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 island.

Best time to visit the Big Island for better weather and deals

The Big Island of Hawaii is a year round destination and the peak seasons tend to happen around the winter break from December to February and then summer from June to September. The shoulder season is probably when you will find less crowds and better prices for hotels, events, tours and dining out. Shoulder season in Hawaii in spring typically is from March to May and then October to November excluding major holidays that happen during those time frames. The weather is also pleasant in Hawaii depending on the location but averages around the island in spring time from the low 80s to mid 80s and in fall time, averages range in the mid 80s.

Free or cheap things to do on the Big Island

Fun things to do in Kona, Hawaii for free

If you are basing your stay around the Kona area, there are plenty of free things to do on the west side of the island. Check out all these cool and fun things to do for free or cheap while exploring the Kona side.

Hapuna beach for Free on the Big Island

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 A 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. Closer to Kona town, you can visit Magic Sands beach and Kahalu’u beach area for Kona beach fun.

There are so many gorgeous beaches in Hawaii and some of the beautiful gems are located around the Big Island.

Visiting the Place of Refuge on 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, the petroglyphs at Puako 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. It’s an easy walk along the waterfront district and passing through the historic landmarks and into the shopping venues around town.

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.

Check out this video highlight visiting Kona Brew

Or check out this video tour of Ola Brewery

Hike down to Polulu valley on a free DIY tour

Hike down Polulu and a big swing

A fun Big Island activity is to hike down Polulu Valley or even visit the next valley after at Honokane Nui valley. 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.

If you are up for the challenge you can even visit the valley beyond at Honokane Nui at the viewpoint or down to the valley floor below.

Hike down to the Captain Cook Monument

A Big Island activity that’s a real challenge is to hike down to the Captain Cook monument in South Kona area. 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.

Sunset at Hapuna Beach on the Big Island

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. Sunsets in Hawaii are magical and spending some time on the west side of the island is a must if you want to enjoy some amazing sunsets here.

What to do for free or cheap on the Hamakua coast and Waimea

From Waimea through the Hamakua coastline you can enjoy the outdoors, activities or visiting towns and farmers market free or cheap if you want to try some delicious local foods, snacks or pick up a souvenir to take home. Check out these fun and free things to do along the Hamakua and Waimea areas of the island.

Go to a paniolo rodeo on the island

One of the fun Big Island activities is to visit a rodeo which are big events. All around the Big Island of Hawaii are rodeos 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.

Waipio lookout on the Big Island for free
Hamakua coast and images

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.

Visiting Akaka Falls on the Big Island tour

The beautiful Akaka Falls

Akaka falls is 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.

Entrance is free for Hawaii residents but $5 parking or $1 per person entry to the park and waterfall hiking area.

Exploring Honomu town on the Big Island

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 in South side for free or cheap on the Big Island

The rugged south side of the Big Island is expansive and typically a drive through area, but in between are some hidden gems and fantastic places to visit for free below.

Hike to the Green sand beach on 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

The jagged cliffs at South Point on the BIg Island

Jump or check out 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.

Malasadas at Punaluu bakery on the Big Island

Try some delicious Malasadas in Punalu’u Bakery

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.

DIY free tour of Punaluu beach on Big Island

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 things to do in Hilo or the East Side of Hawaii for free or cheap

The east side of Hawaii or the HIlo side is lush, tropical and filled with waterfalls, great hikes, botanical gardens and a lot of free things to do while exploring the area. Check out all these fun and free things to do here on the east side of the Big Island.

Exploring the new black sand beach at Poihiki in the Puna District

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.

road trip through the Red Road in the puna district BIg Island

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. At the end of the road is Pohoiki beach – a gorgeous and long black sand and gravel beach with some hot ponds that you can also explore in the area.

Visiting the Hilo Farmers Market on the Big Island

Visit the 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.

Another popular market on Sunday is the Maku’u Market close to Pahoa and off Hwy 130. This lively market has fantastic food stalls, a crafts and souvenir section, fresh fruits and perishable products, finished goods and snacks and a lively swap meet area. Entry parking to the Maku’u market is $2 per carload.

exploring the waterfront old HIlo town in Big Island

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.

Enjoying Hilo beaches on the Big Island

Enjoy some sweet 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, Richardson’s and Onekahakaha beach park. For a fun and relaxed day on the beach, check out the cool little beaches around Hilo area.

Rainbow falls on the BIg Island

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.

If you are in a hiking mood then hike to Narnia where you’ll see five waterfalls all flowing into the canyon area below which is pretty spectacular.

exploring Kaumana caves above Hilo town

Explore a lava tube just above Hilo area

A fun and easy Big Island activity is to visit the Kaumana caves. Located 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 market at Maku'u market on the Big Island

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. After go check out the other popular attractions and venues around the Puna District in East Hawaii.

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.

**Wednesday night markets are on hold due to covid conditions but there is an active farmers market on Saturdays at the parking lot.

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.

Check out these other posts on Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii

Why Visit Volcanoes National Park now

Must visit Big Island Waterfalls

Top things to do in Hilo now

Top things to do in Kona

A family friendly visit to the Big Island

Kona snorkel and cruise experience

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  1. Doreen Pendgracs

    I have explored a large part of the Big Island and loved it all. But I have yet to get to Hilo. That is high atop my post-pandemic bucket list.

    • emorata

      You’ll find some good chocolate farms on this side to explore so hopefully you’ll get a chance to visit more of the Big Island

  2. Jeff & Crystal Bryant

    Wow! We loved this article and the video clips made it extra special. There has been an ongoing struggle for us to decide about a Hawaiian visit. We know that it is amazingly beautiful, but we hesitate to make the long flights. This may have just pushed us out of the deadlock.

    • emorata

      Well hopefully you can take advantage of the situation now and get a chance to visit the Big Island and do some of these free and fun things to do around the island.

  3. Pamela Dittmer McKuen

    What an extensive array of free and inexpensive activities on the Big Island of Hawaii. I always love traveling off the beaten pathways, but never thought of Hawaii for antique shops or culinary events. I also hadn’t imagined the many types of beaches. Your photography is lovely, too.

    • emorata

      Surprisingly there are a lot of free and cheap things you can do on your own in visiting the island including those you mentioned.

  4. Carol Colborn

    This is the only island I have not been to. Thanks for the comprehensive guide!!!

    • emorata

      You’ll love visiting and enjoying all these free or cheap activities and attractions on the Big Island



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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.