Kona Hawaii Big Island

volcano national park

Last month we were so grateful to spend another family vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii. I love that Kona feels a little more slower pace and less touristy. It’s super family friendly, tons of things to do and if you want you can island hop it was just a short 30 minute flight to Oahu!

Today I’m going to share where we stayed and what we did!

Where We Stayed:

We stayed at Marriot’s Waikoloa Ocean Club for 2 nights because our house rental was not available for the first two days we were there. The Ocean Club had a beautiful property as far as pools, restaurants and lobby goes but honestly the rooms weren’t the best. I feel like they were a bit outdated. They were clean, don’t get me wrong, but we are loyal to Marriot hotels and this is one I would probably not stay at again.

For the remainder of our trip we stayed in a house rental booked through the Marriot Villas so basically like an Air B&B but each home is evaluated by Marriot to ensure that every home listed can be serviced at a standard expected of Marriott International. This is the exact house that we stayed in and we absoutely loved it! It was spacious, had a beautiful outdoor space complete with an outdoor kitchen. The owners of the space had all of the equipment a family would need for a perfect beach vacation and then some! Boogie boards, beach chairs, sand toys, snorkling gear, wheeled cooler, etc.

The Kulalani property where the house is located has a fitness center, multiple pools and hot tubs so you get many of the same amenities that you would at a hotel. Also, the location was amazing. Not only was it less than a 5 minute drive to church for us but minutes down the street is the Shops at Mauna Lani where you can find a supermarket, coffee shops, restaurants, clothing and accessory stores, art, and free weekly entertainment in the evenings. So many nearby beaches and golf courses as well.

This was our 2nd time to stay at the Kulalani property. In 2019 we stayed in a different house so just keep in mind there are different Marriot Villa options in the area depending on how many people you need to sleep. After staying in both rentals, I realized that depending on the owners of the specific property you may get some added bonuses. For example, the home we rented two years ago gave us all access to Hilton resorts and private beaches. This year, the owners had access to all of the Marriot owned resorts and private beaches. I, 10/10, would recommend this home rental!

Things You DOn’t Want To Miss On The Big Island

  • Makalawena Beach – I’m just laughing out loud over here because of the unexpected rough terrain we had to drive through to get to this beautiful beach! Please see my Hawaii highlights here to see what I am talking about LOL. You don’t need a 4WD but I would probably recommend having at least a mid size SUV. I can’t imagine driving through this in a car that is lower to the ground. The special thing about Makalawena Beach is that so many locals and visitors described it as almost deserted, postcard perfect beach so of course we had to check it out! It was less than a 20 minute drive from where we were staying but the rocky roads took us another 30 minutes to get through! Once you park in the parking lot, it is another 25 minute walk. If 25 minutes is too long, there is a state park/beach right next to the parking lot but if you don’t mind walking the extra distance (I mean you have already off roaded there at this point LOL), I promise you it’s worth it! You’ll see a few goats on the trail to Makalawena Beach and once you reach the soft, white sand beach with clear waters and hardly any people, you’ll be reminded it was a all worth it!
  • Pu’uhonua O Honaunau (poo-oo-ho-noo-ah o hoe-now-now)- “Imagine you had just broken the sacred laws, the kapu, and the only punishment was death. Your only chance of survival is to elude your pursuers and reach the Pu’uhonua, a place of refuge. The Pu’uhonua protected the kapu breaker, defeated warriors, as well as civilians during the time of battle. No physical harm could come to those who reached the boundaries of the Pu’uhonua.” This National Historical Park, formerly known as Place of Refuge, is beautifully maintained. Not only is it surrounded by the beautiful turquoise waters but it’s a great way to learn about Hawaiian history and culture. They have educational displays, carved statues and if you are lucky you can catch a live cultural demonstration.
  • Snorkel At 2 Step Beach– Right next to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau but you will have to get back in your car and drive there. There is a small parking area just beyond the boat ramp and on the side of the road. It has been named one of the best snorkleing spots on the island. Although you can book a snorkeling boat tour, you can also bring your own equipment and snorkel at your leisure! Just FYI- 2 Step Beach does not have a ton of sand as it is mostly lava rocks so if just relaxing by the beach is what you are looking for that day, I would hit up another one of the local beaches. Our kids love to play in the sand and jump over the waves breaking at shore and this beautiful snorkeling spot did not have that but again a great spot for beginner snorkeling and since it’s right next door to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau we definitely wanted to check it out! The name two step comes from the easy access to the water. It’s literally 2 steps off the boat ramp and you can enjoy some beginner snorkeling.
  • La’Aloa Bay– also as Disappearing Sands Beach or White Sands Beach. Magic Sands is one of the best Kona Beaches, great for swimming, surfing, boogie boarding, even snorkeling and scuba diving. And right across the street where we parked was a food truck that was serving th most delicious Hawaiian Shaved Ice!
  • Hapuna Beach– Located between Mauna Lani Resort and Mauna Kea Resort so it was only maybe a 15 minute drive from our house. Hapuna Beach is the Big Island’s largest sandy beach, stretching nearly a half mile from north to south. It’s so large that even on “crowded” days it doesn’t feel super touristy. A great spot to picnic and boogie board with the kids. Probably one of our favorite spots to watch the sunset!
  • Volcano National Park/Chain of Craters RoadThe Chain of Craters road is one of the most scenic roads on the Big Island. It stretches 19 miles long from the top of the Kilauea volcano all the way down to sea level. Along the way, you’ll pass through old craters of various shapes and sizes, hiking trails, lava fields, petroglyphs, a sea arch and more. If you’re planning to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park the scenic drive is a definitely a must do!
  • Hilo Waterfalls – Visiting the Hilo waterfalls should definitely be at the top of your list when visiting The Big Island. Hilo was about an 1.5 hour drive from where we were staying. One of the most famous Hilo waterfalls is the 442 foot Akaka Falls so that is the one we went to see! The state of Hawaii has created the Akaka State Park so now there are paved paths along the rainforest view which make the hike super kid friendly! Other waterfalls to check out: Umauma Falls and Rainbow Falls
  • Stargazing on the slopes of Mauna Kea– Ya’ll just look at the photos people have of this experience! Simply breathtaking! The Mauna Kea Observatories are a number of independent astronomical research facilities and large telescopes that are located at the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi. Unfortunately, we were not able to do this because they do not recommend children under 13 years of age to visit the summit because they have a much higher incidence of high altitude problems. We will have to save this one for when the kiddos are older! PS. Grabbed these photos from the Mauna Kea Observatories website since I didn’t have any of my own !
  • Helicopter Tour – this is something that is still on our list of things to do as well! The kids are too little to do this tour right now but as soon as they are old enough, we are doing it! There’s a ton of different tours you can take; adventure tours over different islands that include stopping for an afternoon of paddle boarding, you can choose to fly over the iconic waterfalls, but the one I really think would be cool is over the volcanos! How amazing that view would be looking down into an active volcano. Yes, I do have a new found obsession with volcanoes now LOL

If you are heading to The Big Island soon, I hope this post is helpful! I’ll be publishing a separate post sharing everything we did in Honolulu and where we stayed. Stay tuned for that!

things to do on the big island hawaii
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