom, you can hike the one trail that goes deeper into the valley – make sure to stick to the trail and don’t trespass onto anyone’s land – or just hang out at the beautiful black sand beach. You can see so many waterfalls, falling from the cliffs into the water and in the back of the valley.
For more of a workout and awesome views, hike to the top of the valley on the other side on the Muliwai Trail – if you have at least a couple of days, you can hike the 8 miles to remote Waimanu Valley and camp there. I am going to write about my experience hiking and camping on the Muliwai Trail soon.
Reward yourself for a strenuous afternoon of hiking around the Wai’pio Valley with dinner and local beer at the vibrant Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea. Continue on to Kailua-Kona where you will be staying for your last two nights on the Big Island.
Day Seven – Kona
Your last day on the Big Island will be a chilled one – spent at the beach and hanging out in laid-back Kailua.
For beautiful beaches on the Big Island away from the crowds, you can’t beat Makalawena and Mahai’ula beaches. To reach these two local favorites, you will need to drive over an old lava field in Kekaha Kai Beach Park – but don’t worry, if you take it slow and steady you won’t have any trouble in a 2WD car.
To go to Mahai’ula, drive to the end of the road then walk along the coast to the right – it’s not far. This beach is a great place to see marine life as when we went there were two endangered Hawaiian monk seals lying on the beach, whales breaching offshore, and turtles frolicking in the waves – amazing.
To reach the more secluded Makalawena Beach, you continue further along the coast and across an old lava field. Makalawena is arguably prettier and its larger, making it easier to find your own little slice of paradise. I recommend visiting both, then hanging out at the beach you like the most.
Head back to Kailua-Kona in the afternoon, stopping for lunch at a classic Hawaiian fast food spot – L&L BBQ! There are a few different branches of this Hawaiian icon so pick one on the way. I recommend the garlic shrimp, or try the heart attack inducing Loco Moco – hamburger patties and fried eggs on white rice with gravy. It’s a Hawaiian classic.
If you wanted to get out on the water, this is the time to do it. You could take an afternoon or sunset cruise, or hire a stand-up paddleboard. If you just want to relax, you could hit up one of the local happy hours, grab a beer at Ola Brew Co., or just chill at one of the beaches near town – Magic Sands and Kamakahonu are both beautiful and very close to downtown.
Spend your last evening on the Big Island going to a luau – I didn’t end up attending a luau on the Big Island but have been to a couple of different ones on Oahu and they are fun, if not a little cheesy.
Voyagers of the Pacific has great reviews and is in Kailua by the water.
You can expect a buffet including some traditional Hawaiian foods to try, entertainment in the form of traditional song and dance, and a fire show. it’s a great way to end your Big Island adventure.
Additional Things to do on the Big Island
Here’s some bonus activities that you could add to a longer Big Island Hawaii Itinerary.
Attend a Local Festival
Check to find out if there are any local festivals on while you are on the Big Island – we were there during the Avocado Festival and that was a lot of fun. There are a few monthly events that are definitely worth checking out too including the Kokua Kailua Village Stroll, a large open air market which takes place once a month in Kailua-Kona along Ali’I Drive.
First Friday in Holualoa is also a great time, with food and art stalls, live music, and galleries open late on the first Friday of every month.
Visit a Weekly Farmers Market
There are a number of farmers markets that take place around the Big Island, and they are a great place to meet and support locals. I worked at the Pure Kona Green Market in Captain Cook on Sunday mornings and the Ho’oulu Community Farmers Market & Artisans Fair in North Kona on Wednesday mornings and they are both great options.
I have also heard great things about the Hawi Farmers Market on Saturdays, the Hilo Farmers Market which has big market days on Wednesday and Saturdays, and Uncle Robert’s Night Market on Wednesday Nights in Puna.
Get off the Beaten Path in Puna
Puna is one of the least explored counties on the Big Island, and definitely worth a visit if you love going to places that are off the beaten path. Check out historic Pahoa village – the hippie capital of Hawaii, the beautiful Star of the Sea Painted Church, and the newest beach on the island – the Pohoiki Black Sand Beach, which was formed during the 2018 eruption.
Do a Multi-day Hike
For a real adventure, hike the Muliwai Trail to the remote Waimea Valley – it can only be reached on foot or by helicopter. Toby and I did this over two days and it truly was an exhausting but epic adventure. You can book your campsite in the Waimanu Valley online and you have to take everything you need with you.
It is around 8 miles each way – more if you have to hike from the top of the Wai-pio Valley like we did. I recommend spending three days in total – this means you would have a full day in the valley as it is exhausting hiking two days in a row as the trail is pretty hairy at times.
Hit the Hiking Trails
If the Muliwai Trail sounds a bit too full-on but you still want to do some hiking, there are loads of shorter hikes on the Big Island that you can do. My favorite hikes were the hike to Green Sand Beach, the 1871 Trail that links Two Step and Ho’okena, the hikes into Pololu Valley and Wai’pio Valley and the hike down to the Captain Cook Monument.
Visit Beautiful Kiholo Bay
I visited peaceful Kiholo Bay on my first trip to Hawaii in 2010. This is a great place to snorkel and see turtles, and you have to swim in the chilly but crystal-clear Queen’s Bath, a fresh-water filled lava tube just back from the beach.
Splurge on a Helicopter Tour
If you have cash to splash, I suggest doing a Helicopter tour – either over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or over the lush valleys in the north. I did a waterfall and Hawaii Volcanoes helicopter tour on my first trip to the Big Island in 2010 and loved it.
Relax on More of Hawaii’s Beaches
Along with the beaches I mentioned in this itinerary – some other gorgeous Hawaii beaches you could visit are Kua Bay – popular with locals, ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach – a peaceful lagoon beach with palm trees, and Kaunaʻoa beach – which I didn’t visit but have been told is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island.
Then in Kailua-Kona town there is small but pretty Kamakahonu beach and just south of Kailua is Magic Sands beach, which depending on what time of year you are there, may or may not have sand (sometimes it disappears – like magic).
If you are lucky, you will be visiting the Big Island when there is lava flowing – both times I have been on the Big Island there wasn’t. If there is lava flowing, it was be in or around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Puna. Check with the rangers at the National Park to find out if there is any current lava flow and where you can find it.
Where to Stay on the Big Island
As the Big Island is so large – to make the best use of your time and if you have a vehicle, I would recommend splitting your time between two – three different places. With this itinerary, I have you staying the first three nights in Kailua, followed by a night in the small town of Volcano, a night in Hilo on the east side of the island, then back to Kailua for another two nights.
Instead of staying in Kailua, you could also consider staying on the South Kohala Coast – home to the most beautiful beaches on the island and a number of resorts, or somewhere near Kailua like the artsy village of Holualoa, where there are some great Airbnb options.
These are the places that I have either stayed at myself and recommend, or I know someone that has stayed there.
Koa Wood Hale
I stayed in the chilled out Koa Wood Hale hostel on my first visit to Hawaii in 2010 but it looks like it still has great reviews. This is one of your cheapest options on the Big Island for accommodation and has good options for dorm rooms and private rooms.
My Hawaii Hostel
A friend stayed at My Hawaii Hostel a year ago for a couple of weeks when he first moved to Hawaii and he said it was a friendly hostel with a great location next to the beach. Another cheap option in Kailua.
There are a number of apartments and rooms to rent through Airbnb in and around Kailua-Kona. We stayed at this fabulous tiny house village only a ten-minute drive from downtown Kailua, on the outskirts of Holualoa. I loved our tiny house and the outdoor picnic area with grill was fantastic, as was the mermaid pool – a hot tub with a waterfall nestled in the garden. If you haven’t used Airbnb before – use my link to sign up and get $50 off!
When I stayed in Hilo years ago it was at a hostel that no longer exists so I can’t recommend any hostels in Hilo. Friends stayed at a fantastic house through Airbnb and there are a lot of Airbnb options in Hilo – they tend to be cheaper than the Kona area too.
Volcano Hale Guest House
I stayed at the historic Volcano Hale Guest House on my first trip to Hawaii in 2010 and it is a quaint and slightly creepy place – in a good way. If you love history like me, and a house full of antiques sounds like your kind of place, then definitely stay here.
Where to Eat on the Big Island
I have already mentioned most of my favorite places to eat throughout this itinerary but here is a list by town of all of the places that I ate at and loved:
- Cool Runnings Jamaican Food Truck for amazing Jamaican food
- Kona Brewing Company for tropical beers and awesome apps
- Humpy’s for seafood and sea views
- Umeke’s for Hawaiian bowls and poke
- L & L BBQ for Hawaiian classics,
- Holy Donuts for awesome donuts
- Thai Rin for delicious and affordable Thai food
- Local KTA Supermarkets for cheap and tasty fresh poke
- Ola Brew for local beer, cider and light meals
- Big Island Brew Haus for awesome local beer and pub grub
- Manago Hotel in Captain Cook for an old-school Hawaiian meal
- Menehune Coffee Company for coffee and killer scones and cheesecake
- Kaaloa’s Super J’s for traditional Hawaiian Lau Lau
- Keoki’s Ono Fish and Chips for fish and chips in a beautiful garden
- The Coffee Shack for the best views and baked goods
- Bamboo Restaurant for coconut prawns and dumplings
- Tex’s Drive-In for the best malasadas on the island
- Punalu’u Bake Shop for iconic Hawaiian sweet rolls and malasadas
- Thai Thai Bistro for awesome Pad Thai
How to Get Around the Big Island
There are three main ways to get around the Big Island: Driving, catching the bus, or hitch-hiking.
Rent a Car
This is far and away the best way to explore the island in full, but it is also by far the most expensive way to get around and may not be an option if you are traveling by yourself on a budget.
You may want to just hire a car for half the time you are on the Big Island if you are on a budget – that way you can go to places that are further afield when you have the car, and hang out or take the bus to closer places the rest of the time.
You are best to rent a car from the airport and Budget tends to have the cheapest rates, but make sure to check Skyscanner, Priceline and Kayak as well. We met a couple that rented a car from a local through the share economy site Turo, so you might want to check that out too.
There is a limited Big Island bus service called Hele-on. You need to have a lot of patience and time if you are going to catch buses as they are often very late. We found that going from South Kona to Kailua, the bus always tended to be around a half hour or more late, while coming back, it was generally on time.
There are various routes that circle the island, but there is usually only one or two buses leaving in each direction – usually one or two in the morning, often very early, then one or two coming back in the evening – they are mostly used by local workers which is why they leave early and come back late.
You may have never hitched before and think I am crazy for mentioning it as an option to get around, but hitching is actually really common in Hawaii and is generally very safe, as well as being a great way to meet locals, as they are the ones who will be picking you up (we NEVER got picked up by a tourist during all our time hitching).
During our six weeks doing our Help Exchange, this was our main way of getting around, and we never waited for more than twenty minutes to get picked up. Obviously, there is no guarantee with this though, you may end up waiting for longer, or you might have to get a number of rides to make it to where you want to go.
I do think that you should hitch at least once, it is one of the most authentic Hawaiian experiences you can have!
So that’s it folks – my super detailed 7 Day Big Island Itinerary! I hope it is the Best Hawaii Itinerary for your needs. Let me know if you have any questions or if you have any places you think I should add.
If you liked this post, check out some of my other Hawaii content:
- Impressions of the Garden Island: Kauai
- How to Escape the Crowds in Waikiki
- The Best Kauai Hiking Adventures
- Chilling out on the North Shore Beaches of Oahu
- How to Swim with Wild Dolphins on the Big Island of Hawaii – for FREE!