A Destination Guide to the Big Island of Hawaii – Hotels Above Par

Credit: Kulaniapia Falls

Hawai’i, or the Big Island as it is affectionately known, is a diverse island with multiple climates, landscapes and cultures. You’ll see everything from cocoa to coffee to banana farming, and landscapes like lush rainforest, black lava fields, gorgeous beaches, and some of the tallest mountains in the world. The cultures of native Hawaiians intertwine with Japanese, Filipino, Thai and others, creating a melting pot of traditions, cuisines and more. Here are some of journalist Devorah Lev-Tov’s favorite places to stay, eat and do on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Where to stay:

Hostel Holualoa

Hostel Holualoa

A chic and comfortable bed and breakfast located on a Kona coffee farm, Holualoa Inn is nestled amidst 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, gazebos and verandas tucked away amid beautiful gardens, and stunning ocean views from the mountainside. The included homemade breakfast features locally grown produce and their estate-brewed Kona coffee.

Mauna Lani Resort

Mauna Lani, a resort

This beautiful resort on the island’s Kona-Kohala coast reopened in 2020 after a $200 million renovation, marking the Auberge’s first property in Hawai’i. Spread across 32 acres of landscaped beachfront, the 333-room Meyer Davis-designed property features contemporary beachside design alongside traditional Hawaiian art, plus plenty of spots with stunning water views. Guests can explore Kalahuipua’a’s ancient fish ponds right on the grounds, the three sparkling pools, or reserve a beautiful oceanfront log cabin 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 Restaurant

ULU Ocean Grill

ULU Ocean Grill at the Four Seasons Hualalei is a favorite spot, as much for its beachfront location as for the food. ULU is known for its fresh sushi and sashimi using the best local fish, as well as its Hawaiian Ahi Poke, made with white shoyu and Maui onions; Misoyaki Kampachi, made with local Kona Kampachi with nori and black garlic sauce and Japanese turnip Hakurei; and Hualalei oysters that are farmed on site and served with Hawaiian chili water, lemon and ogo (seaweed). Save room for the soufflé, which swings in flavor between flavors like Hawaiian vanilla and macadamia nut.

CanoeHouse (Credit_Nicole Franzen)
1 credit


CanoeHouse is a critically acclaimed beachfront restaurant run by the husband and wife team of Matt Raso of Nobu and Yuka Raso fame. The inventive menu blends Japanese and Hawaiian cuisines resulting in dishes like Kona Kampachi sashimi poke-style, grilled Keahole lobster with lobster miso butter, and local beef and foie gras gyoza. . The cocktails are perfect blends of island and Asian flavors – the Lilikoi Shiso Highball with passion fruit, shiso and Suntory Toki. Select the MY menu for a six-course tasting menu from the chef’s selections for the best of all worlds.

Where to drink:

Pub Kona

This craft brewery opened in 1998 and is now a Big Island staple. It has a 2,000 square foot veranda to relax and drink their delicious beers, and there is also often live music. You can also visit the brewery itself and see how the sausage, beer, is made.

Where to visit:

Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

How often can you see a volcano erupting (from a safe distance, of course)? The Kilauea Volcano is currently spewing lava and smoke and you can see the red glow at night. Also in the huge park are the impressive summit of Mauna Loa, the Nahuku lava tube surrounded by lush rainforest (which you can walk through), the Jagger Museum of Volcanology, and the 19-mile range of Craters Road, which runs ends at a viewpoint. from the spectacular Hōlei sea arch.

Punalu'u Beach

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Wandering on this black sand beach is on many people’s to-do list and because it’s a few miles south of Volcanoes National Park, it’s an easy stop. Aside from the iconic black volcanic sand (which is by no means to be removed from the beach), expect palm trees and sea turtles bobbing on land and in the water. After, stop at the famous Punalu’u Bakery for a malasada (Portuguese donut) and other treats.

Manta Rays by James L Wing
Credit: James L Wing

Snorkeling with mantas at night

This unforgettable experience offered by Mauna Kea Resort will have you diving in the moonlight as graceful manta rays glide all around you.

Kulaniapia Falls (Credit_ Kulaniapia Falls)
Credit: Kulaniapia Falls

Kulaniapa Falls

Swimming under a waterfall is another iconic Hawaiian experience, and Kulaniapa Falls in Hilo ticks all the boxes spectacularly. Located on the Kulaniapa Inn’s off-grid property, visitors can purchase day passes to swim and paddle the falls and explore the property’s 40 gorgeous acres.

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