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Hawaii (the big island!)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Sharing a few fun things we did during our trip to Hawaii – the big island! I’m kind of laughing as I’m typing this post because of all the Hawaiian islands the big island is the one we have spent the least amount of time on! Ironic that I’m writing a post on it before Maui and Kauai where we have vacationed a lot. Hopefully this starts a trend and I can finally get around to sharing tips on the other islands in 2024. ;) We took this trip soon after Christmas 2023 and only did a few activities. We spent a lot of time just resting and relaxing by the pool and beach which was just what we needed after a busy holiday season and being sick with the flu! But I had done a lot of research and talked to many friends who had been to the big island so I will share what we did along with ideas I gathered and things we want to do next time we visit. (There will definitely be a next time.. we loved the big island!)

WHERE WE STAYED:

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

I’ve mentioned before that we have a timeshare with Westin in Maui which is why we vacation there often. We bought it when our oldest who is now 20 was just turning 2 years old and have absolutely loved it! It has been a great option for our family and we have loved taking our kids to the same spots through the years to relax and create memories. Kauai also has a Westin which is why we have spent more time on those two islands. The big island doesn’t have a Westin that is part of our timeshare network so we booked a week at the Waikola Beach Mariott Resort. Our travel manager (aka Kenny) spent some time looking about a year before and booked an ocean view room on Red Week.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

We were really happy with the resort and I would totally recommend it! Great pools and fitness center and overall service. The room was beautiful and had everything we needed. And this view! WOW. So fun to wake up to each morning. The grounds are stunning!

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

My favorite thing about this resort (and our Maui Westin) is how the beach is easily accessible right off of the swimming pools. This is the fun walking path through the lava rocks that takes you from your room/pools straight to the beach. My kids are always back and forth from the pools to the ocean and I love having everything so close so that we can easily split up and then meet together again if we want to be in different places for a couple of hours. (A major advantage to travel with older kids!)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Another thing I loved about the beach right off of this resort is that they have a little rental spot with everything you could possibly need! You can rent things like snorkeling gear and kayaks by the hour so you are set for a day of effortless fun in the sun.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

We were at the resort on New Years Eve and there was a band playing and some fun dinner options at the resort and close by. A few boats let off fireworks so we could see them from our room. Overall the resort was comfortable and quiet with amazing views (the sunsets were crazy good!) and we really enjoyed our time there.

WHAT WE LOVED:

All of the Hawaiian islands are so special and my very favorite thing about visiting all of them is the way they force you to just RELAX. Everything is on island time and you will automatically slow down the second you arrive. The gorgeous weather and scenery and slower pace have a way of forcing you into happy, relaxed vacation mode. :) This was definitely the same with the big island! But I noticed two things about the big island that felt different than the other islands. The first thing we noticed is how QUIET it was. Maui is full of activity and tourists and while there were definitely tourists around the big island I almost felt like a local! It’s the biggest island but it has a smaller population. Kenny and I loved how quiet and less busy it felt overall. We kept calling it the retirement island which is totally our style for vacationing at this stage in our lives!  Because it’s such a big island we had to drive longer to get to certain restaurants and activities which was also a plus for the two of us because we love driving and just enjoying the beautiful scenery. As you can guess this aspect was a negative for our teens. Ha.

The big island is also unique because of its varying environments. I have never been to one place that looks so different everywhere you go! We would drive through trees that made me feel like I was on the East Coast. Then suddenly we would be in a total desert with black lava rock. Then we drove a little further and everything was lush and green and tropical. It truly looks so different and changes so much throughout the island.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

WHAT WE DID:

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

A few things we did! Hands down our family favorite activity was night swimming with Manta Rays in Kona. I heard this was a fun thing to do on the big island and it really was. Definitely do this if you go! You ride out on a boat or canoe depending on what company you book with and what you prefer. I mentioned that I get seasick/motion sick easily and they recommended the canoes. The guides help you get into the water with snorkel gear and grab a board with lights that you all hold on to so that you can see into the water. The Manta Rays swim right underneath you! You aren’t supposed to touch them but sometimes they touch you. It feels totally safe and is just the coolest thing to see. We all loved it! I was sitting in the front of the canoe on the way out into the ocean and turned around and snapped this picture right before we took off. It got dark quickly and water was splashing everywhere so it’s the only pic I took that night!

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

We hiked Akaka falls. Absolutely beautiful! It’s a really short hike that’s more like a walk that leads to a beautiful waterfall.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

We spent one day visiting Volcano National Park. Lots of walks and drives and really cool things to see and learn about. It is home to two of the world’s most active volcanos and I’ve heard it’s especially incredible if you get lucky with timing and catch the volcanos in action with lava flowing. We didn’t catch that so we’ll have to check it out again next time!

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Kenny took the kids on a helicopter ride over the island and they all loved it. They saw amazing scenery! I politely passed on this one because of my motion sickness (it’s bad and hits even if I’ve had dramamine sometimes!). They woke up at 5 am and were gone a few hours so I slept in and went on a walk on the beach and then they were back and we all went to breakfast. I had zero FOMO on this one and am so fine never riding in a helicopter. Ha. ;)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

But such a cool experience! I was happy Kenny took the kids.. they all had a lot of fun.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Obisic Shave Ice is a popular spot and was so good! I can’t say that I liked it as much as Maui’s Shave Ice but it was a VERY close second. :) We lucked out because it was located in a mall right across the street from our resort.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Always an island favorite.

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Lava Lava Beach Club is a fun restaurant that was also right next to our resort!

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Located right on the beach so a beautiful spot to enjoy a meal. I can’t remember other places we ate other than the Fish and the Hog. I remember that one because of the name and the food was delicious! We don’t get too adventurous with food when we travel because we aren’t really a foodie family. My kids found a Macaroni Grill and wanted to go there every other night.. ha. I remember when Ellie was in second grade they had to write about what they did over spring break and she wrote all about how she had gone to Maui and loved it because she got to eat a hot dog at a cool restaurant called Hard Rock Cafe. Forget the whale watching, road to Hana, beautiful beaches, turtles, snorkeling and all things unique to the island.. Hard Rock Cafe was the highlight! Her teacher and I had a good laugh about that one. :)

WHAT WE HOPE TO DO NEXT TIME:

Like I said we spent a lot of time on this trip just relaxing on the beach and enjoying some down time together, but these are some other fun things I researched/heard about and would love to do during our next visit to the big island!

  • Wailea Falls in Hilo
  • Pololu Valley – I’ve heard the tour is really cool and to stop in Hawi on the way or way back (a cute little town) and eat lunch at Bamboo.
  • Waipio Valley lookout – spectacular view and I heard to stop at Tex Drive-in for their malasadas which are the best on the island.
  • Mauna Kea – road up to observatory if weather is good
  • Hawaiian Botanical Garden (north of Hilo)
  • Hilo Farmers Market
  • KUA bay (one of the best white beaches)
  • Black sand beach & Green sand beach
  • Star Gazing
  • Hot Glass Hawaii (book a class to make glass)

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

I hope this post was helpful if you are planning a trip to the big island! If you’ve been and have anything to add please do in the comments! We had the best trip and loved our time there. The kids said they would still choose Maui first, but it was a close tie as second with Kauai. Kenny and I are ready to move to the big island and retire. ;) Even the airport is outside and super chill!

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

ALOHA Hawaii!

Hawaii big island tips (Sunny Side Up)

Until next time.

xoxo, Erin
Join the Conversation

16 thoughts on “Hawaii (the big island!)

  1. I’ve never been to Hawaii and it was neat experiencing it through your eyes! So pretty! I’m with you about enjoying the slower pace and just relaxing. Thanks so much for sharing, Erin!

    1. Thank you Jeanne! Same! We love doing a few fun activities, but my favorite part about visiting any island is just slowing down and doing nothing! :) Enjoy your weekend!

  2. Oh it all looks so inviting, Erin! So happy your family had a relaxing and memorable time there. Love hearing about your trips you take!!

  3. Thanks for the tips. We’ve been to Oahu and Maui but never the Big Island. Hope to make it there someday!

  4. So fun to see your post. We have a time share with Marriott so have gone to most of the Hawaiian Islands. I still love Kauai the best, Maui second:) The big Island is worth the trip, very nice and quiet as you mentioned. The Botanical Gardens were a big highlight for us. Next level and so beautiful and runs along the coast. Worth the drive to see it. We also went horseback riding down in one of the valley’s which was fun too! If you can drive the full loop around the Island it is worth it, the scenery is so beautiful with lots of nice little town spots to stop and explore. I’d go back again.

    1. Oh I love those ideas Sandra! So much fun. I would love to see the Botanical Gardens! And horse back riding.. ok.. ready to book another trip! Thank you so much for sharing! I love Kauai too but it’s my least favorite of all the islands only because it’s so unpredictable with weather! We got so much rain the last two times we went and it made me not as excited to go back. Beyond beautiful though and it’s my boys’ number one! Maui will always have my heart but the big island was a close second for me! Really they are all SO good. :) Enjoy your weekend and thanks again for the tips! xo

  5. Thank you for this post. I’ve only been to Maui and Kauai as well. Somehow the big island never interested me because in my mind it’s just another big city. We have friends that have gone here and they enjoyed it. Your detailed post gives me more information that’s helpful.

    1. I’m so happy this was helpful Debbie! Oahu gives off more big city vibes to me. The big island feels the opposite! Very much all about nature and everything is so spread out. It’s hard to not love all of the Hawaiann islands! :)

  6. Love the Big Island with the variety of activities available or just simply relax .It is definitely retirement goals for me! Thanks for the pics, it’s like i’m visiting the place again :)

    1. Oh you are welcome.. so happy you liked the pics! Thank you! I’m with you.. definitely retirement goals. Such a beautiful island!

  7. What a great trip! We love the big island! We’ve been there more times than the other islands. You probably wouldn’t enjoy it, but your husband and kids might like the motorized raft snorkeling trip from Kona. It’s a wild ride, but so much fun!

  8. Thank you Erin. What a beautiful family! I’m a lover of Hawaii myself and lived there several times over the years. Blessings your way ✨️ 🙏 💛

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