Updated: 5 days ago
I absolutely love visiting the Big Island of Hawaii. My family is fortunate enough to visit every year during the Christmas Holiday. Over the years, I have fallen in love with this beautiful, tropical island and all the fun things to do here.
I've created a full guide to the Big Island HERE. However, this guide will specifically feature all of the FREE activities on the Big Island. Just because you're on a tropical island, doesn't mean you need to splurge on every activity!
1. Hula Show
Kohola Coast (Tuesday and Thursday at 6PM)
Luau's are notoriously expensive (so you're probably wondering why I'm talking about it on this list - just keep reading). It's something everyone wants to see and do while on a Hawaiian island. But, the food is typically "meh" and they're always crowded. The actual hula dance is fun to watch but you definitely don't need to spend all the money on a Luau just to see a hula dance.
Instead, we opt to see the FREE Hula Show at The Mauna Lani Shops. They offer a free show twice a week for anyone to attend! I try to arrive about 30 minutes early to snag a seat at the very front and participate in some of the other cultural activities they set up! Typically, they offer lei making and more! Going to the free Hula Show at the Mauna Lani Shops is a family tradition that we love! Plus, once it's over, you can shop in the village!
Shop Amazon: My Hawaii Necessities (including Luau outfits)
2. Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens
Hilo, Hawaii (9AM to 4PM; daily)
Pana'ewa Gardens are the ONLY tropical gardens in the United States and they're completely FREE! Spend one to two hours exploring and see endangered Hawaiian animals like lemurs, nene geese (Hawaiian State Bird), spider monkeys, and 80+ other animal species. You'll also find over 100 varieties of plants including orchids, bamboos, and more. The Zoo is open daily from 9AM to 4PM and only 5 miles away from Hilo.
Note: Entry is free, but please consider leaving a small donation for the Zoo & Garden.
3. Spend the Day at the Beach
This is the most obvious FREE thing to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. All Big Island beaches are free and open to the public. However, there are a few beaches with a small parking fee (typically $5 or less). Full list of all the BEST beaches on the Big Island HERE.
Read More: 10 Best Beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii
4. Coffee Plantation Tour
Hawaiian is known for their coffee plantations. There are a few great FREE tours offered on the Big Island of Hawaii:
Heavenly Hawaii (tours offered hourly from 9AM-4PM on Monday-Saturday)
Mountain Thunder (tours offered hourly from 10AM-4PM; daily)
Kona Joe Coffee (self guided tour offered daily)
5. Go for a Hike
Get your daily dose of exercise on one of the many trails located on the Big Island. Most all trails are completely free of charge and range in difficulty. My favorite hike on the Big Island is Pololu Valley (pictured below) - at the end of it, you're rewarded with a black sand beach to yourself!
Shop Amazon: My Hiking Necessities
6. Macadamia Nut Tour
Hilo, Hawaii (8:30am to 5pm; daily)
Macadamia Nuts are produced here in Hawaii. Try a free sample plus learn about the process of growing macadamia nuts here at Mauna Loa in Hilo, Hawaii. You'll find a huge variety of options ranging from salty and savory nuts to sweet and chocolate-covered nuts.
You can also visit Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company (closer to Kona).
7. Mokupāpapa Discovery Center
Hilo, Hawaii (9AM to 4PM on Tuesday - Saturday)
The Mokupapapa Discovery Center (MDC) is a FREE museum featuring a 3,500 gallon saltwater aquarium, interactive exhibits, lifesize models of wildlife, and more! The goal of the museum is to showcase the remote island wildlife, natural science, and history.
8. Puako Petroglyphs Archaelogical Preserve
Kohola Coast (sunrise to sunset; daily)
Step back in time to 1200 AD by "reading" over 3,000 ancient petroglyphs. The exact meaning of the petroglyphs are unknown but it is assumed that they mark births, deaths, and significant events from the island's earlier days.
Note: Wear good shoes because the path is unpaved and goes through a kiawe forest.
9. Drive to the Mauna Kea Summit
Center of the Big Island (Visitor Center is open 9AM-6PM; daily)
The Mauna Kea Summit is one of the only places in the world that you can drive from sea level to 14,000ft above sea level in less than 2 hours. This can cause altitude sickness so take precautions, stay hydrated, and be sure to stop at the visitor's center to acclimate. You're probably asking yourself why it is worth it if you're going to get altitude sickness... well, the view at the top definitely makes it worth it! It's the perfect place for stargazing or watching the sunset. Since you're so high up, the weather changes drastically - there could be snow on top of the mountain, high winds, or more!
Note: To drive past the visitor's center, you must have a TRUE 4-wheel drive vehicle with LOW range. Otherwise, you'll need to book a tour to go all the way to the top.
10. Visit a Local Farmer's Market
The Big Island of Hawaii has 2 well established farmer's markets that offer everything from fresh produce to local crafts.
You'll find unique items at each market so I recommend checking out both!
11. Visit Rainbow Falls
Hilo, Hawaii (sunrise to sunset; daily)
This is one of the most iconic waterfalls in Hawaii and it is completely FREE (love that!). Rainbow Falls is located near Hilo, Hawaii. It's incredibly accessible as you simply park and walk 10 steps to the viewpoint.
PS: Other Ways To Save on The Big Island of Hawaii
Costco Member? Be sure to bring your Costco card and fill up on gas at the Kona Costco to save money!
Grocery shop and cook inside your condo/beach house instead of eating out every meal
Rent chairs for the week (not daily).
Pack ALL of your necessities (like sunscreen, aloe, etc). Buying items on the Island is expensive! NOTE: Shop my Hawaii Necessities from Amazon HERE.
Well, there you have it - a full list of my favorite FREE things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!
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