Best things to do in Kailua Kona and the west side of the Big Island (updated)
Wondering what are the best things to do in Kona when you visit? Check out this short but comprehensive guide to attractions and activities to visit on the west side of Hawaii around Kona.
Locals call Kailua Kona affectionately as Kona town, a combination of old historic sites mixed in with tourist shops and restaurants.
The beautiful harbor along the waterfront has a natural beauty of its small harbor and along the coasts are a small string of inlets and beach areas that are fun to drive or walk through.
The waterfront district contains many of the charms mixed in with the usual tourist garb and souvenir shops.
What is the best time to visit Kailua Kona?
The Big Island of Hawaii is a year round destination with Kona and the west side of the island one of the most popular tourist destinations on the island to visit. With gorgeous beaches, fantastic weather and dreamy sunsets, you’ll find the weather typically dryer and sunny here on the west side of the island. The peak visiting periods to Hawaii tend to be in the winter time from December to March and then summer from June to September. The shoulder seasons tend to be less crowded and typically more affordable for hotels, entertainment and tours. The shoulder season in Hawaii typically is from March to early May and then from October to November excluding any popular holidays that fall in that period. But the spring to fall season is fantastic with blue skies, little clouds and nice hot weather, but not too scorching hot for everyone to enjoy being outdoors or explore the Kailua Kona area in general.But the spring to fall season is fantastic with blue skies, little clouds and nice hot weather, but not too scorching hot for everyone to enjoy being outdoors or explore the Kailua Kona area in general.
If you’re visiting Kona for the first time, here’s some of the favorite best things to do in Kona, beyond just the tourist attractions.
A little history of Kailua Kona
Kailua Kona or Kona town as most locals call this city on the west side of Hawaii Island has an important history to the Hawaiian islands. Kona translated into “Leeward” (all islands have a leeward or Kona side so this area is officially Kailua Kona). The community was established by Kamehameha 1st as his official capital to the newly established kingdom of Hawaii and later moved to Lahaina then Honolulu. in the late 1900s, Kona was a sleepy fishing village but in the early 20th and 21st centuries, a building boom spurred by tourism, real estate and investment transformed the community into a bustling city.
The closest airport to fly into is the Kona International Airport
Here’s some fun and cool things to do and see in Kailua Kona
An amazing snorkel experience at Kahalu’u
One of the best things to do in Kona, the marine sanctuary at Kahalu’u is fantastic and this family friendly beach is the perfect spot to do have an amazing snorkel experience just outside of town. The beach park has a life guard, full public bathrooms, food trucks and even volunteers that share their aloha about water safety and protecting the fish and corals in this protected bay. Check out more details to visiting Kahalu’u beach park here for information, parking and best times to visit.
Enjoy at beach day at Magic Sands Beach
A perfect little white beach close to Kona town, Magic Sands Beach is just that sweet little beach with nice amenities and gorgeous sand, water and views to enjoy in town. You’ll love spending some time here or even snorkeling in the small coves on the left side of the beach area when the waves and rip tides are small during the summer months.
Experience the manta rays
There are a few spots around Kona area that manta rays go feeding and the best way to see them is with a tour outfitter that schedules mostly nightly snorkel and diving experiences that really deliver an amazing experience. One of the most thrilling experiences to do in town and experience this amazing marine life in their aquatic ballet – you’ll remember this as a highlight to your trip to West Hawaii Island.
Check out this local outfitter here for more details about having this once in a lifetime experience with manta rays
Enjoy a tiki bar experience and music
It doesn’t get more kitschy with a tiki experience and the best one is at Don’s Mai Tai Bar on Ali’i drive at the Royal Kona Resort. One of the fun things to do in Kona, Don’s Mai Tai Bar is a classic favorite. Best time to go is at happy hour with live local entertainment from top Hawaiian performers in the area performing for free.
Explore historic Kona town
Historic Kona town lies along the bay front area with the harbor and there are a few cultural and historic sites that are worth visiting if you love Hawaiian history and tradition. If you are looking for historic things to do in Kona, go visit the downtown district. First check out the reconstructed heiau (Hawaiian temple) next to the Kamehameha hotel, and sitting right on the harbor. This represents Ahuena Heiau which is a temple on the register of National Historic Landmarks. Kamehameha 1st spent the later part of his life at Kamakahonu Bay fronting the heiau. Next to the beach part of the harbor is the Hulihe’e Palace, which was passed on through different generations of Hawaiian royalty. They offer a wonderful guided tour of the inside with fascinating stories of the time and collections in the mansion. Across from the palace is the Mokuaikaua stone church built during the time of the Baptist settlers on the island – it is a classic stone and coral structure with an eastern colonial influence. A little further down the road is the historic Kona Inn with its shopping arcade and covered outdoor dining area. You can check out more of the historic attractions of Kona here for more background and information to old Kona town.
Visit the art village at Holualoa
Just above Kona town about three miles mauka or uphill is the small art community of Holualoa with its small village appeal, cool art galleries, cafes and even coffee farms to attract you to visit the cooler climate up country.
One of the fun things to do in Kona with a colorful art community to explore and meet some of the local artists and gallery owners living in the area. You’ll find some of the most talented Hawaii artists here featuring wood, ceramics, fine art, furniture and sculpture. clothing and jewelry design.
Check out all the unique art, coffee farms and other unique must visit places around Holuoloa here for seeing all the cool things happening in town.
Check out the famous Kona coffee farms
Kona coffee is grown in different parts of Kona, specifically the Holualoa area above Kona and further in south Kona all the way to Captain cook. There are many small family run farms that also do tours and tastings for visitors to explore and see and entire operation and processing. You can easily do a self-drive and visit to these places, check out the list and review of public coffee farms with tours and or tastings here for a list of Kona farms for you to plan a visit.
Enjoy a local farmers market experience
There are seven farmers markets in Kona town and surrounding areas – they are relatively small in size and there are three regular markets that happen right in Kona.
On a daily basis the Kona Village farmers market just off Ali’i and Hualalai road close to the Kona public library combination of tourist shops, produce and some finished goods/foods to sell.
There is also a nice farmers market in Keauhou at the shopping center that happens weekly Saturdays from 8 to 12 noon.
A nicer craft and art market, the Ho’oulu Community Farmers Market also sells local produce and finished goods. The market is every Wednesday at the Sheraton Keauhou on Wednesdays from 9 to 2pm. You’ll find artisanal foods, hand made art and craft souvenirs for sale and a nice way to really meet locals from the area.
Taste some local brews and ciders in Kona
Local craft beers are a fun way to experience the local brews and pau hana (after hours) lifestyle in Kona. There are two breweries relatively close to each other and located in the industrial part of town, Kona Brewing Company and new comer Ola brewing company. Both of these breweries have nice tasting rooms and also offer food. Kona brewery has a nice indoor and outdoor venue and Ola has a very nice indoor dining room area and serves mostly appetizers with their beers. Either place is great to enjoy or both. If you love ciders, Ola has some nice tropical infused ciders that are really spectacular along with their delicious beers.
Go on a cruise and snorkel coastal experience
One of the best adventure experiences to do in Kona is to be on the water and take a cruise to some of the fantastic snorkel spots around the coastline. There are a few good outfitters that take you to some of the wonderful snorkel areas along with any whale or dolphin touring through the coastal areas. Part of the fun of doing a cruise is seeing the fantastic coastline around Kona, checking out the marine life like dolphins and whales and then getting to snorkeling areas that aren’t as easy or accessible getting to on your own to these special snorkel areas.
One of the best experience is offered through Body Glove with their Kona snorkeling tours here to find out which fit your needs and timeframe while visiting the west side of the Big Island.
Check out the Place of Refuge – a national historic monument
One of the most popular tourist attractions in the South Kona area is the Place of Refuge or Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. A place of refuge for commoners, defeated warriors or rule breakers in ancient times where citizens can go and be safe from any harm.
The park contains ancient heiau (Hawaiian temples), reconstructed village and cultural sites, fish ponds and other important monuments you can explore within the park. Just off to the right of the park is an area called Two Step which is a very popular snorkeling spot to check out marine life, corals and amazing tropical fish in the protected bay.
Go on a popular kayaking experience
There are plenty of experiences to be on the water and tour some spectacular coastline around the west side of the Big Island. You can do a canoe and manta ray snorkel experience, visit the famous Captain Cook Monument and snorkel, flume the ditch on inflatable kayaks in water flumes built in the early 1900s.
These unique and fun experiences offer some of the best landscapes combined with easy adventure fun for you to enjoy. Check out these choices of outfitter tours and experiences here for more details and tours available around the island.
Go antique and thrift shopping
Thrifting and antiquing are a fun pastime for locals and visitors to the island with a few places that you can explore in Kona town, but the majority of antique and thrift shops are located in the various communities of South Kona at Kanaliu and Kealakekua towns. Some of the thrift places are located in those towns, but you’ll find the various shops sprinkled along the main highway doing down Kona and all the way to Kealakekua area and Captain Cook. Check out this top ten antique stores in South Kona area here for planning your next treasure hunt in the area.
Take a helicopter ride around the Big Island
If you’re looking for a special one of a kind experiences to see the island from above, there are plenty of helicopter outfitters and tours that will fit your needs and type of tour around the island. You have your choice of waterfalls and cliff tours, Volcano and East side experience or West side and the Hamakua coast and cliff areas. Check out all these different helicopter tours here for booking your special trip above the Big Island and get ready for a special treat!
Enjoy sunset at Kona town
The evening time in Kona is magical strolling the waterfront areas, checking out shops or just enjoying a nice tropical drink and views of the harbor and coastline. A highlight to visiting Kona is to enjoy Sunset on the water anywhere in town and its always these simple moments that have a lasting impact on your visit to the west side of the island. It doesn’t matter if your right on the water, a balcony enjoying the views or right on the harbor – take the time to watch a spectacular sunset in Hawaii and then you can enjoy a great meal or even some drinks right in town.
Go on a fantastic fishing charter from Kona
With so many amazing big fish just off the Kona coast, there are many different outfitters that offer a fantastic fishing tour to do some amazing sport fishing on a shared boat or private charter customized to fit your needs and time line.
Check out all these fantastic local charters below with details to each charter and itinerary and sample schedule. Some of the charters do offer special tours and prices for booking directly on the site.
Explore the underwater world in a submarine or glass bottom boat
Exploring the deep blue Pacific Ocean just off of Kona’s coastline and seeing the beautiful corals, tropical fish and marine life in the area is a cool way to enjoy the water without getting wet.
There are a few options submarine or glass bottom excursions here and some with a luau that is a great complement to this adventure and combined entertainment experience. You have your pick of easy and fun tours here to choose from.
Horseback riding on the Big Island
With so many different options to explore the gorgeous landscape of the Big Island, you can travers rolling hills, lush forests, stark cinder cones or wonderful coastal views on horseback. Horse back riding in Hawaii is a fantastic experience and you can check out all these fantastic horseback outfitters here on the Big Island. You’ll enjoy seeing the hidden paradise you’ll encounter on horseback for this nature inspired experience.
Live music and entertainment in Kona
If you’re looking for live music and entertainment visiting Kona there are a few fun places to enjoy in town when you visit. Many restaurant venues do offer local performers during the dinner hour but following are the most popular places to find entertainment in the Kona area.
Huggo’s on the Rocks offers live entertainment with happy hours and peak hour happening from 7 to 10 with a regular appetizer and dinner menu.
Don’s Mai Tai Bar at the Royal Kona Resort has a cool tiki bar, live music and fun happy hour crowd while enjoying the coastline views around Kona
Gertrudes Jazz Bar – each night is a different theme with Salsa, Jazz, West Coast Swing and other fun nightly events at this lively bar with tapas and specialty drinks
Enjoy a gorgeous sunset dinner cruise
A dinner cruise around Kona and the scenic coastline is fun especially when you get to enjoy a beautiful sunset in Hawaii on this tour. There are two different tour outfitters offering sunset cruises with a coastal cruise down to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook monument. Both cruises include a complimentary cocktail, buffet dinner and live entertainment on the cruise. Check out the details to either tours here for more details, prices and docking location.
Visit the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay.
The famous monument showing the place where English seafaring Captain Cook was slain by local tribesmen in the southern district of Kona marks a small monument where he died. The rocky coastline is probably one of the best snorkeling spots worth visiting on the Big Island with colorful tropical fish, vivid corals and abundant marine life in the bay. There are three ways to get to this monument, by kayak across from the cement piers three miles on the coastline (Kayaks can be rented by various outfitters on the highway or even right at the Kealakekua Bay cement pier area off Captain Cook. You can hike down a trail that takes a few hours with a strenuous hike back uphill or you can go with a snorkel cruise outfitter that does a coastal tour and extended visit to the Captain Cook area with lunch and other fun water activities.
If you are opting to go with a snorkel outfitter, check out these local tours here for details and prices that can fit your schedule and budget.
Morning walk or jog with the locals
You’ll find locals waking early to do their morning walks or jobs along the coastal beaches on Ali’I drive for their morning ritual. Why not join them for your morning exercise and explore the sweet coastal areas, expensive homes and secret inlets all the way into town. This popular morning ritual is both loved by locals and tourists visiting Kona town and wanting to do a local run or walk in the coastal areas outside Kona.
Go scuba diving in the Big Island
You have your pick of scuba diving experiences on the Big Island from beginner experiences to diving with gorgeous manta rays or some at spectacular night time dives to see the big fish and other marine life. Check out all these Big Island outfitter tours here offering a variety of different tours and diving experiences on the west side and other parts of the island.
Check out an actual Sea Horse Farm in Kona
You can visit one of the most unique attraction in the Kona area and check out an actual Sea Horse Farm close to the airport area. You’ll see sea horses grown in special tanks and also get to play with sea horses in the hour long tour of the farm.
Go golfing in Kona
Many people visit the Big Island just to enjoy some of the challenging and stunning golf courses on the Kona side of the island. You have so many amazing courses to choose from around Kona and the Kohala coast region.
Check out all these fantastic golf courses and current prices here for more information to booking a gold experience in the Big Island.
Go on a zipline tour on the Big Island
If you are an adventure seeker, then you’ll have your pick of excellent zip line experiences all around the Big Island from the Kohala coast and through the Hamakua area, zipping through canyons, waterfalls and lush landscapes below you. Check out these fantastic zip line tours here for a comprehensive look at all the zip line locations around the island with different thrills in store.
Where to eat in Kona
There are so many favorite spots in Kona to enjoy a fantastic dining experience. For more inspiration, check out this post on the most popular places to eat around Kona now
Magic’s Beach Grill – Fresh, colorful and delicious Big Island flavors and menu in an inspiring ocean front establishment. Everything is good here including the appetizers.
Fish Hopper – A classic seafood spot in Kona with seafood, steaks and other specialty bistro fare
Huggo’s on the Rocks – Open air dining right on the water, the inspiring views matches colorful and delicious seafood inspired dishes
Kona Pub and Brewery – Outdoor lanai dining with classic pizza, burgers, fish and chips and other bistro food with all the delicious local Kona brews on tap.
Foster’s Kitchen – hand-made craft cocktails and farm to table dining makes this location with the fabulous Kona bay views a go to favorite for locals and visitors alike to enjoy here.
Da Poke Shack – If you’re looking for down and dirty poke bowls and bento take-outs then Da Poke Shack is Da place to go for good and cheap eats.
So what’s free to do in Kona?
There’s a lot of fun and free things to do around town, here’s a quick summary again of freebies to do.
- Explore the historic downtown district
- Enjoy some snorkeling fun at Kahalu’u beach in town
- Fun beach time in Kona at Magic Sands, Kona harbor and the beach at King Kamehameha Resort
- Explore the art village at Holualoa
- Kona Coffee Farm tours and free tastings
- Check out a farmers market in town
- Sunsets in Kona town are magical
- Hike down to the Captain Cook monument at Kealakekua Bay
Where to stay in Kona
There are so many different price points of places to stay around Kona town from 5 star to air Bnb’s and hostels. Here are some of the best reviewed hotels with high rankings in the Kailua Kona area and images.
Holiday Inn Express Kona – Great location, free breakfast, wifi, pool and gym and no resort fee, make this an affordable option in Kona.
Kona Coast Resort – sitting on 21 acres with swimming pools, jacuzzis, tennis courts and outdoor recreation areas, the villas at the resort are spacious, comfortable with lanais and full kitchens.
Sheraton Kona Resort – located just south of Kona town with lush gardens, swimming pool lagoons and slides, the rooms are updated, soothing and comfortable. great coastal views, manta ray viewing and other close by attractions in the area.
Check out these other topped ranked Trip Advisors hotels here for more images and reviews of places to stay in Kailua Kona
Other Kona related topics
Fly into Kona International airport and information
Visit the various Farmers markets in Kona and surrounding areas
Enjoy a hike and beach at Makalawena Beach
Hiking to the gorgeous Pu’u wa’a wa’a up country
Enjoy a beach day at Kua Bay
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Conclusion on things to do in Kona
So, which of these these attractions would you like to try first? Please share your thoughts and comments below.
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