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I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore foodie, but I like to eat well on vacation. I love trying new places, going back to favorites, and finding good spots that are convenient if you’re out and about in certain places of the island and want to stop for lunch/breakfast/sunset drinks, etc.
Where to Eat on the Big Island
So to help you out with where to eat on the Big Island, I’ve rounded up 31 places for every kind of occasion…
My Don’t Miss Places
There are a lot of amazing places to eat on the Big Island, but these are a few of my personal favorites that I go back to regularly.
I never miss a chance to eat at one of Chef Peter Merriman’s restaurants and they never disappoint. Merriman has restaurants throughout the Hawaiian Islands (the Monkeypod on Maui is my favorite but the Beach House on Kauai is a close second), but Merriman’s in Waimea was the first.
Tucked away in a low key spot in the middle of Waimea, it’s a bit of a drive from Kona and the resort areas but it’s 100% worth it.
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.
After the original location in SALT in Honolulu became such a hit, this local hangout cafe expanded to Waimea on the Big Island.
And I LOVE this place. I often stay at one of the resorts on the Kohala Coast and this spot in Waimea is the perfect place to grab coffee and breakfast when I’m heading out for an adventure for the day.
Their coffee is good (and their latte art on point), but I really love their toasts. The loaded avocado toast is pretty hearty and I can’t resist nutella and strawberries.
I also love their strawberry guava mint iced tea.
And I always set aside some time to shop in Surf Camp while I’m there.
Two Ladies Kitchen
I’ll be honest, I was never too crazy about mochi. But now I know it’s because I’d never had GOOD mochi. This authentic Japanese confectionery makes traditional and modern styles of mochi fresh all day long and they are HOPPING.
If you’re going to Hilo for a day trip, stop by Two Ladies as soon as you get to town and place your order. The line to order doesn’t usually take too long, but the wait to pick it up is…longer.
They do a great job explaining all of the choices with menus, pictures, descriptions, etc. They’re most famous for their strawberry mochi (there’s an entire fresh strawberry inside), but the brownie was also a favorite of mine.
I would try any and all kind of fresh fruit mochi they happen to have (it’s seasonal), and half the fun is trying different flavors and kinds.
If you’ve only got room for one fancy pants meal, I would strongly consider making it Manta at the Mauna Kea Hotel.
Yes, the food is good, but it’s really a great EXPERIENCE. The hotel is pretty fabulous, the restaurant is laid out so that pretty much every table has an epic ocean view, and of course, there are the mantas.
The hotel has a private manta viewing location set up just down a path from the restaurant and it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in Hawaii. I’ve always wanted to see the manta rays, but swimming in the ocean after dark isn’t my idea of fun so I’ve always put it off. But here you can see them from the viewing platform and they’re just…majestic.
But anyways, back to the restaurant. The food is good, expensive but good all very fresh and inventive.
I’ve had the snapper, mahi, lobster, etc. and they’ve all been great. but the small plates are what they’re supposed to be best known for. I kind of like “owning” my entree, but it’s something to consider ; )
Lava Lava Beach Club
Lava Lava is one of my favorite places in ALL OF HAWAII. It’s everything you want a tropical, beachfront restaurant to be. Open air, good drinks, fresh seafood, live music, feet in the sand, and a perfect view for sunset.
Situated on Anaeho’omalu Bay in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, Lava Lava is a lively but laid back spot and one of the best places to watch sunset on the Kona side.
They don’t take reservations. It’s first come first serve.
***Want to save major $$$ on a fancy beach resort? My favorite travel hack is cashing in points to score free nights at some of the island’s most high end resorts. My go to hotel brand is Marriott so I use this Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card to rack up points for a lot of my trips to Hawaii. If you pay for your monthly expenses on the card and are responsible about paying it off every month, the points add up really fast. Plus, if you sign up through my link, you’ll get THREE bonus free nights to use. On the Big Island, use your points at some of my favorite Marriott properties like the Mauna Kea Hotel, Westin Hapuna Beach, and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott.
Island Lava Java
You could potentially eat all of your meals at this oceanfront eatery and honestly…that would be okay! It’s a casual kind of place, with good food and even better views.
I would definitely go for breakfast, but if you’re looking for an oceanfront restaurant in downtown Kona, it would probably still be my top pick.
The Kona location is on the water, but there’s also a location in Waikoloa in the shopping center.
Kona Brewing Co
Kona Brewing Co is one of the most popular craft beer brands in the world and I think that means that you practically must visit their headquarters. It’s close to downtown Kona (walkable from the King Kamehameha Hotel) and it’s in a more revitalized area. They’ve got great food, their whole collection of beers on tap, and an overall really nice facility complete with a merch stand.
You can do a one hour brewery tour several times a day. $20/person (15 and up only). Tour includes four 4 oz samples for guests 21+. More info here.
Where to Eat on the Big Island (Depending on Where You Are)
Here’s a whole slew of recommendations for different scenarios and locations around the island…
For lunch near the black and green sand beaches…
Hana Hou: In Na’alehu, this little local plate lunch specials, burgers, salads, pizza, etc. I would call ahead for pizzas as they take longer. Their lilikoi lemonade is amazing! Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday so plan accordingly.
Punalu’u Bake Shop: Also in Na’alehu, don’t miss the glazed lilikoi and chocolate malasadas. It’s also a great place to use the restroom, do a little souvenir shopping, stock up on water, etc.
For ocean views in Kona…
Huggo’s On the Rocks: This popular Kona oceanfront spot is a favorite for sunset views, cocktails, and live entertainment. It’s owned by the same people as Lava Lava Beach Club so you know it’s good. Get the kalua pork nachos.
Foster’s Kitchen: Another great spot for sunset/ocean views. The second floor location is particularly nice and they’ve got great food and drinks.
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.
For lunch in Hilo…
Pineapples: This lively restaurant in the middle of historic downtown Hilo specializes in island fresh cuisine. Try one of their specialty tropical cocktails.
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill: This casual joint is a go to spot with locals and tourists for seafood specials, pupus, and happy hour deals.
For dinner in Hilo…
Moon and Turtle: If you’re a foodie seeking out something a little trendier and a little less old school, make reservations here. It’s a small (and very popular) Asian/Hawaiian fusion restaurant and probably at the top of the “don’t miss restaurants in Hilo” list.
In the National Park…
The Rim at Volcano House: Breakfast, lunch and dinner with a view of the volcano! Most people go for dinner (after dark) to see the glow from the crater (if it’s active), but I also like it for breakfast to warm up if you’ve been at the crater for sunrise. Breakfast is a buffet and the food won’t knock your socks off but it’s decent and a fun way to check out Volcano House.
After snorkeling Kealakekua Bay…
Teshima’s Restaurant: 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.
Rebel Kitchen: Cozy restaurant with nice outdoor seating. Features an inventive menu of Hawaiian favorites blended with Southern home style cooking.
Manago Hotel Restaurant: Local style restaurant with inexpensive food. Atmosphere like you’ll only find in Hawaii.
Ka’aloa’s Super J’s: Located south of Kona near Captain Cook, this is the place to go for authentic Hawaiian food. Well known for the laulau.
Places up the Kohala Coast, not at a resort…
Pueo’s Osteria: Situated just up off the coast in Waikoloa Village, if you love Italian food this is definitely a place you want to come.
The patio has great distance ocean/sunset views and overall it’s a much more casual, low key vibe than most of the restaurants you’ll find at the restaurants down below.
I’ve sampled a few things here but my favorite is the Radiatore ala Vodka with meatballs.
Seafood Bar & Grill: For a place that’s so heavily associated with tiki bars, there’s a surprising lack of tiki bars in Hawaii. I haven’t been here yet, but this place looks like a gem.
For a fancy resort dinner…
Brown’s Beach House: This romantic open-air beachfront restaurant is located at the Fairmont Orchid near Waikoloa on the Kohala Coast (north of Kona). It’s one of the best fine dining experiences on the Big Island.
‘Ulu Ocean Grill: The Four Seasons Hualalai is the epitome of luxury, so it’s worth having dinner here just to check out the resort. The restaurant itself has been named one of the 100 Most Romantic Restaurants and one of the 100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America. Also, 75% of the ingredients served at the restaurant are sourced from the Big Island.
For a greasy spoon breakfast…
Ken’s House of Pancakes: This Hilo institution serves breakfast all day (macadamia nut pancakes for the win!). They also do local style favorites and a full dinner menu, but go for breakfast!
Hawaiian Style Café: This popular diner serves local favorites and American classics for breakfast and lunch. If you want to try a “loco moco,” do it here. Locations in Hilo and Waimea (upcountry).
808 Grindz Café: If you want to chow down on some local Hawaiian favorites, you’ve got to come to 808 Grindz in Kona. Their menu features a selection of local favorites that are $8.08 all day long.
Tex Drive In: If you’re driving up to the north shore to see Waipio Valley or take the scenic drive over to Hilo, stop at Tex Drive In for fresh malasadas.
I like the chocolate filled ones.
For the best shave ice…
Scandinavian Shave Ice: In Kona downtown near the water, it’s always a contender for “best shave ice on the Big Island.”
For fish and poke…
Umeke’s Fish Market Bar & Grill: A favorite spot for poke. Also a full seafood and cocktail menu in a laid back restaurant.
Da Poke Shack: If you want to try traditional Hawaiian style poke, this is your spot. Get it to go and eat it out on the beach!
Pau Hana Poke: A newish place in Kona near the Costco.
Still Looking for a Place to Stay?
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 they’ve been opening reservations (and selling out) 4-6 months in advance. You can call and get on the waitlist for one day or you can set notifications on OpenTable to alert you for cancellations every day of your trip. Most people have pretty good success on OpenTable.
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.
Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about the Big Island: 28 things to do on the Big Island (that you can’t do anywhere else in Hawaii), plus things to do in Kona and in Hilo, a breakdown of where to stay on the Big Island comparing Kona and Hilo, the Big Island’s best beach resorts ranked, my favorite places to eat on the Big Island, my perfect 7 day Big Island itinerary, one day in Hilo, one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, four National Parks on the Big Island, stargazing at Mauna Kea, snorkeling and kayaking at Kealakekua Bay, a roundup of the best condos on the Big Island, my best Big Island travel tips, and reviews of the Fairmont Orchid and the Hilton Waikoloa Village.
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