Kailua-Kona Things to Do
Things to Do & Visitor Tips for Hawaii's Kona Region
Top Regional Attractions & Travel Information
If you’re heading to the Big Island, we hope you’re planning to visit its principal western city- Kailua-Kona. If so, know that the ground you tread was once home to many Hawaiian kings who cherished the region for its gorgeous weather and waters.
Today, this historic area is known for its restaurants, shops, and nightlife - this warm and sunny leeward area has unsurprisingly become the resort area of the island; particularly as you head north of Kailua-Kona town and into south Kohala. Locals simply refer to the area as "Kona." The good waters in the Kona area, so loved by dignitaries, provide the perfect place to snorkel, fish, and surf. Rest assured that there are always plenty of sights and activities to enjoy in Kona, but some should definitely be on your to-do list. We've included a few of our favorite Top Things to Do near Kailua-Kona below.
In total, the Kona Coast stretches some 40 miles along the rugged west coast of the Big Island. Many historical sites, beautiful beaches (some well-hidden), pristine bays, and lava fields (with prominent petroglyphs) criss-cross and line the coast of this area.
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Nestled at the bottom of the Hualalai Volcano, the city of Kailua-Kona is the largest town on the west side of the island. As noted previously, in ancient times, this area was considered the premier place to live due to the excellent weather and good water. Many kings made their homes here. Later, missionaries built churches and residences, turning the tiny fishing village into a small seaport.
Today, the main street, Ali'i Drive, runs along the oceanfront through the heart of the city from Kailua Pier to the Kuamo'o Battlefield. Along the coastline here you'll find a vast array of ocean-side restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and activity huts promoting various water activities in the nearby Kailua Bay.
Sunsets viewed from the seawall are almost always spectacular. During the right conditions, the ocean will crash the party and send waves smashing into the bay wall and onto the sidewalks (and unsuspecting tourists)!
Parking within the town can be a challenge but there are several pay lots off the main drive; just look for the signs. We've included public parking, shopping/retail stores, and Farmers Market locations on the maps below as well.
Regional Attractions & Town Highlights
Download Kailua-Kona Detailed Maps
We've included two maps directly below, a detailed zoomed-in map that shows Kailua-Kona town up close; this map is useful for locating sites and attractions within town, finding public parking, etc.
We've also included a zoomed-out overview map, that shows more of the area as a whole, including some of the popular attractions north of the Kailua-Kona area.
Below we've also included two additional maps, one for Kealakekua Bay (heading south away from Kailua-Kona town), and another map (heading north away from Kailua-Kona) for Kekaha Kai State Park, including attractions like Makalawena Beach.
Additional Kailua-Kona Maps
Heading South & North from Kailua-Kona town Respectively
Kailua-Kona Tips to Know
- Accommodations in Kailua-Kona are generally less expensive than north of here, along the Kohala gold coast (Waikoloa), and many resorts/condos are located along Ali'i Drive.
- Inland (mauka) of the coast are the slopes of Hualalai, and upon these hills, the famous Kona coffee plants and macadamia nuts are grown, harvested, and processed.
- The annual Ironman Triathlon, typically held in the fall, starts in Kailua-Kona just to the left of Kailua Pier. Athletes swim 2.4 miles in the open ocean starting at this site. Afterward, they ride bikes for 112 miles through lava fields and then run 26.2 additional miles to complete this rugged course.
- Downtown Kailua-Kona historical sites include the Mokuaikaua Church, the Hulihe'e Palace, and the Ahuena Heiau.
- Heading towards south Kona, you'll find Kealakekua Bay is where Captain Cook lost his life after a skirmish in 1779. Today a monument recognizes Captain Cook on the far side of the bay, and the waters of the bay itself offers some of the best snorkeling on the island via permitted tours.
- Further south you'll discover Pu'uhonua o Honaunau. This ancient Place of Refuge is probably the most visited site on the west side of the island, and it's one of two major national parks on the island, Hawai'i Volcanoes being the other on the eastern coast.
- To the north of Kailua-Kona* you'll find of the most gorgeous white sand beaches on the island, like Makalawena Beach and Mahai'ula Beach located at Kekaha Kai / Kona Coast State Park. As noted previously, some beaches are well hidden along this part of the coastline, so accessing them can also be a bit tricky - but very doable; see the individual pages for details.
*For you geography nerds out there, we wanted to point out that this page includes some sights and beaches that are technically within the Kohala region. We've decided to additionally include many of these attractions within our Kailua-Kona District regional section due to the geographic proximity of these locations to the downtown Kailua-Kona area.
Kona District Top Attractions
Best Things to See & Do near Kailua-Kona
Summary of Top Kona Region Attractions
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
#6 Rated in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island
This historical park has been designated a Hawaiian Heritage Site for its cultural, national, and historical significance. See how native Hawaiians survived by using brilliantly engineered fishponds, making steep-pitched thatched roofed houses, and building lava stone walls.
Be sure to admire the petroglyphs in the park, too. Then head to the beach and admire (from a distance) the sea turtles basking in the sun. It’s a wonderful place to step back in time to old Hawaii and appreciate ancient skills and knowledge.
'Two Step' Keone'ele Cove
#5 Rated in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island
Keone'ele Cove at the center of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (refuge), coming up on our list, is one of the best spots to turtle watch and snorkel on the island. The Honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) often heave themselves upon the soft sand for a nap, inspiring plenty of onlookers with cameras.
This area is called "Two Step" because the snorkelers enter the water off a naturally-formed lava step into 10 ft. of water. The next step drops off into 25 ft. of water.
Kona’s waters are additionally home to some of the most robust and approachable populations of manta rays in the world, and you won’t want to miss seeing these amazing creatures up close.
Kona Coast (Kekaha Kai) State Park
#4 Rated in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island
Kona Coast or Kekaha Kai State Park is 1,600 acres of beautiful sand and pristine blue waters. There are actually several beaches in the park which is accessed via a 1.5-mile road located between the 91 and 90-mile markers on Highway 19 north of Kona.
Once you reach the first parking area you can take the path to your right and north to Mahai'ula Bay a lovely crescent of white sand and clear waters. This is a popular beach with people and honu who choose nice warm spots to sunbathe.
Kua Bay & Manini'owali Beach
#3 Rated in Kohala on the Big Island
Kua Bay, also called Manini'owali Beach or 'Mile 88' beach for the nearby mile marker, is a lovely little pocket of sand that used to be very difficult to access, but since a multi-million dollar road has been paved right through the lava- it's a snap to enjoy this Big Island gem.
Kua Bay beach has full facilities including restrooms and showers, water, barbecues, and picnic tables. It is very popular on the weekends, not to mention parking can be a nightmare, so you might want to aim for the weekdays.
When the water is calm, swimming is great here - some of the best in Kona. However, if the waves are going, stay out because it can be extremely dangerous. Boogie boarders give this beach high marks, too, as do those hankering for some R&R. Take your reef-safe sunscreen and get ready to be wowed by this crescent-shaped slice of paradise.
#2 Rated in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island
Nestled between the regional borders of Kailua-Kona and Kohala, like anything worthwhile, Makalawena, or Mak, Beach makes you work a little bit to enjoy it. It's about a 20-minute walk across the lava to the beach, but don't worry, the path is well worn through the a'a flow.
This secluded white sand beach is a crescent broken up by rocky lumps of lava. Palms and other trees rim the dunes near the northern end where you are greeted with picnic tables and some wild chickens.
It's not likely that you will run into many people here and thus you'll likely be able to enjoy the most scenic beach on the island in solitude.
Puuhonua o Honaunau Historical Park
#1 Rated in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (poo-oo-ho-noo-ah o hoe-now-now), formerly known as Place of Refuge at Honaunau, is an incredibly beautiful and educational experience that no trip to the Big Island should be without.
After paying your vehicle entrance fee and walking past the educational displays, you round a corner and are transplanted into the world of the ancient Hawaiians. On this scorched land of sand and lava rock, the ali'i (ruling class) of Hawaii made their home.
Visitors can explore how the Hawaiians worked and played underneath the shade of Honaunau's stately palms.
Delight your palate with 100% pure Kona coffee, grown only on the Kona Coast. The region’s environmental conditions conspire to make one of the world’s best-loved cups of coffee. There are numerous cafes and shops around Kona to try. Or you might want to tour a Kona coffee plantation- certainly a nice way to spend the day.
Mauna Kea Summit
While not located in Kona, if you can only make one adventure on the Big Island, you must visit Mauna Kea Summit. Measured from its base (at the seafloor) to the top, it is the tallest mountain in the world- and is simply wondrous to experience. Some of the clearest air on the planet can be found here, which means the star gazing is mind-blowing.
Rent a car (or 4x4) or take a tour and make a stop at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (referred to as the ‘Visitors Center’) to learn more and to get acclimated to the altitude. The views from here are amazing, but can’t top those at the summit. Dress warmly and be prepared for a magical experience!
Follow our Top Things to Do in Kailua-Kona list or make your own; with so much history and adventure, we’re sure you’ll have a fabulous visit when you visit the Big Island's Kona region!
All Kona Attractions
Categorized by Type
Kailua-Kona Region Beaches
- Makalawena Beach - #1 Best Beach on the Big Island
- Two-Step Snorkeling
- Kealakekua Bay
- Manini'owali Beach at Kua Bay - #3 Best Beach on the Big Island
- Ai'opio Beach
- Kona Coast Kekaha Kai State Park - #6 Best Beach on the Big Island
- Kiholo Bay Scenic Overlook
- Alula Beach
- Ke'ei Beach