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By Danielle, Animal Trainer

As a dolphin trainer at Dolphin Quest Hawaii, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring and living on the Big Island for 10 years. It has been my privilege to play tour guide for visiting friends and family, and I’ve even had the opportunity to assist some of our program guests with planning their Big Island vacation activities. Here are my top five recommended activities while visiting Hawaii’s Big Island:

1.    Top Beach: The Club at Mauna Kea Resort

The Big Island has a reputation for having a uniquely diverse terrain including black sand beaches and lava rock coastlines, but it also has beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear water. In fact, around here there are choices that meet just about every beachgoer’s needs. Some spots are ideal for snorkeling, others are fantastic for laying out, or you can even body board at the right time of year. As someone who spends a good bit of time working in the sun, a beach with shade is a must-have for me.

I’ve found that whether you’re traveling with family, in a group, or with a friend, the Mauna Kea Beach Club is a perfect beach option for everyone. The small white sand bay is protected, and calm, with good snorkeling. There is an activities stand offering a variety of water sports options, fresh water showers, and there is a bar in the beach club. Keep in mind that you may want to get there early to find parking, which is limited, but the reward is a crowd-free beach day!

2.    Top Hike: Pololu Valley

At the north end of the island is Pololu Valley. It is the first of several beautiful valleys that interrupt the northern coast of the island. Although the floor of the valley is unreachable by car, this hike is the perfect mix of adventure and ease. Hikers can estimate that the descent (a somewhat steep grade) into the valley will take approximately 15 minutes. The views and photo opportunities are second to none, and you’ll get to experience a side of the island that you might not otherwise see! Although it’s best to avoid swimming at the valley mouth, because of the strong currents, you’ll have lots of fun exploring the wooded trails and black sand beach. Don’t forget to leave a little extra time for the walk back, because it always seems steeper on the way up!

3.    Top Shopping: Hawi

On the drive north to Pololu Valley, you pass through a tiny, sleepy town called Hawi. There is some really wonderful shopping to be had in the unique local boutiques. If you are looking for more in the way of souvenirs than ABC store trinkets, there is a wide range of temptation to be found here. Not to mention some great restaurants and cafes for pre or post hike snacking.

4.    Top Cultural: Place of Refuge  (Pu’u o Honaunau)

Yes, you are still in the United States, but as the last state to join the union (1959), Hawaii has maintained a strong connection to its pre-western cultural heritage. You wouldn’t visit Egypt and not see the pyramids, or skip the Arc de Triumph while in Paris, so don’t miss out on immersing yourself into some of the Big Island’s history. About an hour south of Kailua-Kona, you will find the Place of Refuge, not only a historic and valuable landmark, but also a place of natural beauty and a well-run outdoor museum.

5.    Top Restaurant: Coffee Shack

On the road to the Place of Refuge is a small restaurant called the “Coffee Shack.” It is perched on the side of the cliff overhanging the coffee plantation that produces the beans used in the brew you’ll be drinking. The food is delicious, and you get to enjoy it with a hillside ocean view and geckos stopping by to visit. Perfectly located for breakfast on the way to the Place of Refuge, or lunch on your return trip, you shouldn’t miss this!

While swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Quest Hawaii is my #1 recommendation for an inspiring and educational Big Island adventure, I hope these additional suggestions make your visit even more special. If Dolphin Quest Hawaii is on your “To Do” list during your visit, we look forward to meeting you!

Dolphin Quest Hawaii is located at the magnificent Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort on Hawaii’s Big Island. Dolphin Quest offers unique opportunities to interact and swim with dolphins during inspiring experiences that create a connection to nature and a passion to learn more. A portion of the proceeds from the Dolphin Quest experience supports vital marine conservation, education and research.