Officially called Kailua-Kona, this town is situated on the western coast of the Big Island. Kona was once a small fishing village, but has since grown to become a thriving hub for locals and a popular vacation spot as well. In fact, it was once the capital of the newly unified Kingdom of Hawaii.
Today, Kona is more than just a destination for chilling out (though that is also possible). This laid back town is a springboard to volcanic adventures, surf spots, snorkeling, and learning about the history and culture of Hawaii as a whole. It’s so jam-packed with things to do that we curated some of the best things in this handy list to inspire you.
Read more about Big Island, Hawaii
Where to rent your car in Kona?
- You can rent from Hertz, Enterprise, Budget, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, and others from the airport in Kona (KOA) and did you know that they all have their own rental car coupon codes?
Here's what we're covering:
- The best things to do in Kona, Hawaii
- 1 – Learn how to surf
- 2 – Stroll around Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
- 3 – Learn how to carve a tiki
- 4 – Learn all about Kona coffee
- 5 – Explore the cloud forest
- 6 – Swing by the oldest Christian church in Hawaii
- 7 – See a sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea
- 8 – Visit the Hulihe’e Palace
- 9 – Go snorkeling (and see history) at Kamakahonu Beach
- 10 – See manta rays at night
- 11 – Check out Kona Farmers Market
- 12 – Kealakekua Bay
- Map of Top Attractions In Kona
- Frequently Asked Questions
The best things to do in Kona, Hawaii
Kona is an ideal base for exploring the Big Island as a whole. With sights and attractions practically on the doorstep of this town, you’ll never have to go far to find something altogether awesome.
How large does the Kona area span? Kona is a district on the Big Island of Hawaii. The word Kona means Leeward which is meant to indicate that this is the dry side of the island. This makes sense because the weather is typically nicer here and has less precipitation.
What's interesting is that it's a misnomer to call the main town as Kona. Instead, the downtown is Kailua-Kona. Other towns you'll find in Kona's boundaries are Kealakekua, Keauhou, Holualoa, Honaunau, and Honalo.
1 – Learn how to surf
If you already know how, you can skip this one. If you don’t, then read on: this is one of the most iconic things to do in Kona, and in the whole of Hawaii. Surfing is integral to the culture of these islands and Kona is no different, so hop on a board and get out there to catch a wave (or two).
The best spots to go surfing on the Kona coast for beginners is Kahaluʻu Bay.
You won’t have to do it alone, however. There are plenty of surf schools and teachers who will be more than happy to help you. You could book yourself into a private one-on-one lesson, or if you feel like something a bit more social, you could try out a group session instead. Gnarly!
If you're looking for a great beach to just hang out, White Sand Beach (aka Magic Sands Beach) in Kona is a great choice.
2 – Stroll around Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
For a combination of ancient Hawaiian history and a beautiful natural space to explore, you should head to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. Here you’ll find the Honokohau settlement, an archeological site of an ancient Hawaiian settlement.
You can reach the area by setting off on a hike from the visitor center. The well-marked trails take you through luscious natural surroundings. There’s even an ancient temple for you to discover here. Definitely a must do in Kona – especially if you’re a fan of history.
THINKING ABOUT SNORKELING?
There are a ton of different amazing snorkeling spots around Big Island, you just need to know where to look!
3 – Learn how to carve a tiki
The term tiki is used a lot to describe bars or flaming torches, but this word actually has a much deeper meaning. Tiki is connected to Polynesian traditions across the Pacific, and refers to the “first man” who found the “first woman” (in a pond). Carvings in stone or wood represent these first people, and other deified ancestors, and can be found marking sacred sites and boundaries.
Learning more about the tiki and their importance to Polynesian culture is a fantastic opportunity and a unique thing to do in Kona, Hawaii. It’s actually possible to take part in a tiki-carving workshop, headed up by a master carver, where you can create your own personalized tiki under their expert guidance.
4 – Learn all about Kona coffee
Brazil, Vietnam, Guatemala – all famous for coffee production. But Hawaii? Yes, indeed. Kona coffee is a variety of coffee arabica that is grown on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa, to the north and south of Kona respectively.
Coffee was first brought to the Kona district in 1828, and since then has thrived. This delicious coffee is actually one of the most expensive coffees in the world today, as it is grown in perfect conditions, in the mineral-rich volcanic soil of the Big Island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
If you want to learn more about it, then touring a coffee plantation is definitely one of the best things to do in Kona. It’s iconic after all! Another option is a visit to Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation where they have free coffee tasting 7 days a week.
5 – Explore the cloud forest
To see some truly incredible landscapes, simply make your way to the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary. Encompassing 70 acres, this stretch of land is just 15 minutes from the airport but feels worlds away from the modern day, feeling like you’ve stepped through a portal into a mystical – and very green – world.
It’s awash with native plants, with over 100 varieties of bamboo alongside enormous tree ferns that soar 30 feet into the air. There are also many endemic and exotic birds that live around this area, including the Hawaiian hawk.
6 – Swing by the oldest Christian church in Hawaii
Moku’aikaua Church is the oldest Christian church in Hawaii. Dating back to 1820, it is connected to the first ship of American missionaries to land on the shores of the island, who were given permission to teach Christianity by King Kamehamaha II.
The church continues to be in use to this day, but if you just want to check it out you can join a tour of the island which includes the church. A tour will give you the opportunity to learn in more detail about the history of the church, and the people who ran it from its origins.
7 – See a sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea
For one of the most spectacular things to do from Kona, Hawaii, head to the mountains. More specifically, enter the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
The Mauna Kea summit soars up to 4,205 meters (13,796 feet) above sea level. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to the very top of the peak in two hours – so take care of altitude sickness, and allow time for acclimating.
Because of this, it’s best to join a guided tour – especially rewarding with a local, who will offer up interesting information about this sacred place. Sunset is a popular time to visit the amazing mountain, when you can witness the sun dip below the horizon as you watch it go from above the clouds on one of Hawaii’s most sacred mountains.
8 – Visit the Hulihe’e Palace
Looking for historical things to do in Kona, Hawaii? Then head to Hulihe’e. Originally, this palace was built out of lava rock and was home to members of the Hawaiian royal family. The palace as it is seen today was built in 1838, when it became the vacation home for Hawaiian royalty. It was here that many Hawaiian rulers stayed throughout their respective reigns.
In 1927, the palace was taken into the care of the Daughters of Hawaii, who sought to preserve Hawaiian culture in the wake of its annexation by the USA. Thankfully the palace has survived to this day, and makes for a great way to learn about the Hawaiian royal family and how they lived. There are many artifacts and artwork on display.
9 – Go snorkeling (and see history) at Kamakahonu Beach
Translating to “Turtle Eye” in Hawaiian – due to a rock here shaped like a turtle – Kamakahonu Beach is a beautiful spot to unwind. This smooth curve of powdery white sand is not only fantastic for sunbathing, but also great for snorkeling, too.
Read next: Kamakahonu Beach is just one of the beaches mentioned as a great for snorkeling.
Situated in the heart of Kona, this beach is a particularly good spot for those with young families – it’s fairly shallow and sheltered. Here you will also be able to find plenty of shacks renting out equipment such as kayaks and snorkeling gear. You will even be able to book yourself onto a diving tour from here, too, if you want something adventurous to do in Kona.
Also situated at Kamakahonu Beach is the Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark, which includes Ahu’ena Heiau Temple, or Temple of the Burning Altar. This sacred temple was reconstructed in the 1970s, and makes for an interesting place to check out.
Here you will also find the former residence of King Kamehameha I, the unifier of the archipelago, though not much remains. However, if you go into the lobby of the Kona Beach Hotel, you can find some artifacts preserved from the former palace, including a feather cloak and a mahiole (headdress).
10 – See manta rays at night
Diving in Hawaii is one thing, but diving at night? That’s definitely special. But what makes this even more special is the fact that you’ll be diving with one of the most majestic sea creatures going: manta rays.
Of course, the only way to do this is with a tour. You’ll be with experienced divers as you hover in the water and meet these gentle giants, getting pretty close and seeing just how huge these rays are as they glide up to you. There’s nothing quite like it – diving with manta rays is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Kona, Hawaii. And you don’t even need to actually scuba dive down into the deep!
11 – Check out Kona Farmers Market
With Hawaii’s amazing soil and great weather, it’s no surprise that there’s an abundance of produce grown throughout the islands. To get a good taste of this (literally) head on over to Kona Farmers Market. This community farmers market offers up a selection of locally produced foods and crafts.
The 100% Big Island-grown produce sold by vendors includes Kona coffee, flowers, honey, eggs, meat, breads, nuts and much, much more. It takes place Saturday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. It’s one of the best foodie things to do in Kona, Hawaii, for sure.
12 – Kealakekua Bay
Follow in Captain Cook's footsteps as this is the bay where the British explorer landed on the island of Hawaii. He was the first British explorer to make contact with the Native Hawaiians in 1778 in Kauai but unfortunately met his demise in this same bay.
Today, you'll find a white obelisk (Captain Cook Monument) at the shores of Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and on the east side of the bay, there's a sacred temple dedicate to Lono, a Hawaiian god.
To get to the obelisk, you can hike the historic Ka’awaloa Trail. There isn't much of a beach here as it's mostly volcanic rock but you'll see visitors come here to enjoy the views, go for a quick dip, and watch perched from one of the rocks.
An alternative way to see Kealakekua Bay is to join a snorkel boat tour which is highly recommended.
Map of Top Attractions In Kona
The below is an embedded map of all of the places mentioned in the list of top things to do in Kona.
TIP: If you expand the map, you can make a copy of the map onto your own account to tweak and use for your own trip planning, which is a process that's part of our trip planning process.
Frequently Asked Questions
There's a chance to see whales all year round from Kona but the best months are between December to May.
The best spot to see whales is on the Kohala coast which is an hour north of Kona, specifically at Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site.. That said, whales can certainly be seen offshore from beaches in Kona.
Each side of the island has its advantages. Kona is better than Hilo because you have access to way more accommodation options, it is much sunnier, you have more restaurant choices, there's less rain, and you have better beaches.
To see the best that Kona has to offer, we recommend 4-5 days.
Yes, Kona is absolutely worth visiting. From this side of the island, there are incredible experiences including the coffee plantations, manta rays at night, local markets, gorgeous bays, beautiful beaches, and historical sights and parks.
Kona is fantastic all year round but if you're looking for the absolute best, you'll be surprised to hear that the winter months between November and March are preferable because this is when you'll see whales and the skies are clear which is great for stargazing.
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