They don’t call it the “Big Island” for nothing. While it’s not the main island (that would be Oahu), the Big Island (also known as Hawaii) is…not surprisingly…the largest Hawaiian island. And that means that there’s absolutely no shortage of amazing things to see and do. Keep reading for my favorite things to do in Kona, Hawaii…For starters, let’s break down the lay of the is(land). Kona is the largest town on the island (and where you’ll find Costco, Target, and the main airport although there’s another one in Hilo). But because it’s such a large island and things are so spread out, the term “Kona side” is used to refer to pretty much the entire western side of the island.
The Kona side of the island is dry, sunny, and where 99% of the beaches are. So if you’re looking for traditional “Hawaii vacation” activities (snorkeling, surfing, sunbathing, etc) this is where you’ll find them.
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For the purposes of this post, I’m defining “Kona” as everything in Kona town and including the area north up through the Kohala Coast (including Waikoloa) and south to Kealakekua Bay and the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. That’s a big area!
From downtown Kona, that’s up to an hour in either direction (northern and southern limits) so just because I’ve grouped all of these activities into the Kona section, you’ll still want to make good use of a Google map when planning out your days to make sure you’re not backtracking or spending too much time in the car.
So now that you’ve got a point of reference, here are 25 things to do in Kona (plus recommendations on where to stay and restaurants):
25 Things to Do in Kona
Don’t Miss Experiences
Snorkel Kealakekua Bay. One of the Big Island’s best snorkel spots also happens to be where Captain Cook first landed when he came to Hawaii in the 1700s. Dozens of large snorkel boats take tourists to the bay to snorkel, but the best way to see it is by kayak.
Only a couple of companies have permits to land vessels at the monument and snorkel from land (everyone else just drops anchor or floats around) and the best ones leave early to beat the afternoon crowds. Read about my experience kayaking to and snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay here and then you can book the same tour here.
Night scuba (or snorkel) with the manta rays. Diving with manta rays is an experience that’s unique to the Big Island (none of the other Hawaiian Islands have this phenomenon). I’ll admit…I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to do this yet (being in the ocean at night seems a little scary haha), but everyone who does this absolutely RAVES about it and it’s at the very tip top of my list next time I’m on the Big Island. Book your tour here.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. It’s not everyday that you get to hold a seahorse! The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona breeds seahorses and is making great strides in their conservation efforts. The fee you pay to tour their facilities goes towards research and conservation and not only do you get to see lots of species of seahorses, but at the end of the tour you submerge your hands into a tank and let one of the seahorses wrap around your finger. I’ve done this tour twice and it’s seriously always a trip highlight Find more info here.
Visit the City of Refuge (Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park). Not only does this site have tremendous cultural significance, but it’s so beautiful! If you’re only going to visit one of the Big Island’s National Historical Sites, make it this one!
Tour a coffee plantation. Kona coffee is famous so of course touring a coffee plantation is a must do. There’s plenty to choose from on the Kona side of the island and the best ones will have tasting rooms where you can purchase coffee to take back as souvenirs. Because the climate on the Big Island is so diverse, it’s home to a lot of different types of farms. I really want to take this tour which combines some historic, cultural, and agricultural sites around the Kona part of the island (bees! I really want to see the bees!!).
Go to a luau. For most people, attending a luau is a must do Hawaiian experience and the Island Breeze Luau at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is definitely a favorite on the island. It’s location right on Kona Bay makes it not only picturesque but also super convenient. Buy tickets here.
See historic Kona town. This charming seaside town dates back to the early 1800s. Tour the Hulihe’e Palace (a former royal vacation home) and Mokuaikaua Church (the oldest Christian church in Hawaii), and have a sunset dinner.
Visit the world’s first octopus farm. If you thought the seahorse farm sounded cool, just wait until you hear about THIS. The Kanaluoa Octopus Farm is an amazing place to learn about these mysterious creatures and the research that’s currently being done to assist in their conservation efforts.
Hike to the Pololu Valley. Drive up the Kohala Coast as far as the road goes and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best scenic lookouts on the island. If you’re up for a sweat, make the short (but steep!) hike down to the black sand beach at the bottom. On the drive there, stop in the cute town of Hawi and take a look around.
Watch sunset at Anaehoomalu Beach. This gorgeous golden beach is a photographers dream at sunset. Orangey pink sunsets and palm tree silhouettes? Yes please. Also do yourself a favor and don’t miss sunset mai tais at the Lava Lava Beach Club!
Sunbathe on Hapuna Beach. This is hands down my favorite beach on the Big Island. It’s a state park so there’s a $10 fee per vehicle to enter. It’s large, stunningly beautiful, and perfect for swimming. There’s also a decent amount of shade to be found which is rare at a lot of beaches. And the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort sits at one of the beach if you find yourself in need of a tropical cocktail.
Discover Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach). This stunning white sand beach is beautiful and a bit secluded. If you’re a beach lover, you’re definitely not going to want to miss this one.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Adventures & Activities
Golf at Mauna Kea. Recently ranked #19 of Golf Magazine’s top 100 golf courses, if you’re a golfer, you’ll definitely want to snag a tee time here!
Zipline through a Hawaiian forest. Kohala Zipline has some of the best zipline courses in Hawaii. If you’re looking for adventure, you’ll definitely find it here!
Learn to surf (or paddleboard). Book a private or small group surf lesson and you’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll have you standing up on the board and catching waves! Book your lesson here.
Whale watching. Humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii to mate and give birth every winter (season is usually December 15-April 15) and they’re really something to see! If you’ll be in Hawaii during the season, you’ll for sure want to go out on a whale watching expedition for the best chance of seeing them. Take a look at this tour.
Swim with wild dolphins. While there’s a spot on the Big Island that has a dolphin “experience” in captivity, that just seems extra sad to me in Hawaii. The Kona coast has a LOT of wild dolphins, so I recommend doing a boat tour where you have a good chance of getting to swim with them in their natural habitat.
Helicopter Tour from Kohala. While most Big Island helicopter tours leave out of Hilo for the volcano, Blue Hawaiian operates a tour that departs from Kohala and does a fly over of the gorgeous north shore on the way to the volcano. If you’re looking to splurge on one big experience, this is it!
RELATED: 15 Things to Do on the Big Island
Cultural & Historical Favorites
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. The National Park Service has preserved this ancient settlement and fishponds. If you’re interested in learning more about Hawaiian culture, plan to stop by this site.
Visit the Kona Historical Society. Take one of the tours at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm or swing by on a Thursday when locals get together and practice the art of Portuguese stone oven baking.
Visit the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Field. Hike the 1.5 mile Malama Trail to view petroglyphs, some of which date back to the 16th century!
Walk in Kamehameha’s footsteps at Pu’ukohala Heiau National Historic Park. This temple was built in 1790 right before Kamehameha the Great set out to conquer the neighboring islands.
Tour Kona Brewing Co. Tour the brewery of just stop in for lunch and a flight.
Where to Stay in Kona
Luxury Lovers: Fairmont Orchid
The ULTIMATE in Luxury: Four Seasons Hualalai
Mid Range Beach Resort: Westin Hapuna Beach
Affordable Beach Resort: Sheraton Kona
Budget: Kona Seaside Hotel
Island Lava Java: Oceanfront in downtown Kona. This is a great spot for breakfast with a view (also dinner too). Open 6:30AM-9PM.
808 Grindz Café: The best spot in Kona for local style food. Their menu features a selection of local favorites that are $8.08 all day long. Open 7AM-2PM.
Peaberry & Galette: If you’re driving south of Kona to see the sites, this is a great spot to stop for breakfast. Coffee shop vibe that serves breakfast and light lunch. Open 7AM-5PM.
Umeke’s Fish Market Bar & Grill: A favorite spot for poke. Also a full seafood and cocktail menu in a laid back restaurant. Open 11AM-9PM.
Da Poke Shack: If you want to try traditional Hawaiian style poke, this is your spot. Get it to go and eat it out on the beach! Open 10AM-5PM.
Ka’aloa’s Super J’s: Located south of Kona near Captain Cook, this is the place to go for authentic Hawaiian food. Well known for the laulau. Open 10AM-6:30PM. Closed Sundays.
Teshima’s Restaurant: South of Kona, this long time diner serves up traditional Japanese comfort food and it’s beloved by both tourists and locals alike. Open 6:30AM to 1:45PM and 5PM to 9PM.
Manago Hotel Restaurant: Local style restaurant with inexpensive food. Atmosphere like you’ll only find in Hawaii. Open 7AM to 9AM, 11AM to 2 PM, and 5PM to 7:30PM. Closed Mondays.
Sandy’s Drive In: Local favorite for plate lunch. Open 7AM to 7PM
Rebel Kitchen: Cozy restaurant with nice outdoor seating. Features an inventive menu of Hawaiian favorites blended with Southern home style cooking. Open 11AM-8PM.
Gertrude’s Jazz Bar: Located in downtown Kona with amazing ocean views, Gertrude’s is one of the Big Island’s best spots for live music. Tapas style menu with handcrafted cocktails. Open 5PM to 10:30 PM. Closed on Mondays.
Kona Brewing Company: This local brewpub is a great place to sample beer, take a tour, and chow down. You’ll find their beer served at restaurants throughout Hawaii so it’s fun to see the original. Open 11AM to 10PM.
Scandinavian Shave Ice: Favorite shave ice spot in Kona. Open 11AM to 9PM.
Waikoloa & Kohala Restaurants
Da Fish House: An authentic Hawaiian fish market with a food truck in the parking lot. Very close to Pu’ukohola National Historic Park. Open 9AM to 5PM.
Lava Lava Beach Club: Situated beachfront on Anaeho’omalu Bay in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, this lively but laid back spot is one of the best places to watch sunset on Kona side. They also have live music every night. Open 11AM to 9PM.
Minnie’s Ohana Lim Style: Located up on the Kohala Coast, this local style hole in the wall has some of the island’s best mahi mahi. Great spot if you’re headed up to Pololu Valley. Open 11AM to 6:30PM. Closed Thursday, Saturday, and Sundays.
ULU Ocean Grill: The Four Seasons Hualalai is the epitome of luxury, so it’s worth having dinner here just to check out the resort. The restaurant itself has been named one of the 100 Most Romantic Restaurants and one of the 100 Best Al Fresco Dining Restaurants in America. Also, 75% of the ingredients served at the restaurant are sourced from the Big Island. Open 6:30 AM to 9:30PM.
Brown’s Beach House: This romantic open-air beachfront restaurant is located at the Fairmont Orchid near Waikoloa on the Kohala Coast (north of Kona). It’s one of the best fine dining experiences on the Big Island. Open 5:30PM to 9PM.