The Big Island is one of our family's favorite places to travel, and for good reason.
Hapuna Beach is ranked one of the best in the world. After having been there (often), I can see why. The beautiful, cobalt water is perfect for boogie-boarding, body surfing, and just playing in the waves, and the beach stretches for over half a mile and is the widest white sand beach on the Big Island. This beach would probably be my top pick for families with young kids who aren't interested in snorkeling. We also love going here at sunset, taking a short swim, and then watching the breathtaking sunset from Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel with ice cream sundaes.
Eat at Kohala Burger & Taco
No kidding. This small, charming restaurant is insanely good - in fact, we eat here about three times a week (or whenever we can). Not only does is it home to one of my favorite burgers, but this restaurant also has a wide array of tantalizingly good tacos. One of our favorite things to do on the Big Island is go to the infamous Hapuna Beach in the morning and then get lunch at Kohala Burger, which is only about a five minute drive from the beach.
The Four Seasons Hualalai
(If you can't already tell from the pictures, the Four Seasons has some of the best sunsets on the entire island.)
This is probably my favorite hotel I've been to, and even if you don't stay here, it's definitely worth it to go to the Beach Tree Restaurant (shown above), which my family does often. Located besides the beach, the views from this delicious restaurant are pretty unbeatable. Afterwards, my family loves to take a walk along the beach and see the many turtles that rest there near dusk. There's even ice cream and a bocce ball court at the General Store, which is right besides the parking lot. The Four Seasons is built for families - they have s'mores nights, movie nights, ice cream nights where ice cream is only a nickel a scoop... just to name a few. You can also take a swim at their beach, which is teeming with sea turtles.
Wailea Bay (Beach 67 or 69)
This beach is honestly amazing. Every single time I've been here, I've experienced something astonishing and different. The first time - that the water is unbelievably blue, and that there are trees hanging low over the water, providing a perfect place to play. The second, third, fourth, and every time thereafter - that there's an incredible array of sea life and huge monoliths of coral rising out of the sand underwater. There's even an arch of coral that you can swim beneath! On top of that, each time we've been snorkeling at this beach, we've seen sea turtles, something that is much celebrated among our family as they're so rare to swim with. The last time we went there, we also glimpsed a spotted eagle ray, one of the rarest sea life on the Big Island.
The Mauna Lani Private Beach (Makaiwa Bay)
We were looking at the best places to snorkel in the world a few months ago, and on one of the lists we looked at, it said that Makaiwa Bay on the Big Island was #1. We all burst into laughter - we had spent many summers snorkeling at Makaiwa Bay (the Mauna Lani Private Beach) without even realizing that there are few places with better snorkeling on earth.
This beautiful beach is perfect for snorkeling with families. The ocean is placid, unless it happens to be a windy day, and there's a small building nearby that rents out paddle boards, a popular activity at Makaiwa Bay. After only swimming about twenty feet out, you hit fields and fields of vibrant-colored coral, covering the ocean floor for miles. Every sea creature imaginable can be found here - we've seen sea turtles, thousands of fish, eels, pufferfish, conch (not just the shell)... everything. The Bay is fairly protected in a cove, but you can swim out past the cove and still not need to worry about the current. And when you're done swimming, you can eat lunch or dinner at Napua, the Bay's restaurant. There are also beautiful paths leading from the beach that wind through ancient Hawiian fishing ponds.
The Fairmont Orchid
(This and Hualalai take the prize for best sunsets, in case you couldn't tell)
The house we usually stay at on the Big Island is only a few minutes walk away from the Fairmont Orchid, a beautiful resort set right on the ocean. After dinner, we love walking to the Fairmont, taking a swim in the amazing cove there, and watching the sunset from the water. Then, we order dessert at one of the hotel's many restaurant, still admiring the view. Even though I haven't stayed at this hotel, it has a wonderful pool and an incredible location, so I'd recommend it to any family.
Keiki Golfing at Mauna Lani Resort
The great thing at the Keiki Golfing at Mauna Lani Resort is that it is fairly inexpensive and still offers an in-depth experience with golfing to kids. My brother loves this and does these nine holes as often as possible. Afterwards, we like to grab some food at Shiono, the golf course restaurant.
Lava Lava Beach Club
This smattering of cottages also includes a popular restaurant that offers incredible views of the sunset. Perfect for families, kids will enjoy getting to go play on the beach, splash in tidepools, climb trees, or look for sea turtles while waiting for food.
To be honest, we didn't hike into Waipi'o Valley itself, since we brought our dog, Scout, along with us on this little road trip. Regardless, the views from the outlook were breathtaking, fully worth the couple hour drive from the other side of the Big Island. On the way, you can view the wildly different scenery of the Hilo side of the island (we usually stay on the Kona side, on the Kohala Coast), stop in Hilo itself to go sightseeing, and grab some shave ice at Hawaiian Brain Freeze Shave Ice and Ice Cream.
Pololu Valley is much like Waipi'o Valley - the only difference, I would say, would be the beach and the hike down. We go on this hike as often as possible, despite the hour drive from the Kohala Coast. The scenery rapidly changes from dry and arid to incredibly tropical, which is why we like to go on this fairly easy, fifteen-minute hike. Once you get down to the beautiful black-sand beach, you can explore the forests that stretch on and on away from the sea, or picnic by one of the many campfires and forts people have built over the years.
49 Black Sands Beach
This is one of our favorite places to snorkel, besides Wailea Bay and Makaiwa Bay, of course. The beautiful black sand is captivating, a change from the usual white sand beaches in Hawaii (although those are still unbelievably pretty). Once you get in the water, though, the adventure of this beach is increased by a tenfold. As with Wailea and Makaiwa, there's coral as far as the eye can see, every inch of it swarming with sea life. A lot of people don't know about 49 Black Sands Beach, because it is concealed within a private community. However, if you ask at the guard tower, they'll give you a beach pass to allow you to go to this astonishing beach.
Puako Beach and Petroglyph Park
Puako Beach and Petroglyph Park is one of those places that completely blows you away. The beach, as you see when you walk up, is hardly a beach at all - instead, it is made up of huge chunks of coral and lava rock. If you walk farther along the beach, you even come to a spot teeming with tidepools, which my family loves to sit and play in since they are incredibly warm.
After doing this, you can walk back to the parking lot and to the Petroglyph Park, an easy walk through a forest that leads you past ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs (see above), something that kids will love.
At the start of this hike, there's also a small clearing that is always packed with cats (why? we still don't know), lounging about in the trees or on the ground. Along with this spectacle are mongooses - they come to eat the cat food that some locals bring for the cats. This whole experience is one we do often, especially at dusk since the sunsets, as with everything else, are so stunning and the weather is more mild.
Manta Rays at Mauna Kea
Seeing manta rays is always one of the highlights of our trip to the Big Island. There are night dives you can do with manta rays, which everyone we've met has recommended but we've still yet to try, but we normally stick to seeing the manta rays from the Mauna Kea Resort, something that is popular among many tourists. The resort shines a big light into the water at night, which attracts the manta rays' food, which, therefore, attracts the manta rays themselves. It's fascinating to watch the manta rays swoop through the water like birds - but be prepared. After watching the manta rays at the Mauna Kea, you'll undoubtably want to swim with them, too.
There are literally thousands of things to do on the Big Island - see volcanoes, go deep sea fishing, swim with manta rays, etc. - but the more we return to the Big Island, the more we find ourselves resorting to the same few places - in our opinion, the best. These thirteen places mentioned above are, of course, not the only good places to visit on the Big Island, but if you're planning on going to the Big Island in the future, these are all a must.
A little bit about us...
We're a family of four (a daughter, a son, and their mother and father.... oh, and a six-month old Standard Poodle puppy). But we all share one thing in common: our love of travel and adventure!
Hotel of the Month
Solage Calistoga: the image of perfection. We stayed here recently on our trip to Napa Valley and couldn't have been more amazed at this stunning resort. The rooms, each one an individual cottage, were immaculate and private. The property itself contained multiple pools and other amenities, all of which were designed beautifully. One of our favorite parts had to be the Michelin-star restaurant, which served some of the best food we'd ever eaten. Solage Calistoga was the perfect fit for our family (and dog!), and we are eager to stay there again.