What is KONA?!
Kona is an area on the Big Island of Hawaii.
If you had to give one spot, Kona would basically be the tourist hotspot of the Big Island.
Along the Kona coast, you can find a variety of activities, including…
A little bit of Hawaiian culture…
And TONS of amazing views!
You can also make Kona a base for day trips to see more of the Big Island.
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Kona town (aka Kailua-Kona) is the area where you can find a bunch of bars and restaurants within walking distance of one another (or biking distance courtesy of bike sharing!), and it’s probably the single area that you can find the most tourists on the Big Island.
It comes with ocean views and oceanfront walks… and oceanfront bike rides!
So when people are talking about Kona, there’s Kailua-Kona (town) and there’s the Kona coast (which includes the town)… and then the Kona side of the island (which includes the town and coast… and maybe even a bit further north of Kona along the Kohala coast).
Kona is actually a district on the Big Island. Well, 2 actually – North Kona and South Kona… and then Kohala is north of Kona, also touching the coast on the same side as Kona… and so it’s on the Kona side.
But for the purposes of travel to the Big Island, Kona can mean the town, the coast, or the side.
As a tourist, the Kona coast (or Kona side) can basically just encompass any activity that’s located along (or basically along) the west coast of the Big Island.
The western shores of the Big Island is also where you can find most of the Big Island hotels and resorts.
Now first, a bit about taking day trips from Kona.
Then, a few things to do when you’re in the main part of Kona town.
And then, a few more things to do along the Kona coast, generally going from north to south!
Day trips from Kona
It is generally reasonable to stay based in Kona for your entire trip if you’d rather not switch accommodation, and then make day trips around the island. Many people do this.
Just recognize that this means you’ll be driving more and sitting in your car more. You may have days where you will drive 2 hours one way, which can mean 4-5 hours of total driving time for the day. Staying in one spot would mean less packing and unpacking, and the drives do come with scenic views!
Although, you may also consider splitting your time and staying on the other side of the island for a different experience! If you’re headed to the Big Island for volcanoes, then be sure to look into a cottage overlooking old lava flows on the Puna coast. This would be a VERY Big Island type experience!
And if you will be going to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, see things along the way on the drive from Kona to the national park.
For more volcano exploration to do as a day trip from Kona, be sure to see the list of where to see old lava flows on the Big Island too for more “very Big Island” type experiences!
And for yet another unique experience during your trip to Kona…
Stargazing as a day trip (night trip!) from Kona
The Big Island is known as one of the best places in the world to see the night sky and look for stars! A very unique trip from Kona can be to go stargazing on the tallest mountain in the world! What? Yes that’s right! As they say, the tallest mountain in the world, when measured from the ocean floor to the top of the mountain, is located on the Big Island! That mountain (volcano) is Mauna Kea!
You can go on a Mauna Kea stargazing tour! (Leave the driving in the dark to someone else!)
Although, keep in mind, you can only see stars if the sky is clear, so there is a chance that clouds can obscure your stargazing experience.
The list of specific Kona activities of where to snorkel, hike, and more, is below!
Here's some info on Hawaii trip prep!
- Best shoes for hiking in Hawaii
- The perfect type of shirt for swimming in Hawaii
- Do you need water shoes for Hawaii?
- THE top things to pack for Hawaii
The best of the Big Island:
- Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Where to see lava fields on the Big Island
- The big list of things to do on the Big Island
What are the best things to do in Kona?!
Things to do in Kailua-Kona
So first up are places that are basically within walking distance if you’re staying in a hotel in the area of historic Kailua-Kona village.
1. Kailua Bay
You can say that this is on one end of the main tourist area of town.
This is the location of Kailua Pier, and it’s Kailua-Kona’s iconic bay!
If you’re arriving to Kona by cruise ship, this is where you’ll start your time in Kona.
Kailua Bay is also a mandatory stop if you’re a triathlete.
This is where the swim start is for the Ironman triathlon world championship… as well as where the race ends! Follow in the footsteps of world champions. 😉
This bay is open to swimming.
2. Kamakahonu Beach
This is a small little beach that’s basically located right in town.
It’s a public beach that’s right in front of the Courtyard Marriott (aka King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel).
There’s a beach shack at this beach that offers a bunch of different rentals including kayaks and stand-up paddleboards.
3. Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark
This isn’t so much a place to visit, but to know what you’re looking at when you see it.
Because you’re sure to see this when you’re around Kailua Bay and Kailua Pier.
These structures signify the historical and cultural importance of the area.
It’s said that this area is the “Plymouth Rock of Hawaii,” basically the spot where the first white people landed on the Hawaiian islands.
See more national park sites in Hawaii. (The Big Island has a few nationally-designated historical sites.)
4. Mokuaikaua Church
This is another spot that’s not so much a place to visit, but a landmark to recognize so you know what it is!
This is probably among the most recognizable landmarks on the Kona “skyline.”
It’s said that this is Hawaii’s first Christian church.
5. Hulihee Palace
If you’ll be staying in Kona for a few days, you’re sure to pass this palace that’s located just past Kailua Bay to the south.
You can make a stop here for a glimpse of how Hawaiian royalty lived in the past.
6. Alii Drive restaurant or bar
Alii Drive is a main road that runs along the Kona coast.
There are also some bars and restaurants along Alii Drive.
Have a meal or drink with ocean views!
For reference on Google Maps, look for Huggo’s / On the Rocks, and the area directly north of here.
And a little bit further along the coast to the south (but not too far from town) is also the popular Hawaiian fusion restaurant called Broke da mouth grindz. As seen on TV! (The Food Network.)
7. Kona Inn shopping village
A top consideration for where to do your souvenir shopping in Kona.
8. ABC store
This is a convenience store and another very good place to go for souvenir shopping… and to find your typical convenience store items, Hawaii style.
There are several ABC stores in Kona.
9. Kona Brewing Company
You can go for a brewery tour in Kailua-Kona, or you can buy yourself a Kona beer from one of the ABC stores located in town… or order a Kona beer at one of the oceanfront restaurants and enjoy your drink while watching a Kona sunset!
Where to stay in Kailua-Kona
For reference on a map, the best area to stay around Kailua-Kona town can include hotels from the area around Kailua Bay and the Courtyard Marriott on the north side to around the Royal Kona Resort (above picture) on the south side.
Things to do on the Kona coast
We are moving out of the direct area of town.
It can be best to have a car to go to most of these places.
10. Kona coffee plantation
Kona coffee is a thing, and there are lots of coffee plantations around that you can visit to have a sampling of Kona coffee.
Kona is said to be one of the few areas in the U.S. that has the right conditions to grow coffee plants.
11. Kua Bay
If you are looking for amazing beaches, then you must go to Kekaha Kai State Park! This is just north of the Kona airport, there are 3 great beaches here.
Kua Bay aka Maniniowali Beach is the easiest of the 3 to access and comes with a scenic drive to the beach parking lot.
12. Mahaiula Beach
The second easiest great beach to access that’s a part of the state park, although the road to Mahaiula Beach is partly on a dirt road. You will drive right through lava fields for a “very Big Island” type experience!
If you are looking to go stargazing on your own: One place I went that had an amazing night sky on the Kona coast was in Kekaha Kai State Park by turning onto the road of the Mahaiula Beach entrance.
The gates to the state park close at night, but you could drive in a little until you get to the spot of the closed gate. And then from there, you can park your car and look up at the sky!
For your comfort, you may consider bringing/renting/buying small beach chairs so you can sit and look up at the sky! (Maybe head to ABC store or Walmart for the chairs?)
Also for safety as you are walking around in the dark, bring along a flashlight aka one of the everyday Hawaii essentials! (Ideally not just your phone!)
The third great beach in the state park requires a hike through lava fields to get to! Driving to this beach with a 4 wheel drive is also an option. (This is one of the Big Island drives that requires a 4wd.)
14. Puu Kuili hike
This is also a part of the state park.
As you’re driving towards Kua Bay from the south, you’ll see a hill that’ll stand out along the coastline.
That’s the Puu Kuili cinder cones, and you can hike to the top of Puu Kuili too for some coastal views from higher above.
You can park at Kua Bay and then walk over to the base of this hill.
The start of the trail can be a bit challenging to find, but when you see it, you’ll know!
15. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Aside from more Hawaiian culture experiences, this historical park is on a beach that’s known for frequent turtle sightings.
To get to this part of the park, you can look for the Honokohau Harbor and Aiopio fish trap.
This is also near the Kona airport, but just south.
16. Snorkeling with manta rays from Honokohau Harbor
Snorkeling with manta rays is a thing in Kona!
Among THE most popular tours in Kona is snorkeling with manta rays at night along the Kona coast.
There are many places along the Kona coast to start a boat tour to go swimming with manta rays, and Honokohau Harbor is one of them!
There are different tour starting times that can range from a start time of 6:30pm or a start time of 9pm, or somewhere in between. So you can do your daytime Kona activity, and then in the evening go snorkeling with manta rays!
See more about snorkeling with manta rays: Here is a manta ray snorkeling tour that starts from Honokohau Harbor.
17. Magic Sands Beach
This is known as one of the best beaches near Kona town for boogie boarding. You can buy a boogie board (bodyboard) at an ABC Store in Kailua-Kona.
You can get to Magic Sands Beach from Kona town without a car by bike sharing or by taking the Kona trolley. (Even in normal times the Kona trolley did not have frequent timings, so bike sharing in Kona can be more convenient!)
18. Kahaluu Beach
This is known as one of the best beaches near Kona town for snorkeling.
Kahaluu Beach is another place you can get to by bike sharing or by Kona trolley.
A hike with amazing views that will take you to another one of the top snorkeling spots (next) on the Kona coast.
20. Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay is considered one of the best snorkeling spots in Kona.
This bay is also accessible by road from the other side, but that’s not the side of the snorkeling cove.
So it is possible to snorkel here for FREE by hiking.
But if you’re not interested in a hike and snorkel kind of day, and instead would prefer a cruise and snorkel kind of day in Hawaii for a day out on the water, another popular tour on the Big Island is a snorkeling boat tour to Kealakekua Bay.
See more about sailing to Kealakekua Bay: Here is a 3 hour snorkeling sailboat tour that starts from the Keauhou Bay Pier which is near the Sheraton.
21. Two Step Beach
Another one of the best snorkeling spots on the Kona coast.
22. Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park
To get a glimpse of the Hawaiian past with a visit to the “place of refuge.”
This is right next to the Two Step snorkeling spot.
If you plan on going to both Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, then you may consider getting the Hawaii national park pass. If you calculate it out, it actually might mean you’ll spend an extra $5, but you’ll get a nice souvenir in the form of the park pass for your wallet! 😄 (It also works for the national park on Maui if you’ll be headed there within a year!)
The annual U.S. national park pass can also work for Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park if you have that. Or if you’re planning on visiting more national parks within a year and don’t have it yet, you can buy that!
23. Hookena Beach
This is a beach that’s less frequented by tourists and it can be a nice beach experience. Parking is limited, but it’s basically a proper beach park. (More or less meaning there’s a bathroom.)
This area is considered one of the “last active Hawaiian canoe fishing villages” in Hawaii.
24. Honomalino Bay Beach hike
There are many beaches on the Big Island that you can hike to, and this is one of them.
This Big Island beach hike has a water crossing (in the ocean!) to get to a relatively quiet beach. I spoke with first time snorkelers who though the snorkeling here was great.
No matter where on the Kona coast you’ll be…
25. Take in a Kona sunset!!
Where to stay on the Kona coast
A big name hotel that’s a bit further down the coast to the south is the Sheraton Kona. This is 10-15 minutes from the start of the Captain Cook hike, and likely less than 30 minutes from the Two Step snorkeling spot. This can be a good area to stay in Kona as you work your way around the island in the southern direction.
More resorts on the Big Island
Resorts not directly in the Kona town area, but a few minutes to the south (and close enough to be easily accessible by the bike share program in Kona for a bike ride in Hawaii!) –
Aside from resorts mentioned above, most of the resorts are located on the north side of the west coast of the Big Island near Waikoloa Village on the Kohala coast.
Some of the top resorts include:
- Four Seasons Hualalai
- Fairmont Orchid
- Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations Club
- Mauna Lani Point
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
- Aston Waikoloa Colony Villas
- Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort
- Hilton Waikoloa Village
- The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort
Airbnb in Kona
And if you’re a little bit more on a budget…
If you are open to staying at an airbnb in Kona, you’ll be able to stay at some places around the island at lower prices than standard hotels. (And you can save money on food too when you stay at a place with a kitchen!)
Watch out for those cleaning fees though. There are some lower priced nightly rates with disproportional cleaning fees! This seems to be a thing in Hawaii to list a low nightly cost and then a high cleaning fee.
If you haven’t used airbnb before, sign up through my referral link to receive a discount on your first booking. (I’ve seen it say as much as up to $55!)
IMPORTANT NOTE: Renting a car in Kona in 2021
As of spring 2021, there are reports of there being a car rental shortage in Kona.
If you’re planning your trip to Kona for later in the year, then you might consider looking up availability for a car rental FIRST before you book your flight to Kona.
And book your car sooner rather than later!
If you already have your flight to Kona booked, but not yet your car rental… book NOW!
More things to do as a day trip from Kona
For more Kona day trip ideas, you can see more about the different areas of the Big Island in this Big Island itinerary. It includes Hilo, Puna, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the famous Big Island valleys, and more!
HAPPY EXPLORING THE KONA COAST!
Top things to pack for your Hawaii vacation!
The ultimate beach towel for travel?!Turkish towels are considered to be more absorbent and lightweight than your average beach towel. Be sure to check out turkish towels like these!
Possibly among the best Big Island maps for tourists!The Franko maps of Hawaii have a high level of detail for activities and it's beachproof aka waterproof. There's an "adventure" guide map and a "snorkel/dive" guide map. Plus a wall map for home to get you excited for your upcoming trip to Kona!
The cheapo way to waterproof your phoneYou can take underwater pictures with a simple waterproof phone case like this. Touch screen may not work well underwater - try the volume button to snap the pic instead!
Get your suitcase more organized!Packing cubes can make it so you're spending less time on your vacation looking for things! They are basically a form of drawers in your suitcase. Take a look at these packing cubes.
Wear less sunscreen by wearing a UPF swim shirt!Wearing a swim shirt means less skin that's exposed to the sun which means less sunscreen you need to apply! See about wearing swim shirts with UV protection like these when you're snorkeling.
Be sure to take a look at the reviews of these amazing tours on the Big Island:
- Sailing the ocean with a sail + snorkel trip
- Kona's most popular tour: Swimming in the ocean at night with manta rays (likely to sell out)
- Star gazing at Mauna Kea volcano
- Dream Hawaii helicopter flight: Circle the Big Island to see Hawaii's volcanoes from above
- Sail the ocean in the evening on the Captain Cook historical sunset dinner cruise (likely to sell out)