Headed to the Hawaiian Islands and want to visit a location that is packed with fun activities? Kailua-Kona Hawaii is a top destination for visitors for a good reason – it has a wide variety of beaches, trails, scenic dining, cultural activities, and unique adventure tours.
The Big Island of Hawaii is an amazing destination. Although there is an airport in Hilo on the other side of the island, many visitors fly into Kona since it has more beaches for lounging and big resorts up in nearby Waikoloa.
There are tons of outdoor activities and natural beauty to admire along the west (leeward) side of this amazing Hawaii Island. From way up in Waikoloa to the Southernmost Point, here is our top list of things to do when basing your Hawaii vacation out of Kona!
16 Top Beaches in Kona & the Big Island’s West Side
The Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii is known worldwide for its beautiful white sand beaches with clear waters! Many of the beautiful beaches in this area also have lovely trails along the coast to enjoy.
Note: There are a lot of sharp lava rock areas on the beaches and in the water. Wearing water shoes is key to not slicing open your feet. Of course, the coral reefs can be sharp also but you definitely shouldn’t be walking on those since it will damage them!
Here are some of the top places to lounge, swim, and play at the beach:
1. King Kamehameha Beach is in downtown Kona, so it does get really busy. Nicknamed “King Kam”, this beach is near the Kailua Pier and behind the Courtyard Marriott hotel. The sheltered and shallow water is a great spot for swimming or even paddleboarding!
2. Magic Sands Beach (aka White Sands Beach) has a shorebreak for surfers and a lifeguard on duty.
3. Kailua Bay located within Kona Town has a small sandy beach beyond the sea wall.
4. Honokohau Beach (aka Kona Dog Beach) is only about ten minutes north of the main Kona Town. It allows dogs to go off-leash and offers very clear water perfect for snorkeling. However, you must walk over some lava rock to get there.
5. Keauhou Bay is near the Sheraton Kona Resort in southern Kailua-Kona (about 15 minutes from town) and it is wonderful for swimming and exploring by kayak or paddleboard. It is also where many snorkel or fishing tours leave from.
Beautiful Beaches North of Kona
6. Manini’owalu Beach at Kua Bay is a white-sand beach within Kekaha Kai State Park about 20 minutes north of Kona. The waves can be big here, so may not be best for swimming if you don’t have experience and you do have to climb about ten feet down lava rocks to get to the beach.
7. Kika’ua Point Beach Park is located in a little protected cove about 25 minutes north of Kailua-Kona. It offers calm waters and sea turtles frequent it, so it is good for snorkeling and also has some wonderful tide pooling options. This beach park also has restrooms, showers, and some shady areas to get a break from the sun.
8. Mahai’ula Beach is a secluded white-sand beach about 30 minutes north of Kona. There is a coral reef to snorkel, palm trees to offer shade, but this isn’t the best place for swimming since waves can get large – especially during winter. You do have to take a gravel road to get there though and it is best done with an off-road vehicle. There is also no restrooms or showers here.
(Note: You can walk another 15-20 minutes to nearby Makalawena Beach also! It is even MORE secluded and has some wonderful snorkeling options.)
9. Hapuna Beach is one of the top white-sand beaches on the Island of Hawaii, but it is about 40 minutes from Kona Town.
Beaches to Surf and/or with Surf Lessons
Want to surf or learn to surf on your trip to Hawaii? It’s important to note that the intensity of waves change with the seasons. Here are some Kona beaches known for surfing:
10. Kahaluu Bay is a top spot for beginner surfers and many small group surf lessons are also taught here.
11. Anaeho’omalu Bay (aka A-Bay) is north of Kona up in Waikoloa (near the Hilton) where a lot of the bigger resort hotels are. This is a top beginner spot in the summer, but rip currents can be bad in winter.
12. Kohanaiki Beach Park (aka Pine Trees Beach) is a popular place for surfing and was even used by the ancient Hawaiian royals. However, in some areas it can have strong rip currents and doesn’t have lifeguards so beginners should stick to the south end with less intense waves.
13. Lyman’s Beach is definitely more for experienced surfers, but if you are a beginner it can be a great spot to watch and get inspired by those with advanced skills.
Best Snorkeling Spots in Kailua-Kona
If you are looking for a Kona beach great for snorkeling, here are some of the top options:
14. Honaunau Bay (aka Two Step) is probably one of the most well-known snorkeling places on the Big Island. It has an abundance of underwater life to enjoy but there isn’t an actual sandy beach to enjoy here. You enter the water from lava rocks. Sometimes dolphins will be in the deeper area and may come to visit you, if you’re lucky!
15. Kahalu’u Beach Park is one of the best Kona beaches for snorkeling in waters filled with colorful fish and coral reefs. You may even see an octopus here! It is actually an ancient beach park that was home to Hawaiian royals, dating back hundreds of years.
16. Kealakekua Bay near the Captain Cook Monument involves a long hike, kayak, or a boat tour to get to. Although it takes a little bit to get to, the area of Kealakekua Bay near Captain Cook Monument is a go-to for many visitors to Hawaii. It has an exceptional coral reef and is actually a designated marine sanctuary.
The hike over is multiple hours, so the easiest option is a boat tour or one of the self-guided tours by kayak. Kealakekua Bay is also a common great place to see dolphins, so keep an eye out. The monument also has historical significance because it is the place where Captain James Cook died – a controversial story in Hawaii and worth looking up!
What will you see when snorkeling in Kona?
It isn’t uncommon to see green sea turtles, the state fish Humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa, eels, reef sharks, and other colorful tropical fish. Just beware that there are some sea creatures that will bite (and we’re not just talking about sharks!).
The Humu is really territorial and took a chunk out of Buddy’s toe once. Eels will also bite and there are even some venomous cone snails that can sting and kill you! Plus, it is illegal to touch sea turtles, also. Just don’t touch any marine life and you’ll be fine.
Planning to do a lot of beach time while on the Big Island, this guide with map is a great resource!
5 Top Tours from Kona Hawaii
We are usually the type of travelers to explore on our own, but sometimes a great tour comes along that offers an experience or education we can’t get on our own. The Kona area Big Island has quite a few amazing tours we would highly recommend!
1. Big Island Manta Ray Night Snorkeling & Diving
One of the most unique experiences you can have in all of Hawaii is the night snorkel with the giant manta rays. It leaves directly from Kona and there is also a scuba diving option for anyone feeling extra adventurous.
2. Snorkeling & Whale Watching Tours
Getting out on a boat to enjoy off-shore coral reefs and underwater wildlife is key while in Hawaii. Whale watching is also very popular! You are most likely to see humpback whales off the Kona coast in December to May.
On these tours, you can also see pilot whales and dolphins. You could also take a boat tour at sunset for a romantic vibe!
3. Mauna Kea Summit Tour for Sunset & Stargazing
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is also the tallest mountain in the world (from base to peak) and a meaningful spiritual place for native Hawaiians. You can learn a lot more at the visitor center at the base, by reading about the controversy surrounding the giant telescopes at the top, and by taking a tour.
Getting to take in the views from the top of Mauna Kea is one of our favorite things to do on the Big Island. We drove it ourselves but would absolutely not recommend that. Plus, you aren’t supposed to in a rental car and they will likely even stop you at the base if you try. A tour is a great way to go!
See some of the top Mauna Kea tours here. Plan for $250-300 per person and 6+ hours for this epic tour.
4. Farm Tours Near Kona
One of the most under-rated activities on the Big Island is touring the many amazing farms around the island. This tropical oasis has such a wide variety of crops to showcase and everything is grown with so much love. Some tours are even free!
Here are some popular farm tours near Kona:
- The Vanillerie – Vanilla Farm
- Big Island Bees – Learn about bees in the Captain Cook area
- Hamakua Mac Nut Farm – Located north of Waikoloa
- Big island Farm Sanctuary – Unique option if you make it down to South Point (1.5 hours)
- Kona Coffee Farms! Coffee is a super popular crop in Kona and on the Big Island, so there’s an entire section below that lists the top places to try coffee near Kona and farms to tour.
5. Helicopter Tour of the Big Island from Kona
For even more breathtaking views of the Big Island, a helicopter tour is an amazing addition to your trip. Be sure to check reviews to pick the very best option and know this is definitely a pricey tour – especially if the volcano is erupting during our visit!
Other Unique Things to See in Kailua-Kona
Downtown Kailua-Kona is small but a fun place for a stroll. Stop in for a bite to eat, drink, or sweet treat and browse the art galleries. However, if you want to learn more about Hawaiian culture and history while visiting, there are plenty of places to do that also!
There are some very unique historic and religious sites in and around the Kona area worth visiting. Just remember these hold deep meaning to the Hawaiian people, so be sure to be respectful.
- Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is also known as the “Place of Refuge” since it is where Hawaiians who broke sacred laws could go for a safe haven. However, getting there was not easy in ancient times. This is a great place to learn about Hawaii’s history, view archaeological sites, and admire the iconic Hawaiian scenery.
- Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park protects an ancient Hawaiian settlement. ‘Alula Beach and Honokohau Beach are part of the historical park and are lovely for swimming and snorkeling. Note no lifeguard will be on duty.
- Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Park is a place of worship built by King Kamehameha I.
- See the Waikoloa Petroglyphs and the Pukao Petroglyph field – ancient drawings in stone.
- St. Benedict’s Painted Church in South Kona offers something for history, spirituality, and art lovers.
Top Day Trips from Kona Hawaii
This list is from closest to furthest away from Kona.
Black Sand Beach
There are a few black sand beaches on the Big Island, but Punaluʻu Beach is our favorite. It is amazingly scenic with perfect palm tree placement. This beach also has a special place in our hearts because it was the perfect place to help setup an amazing engagement for a couple we adore!
Green Sand Beach
If uniquely colored beaches is of interest to you, hiking over to the Green Sand Beach should be on your list. However, this is quite the trek. After about an hour and a half drive from downtown Kailua-Kona, you take a 3-mile walk from the parking lot to the beach, which is down a steep rocky hillside. But there is a path carved into the stone that makes it safer and easier. It is amazing to see the green sand in person, but this is a rough hike in the heat of the day and the water in the cove can also be really dangerous. Read more about our adventure here.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Of course, going to see the iconic (possibly active) volcanoes on the Big Island is a must while visiting. The national park is about two from Kona, so it is quite the trek for a day trip, but definitely do-able.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a bunch of great hikes, but you can still get a great feel for the landscape by stopping at a few overlooks and going through the short Thurston Lava Tube trail. While there are other lava tubes on the island, this is the easiest to get to and through – it’s a must when visiting the park! Just the epic entrance surrounded by the jungle foliage is a sight to see.
If time allows, staying overnight at one of the B&Bs or camping inside the park is ideal – especially if Kilauea is active and you want to go at night to see the glow!
Mauna Loa is also technically part of the park and is another active volcano, just not quite as active as Kilauea. There are some trails up to it when it is dormant, but oh boy is this one a sight when it does erupt! Always get recent updates and stay safe if going to see an active volcano.
Best Places to Eat in Kona & Go-Tos for Coffee
When visiting Kona, we highly recommend going to one of the farmer’s markets. These are an ideal spot to try local cuisine, buy fresh produce and treats as well as browse art and gifts from local artisans. You can also go on farm tours to see the local produce right at the source!
There are also great restaurants and food trucks to try. However, note that Kona is not a big city and there aren’t a lot of late-night options, especially for food.
Where to try the famous Kona coffee:
Coffee is probably the most famous thing Kona is known for and going to a tasting and/or tour is a great activity for coffee lovers.
- Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation has free and paid tours available.
- Hula Daddy Kona Coffee for a roasting room tour and tasting.
- Heavenly Hawaiian Farms has multiple tours and a paint n’ sip option!
- Kona Joe has a free self-guided tour and other paid options.
- Coffee cafes like Kona Coffee in town and Kaya’s and Menhune down in Captain Cook are also nice. Most serve a nice breakfast also.
For cheap options, some of the best bets are:
- Costco Food Court for super cheap hotdogs, slices of pizza, and soft serve.
- Island Ono Loa Grill is known for affordable burgers and sandwiches.
- Killer Tacos for inexpensive Mexican cuisine.
Great lunch or dinner options:
- Umeke’s is awesome for a fresh plate of fish
- Journey Cafe is a great vegan place in town
- Kona Brewery is a go-to option for tasty beers, appetizers, and meals.
- Kamana Kitchen for Indian cuisine.
Shave Ice & Special Treats:
- One Aloha Shave Ice
- Gecko Girlz Shave Ice
- Gypsea Gelato
- Puna Parlor Cocoa Bar (and chocolate-inspired cocktails)
Luaus & Dining with a View:
- Island Breeze Luau, the Voyagers of the Pacific Luau, and the Legends of Hawaii Luau (in Waikoloa) are most highly rated.
- Huggo’s on the Rocks for views of the downtown Kona waterfront.
- Papa Kona Restaurant for ocean-side dining.
- Honu’s on the Beach offers a popular dinner buffet.
- Ulu Ocean Grill for a fancy dining experience with a view at the Four Seasons.
- Lava Lava Beach Club up north in Waikoloa has an amazing beach-side vibe.
Where to Stay Near Kailua-Kona
There are a variety of lodging options in and around Kailua-Kona. Just be sure you check that your hotel or rental’s location is nearby your preferred activities. If you want to spend a lot of time shopping and dining on the main street of town, choosing one of the resorts up in Waikoloa isn’t the best fit. However, if you do want a more resort feel, the Hilton Waikoloa, or Four Seasons Resorts may be your top choice.
If you are on a budget, finding a rental or B&B outside of the most popular areas could be ideal. We stayed at Kona Mountain Refuge with family recently and really enjoyed it.
Note that the Kona Airport is located outside of town. You’ll also need to take a short shuttle to get your rental car – which is very needed when visiting Kona since there is so much to see and self-driving is the best way to see it all.