The Big Island Hawaii Guide
It’s true that every Hawaiian island has something different to offer—but it’s also true that there a lot of different experiences to be had even on a single island. And despite all the arguments to be made for the superiority of any given destination—visitors tend to be overwhelmingly loyal to either the place they went on family vacations growing up or their honeymoon spots—“the best island” is, like most things, a matter of opinion. The Big Island is cool because it’s home to the majority of the world’s climate zones; you can see snowcapped mountains, black and white sand beaches, jungles, and active volcanoes. It’s also great for families and easily accessible by direct flight from Los Angeles. Not your cup of tea? We also have a guide to the more luxurious Maui, a guide to the more urban Oahu (which is home to Honolulu), and a guide to the lovely and low-key Kauai.
Green Flash Coffee & Cafe75-6000 Ali'i Dr., Kailua-Kona | 808.329.4387
We love the fresh smoothies at this family-owned café near Kailua-Kona Village. They also serve breakfast, lunch, and have kombucha on tap (you can take a growler with you). Most importantly, their Kona coffee selection—sourced from local purveyors Buddha’s Cup and Daylight Mind—is not to be missed.
Hilo Farmers MarketMamo St. & Kamehameha Ave., Hilo | 808.933.1000
There is no shortage of markets on the Big Island, but if you only have time for one, make it this farmers market in historic downtown Hilo, at the corner of Corner of Mamo Street and Kamehameha Avenue. The Hilo Farmers Market began in 1988 with four farmers who sold their harvest out of parked trucks. Today, it’s open daily year-round (but the main market days are Wednesday and Saturday), and more than 200 farmers and crafters come to sell a variety of produce, tropical flowers (orchids and anthuriums are the main draw), and giftable items like handmade jewelry and artisanal wooden bowls. Be sure to sample the in-season fruit, be it coconuts, strawberry guavas, white pineapples, or thimble berries. Other specialties include island jams, jellies, hot sauces, honey, macadamia nut butter, and (of course) Kona coffee. There are also a number of vendors serving breakfast and lunch, from breads and pastries to Thai and sushi.
Island Naturals Market & Deli15-1870 Akeakamai Loop, Pahoa | 808.965.8322
This local grocery has the most comprehensive selection of healthy eats on the island. It also conveniently has multiple locations: in Hilo and Pahoa on the east side of the island, and Kailua-Kona on the west, plus a kiosk at the University of Hawaii. The stores are a nice option if your hotel suite/Airbnb is equipped with a kitchen, and you’re looking to eat/entertain there for a meal or two. Each Island Naturals Market & Deli store sells an array of organic groceries (including many gluten-free and vegan-friendly products) from shelved goods like pastas and sauces, to fruits and veggies from nearby farms, line-caught fish, and grass-fed beef. You can also stock up on breakfast items and organic wine and beer. If you’re not interested in doing any cooking, the deli has easy already-made meals, or you can order custom sandwiches, smoothies, juices, and of course, Kona coffee.
Tex Drive-In45-690 Pakalana St., Honokaa | 808.775.0598
For about 50-odd years, Tex Drive-In has been serving traditional Hawaiian food (loco moco's abound on the menu, which are typically rice, hamburger, fried egg, and gravy), but that's not why tourists flock to this joint. They are famous for their malasadas, the island version of the donut, typically dusted in sugar and filled with anything from coconut cream to guava to Bavarian cream. You can even watch the malasada production through a big window in the cafe.
Two Ladies Kitchen274 Kilauea Ave., Hilo | 808.961.4766
People drive from all over the Big Island for the now world famous mochi that have been made here for the past 25 years (keep in mind that they're not open on Sundays or Mondays). Helmed by Nora Uchida and her aunt, Tomi Tokeshi, they make mochi as Uchida's grandmother did, preserving not only the recipe but the culture of the Japanese in Hawaii, too. The treats are delicious and beautiful, and as one would expect, the flavors are a mix of local and far-flung: You'll find lilikoi (passionfruit), pineapple, persimmons, ginger, etc.; they also stuff the traditional white rice flour with fresh strawberries, which sadly can't be transported to the mainland.
Da Poke Shack76-6246 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona | 808.329.7653
This tiny and long-standing Kailua-Kona joint offers endless poke varietals—sweet, spicy, shoyu, Hawaiian, mixed with avocado—all delicious, all incredibly fresh. which are all surpre hit all the high notes at this long-standing Kailua-Kona joint. The sides are also stand-out, including a traditional wakame seaweed salad, kimchee mussels, and a standard Hawaiian potato salad. It's a perfect lunch for a picnic at the beach.