So you’ve asked me what to do/eat/stay when you come visit the Big Island of Hawaii. This is my attempt to highlight my recommendations in a catchall blog post:
Hawaii Island has two airports: Hilo on the East side and Kailua-Kona on the West side. Typically, flying in and out of Kona is the cheapest option of the two.
Once you arrive, car rental is essential as bus services are limited. The Hawaii Belt Road encircles the island. Its northern stretch crosses from Hilo via Waimea to Kailua-Kona, taking about 2 hours. Saddle Road is a shorter middle route crossing between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Both options provide stunning views.
Where to stay:
Both East and West Hawaii provide good bases for touring. I recommend renting a place to stay on both sides to ensure you get the most out of your experience. If you're the camping type, consider bringing a tent or renting an A-frame like the one shown above in Hapuna Beach State Park.
What to do:
On the East side, the town of Hilo is well situated for excursions to the Hamakua Coast, Mauna Kea, the Puna District, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
In Puna, some of my favorite activities are: Kapoho Tide Pools, Uncle Robert’s Night Market on Wednesday, Maku’u Farmer’s Market on Sunday, and hike/bike to see the active lava flow meet the ocean.
On the West side, the city of Kailua-Kona provides access to the South Kahala resorts to the north, the Parker Ranch country of Waimea, Waipi'o Valley (accessible by 4 wheel drive only), Kona coffee country to the south, and many well preserved ancient sites including Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park (aka City of Refuge).
If you’re looking for the idyllic Hawaiian beaches we’ve all grown accustomed to see on tropical calendars, the sunny West side is your best bet. My favourite West side beaches are: Hapuna Bay, Makalawena (accessible by 4 wheel drive only), Kua Bay & Ho’okena.
East side beaches are limited. My favorite is Kehena black sand beach. On Sundays, this beach is at it's peak capacity due to a lively drum circle.
To the south, Green Sand Beach is a must see.
Where to eat:
There are options to accommodate every taste on both sides of the island.
If you’re looking to experience local Hawaiian foods, I recommend Suisan in Hilo for the best Poke bowl and Café 100 (also in Hilo) for the loco moco & Portuguese sausage. Farmer’s markets, grocery stores and even 7-11 carry a variety of local food options including: sushi, tempura, Spam musubi, chicken long rice, Poi, smoked meats and malasadas to name a just few.
As far as restaurants are concerned, Hilo has some good options including: Hilo Bay Cafe, Pesto's and the Moon & Turtle for a cozy, romantic dinner.
In Kona, my favorite places for a quick bite are: Umeke's for a poke bowl and Basik Acai for the acai bowl.
How can I have a section on what to eat in Hawaii and not mention the vast array of tropical fruits? Pick some up at a local grocery store, farmer's market or roadside fruit stand and have a pic nic!
For the art lover:
On the East side: East Hawaii Culture Center (EHCC), First Friday Hilo Art Walk, Second Saturday Pahoa Music & Art Walk, Paradise Studio Tour, Volcano Arts Center and Michael Arthur Jayme Gallery in historic Honomu.
On the West side: Donkey Mill Art Center, Studio 7 and Isaacs Art Center in Waimea.
What to take home with you:
My favourite gifts to give are locally made honey, jams, macadamia nuts and Kona coffee. I also recommend checking out farmer’s markets and road side vendors for local artwork.
Surprisingly, the majority of the items available at souvenir shops are not made in Hawaii at all. Deciding if this is important for you will help choose what to bring home.
If you'd like to read more about what the Big Island has to offer, I recommend: Hawaii The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Doughty & DK's Eyewitness Travel Guides Hawaii
This blog was created to share my belief that the art making process can be a vehicle for empowerment.
I am living proof.