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Last year, my siblings and I had a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. With my brother and his girlfriend living on the Big Island, it was the perfect excuse for me and my siblings to all meet-up. We came from all over the world – me and the Prince from Germany, a brother from North Carolina, a sister from Atlanta, a sister from Washington, D.C., and a sister from Seattle. At this point in our lives, it’s quite rare if we can all get together for more than a few days of uninterrupted time (or even at all)! I will say, the days leading up to Hawaii were a bit of a nightmare. The Big Island was facing its largest hurricane in decades, and the Prince and I had a 30+ hour journey ahead of us. We ended up missing our flight from San Francisco to Kona due to disruptive passengers on our plane as well as a bomb threat at the airport. However, it was great to have a “bonus” night in San Francisco to take the Prince to my favorite Chinese restaurant in the entire world (House of Nanking), show him some of the sites (minus the Golden Gate Bridge that you couldn’t see due to fog!), and meeting up with my sorority Little and her husband (who spontaneously met us with a 2-hour notice). After making it successfully to Kona the next day, the Prince and I had 7 days in Hawaii. Here’s the perfect Big Island Itinerary for 7 days to take advantage of everything there is to see and do!
Table of Contents
- History of the Big Island
- Getting to and around the Big Island
- Big Island Itinerary for 7 Days
- Final Thoughts on the Big Island
- Headed to the Big Island for a week? Pin this itinerary!
History of the Big Island
The Big Island, or the Island of Hawai’i, is the largest yet the least-populated island of Hawaii. It is actually the largest island in the United States! Although it makes up 63% of all of Hawaii’s landmass, it only has 13% of the state’s population. It is also the youngest island! It formed about half a million years ago from 5 different volcanos – Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, and Kilauea. While Kohala is extinct, Mauna Kea is dormant – meaning that it hasn’t erupted in a long time (about 5,000 years) but is expected to erupt at some point in the future. The last three volcanos are active volcanoes, with Kilauea erupting continuously from 1983 to 2018. While more people assume Hawaii is super lush and green, the Big Island is quite barren due to all the lava. You only reach the lush and green parts of the island when you go up in elevation!
In May 2018, Kilauea violently erupted at its summit (debate whether this is still considered part of the 1983 eruption!), causing earthquakes, blocking roads, destroying homes, and temporarily closing Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Even though we visited a few months later, we were unable to visit the national park and my brother told us that the hazy fog that had been over the entire island for a few months due to the ash had disappeared a few days before our arrival!
Getting to and around the Big Island
As I alluded to above, it was the longest trip of my life going from Hamburg, Germany to Kona, Hawaii. I think in total, we traveled for 30-something hours. It was nice to have the unexpected night in San Francisco – it allowed us to calm down and get a good night’s sleep. In terms of the jetlag, I found it easier going across 12 time zones to Hawaii than 6 time zones going back to Michigan. Because it was such a drastic change, my body got acclimated quite quickly!
Kona International Airport
What an arrival coming into this airport! It’s totally surrounded by lava (actually, the airport is built on lava!) and is a completely outdoor airport. There are flights to numerous other destinations including other Hawaiian islands, mainland U.S. locations, Canada, and Japan. It was a great airport, super-efficient, and really functional. We arrived in Kona from San Francisco and went back through Denver. Additionally, we caught a flight to Honolulu for an overnight trip through Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines is probably my new favorite airline! Plus, it flys an insane amount of flights to other Hawaiian destinations – it goes to Honolulu 15-20 times a day, every day of the week.
- Check out flights here: Hawaiian Airlines
Hilo International Airport
Located on the east side of the island, Hilo International Airport is a much smaller airport than Kona. It only services three destinations – two locations in Hawaii and one on the mainland (Los Angeles). If you’re staying on the east side of the island, it is worth checking out the prices of flying into Hilo compared to Kona. However, in the long run, you’ll need to rent a car to get around the island so the airport location isn’t a huge deal!
You will 100% need to rent a car to get around the island! We rented one directly at the airport and had no issues at all. Due to the terrain and high possibility of off-roading, make sure to get a car with 4-wheel drive, good tires (!), and the ability to have a bit of wear and tear. Additionally, getting additional insurance coverage might not be the worst idea – there are lots of off-roading routes and to get to some of the coolest areas, you’ll need to venture off!
- Check out car rentals here: Kayak.com
Big Island Itinerary for 7 Days
Now that all the logistics are settled, it’s time to start planning your 7 days on the Big Island! Word of warning – you will NOT be able to do it all! There are still so many more locations I’d love to visit. I’ll provide a few additional activity suggestions that I wish I could have done but just didn’t have time to do (or it was closed, like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!).
Day 1: Arrival
The Prince expected to have a full day our first day but due to arriving that day and not the night before, we were a bit worn out! After being picked up by my siblings at the airport and taken back to our rental house, we all hung out and relaxed before the evening. My siblings had just arrived a day or two before us so we did a huge grocery run at Cosco to get food for dinner. Our rental house was in a great location. It was 10 minutes from downtown Kona but located in the hills, meaning it stayed quite cool and we got a good breeze throughout the day.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
After the Prince and I got lei’d we headed to Honokohau Beach and Ai’opio Beach, two adjacent beaches and both part of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, to take in the sunset and see all the sea turtles. The beach is located close to the downtown area and is easily accessible. It was amazing to see all the sea turtles on shore! Just remember, the sea turtles are just for looking – do not touch them and do not go anywhere near the nests.
- Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park: Kailua Kona 96740
Donuts from Holy Donuts
Jetlag had us up at the crack of dawn and the Prince and I snuck out to grab donuts for everyone. One of the foods I crave most in Germany is good donuts. Yes, you can get generic donuts but I miss the good, fresh, doughy donuts that are found in the U.S.A. After hearing about Holy Donuts in Kona, I knew it had to be on my food list! And man, it was so so so good! The donuts are massive and I could barely finish one. We had a fun time buying a bunch of different flavors, cutting them in half or fourths, and taste testing. The employees at Holy Donuts were incredibly sweet – they snuck in a few extra flavors that we just had to try! And if you’re looking for a good Instagram shot, the murals outside the shop fit the bill ;)
- Holy Donuts: 5729 Ali’i Dr #75, Kailua Kona 96740
Mauna Kea and lava formations
You can’t go to the Big Island and not drive at least part of Mauna Kea! I must admit, I was quite wiped out at the end of the day and didn’t feel overly good due to the altitude. If you’re affected by the altitude, beware! The summit is at almost 14,000 feet and there is 40% less oxygen at that elevation. As mentioned in the driving section, you actually will not be allowed to go past a certain point if you don’t have a good 4-wheel drive vehicle that can go off-roading. Also, pack layers – it can easily be 80F at sea level and closer to 40F at the summit.
Mauna Kea is the highest peak in Hawaii and, if measured from base to summit, is the highest peak in the world at 33,000 feet. In comparison, Mount Everest is only 29,000 feet. However, almost 20,000 feet of Mauna Kea is underwater due to its partial sinking. In Hawaiian mythology, Mauna Kea (and especially its summit) is sacred and holy. This has led to fierce debate and opposition against building on Mauna Kea. As Mauna Kea is one of the best places for astronomical observations in the entire world, several telescopes and observatories are located towards the summit. When writing this article, there is a huge protest by the local Hawaiians against a new telescope that is going to be built.
Mauna Kea is like no place I’ve ever seen in my life – as you get closer to the summit, it looks like the moon. Super arid, dry, and unique rock colors. We stayed for sunset (while trying not to fall asleep!) and it felt like you were floating – we were way above cloud level!
Driving to Mauna Kea from Kona, you’ll pass so many lava formations! We stopped at some of the hills beforehand to hike (yuck hahaha) and take in the views.
Farmers’ Markets: Ali’i Gardens Marketplace and Pure Kona Green Market
On our way to a coffee farm, we stopped by a few different farmers’ markets. The Big Island has about 6 or 7 farmers’ markets within a 30-minute drive of Kona. Our first stop was Ali’i Gardens Marketplace, where I picked up a delicious shaved ice with bubble gum, watermelon, and blue raspberry – it was delicious and perfect for the hot, humid weather of the Big Island.
Unfortunately, we went on a Sunday and most of the stands were closed (even though the market is technically open on Sundays). However, it was still nice to walk around, find some shade, and eat shaved ice.
- Ali’i Gardens Marketplace: 75-6129 Alii Drive, Kailua Kona 96740
As we were still hungry, we headed to another farmers’ market nearby for food. Pure Kona Green Market was the answer to my love of tacos! There are lots of great, authentic food options but I headed straight for the taco stand. They were so delicious that I went back for a second round. The atmosphere of the market is super laid back and all the locals gave us great advice in terms of traveling around the island.
This particular market is only open on Sundays from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm. However, don’t miss this farmers’ market, as the food options are over-the-top delicious! There are also local craft stands and goodies to buy.
- Pure Kona Green Market: 82-6160 Mamalahoa Highway, Captain Cook 96704
Greenwell Farms: A Coffee Farm
High on my list of things to do was a tour of a coffee farm! The Prince and I are both coffee addicts and base our travels around good coffee shops (as well as delicious food!). Greenwell Farms is a local coffee farm that offers free tours and an intimate, up-close experience of a working coffee farm. Our tour guide, Chai, was absolutely fantastic and gave us in-depth knowledge of Kona coffee as well as the process that goes into the whole lifecycle.
This was our family’s Christmas card last year and I think it turned out so well – just missing my parents and older sister!
Kona Coffee is some of the most expensive and sought-after coffee in the entire world. Only coffee from the Kona District on the Big Island can be called Kona Coffee. There are very strict standards! Kona is one of the best climates for growing coffee in the world because there tends to be sunny mornings, rainy afternoons, little wind, and mild nights. Also, the volcanic soil is rich in minerals, really allowing coffee to thrive in the region. As I mentioned previously, the coastal areas of the Big Island are quite flat but as you head inland elevation increases. Most of the coffee farms are at a bit of a higher elevation as that brings the mild temperatures and afternoon rain.
We were there in August during the picking season! Each tree is hand-picked and about 15 pounds of “cherry” (the red fruit) will create 2 pounds of roasted coffee. A hint about buying Kona coffee: Hawaiian law states that authentic Kona coffee must state prominently “100% Kona Coffee.” Because there is always leftover coffee, some places will blend Kona coffee with other origins. That will be sold under the name “Kona Blends.” These blends only require a minimum of 10% Kona coffee so lookout and make sure you’re buying authentic Kona coffee!
Greenwell Farms gives you the option of tasting all different types of Kona coffee as well as purchasing roasts to enjoy later. If you’re wanting a tour of a coffee farm, definitely head out to Greenwell Farms, no reservation necessary!
- Greenwell Farms: 81-6581 Mamalahoa Highway, Kealakekua 96750
As coffee is such an important part of Hawaii (and, let’s be honest, my daily life!), I wanted to outline some of my favorite coffee shops in Kona as well as recommendations I received from my brother’s girlfriend, Nee!
- Kona Coffee & Tea: 74-5588 Palani Road, Kailua-Kona 96740 (the Prince and I went here nearly every day as it was super close to our rental house)
- Pink Mocha Cafe: 73-4976 Kamanu Street, Suite 101, Kailua-Kona 96740
- Daylight Mind Coffee Company: 75-5770 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona 96740
- Holuakoa Cafe: 765897 Kona Belt Rd, Holualoa 6725 (both a cafe and restaurant)
Sunset at Honokohau Harbor Dog Beach
We ended the day by taking in an amazing Hawaiian sunset! There are so many gorgeous beaches and great places to observe a sunset in Kona. It helps that Kona is on the west side of the island so it gets the full force of sunsets. We ended up at Honokohau Harbor Dog Beach. Not only is it a dog-friendly beach, but the harbor/cove area is a great place for swimming, snorkeling, paddle boarding, etc. This beach is in the same area as Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park (mentioned above!).
The best part about this beach is that when the sun starts setting, climb on the rocks to get the best view. Obviously, be careful! It can be slippery and a bit dangerous. My siblings and I all helped each other to the top of the rocks to watch the amazing sunset over the Pacific Ocean. Seriously, I can’t get over all the amazing sunsets in Hawaii! The colors in the sky change in a matter of minutes so make sure to have your camera ready!
- Honokohau Harbor Dog Beach: 73-4786 Kanalani Street, Kailua Kona 96740
Off-roading with ATV Outfitters Hawaii
Bright and early on our 4th day, we headed to the northern part of the Big Island for a special event – off-roading on ATVs! My siblings and I chose to do the Waterfall & Rainfall Adventure as a private group. After our instructors/guides gave us a short intro on how to use the ATVs and we did a few practice laps, off we went!
Our tour took us to an elevation of 2,500 feet through the oldest rainforest on the Big Island. Because most of this is private land, we were secluded and didn’t have to worry about running into anyone else. I must admit, I was quite a slow driver, much to the amusement of the Prince (he kept wanting to go faster!).
One of the coolest parts of the ATV tour is stopping and relaxing at a waterfall. The guides got some hilarious pictures of all of us that I’m saving for future use! However, enjoy the one below :) It was so humid and hot that it felt super refreshing to jump into the water (although the rocks were extremely slippery!).
I’d highly recommend using ATV Outfitters Hawaii – they were professional, experienced, and provided us with an awesome tour that we’ll always remember!
- ATV Outfitters Hawaii: 53-324 Lighthouse Road, Kapaau 96755
On our way back to Kona, we took a detour and went to Pololu Valley for the amazing scenic views. This valley is part of the side of Kohala Volcano. It is completely extinct and not expected to erupt again. While there are many hiking trails and beaches around the area, we just took in the scenic view before heading back to Kona. In the wintertime, it’s a great place to observe humpback whales.
Make sure to stop in the town of Hawi on your way back to Kona. Its main street is absolutely adorable, with quaint shops and colorful buildings. As the town is quite small, you won’t spend more than an hour or two there. I highly recommend stopping at Kohala Coffee Mill. The coffee was delicious and it was super refreshing after getting all sweaty on the ATV ride. Plus, they had a cute outdoor area where you can sit and relax with your drink.
- Kohala Coffee Mill: 55-3412 Akoni Pule Highway, Hawi 96719
This is where the itinerary cheats a bit – we didn’t stay on the Big Island the whole time! As huge historical and political nerds, the Prince and I couldn’t come to Hawaii and not see Pearl Harbor. As the flight from Kona to Honolulu is only 30 minutes long (and they operate at least every hour, if not more), we were initially going to fly over to Honolulu, spend the day at Pearl Harbor, and then fly back in the evening. However, my Dad graciously got us a hotel in Waikiki so we could stay overnight and it ended up being the best idea!
Headed to Pearl Harbor? Read my other post on everything to do there:
I have so much information and hints/tips about Pearl Harbor that I’m going to write a completely separate blog post! However, there are a few things to remember. As of July 2019, you can NOT go out to visit the USS Arizona (updates here). They noticed cracks in the dock in spring 2018 and shut it down indefinitely. The Navy is still providing boat tours out and around the USS Arizona and it still requires a ticket. The tickets to the USS Arizona are free but you need to book in advance! There are two booking windows: 60 days in advance or 24 hours in advance. Because we didn’t know 60 days ahead of time that we would be going to Pearl Harbor, by the time we tried to get tickets 30 days in advance, there were no time slots left. They also release tickets online 24 hours in advance and we managed to snag them then for a late afternoon spot! However, when we got to the window to pick up our ticket the morning of, the lady was super nice and upgraded our tickets to that exact time (you will get a time slot due to capacity limits). It all worked out in the end!
After the USS Arizona, we headed to Ford Island on a shuttle bus to see the USS Missouri (where the Japanese surrendered), USS Oklahoma Memorial, and the Pacific Aviation Museum. We then came back to the main visitor’s center to visit the USS Bowfin (submarine) and walk the grounds. Because we arrived at Pearl Harbor straight from the airport, we were able to store our luggage at the main visitor’s center for a fee of $5 per bag!
- Pearl Harbor National Memorial: 1 Arizona Memorial Place, Honolulu 96818
After Pearl Harbor, we headed to our hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. It’s important to note that Pearl Harbor is north of the airport while Waikiki is south of the airport. For that reason, it didn’t make sense for us to go to our hotel first only to have to backtrack. Upon checking in, we were asked if we wanted to upgrade our room to a suite. Not needing all the space and not wanting to spend extra money, we politely declined – and then were given the upgrade for free! Besides having a living room, we had two huge balconies (one overlooking the ocean) and two bathrooms.
To be honest, the Prince and I did not want to leave the hotel the next day! Besides having a huge beach and a saltwater lagoon for children, there are also five swimming pools and waterslides. I’m not a huge swimmer/water person but the Prince could not get me out of the pool! There’s a total of 18 bars and restaurants onsite, a wedding chapel, dozens of shops, spa services, and a full program of activities. You could stay at this resort for a week and never leave. It truly felt like paradise to us!
This is hands down, the best sunset I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
House Without A Key
One of my dear friends from university is part Hawaiian so she is frequently back visiting family. We just so happened to be there at the same time and were able to meet up for dinner. The House Without A Key is a delicious indoor/outdoor restaurant located right on the beach. The food was spectacular and there was live background music. We even saw an engagement while we were there! If you’re looking for a romantic dinner spot, make sure to make a reservation here.
- House Without A Key: 199 Kalia Road, Honolulu 96815
Day 5: Alternative Itinerary
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
I’m cheating a bit because I never actually got to experience this but if you’re unable to take a day trip to Oahu (or just want to spend all your time on the Big Island), head over to the east side of the island and visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, this national park was closed while we were there due to the erupting volcano and subsequent earthquakes. I’m bummed that I never got to visit this park but it gives me a reason to go back! :) It is now open again but make sure to check road closures beforehand because some roads have still not been repaired!
Hilo is the largest city on the Big Island and located on the east side. Much like Kona, it has a charming downtown area filled with shops, restaurants, bars, farmers’ markets, and beaches. One of the most popular attractions, Rainbow Falls, displays a rainbow every morning around 10:00 am on sunny days!
- Rainbow Falls: Wailuku River State Park, Waianuenue Avenue
Eggs ‘n Things
Before departing to go back to Kona, I wanted a proper American breakfast. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, and maple syrup ranks high on my list of foods I miss from the USA! After reading awesome reviews about Eggs ‘n Things, the Prince and I decided to grab breakfast there. It’s a very popular place – we were given a wait time of almost an hour. However, we used the time to head across the street to the post office and send a few postcards. We were seated after about 20 minutes of waiting so don’t be discouraged if there is a long wait time!
Needless to say, breakfast was absolutely delicious and totally worth the wait. I got pancakes, bacon, scrambled eggs, iced coffee, and orange juice and the Prince was loving his omelet, hash browns, and unlimited coffee! There are a few locations of Eggs ‘n Things in Honolulu as well as one in Kapolei, Hawaii and one in Guam.
- Eggs ‘n Things: 339 Saratoga Road, Honolulu 96815
Beer Tasting Around Kona: Kona Brewing Co. & Ola Brew Co.
After arriving back in Kona in the late afternoon, we headed to dinner at Kona Brewing Co. We made a detour beforehand and tried a flight of beers at Ola Brew Co. The atmosphere at Ola Brew Co. is less touristy and more local. There was live music playing and the bartenders were really helpful in terms of steering us in the right direction, giving up suggestions based on our taste preferences, and just being friendly. It was a lot of fun stopping by and I’m never one to turn down a beer!
- Ola Brew Co.: 74-5598 Luhia Street, Kailua-Kona 96740
Once everyone was finally ready for dinner, we headed over to Kona Brewing Co. It’s a cool location right in the downtown area of Kona. We were lucky enough to snag outdoor seating and just had the most perfect weather. I indulged in another flight of beer and thoroughly enjoyed it. The food was delicious and our server was super sweet! My brother had bought a few of these beers previously for the Prince at Christmas, but it was nice to be able to taste them all in person. It gets crowded/packed in the evenings so make sure to either make a reservation beforehand or arrive early!
- Kona Brewing Co.: 74-5612 Pawai Place, Kailua-Kona 96740
My last full day on the Big Island and it was quite depressing even thinking about leaving. Hawaii was the 49th state I’ve visited and I see why people return to it year after year! If it only it wasn’t a 30+ hour trip from Germany…
We had quite the lazy morning and decided to properly explore downtown Kona. Kona was officially made the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii by King Kamehameha I in the late 1700s before moving the capital to Lahaina and eventually Honolulu. There are many adorable shops, restaurants, and cafes lining the main street of Alii Drive. If you’re looking to cool off from the heat, grab yourself a shaved ice at Scandinavian Shave Ice – it’s delicious!
- Scandinavian Shave Ice: 75-5699 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona 96740
While walking down Alii Drive, you’ll pass Hulihe‘e Palace. It’s the former summer home of Hawaiian royalty and is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. There are also classes and events held here. It’s worth a visit if you’re in downtown Kona.
- Hulihe‘e Palace: 75-5718 Alii Dr, Kailua, HI 96740
Right across the street from Hulihe’e Palace is Mokuaikaua Church. This stone church is the oldest Christian church in the Hawaiian islands, founded in the 1820s by Christian missionaries. It’s gorgeous and I love all the stone that was used to build it. It’s still a functioning church and you can attend services there!
- Mokuaikaua Church: 75-5713 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona 96740
Lava Lava Beach Club
For the entire week, I was looking forward to going to Lava Lava Beach Club! It’s a bar/restaurant right on the beach so it’s a super chill environment with great food and even better cocktails! My brother and his girlfriend raved about it and it exceeded all expectations (even a year later, we still talk about it). The weather was perfect, the atmosphere was the best, and I was surrounded by the ones I love the most.
The Happy House menu is daily from 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm. You really can’t go wrong with anything off the menu. I indulged in Mai Tai cocktails and Gilligan’s Girl (a coconut cocktail!). There are also lots of snacky food options. We got a bunch off the menu and shared tapas-style. It was a great way to end our last full day in Hawaii!
- Lava Lava Beach Club: 69-1081 Ku’uali’i Pl, Waikoloa Village 96738
4 of my 6 siblings after a few cocktails!
If you visit Lava Lava Beach Club, make sure to stop by Mahina clothing store! It’s in the same resort area as Lava Lava Beach Club and had some of the cutest clothing items. I bought a dress there that I now wear weekly, even a year later.
- Mahina: Waikoloa Village, 96738
Day 8: Departure
As our flight back to Germany didn’t leave until 8:00 pm, we decided to take one last Hawaiian adventure to Waipio Valley! Waipio Valley is a gorgeous spot in Hawaii and quite sacred – it was the capital and permanent residence of many of the early chiefs/kings of Hawaii (we’re talking, 12th and 13th century!).
To get to the valley and black sand beach, you must drive down the steepest road in the United States. You start at 2,000 feet and end at sea level…in less than a mile! Most of the time, there is at least a 25% grade and it is so extremely bumpy, narrow, and nerve-wracking. This is a perfect example of where you, 100%, need a 4-wheel drive vehicle!
My favorite pictures of my 2 brothers with the Prince – look at the hand-holding!
We spent the afternoon having one final adventure with my siblings – playing in the water, walking the beach, and eating a picnic. It was the best way to spend the afternoon before 2 full days of travel back to Germany, including 2 red-eye flights!
Final Thoughts on the Big Island
Honestly, I was blown away by Hawaii. While the typical tourist heads to either Maui, Oahu, or Kauai, it was nice to be on the more secluded Big Island. Plus, with so many flights daily to the other islands, it’s super easy to island-hop, even for a day trip! At the end of the week, the Prince and I both concluded that 7 days is not enough time to see or do everything on the Big Island – we barely scratched the surface! While we think that this Big Island itinerary for 7 days is a great starting point, there are so many more areas and places I still want to explore. Plus, now that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open again, I’d love to go back and visit it! Big thanks to my brother and his girlfriend for being the best, over-the-top accommodating, fun hosts. We can’t wait to see you two again!
Planning a trip to Hawaii? Check out this additional post:
Headed to the Big Island for a week? Pin this itinerary!