A Tropical Travel Blog
by Cate Lincoln

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If you’re planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, you’re in for a great time. It’s not the island that most first time visitors to Hawaii choose to visit (most favor Oahu or Maui) and it’s usually because they’re intimidated by its size (you really can’t see the entire island from one central location). 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. So here’s what you need to know to figure out where to stay on the Big Island:

  • The island is divided into two sides: Kona side and Hilo side.
  • The vast majority of visitors stay on the Kona side even though some of the island’s best attractions are on the Hilo side.
  • It’s a Big Island so while it is possible to stay on one side and drive back and forth to the other, it means a LOT of time in the car so if you want to see the whole island, you should consider staying in at least two places.

Here’s an overview of the island broken down by area:

Where to Stay in Kona

Kona side 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 dryer 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. This side of the island is mostly made up of:

Best Hotels in Kona

This is where the main airport is and it’s a good home base for exploring this side of the island. There aren’t many beaches in Kona but you will find a lot of budget accommodation options. You can easily drive to beaches located north and south of town and you’ll be close to most of the island’s cultural and historic sites. You can also easily daytrip to the Pololu and Waipo valleys from here. One of the downsides of staying in Kona is how touristy it is. This is where the cruise ships dock so you can imagine what that entails but on the upside there are a lot of shopping and dining options.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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) and it’s practically made for honeymooners. The resort pretty much only has king size beds and the 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.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Sheraton Kona Resort: While there’s no 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. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Best Hotels in Waikoloa (& the Kohala Coast)

This stretch of coast (often called the Gold Coast) stretches out north of Kona and is home to the island’s best resorts. This is where you’ll find the best beaches on the Big Island. Because it’s one long stretch of resorts, you’ll also find a lot of 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, Waipo Valley, and Hamakua.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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 $270/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: If you’re looking for a trendy spot with vintage Hawaiian vibes to spend your honeymoon, you’ll love the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It’s located on one of the best beaches on the Big Island. Pricing starts at $385/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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. It’s location on the Kohala Coast makes it a short drive from Kona but also somewhat convenient to the north shore and Hilo for a day trip. Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

Hapuna Beach Westin: Located in a lush jungle like setting on Hapuna Beach (what many consider to be the best beach on the Big Island), the Westin is currently undergoing renovations but has everything you need for a great honeymoon (amazing pools, hot tubs, tennis, golf, a spa, and fabulous restaurants). Pricing starts at $285/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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 $230/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Best Hotels in Waimea

Waimea is technically upcountry but I’m going to include it on the Kona side since that’s what it’s closest to. This charming paniolo (cowboy) town is in Parker Ranch country 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.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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

Hilo side refers to roughly the eastern half of the Big Island and it’s as lush a place as you’ll find anywhere in Hawaii. This inside 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 Hilo side and opt for sunnier Kona instead. Also, there are practically no swimmable beaches on Hilo side. But, 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 side is made up mostly of:

Best Hotels in Hilo

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. You’ll have excellent access to Hawaii Volcano National Park, Mauna Kea via Saddle Road, and all of the gorgeous sites of Hilo and the north shore. There’s also decent shopping in Hilo There aren’t any swimmable beaches near Hilo so this leg of the trip is really more about site seeing. Hilo also has an airport, which you can access via flights from Maui and Oahu so it’s always an option to fly into one side of the island and out the other.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

RELATED: 15 Things to Do on the Big Island

Best Hotels 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 par, which is a pretty major thing to do and can easily take 2-3 days.

Where to Stay on the Big Island

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. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

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 are they’re all pretty remote and lack many accommodation options.

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 families best vacation ever.

Big Island family friendly resorts

Hilton Waikoloa Village: The Hilton Waikoloa Village is like its own little city. The grounds are sprawling and gorgeously manicured. There are plenty of pools and plenty of activities to keep the kids busy (from water sports to cultural activities like hula lessons and lei making). This is also where you’ll find Dolphin Quest, a guided swim with dolphins in a spacious lagoon. The Hilton is widely regarded as being the most family friendly resort in Hawaii so I had to put it on this list, but read this post for my personal opinions on this resort. Pricing starts at $180/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island family friendly resorts

Four Seasons Hualalai: This is hands down the most lavish resort in Hawaii and while it’s super popular with honeymooners, it’s also one of the best resorts for kids in Hawaii. The resort has a fantastic kids club, seven different pools (one specifically for kids), great snorkeling, a movie night under the stars, and nearby tide pools to explore. The only downside to staying here (besides the price of course) is that you won’t ever want to leave the resort! Pricing starts at $740/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island family friendly resorts

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 $165/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

 

Big Island family friendly resorts

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 $230/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island family friendly resorts

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. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island family friendly resorts

Mauna Lani Bay Hotel: This lovely beachfront resort has great pools, plenty of water activities, family suites, and a great kids club. There’s also an award winning spa for mom and plenty of golf nearby for dad.Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Also, I feel like this post needs 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.

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.

That being said, here are my 5 favorite Big Island honeymoon resorts…

Big Island Honeymoon Resorts

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) and it’s practically made for honeymooners. The resort pretty much only has king size beds and the 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.

Big Island Honeymoon Resorts

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 $270/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island Honeymoon Resorts

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: If you’re looking for a trendy spot with vintage Hawaiian vibes to spend your honeymoon, you’ll love the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. It’s located on one of the best beaches on the Big Island. Pricing starts at $385/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island Honeymoon Resorts

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. It’s location on the Kohala Coast makes it a short drive from Kona but also somewhat convenient to the north shore and Hilo for a day trip. Pricing starts at $295/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Big Island Honeymoon Resorts

Hapuna Beach Westin: Located in a lush jungle like setting on Hapuna Beach (what many consider to be the best beach on the Big Island), the Westin is currently undergoing renovations but has everything you need for a great honeymoon (amazing pools, hot tubs, tennis, golf, a spa, and fabulous restaurants). Pricing starts at $285/night. Click here to check pricing and availability during your stay.

Cheap(er) Big Island Hotels

While a trip to Hawaii can be a big expense, there are a lot of ways to cut costs and staying at a budget hotel is one of the best ways. Here are 7 of my favorite Big Island budget hotels:

Big Island Budget Hotel

Holiday Inn Express: This bright and modern hotel located near Kailua Bay in Kona is efficient, clean, and a perfect basecamp. This hotel includes an outdoor pool, microwaves and mini fridges in each room, a fitness center, and a hot breakfast each day. Pricing starts at $162/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Big Island Budget Hotel

Kona Seaside Hotel: Located right on the bay in Kona, this Big Island budget hotel is the perfect place to set up camp and explore the island. Locally owned and operated, this hotel is perfect for budget travelers (you won’t pay any resort fees here)! Pricing starts at $135/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Big Island Budget Hotel

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.

Big Island Budget Hotel

Dolphin Bay Hotel: This quaint hotel is located just 10 minutes from downtown Hilo. All studio units come with Wi-Fi and a kitchen, but no air conditioning. One and two bedroom units with lanais are available. Pricing starts at $149/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Big Island Budget Hotel

Hilo Seaside Hotel: This is Kona Seaside Hotel’s sister property located in charmingly low key Hilo. If you’re looking for a nice budget friendly hotel from which to explore the Hilo side of the island, this is a great spot. Pricing starts at $114/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Big Island Budget Hotel

Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel: Hilo’s nicest full service hotel is not only oceanfront with all the amenities you could want, but it’s also a great bargain! Spend your days exploring the Hilo side of the island, but come back to a relaxing respite at the end of the day. Pricing starts at $129/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

Big Island Budget Hotel

Chalet Kilauea: Located near Volcano Village (just outside the entrance of Hawaii Volcano National Park), this upscale hotel nestled in the rainforest is a real gem. It’s perfectly situated for exploring the park (and the east side of the island), but you’ll still feel pampered when you come back to your room each night. Pricing starts at $85/night. Click here to check rates and availability during your stay.

My Favorite Places to Stay on the Big Island

While it’s possible to stay in Kona and do a day trip to Hilo side to see the volcano and black sand beach, you’ll be spending most of your day in the car and probably leave with a lack luster impression of Hawaii Volcano National Park.

I suggest splitting your time between both sides of the island to really feel like you’ve seen it all while still having a vacation.  Spend at least two nights either in Volcano or in Hilo and then the rest of your time in Kona or Kohala.

I think the Volcano House is the best place to stay on the east side, but if it’s out of your budget, there are soooo many adorable vacation rentals in that area.

On Kona side, the Four Seasons is the granddaddy of all places to stay (the best Four Seasons resort in all of Hawaii), but it comes with a hefty price tag. If you want the luxury at a lower price, I really like the Fairmont Orchid and the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort (on the best beach on the Big Island).

If you’re set on 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.

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

Thanks for sticking around and reading this whole post! It’s always my goal to provide a TON of value to YOU. To that end, lately I’ve been packing my Instagram (@hula.land) FULL of content and adventures that you might want to check out. A lot of my post captions are like mini blog posts with travel info, I’ve got IGTV review videos for luaus and excursions, and helpful story highlights like grocery store prices and hotel reviews. Not to mention that my feed is pretty much the ultimate tropical eye candy! You can follow me here and share my account with your friends! Your support really helps me to keep this blog running!

Also, if you have ANY questions about planning your trip to Hawaii, you can join my free Facebook group here. I’m in there answering questions every day and there are 5000+ other friends who have a ton of Hawaii information to share!

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