Explore Na’alehu on the Big Island of Hawaii and local attractions to visit in the area (updated 2023)

The largest city of the southern part of the Big Island, Naalehu is a sleepy and a low-key kind of place on the south side and that’s just how the locals like it – slow, simple and know all your neighbors around you.

But outside of stopping by for snacks on the way to Volcanoes National Park, what is there to see you might ask? Check out the details below to exploring Na’ahehu town and in the immediate area.

Explore Na’alehu on the Big Island of Hawaii and local attractions

Where is Na’alehu located?

Drive down Hwy 11 from either Kona town ( about 59.3 miles) or from Volcano Village area (about 39.5 miles) and you will eventually run into Naalehu in the Ka’u district which is the largest district on all of the Big Island and includes the Volcanoes national Park.

Where is Na’alehu located?

History of Na’alehu and the South Point Area

Na’alehu means “the volcanic ashes” in Hawaiian and the little community is the largest place to visit along the way to Volcano or the many other attractions in the local area. Na’alehu is considered the southernmost-town in all of the United States.  A tranquil community surrounded by lush forests, jagged coastlines and coffee plantations in the nearby Kau coffee district, Na’alehu is the main hub of the Kau district. Na’alehu was a busy hub of commerce in 1870s when the sugar cane industry was dominant in the area and the Na’alehu Sugar plantation operated and developed the local community for housing, shopping, churches and other community services.

Further down on Hwy 11 is the South Point area is historic and part of the National Historic Landmark with a variety of of ancient heiau(temples), fishing shrines and other ancient relics. This area has always been a popular spot for ancient Hawaiians to go for fishing which is a fertile fishing area. Because fishing was plentiful in the area, this site is one of the most feasible first areas of settlement of the Polynesians to Hawaii around 750 AD.

History of Na’alehu and the South Point Area

Things to see around Na’alehu area

Surprisingly for a small community in the Kau district, there’s quite a few places of interest to visit in the area.

Visit the Green sand beach at Papakolea

The closest swimmable beach is Papakolea which is a 5-mile hike along the coastline from the parking lot area of Green Sand Beach. There are casual taxi pickup rides to Papakolea and back for a tip to the driver. Check out this point on visiting the Green sand beach at Papakolea here for more information to visiting the area.

Visit the Black sand beach at Punalu’u

The Black sand beach at Punalu’u is a popular attraction to visit this expansive black sand beach which is also popular with the local honu or endangered green sea turtles that love to bask in the black sands of the beach area.

Check out the Southernmost tip at South Point

South Point or Ka Lae is the Southern most tip of the United States and believed to be the first area of discovery of ancient Polynesians that visited the islands and developed local communities in the area with shrines, temples and other historic places of interest in the region that is designated as a national historic landmark.

Enjoy some delicious malasadas at Punalu’u bakery

This is the most popular stopping point for delicious malasadas, breads and other sweet pastries made at the bake shop daily. Inside tip is to come early or your left with the small pickins at the end of day which is pretty limited.

Check out some coffee plantations in Pahala

Kau coffee is very popular in the area if not on the island and giving Kona Coffee a run for the money and prestige. There are a few different coffee places to visit for tours and tastings at their locations. Check out the best spots to visit here for more details.

Kau Coffee Mill

Paradise Meadows

Ka Lae Coffee

Aikane Plantation

Kau Coffee

Visit the Whittington beach area

The Whittington beach area is easy to pass through if you are driving quickly in the area but the beach park is nice to explore with the lagoon areas, beach and the beautiful coastline views from the park.

Explore the Volcanoes National Park – The Kahuku unit

The Kahuku unit is the newest extension of Volcanoes National Park that expands the park to the southeastern parts of Kau is a rolling pasture land area of the park that you can explore with a variety of hikes which where a part of the Kahuku ranch – one of the biggest cattle ranches on the Big Island. You can check out more details about visiting the Kahuku unit here for the various hikes and places of interest at Kahuku unit.

Visit the Na'alehu Farmers market

Visit the Na’alehu Farmers market

Every Wednesday from 8am to 2pm is the Na’alehu Farmers market located at the Ace Hardware store on the main drag. Visit for fresh produce, breads and bake goods, sundries and even some souvenirs you can buy from local crafters and artists in the area.

Things to see around Na’alehu area

Places to eat in Na’alehu

Mostly the town is a stopping point to area attractions and Volcanoes National Park. Dining in town is limited but you can check out these places to eat

Ka Lae Coffee – eatery, coffee shop and baked goods along with some cool gift items

Punalu’u Bakery – the iconic bakery and delicious malasadas are the thing to eat here along with other sweet and savory goods in the shop

Hana Hou Restaurant – specializes in Hawaiian comfort food, delicious desserts and other home-made goodies

Taco Tita – little eatery specializing in Mexican food and specialty sauces they create on site.

Paradise Meadows – organic coffee farm, tastings, tours and specialty coffees made on site.

Places to eat in Na’alehu

What else to see and do around Na’alehu area?

Check out these other fantastic attractions and places to visit in the Na’alehu and Kau region of the Big Island.

Explore Volcanoes National Park

Visit the Volcano Village area.

Have you visited Na'alehu?

More inside tips to visiting Na’alehu and the region

While Na’alehu offers a unique charm on the Big Island, there are plenty of hidden gems and local experiences to discover in the surrounding region. Here are some inside tips for a deeper exploration:

  1. South Point (Ka Lae): Venture to South Point, the southernmost tip of the United States. Beyond the famous green sand beach, you’ll find a place rich in Hawaiian history and local traditions. Look for Ka Lae Heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple, and interact with local fishermen as they cast their lines into the deep blue waters.
  2. Punalu’u Bake Shop: Visit the Punalu’u Bake Shop, renowned for its Hawaiian sweetbreads and malasadas. Try unique flavors like taro or guava-filled malasadas for a delightful local treat.
  3. Hike to Papakolea Beach: While Papakolea Beach is a known attraction for its green sand, take the opportunity to hike there. The trail offers stunning coastal views, native flora, and a sense of adventure. Remember to bring plenty of water and sun protection.
  4. Local Fruit Stands: Seek out local fruit stands and farmers’ markets in the area. You’ll have the chance to taste exotic Hawaiian fruits like rambutan, lychee, and lilikoi (passion fruit). Interact with the farmers and learn about their cultivation practices.
  5. Stargazing: The clear skies in this part of the Big Island make it an excellent spot for stargazing. Bring your telescope or join a local astronomy tour to witness the celestial wonders of the night sky.
  6. Kaulana Bay: Visit Kaulana Bay for snorkeling and swimming. It’s a less crowded alternative to some of the more popular beaches on the island. The crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life make it a hidden gem for underwater exploration.
  7. Explore Local Art Galleries: Discover the work of local artists at galleries in Na’alehu and nearby towns. You may find unique pieces that capture the essence of Hawaiian culture and the island’s natural beauty.
  8. Attend Community Events: Keep an eye out for community events, such as hula performances, craft fairs, and cultural festivals. These gatherings offer insights into the local way of life and provide opportunities to meet residents.
  9. Off-the-Beaten-Path Eateries: Dine at local restaurants and food trucks for authentic Hawaiian cuisine. Ask for recommendations from residents to find hidden culinary gems that may not be in guidebooks.
  10. Engage with Locals: Strike up conversations with the friendly locals. They can share stories, legends, and insights about the area’s history and culture, adding depth to your experience.

By exploring Na’alehu and its surrounding region beyond the main attractions, you’ll uncover the true essence of the Big Island, rich in culture, natural wonders, and warm hospitality. These inside tips will help you create a more immersive and authentic travel experience for your content and connect with the heart of Hawaii.

Have you visited Na’alehu?

Enjoyed your visit here or any other tips to share? Please share on the comments below.

Conclusion to visiting Na’alehu, Big Island

In conclusion, visiting Na’alehu on the Big Island is an invitation to embrace the heart and soul of Hawaii. While it may not be the most frequented tourist destination, it offers a unique and authentic experience that goes beyond the surface of typical attractions.

Exploring the region around Na’alehu allows you to uncover hidden gems and local traditions that reveal the genuine spirit of Hawaii. From the rugged beauty of South Point to the culinary delights of local bakeries and fruit stands, every corner of this area is a testament to the island’s rich culture and natural wonders.

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Noel Morata this Hawaii Life

Meet Noel Morata

Noel Morata is the creator of This Hawaii Life along with a small team of contributors. Living on the Big Island and traveling regularly to the neighbor islands, Noel and team actively search and share the latest information and updates to Hawaii travel, food, adventure and various lifestyle activities on the islands for your planning and vacation. Aloha and enjoy This Hawaii Life.