Hawai’i, or the Big Island as it’s affectionately called, is a diverse island with multiple climates, landscapes, and cultures. You’ll see everything from cacao to coffee to bananas growing, and landscapes like lush rainforest, black lava fields, stunning beaches, and some of the tallest mountains in the world. The cultures of native Hawaiians mesh with Japanese, Filipino, Thai, and others, creating a melting pot of traditions, cuisines, and more. Here are a few of journalist Devorah Lev-Tov’s favorite places to stay, eat, and do on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
Where to Stay:
A chic and cozy bed and breakfast set on a working Kona coffee farm, Holualoa Inn is nestled amid a lush rainforest landscape on the slopes of Mount Hualalei. With just 6 rooms and suites and 2 cottages, the intimate property features traditional Hawaiian design, hidden gazebos and verandas amid gorgeous gardens, and sweeping ocean views from the mountainside. The included homemade breakfast features locally grown produce and their estate-brewed Kona coffee.
This stunning resort on the island’s Kona-Kohala coast reopened in 2020 following a $200 million renovation, marking Auberge’s first property in Hawai’i. Spread across 32 acres of beachfront landscape, the 333-room property designed by Meyer Davis features contemporary beachy design alongside traditional Hawaiian art, plus plenty of spots with stunning water views. Guests can explore the ancient Kalahuipua’a fishponds right on the grounds, the three sparking pools, or reserve a gorgeous wooden cabana facing the ocean, complete with a cooler full of drinks. The resort is also home to the first goop store in Hawai’i and the spa offers an exclusive goop facial, the only one in the world.
Where to Eat:
ULU Ocean Grill at the Four Seasons Hualalei is a favorite spot, as much for its oceanfront location as the food. ULU is known for its fresh sushi and sashimi utilizing the best local fish, as well as its tableside Hawaiian Ahi Poke, made with white shoyu and Maui onions; Misoyaki Kampachi, made with local Kona Kampachi with a nori and black garlic sauce and Japanese Hakurei turnip; and Hualalei oysters that are farmed on property and served with Hawaiian chili pepper water, lemon, and ogo (seaweed). Save room for the soufflé, whose flavor rotates between flavors like Hawaiian grown vanilla and macadamia nut.
CanoeHouse is a critically acclaimed beachfront restaurant helmed by husband-and-wife team of Matt Raso of Nobu fame and Yuka Raso. The inventive menu blends Japanese and Hawaiian cuisines that result in dishes like Kona Kampachi sashimi made poke style, grilled Keahole lobster with lobster miso butter, and local beef and foie gras gyoza. Cocktails are perfect melds of island and Asian flavors—the Lilikoi Shiso Highball with passionfruit, shiso, and Suntory Toki. Select the MY Menu for a six-course tasting menu of the chef’s selections for the best of all worlds.
Where to Drink:
This craft brewery opened back in 1998 and is now a Big Island staple. It features a 2,000-square-foot lanai to relax and drink their delicious beers on, plus there’s often live music going as well. You can also tour the brewery itself and see how the sausage, er beer, gets made.
Where to Visit:
How often can you see an erupting volcano (from a safe distance, of course)? Kilauea volcano is currently spewing lava and smoke and you can see the red glow at night. Also in the massive park are the impressive summit of Mauna Loa, the lush rainforest-surrounded Nahuku lava tube (which you can walk through), the Jagger Museum of volcanoelogy, and the 19-mile Chain of Craters Road, which ends at a viewpoint of the spectacular Hōlei Sea Arch.
Frolicking on this black sand beach is on many people’s must-do list and because this one just a few miles south of Volcanoes National Park, it’s an easy stop. Aside from the iconic black volcanic sand (which should not be removed from the beach under any circumstances), expect swaying palms trees and sea turtles hanging out on land and in the water. After, stop by the famous Punalu’u Bakeshop for a malasada (Portuguese style doughnut) and other treats.
This unforgettable experience offered by Mauna Kea Resort will have you snorkeling by moonlight as graceful manta rays glide all around you.
Swimming under a waterfall is another iconic Hawai’i experience, and Kulaniapa Falls in Hilo checks all the boxes in a spectacular way. Located on the off-the-grid Kulaniapa Inn property, visitors can purchase day passes to swim and paddle the falls and explore the property’s 40 gorgeous acres.