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If you’re heading to the Big Island there are plenty of beautiful beaches including Papakolea the Green Sand Beach, authentic Hawaiian cuisine, sunny weather and culture that the entire family will not want to leave the Big Island. The Big Island is known for its restaurants, shops, and nightlife plus its the perfect place to snorkel, fish, and surf.
No other island allows you to swim with manta rays, go horseback riding, watch volcanoes erupt, explore waterfalls, stunning sunsets, black sand beaches and even whale watching all in one trip. No other island offers so many cultural treasures in its natural environments. Kona has so much to offer, you’ll see why it is known as “Hawaii’s Island of Adventure.”
I don’t want you to miss any of these great adventures so here are my Top 5 Things to Do in Kona, Hawaii
Things to Do in Kona, Hawaii
Explore Top Beaches In Kona Hawaii
Beaches on the Big Island are unlike any other beaches you have been to and because Kona Hawaii is a relatively young island you will not find pristine white sand beaches. The beaches of Kona are made out of pitch black sand, crystal green sand, coarse white sand, coral, and even out of newly formed lava rocks!
LIST OF BIG ISLAND BEACHES
- West coast: Beaches near Kona
- South coast: Beaches near Volcano
- East coast: Beaches near Hilo
- North coast: Beaches near Waimea and the resort coast
BEACHES NEAR VOLCANO (SOUTH COAST)
There are only a few beaches on the rugged south coast of the Big Island. These Islands are still worth the visit!
My favorite green (Papakolea) and black (Punalu’u) sand beaches on the Big Island are both on this side of the Big Island!
GREEN SAND BEACH / PAPAKOLEA:
The two green sand beaches on the Big Island are difficult to reach and will take approximately 1.5+ hour hike, but definitely worth it. The Green Sand Beach is officially known as Papakōlea. The beach itself is carved in a 49.000 years old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano that contains the green crystals (olivines) that give the beach its name.
Swimming at the Green Sand Beach is possible but you are like me and not a great swimmer I suggest staying on the sand and look cute like I did because those waves were crazy. There is not a lifeguard to save you in case the waves take you out and there is nowhere to buy food or water so make sure pack a lunch and bring sunscreen, a cute hat, and beach towels.
DIRECTIONS / HIKING TO PAPAKŌLEA BEACH: (Green Sand Beach)
Papakōlea beach is not easy to reach so be prepared for the long drive. We drove to the southernmost tip of the United States, then we hiked 2.5 miles (one way) from the parking lot to the beach.
Pro Tip: There are locals hanging out in the parking lot who will drop you off and pick up for $10.00PP which is well worth it because that hike is not for the faint of heart even you are a professional.
The Green Sand Beach is so remote that if you get up early enough you will have the beach to yourself and the view and scenery are one of a kind.
THE DRIVE TO GREEN SAND BEACH:
Take the road to ‘South Point’ between mile markers 69 and 70 on Hwy 11 (between Kona and Volcano Village), and drive to the small harbor at the end. On the left-hand side, there is a parking lot where you can park your car.
THE HIKE TO GREEN SAND BEACH:
The hike to Papakōlea beach (Green Sand Beach) was a little rigorous for me and but once you get there you forget all about the hike. 2 Miles doesn’t seem like a long hike but the way that heat and humidity is set up on Kona.
Walk from the parking lot to the ocean and take the road to the left (facing the water, towards the east). Follow this road with the ocean on your right hand for about 2 1/2 miles and you will get to the cliffs above the Green Sand Beach. Once you make you will then have to climb down some very steep stairs and there are not any rails so be very careful.
PUNALU’U COUNTY BEACH PARK:
Punalu’u black sand beach is the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island! It is located between Kona and Hilo. The black sand beach is popular because you can often see endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles sunbathing on the beach. It was a truly amazing experience to see these turtles just laying out in their own element.
PUNALU’U BLACK SAND BEACH: SWIMMING, TURTLES, AND SNORKELING
The sand at the beach is made of small black fragments of lava. Once you pick up the sand you will easily recognize that the sand is made up of old lava.
The beach itself is lined by rows of coconut palms which is a good place to escape from the heat because between the sun and the Black Sand you will need the shade under the palms.
SEEING TURTLES AT PUNALU’U BLACK SAND BEACH
One of the top reasons to visit the Black Sand Beach is to see the turtles feeding in the water or sunbathing on the beach.
What to do when you encounter turtles: The sea turtles in Hawai’i are protected by federal and state law and they are also protected under the Endangered Species Act (source) so please follow the rules below if you have the opportunity to get close to a turtle:
- Never try to touch a turtle.
- Do not feed the turtles.
- NOAA and DLNR recommend that everyone stay at least 10 feet (3 meters) from all sea turtles.
- If maintaining 10 feet distance isn’t possible, keep safety in mind and move away from the animal as carefully as possible.
SNORKELING AT PUNALU’U
A good place to snorkel at Punalu’u is Ninole Cove. Ninole Cove is a short walk west of the main beach. The bay allows you to access the ocean fairly easily.
DIRECTIONS TO PUNALU’U BEACH:
Punalu’u beach is just off highway 11 between Volcano Village (31 miles) and the town of Naalehu (10 miles).
The beach is easily accessible from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and is one of my favorite places to visit. To get to Punalu’u from Volcano Village, take Hwy 11 towards Kona, and turn toward the ocean between mile marker 56 and 57 on Alanui Road.
If you pass Whittington Beach Park, you have driven too far.
BEACHES NEAR HILO (EAST COAST)
The following are the most popular beaches in Hilo and the larger Hilo area.
- Kaimu Beach Park
- Ahalanui Park (gone)
- Kapoho Tide Pools (gone)
- Richardson Beach Parl
- Lele’iwi Beach Park
- Carlsmith Beach Park
- James Ke’aloha Beach Park
- Onekahakaha Beach Co Park
- Coconut Island
BEACHES NEAR WAIMEA / THE KOHALA RESORTS (NORTH COAST)
The stunning white sand beaches on the Kohala coast are some of the most gorgeous beaches on the planet.
- Waipi’o Valley beach
- Pololu Valley beach
- Kapa’a Beach Park
- Mahukona Beach Park
- Samuel M. Spencer Beach Park
- Kauna’oa Beach
- Hapuna Beach
- Waialea Bay Beach
- Anaeho’omalu Beach
BEACHES NEAR KONA (WEST COAST)
The west coast of the Big Island has an abundance of sunshine, plenty of rain, and lots of warm weather. Below are my Top beaches on the west side of the Island.
- Kiholo Bay
- Kuki’o Beach
- Kika’ua Point Beach
- Kekaha Kai State Park
- Kua Bay Beach
- Mahai’ula Beach
- Makalawena Beach
- Ai’opio beach
- Old Kona Airport Beach Park
- Kamakahonu Beach
- White Sands beach park
- Kahalu’u Beach Park
- Ho’okena Beach Park
- Ke’alakeku’a Bay Park
5 TIPS FOR EXPLORING THE HAWAIIAN BEACHES
The Things to Do in Kona Hawaii are endless and the beaches are endless as well. The sun is hotter in Hawaii because they are closer to the equator and the sand at the black sand beaches can be extremely hot because they are made out of lava so please be safe when visiting Hawaii.
These 5 tips will make sure that you are prepared for all of these things to do in Kona Hawaii.
- Use Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Lotion Sunscreen! If there’s one totally false myth going around, it’s that sunscreen isn’t necessary to protect deeper skin tones. Don’t get me wrong; Melanin is magical, but that doesn’t stop the sun from wreaking havoc on dark skin. As challenging as it can be to find a sunscreen for people of color Aveeno Sunscreen does not leave that chalky white cast.
- Bring a hat to protect your face and your eyes. Sunburns can cause premature aging and UV rays can also damage your eyes.
- Bring a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated.
- Wear flip-flops. Sand in Hawaii gets HOT (especially at the black sand beach!)
- Drinking alcohol is illegal on beaches and in state parks. If you decide to have a picnic and bring a bottle of wine or a 6 pack of beer please be careful.
Water Activities in Kona Hawaii
Kona Hawaii has more miles of coastline than any of the other Hawaiian islands which makes the things to do in Kona on the water endless. The waters of Kona are shielded from the winds by Maunaloa, making it a perfect place to snorkel, scuba dive or dive with the manta rays at night.
If you love fishing Kona is known for sports fishing because the waters are full of marine life not seen in other bodies of waters including green sea turtles, whales, sperm whales, pygmies and false killer whales.
There are deep-sea charters out of Honokohau Harbor just north of Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona) where you can fish for marlin, mahimahi, ono and ahi. You don’t need to rent an expensive charter to find fresh fish Kona just bring your rod, tackle and bait along piers, shores, and streams and you might just reel in that big you have always dreamt about catching.
For a fun family or an adventure with the hubby, I suggest renting a canoe or kayak and take a guided tour of the Kona Coast or Kohala Coast and ride the waves back into shore.
Explore the numerous coves on both the Kohala and Kona Coast. You can rent a kayak or canoe and head off in a group, take lessons or a guided tour so you will not miss a thing as you discover the waters of Kona.
Snorkeling and Scuba
For snorkeling on the Kohala Coast, I suggest Hapuna Beach, Anaehoomalu Beach as well as Ohaiula (also known as Sam Spencer Park) below Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site.
Honaunau Bay is the perfect example of the calm and clear waters of south Kona and it is the perfect entry point spot for snorkeling and diving especially if you are afraid of snorkeling like I am. Click here to read how I overcame my fear of snorkeling.
One of the most memorable things to do in Kona Hawaii is a swim with manta rays. I suggest booking a sunset dive tour and head out to the Kona or Keauhou coast to either scuba dive or snorkel with these gentle mantas (mantas don’t have stingers like sting rays or eagle rays).
You’ll be blown away at how these creatures glide within inches of you.
Surfing was originally reserved only for (royalty) only but today surfing is for everyone including novice like me who has never surfed.
Many of the beaches on Kona are for more experienced surfers but there are a few spots for beginners if you want to give surfing a try for the first time.
- Pine Trees Beach north of Kona Airport
- Kahaluu Beach in Keauhou
- Banyans in Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona).
- Honolii Beach Park in Hilo – Experienced surfer’s dream during seasonal swells.
From December to May, can catch a glimpse of a majestic humpback whale off of Kona’s shorelines. These gentle giants make their way to Hawaii annually to breed and give birth to new calves. Seeing one of these 40-ton, 40-foot long whales will definitely be an unforgettable experience.
I suggest scheduling a tour or charter a boat to go whale watching. The guides will know the best spots to observe whales playfully surfacing, tail slapping, or blowing spouts in the air. Regulations prohibit boats from approaching within 100 yards of a whale and you should never swim with or touch whales.
Kohala Waterfalls Adventure
If you’ve had enough of the beaches, snorkeling and kayaking how about swapping your water shoes for hiking boots? Sign up for a Kohala Waterfalls Adventure. This 8-hour excursion will take you to see some of the most scenic parts of the Big Island and includes an off-road ride in a six-wheel-drive followed by a relaxed guided hike through a private nature reserve.
Along the way, your guide will tell you about Hawaiian history and culture along with all of the plant life you will pass on your hike. The highlight of our day was swimming under the cascading waterfalls before we set off to enjoy a private picnic lunch in a scenic lookout spot.
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is located 45 miles southwest of Hilo, the park is home to two volcanoes including Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on earth. The chance to witness the primal process of creation and destruction makes it one of the most visited attractions in Hawaii.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses 333,308 acres from the summit of Maunaloa to the sea. There are150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts, and rainforests, as well as a museum, petroglyphs, and two active volcanoes: Maunaloa, which last erupted in 1984 and Kilauea which has been erupting since January 3, 1983.
Kilauea is sometimes called “the world’s only drive-in volcano.” This prolific volcano produces 250,000–650,000 cubic yards of lava per day—enough to resurface a 20-mile-long, two-lane road each day. As of January 1994, 875 acres of new land have been created on the island of Hawaii.
In 1980 it was named a World Biosphere Site by UNESCO and in 1987 the park was honored as a World Heritage Site.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK HIGHLIGHTS
Kilauea Visitor Center
Open daily: 9:00 a.m.–5 p.m.
Begin your visit at the Kīlauea Visitor Center for a great introduction to the park. Ranger talks are offered, hike suggestions for the day, and ranger-guided activities. Pick up maps, learn about the park’s hikes and get the latest volcano updates here.
Crater Rim Drive
Crater Rim Drive is the 10.6-mile drive that circles Kilauea Caldera. Driving around this loop will take you to the park’s main attractions: the Kilauea overlook, Devastation Trail and Kilauea Iki Crater Overlook.
Steam vents plume from this massive crater, known as the home of Pele, the volcano goddess. In 2008, this crater was filled with a lake of lava that disappeared earlier this year. Seismic activity caused by the crater walls falling into itself created a much larger crater. In May 2018, the Halemaʻumaʻu’s volume was about 70-78 million cubic yards. It is now about 1.2 billion cubic yards. The crater floor has dropped more than 1,600 ft. Great respect should be paid at this sacred site. Also worth noting is that higher elevation near the crater means that temperatures can drop fairly quickly. If you’re coming from the beach in shorts and a t-shirt, be sure to pack some warmer items like a light jacket while you’re here.
On April 30, 2018, the lava lake from Puʻuʻōʻō Vent vanished and headed toward the Lower East Rift Zone. Puʻuʻōʻō had been erupting almost continuously since January 1983.
Chain of Craters Road
Ranger station open daily: 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Veering south of Crater Rim Drive is Chain of Craters Road. This 3,700-foot drive eventually ends where a lava flow has overtaken the road.
The Volcano House hotel overlooking Halemaumau Crater has been operating since it was a grass shack in 1846. Mark Twain once stayed here on his visit to Hawaii.
TIPS FOR YOUR VISIT
- Please stay on marked routes, heed all warning signs, and stay out of restricted areas.
- Allow plenty of time for your trip. The drive to and from Kona is about 2.5–3 hours each way.
- Stay on open trails and roads.
- Stay away from cracks and sinkholes.
- Rockfalls are unpredictable. Pay attention and keep away from all cliffs.
- Wear sturdy shoes and long pants, falling on lava rock is like falling on broken glass.
- Do not hike after dark.
Greenwell Coffee Farm
Our last stop on our weekend in Kona was Greenwell Coffee Farm and I have a new admiration for coffee and all that goes into the coffee making process and why coffee is so expensive. I will never complain again about the cost of coffee!!
Greenwell Farm is managed by the descendants of Henry and Elizabeth the original owners of the farm and they turned Greenwell Farms into a multi-faceted Agribusiness:
The farming operation is located on the same farmland once cultivated by the Greenwell Family in the 1800s. Today Greenwell Farms employs modern farming practices to ensure consistent supply and the highest quality possible.
In addition to farming, the company purchases coffee cherry (just harvested) from over 300 farmers in the North and South Kona Regions. Greenwell has their our own pulping and drying facilities, dry mill, and green beans grading and storage facility.
A roasting plant is also located on the farm to roast and package Greenwell Farms Coffee. The company ships green bean to the gourmet coffee industry around the world and over the years has established itself as the premier source of Kona Coffee. The Farm Tour has become a very popular tourist stop along the Mamalahoa Highway and it was well worth the tour and a great end to our weekend in Kona.
Sunsets on The Big Island
Watching a Hawaii sunset is one of the most satisfying things to do in Kona. And the best thing is that you can do it just about every day. Even on rare rainy or overcast days, the sunsets on the west side of the island are remarkable.
Hawaii sunsets are visible from just about anywhere on the Big Island’s western Kona coast. While the sun rises over Hilo, it sets over Kona and the result is absolutely perfect sunsets each and every day. From golden colors to pinks and purples, each Hawaii sunset on the Big Island is a unique and memorable experience.
What to Eat in Kona
Our first stop on our weekend in Kona was the Lava Lava Beach Club which is in walking distance to the Marriott. We loved Lava Lava because of the open-air ambiance, swaying coconut trees, stunning sunsets, and tropical trade winds, the restaurant features “relaxed island cuisine” and a varied menu with options for light dining. No need to put on your finest attire for Lava Lava come as you are and enjoy the scenery.
Hana Hou Restaurant
A hand-painted sign at the entrance of Hana Hou Restaurant in Naalehu reads, “Drake and Patty Fujimoto proudly welcome you to the southernmost restaurant in the USA!” The menu serves ono local fare but the homemade pies (get the macadamia-nut cream pie!) and baked goods, alone, are worth the visit. The tropical décor and vintage Formica tables create a fun, nostalgic vibe. 95-1148 Naalehu Spur Rd., Naalehu , Hawaii Island, hanahourestaurant.com.
Kaleo’s Bar and Grill
The old plantation building that Kaleo’s Bar and Grill occupies belies the fantastic fare and aloha vibes (especially at dinner) within. There are tons of reasons to visit the eclectic town of Pahoa, but spending a night eating, drinking and grooving to live local music at Kaleo’s is all the reason you need. 15-2969 Pahoa Village Rd., Hawaii Island, (808) 965-5600, kaleoshawaii.com.
Da Poke Shack
We appreciate that this popular Kona poke shop has stuck to its “always fresh, never frozen” motto even when seafood prices (especially for popular ahi) rise. Customers understand the worth of paying a bit more for the luxuriously clean tasting, sweetly briny “sea candy” Da Poke Shack uses in its takeout poke and poke bowls—your choice of multiple daily varieties, served with rice and a kimchee or veg side. Two locations on Hawaii Island, dapokeshack.com.
Ling’s Chop Suey House
Two dishes put this otherwise simply satisfactory Hilo Chinese restaurant on this list of local faves. First, a breathtakingly monstrous, umami-rich crispy chicken with oyster sauce over fried rice plate lunch found nowhere else this good. Second, a twice-cooked—first roasted then deep-fried—version of crispy Chinese roast pork so sinful, eating it feels like a criminal act. Puainako Town Center, 2100 Kanoelehua Ave., Hawaii Island, (808) 981-1689.
This downtown Hilo restaurant is known for its large selection of meat choices for your burrito, taco or whatever—everything from beef and chicken to tripe, tongue and beef cheek. Lucy’s menu as a whole wins a spot here for somehow managing to be huge and wide-ranging yet sticking to the simple flavors and ingredients of the best homestyle Mexican food. 194 Kilauea Ave., Hawaii Island, (808) 315-8246,
Kona Accommodations/ Luxury Hotels on the Big Island
I love luxury hotels and specifically boutique hotels so I know exactly what luxury travelers are looking for when booking their Kona accommodations. When I review luxury properties I evaluate how every feature stacks up against the competition, from the rooms to the pools to the restaurants.
After you have researched all of the things to do in Kona, Hawaii you need to figure out where you are going to stay and I have taken all of the guesswork out and here are my top picks for Kona accommodations on the Big Island to get you inspired!
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai
The pristine Four Seasons, the only five-pearl property on the Big Island, is unlike any other resort on the Kohala Coast. Lush and beautifully landscaped grounds surround private bungalow-style rooms and suites tucked along winding paths throughout the large property.
The thoughtfully designed architecture, pools (all seven of them), and public spaces are indulgent without seeming excessive. Dining options on-site are few in number but high in quality, and include what is arguably the best restaurant on the Big Island. BOOK NOW!!!!
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa
The Marriott Waikoloa Beach is a 533-room resort is perched on Anaehoomalu Bay on the Kohala coast, offering on-site beach access, lovely grounds with winding paths and fish ponds, and two pools. Rooms are big and stylish, but they lack Wi-Fi, and bathrooms are typically on the small side. The hotel is next to two championship golf courses and within walking distance of shops and restaurants. BOOK NOW YOUR KONA ACCOMMODATIONS!!
Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii
This 32-acre luxury resort in Waimea delivers all the high-end Big Island essentials: A beautiful spa, comprised mostly of outdoor huts; a white-sand beach on a calm lagoon; beautifully landscaped grounds, and a huge pool with ocean views. But rooms, though tasteful, aren’t quite as luxurious as you’d expect at this price point, and numerous extra fees can leave guests feeling nickel-and-dimed. Click here to reserve your special rate today.
The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort
The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, formerly The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, has been completely transformed with a new personality, property enhancements and guest experiences that reflect the destination and Westin’s commitment to rejuvenation, exploration, and wellness. The resort will feature 232 guestrooms and 17 suites), including some of the largest rooms on the Kohala Coast, all entirely redesigned. Click here to reserve your special rate today.
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