Free or cheap things to do on the Big Island and still have a great time!
Visiting Hawaii is definitely a more expensive vacation with flights, hotels and entertainment adding to a high price tag. But it doesn’t have to be that way if you plan in advanced and look for some tips and suggestions. To find more, check out these free or cheap things to do on the Big Island that you can do now.
You’ll have a fantastic visit to the Big Island and know that you can have an affordable and budget friendly vacation to Hawaii.
Fun and free things to do in Kona and the west side
Beach day on the West Side
The west side of the Big Island have many of the best beaches in all of the islands with a variety of different types of beaches that are perfect for family fun, surfing and snorkeling fun and other water activities. You have your pick of popular beaches like Hapuna Beach, Kua Bay and the isolated but beautiful Makalawena Beach or find more secluded and lonely stretches of sand that only a few visitors get to check out.
There are so many gorgeous beaches in Hawaii and some of the beautiful gems are located around the Big Island.
Go on a cultural tour of historic monuments
The west side hosts many important historic sites that are quite impressive and worth visiting. Starting with the massive Heaiu (temple) in Kawaihai called Pu’ukohola, the national historic park, the Place of Refuge or Pu’uhonua O Ohaunau, Kaloko Honokohau National historical park and even an ancient healing and fishing village at Lapakahi Historical state park. If you are into Hawaiian history and culture, take some time to explore these wonderful places on the west side of the island.
Walking through the old town of Kailua Kona, there’s so many cool things to do around Kona that are free and cheap to do in west side of the island.
Fresh Portuguese bread, demo and sale at Greenwell farms
Located in the South Kona area at Greenwell Farms, you can check out the weekly oven bake sale of fresh Portuguese breads. Volunteers and members of the Kona Historical Society sponsor these Thursday morning bake demonstrations in an authentic stone oven. There is a free demo and oven display of how the breads are made that you can see and then try some really delicious breads made locally and benefits the community activities. The breads are typically sold that afternoon in a small pop up by the roadside for locals/tourists to try and purchase.
Snorkeling fun at Kahalu’u
Probably one of the best snorkeling beaches just a few miles outside of Kona town is Kahalu’u beach park. A family friendly beach with a lifeguard station and public facilities. Kahalu’u is well loved by locals that also volunteer to share coral and tropical safety, awareness and ocean care for the environment. With a protected cove area, it doesn’t take to far outside of the beach to see some amazing sea life, corals and tropical fish at Kahalu’u which makes it a very popular place to go to snorkel on the west side of the island.
Enjoy some local brews on the west side
The Kona area is home to two popular brew pubs with fantastic venues for dining and tasting some delicious beers and also ciders. Kona Brewing Company is a fantastic pub with indoor and outdoor dining and tasting at its best. The pub offers a nice tasting sampler along with pupus and a popular happy hour time frame for cheap fun. Ola Brew Company also has fantastic locally inspired brews along with some really delicious tropical infused ciders that are very popular with the local crowds.
Hike down Polulu and a big swing
Take a hike down gorgeous Polulu Valley on the far northwest end of Highway 270 along the Kohala coast of the Big Island. With its stunning panoramic views of the cliffs and canyons from Polulu, a well-marked down-hill gravel/dirt trail is moderate and about 20 minutes to get to the bottom of the canyon. You can explore the main river, lots of cool forest trails and a big swing along with the expansive black sand beach at Polulu, almost untouched since the early 15th century when early settlers came and settled in the area.
Hike down to the Captain Cook Monument
If you are looking for a real adventure hike, do the trail going down to the Captain Cook monument and enjoy the gorgeous snorkeling in the bay which is a snorkeling destination for many of the tour outfitters on the island. The real work happens when you go back uphill and it is a challenge on the trails heading back up (Make sure to have plenty of water especially on the trek back up)
Check out the First Friday art fun in Holualoa
First Friday in this sleepy art village above Kona really comes alive with food trucks, fantastic entertainment and all the art galleries and shops open to host First Fridays. It’s a great time to enjoy the cooler climates and support local artists from the community that create some really amazing work of art from ceramics, furniture, fine art, prints and photography – so many fantastic art mediums are on display to check out on First Fridays at Hulualoa and their website for updated details.
Enjoy an amazing sunset on the beach
Pick any beach or a quiet cove along the west side of the island and take a moment to enjoy the end of day. Sunsets are truly magical on the Big Island’s west side enjoying the golden light time and into sunset. The simple things in life like sunsets on the beach are really treasured moments here in Hawaii. It doesn’t matter if its on a sandy beach or lava rock coastline, just being on the waters edge and being present to witness sunset is a magical time on the west side of the island. Popular sunset views include Kahalu’u, Magic Sand Beach, Kalua waterfront and harbor and all the fantastic resorts on the Kohala coastline area.
What to do for free or cheap on the Hamakua coast
Go to a paniolo rodeo on the island
Rodeos are big events all around the Big Island of Hawaii with equestrian oriented activities for all of the family to enjoy on the island. The big rodeos happen mostly in Waimea and at Panaewa in the Hilo area with a full roster or rodeo-oriented displays and all day shows that are really unique for island fun. Check out their website for Waimea here and Panaewa here for more details.
Visit Waimea town
So, what is there to actually see and do in Waimea? The original ranch area community of Parker Ranch fame is filled with western appeal and you can visit the shops and eating venues at Parker ranch, visit the Paniolo Heritage Center at Historic Pukalani Stables , or visit the Parker ranch historical ranch and museum, do some fun thrift/antique shopping in town, or check out many of the local farmers markets that happen all week in town.
Antique shopping in Honokaa in the Hamakua area
There are so many cool and fun antique, consignment and thrift stores in Honokaa to explore if you are looking for interesting memorabilia and unique finds from Hawaii. The entire main street of Honokaa has quite a few places that you can easily walk through to find some cheap and amazing finds so get your walking feet on and explore the entire town to look for those treasures.
Visit the Lookout point at Waipio Valley
The stunning vistas at the lookout point to Waipio Valley truly inspires to the valley floor, HI’ilawe waterfalls and the surrounding hills in this ancient gulch where taro farms, wild horses and a large black sand beach fill in the landscape. This is a real Hawaiian adventure if you’re willing to hike down to the valley and explore the beach areas that are draw even though swimming is not advised due to strong waves breaking on the shoreline. The areas leading to the waterfall and back are all private lands so please do not trespass into those back areas.
There are a variety of tour operators that also lead groups down with horse drawn carriage, horseback and simple shuttle rides to the bottom and back out for those that still want to see the black sand beach below.
The beautiful Akaka Falls
One of the most gorgeous waterfalls is set in a lovely botanical garden and is an easy loop trail through lush surroundings with beautiful vistas. There are two waterfalls to check out on the tour at Akaka Falls State Park which you walk past bamboo groves, thick dense forests and past a variety of gorgeous tropical plants and flowers.
Visit Honomu town
Along the way to Akaka Falls is the sleepy town of Honomu – a one strip downtown with western Hawaiian storefronts of art galleries, take out food shops and other local boutique stores to explore. If you love looking for small treasures or just need a snack to try some local favorites, check out the town on the way to the falls.
What to do for free or cheap in South side of the Big Island
Visit a rare green sand beach in South Point
One of the more unique and unusual beaches to explore on the Big Island is the Green Sand beach or Papakolea. Located near the southern most point of the island, the trip is easy from either Hilo or Kona area with a hike to the beach – a secluded green beach surrounding by cliffs in a small isolated bay. From the main parking area, you can either hike or take a casual taxi roundtrip on a back of a pick-up truck for a suggested donation.
Here’s a video hike to the Green sand beach
Jump the cliffs at the tip at South Point
While in the South Point area, check out the fantastic cliffs and if your game for an adventure. Jumping off the cliffs is a popular local activity with small ladders that you climb back up to the top. Or you can just check out the fantastic views and do some fun selfies in the area.
Delicious Malasadas in Punalu’u
One of the favorite local treats is at Punalu’u bakery in town which serves up the best Malasadas or Portuguese style fried donuts on the island. With so many choices of malasadas to choose and sample, you’ll get a big sugar rush from this delicious foodie experience.
Visit the turtles and black sand beach at Punalu’u
The famous black sand beach at Punalu’u is fun to drive to in the south area of the Big Island and check out the green turtles that love to hang out at the beach. This expansive black sand beach is always a fun stop along the way to Volcano for a picnic or just a quick visit to the area to check out the views.
What to do for free or cheap in Hilo or the East Side of Hawaii
Check out the new black sand beach in Opihikao
After all the recent lava destruction of homes and land in East Hawaii just in 2018, a newly created black sand beach was left in the aftermath. A new gravel road has been constructed to allow the public to enjoy the beach for the first time along with some hot ponds in the area to enjoy. The expansive black sand beach is beautiful but also dangerous at times, so caution should be taken to see if the surf is too rough for entry.
Take a scenic drive along the Red Road in Puna
The coastal drive on the East side of Puna from Kalapana to Opihikao and through lush forests opening up to raw lava rocks and fields is striking. The raw beauty of the area passing through tree tunnels, secret beaches and beautiful coastline views is truly what unspoiled Hawaii is all about even to a new black sand beach created by lava pouring to the region just in 2018. It’s a fun and spectacular loop drive to experience on the island.
Hilo Farmers Market
One of the best farmer’s markets is located in downtown Hilo at the Hilo Farmers market and held daily with the major market days on Wednesday and Saturday. You can check out all the seasonal produce of tropical fruits and locally grown veggies or try some local snacks or prepared food for take-out. There’s also a lot of small food vendors and restaurants in the area if you are hungry and want to eat some local foods from the area.
Walk around old Hilo town
The waterfront of old Hilo town and back streets are fun to explore in this old Hawaiian town that doesn’t seem to change. With fun local art galleries and boutique stores to check out, you can easily do a loop around the town and get a real flavor of the early western vibe and charm of the downtown area.
Enjoy some Hilo beaches
The beaches are smaller and more family oriented on the Hilo side of the island with coves, small lagoons and pools that are family friendly and fun to enjoy with a beach day in Hilo. The string of beaches worth spending time includes Reeds Bay, Coconut Island, Carl Smith Beach, Richardsons and Onekahakaha beach park. For a fun and relaxed day on the beach, check out the cool little beaches around Hilo area.
Check out Rainbow falls and Boiling Pots
An easy drive from downtown Hilo takes you to one of the oldest neighborhoods and hospital area at Rainbow falls. You’ll actually see rainbows around the bottom from the water spray to the pool below. Make sure you climb the stairs to the top for lovely views and continue into the forest for a peek at the largest Banyan tree on the island.
Boiling Pots is just a short drive down through a quiet neighborhood and features the churning boiling pots and Pe’epe’e Falls in the distance.
Explore a lava tube just above Hilo area
Just above Hilo Town on the way to the Saddle Road is the lava tube at Kaumana Caves Stave Park with easy parking just on top. There are no guides and lights so be prepared, wear good shoes and bring flashlights if you want to explore this free lava tube DIY tour you can do on your own.
Sunday Maku’u Farmers market
On Sundays, the largest farmers market on the East side happens just outside of Pahoa area at the Maku’u farmer’s market. You’ll find some of the best locally grown produce of tropical fruits and veggies, local snack favorites and a variety of delicious food vendors selling some favorite prepared dishes from the area. There’s also souvenir stands, massage tables and free entertainment in the dining areas to keep you entertained.
Enjoy a night market at Uncle Roberts in Kalapana
The popular night market at Uncle Roberts in Kalapana is free (parking is an additional $2) and a fun time at this local style market on Wednesday nights with the bar open daily. Filled with local vendors that sell crafts, herbal remedies and delicious foods, it’s fun to explore all the unique booths and food offerings along with the lively music in the bar/dining area. A popular local activity, visitors really get a flavor of how a community celebrates hump day Wednesdays in Kalapana.
Other free venues
So many free events happening year-round throughout the Big Island with things happening weekly all around the island. You can check out the calendar of events here for more details on what’s currently happening on the island now.
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