It has been said that Hawaii is paradise on earth-- from the white, sandy beaches, the flowing palm trees, the clear blue ocean, and the dazzling array of natural beauty-- that statement appears to be quite accurate! If you’re lucky enough to visit this beautiful island state, chances are you’re going to want to pack in as much fun and adventure as you can during your stay. That’s why we’ve put together this list of places you definitely need to visit while you visit the Big Island. No matter whether you choose to start your journey in Hilo on the eastern side, or Kona on the western side, there’s plenty along the way to see-- not to mention some amazing coastal views!
We always recommend you take the scenic route when you can, which is why this trip utilizes the northern roads from Hilo to Kona, but you could just as easily take the southern roads-- packed full of their own attractions-- to reach your destination. So let’s delve into some must-see places along the road from Hilo to Kona!
967 Waianuenue Ave. | Hilo, HI | hawaii.com
Hilo is located on the eastern side of the island of Hawaii, and is a great place to start your road trip. There’s lots to see and do in this bustling town, with options for dining and shopping-- as well as spending some time on the beaches such as Coconut Island. While you’re in the area, it’s worth the 45 minute drive south to see Volcanoes National Park to see hike the trails and see the awe-inspiring volcanoes and lava flow.
But when you’re ready to leave Hilo, on your way out make sure to stop at Rainbow Falls. This magnificent waterfall plunges 80 ft. over a natural lava cave and into the pool below. This waterfall is famous for the huge rainbows that appear over the mists of the falls on sunny days. There are steps up to the viewing area, where you’ll be able to snap some pictures of a lifetime.
“Beautiful stop. The parking is free with a short walk to the falls. The falls are beautiful and the history interesting. Take a moment for a picture and look around at the beautiful trees and flowers.” -Yelp Review
27-717 Old Mamalahoa Hwy | Papaikou, HI | htbg.com/
Step into one of the most diverse natural botanical gardens in the world! This preserve is located within a valley, which protects the many species of plants and trees from the rough tradewinds. It also allows for the 2,000 kinds of flora to prosper in a “natural greenhouse”-- complete with fertile volcanic soil.
Here you can meander along the trails as long as you’d like to admire and learn about the variety of plants growing here. As you explore, you’re sure to encounter some streams and picturesque waterfalls as well!
“This is one of the most beautiful places I've been in my life. If you're in Hawaii and you like nature, then you should come to this place. This review definitely doesn't do the garden justice. It's seriously a wonderful experience.” -Yelp Review
Akaka Falls Rd. | Honomu, HI | dlnr.hawaii.gov
At this state park, you can either get out the car to hike around the lush forest, or if you prefer, you can remain in the car to do a self-guided tour throughout the park. Either way, you’re in for some amazingly scenic views of not only the forest itself-- which is full of ferns, orchids, and other native plant species-- but also see the two waterfalls, Kahuna Falls (100 ft) and Akaka Falls (442 ft).
Take your time and enjoy the trail, and be sure to take some amazing photos! This beautiful place is just a short drive off the highway, and vistas are definitely worth it.
“If you're on the Big Island this is a must visit! This waterfall is breathtaking in both pictures and person. If you have a chance to see it in person please do because it is a perfect example of what nature has to offer.” -Yelp Review
45-690 Pakalana St. | Honokaa, HI | gohawaii.com/
As you cruise along the coast, you’re definitely going to see some stunning sights, but be prepared for one of the most beautiful at the Waipio Valley Lookout. Not only are you gazing down from 2,000 ft. cliffs, but you are also looking at a place that is very sacred to native Hawaiians. This valley was the childhood home of King Kamehameha I, and was once a site of political and religious importance for Hawaiians.
You can choose to admire the beautiful view and the black sand beaches below, or sign up for a guided tour, where you’ll learn all about the history and traditional stories that are attached to this place. If you take a tour, you’ll be treated to seeing the Big Island’s tallest waterfall Hiilawe Falls (1,300 ft.).
“If you're on the Big Island, this spot is a must-visit! Waipio Valley Lookout gives you an unbeatable view of the coast and island. Whether you go hiking or visit the rest area, there is something to do for everyone!” -Yelp Review
525055 Akoni Pule Hwy | Waimea, HI
As you continue your drive through Hawaii, you’re going to encounter multiple places to stop and stretch your legs. One of the best places to do so is on one of the trails in the Kohala Forest Reserve. There are specific trails marked for hiking, however, and keep in mind that the rest of the area is off limits and government property.
That being said, you are always welcome to stretch your legs further in the town of Waimea! Stop for some lunch or check out the town itself, which is full of eclectic shops. It’s interesting to note that there are also two observatories located in this area, the WM Keck Observatory as well as the Canada France Hawaii Telescope, which use the elevation of the area to keep an eye on the stars.
“Fantastic scenic stop for tourists and visitors. The view is phenomenal, and the hike down to the beach is only about 20-30 minutes. The trail relatively easy, which lends to this being a packed location for site seeing and lounging on the beach.” -Google Review
52-5088 Akoni Pule Hwy | Kapaau, HI | gohawaii.com
When you’re done checking out Waimea and the Kohala Forest Preserve, it’s just a short drive over to Pololu Valley Lookout. This beautiful scene is right off the road as well, making it such an easy stop along your route. From this lookout you can see the lush forests of Kohala Forest Preserve, as well as black sand beaches, huge waves, and even some tiny island rocks in the distance.
There’s a path that leads down to the beach where you can take in the views from sea level, and see just how far down into the valley you’ve come!
“Beautiful lookout area that's a bit out of the way and not super near other hot spots for tourists, but the view of the coastal area is great and the air feels very refreshing there.” -Yelp Review
Waikui Beach, HI | surfpark.org/
If you were ever curious to see one of the first places the native Hawaiians enjoyed surfing, then this surf park is a must-see! Originally where royalty resided to surf the waves, this place saw a more recent renaissance in surfing with the invention of the longboard. Today it is a very popular place to take to the waves, and even hosts a longboard surf classic each year.
Just a short trip from the surf park is the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site where you can learn about the early stages of the native Hawaiian culture and people. It’s an interesting park to walk around in, and where you’re sure to see some beautiful plants and native birds that inhabit the area. Make sure to view the sharks as they swim in the ruined temple off the coast!
“This is awesome place that locals frequent. No Sandy beaches but nice rocks to jump in the water. High surf during Winter time. Also you get to see the beauty of the sharks that swim through. They’re really beautiful!” -Google Review
Old Puako Rd. | Kamuela, HI | dlnr.hawaii.gov
Take a break from the road at one of Hawaii’s finest beaches. This is the largest white sand beach on the island, and it also happens to be one of the most spectacular! The weather here is perfect to enjoy swimming, surfing, and snorkeling thanks to the wonderfully clear, blue water.
If you have the time on your trip, considering taking an afternoon to enjoy the relaxing sound of the surf and the wind at this popular beach. There are ample food vendors ready to serve up some local cuisine, and if you’re feeling up to it, you can explore the trails of the state park as well!
“Nice beach like picture perfect. We rented a couple beach chairs and a bogey board and an umbrella for a few hours. The beach was clean and not too crowded.” -Yelp Review
75-5660 Palani Rd. | Kailua-Kona, HI | www.nps.gov
If you’ve made it to Kamakahonu Beach, then you’ve made it to your destination! Take some time to explore the city, and make sure to sample some of the local fare, or even stop by the farmer’s market. If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll know that Kona beans are some of the best in the world, due to the fertile soil along the western coast. So pop into a coffee shop and sample some, but don’t forget to bring some home as well!
This beach is always lively, and it’s a great place to try your hand at watersports, like stand up paddling, snorkeling, or kayaks. Take a stroll down the beach and be sure to visit the Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark, which was one the home of King Kamehameha I. It’s amazing the ruins are still there for visitors to view, stilly quietly guarding the bay.
“This is a nice little beach in the heart of Kailua-kona. It is great for those who want nice, relaxed swimming in a gentle beach with nice sand.” -Yelp Review
75-5718 Alii Dr. | Kailua-Kona, HI | daughtersofhawaii.org
If you’ve had your fill of beautiful beaches for a while, then consider stopping off at one of Kona’s most beautiful buildings, the Hulihee Palace-- which also served as the vacation home for Hawaiian royals. The beautiful Victorian home and gardens are available to tour, and includes wonderful exhibits in Hawaiian furniture, textiles, and feather work. There’s also a gift shop to pick up any souvenirs that catch your eye as well!
We hope if you get the opportunity to make a Hilo to Kona road trip, you’ll consider stopping at some of these amazing destinations! Where are your favorite places to visit on the Big Island? Let us know in the comments!