Welcome to the Big Island! As the largest and youngest of all the Hawaiian islands, this beautiful destination boasts the most diverse climate of them all, with everything from lush rainforests to polar tundras and vast lava rock to tropical beaches. With so much to explore and experience here, let's dive into a few of the top “must dos” for families!
Although our journey began with a long delay on the tarmac in Seattle and a two-hour wait for our luggage upon landing, we were thrilled to be on our way to paradise. We made the 30-minute drive to the hotel, arriving around midnight, exhausted but excited.
The Big Island has several areas to stay in, but Kona and Kohala are the most popular. The island's major road goes north/south, making it easy to get around. Kona, the most populated area, boasts the majority of restaurants, shops, and excursions, and is about 20-30 minutes south of the airport. With a large number of resorts and hotels, Kona also features Target and Walmart stores for any necessities.
We stayed at the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort in Kohala, which quickly became our favorite resort we've ever stayed in! The views are stunning, the hotel is open-air and beautiful, the food options, pools, and beach are amazing. The resort also offers cultural experiences, a kids club, and a great fitness center with Pelotons! This area is about an hour from Kona, there is another sister resort close by, but not much else in the immediate vicinity.
About 20 minutes south (towards Kona) is another resort area with a Marriott, a Hilton, and two excellent shopping centers, Queen’s Marketplace and King’s Shops. There, you'll find restaurants, shaved ice, boutique shops, and the greatest market with fruit, sushi, wine, beer, souvenirs, and swimwear. They also have a little counter where you can order sandwiches, pizza, or even steak! We had the best market sushi there and picked up some tasty local beer.
With five full days on the Big Island, we tried to make the most of our time. Here's our itinerary with more information about each excursion:
Day 1: We started our day with coffee and pastries at the great little coffee shop at the Westin and headed down to Target to pick up some necessities. We stopped at Queens Marketplace to do a little shopping and pick up some beer and sushi. We explored the Westin, including the family pool and private beach. That night, we headed down to Kona for our Manta Ray Snorkel excursion with Anelakai Adventures, a must-do when on the Big Island! We grabbed a late dinner at Kona Brewing, although we were pretty disappointed with the food, the beers were great!
Day 2: We headed west to Volcanoes National Park, leaving around 8 am. Originally, we planned to get on the road at 2 am to see the lava flow in the dark, but the lava had stopped flowing a couple of days before we arrived, so we slept in a little. We did a few hikes, a total of about 4 miles, then went and grabbed lunch and a few local IPAs at Volcano House, with a great view of the steam vents as we ate. If you're visiting Volcanoes National Park, we highly recommend grabbing lunch here. We headed back to the hotel around 5 pm.
Day 3: We spent most of the day lounging by the pool and had lunch at Naupaka Beach Grill, the pool bar/restaurant at the Westin. The food was decent, but not exceptional. In the evening, we attended the Luau at the Marriott, which we selected because it had a good selection of food and was more suitable for our slightly fussy 8-year-old. Although it didn't compare to the luau we attended in Maui a few years ago, the kids had a great time and enjoyed the hula lessons and fire dancer. We had read that luaus on the Big Island don't quite measure up to those on Maui, so our expectations were tempered.
Day 4: Our morning snorkeling excursion to Captain Cooks Memorial with Fair Winds was one of the highlights of our trip. The tour provided a tasty vegetarian breakfast and lunch, as well as all of the equipment necessary to explore the coral, fish, and other marine life. We returned to the Westin and had flatbreads at the bar/coffee shop on the 7th floor overlooking the ocean, which turned out to be one of our favorite meals on the island. The hotel recently installed wood-fired ovens and made the flatbread pizzas to order.
Day 5: We started the morning with a beach walk and coffee for the adults and steamers for the kids. We then drove to Kona for the kids' surf lesson with Happy Surf Land at 10:30. They were one of the few surf schools that allowed children under 10, and both kids were able to have a semi-private lesson together. Although the waves were a little small, the kids had a great time. That evening, we decided to return to the hotel and have more flatbreads and drinks for dinner.
Day 6: It was time to say goodbye to the island and head home. Our flight was at 9:30am, so we left the hotel at 6:45am to ensure we had time to refuel the car and drop it off. Upon arrival at the airport, we joined a small queue to drop off our bags, which took approximately 30-40 minutes. However, we were able to breeze through TSA pre-check with no issues. It's worth noting that Southwest does not serve food on their flights, so we recommend grabbing some food elsewhere beforehand. Additionally, be aware that there is a second check after TSA to scan for fruits, veggies, and plants, so avoid bringing those items. The Kona airport is a lovely, open-air facility with a souvenir shop and a small store selling snacks and drinks. Although there is a restaurant, it was closed during our visit, so we didn't check it out.
Overall, we had a fantastic time on the Big Island and were sad to leave. Having visited Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, Mike and I highly recommend the Big Island. We enjoyed ourselves so much that we couldn't pick a favorite!