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7 Day Big Island Itinerary: Here’s How *I* Would Spend a Week on the Big Island 

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My job is pretty much creating itineraries, and I’ve got to tell ya…I struggle with putting together one for Hawaii’s Big Island. 

There is soooooo much to see and do on the Big Island (I’ll go out on a limb and say more than any other Hawaiian Island) that you could spend a solid week with a hardcore itinerary just going, going, and going. 

But…this is Hawaii. And I think enjoying the beaches, ocean breezes, sunshine, mai tais, and the resort infinity pool is…essential. 

So how do you mix the two? Well, you can do it, but it depends on a LOT of factors. 

Where are you staying? What’s your budget? What do you like to do? What do you NOT like to do? What’s your tolerance for being in the car? 

And it’s just hard to put together a one stop shop itinerary to recommend to every single person that’s planning a trip to the Big Island. 

So after going back and forth with all of the options, I’ve decided to put together MY perfect 7 Day Big Island Itinerary.

7 Day Big Island Itinerary

If we have similar travel styles, you’re going to be set. And if we don’t, you’ll probably still walk away with some useful info.

So here’s what we’re working with…

This itinerary is for 7 FULL days (not including your arrival or departure day).

This itinerary assumes that you’re staying on the Kona side of the island (either around Kona town or somewhere north in Waikoloa or the Kohala Coast). If you need specific recommendations on a place to stay, read this post

Some people choose to split their stay on the Big Island between Kona and Hilo to save on driving time, but I would rather stay in one place and do day trips around the island. I don’t like having to pack up and move mid trip plus I don’t feel comfortable leaving my luggage in the car when I’m off hiking or exploring so it really limits what you can do on the day that you have to move to the other side of the island. 

The Big Island has two airports: Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO), but by far the majority of flight options are into Kona and since that’s where you’ll be staying, you’ll definitely want to fly into Kona and rent a car at the airport. 

FYI if you’re thinking about using Turo (like Airbnb for cars), hosts aren’t allowed to drop off at the airport so even if you put in for an airport pickup/dropoff, you’ll have to grab an Uber/Lyft at the airport and ride about a mile to an offsite location to get your car. 

Here’s a quick “table of contents” for what’s in this post:

  • Day 1: Beach Day & Manta Ray Snorkel
  • Day 2: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park & Black Sand Beach
  • Day 3: Kona Coffee Farm Tour & Downtown Kona
  • Day 4: Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay & Pu’uhonua Honaunau 
  • Day 5: Waimea & Waipio Valley
  • Day 6: Hilo & Hamakua Coast
  • Day 7: Beach Day & Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Day 1: Beach Day and Manta Ray Snorkel 

I’m usually pretty exhausted after traveling to Hawaii and I like to spend the first full day just taking it easy. 

Plan to spend the day enjoying the beach or pool near where you’re staying. 

If you’re not staying somewhere with easy beach access, my favorite beach in Hawaii is Mauna Kea Beach (Kauna’oa) and it’s definitely my pick for the best overall beach to spend the day. 

I love it so much that I usually stay at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel for easy access, but all beaches in Hawaii are public so it’s open to everyone. It can be a little tricky to orchestrate though…the hotel provides about 40 free parking spots (check in at the guard shack when you pull up) which for a beach this size is honestly not nearly enough. 

Spots are usually gone pretty early in the morning so either arrive early (like before 8 AM) or you can pay for valet parking at the resort (and they’ll validate half with a purchase – Hau Tree Beach Bar is a great spot for beachside drinks!).

Anyways, I think this is one of the most picturesque spots in all of Hawaii. The calm water early in the mornings (the beach is a bit of a protected bay) just BEG for you to get out and snorkel or take a long swim and honestly, I’ve seen as many and varied tropical fish here as I have at any of the top snorkeling spots in Hawaii. 

After you’ve spent the day getting caught up on zzzzs, it’s time to party with the mantas!

Swimming with manta rays is an experience that’s unique to the Big Island (none of the other Hawaiian Islands have this phenomenon). It only happens at night (mantas are most active at night when there’s more plankton to feed on), but it’s not seasonal so you can catch them all year long. 

I’ll admit…I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to do this yet (being in the ocean at night seems a little scary haha), but here’s the scoop on where to go…

If and when I do this, I will go with Manta Ray Advocates on their “Moonlight Swim with the Mantas.” This is the only (that I’ve found) company that departs from the beach to a private manta location. 

They leave from the beach at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and swim (not too far) to a spot that’s rigged with a permanent light to attract the mantas. 

It’s in a small group of about six and it seems like the way to go. I’ve actually watched the whole thing from the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel a few times and I’ve been really impressed. 

Which brings me to…if you’re anything like me and swimming in the ocean at night sounds like…the last thing you want to do, there’s a place where you can see it all happen FROM DRY LAND. 

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has a private light set up over a manta feeding station that you can view from a platform above. 

Whenever I stay here, I always make it a point to go down and watch the mantas every night. They are PHENOMENAL. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve seen in Hawaii. They are so close and they just loop back and forth constantly. And it’s even fun to watch the snorkelers come out from the beach. 

If you’re not staying at the hotel, I recommend making dinner reservations at Manta, the hotel’s signature restaurant, and making an evening out of it. 

***Want to save major $$$ on your trip to Hawaii? I get asked ALL the time how I’m able to travel so often to Hawaii and stay at really nice resorts. Well, my favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free airfare and free nights at some of Hawaii’s most high end resorts. Read my full guide on the exact system I use to max out credit card rewards here. Seriously, it’s going to save you soooo much money. 

Day 2: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Black & Green Sand Beaches 

This is going to be a BIG day, but if I only had one day on the Big Island, this is how I would spend it. 

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is really something to see…even if there’s no active lava on the surface. 

Check the latest updates before you leave (I follow the park on Instagram) to make your plan in advance. IF there’s lava in the crater at the summit of Kilauea, then definitely plan to arrive before sunrise so you can see the glow while it’s still dark. 

If there’s no glow visible, you don’t need to arrive quite so early, but it’s still a good idea in general to get an early jump on the day. 

Take Saddle Road across the middle of the island for the most direct route and plan to start your day in the park. 

I’ve got a full post about how to spend the day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park here, but here’s the cliff notes: 

Kilauea Overlook

Steam Vents

Breakfast at Volcano House

Thurston Lava Tube

Chain of Craters Road (to the Ocean – Holei Sea Arch)

Kilauea Ike Overlook (or Hike)

When you’re finished in the park, Hawaii’s most magnificent black sand beach (Punalu’u) is nearby and definitely worth a stop. 

There are almost turtles laying out in the sand. 

Here’s a tip for logistics…you’ll have plenty of time to do the National Park and Punalu’u (the black sand beach) in the same day, but if you’re also wanting to stop by the green sand beach at South Point, you’ll probably only be able to do it if you take the “local shuttle.” It’s $20/person and you can hop on in the trailhead parking lot. 

If you’re not comfortable with that (hey, I don’t blame you) and you want to hike instead, you’ll probably need to do it on a separate day. It’s almost a six mile round trip hike. 

If you’re leaving this area and driving back to Kona via the south road, stop for lunch in Naalehu at the Hana Hou Restaurant and grab malasadas across the street at the Punalu’u Bake Shop. Otherwise, I would backtrack back through Hilo and take Saddle Road back to Kona. 

Head to dinner at one of my favorite places in Hawaii…Lava Lava Beach Club. You can’t beat feet in the sand dining!

Day 3: Kona Coffee Farm Tour & Downtown Kona

Hawaii is famous for their Kona coffee and even if you’re not a huge coffee aficionado, touring a farm and sampling some coffee is a must. 

There are 20 or so farms on the Big Island that offer tours and they all operate a bit differently, but I really like the one at Greenwell Farm. Tours are free, are offered about a dozen times a day (no reservations required) and usually last about an hour.

The tour I did here ended up being almost 90 minutes because people had so many questions. We saw a lot more than I thought we would, and our tour guide was exceptional. I’ve done paid tours in Costa Rica that weren’t as good. 

Greenwell Farm is a 5th generation family owned coffee farm that’s been operating since 1850. They have 200,000 coffee trees on their property and they’ve been leading the efforts to graft a species of coffee tree that will thrive against growing beetle and fungus problems in Hawaii. 

When I toured Greenwell (early November) there wasn’t much to see on the coffee trees (no blooms or cherries), but there was still a LOT to see on the property. We saw the wet mill facility, several rows of coffee trees, the nursery, and even some other crops like bananas and black pepper. 

Greenwell offers a paid private tour that includes the cupping room, roasting room, wet mill, farm, nursery and dry mill plus a guided coffee tasting.

I’m sure if you’re really interested in coffee it’s the way to go, but I was plenty impressed with the free tour. I honestly thought we’d just be standing in an orchard looking at some trees and it goes so far beyond that. 

Next, make your way down to Ali’i Drive along Kona’s historic waterfront. It’s a great place for lunch and a stroll. Huggo’s on the Rocks is one of the most hopping spots (get the kalua pork nachos), but I really love Island Lava Java too. 

If you’re interested in Hawaiian history, the Daughters of Hawaii do docent led tours of the Hulihe’e Palace by appointment on Wednesday through Friday and self guided tours on Saturdays. 

Also, this would be the perfect time to squeeze in a tour at the Oceanrider Seahorse Farm. 

The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona breeds seahorses (to discourage aquariums from pulling them from the ocean since they mate for life) and is making great strides in their conservation efforts. 

The fee you pay to tour their facilities goes towards research and conservation and not only do you get to see lots of species of seahorses, but at the end of the tour you submerge your hands into a tank and let one of the seahorses wrap around your finger. 

I’ve done this tour twice and it’s seriously always a trip highlight. 

Now I’ll warn you…it’s not super cheap (when I’ve done it in the past it was $25/person which I always felt was WELL worth it). It’s now $69/adult and $59/child (5-10) which is…a little steep. But if it’s in the budget, I still think it’s an amazing thing to do. 

Find more info here.

Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.

Day 4: Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay & Pu’uhonua Honaunau 

Sure, there are plenty of semi decent places to snorkel near the beaches up at the resorts, but when I snorkel in Hawaii, I like to go on a snorkel tour. You don’t have to worry about gear, ocean conditions, or keeping an eye out for, uh…creatures. 

Anyways, Kealakekua Bay (the place where Captain Cook first landed in Hawaii) is one of the BEST places to snorkel in Hawaii. 

And the best way to see Kealakekua Bay (and Captain Cook’s monument) really is with a guided tour since it requires a permit to land at the monument. 

I recommend booking with Big Island Kayaks as they 1) have permits to land and 2) have a much better price than the most popular tour operator, Kona Boys. Kona Boys is the most popular tour provider but their four hour tour runs $200/person while Adventures in Paradise is just $100 for the exact same tour. 

Now a bit about my experience…we met at the launch point (which is the other side of the bay from Captain Cook’s monument), got outfitted with our snorkel gear and double seater kayaks and then loaded up to paddle across the bay. It’s about a mile across the bay and it took us about an hour with stops to watch a manta ray and take a rest/listen to the guide talk about the bay.

We landed at the monument (again, there are only 2-3 companies with permits to do this) and got in to snorkel. We were the only people there besides about half a dozen hikers (12 people in our group plus two guides). We had about 90 minutes in the water and at the monument to have snacks, swim, and snorkel. 

By the time we were getting out to dry off and have snacks, quite a few boats were pulling up with snorkelers and by the time we left to paddle back across the bay (about 10AM) there were HUNDREDS of snorkelers in the water.

Our tour ran 7AM-11AM and it took about an hour and 15 minutes to get there from Waikoloa, but having the bay all to ourselves was definitely worth the early wake up call. The kayaking was not strenuous at all and our two guides had the launch and unload process at the meetup site and the monument down very smooth.

If you’re more adventurous (or on a budget), it’s a 3.8 mile round trip hike down to Captain Cook’s monument where the snorkeling is good. The hike isn’t particularly challenging, but it is a pretty good ascent coming back in direct sunlight so it may feel harder/longer than it is. It’s about 45 minutes going down, but will probably take longer going back up.

You’ll find the trailhead on Napo’opo’o Road (mile marker 111) off highway 11. Park about 500 feet down the road near telephone pole #4. You’ll find an old road to the right of #4. That’s the trail. If you’re going to hike and snorkel, do it early. By 10AM the bay is filled with tour boats and snorkelers. And of course, if you do the hike, you’ll need to bring your own snorkel gear.

You’ll find plenty of boat tours that do snorkel tours to Kealakekua Bay (and some other kayak tours), but most don’t have a permit to actually land at the monument so you’ll just see it from a distance and hop in the water. 

After your tour, there are quite a few good places to grab lunch in the area (Rebel Kitchen, Manago Hotel Restaurant, and Ka’aloa’s Super J’s are all good options), but I really love Teshima’s. 

This long time Kona diner has been serving traditional Japanese comfort food since 1929 and it’s pretty charming. 

It’s beloved by locals, but they’re very welcoming to visitors, and I think it’s a must do if you’re looking for a memorable “foodie” experience on the Big Island.

If you’re totally overwhelmed by the menu, just tell your waitress that you’ve never eaten this type of food before and ask for their recommendations. They’re so friendly and really helpful!

But in general, I always recommend chicken katsu to most Americans who are trying to navigate this as a new cuisine.

Teshima’s can have a long line around lunch time, but they’re really efficient and have a great system for getting people in and out so it’s usually worth waiting it out.  

After lunch, keep heading south to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. 

This is one of three National Historical Parks on the Big Island that preserve ancient Hawaiian culture and history. The site is right on the water and it’s just completely dreamy with palm trees everywhere you look and white sand beaches. 

The Pu’uhonua was a place of refuge for those who had broken the law (and faced a punishment of death), defeated warriors, and sometimes even civilians during times of war. Once refuge seekers reached the Pu’uhonua, they were protected. Hawaiians believe the Pu’uhonua was/is protected by Lono, the God of Life. 

The Pu’uhonua is still considered an active religious site by Native Hawaiians (kanaka maoli) and while the National Park Service maintains the temple (heiau), descendants of the ancient Hawaiians continue to practice traditions there today making it a modern religious site. 

It’s $20/vehicle to enter. 

If you’re crazy about snorkeling and you have your own gear, while you’re in the area you may want to take advantage of one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island…Two Step. Here’s how to get there: turn into the entrance of the national park but instead of actually driving all the way in, take a right turn. Hang right until you reach the parking lot. 

The entry point is all smooth lava rock but you’ll still want to take your shoes right to the edge with you. The best entry point is the farthest point of lava rock jutting out into the ocean. There are two natural little steps formed here (hence the name) that makes for easy access. If you can’t find it, just hang back and watch where everybody else is going.

Day 5: Waimea & Waipio Valley

I think upcountry around Waimea is one of the most unexpectedly beautiful parts of the island and you definitely need to see it. 

If you manage your time well, you could do this all in half a day and spend the rest of the day at the beach. Either get an early start and end with lunch at Merriman’s on your way back to your resort/the beach or spend the morning at the beach and do this in the afternoon and make a reservation for dinner at Merriman’s for dinner. 

From the resort areas in Waikoloa and Kohala, head upcountry towards Waimea and stop for coffee and breakfast at Arvo Cafe. I love it here. Their coffee is great, their avocado or nutella toasts are filling but still light and it’s such a cute vibe. 

Plus be sure to stop in at Surf Camp and do a little shopping. 

From there head up to the north shore on Highway 19 to see the Waipio Valley Overlook.

Lush and tropical, Waipio Valley is one of the prettiest spots on the Big Island. The hike down into the valley is SUPER STEEP and there’s not a lot to see at the bottom (mostly private property) unless you’re on a guided tour. 

Since February 2022 the valley has been closed to visitors (on tours and individual hikers) because of safety concerns on the road, so for now you’ll have to settle for the overlook. 

After you leave the overlook, be sure to stop at the Waipio Fruit Shack…you can’t miss it!

And on the drive back, stop in the cute town of Honoka’a and take a look around. There are some great shops here but I would definitely avoid visiting on a Sunday or Monday because a lot of them are closed. 

Loop back through Waimea and spend a little time checking out the sites. 

Waimea is cowboy country (that’s paniolo in Hawaiian) and home to the legendary Parker Ranch. Parker Ranch is one of the oldest cattle ranches in the US and at its peak, the ranch was 500,000 acres (almost half of the island). Currently, the ranch is about 130,000 acres and  is among the top 10 largest cattle ranches in the US. 

You can do a self guided tour of two of the ranch’s historic homes (book in advance here) or a tour of Anna Ranch Heritage Center right in town. 

Whatever you decide to do, make reservations for dinner (or lunch) at Merriman’s. Chef Peter Merriman owns and operates some of Hawaii’s most beloved farm to table restaurants in Hawaii (hello Monkeypod), but it all started in Waimea at the original Merriman’s. 

You have to start out with a signature Merriman’s/Monkeypod mai tai. 

And honestly after that, you can’t go wrong with anything. The menu is Hawaiian regional cuisine with a huge focus on local, farm to table ingredients. The menu is so detailed and it seems like a majority of the ingredients come from a 30 mile or so radius from the restaurant. 

This is one of those places where I always think everything on the menu sounds good and that must be a common sentiment because they have a duo entree option here where you can do a smaller portion of two different entrees. 

Definitely make reservations in advance, because this is a happening spot. 

Day 6: Hilo & Hamakua Coast

The Hilo side of the island is the lush, jungle-y side and it’s probably what a lot of your Hawaii dreams are made of. Today is the day to see WATERFALLS. 

I’ve written a full post about doing a day trip to Hilo from Kona here that you’ll definitely want to read, but here’s the gist: 

Akaka Falls State Park

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

Mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen

Lunch in Downtown Hilo

Hilo Farmers Market (on Wednesday & Saturdays)

Rainbow Falls

Panaewa Rainforest Zoo or Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center

Day 7: Beach Day and Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Spend your last full day on the island unwinding from a busy week exploring. If you’re not staying somewhere with beach access or resort amenities, I would probably pack up and spend the day at Hapuna Beach. It’s a state park so it’s easily accessible (there’s a small fee to park and enter though), and it’s a BEAUTIFUL beach. 

Rest up though, because you’re in for a BIG adventure tonight! Sunset and stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done ANYWHERE, not just Hawaii. 

There are a couple of ways to do this.

If you want to do an organized tour to Mauna Kea for sunset and stargazing, this tour lasts 7-8 hours and picks up mid-afternoon. You’ll have dinner at the Mauna Kea Visitor Center while you acclimate to the altitude (the summit is 13,000+ feet), learn all about the astronomers and get outfitted with snow parkas and gloves for the drive up to the summit. The summit is only accessible via a steep, gravel, 4WD road. 

At the summit, you’ll see the observatories open and rotate as the sunsets. You’ll learn about the famous observatories located here before descending back down to the visitor’s center for stargazing. A guide will set up telescopes and explain what you’re looking at and you’ll also get cookies and cocoa. This really is a once in a lifetime experience. Book your tour here

If you’re not up for the tour, but still want to experience stargazing, local volunteers set up telescopes for visitors on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Depending on how your trip falls, you may have to shuffle days around to accommodate this. Parking at the visitor center is first come first serve and there’s only 115 spots so it gets pretty crowded around sunset. You’ll also want to check on updates to the star gazing set up at the visitor center as your date nears because it frequently changes due to construction/funding/COVID.

Read more about stargazing at Mauna Kea here.

Want to read more posts about the Big Island? I’ve got plenty!

Things You Can ONLY Do on the Big Island // 7 Day Big Island Itinerary // One Day in Hilo // One Day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park // Where to Eat on the Big Island // Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Kona vs Hilo // Big Island’s Best Beach Resorts Ranked // Big Island Travel Tips

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable.

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan.

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too.

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours).

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before.

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset.

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly.

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window).

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here.

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window.

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park.

Reservations open up 30 days in advance.

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot.

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here.

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person.

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle.

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of.

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here.

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day.

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before.

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online.

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor.

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here.
You’ve got three options here:

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation.

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas.

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer.

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation.

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and dinner reservations usually start filling up about 6 months in advance (they open up bookings 18 months in advance). Make reservations through their website and if the dates you want are already booked, you can join a waitlist. Most people have pretty good success getting in on the waitlist (even if it’s for lunch).

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist.

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance.

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance.

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance.

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance.