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10 Things to Do on the Big Island for Free (Or Costs Less!)

Planning a trip to the Big Island on a budget? Keep scrolling for these cheap and free 10 Incredibly Fun Things to Do on the Big Island for Free (or Costs Less)!

As I have learned more and more about Hawaii through my visits, I was stunned to find out how many islands are actually a part of the Hawaiian Islands.

If you’re wondering how big Hawaii is, well, there are 137 islands, so I have at least 130 more to visit! Of all those islands, the biggest one is Hawaii, or The Big Island.

If you have not visited yet, you are missing out! The Big Island’s sights, sounds, and landscapes are truly extraordinary.

The Big Island is also not as populated as the other islands of Hawaii – which is perfect for those of us looking for a genuinely quiet, calm, relaxing vacation experience.

The last thing we want to do as a family on vacation is to worry about our budget. We spend as little as possible on trivial things and save money for those great, once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

We usually look for one of those on each vacation, so the rest of the time, we take advantage of the less expensive (or even free!) experiences.

As I thought about all the activities and experiences on the Big Island, I figured I would share our family’s Top 10 Cheap and Free Things to do on the Big Island for Free or $10 or Under!

These ideas will help you plan an awesome trip to Big Island Hawaii on a budget!

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Hawaii blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting the Big Island on a budget.

Best Budget-Friendly Big Island Activities

Best Budget-Friendly Big Island Hotels

  • Grand Naniloa (this is my favorite place to stay in Hilo, and it has an incredible ocean view)
  • Kalani Kai (this is a great, affordable condo option right in Kona town)
  • Ali’i Villas (it has a heated pool, making it perfect for winter months)

Want to Rent a Car in Hawaii?
One of the best places to rent a car in Hawaii is Discount Hawaii Car Rental because they get the best rates from top national companies like Alamo, Dollar, Thrifty, Avis, Enterprise, Budget, and Payless.

Want to skip all the planning and just access my detailed Big Island Itinerary, complete with daily schedules, kid-friendly activities, and travel hacks? Click the button below.

Big Island on a Budget FAQs

Where are the cheapest places to stay on the Big Island?

There are actually lots of cheap Big Island hotels that can save you a lot of money. The Royal Kona Resort is one of the closest hotels to Kona International Airport that could be considered “less expensive.” And there’s Aloha Happy Place. It’s a Bed and Breakfast just a few minutes from all the beauty and experiences housed within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

When is the cheapest time to visit the Big Island?

It’s always cheapest to visit the Big Island during the shoulder season, which runs from mid-April to June in the Spring and September to mid-December in the Fall. You’ll want to avoid Spring Break as that’s when they hold the annual Merrie Monarch hula festival. Therefore, renting a car or finding cheap hotel rooms can be expensive.

What can you do on the Big Island for free?

There are many things to do on the Big Island for free. You can explore Rainbow Falls, hike, see a hula show, snorkel, and so much more. There are also lots of scenic lookouts and amazing beaches. All in all, you can just marvel at the beauty of the Big Island.

How to Visit the Big Island on a Budget

Looking for fun Big Island activities without breaking your budget? I have a lot of great suggestions for you!

1. A Visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a MUST!

If you do nothing else with your time on the Big Island, you must plan a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!

A visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a fun cheap thing to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Image of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park sign.
Entrance Sign in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

You might be thinking we are over our $10 limit. However, the $30 admission fee is per car, not per person.

If you have a family of four, you’re under $10 per person. If you have a family of 6, you’re at $5 per person. And if you will break our $10 or under rule, this is definitely the place to do it!

I can’t explain in a short blurb all the reasons to go see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

From the visitors center until you leave at night, you will be awestruck by landscapes and sights you can’t see anywhere else. Hopefully after seeing some amazing lava flow as the sun is going down!

2. See the Sights from the Mauna Kea Summit!

The Mauna Kea (or Maunakea, depending on who you ask) summit trek is truly an experience like no other.

Mauna Kea Observatories Hawaii taken in 2015
Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island.

The summit is open from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset. There is a good reason for this: the sunrise and sunset are prime photo opportunity times.

Something to be aware of is the change in altitude on your way up the side of this dormant volcano. Mauna Kea is the highest point in Hawaii, at almost 14,000 ft above sea level.

The quick change in altitude on the way up has been said to impact almost a third of visitors, so be careful to give yourself time to adjust at the visitor’s center before deciding if the summit trip is really worth it.

The Onizuka Center for International Astronomy next to the visitors center has enough information to keep you and your family learning for days, and they say the view of the stars is even better there than at the summit itself!

3. Visit a Beach of a Different Color!

Have you ever seen a black sand beach before? How about a green sand beach? Both are available on the Big Island!

Visiting Punaluu Black Sand Beach is one of the best free things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Image of sleeping turtles on Punaluu Beach.
Sleeping turtles on Punaluu black sand beach on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Punaluu Black Sand Beach is located on the southeast side of the Big Island and is exactly what it sounds like – a beach of black sand.

The color comes from Hawaii’s volcanic activity, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy the most well-known beach in Hawaii! It’s also called a ‘magic sand beach’ for that reason.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach is about 25 miles from Punaluu Black Sand Beach, also on the south point of the Big Island. This beach is a bit harder to reach, and it involves a hike through about 2 miles of pastureland.

Once you get there, you will be stunned to see olive-green sand across the beach!

How awesome would it be to visit as many different-colored beaches in Hawaii as possible? With just this one island, you could cross off Black, White, Pink, and Green—for free!

4. Tour a Kona Coffee Farm!

We may live in the Pacific Northwest, but our coffee has nothing on Kona coffee! Going for a coffee plantation tour would surely be fun!

Visiting a coffee farm is a cheap thing to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Image of a Kona Coffee Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii
Coffee beans on a farm in Kona.

This particular region of Hawaii has the perfect climate for coffee beans, and they know how to use it!

You can’t go wrong with any coffee farm on the Big Island, but the two that are suggested the most are Hula Daddy Coffee and Greenwell Farms. Visiting these are some of the top “Kona Hawaii activities”.

These coffee farm tours are one of the cheap things to do in Kona Hawaii. It’s fun, immersive, and totally budget-friendly.

Check out a farm tour, try some new coffee in the tasting rooms, and save your money for something fun from the farm store. It’s an easy way to explore Kona on a budget.

You will leave feeling like you won the lottery – not just because of the caffeine!

5. Check out some Big Island Farmers Markets!

Whenever we are in Hawaii, I think we get most of our snacks and produce from farmers’ markets. We tend to like to find fresh, local food wherever we go, and the Big Island is the perfect place for it!

One of the best things to do on the Big Island is visit a farmers market. Image of a bunch of pineapples in Hawaii.
Definitely stock up on juicy pineapples!

One of my personal favorites is the Hilo Farmers Market since it is open every day. Checking out the farmers market is one of the best things to do in Hilo Hawaii.

Other than that, the Kona Farmers Market is another great choice. Do note that it is closed on Monday and Tuesday.

No matter which farmers market you go to, you will be pleased to find snacks, produce, and local goods for under $10. Check out my full list of Big Island farmers’ markets.

6. Visit a Botanical Garden or Arboretum!

One of the things our little family loves about any trip to Hawaii is the change of scenery.

Visiting a botanical garden is a cheap thing to do in Big Island Hawaii. Image of a red ginger flower.
Red Ginger flower growing in a botanical garden in Hawaii

We go from dreary and cold to lush and green, and the difference is most noticeable as we tour Hawaii botanical gardens or arboretums. There are quite a few to choose from, so we usually check out the one closest to our accommodation.

The Botanical Gardens at UH Hilo were started in the 1980s by a university professor. Admission is free, and if you’re lucky enough to catch Professor Hemmes, he would love to “talk shop” (and plants!) with you.

Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens in Kona is another wonderful, free garden to visit, although donations are accepted to help offset the cost of the garden’s upkeep.

Lastly, Kalopa State Recreation Area and Manuka State Wayside have incredible arboretums to enjoy. Whatever your “nature fix” is, you’ll surely find it on the Big Island!

7. Explore the Art Village at Holualoa!

The charming little Village at Holualoa had enough shops, galleries, and cafes to keep our little family entertained for quite a while!

Additionally, there is everything you can imagine here: ukuleles, gemstone creations, antiques, sourdough bread, and, of course, lots and lots of Kona coffee!

You can definitely stick to your $10 budget here. However, unless you find that perfect antique, ukulele, pottery piece, or anything else, of course!

8. Find your new favorite waterfall!

I don’t know what is so calming about a waterfall, but I know I could sit and watch or listen to one all day.

Rainbow Falls, Hilo, Big Island--Visiting Rainbow Falls is one of the best Big Island waterfalls
Rainbow Falls

One of the most popular Big Island waterfalls is Rainbow Falls. It is an 80-foot-tall waterfall located in Hilo, and it’s one of the best waterfalls on the Big Island.

The hike leading to the falls is moderate, and the journey is full of adventure with beautiful forests, lush vegetation, and flowers to keep it interesting.

There’s also the ‘Akaka Falls, which is located inside the ‘Akaka Falls State Park in Hawaii. Interestingly, it’s a 422-foot natural waterfall.

Moreover, before you get to Akaka Falls, you can visit Kahuna Falls inside the state park. If you follow the footpath, you’ll pass by it on your way to Akaka.

Finally, pick any of the amazing waterfalls from this list, and then just don’t forget your camera. You will want to use it!

9. Learn all about Honey at Big Island Bees!

One of the benefits of being a lush, green, tropical paradise is the number of insects you get to host! (I’m trying to keep it positive!)

Check out this Big Island Bees tour review by top Hawaii blog Hawaii Travel with Kids! Image of a boy looking at a beehive in Hawaii
Seeing a bee farm is a unique thing to do in Hawaii!

In all seriousness, so much of our agriculture depends on bees, and Big Island Bees is working to make sure the world knows that.

However, the tours are a bit pricey at $25 per adult and $5 per child, but don’t rush to judgment – check out all the other things to do before you write this experience off!

Honestly, I might prefer the museum and honey shop instead of the beehive tour, but that’s just me!

10. Head to Punalu’u Bake Shop!

One of our favorite things to do when traveling in Hawaii is to visit hit-up bakeries, snack shops, and places to find food we can’t get on the mainland.

If you need a delicious, authentic Hawaiian treat, Punalu’u Bake Shop is the place!

Image of a boy eating ice cream at Punalu'u Bake Shop.
They have yummy ice cream at the Punalu’u Bake Shop! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Whether you are looking for sweet Hawaiian bread, some delicious coffee, a souvenir for someone back home, or a hot and ready malasada, you won’t be disappointed.

At just over $1 per malasada, you can even afford a few extra for the car ride back!

Bonus: Experience life like Hawaiian Royalty!

The Hulihe’e Palace in Kailua-Kona was built to be a summer vacation home for Hawaiian Royalty. Since 1924, it has been restored and maintained by the Daughters of Hawaii, despite many efforts to purchase the highly valuable property.

Hulihee Palace in Kona
Hulihee Palace in Kona. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Today, the palace is a museum, and visitors can experience what it would have been like to live there as a member of the Hawaiian Royal Family.

This is one of the best Kona Hawaii activities for families who like learning a bit about the history and culture of Hawaii.

Admission is $10 per adult or $1 per child. Considering the amount of history contained in this one palace, I would consider this money well spent!

Things to Do on the Big Island For Free Wrap-Up

Traveling to the Big Island of Hawaii is such an amazing experience. The landscape, activities, and opportunities are unlike anywhere else on earth, even the other Hawaiian Islands!

Truly, there is so much to do and see without needing to spend much (if any!) money. That leaves more of your budget for something like a special luau or other grand experience.

Which of these Top 10 Things to do on the Big Island for Free do you think you might try?

Looking for more Big Island Travel Resources? Find out where to start on planning your big island vacation, the best Big Island luaus, what to know before you go, and the best free things to do on the Big Island with kids!