Rainbows over waterfall in Hawaii

Surround yourself in Hawaii’s breathtaking scenery. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Unwind in Paradise: 3 Days on the Island of Hawaii

Every year, millions of people flock to the island of Hawaii — called the Big Island by locals — to enjoy some of the most gorgeous beaches in the world. But the Aloha State offers much more than just a traditional tropical getaway, and the Big Island has some of the most breathtaking jungle trails and awe-inspiring volcanic vistas you’ll find anywhere in the archipelago.

And the cultural experiences in the island’s small towns are delightfully varied. Whether you want to take in a jazz performance, go wine tasting, sample Hawaii’s famous coffee or get a deep dive into the Polynesian navigational traditions that first brought people to this remote island chain, you can do it here on the Big Island.

Where else can you watch lava burble and spit in an alien landscape, spot sea turtles cruising the currents and sip a glass of pinot at an acclaimed winery, all in a single weekend? Pack your hiking boots and your most glamorous straw hat. This is an island that’s equal parts rough-and-tumble and refined — and it’s unlike any place else in the world.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Kick Back in Kona for a Taste of Local Culture

Start out your Big Island exploration in Kailua-Kona, one of the most beloved resort towns in Hawaii. There might be crowds, but this is a can’t-miss stop when it comes to the best beaches on the island. Order a veggie omelet topped with macadamia-nut pesto at the open-air Island Lava Java for breakfast, which has its own coffee bean farm.

Afterward, travel up the road a bit to the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, a “bean-to-cup” coffee grower offering tours of their roasting plant. Once you’ve seen how it’s done in modern times, take a step back in time to 1920 at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, where you can watch how the earliest farmers would have harvested, roasted, and ground their beans before modern technology.

After your history lesson, head to the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, where you have two options: Book a private cabana and take in the ocean views from the shore or rent a sea kayak and paddle out on Kailua Bay for a view of the city. Both will reward you with a new perspective of the island and a soundtrack of lapping waves.

Sunset over Mauna Kea observatory
Visit Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii. (Photo: Getty Images)

Stop for lunch at the Island Ono Loa Grill for a burger or fish sandwich — you know it’s legit because the tables are evenly split between locals and out-of-towners. After lunch, get ready to gain a few thousand feet on Mauna Kea — but how you get there is up to you.

The easy way is to drive from sea level to the mountaintop, which maxes out at 14,000 feet. The hard way? A steep 6-mile journey that’s mega-rewarding, but, at eight hours round trip, it is challenging and requires gear for the changing weather and terrain you’ll encounter along the way.

One thing to keep in mind: You won’t truly summit Mauna Kea, because the mountaintop is sacred ground. But the views from the top of the trail are well worth the climb.

If you choose the driving option (we don’t blame you!), follow it up with a visit to the Kanaloa Octopus Farm, a fascinating example of how Hawaii is working to foster biodiversity and protect the aquatic species that have been at risk of overharvesting.

If all that octopus hang time puts you in the mood for some seafood, it’s less than 20 minutes up the road to Huggo’s, a restaurant with fine dining and waterfront views. Hawaiian twists on seafood, steaks and pasta are the popular picks here, with a menu spanning classics like seared sesame-crusted ahi and Black Angus steak to locally inspired dishes like kalbi-style beef short ribs and shrimp.

After dinner, take a drive to Gertrude’s Jazz Bar for some live music, dancing and a cocktail (or three).

Saturday: Head for Hilo

Rainbow Falls in Hawaii State Park on a sunny day
Rainbow Falls is part of Hawaii State Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

On the other side of the Big Island, the town of Hilo gets almost 10 feet of rain yearly, making it one of the wettest places in America — and therefore one of the greenest. Fuel up for the day’s adventures with breakfast at the all-vegan Vibe Café, serving açai bowls, loaded toasts, smoothies and excellent coffee.

Hilo is the epitome of Hawaiian natural beauty, and it’s a tranquil starting point from which to explore the island’s most famous rainforests and falls.

Avoid the afternoon crowds by heading up first thing to the 80-foot-high Rainbow Falls, one of the most popular Hawaiian cataracts, located in Wailuku River State Park. The park is also home to the famous Boiling Pots, connected pools that bubble and roil as water churns through.

Afterward, grab lunch at the Suisan Fish Market — portions are a little small, but that’s because the furikake-flecked poke here is the best quality you’ll find on the island.

Further north, the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden showcases almost 2,000 species of tropical plants; take a stroll through the curated garden with unique flora around every corner.

Or spend the afternoon exploring the planetarium at Imiloa Astronomy Center, where you can take in a planetarium show and learn how early Polynesian navigators charted the stars and crossed the Pacific to settle these islands. Part of the University of Hawaii Hilo, this center has been a key player in the renaissance of Hawaiian culture, celebrating the history of the island’s environment and its people.

For dinner, head to Ponds Hilo, a restaurant situated on top of a koi pond with views of the Ice Pond, a popular swimming spot with locals. The prime rib and fish and chips are favorites, and you can expect live music featuring local acts most nights of the week. Find a spot on the deck and order a post-dinner drink — this is a great place to linger.

Sunday: Cap Off a Weekend in Paradise With a Volcanic Visit

A trip to Hawaii would be incomplete without taking the time to explore the four active volcanoes that dot the Big Island, including Kilauea, which, according to local legend, is the home of the Pele, the powerful Hawaiian goddess of fire who is believed to have shaped the islands.

For breakfast, you’re going to discover the true meaning of “aloha” with a meal on a locally owned farm.

Tai Shan Farms produces white, pink and red dragon fruit varieties, as well as honey from their beehives. Here you’ll find the most literal expression of “locally grown,” with baked goods made with fruit, honey and other farm produce; the Sunday-only breakfast menu includes tacos, burritos and more.

Then drive 90 minutes to Volcano Village, where you can rent a bike, take to the trails and hike or splurge for a helicopter tour to scope out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the surrounding area. There are advantages — indeed thrills — attached to all modes of exploration, with the aerial route offering an expansive overview, while staying on the ground puts you up close to the vegetation.

Kilauea volcano on a sunny day
Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. (Photo: Getty Images)

Next up is a visit to the Kilauea volcano. Take a self-guided tour along Crater Rim Drive to get close to the edge of the scenic volcano summit. You’ll also see the sacred Puuloa petroglyphs, which ancient Hawaiians carved into the hardened lava thousands of years ago.

For lunch, take a trip outside of the park and head to Café Ono, a farm-to-table restaurant with tons of vegan and gluten-free options. This spot is located in an old Hawaiian garden estate, and you’ll feel ensconced in greenery in the best way as you dine.

Once you’re finished with lunch, make the eight-minute drive to Volcano Winery, the southernmost winery in the U.S., makers of unique wines like the Volcanic Blush, which blends white grapes with jaboticaba berries. It’s no exaggeration to say Hawaiian wines are like no other — made from grapes grown at high altitudes in Hawaii’s ashy soil and infused with pineapple, guava and other fruit.

Then drive just a little bit farther to check out the southernmost bakery as well: the Punaluu Bake Shop, which offers a taste of Hawaiian sweet breads, made from secret recipes passed down through the generations.

Don’t miss the Punaluu Black Sand Beach, with its clear, calm waters for snorkeling. The area is also famed for its green sea turtles, endangered creatures who love to rest in the sand and who are protected by a law that prohibits people from getting too close to them.

Where you’ll enjoy your final meal depends on where you’re staying. If you’re up north along the Kohala Coast, don’t miss dinner at Manta Restaurant at the classic, circa-1965 Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection.

If you’re staying around Kailua-Kona, there’s a fun Sunday night luau at Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, complete with a Hawaiian-style buffet. And if you’re on the Hilo side of the island, stop into Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill Hilo for locally sourced and organic food, including just-caught seafood and Asian-accented dumplings and short ribs.

Marriott recognizes the Hawaiian language’s use of diacritical marks, including the ‘okina and the kahakō. However, because these marks aren’t always accurately rendered by common web browsers, we have omitted them on these web pages. This is in accordance with the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) and its Island Chapters.