Destination Guide: Hawaii, The Big Island

Big Island

Know before you go

  • Bring cash or plan on hitting up an ATM on the island. Many local places, especially on the east side of the island won’t take cards. You will also need cash at the farmers markets and any food trucks you stop at on the beach.
  • If you have time, try to split your trip between the east side and west side of the island. Each has a lot to offer any traveler. In fact, they can seem like two different islands. You will also cut way down on driving time if you split your trip. Volcano National Park deserves more than an hour of your time. If you are staying on the east side, you can take a few days to wander the different sections.



  • Rental cars are really the only way to go. Shop around, use your Costco discount, check the web for coupons. Your other option is the bus on the west side or hitchhiking. Scooters are also a great way to get around.
  • Gas is expensive, at least $1 more on the island than on the mainland. In Kona we paid $4.47/gal, in Hilo $4.25/gal.


A fellow blogger, Hiking in Paradise, has clued me into a few Hawaiian dishes including Saimin,  Kal-bi and Meat Jun. We never did give them a try, but I did see Saimin on a menu at breakfast. There are tons of local and not so local foods to try. Our favorite is still Kalua Pig and anything else you want to try to BBQ. We certainly had a great Pulled BBQ Pork sandwich in Hawii. Sushi can be found in droves along with spam and eggs if you so desire it.


  • Water shoes- there are a lot of rocks and lava pools worth exploring but it can be hard on you and your kids feet. The rocks can also get slick. If your accommodations don’t supply shoes pick yourself up a cheap pair when you land.
  • Lifejacket- check with your hotel or rental home. They may provide them. If not, your peace of mind will be much greater if you have a lifejacket for your little ones. It will open up more swimming spots for you all especially on the east side of the island.

Kailua- Kona (west side of island)

Know before you go:

  • This is definitely the more touristy side of the island. It does not rain as much as the east side of the island. It also has more white sand and swimmable beaches than the east side. There is plenty of exploring to do even if you never make it to the east side.
  • There is some amazing snorkeling and baby beaches here, including Kahalu’u Beach Park and Ho’okena Beach.
  • Many beach parks do have facilities. If you go to more remote beaches though, you are on your own.

Lodging: Many of the larger  (and smaller) resorts are on this side of the island. There are also plenty of rental homes and condos to check out.

Food: the cost of food may blow you away. It is more expensive to buy groceries and go out to eat than many places on the mainland. With a little planning and research you can find some budget friendly options though.

    • Family Friendly Eating in Kona
    • Island Lava Java 75-5799 Alii Drive  Kailua-Kona Tel: 808.327.2161. by far my favorite breakfast place on the island. Make sure you go early on Sunday for brunch and have the Guava Bread Pudding French Toast
    • Ultimate Burger 74-5450 Makala Blvd # E112  Kailua-Kona Tel: 808.329.2326 tucked into a shopping mall, these were decent burgers at a decent (for the island) price
    • Da Poke Shack– we never got to eat here, but the owners of our rental and their kids swear by it.
    • Tacos El Unico– decent tacos, rice and beans. You get your choice of meat which include the usuals plus beef cheek and tongue, which by the way are delicious.
    • Bianellis Gourmet Pizza & Pasta Keauhou Shopping Center, 78-6831 Alii Dr., Suite B106, Kailua-Kona Tel: 808.322.0377 Easy pizza and pasta when you first get on the island and need a quick bite. Head over to the grocer next door to load up on snacks and milk for the kids while you wait for your pizza.
    • Big Island Grill 75-5702 Kuakini Highway  Kailua-Kona  Tel: 808.326.1153 Lots of local food, huge piles of meat, fried rice, slices of cake bigger than my head.
    • Sima-Ichi Sushi 75-5742 Kuakini Hwy, Kailua-Kona Tel: 808.747.0152 Newer sushi spot on the Kona scene. The chef also owns a shop in Washington. Great prices, fresh fish. Simple menu but very kid friendly spot.

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Hilo, Pahoa and Kapoho (east side of island)

Know before you go: 

  • It can rain quite a bit on the east side of the island. Pack an umbrella and raincoats for sure. You can also pick up a cheap plastic poncho on the island.
  • Hot spring fed ponds are the big draw in Kapoho. Many of the beaches are too rough to swim in, especially with young children.
  • Volcano National Park is a must. If you can make a couple of half day trips to the volcano you can see more and everyone, even your toddler can have a good time without missing a nap.

Lodging: There aren’t many large resorts on this side of the island. There are a few hostels in Hilo and elsewhere I’m sure. Renting a house really is the way to go. You can be as close to the beach as you are willing to pay for. You can be right near the Champagne Ponds or volcano. The options are endless. We even drove by a very tacky looking castle you can rent along Rt. 137.

Food: If you are renting outside of a town it will probably be easier to do most of your meals in your own kitchen rather than planning on going out to eat a lot. This will also save you a lot of money

    • Family Friendly Food in Pahoa and Hilo
    • Ken’s Pancake House 1730 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, HI 96720 Tel: 808.935.8711 Large menu, decent food. The French toast was huge and quite tasty.
    • Two Ladies Kitchen 274 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, HI 96720 Tel: 808.961.4766 Fresh strawberry mochi? chocolate brownie mochi? More mochi flavors than you could possibly dream of coming out of this tiny shop.
    • Pahoa Farmers Market
    • Kaleo’s 15-2969 Pahoa Village Road, Pahoa HI 96778 Tel: 808.965.5600
    • Boogie Woogie Pizza 15-2937Pahoa Village Road, Pahoa HI 96778 Tel: 808.965.5575 A half cheese/half pepperoni for $14. Not bad for the island. Pizza was OK. Not the best I’ve had, but certainly not the worst.

Volcanos National Park

  • Wear warm clothes. You will be very sorry if you show up in shorts and a t-shirt. The top of the volcano is at 4000 feet. Jeans and sweatshirts are a must. You may want a jacket and hat as well.
  • Do NOT forget your camera
  • Stop at the visitors center to get an updated map from the park staff. They will mark what roads are closed in the park due to volcanic activity
  • The park staff is very nice but not the most helpful when it comes to “Things to see with a toddler in tow.” Do some research ahead of time to see which trails are short enough for little legs and which you may have to skip.
  • There are restrooms at most of the view points along the crater
  • The Thurston Lava Tubes are not to be missed. There are lights along the accessible section. Sadly the non-lit area was not open when we visited. Usually you can take your own flashlight down to do a little more exploring. Our toddler was thrilled to be wandering through the “big tunnel” and splashing his feet in the puddles on the floor.
  • If you are staying on the east side of the island, make an afternoon trip out of it (after nap time maybe?) so you can see the crater at night.
  • The crater lights up around 6:30pm when it gets dark. This is not to be missed. The kids can go to bed a little late that night in order to see it.
    • Best view-point is at the Jagger Museum. There is a nice little exhibit, restrooms and benches to have a nice, although probably windy, picnic.
    • A tripod is a good idea if you want some good close ups, but I got a few good shots with my point and shoot and DSLR just resting on a ledge too.
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5 thoughts on “Hawaii, The Big Island”

  1. Yay for Hawai’i!! I’m from Oahu but my best friend lives on the Big Island. Love it =] Hope you had an amazing time!

  2. Hawaii is an amazing place if you let it in! I’m going to cry so hard when I have to leave!

  3. I’ve been to the Big Island twice and I love staying in Waikoloa. It is such a beautiful place over there.

  4. Great post about the Big Island! I agree with your tips – especially the one about kids having a later bedtime to experience the glow of the crater at night!

  5. Jolie

    Thank you for the Lava Java post. It was the best breakfast we had during our visit.

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