Paradise on a Penny: Affordable Adventures on Hawaii’s Big Island

Ki'i in Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Big Island, Hawaii.



Budget-friendly excitement, retreats and tantalizing flavors await you on Hawaii’s magnificent Big Island. While this tropical oasis is renowned as a top-tier vacation hotspot, you don’t need to break the bank to embrace the island’s magic and warm Aloha spirit.

From local favorite breakfast spots to tropical state parks, here are some affordable attractions, eateries and hotels that will have you savoring every moment.

Feast Like a King, Spend Like a Local

Long-standing Hilo staple Ken’s House of Pancakes has been “jammin’ since 1971,” serving classic American diner dishes with an authentic Hawaiian flair. Expect enormous portions without the big bill. Chow down on their SUMO-size pancakes or the loco moco – a popular Hawaiian comfort food consisting of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and brown gravy.

For delicious grub on the go, head to Broke Da Mouth Grindz in Kona’s Kaiwi Square. This take-out-only spot serves traditional Hawaiian dishes fit for a king with scrumptious eats craved by locals and tourists alike. Try their staple dish, “da garlic furikake chicken,” or other delicious favorites such as kalua pork, bi bim bap (a Korean-style rice bowl) and laulau – juicy pork wrapped in taro leaves.

A traditional Hawaiian lunch plate of laulau, ahi poke, lomi lomi, salmon and kalua pork.

Just a short drive from the Kailua-Kona airport lies Pine Tree Café, well-known for having some of the best Hawaiian comfort food, such as fried poke, chicken katsu, and Yoshino hamburger steak. From breakfast staples such as eggs over fried rice to the buffet serving homemade beef stew and traditional fish and chips, this is a great place to dine on a budget.

With a farm-to-table model, Rebel Kitchen focuses on fresh local and seasonal ingredients to make some of the best dishes on the Big Island, along with many vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options. Here you can feast on sandwiches, burgers, pasta, salads, and freshly caught fish. Of course, don’t leave without a bottle or two of their famous sauces – Kona Ketchup, Hawaiian Fire, and Mauka Mustard!

A flight of beers at Kona Brewing Company on Hawaii’s Big Island.

And don’t miss out on the adventurer-sized potions at Big Island Grill. One meal here, and you won’t have to eat the rest of the day – yes, the portions are huge, and the prices are reasonable. Choose from one of their many menu items or daily specials featuring shrimp salad and teriyaki beef. Most importantly, save room for their heavenly Kona coffee mud pie for dessert.

Other dining affordable dining options available across the Big Island include the Kona Brewing Company – home to affordable brews on tap and bar bites; Umekes Fish Market Bar and Grill (home to the create-your-own poke bowl) and Emma’s Kitchen, a no-frills but seriously incredible taste of the Philippines. Swing by for generous heaps of Filipino staples like pork lumpia and pork sisig.

Rest Easy in Paradise at Budget-Friendly Hotels

Hilo Reeds Bay Hotel is a budget-friendly hotel located on Banyan Drive in Hilo, on the eastern side of Hawaii’s Big Island. Nestled near the picturesque Reeds Bay, the hotel offers guests easy access to the bay’s tranquil waters and nearby attractions such as the Liliuokalani Gardens, the Pacific Tsunami Museum, and the Hilo Farmers’ Market. There’s also an on-site pool, public beach access and a nine-hole golf course just a short walk away.

The Hilo Farmers’ Market near the Hilo Reeds Bay Hotel.

Hale Kai is a charming bed-and-breakfast style hotel with panoramic views of the blue pacific operating for over 30 years. This cozy B&B offers guests a serene and picturesque retreat, with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and uniquely designed guest rooms. Be aware there is no AC, but the coastal breezes keep rooms cool. You can look forward to complimentary breakfast every morning, from local fruits to homemade pastries, and the location is near the iconic Rainbow Falls.

In the heart of Kailua Kona Village lies the Kona Seaside Hotel, a  30-room boutique hotel that’s family owned and perfect for the budget-conscious traveler. The guest rooms are modest, featuring essential amenities such as air conditioning, cable TV, and Wi-Fi access. Many rooms also have private balconies or patios, providing guests with lovely views of the tropical gardens, pool, or ocean. Thanks to its prime location, you’ll only be a short walk away from Kailua-Kona’s lively shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Nearby attractions include the historic Hulihe’e Palace, Mokuaikaua Church, and Kona’s famous Ali’i Drive.

Wallet-Friendly Sights and Attractions

A trip to Hawaii isn’t complete without a trip to Akaka Falls State Park, and admission only costs $5 per person! Just a short drive north of Hilo, you can enjoy a moderate hike through lush rainforests to the cascading 442-foot Akaka falls that plunge into a green gorge. Along the trail, visitors will also encounter the smaller yet equally enchanting 100-foot Kahuna Falls. Other well-maintained trails showcase the region’s native plants, including massive ferns, bamboo groves and vibrant wildflowers.

When it comes to experiencing the Big Island, nothing beats free. Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is a unique, 12-acre zoo and botanical garden located just a few miles south of Hilo. The only tropical rainforest zoo in the United States, Pana’ewa offers visitors the opportunity to explore a lush and vibrant setting while encountering a variety of animals such as the endangered nene goose (Hawaii’s state bird), the colorful scarlet ibis, the regal Bengal tiger, and a variety of playful monkeys. In addition, the zoo features beautifully landscaped gardens that showcase a wide variety of tropical plants, including palms, orchids, and bromeliads.

According to native Hawaiian legend, the Pu’uhonua o Honauau National Historic Park is where Hawaiians would seek refuge for breaking ancient laws (kapu) or to escape enemies. This park preserves and showcases the ancient Hawaiian culture, traditions, and way of life, offering visitors a glimpse into the rich history of the native people. Highlights of the park include the Great Wall, separating the royal grounds from the sanctuary; the Hale o Keawe temple, which once housed the bones of powerful chiefs; and the sacred fishponds and wooden images known as ki’i. In addition, ranger-lead tours are available, where you can witness cultural demonstrations of arts, crafts and customs.

The Mauna Kea Observatory on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Other budget-friendly attractions across the Big Island include the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, a one-of-a-kind immersive learning experience where you’ll travel back and witness first-hand how Hawaiian coffee farmers lived and worked, as well as the Mauna Kea Observatory on top of a dormant volcano that houses some of the most advanced telescopes in the world. Visitors can take stargazing tours through the visitor information station (VIS) to learn about the cosmos and the important work at the observatory.

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