On the BEST day of Gluten Free Hawaii sightseeing, I didn’t even notice my dietary restriction. Beautiful sights, abundant food and more were available to me without the reminder that I carry a chronic illness with me always. This is often the case with outdoor travel, and one of the reasons I love it so much. Besides, beautiful views are a guarantee and everyone packs a picnic, not just me!
While much of my travel is outdoors and I enjoy these luxuries in abundance, it is a truly rare and wonderful occasion when I can eat at restaurants once, and even TWICE in a day!! I was fortunate to enjoy this gem of a day, along with gorgeous views and culture, on the Big Island of Hawaii.
In this post you’ll find:
- My itinerary for a perfect day on Hawaii Island (a.k.a. - the “Big Island”)
- Where YOU can find delicious gluten-free food along the way
Let’s dive in!
In preparation for a day of Gluten Free Hawaii sight-seeing...
We grabbed a delightful Kona coffee from Kona Mountain Coffee along the way - we recommend the medium roast.
We had our own breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and tropical fruits before leaving in the morning and brought rice cakes and peanut butter for the road. Our two recommended food stops will cover a refreshing afternoon snack and dinner.
Gluten Free Coffee Tips:
I freely drink regular unflavored drip coffee at coffee shops and have yet to have a problem with gluten. However, be wary of anything other than unflavored drip coffee such as espresso drinks because there is the possibility of cross-contact with gluten from shared stirrers, frothers, etc. Not all plant-based milks and flavorings are gluten free.
For tea, which is my usual since coffee can upset my stomach, I only drink brands I recognize and keep a few Stash, Tazo, or Bigelow English Breakfast tea bags on me. I’ve never been turned down asking for just a cup of hot water. Note that sometimes there is a small charge for the cup if you don’t bring your own.
The day begins just outside of beautiful Hilo on the East side of Hawai’i island. Known for it’s chill friendly vibes, rainy weather (no problem for this Seattlite 😉 ), and lush green forests.
We began our trip from Kona, so making the drive across the island in the morning is totally doable. However, if you are staying in Hilo, I highly recommend Arnott’s Lodge. You can camp on the lawn with access to full outdoor facilities (including toilets, laundry, hot showers, and refrigerator access) or stay in their budget-friendly indoor accommodations. The staff is just wonderful (BIG mahalo to Glory, Michelle, and Siobhan in particular) and you can use your camp stove under the lanai (i.e. - outdoor patio) to your heart’s content and without weird looks - in fact, everyone is doing it!
There is a delightful open air Farmer’s Market all days of the week (with Big Market days on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and many grocery stores and coffee shops for snack pick-up or a caffeine fix.
After leaving Hilo town center (or on your way if coming from Kona), stop at the beautiful Pe'epe'e Falls. This area has great significance to the Hawaiians and is the home of a tale of bravery and the love between a mother and son. I won’t spoil the story, and I encourage you to read it yourself when you get there.
You can catch a glimpse of the waterfall in the distance from the right side of the viewing platform after a very short walk from the car. The valley is lush and green and flowers are always blooming!
Note: There is a restroom at the parking lot.
If you are beginning in Hilo or are a particularly early riser, this one is best at first light! It is a much loved waterfall for Hawaiians and tourists alike, and gets its name from the rainbows created when rays of morning sunshine dance across the cascading waterfall.
This is a great spot to spend a while taking photos, walking from the top to bottom of the falls, and exploring the grove of massive Banyan trees beside the pools at the top, so plan a little extra time here.
After Rainbow Falls, you may think the others could not possibly be so significant. However, we suggest the route in this post because the Falls get progressively MORE breathtakingly beautiful. You're welcome 😉
Passing through Hilo
If you began in Kona, this is your chance to visit and explore the quaint college town of Hilo.
Either way, grab any snacks or water you need for the rest of the day and fill your gas tank - there are no major towns for many miles and much exploration.
Scenic Route #1
About 5 miles down the road as you head North from Hilo, you will see a sign for “scenic route”. We highly recommend you take this detour!
The forest grows more lush and magnificent as trees that are small in other parts of the island tower over you. Ferns as tall as trees, flowers that are triple-sized, and leaves as big as your torso frame your view of the winding rural road. If you have the time and energy, there is hiking along the Onomea Bay Trail and a well-rated botanical garden with walking paths. It was hot by the time we arrived at these spots and we did not explore on this trip, but we did hop out of the car to poke around and both looked promising.
** Have you explored the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens or Onomea Bay Trail? - tell us what you think in the comments below!
And THIS, my friend, is the crown jewel of the tour! This incredible waterfall drops 442 feet from atop a lush green mountain top. While you can see it from a distance from the parking area, the easy, paved 0.5 mile loop walking trail has an entrance fee of $2 per person and is well worth it.
The loop trail also offers stunning views of tropical plants, a river valley, and a second waterfall. If geckos and lizards are your thing, keep a close eye on the grasses along the trail wall as you pass through (if it’s not, ask someone else to walk first - they scare easily!).
Budget tip: You can save $5 on parking by parking along the road on the way in (just outside) instead of parking in the paid lot. It seemed totally safe while we visited, but you're perhaps safer from break-ins in the paid lot.
Just outside Akaka Falls Park on the road in, there is a fresh fruit stand called Aloha Farms. If you drive all the way back to the town of Honauma, you’ve gone too far. Of all the places we stopped on the Big Island and Kauai, this place was the BEST! You can drink fresh coconut water and have the coconut meat cut out afterward, and we were able to sample a variety of fresh local fruits for free.
This was also one of the only stands that did not have cookies or other baked goods around and I had no issues with cross contact with gluten even though the fruits were sliced on a cutting board.
Our favorite treats were the fresh coconut, guava, sugar cane, and star fruit. We hear the bananas are amazing too - but I’m unfortunately allergic.
Pro Tip: If you’re friendly, hang around at the picnic tables and catch this guy at the very end of the day (a little before 4pm, at least in December), he’ll give you extra samples and the leftover fruit for free!
Scenic Drive #2
While not an official scenic drive, the route from Akaka Falls to Waimea and beyond is beautiful! You’ll see stretches of uninterrupted forest, pastures, and the ridges of Kohala Volcano.
Your next destination is Racha Thai at Waikoloa Village, but we highly recommend enjoying the scenery along the way and snacking on fresh tropical fruits to tide you over.
Can you send me a plate? Racha Thai is an AMAZING dedicated gluten free restaurant, and loved by gluten eating and gluten free folk alike!
Racha Thai is a 100% Gluten Free Thai Restaurant that also has a selection of Vietnamese dishes. The price ranges from about $12-22 per plate (in December 2019) and is a good value for your money - the portions are huge!
We recommend getting a few dishes to share and don’t forget dessert! Whether you choose a Thai Tea, Thai coffee, sticky rice desserts, or all of the above (our personal choice 😉 ) we can guarantee you’ll love every dish.
Our dishes of choice were the Pad See Ew (an old favorite) and a Vietnamese pancake dish known as Banh xeo.
For our appetizer and dessert, we enjoyed coconut sticky rice. We promise to work on making our own recipe for the future, otherwise we may have to move to Waikoloa Village!
With full bellies, perhaps a few Racha Thai dishes to go, and all smiles, head back to Kona to catch the sunset at any number of the easily accessible beaches. Or retire to Hilo for cool nights and rest before another day of exploration.
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Check out my Gluten-Free Travel Essentials for Confidence & Good Eating:
These are juuust my travel favorites... check out the rest of the goods in the VgF shop!
Looking for more Travel Tips & Stories? Check these out!
Wishing you a marvelous day of good food and adventures,
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