Where to Stay on the Big Island: Hawaii Island’s Best Resorts Ranked

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The Big Island doesn’t get the love that Maui or even Kauai get, but let me tell you…the Big Island has some of the BEST beach resorts in all of Hawaii. 

Seriously…you’ve got some really great options here. This post is primarily going to focus on what I would say are the best of the best. Mostly luxury and high end beach resorts, but I’ll throw in some more budget friendly options too : )

Where to Stay on the Big Island

First up…the Big Island is, as the name implies, a BIG island. Waaaay bigger than the other Hawaiian islands. Actually, all of the other islands could fit inside the Big Island. With room left over! 

The Big Island is divided into two primary areas: the Kona side and the Hilo side. 

I’ve done a whole post about Kona vs Hilo here with all of the specifics and details, but basically…

The Kona side of the island (roughly the western half) is the more tourist friendly side. It’s sunny, dry, and where all of the best beaches are hence…all of the best resorts. At all budget levels, probably 90% of accommodations on the Big Island are on the Kona side. 

The town of Kona is mostly older hotels and condos and a lot of vacation rentals while the nicer (and bigger/more spread out resorts and condo complexes) stretch along the coast north of Kona in areas like Waikoloa and Kohala. 

The Hilo side of the island (roughly the eastern half) is way more local and has seen less tourism development. That’s because it rains…a lot. But hey, it’s a rainforest! So it’s lush and dreamy and probably what you imagine Hawaii to be like. Waterfalls, jungle hikes, volcanoes, black sand beaches, etc. But they’re short on places to stay in general and even shorter on nice places to stay. 

The town of Hilo has a few traditional hotels, but most people who stay on this side of the island opt to stay in vacation rentals south of Hilo in Volcano. This is where you’ll find the jungle treehouses, cute cottages, cabins, etc. 

The last area I’ll mention is right in the middle of the island. Waimea is called the upcountry which is a unique area/climate in the Hawaiian Islands that you’ll only find on the Big Island and Maui. At a higher elevation on the slopes of Mauna Kea, the air is a bit cooler and if you couldn’t look out and see the ocean it’s easy to imagine you’re in the high meadows of Colorado or the Texas Hill Country. 

This charming paniolo (cowboy) town used to be a company town for the Parker Ranch (a 135,000 acre cattle ranch-one of the biggest in the US) and offers a completely different experience than either Kona or Hilo. But unless you’ve been to the Big Island numerous times and you’re looking for something unique, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend staying here (it’s a little remote and not a good home base). But it’s definitely worth a day trip. 

If you’re flying into the Big Island from the mainland, you’ll most likely be flying into the Kona International Airport (KOA), although if you’re flying inter island from Oahu or Maui and staying on the Hilo side, you could also fly into the Hilo International Airport (ITO)

Okay…onto the good stuff. 

In this post, I’m going to rank the best beach resorts on the Big Island. In my opinion. We’re talking the best of the best here. Basically, if you’re looking at any of these places you’re going to have a great trip. But I like to get knit picky and really dive into the details

Now here’s the deal…I am not going to rank every single resort on the Big Island. That would just be overwhelming. This is a pretty edited list of places that I’ve either personally stayed at or WOULD stay at. There may be other places that you’re considering that aren’t on this list that are perfectly fine…I’m just really picky about where I like to stay and what I recommend. 

Also, my specific recommendations in this post are for HOTELS AND RESORTS only. If you’re looking for a condo (even a condo-tel/condo resort), you want this post

Final Note (and a big favor to ask): If you find my blog and info AT ALL helpful, the absolute best thing you can do to help me out is to click through the links in this post to book your hotels. I make a small commission on your bookings and if you’re going to book a hotel anyways, it’s a WIN WIN. Thanks so much!

Okay, on with the show!

The Big Island’s Best Beach Resorts RANKED

#1 Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai just might be the most extravagantly luxurious resort in Hawaii hands down (even more so than the other Four Seasons resorts). It has such a relaxed and laid back vibe and the property and amenities are so vast and wonderful that you’ll never want to leave! 

The property has multiple pool complexes (all steps from a swath of sand), but the crown jewel is the King’s Pond. The giant swimmable aquarium features a sand bottom, thousands of tropical fish, an eagle ray, and now an infinity pool that overlooks it. 

Top notch restaurants, a spa, onsite tennis, etc. It’s all here. 

Click here to check rates for your stay.

#2 Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, if you’re looking for a trendy spot with vintage Hawaiian vibes, you’ll love the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Honestly, after my last trip, I’m pretty obsessed with this place. The first resort in Hawaii was built by Laurance Rockefeller over 50 years ago and the Mauna Kea manages to feel like a step back in time and a modern luxury resort all at once. 

It’s posh and stylish AND it sits on one of the best swimmable beaches on the Big Island. 

They’ve got a first class luau onsite, but the real showstoppers are the mantas. Snorkeling or diving with manta rays at night is one of the most special (and popular) things to do on the Big Island and while most people have to go out on a boat (not to mention get in the ocean AT NIGHT), the Mauna Kea has a private manta ray location set up with a viewing platform where you can watch them swoop and soar to your heart’s delight. 

They also have a private snorkeling tour that leaves from the beach. 

And in addition to one of the world’s top rated golf courses, they also have one of the best tennis clubs in the world. 

If you’re a Marriott Bonvoy member, this should be on your shortlist of places to redeem points for a stay. Remember…book four nights on points and get the fifth free!

Click here to check rates during your stay.

#3 Mauna Lani

A new addition to the Auberge Resort Collection, the Mauna Lani sits on a great beach, has great pools, gorgeous sunsets, a stellar spa and plenty of golfing. It has recently reopened after an extensive renovation and it’s more impressive than ever. 

Click here to check rates during your stay.

#4 Fairmont Orchid

I think the Fairmont resorts in Hawaii sometimes get lost among the dazzling lineup of competition, but the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island and the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui are SOLID beach resorts. 

The Fairmont Orchid is in the Mauna Lani Resort area (near the Mauna Lani Hotel) and it has a casual, understated luxury feel with wide, sweeping lawns that lead to a pool with great views and a lot of chairs with ocean views.

Most of the property stretches along a rocky beach, but there’s a nice sandy beach tucked away near the end that’s a great snorkeling launch point. 

The Fairmont has everything you could want in a beach resort…plenty of dining, golf, spa, tennis, etc. But it’s often a bit less expensive than other comparable resorts in the area. 

I’ve stayed here before (and also done a cabana rental through Resort Pass on another trip) and I absolutely love it. Read all about it here.

Click here to check rates during your stay.

#5 Hapuna Beach Westin

Hapuna Beach is hands down my favorite beach on the Big Island so I think the Westin’s location is ideal. 

Ownership changed a few years ago and the property underwent a HUGE renovation and it looks completely fabulous. 

Obviously, a Westin isn’t on the same level in terms of luxury as the resorts mentioned above, but it’s pretty grand feeling and the pools and beach are top notch. It’s definitely worth a stay. 

Click here to check rates during your stay.

#6 Waikoloa Beach Marriott

I think there’s a big leap between this place and the places above, but I love a good Marriott and this one has a prime location. Waikoloa is the most “resort-like” area on the Big Island (there’s a cluster of resorts, shopping centers, and restaurants) and the Marriott sits on lovely Anaehoomalu Bay which is a great swimmable beach. But my favorite part is how close it is to Lava Lava Beach Club-one of my favorite places to hang out ANYWHERE in Hawaii. 

The resort itself isn’t anywhere in the same league as the places ranked above, but I think it’s a great option if you’re looking for 1) a Marriott property and 2) something in Waikoloa. 

That’s it for my best resort rankings! If you’ve done much reading on where to stay on the Big Island and you’re wondering if I just happened to overlook the much talked about and recommended Hilton Waikoloa Village, umm, I didn’t. I’ve stayed there and it wasn’t my cup of tea at all, and you can read my full review here. I didn’t love it, but if you’ve got kids of a certain age, I can see how it might be an option to consider. 

Click here to check rates during your stay.

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.

Places to Stay in Kona on a Budget

A fancy beach resort isn’t always in the budget, but you don’t have to miss out! I think the Big Island has the best selection of affordable accommodations of any island. There’s just way more real estate here which means more options. 

King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort (Courtyard by Marriott)

I just recently stayed here and while it’s not flashy and fancy like every other place I’ve mentioned up to this point…it serves its purpose. I stayed here on a trip when I was going to be doing a lot of sightseeing and adventuring everyday and not spending much time at the hotel. I wanted something with a more central location (I didn’t want to be all the way up the Kohala Coast), with a lot of dining options nearby, and something that wouldn’t break the bank. 

And it delivered! It’s a full blown resort with all of the amenities, but with a location right on the water in downtown historic Kona. 

The hotel has a pool and small beach with an activity desk, beach bar, and even a luau so it’s definitely the kind of place you could hang out and relax, but it’s also a really good basecamp if you’re going to be out and about every day. 

There’s an ABC Store and coffee shop onsite and it’s within walking distance to a ton of restaurants along the water on Ali’i Drive. 

Plus the price is right. Now, it’s not $100/night. But it’s half to a third of the prices of the big beach resorts up further north. 

And it’s currently branded as a Marriott Courtyard (the hotel has been around for a long time and seen many different ownerships) so you can stay on points, use free night certificates, or at least get points for your stay. 

Titanium status got me an upgraded oceanview room, a reduced parking rate ($15 instead of $25), two rounds (for two people) of welcome drinks at the beach bar, plus gorgeous shell leis. 

Click here to check availability and prices during your stay. 

Royal Kona Resort

The Royal Kona is one of the oldest resorts on the Big Island and it’s a great place to get the whole shebang resort experience on a budget. Again, it’s not a $100/night place, but it’s a real bargain compared to the big luxury places. 

It’s also waterfront on Ali’i Drive in the historic downtown area of Kona, but on the opposite end from King Kamehameha’s. These two hotels/resorts kind of bookend the major tourist area in Kona, although I think Royal Kona is at the better end. Most of the restaurants that I would go to (Huggo’s, On the Rocks, Island Lava Java, Foster’s Kitchen, etc.) are within a block or so. 

There’s a small sandy beach, but the property stretches out along the rocky coast and the pool area and common spaces are pretty nice. There’s also a luau onsite. Overall, I would give an edge to the Royal Kona over the King Kamehameha.  

Click here to check availability and prices during your stay. 

Condos & Vacation Rentals

If budget is the primary deciding factor, or you just want something where you can really spread out with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, etc. then your best option is going to be a condo or vacation rental. You’ll find the whole gamut from $100/night budget condos to luxury villas with resort amenities that span the coast around Kona and up towards Kohala. 

Search for Kona condos and vacation rentals here

Where to Stay in Hilo (& Volcano)

If you’re the type that likes to adventure and explore on vacation, you’re not big on laying around on the beach, or you’re just wanting to experience the very best of the Big Island, then you’ll want to spend at least a couple of nights in the Hilo/Volcano area. Especially if there’s lava flowing! 

SCP Hilo Hotel

An eco-concious boutique hotel in Hilo. If I were going to stay in the Hilo area for a few days, this is probably where I would stay. 

Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Grand Naniloa Hotel

This has been considered the “nicest” place to stay in Hilo for a long time. It’s a DoubleTree and it’s probably the best option if you want a traditional hotel. 

Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Volcano House

If you’re a National Park junkie, you’ll definitely want to stay here. It’s a little dated but pretty charming. The original Volcano House (literally a grass hut) was built on its location in 1846 but the property as you see it today was cobbled together over the years with a pretty extensive overhaul in 2013. You can probably find nicer places to stay in Volcano, but none with this history and certainly none with this view. When Kilauea’s crater is glowing with lava, you can see it from your room! 

Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Vrbo & Airbnb Options in Volcano

The tiny town of Volcano is packed with Vrbo and Airbnb options like luxury tree houses, cottages, and cabins. This is your best option for a “nice” place to stay in the area (including Hilo). 

Where to Stay in Waimea

I mentioned earlier that Waimea probably isn’t where I would stay on a first trip to the Big Island, but if you’ve been before and you’re looking for something different or you’re just a bit of an unconventional traveler, give it a go! Waimea actually isn’t all that far from the northern resort areas of Kona like Waikoloa and Kohala. 

Also, there’s a great budget friendly place to stay in Waimea…

Kamuela Inn

This small 30-room inn on Parker Ranch in the Big Island’s upcountry region is absolutely darling. You’ll get a real Hawaiian experience here although it’s more cowboy style than beach bum. It’s on my list to stay here sometime. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Big Island Vacation Rentals & Condos

If a resort/hotel isn’t what you’re looking for, you want more amenities, or you’re not finding anything in your price range, YOU MUST READ THIS POST. It’s a roundup of the best condo complexes on the Big Island (I’ve got details on 40+ complexes) that’s well organized so you can find exactly what you’re looking for.

Big Island Hotel Reviews

Hilton Waikoloa Village

Fairmont Orchid

Here’s one more really important thing you need to know before your Hawaii trip…

Reservations You Need to Make BEFORE Your Hawaii Trip

You’ve got your airfare, hotel, rental car and your big activities booked, so you should be good to go, right? Wrong!

Travel is BOOMING in Hawaii so a lot of state and national parks used the closure and reopening to institute reservation systems at some of the island’s most popular spots to make things a little more sustainable. 

That means that there are now over half a dozen sites (beaches, trailheads, etc.) that require advance reservations. And some sell out well before you arrive on the island so you really need to have some sort of a plan. 

I recently saw somebody in a Hawaii travel group post in a panic that they didn’t know they had to make reservations for things in advance…they thought they could just show up and “go with the flow.” I was tempted to say, well, “as long as the flow doesn’t take you somewhere that requires reservations, you can!” ; )

But I don’t want YOU to be that person, so I’ve pulled together a list of all the places you need to reserve entry in advance (plus all the details on booking windows, price, links, etc.) and a handful of popular tourist hotspots that book out really far in advance too. 

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

To visit Haleakala National Park for sunrise at the summit, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to enter the park gates between 3AM and 7AM (sunrise hours). 

Online reservations are $1 per reservation/vehicle PLUS you’ll pay the park entrance fee of $30/vehicle when you arrive (National Park annual passes are also accepted at the gate).

The reservation booking window opens 60 days in advance at 7AM HST. There are also a limited number of tickets released two days before. 

You can make one reservation every three days with the same account. So if you want to make reservations for back to back days (in case of weather/conditions), you’ll need to do so with separate accounts (email addresses).  

If you can’t get reservations for sunrise, you can enter the park anytime after 7AM without reservations. The summit is spectacular during the day and you don’t need reservations for sunset. 

I strongly recommend creating an account before and making sure you’re logged in at 7AM HST because it’s not uncommon for reservations to sell out quickly. 

Waianapanapa State Park (Maui)

To visit Maui’s famous black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the Road to Hana, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are required to visit the beach and are distributed in windows from 7AM-10AM, 10AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-3PM, and 3PM-6PM. And they are pretty strict about exiting by the end of your window time (you can arrive anytime within your window). 

It’s $5/person to enter plus $10/vehicle to park and those fees are paid when you book your time slot. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Iao Valley State Park (Maui)

To visit the lush, green mountains and hike at Iao Valley State Park, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered for 90 minute time slots beginning at 7AM and ending at 6PM. They ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your time slot. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Diamond Head (Oahu)

To hike to the top of Waikiki’s famous Diamond Head, you must make reservations in advance here

Reservations are offered in two hour increments beginning at 6AM (6AM-8AM, 8AM-10AM, etc.) and ending at 6PM. If you’re parking onsite, they ask that you arrive within the first 30 minutes of your reservation window. 

Entry is $5/person plus $10/vehicle to park. 

Reservations open up 30 days in advance. 

Tip: I recommend booking one of the first two time slots because there isn’t much shade on this hike and it gets pretty hot. 

Hanauma Bay (Oahu)

To snorkel at Oahu’s pristine Hanauma Bay, you must make reservations in advance here

Entry times are staggered in 10 minute increments from 7AM to 1:20PM with roughly 1000 slots being assigned in advance every day.

Reservations can be made two days in advance and they open at 7AM HST. They’re usually gone in minutes (if not seconds).

If you’re unable to get an advanced reservation, you can try for a day of, walk in ticket. They open at 6:45AM and they only have a limited number available. Everyone in your group needs to be present when you purchase your tickets in person. 

There are no reservations for parking and it’s first come, first serve. $3/vehicle. 

It’s $25/person to snorkel at Hanauma Bay (12 and under, active military, and locals with HI ID are free).

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday (CLOSED MONDAY AND TUESDAY) from 6:45AM-4PM. Last entry is at 1:30PM, the beach is cleared at 3:15PM and you have to leave the facility by 4PM.

Jellyfish patterns can also affect whether or not the bay is open so double check the day before/day of. 

USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

If you want to take the boat tour at Pearl Harbor out to the USS Arizona, it’s recommended to make advance reservations here

Online reservations are guaranteed a specific boarding time to go out to the USS Arizona. If you’re unable to get an advance reservation, you can wait standby when you arrive. The line could be short (15 minutes or so) or long (hours) and it just depends on the day (if they’re having problems with the loading dock sometimes they don’t take many from the standby line) and the time of day. 

Reservations are supposed to open up 60 days in advance, but keep an eye on your exact dates, because lately they’ve actually been opening up about 57ish days in advance???

They also release a small batch of tickets the day before. 

The boat ride out to the USS Arizona is free, but it’s $1 to make the reservations online. 

They recently started charging $7/vehicle for parking at Pearl Harbor. 

Haena State Park / Kalalau Trail (Kauai)

If you want to hike Kauai’s famous Kalalau Trail, you must make advance reservations here

You’ve got three options here: 

1) Parking & Entry: This is the most flexible option and also the most limited. THESE RESERVATIONS SELL OUT IN LESS THAN A MINUTE. There are three time slots available: 6:30AM-12:30PM, 12:30PM-5:30PM and 4:30PM to sunset. You can purchase multiple time slots if you want to stay longer. It’s $10/timeslot (parking) plus $5/person and you have to reserve every person when you initially book. Everybody has to arrive in the same car and your ID needs to match the reservation. 

2) Shuttle & Entry: If you can’t get parking at the trailhead, there’s also a shuttle option. Shuttle reservations are $35/person (16+), $25/person (ages 4-15), 3 and under can ride free. The shuttle runs every 20 minutes 6:20AM to 6:40PM.

3) Entry Only: If you’re a Hawaiian resident (with HI ID) or someone WITH a Hawaiian resident, you can purchase entry only for $5/person with no advance reservations. Also, if you’re walking or biking to the trailhead you can do this option. But there is NOWHERE to park in the area to walk in. So this really only works for those with bikes or who are staying close enough to walk. They will tow your car if you park outside the designated areas. 

The reservation window opens 30 days in advance at 12AM HST. The parking & entry option usually sells out in a minute, but the shuttle availability will last longer. 

There are a TON of FAQs here including the possibility of snagging a canceled reservation. 

Other Things to Book in Advance

Hawaii is a busy place these days! Besides the state and national parks above, here’s a handful of miscellaneous things you should make reservations for in advance (if they’re on your radar):

Mama’s Fish House (Maui): The iconic spot is the most popular restaurant in Hawaii and they’ve been opening reservations (and selling out) 4-6 months in advance. You can call and get on the waitlist for one day or you can set notifications on OpenTable to alert you for cancellations every day of your trip. Most people have pretty good success on OpenTable. 

Old Lahaina Luau (Maui): Honestly, any luau you’re planning to attend you should book early, but most people are usually shocked how far out the Old Lahaina Luau books out. Book it as soon as you know your dates (I think they open at the six month window). They also have a waitlist. 

Kualoa Ranch UTV Tour (Oahu): Everybody loves Jurassic Park so getting to ride UTVs where they filmed the movies is very popular. The ranch offers a lot of different tours but the UTV tours usually book out a couple of months in advance. 

Spa Reservations: If you’re staying at a resort with a spa (or planning on visiting one), don’t wait until you arrive to make your reservations. I’d make them at least a month in advance. 

Tee Times: Same for golf, reserve your tee times well in advance. 

Dining Reservations: Any “fancy” or resort restaurant is likely to be booked up these days so if you like having a nice dinner every night, make your plans in advance. 

Want to read more? Don’t miss some of my most popular (and favorite) posts about the Big Island: 28 things to do on the Big Island (that you can’t do anywhere else in Hawaii), plus things to do in Kona and in Hilo, a breakdown of where to stay on the Big Island comparing Kona and Hilo, the Big Island’s best beach resorts ranked, my favorite places to eat on the Big Island, my perfect 7 day Big Island itinerary, one day in Hilo, one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, four National Parks on the Big Island, stargazing at Mauna Kea, snorkeling and kayaking at Kealakekua Bay, a roundup of the best condos on the Big Island, my best Big Island travel tips, and reviews of the Fairmont Orchid and the Hilton Waikoloa Village














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