Kailua-Kona, the largest town on the Big Island of Hawaii, is the epicenter of activities and tours on the Kona Coast—part of the island’s western (leeward) side. The antithesis to the lush, often rainy jungles of Hilo on the island’s eastern (windward) side, dry and sunny Kona’s activities put a huge emphasis on long days in the outdoors. Kailua-Kona is the jumping-off point for the Big Island’s best coffee-farm tours, superb reef snorkeling, all levels of hiking, and experiencing ancient Hawaiian culture, while downtown’s seaside shops and dining come with spectacular sunset views.
Many Big Island sightseeing tours originating in Kona include stops to take in roadside lava tubes, the former royal summer residence at Hulihee Palace, the Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay, ancient Hawaiian heiau (temples) at the Place of Refuge National Historical Park, and coffee-tasting excursions. Some also visit points north and south of town—for example, to stargaze atop Mauna Kea or stroll along striking black- and green-sand beaches. Popular activities include submarine tours of local reefs, night snorkeling with manta rays, fishing charters, luaus, helicopter tours, and surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Kailua-Kona serves as an ideal starting point for first-time visitors to the Big Island.
- Hawaii does not recognize daylight saving time like the rest of the US (nor does the majority of the state of Arizona).
- Dozens of hotels line the water in Kona, with a match for every budget.
- Kona typically serves as a home base for couples and families with kids looking for a beach vacation, but is also a convenient starting point for outdoor adventurers and culture buffs looking to explore the rest of the Big Island.
How to Get There
Downtown Kailua-Kona, opposite Kailua Bay, is eight miles south of Kona International Airport. A coastal road, Route 19 (Queen Kaahumanu Highway), connects the town to points north, while Route 11 (Mamalahoa Highway) connects it to points south. Highway 190 runs up through the mountains and links the town via Saddle Road to Hilo and the island’s windward side.
When to Get There
Though Kona enjoys balmy beach weather year-round, winter (November through March) does bring slight temperature dips and occasional afternoon rains. These months, however, also coincide with some popular annual visitors: migrating humpback whales, visible on boat tours departing from the downtown pier and harbor. The annual Ironman World Championship triathlon draws huge crowds and fills hotels throughout the region for weeks leading up to the October event.
Visiting Volcanoes from Kona
The Big Island is home to five volcanoes, and you’d be remiss not to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes to see the active lava flows. Though closer to Hilo on the island’s eastern side, a number of land-based and helicopter tours depart from Kona daily. If driving, plan to spend at least two hours getting to the national park. There are two routes: the high, central Saddle Road and the slow and winding southern coastal roads. Closer to Kona, Mauna Kea offers visitors 13 telescopes and incredible stargazing with nightly programs illustrating constellations.