If you’ve been following me on Instagram you’ll know that I spent a magical 3 weeks in Hawaii, eating and exploring all the goodness these islands have to offer.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing more about my travels because 1) I know these type of posts were SO useful for me in planning my own trip and 2) to document my adventures while they are still fresh and real in my mind.
WHY was I in Hawaii in the first place? Business or pleasure? Read this post.
OAHU was the first stop on my trip. Check out my Oahu recommendations here.
Next stop: The Big Island of Hawaii for my Universal Health Principles retreat. What is Universal Health Principles? Read this post.
The Big Island (officially named Hawaii) is the largest of the Hawaiian islands, and it's also the youngest. It's much more RAW than Oahu; although the island itself is bigger, fewer people live on The Big Island and there are two active volcanoes on this island: Kilauea and Mauna Loa.
There are two sides of the island: the Kona side and the Hilo side. From my understanding, Hilo is a bit more populated and boasts more of a traditional Hawaiian feel, while areas on the Kona side feel more resort-like. It's also worth mentioning that Hilo typically gets more rain (which leads to beautiful waterfalls) while Kona is known for it's beaches.
We stayed on the Kona side, so most of the recommendations are for that part of the island. I will also note that while I was on the island for 11 days, I didn't do as much exploring because 10 of those days were mostly training. Plus we cooked a lot of our own food, which is why I only have a handful of restaurants below.
Here are some of the highlights from my trip:
- Poke bowl from Umeke's - Poke is a raw fish salad traditionally served as an appetizer or in a bowl with rice and seaweed salad. This was the first time I tried poke and it was REALLY tasty. I tried the ahi tuna and avocado poke, but Umeke's had a bunch of different options for all different taste buds. I loved this place the best because they had the option of swapping rice for quinoa or (my favorite) a roasted purple sweet potato.
- Happy Hour at On The Rocks - This little beach bar sits right on the water making it the perfect spot to grab a drink (or a bite to eat) and watch the sun go down over the water. The food here is a mix of Hawaiian staples (poke, pork nachos, fish tacos) with a few healthy upgrades (homemade veggie burger, gluten free bun options, coconut sorbet). The tastiest part of our meal was the Wasabi Coconut Coleslaw made with coconut milk!
- Juices, smoothies and vegan baked goods from Evolution Bakery & Cafe - The cutest vegan cafe. They have juices, smoothies, kombucha, baked goods (some gluten free options!), bagel sandwiches, housemade cashew cheezes and MORE. Try the homemade gluten free bagel and a green drink.
- Coffee and co-working at Daylight Mind Cafe - A huge coffee shop right on the water, Daylight Mind was my DREAM Hawaii co-working space. You can literally sit outside and see the waves crashing on the beach below you while working on their super fast free WiFi. They also have kombucha on tap, a full menu and fun events (like yoga and dance parties!).
- Cold brew or kombucha at Kona Coffee Lounge - Another GREAT spot to get some work done is Kona Coffee Lounge. They have coffee, tea, kombucha, acai bowls, smoothies and a few food items. This spot is less picturesque than Daylight Mind, but it seems like a place where locals meet and work. If they have the ginger kombucha - get it! It's super spicy and in my opinion AMAZING.
- Lunch bowls from Laulima Food Patch - Hawaii's sweetgreen, but better :) Laulima Food Patch is THE place to go for delicious salads and rice bowls. They also do breakfast. The ingredients are all super fresh and local when possible. Note: this place can get pretty pricey if you choose to make your own creation (vs one of their preset menu items). My salad ended up being $17... but honestly it was TOTALLY worth it.
- Stock up on groceries + local goodies at Island Naturals Market and Deli - A large health foods store in Kona town that has it ALL: produce, all your favorite healthy products (gluten free bread, veggie burgers, coconut milk yogurt), local meats, a hot foods bar, PLUS a lot of fun goodies (soaps, turmeric products, etc).
- Brunch (or dinner!) at Holuakoa Cafe - A self proclaimed "slow food restaurant" Holuakoa Cafe is THE spot to go for a lazy morning brunch. The food is all THE best quality and the cafe itself is beautiful. Sit outside in the garden if you can.
- Coffee + treats at Kaya's - The cutest little coffee shop with ALL sorts of goodies (gluten free and vegan options!), matcha, and kombucha on tap. They also have local products like macadamia nuts and soaps, so a good place to grab a gift. I recommend the samoa cookie - it's out of this world.
- Grab some fruit at the Kona Farmer's Market - This farmer's market is right in Kona town so it's an easy place to stop at for fresh local fruit, macadamia nuts and souvenirs. It's definitely more touristy, but still worth checking out.
- Relax on the beach in Kona - There's only a small beach in town, but it's pretty and peaceful! There are also a few little shops along the water with souvenirs (coffee, chocolate covered macadamia nuts, and more!) which are fun to check out if you have the time.
- Explore the Galaxy Garden at the Paleaku Peace Sanctuary - One of my favorite experiences on the island was exploring the Galaxy Garden. This garden is an outdoor scale model of the Milky Way galaxy, mapped in living plants and flowers and based on current astrophysical data. It really gives you perspective on our planet, our solar system and our universe. The Paleaku Peace Sanctuary is home to a number of other gardens so it's a nice place to spend a few hours outside. They also have a great gift shop!
- Swim with dolphins - We were lucky enough to stay in a bay where the dolphins came almost every morning. This was another one of my most favorite experiences. Words can't really describe the feeling you get when you are swimming alongside these beautiful creatures. It's magical, but so much more. We also did a guided tour which was fun and the more sure way to swim with the dolphins.
- See some waterfalls - Waterfalls are a plenty in Hawaii! We went to Akaka Falls State Park which is home to two beautiful waterfalls and a few hike options. Note: Unfortunately the main hike was closed when we visited. We were still able to see the falls, but I would check with the park before planning your trip here.
- Experience an active volcano - The Big Island of Hawaii is home to THREE active (although one is underwater!). Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been continuously erupting since 1983 so it's your best bet to see lava! We hiked around the crater here, which was AWESOME (you feel like you are on the moon). We then drove a bit to a place where you could rent bikes and ride them down to see where the lava flows into the ocean. This was super cool, although its my understanding that you can't get as close to the lava as you once could.
- Snorkel! I think this goes without saying but the sea life is amazing in Hawaii. We did some snorkeling right in the bay where we were staying, and also at Two Step beach. Highly recommended! Don't own snorkel gear? No problem. We rented gear (masks + fins) from a local shop for the whole week and it was super reasonable.
WHEW. Well maybe I did explore a bit more than I thought :)
Have you visited the Big Island of Hawaii? What are your favorite spots on the island? Share with us all in the comments below! And stay tuned for my Maui travel recap coming soon!
Note: This is by no mean a comprehensive guide but rather my tips based on places I visited, researched or was recommended.