Vegan Travel and Food on the Big Island of Hawaii: Restaurants, Farm Tours and Beyond

A couple weeks ago Rob and I went on a long-needed vacation to the Big Island of Hawaii. Today I’d like to share with you our experience with finding vegan food on the Big Island in the hopes that you may find it useful for your own future travels.

In case you’re looking for vegan-friendly restaurant suggestions on Maui instead, check out my post about vegan food in Maui.

Vegan Big Island: where to find vegan food on the Big Island of Hawaii

A while ago, we both agreed that we wanted to go somewhere warm at the approach of the cooler season here in the Pacific Northwest. Even though Hawaii wasn’t our first choice (we just went to Maui last year, and this time around we were considering Caribbean), we were glad that we decided to give it a go.

Last year in Maui we stayed at a condo that we booked via AirBnB. My favorite part about that condo was the opportunity to make our own meals a few times, which was way cheaper than going out to eat three times a day.

This time on the Big Island, we stayed at Hilton Waikoloa Village. Our room didn’t have a kitchen, but we still had a wonderful time. We probably could have stayed on the premises the whole time because this place had just about everything.

It was also nice to get some perks like free breakfast buffet and some room credit (that depends on the travel package you select). Pretty much all restaurants at the Hilton Waikoloa compound had vegan or veganizable menu options – see my reviews below.

All in all, even though the price point for most meals on the Big Island was more expensive than back home, we were glad that this place turned out to be pretty vegan-friendly.

To find more vegan-friendly vacation destinations from the blog, check out my posts about vegan restaurants in San Diego, vegan food in Leavenworth, WA, and the vegan scene in Victoria, BC.

Vegan Food on the Big Island of Hawaii

Under The Bodhi Tree (Mauna Lani shopping center, Waikoloa)

This was one of the places that had quite a few mentions online as I was doing my research of vegan-friendly restaurants on the Big Island.

We went to Under the Bodhi Tree for lunch on our first day, and the food turned out to be just what I needed – lots of fresh vegetables arranged into wraps, salads, sandwiches, smoothies, etc.

Under the Bodhi Tree is overall vegetarian, with a few good vegan options like this wrap that I ordered:

Vegan restaurants on Big Island of Hawaii: lunch at Under the Bodhi's TreeCharley’s Thai (Queen’s Marketplace, Waikoloa)

Charley’s Thai was one of the dinner options closest to our hotel but located outside of the main hotel area, in a neat shopping mall. The menu was pretty standard for a Thai restaurant, with plenty of tofu options.

We had the same waitress both times we went there. Each time she asked if we were vegan when we ordered our tofu curries, saying that she would let the cooks know to omit adding fish sauce. The food may not have been the best Thai we’ve ever eaten, but overall it was ok.

Local Dish (Hawi)

We drove up to Hawi on Sunday planning to stop by their famed all-vegan Sweet Potato Kitchen restaurant. However, it turned out that it was closed on weekends, so we had to look for lunch somewhere else.

There were only a handful restaurants open, so we tried our luck with a place called Local Dish. The guy behind the counter (possibly the owner) was very attentive to our requests, pointing to the vegetarian section on the menu.

Rob picked the eggplant sandwich while I went for the roasted Portobello mushroom panini (we asked to omit cheese and butter). My sandwich came out with a nicely grilled mushroom cap, mustard, sauteed greens and lots of red bell peppers, which turned out to be a delicious combo. It may have been a little greasier than I like but I wasn’t complaining.

Vegan-friendly restaurants on the Big Island of Hawaii: portobello sandwich at Local Dish in Hawi
Vegan portobello panini at Local Dish in Hawi, Big Island of Hawaii

Monstera (Mauna Lani shopping center, Waikoloa)

This was one of our favorite meals during our trip. Monstera came up in my online search as a vegan-friendly Japanese restaurant in the nearby shopping center. Their menu showed that they had tofu steak, which we found intriguing.

Once we got to the restaurant, our waitress told us that they could make just about anything off the menu, or replace seafood with tofu/veganize the sauces in a lot of the existing menu options.

Rob went for an udon noodle bowl with tofu and vegetables, and I ordered a couple of custom veggie rolls. Rob’s noodles looked and tasted spectacular, and my veggie sushi also turned out nice, with crunchy asparagus, Kabocha squash, avocado and some other tasty bits. No pictures here because we started devouring everything as soon as the food was brought out.

Café Ono (Volcano Village near Volcanoes National Park)

On our way to the Volcanoes National Park, we stopped for lunch at Café Ono – another all-vegetarian/vegan-friendly restaurant with lots of online reviews.

It turned out to be the cutest little place located inside an art gallery on a private farm that doubles as an artists’ retreat. The owner of the place gave us lots of tips on what to do in the national park.

We both ordered vegan chili with brown rice that was a part of a generous platter with side salad, toast and some amazing purple sweet potato chips that I’ve never seen or eaten before but was totally fascinated by:

Vegan food on Big Island: chili with rice and a side salad at Cafe Ono on Big Island of Hawaii
Vegan chili with rice and a side salad at Cafe Ono on Big Island of Hawaii

We also took a giant slice of vegan carrot cake to go, and ate it later on the edge of a volcanic crater inside the national park. Hands-down the coolest place to eat carrot cake!

Gypsea Gelato (south of Kona)

I was so impressed with vegan gelato options in Maui last year that when we went to the Big Island, I kind of expected to see a similar situation there. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case, but we still found one gelato place located to the south of Kona.

Gypsea Gelato makes everything on site. While the overall flavor variety was pretty big, they only had 3 non-dairy sorbet flavors. The scoops were very generous though! I had a scoop of raspberry sorbet while Rob went for mango:

Vegan food options on Big Island of Hawaii: Vegan raspberry sorbet at Gypsea Gelato
Vegan food options on Big Island of Hawaii: Vegan raspberry sorbet at Gypsea Gelato

Our Vegan Findings at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort

Hilton resort in Waikoloa Village turned out to be a great place to relax by any of the three available pools or a beach lagoon, take nice walks and enjoy gorgeous sunsets every night.

The Hilton facility included a few on-site restaurants, and thankfully, a few of them offered decent vegan options or at least the good ol’ ‘take the cheese off to make it vegan’ things. The expectable downside was the fairly high prices of the food offered.

Anyway, here are our vegan picks among the Hilton Waikoloa Village restaurants:

Big Island Breakfast

We were lucky that our travel package included coupons for free breakfasts every morning, otherwise this buffet-style restaurant charges $32.95 per person for an all-inclusive breakfast.

We found quite a few vegan-friendly options like steel-cut oatmeal with various toppings, rice, toast, peanut butter and tropical jellies, lots of fresh fruit and some vegetables.

I was fascinated by a nice variety of Asian pickled and marinated vegetables (the area is heavily favored by tourists from Asian countries). Also, the sight of people eating bacon and eggs with chopsticks was quite unusual 🙂

Vegan Big Island: vegan breakfast options at the Big Island Breakfast at Hilton Waikoloa Village
Vegan breakfast options at the Big Island Breakfast at Hilton Waikoloa Village

Lagoon Grill (the same building as Ocean Sports)

This burgers and fries-type restaurant is conveniently located between a pool and a lagoon beach. We found a specifically marked vegan burger made with a Boca burger patty, served on a vegan bun with vegan mayo (!) and all the trimmings.

At 17 dollars, this was definitely the most expensive vegan burger I’ve eaten to date, but I appreciated the thoughtfulness of this place to add a vegan option to their menu.

Dona and Toni’s Pizza

Dona and Toni’s offers the traditional Italian fare with local produce incorporated in a lot of dishes. It was close to our building, so we went there twice.

We loved the fluffy crust on their cheeseless pizza (it could have used a bit more sauce though), and the Primavera pasta was also pretty good. However, the service was slow, and the complimentary bread basket typical for most Italian restaurants isn’t offered with the meals.

Boat Landing Cantina

Probably one of my favorite meals at Hilton happened at this open-air restaurants that was only opened for lunches during our stay (it serves dinners during busier seasons).

The menu lists a veggie burrito and veggie tacos that are served with local oyster mushrooms grown on a mushroom farm in Hamakua. We both ordered the tacos, and were pleasantly surprised with how well the mushrooms tasted in them. There was also a good amount of fresh guacamole on top of each taco.

Just a heads-up: let your server know that you’re vegan to make sure the kitchen staff prepares your order separately. Also, skip the Mexican rice as it is cooked with chicken stock.

Vegan food on the Big Island of Hawaii: veggie tacos at the Boat Landing Cantina at Hilton Waikoloa Village
Veggie tacos at the Boat Landing Cantina at Hilton Waikoloa Village

Waikoloa Coffee stands

Hilton in Waikoloa has two of these coffee stands at both ends of the train trek (yes, the resort is so big they have a train taking people to their rooms. And a boat.)

In case you don’t feel like shelling out $32.95 for the breakfast buffet, you can find various breakfasty things here: oatmeal packs, granola, smoothies, Acai bowls and naturally, coffee.

Legends of Hawaii Luau

Please don’t roll your eyes, but we did go to a luau 🙂 Our travel package included free tickets to this luau held on the hotel premises, so we decided to use them and see if we could find anything vegan at the traditionally meat-heavy luau buffet.

I was ready to settle for a plate of salad if things came to it, but thankfully we found a few other vegan options like white rice (the only thing clearly marked as vegan 🙂 ), steamed broccoli and carrots, marinated tomato and seaweed salad, and lots of fruit for dessert.

In case you’re into tropical beverages, the luau at Hilton offers free alcoholic drinks as long as you were willing to stand in line to the bar for 20+ minutes. My Blue Hawaiian (at the beginning of this post) looked just mesmerizing!

Honorable Mentions

Here are a few vegan-friendly restaurants on the Big Island that I discovered in my online search before our trip, but due to their schedules or our whereabouts we didn’t get a chance to visit them.

Sweet Potato Kitchen (Hawi)

Supposedly the best place on the Big Island for vegan comfort food. I’m guessing we’ll have to take another trip to find out if this is true 🙂 Open for breakfast and lunch from 10:30 am to 3:30 pm Monday through Friday.

Ai Pono Vegan Cafe, a.k.a. Evolution Bakery (Kailua-Kona)

It’s hard to tell from their site where Ai Pono ends and Evolution Bakery starts. Generally, if you’re in Kona between 7 and 11:30 am any day, or in the afternoon or evening Wednesday through Sunday, you may get a chance to get some vegan bagels, pastries and locally grown coffee. We weren’t so lucky.

Sweet Cane Cafe (Hilo)

This place on the rainy side of the island offers vegan and vegetarian sandwiches, salads, wraps, etc. Open Monday through Saturday, 8 am to 6 pm. could be a good place to fill up before a hike in the Volcanoes National Park.

Fun Vegan-Friendly Tours

Rob and I are big nerds who love finding out how our food is made, so vegan-friendly tours are always on our travel itinerary if we can find them. Out of these three, we went to the chocolate and coffee farms. If you’re not into farm tours, here’s a whole lot of other fun activities on the Big Island.

Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory and Farm (Kona area)

A great place to see how chocolate is made! This beautiful place grows their own cacao beans, processes them and makes them into chocolate bars.

This was also the only brand of Hawaiian chocolate I could find that had a dairy-free dark variety. Tours are offered on Wednesday and Friday mornings – make sure to schedule yours in advance ($15 per person).

Vegan-friendly tours on the Big Island of Hawaii: the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory and Farm
Freshly picked cacao pods at the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory and Farm

Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation (Kona area)

Kona coffee is known all over the world for its high quality beans, and this farm and mini processing plant offer some of the best coffee I’ve tried (also quite expensive, with some varieties marked at $75-85 a pound in their gift shop).

A great place to see how coffee is grown and roasted, taste a few samples, and tickle the belly of the fluffiest and friendliest cat I’ve ever met! Free tours happen every day between 10 am and 4 pm.

Hamakua Mushroom Farm (north of Hilo)

Mushrooms can be quite fascinating too! I saw mentions of this place’s harvest on menus all over the island. Tours and tastings happen on Tuesdays and Thursdays ($20 per person), reservations required.

I hope you now have a better feel for the vegan Big Island scene! If you find any additional vegan restaurants on Big Island of Hawaii, please let me know, and I’ll gladly add them to this list.

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22 thoughts on “Vegan Travel and Food on the Big Island of Hawaii: Restaurants, Farm Tours and Beyond”

  1. Hello, Alina! I’m glad you’re here!

    As I look at your beautiful pictures I am reminded of the need to be more relaxed concerning my future travels as opposed to worrying about indulging too much. Hawaii is one of the nicest places I have ever been to!

    And I am so grateful that you mentioned these tours to me. Were you aware of these tours before your trip or did you discover them while on your trip? There are many opportunities available to my travel agency, but I have to tell you that they are much more expensive than yours.

    Thank you, Arslan Masoud

  2. I am in the planning stage of a trip to the big island with in-laws, and this post has been super helpful!

    Thank you!

  3. Hi Alina! I know this is an old post- but did you do any running while you were there? Tips? I’m also a vegan runner (though much less fancy) and this post is perfect. Thank you!

    1. Hi Erin! I didn’t do any running when I was there – was taking a much needed break from working out – but it’s totally doable! The scenery is quite different on the east and west side of the island: the east is greener and cooler weather-wise, and the west is very dry and hot, so you’d need to adjust when you’re going out for a run, what you’re bringing along, etc. Definitely bring some water if you’ll be running on the west side! There are vast black lava fields on the west (dry lava of course), so it feels even hotter outside in the afternoon. Anyway, hope you have some fun running while you’re on the Big Island!

  4. For my 50th this year my husband is taking me to Hawaii. My first time ever. 4days on the Big Island and 4 days on Oahu. Your article for the Big Island is exactly what I was looking for for food options. So thanks 🙂

  5. Hi Alina!

    Looking at your beautiful pictures reminds me that I need to enjoy my future trips rather than be worried about indulging. Hawaiian food is so tasty!

    Thanks so much for letting us know about these tours. Did you look them up before your trip or find them as you went? My travel agency has many opportunities, of course the prices are way higher than yours.


    1. Hi Tara! yes, most of the tours we found while we were there – I just looked them up in advance and made a note, but didn’t book anything before going on our trip. I find that prices in vacation destinations may vary depending on the season too. We went at the end of October, which was considered low season, so we were fairly lucky with most prices (although they were still quite a bit higher than what we’re paying in our day-to-day life on the mainland).

  6. Thanks for the info. We are heading to the Islands next month. It will be our first trip and I am really looking forward to it!

  7. Thank you! If you have any activity recommendations, could,you let me know? 😉 I like to horseback ride but I don’t see any that are horse friendly…one is a cattle ranch and another has a horse drawn carriage 🙁

    1. Hi Adrianne! We enjoyed hiking in the Volcanoes National Park – there are lots of trails there, you could easily spend a whole day there or come back more than once during your stay! We also took a helicopter ride with the Blue Hawaiian company, it was a lot of fun seeing the freshly erupted lava so close. Sorry, we’re not into horseback riding, so I can’t give you any tips on that.

  8. Great post, Alina! I will print out the post to take with me when we visit Hawaii next year. I am also planning to use some of your Thanksgiving recipes this year. I thoroughly enjoy your blog and Facebook page!

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