Actually, all of the other Hawaiian Islands could fit inside the Big Island TWO TIMES. This is of course why they call it the Big Island. So yes, it can be overwhelming but the Big Island is home to some of the most spectacular sites in the world (the world-not just Hawaii) so it’s a shame to skip it just because the logistics are tougher to figure out. Stick around and I’ll give you the intel so you can figure out where to stay on the Big Island.
Where to Stay on the Big Island
So here’s the lowdown on the Big Island:
First things first: commonly called the “Big Island” but officially known as the Island of Hawaii, this isn’t what most people consider the “main island.” That would be Oahu. Oahu is where the capitol, Honolulu, is located as well as the state’s biggest tourist destination, Waikiki. The Big Island, despite being the largest island, is actually one of the least populated islands and one of the least visited islands.
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The Big Island is definitely the most diverse Hawaiian island climate-wise. It has something like 12 out of the world’s 14 unique climate zones. So there is a LOT to do on this island and depending on where you stay, your experience could vary a lot.
Generally, the island is divided into two sides: the Kona side and the Hilo side. There are airports in both towns (KOA for Kona and ITO for Hilo) but the majority of flights come in and out of Kona (you can currently fly into Hilo from Maui-OGG, Oahu-HNL, and Los Angeles-LAX).
Kona is the dry side of the island (somewhat barren actually) and home to endless lava fields. But it’s also where you’ll find 99% of the island’s beaches and visitor amenities (resorts, hotels, dining, shopping, etc.).
Hilo is the lush, wet side of the island and where you’ll find the features that attract most people to the island (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the black and green sand beaches, waterfalls, etc.).
Even though the eastern side of the island (Hilo side) has a lot to offer, the vast majority of visitors stay on the Kona side (the west side). It’s just way more suited for visitors.
So it seems simple enough to say stay in Kona then right?? The thing is…most people underestimate the sheer size of the Big Island (even being aware of the name and size comparisons to other islands). So if you find a nice place to stay in Kona but you want to see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, the waterfalls, the black and green sand beaches, etc. then you’re going to be spending a LOT of time in the car. It’s a solid two hour drive one way from most of the resorts north of Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and there’s so much to see on the Hilo side that you could easily fill 2-3 days. So you’ll start to weigh whether staying in two different places is worth saving all of that time in the car.
That decision will likely be determined by exactly how much you want to see and experience around the Hilo side.
So to help you figure that out, I’m going to breakdown all of your options. In this post, I’ll describe each part of the island so you can figure out which side to stay on and then giv eyou specific recommendations on hotels and resorts in those areas.
Now here’s the deal…I am not going to recommend every single resort on the Big Island to you. That’s not going to help you out. 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.
After I give you recommendations based on region, I’ll make some suggestions for families, honeymooners, and budget friendly options.
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): I ALWAYS recommend booking everything (airfare, hotel, etc.) directly and not through a third party (you have so much more control if something goes wrong). In my recommendations below, I’ll usually give two different links: 1) a link to the property where you can book directly and 2) a link to the TripAdvisor page where you can read reviews (A MUST!) and check out a price calendar to find the best dates (to go back and book directly). 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 those links to either book (direct) or do your research (TripAdvisor). I make a small commission on your bookings (and sometimes clicks) and if you’re going to book a hotel anyways, it’s a WIN WIN. Thanks so much!
Now, here’s the info you really want…
Where to Stay in Kona
The Kona side of the island refers to roughly the entire West side of the island, including the town of Kailua-Kona (often referred to just as “Kona”). This is the drier side of the island (no lush jungles or rainforests here) and it’s mostly barren lava fields as far as the eye can see. But no rain also means the best beaches (the vast majority on the Big Island are found on the Kona side) and therefore all of the resorts and condos.
I would consider the Kona “area” to include the actual town of Kailua-Kona south to Keauhou Bay and north up to Hapuna Beach State Park. That’s roughly a 40 mile stretch of coast with HUNDREDS of places to stay!
Let’s talk about actual Kona town. “Downtown” Kona is similar to Lahaina (Maui): waterfront, shops and restaurants with a smattering of small historically significant sites and generally a cruise ship port type vibe. I’m not a huge fan of the area but a lot of people like it. It’s fun to have dinner on the water one night but it’s not where I’d want to spend my whole trip. There are a few beaches right around town and quite a few budget style accommodations.
Once you leave the downtown area, things start to get pretty spread out. There just aren’t a lot of centralized areas on the Big Island where you’ll find a clump of resorts/hotels and shops/restaurants plus departure points for activities. You’ll pass one resort area and drive 10 minutes or so until you come to the next one.
There are a few resorts south of Kona town, but I think the best area on the island is north of Kona. The Kohala Coast (often called the Gold Coast) is where you’ll find the best beaches on the Big Island. Because it’s one long stretch of resorts (I’m mean they’re pretty spread out), you’ll also find quite a few shops and restaurants. What you won’t find a lot of are budget accommodations. Kohala is all about luxury. It has the same type of landscape you’ll find all across the Kona side of the island (lava fields) but you’ll be a little bit closer to spots on the north shore including the Kohala Forest, Waipio Valley, Pololu Valley, and Hamakua.
If you like a little bit of a resort area (not just one resort/hotel but a bit more built up), you’re going to want to stay in Waikoloa. There’s 3-4 large resorts in the area and two fairly good sized shopping centers. Because it’s more concentrated, a lot of tours and excursions do pickups in Waikoloa.
Best Hotels in Kona
Four Seasons Hualalai: Four Seasons Hualalai is 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! Pricing starts at $749/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort: This casual beachfront hotel next to the Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark has a nice picnic area, two restaurants, a coffee shop, and a beautiful outdoor pool. It’s right in the heart of the downtown area and it has a great luau too. Pricing starts at $275/night. Book directly with Marriott here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Sheraton Kona Resort: While it doesn’t sit directly on a sandy beach, this lovely oceanfront resort just might win the award for best bang for your buck beach resort. The pool and outdoor spaces are perfect for soaking up rays and the location is great for seeing everything on the Kona side of the island. Pricing starts at $299/night. Book directly with Sheraton here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Best Hotels in Waikoloa (& the Kohala Coast)
Waikoloa Beach Marriott: I love a good Marriott and this one has a primo 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. Pricing starts at $290/night. Book directly with Marriott here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Fairmont Orchid: Five star resorts seem like they’re a dime a dozen along this stretch of the Big Island, but the Fairmont really is one of the dreamiest. It’s not an enormous property, but it has everything you could want including a gorgeous white sand beach, pools, a spa, and several restaurants. I absolutely loved my stay at the Fairmont! Read all about it here. Pricing starts at $320/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: Part of Marriott Bonvoy’s Autograph Collection, if you’re looking for a trendy spot with vintage Hawaiian vibes to spend your vacation, you’ll love the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It’s got a great beach and all of the amenities you would want from a nice beach resort. Pricing starts at $385/night. Book directly with the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel here or click here read hundreds of reviews.
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel: This lovely beachfront resort sits on a great beach, has great pools, gorgeous sunsets, a stellar spa and plenty of golfing. The newest addition to the Auberge Resort Collection, this property recently reopened after an extensive renovation and is more impressive than ever. Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Hapuna Beach Westin: This place is right at the top of my list for my next trip to the Big Island. 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. Pricing starts at $320/night. Book directly with Westin here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Where to Stay in Waimea
Not really Kona side or Hilo side, Waimea is considered 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. Unless you’ve been to the Big Island numerous times and you’re looking for something unique, I wouldn’t recommend staying here (it’s a little remote and not a good home base) but it’s definitely worth a day trip.
Also, pro tip to save you some confusion: this town actually has two names: Waimea and Kamuela. Waimea is its traditional name (and what locals use) but since there are two other “Waimea”-s in Hawaii, they’ve also adopted the name “Kamuela” (equivalent to “Samuel” which honors Samuel Parker).
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. Pricing starts at $129/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
Where to Stay in Hilo
The Hilo side of the island (roughly the eastern half of the Big Island) is as lush a place as you’ll find anywhere in Hawaii. This side is all jungles and rainforests and it’s green, green, green. And it’s that way because it rains a lot. Like, all the time. Which is why you’ll find some of Hawaii’s most spectacular waterfalls right outside of Hilo. But the rain situation is why most visitors forgo staying on the Hilo side and opt for sunnier Kona instead.
Hilo has some of the Big Island’s absolutely must see spots so you HAVE to spend some time here. Hilo will be your base for exploring Hawaii Volcano National Park, driving Saddle Road to the summit of Mauna Kea, and seeing the north shore sites.
Hilo town is one of the most charming towns in Hawaii. It was originally built to be the capital but because it rains all the time here, that honor went to Honolulu. Hilo is not near as touristy as Kona and you won’t find any big resorts here but you will find plenty of budget options that make a great home base from which to explore this part of the island.
There aren’t really many swimmable beaches near Hilo (but you will find the famous black sand and green sand beaches here!). If you decide to stay a couple of nights in Hilo (instead of doing a day trip or two), it’s primarily to adventuring and exploring and not so much relaxing.
The Hamakua Coast, Puna, and Punalu’u are also all remarkable regions of the Hilo side that are absolutely worth being explored but I would recommend hitting them as day trips from Hilo instead of trying to stay there as they’re all pretty remote and lack many accommodation options.
Best Hotels in Hilo
Grand Naniloa Hotel: With the nicest amenities in Hilo, this is the best spot to stay if you’re looking for a good base camp to explore the eastern side of the island. It’s a Hilton/Doubletree property which is a bonus if you’re a reward/loyalty member. Pricing starts at $135/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.
RELATED: 15 Things to Do on the Big Island
Where to Stay in Volcano
The little town of Volcano is nestled right outside the gates of Hawaii Volcano National Park and is basically basecamp for park explorations. This area is very lush and jungly (is that a word??) but pretty remote and not too convenient for anything other than exploring the park, which is a pretty major thing to do and could easily take a couple of days if you’re super into it (most people spend half a day or so).
Volcano House: Located INSIDE the national park, this is THE place to stay if seeing the volcano is on your bucket list. The property has hotel like accommodations (it’s more like a small inn) plus more rugged cabin structures. Book early because it fills up quickly. Click here to check rates and availability 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.
Best Big Island Resorts for Families
The Big Island is definitely one of the most chill islands in Hawaii. But because it’s so “big” it overwhelms a lot of people and they’re not sure where to stay. The Big Island has a surprisingly large number of family friendly resorts that front world class beaches and have great amenities. Staying at one of these Big Island family friendly resorts may just be your family’s best vacation ever.
Also, I feel like this list needs a bit of a disclaimer: pretty much anywhere you go in Hawaii is going to be kid friendly. Hawaii is not a stuffy destination. The most posh and expensive hotels on the island (hello, Four Seasons) caters to children quite amazingly and unless you’re at the adults only pool (many resorts have them, you’ll always find kids boogie boarding in the waves, bobbing around in the pool, and having dinner with their families. That being said, this list includes resorts that may appeal to children especially due to their pools or kids clubs, and parents due to their locations and convenience factors.
Hilton Waikoloa Village: If you’ve done any research at all about places to stay on the Big Island, you’re probably surprised that I haven’t mentioned this place before now. Here’s the deal: I don’t love this place. Without a doubt, it’s super family friendly. It’s like its own little city with sprawling grounds, multiple pools with a mini waterpark, water sports and cultural activities, Dolphin Quest, etc. But the best I can say about it is it’s really…big. I just wasn’t impressed at all. Read my full review here for all of the sordid details. But it’s definitely a crowd favorite. Pricing starts at $180/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Sheraton Kona: Sheraton’s around the world are family friendly, and this one south of Kona is no different. While not located directly on the beach (it overlooks the ocean at a rocky point), the Sheraton has a great pool area with waterslide and its location south of Kona makes it convenient for doing a day trip to the south side or Hilo side of the island. Pricing starts at $299/night. Book directly with Sheraton here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Waikoloa Beach Marriott: The Waikoloa Marriott has great pools for kids and plenty of shopping and dining on site. In addition to the kids pool, the beach the Marriott is situated on is perfect for swimming. Pricing starts at $290/night. Book directly with Marriott here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is pretty swanky, but is very welcoming to kids. While mom and dad will receive a fresh flower lei and kukui nut lei, keiki (kids) will receive their own special gift. And besides all of the beach and pool amenities you could ask for, the Mauna Kea Hotel has one of the best kid’s clubs on the island. Pricing starts at $385/night. Book directly with the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Best Big Island Honeymoon Resorts
Hawaii is one of the top honeymoon destinations in the world and for good reason…it’s tropical, it has all of the amenities and activities you could want, and it’s relatively easy to get to for being on the other side of the world. My biggest tip for planning the best honeymoon…pick the right time of year to go. Hawaii is an extremely family friendly vacation destination so when kids are out of school, expect even the swankiest resorts to have a pool full of kids. While a lot of places have adults only pools, kids are always around everywhere else you go, so if you’re looking for a quieter time to go, pick spring or fall (or at least avoid the summer and winter holidays).
I’m not telling you this to make you think Hawaii isn’t the perfect honeymoon destination (it is), but many people mistakenly believe that by staying at a super expensive beach resort they’ll limit the kids (noise) around, but that’s not necessarily the case. When you go has more to do with it than where you stay.
As far as favorite Big Island resorts for honeymooners, my recommendations tend towards luxury. Before I fill you in on my personal recommendations I’ll just say…there are a LOT of great places to stay on the Big Island for a honeymoon in every budget and in many different locations. These are just my very top picks:
Fairmont Orchid: Another five star resort, the Fairmont is a totally dreamy place to spend your honeymoon. Set on a gorgeous white sand beach, the pools, spa, and restaurants at the Fairmont are top notch. I absolutely loved my stay at the Fairmont! Read all about it here. Pricing starts at $320/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: It has a trendy and cool vibe that’s reminiscent of vintage Hawaii plus it’s located on one of the best beaches on the Big Island. Pricing starts at $385/night. Book directly with the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel: Fresh off a massive remodel and now part of the Auberge Hotel Collection, this is a great new spot. Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.
Hapuna Beach Westin: Another recently renovated property, this place has everything you need for a great honeymoon (amazing pools, hot tubs, tennis, golf, a spa, and fabulous restaurants). Plus it’s hands down on the best beach on the Big Island. Pricing starts at $320/night. Book directly with Westin here or click here to read hundreds of reviews.
My Favorite Places to Stay on the Big Island
It’s hard to say the perfect way to do the Big Island, but you’ve got two main options.
1) Stay somewhere on the Kona side for the whole week (I do NOT recommend less than a full week on the Big Island if you’re trying to see and do much) and taking at least two separate days to do day trips to the other side of the island.
2) Split your trip and stay part of the time near Kona and part of the time near Hilo.
The planner/logistics specialist in my likes option 2. The vacationer in me likes option 1. It’s a constant battle. What makes the decision a bit easier is that there’s not a place in Hilo that I LOVE to stay.
However as a National Parks enthusiast, it is on my bucket list to stay at the Volcano House. Getting a reservation there is probably the only thing that would make me budge from staying in Kona the whole time. Also, I’m from the midwest so spending a couple of hours in the car to get somewhere isn’t a dealbreaker for me.
Pro Tip: If you do end up staying in Kona the entire time, I suggest doing TWO day trips to the east side of the island (drive the south road once and the north road once, returning by Saddle Road each time) to make sure you get to spend plenty of time exploring.
As far as places to stay on the Kona side:
The Four Seasons Hualalai is top of the top and if it’s anywhere near your budget, it should be the #1 place you should stay.
If it’s out of the budget, I wholeheartedly recommend each and every one of these resorts:
Fairmont Orchid – I LOVE Fairmont hotels and this one has such an understated luxury vibe.
Westin Hapuna Beach Resort – This place sits on what is hands down the best beach on the island.
Waikoloa Beach Marriott – Next door to my absolute favorite place to hang out on the Big Island, Lava Lava Beach Club.
Mauna Kea Beach Resort – Trendy and retro feel, classic beach resort.
Mauna Lani Hotel – Recently reopened after a HUGE renovation.
If you want a place near the middle of what’s going on in downtown Kona and much more budget friendly, I really like the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort.
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