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The Ultimate Guide to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Are you looking for where to stay in Hawaii? Well, Kailua-Kona may be exactly what you’re searching for! Nestled on the sun-drenched western coast of Hawaii’s Big Island, Kailua-Kona is a hidden gem that beckons travelers with its unique blend of expansive natural beauty, rich history, and adventurous activities.

Whether you’re diving into the vibrant marine life of its pristine waters, exploring sacred sites steeped in Hawaiian lore, or simply enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of its beachfront cafes, Kailua-Kona promises an authentic Hawaiian journey away from overdeveloped resort bubbles like you may find on Oahu or Maui.

 

WHERE IS KONA ON THE BIG ISLAND?

Kona is actually a large region of the Big Island, taking up much of the western coast.

Kailua-Kona is the main town within Kona, located in about the middle of this region. You can think of Kailua-Kona as the “main street” of Kona, especially along Ali’i Drive where many of the hotels, shops, and restaurants are located, including Pacific 19.

 

KONA’S WEATHER
THROUGHOUT THE YEAR

Kailua-Kona boasts a pleasant climate year-round, with sunny days and mild temperatures being the norm. Temperatures typically range from the mid-70s to the mid-80s (°F) during the day, cooling off slightly at night. While the area does have a dry season (April through October) and a wet season (November through March), the rain usually comes in short, light showers that quickly give way to clear skies.

 

TOP REASONS TO
STAY IN KAILUA-KONA

Here are a few reasons why you should make Kailua-Kona your homebase when exploring where to stay in Hawaii:

____ CONVENIENT LOCATION

Kailua-Kona is a convenient base for exploring other parts of the Big Island. It’s relatively central to popular attractions such as Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea Summit, Waimea, and many beaches and hiking trails.

____ RICH HISTORY AND CULTURE

Kona has a deep historical significance. It was once the seat of Hawaiian royalty and is home to many historical sites, including Hulihe‘e Palace and the sacred Ahu‘ena Heiau. This cultural richness offers visitors a deeper understanding of Hawaiian history and traditions.

 

 

____ WORLD-FAMOUS COFFEE

Kona is renowned for its coffee, considered some of the best in the world. The region’s unique volcanic soil and favorable climate contribute to the coffee’s distinctive flavor. You can tour local coffee plantations, learn about the coffee-making process, and, of course, taste the exceptional brews.

____ VIBRANT MARINE LIFE

The Kona coast offers excellent opportunities for snorkeling and diving, with clear waters and abundant marine life. One of the must-do experiences is the Manta Ray Night Dive, a unique adventure where you can swim with these majestic creatures.

 
 

____ DINING AND SHOPPING

The town boasts a lively dining and shopping scene. You can enjoy a range of cuisines, from traditional Hawaiian dishes to international flavors, and explore shops selling local crafts, art, and souvenirs. While it can be a little funky and kitsch at times, Ali’i drive stands in contrast to other hyper-tourist areas in Hawaii where the major hotels and resorts dominate the area. Kona maintains its locals vibe with tons of independent shops and restaurants.

____ RECREATIONAL ACTIVITIES

Besides water-based activities, Kona offers access to golf courses, cultural tours, and opportunities for adventure like hiking and horseback riding.

 

 

____ FESTIVALS AND EVENTS

Kona hosts various events and festivals throughout the year, including the famous Kona Coffee Cultural Festival and the Ironman World Championship, offering visitors a chance to engage with the local community.

____ RELAXED ATMOSPHERE

Despite being a popular tourist destination, Kona maintains a laid-back, relaxed atmosphere, allowing visitors to enjoy a leisurely pace and truly unwind.

 
 

____ ACCOMMODATION VARIETY

Kona offers a wide range of accommodations to suit different preferences and budgets, from luxury resorts to more modest hotels and vacation rentals. Of course, we recommend Pacific 19 Hotel, which sits at the intersection of style, value, and location.

 

TRAVELING TO KAILUA-KONA _ AIRPORTS AND ARRIVAL

When planning your trip to Kailua-Kona, you’ll likely fly into Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), the primary airport serving the west side of the Big Island. Located about 15 miles north of Kailua-Kona, this airport offers both domestic and international flights, including frequent direct flights for cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and Vancouver. Kona International Airport even has a direct flight to Tokyo!

Upon arrival, you’ll find a variety of transportation options, including taxis, shuttles, and rental car services, to take you into the heart of Kona.

You can also use ridesharing apps like Uber and Lyft (pro-tip: Lyft seems to have much better coverage and lower rates coming from the airport). The cost of a Taxi or rideshare service like Lyft from the airport to Ali’i Drive is normally between $25 – $40, depending on time of day and demand. If you where many of Kona’s hotels are located.

 

GETTING AROUND KAILUA-KONA _ RENTING A CAR

While downtown Kailua-Kona itself is walkable along Ali’i Drive and the surrounding areas, renting a car is highly recommended for exploring the Big Island’s vast and varied attractions. Car rental agencies are available at the Kona International Airport and throughout Kailua-Kona, giving you freedom to discover the island at your own pace.

All the major car rental companies are represented on the island like Hertz, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, or Alamo. The average price to rent a car is $58 per day. Of course, that depends on the season and when you book. Because it is an island and supply isn’t easily increased, if you wait until the last minute and there are very few options, prices can rise quite a bit.

Another great option here is Turo. While it does require some extra effort compared to strolling up to the rental agencies at the airport, Turo unlocks some more island-styled options like the ever popular Toyota 4runner or Tacoma, so you’ll fit in a bit better. Also, while we don’t recommend you go off-roading, if you do have an interest in driving to the summit of Mauna Kea, you will need a 4×4 vehicle to do so.

 

KAILUA-KONA’S ACTIVITIES & TOURS

In addition to Kailua-Kona’s central location along the Big Island’s west coast, the region’s unique geography, climate, and history provide a backdrop for diverse adventures and experiences. Here are some of the must see activities to experience when staying in Kona:

____ BEACH AND OCEAN ACTIVITIES

Thanks to its clear, calm waters, Kailua-Kona is perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, paddleboarding, and kayaking. The waters around Kailua-Kona are home to vibrant coral reefs, colorful fish, and other marine life. Of course, there’s always fun to have at one of Kona’s top beaches, but we also recommend going out with an expert guide to see areas you’d otherwise miss. Two of our favorite tours to check out are kayaking across Kealakekua Bay and snorkeling at its marine sanctuary to see one of the top snorkeling destinations in all of Hawaii and experiencing a manta ray night snorkel for a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the majestic creatures up close.

 

 

____ COFFEE FARM TOURS

The Kona region is famous for its coffee. Visitors can tour coffee plantations to learn about the coffee-making process and sample some of the world’s best coffee right where it’s grown. Our favorite coffee tour and tasting is at Heavenly Hawaiian Coffee Farm.

____ HIKING AND OUTDOOR ADVENTURES

The landscape around Kailua-Kona offers incredible opportunities for hiking, with trails that lead through lava fields, tropical forests, and to historic sites. Our favorite hike in Kona’s backyard is a private tour of Hualalai Volcano. Nearby, adventurers can explore the diverse climates and terrains of the Big Island, including Volcanoes National Park.

 
 

____ CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL SITES

Explore significant cultural sites like Hulihe’e Palace, Ahu’ena Heiau, and the ancient petroglyph fields. These sites offer a glimpse into Hawaii’s rich history and cultural heritage.

____ SHOPPING AND DINING

Ali’i Drive in Kailua-Kona is a lively street with shops, restaurants, and cafes, perfect for enjoying local cuisine, picking up souvenirs, or just enjoying a leisurely stroll along the waterfront.

 

 

____ FISHING

Kailua-Kona is renowned for its deep-sea fishing, offering the chance to catch marlin, tuna, and other large game fish. Many charter boats are available for half-day or full-day excursions.

____ SEASONAL WHALE WATCHING

During the winter months, humpback whales can be seen in the waters around the Big Island, and Kailua-Kona offers boat tours for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures. Going out with a top-rated boat tour operator like Sea Quest offers a chance to spot them during these months.

 
 

____ PACIFIC 19 EXPERIENCES

For a list of curated top Kona tours and activities check the P19 Experiences booking page!

 

WHERE TO STAY IN KAILUA-KONA

Kailua-Kona offers a range of accommodation options. If you’re looking for a traditional resort stay there are ample big brand options like Marriott, Hyatt, and others. Airbnb is a popular choice as well if you’re searching for a residential style accommodation. However, if you’re looking for a unique boutique hotel that sits at the intersection of style, price, and location, we think Pacific 19 Kona is the best choice by far.

 

 

Pacific 19 Kona is the Big Island’s newest (and one of the few) independent boutique hotels, nestled in the heart of Kailua-Kona. Renovated and reopened in 2023, it has a modern island-urban vibe. Pacific 19 is all about offering a unique experience that steers clear of the typical resort clichés. You can check out more here, if you’re interested.