One of the most popular questions we receive from our site visitors is “Where Should I Stay on the Big Island?” The answer to this question… “well, it depends!” Before you make reservations for your hotel or condo on the Big Island of Hawaii, you need to decide where on the island you would like to stay.
Although lodging is available throughout the island, there are three major locations where you will find the widest selection of hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals: the Kohala Coast, the town of Kailua-Kona, and the town of Hilo.
Although the Big Island is the largest island in the Hawaiian Chain, the hotel and vacation rentals are generally centered in just a few specific areas on the island. Some of the factors to consider when deciding where to stay on the Big Island are: how close to beaches and attractions you want to be; how close do you want to be to restaurants and entertainment; and how lavish you wish your accommodations to be.
The Kohala Coast is dominated by beautiful sunsets, sandy beaches, world-class resorts, and surrounded by dried lava desert. Kohala is located about 17 miles north of the Kona Keahole Airport on the west side of the Big Island. Here is where you will find the largest assortment of opulent luxury hotels and grand resorts. Resorts such as the exclusive Fairmont Orchid, Hilton Waikoloa, Hapuna Beach Prince, Kona Village, and Four Season’s Haulalai are all located within minutes of each other.
Most of these resorts offer everything you need from within their premises – fine dining, upscale shopping, white-sand beaches, and entertainment. However, staying in Kohala separates you from the exciting and scenic town of Kailua-Kona and the attractions of South Kona. It is approximately a 30 minute drive to Kailua-Kona from Kohala. Additionally, it will likely take you more than three hours to drive from Kohala to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is located on the other side of the island. Keep in mind that food and shopping in the Kohala resorts will be priced at a premium rate and there are few dining options nearby that are off the resort premises. Still wondering whether or not to stay in the mega-resorts of Kohala? Check out our article: Comparing a Bargain Hotel to a 5-Star Resort
Some of the prettiest beaches are on the Kohala Coast, including Hapuna Beach, Mauna Kea, Kua Bay, and Kikaua Point. On a clear day you can sit on the beach and see the summit of the Mauna Kea Volcano in the background. Although some of the Kohala beaches offer snorkeling, the mostly sandy bottoms here tend to keep the underwater visibility down. The best snorkeling on the island is located in South Kona. If you choose to stay in Kohala, make sure you take the time to wander south into Kailua-Kona and visit the spectacular snorkeling sites at Kealakekua Bay and Honaunau. Check out our Kohala Coast page with more details and photos.
Kailua-Kona is a bustling oceanfront town located at the foothills of the Hualalai Volcano on the west side of the Big Island. There are many attractions nestled in town including open air markets, eclectic shops, art galleries, and many regional and ethnic restaurants. With so much going on, it is very enjoyable to just walk around town and catch all the sights, stroll past the busy Kailua Pier, and observe a beautiful sunset at the end of the day. Staying in a hotel in Kailua-Kona town allows you the convenience to simply leave your car parked and wander around town on foot each day – just about everything is within walking distance in Kailua-Kona.Kailua-Kona
There are a variety of hotels and many vacation rental condos located in and around Kailua-Kona. Most accommodations will not be as luxurious as what is offered in Kohala, but they make up for it on convenience, location, and of course price. Several small, but nice beaches lay in the outskirts of Kailua town, Kahaluu Beach Park and Magic Sands Beach. You will find many vacation rentals conveniently located right near these beaches and many others right on the waterfront in town.
Keauhou Bay is situated just south of Kailua-Kona, at the southern end of Alii Drive. It is known as the birthplace of King Kamehameha III and today is home to several expansive luxury resorts including the Sheraton Keauhou Bay. There is also a small boat harbor located in the protected waters here. What you won’t find here is a beach — the coast is made up of steep lava rock cliffs. Additionally, Keauhou Bay is secluded; other than the resort complexes, there aren’t many restaurants or shops – although the heart of downtown Kailua-Kona is but a 15-minute drive away. The Keauhou coast is lined with tall rocky lava cliffs – although a pretty view of the ocean, you won’t find a sandy beach at the resorts here.
South Kona is the area located south of the town of Kailua-Kona, all the way to South Point. South Kona is known for its higher elevation, fertile vegetation, and most of all – it is known as Kona coffee country. You won’t find any hotels down here, but there are many vacation rental opportunities nearby. Although further away from the tourist town of Kailua-Kona, you will be very close to the popular attractions of Kealakekua Bay and Honaunau – both exceptional snorkeling destinations. On this part of the island, there are but a few sparse towns and dining and entertainment options are limited. But the natural peace and quiet is fabulous.
Regions of the Big Island
The Big Island is so vast that it can be difficult trying to figure out what regions you want to visit on your vacation. Check out our region-by-region overview of the Big Island article for details on the attractions of each region.
The town of Hilo is the largest town on the Big Island and is the industrial and port center of the eastern side of the island. The climate is vastly different on this side of the island. Large amounts of rainfall leave this side extremely fertile and vibrantly green. You will find towering banyan trees, tropical rain forest, orchids, steep sea cliffs, and roaring rivers and waterfalls. Hilo is a large sleepy town with historic buildings on its bayfront drive and perfectly manicured Japanese gardens and recreational areas along the coast. There is much less of a tourist feel to this town. Consequently, prices for hotels, restaurants, and shopping are quite reasonable. Since Hilo receives more than 130 inches of rain a year, pack an umbrella or raincoat. Accommodations in Hilo include tourist-class hotels and several bed & breakfasts. Additionally, there are a few hotels and lodges outside town, near the Volcano.
The Volcanoes National Park is located just 45 minutes from town. Natural beauty is nearby at Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, Kapoho Tide Pools, and the Waipio Valley. There are several small beaches nearby, Leleiwi Beach and Richardson Beach offering good snorkeling and diving with the Sea Turtles. The famous Punaluu Black Sand Beach is located about 1.5 hours south of Hilo. Your drive from Hilo to Kailua-Kona will take you about 2.5 hours.
Where ever you choose to stay, you will undoubtedly have a wonderful vacation. For more detailed, comprehensive information on all the regions of the Island, check out our Big Island Overview.
In addition to searching for a hotel or vacation rental condo, you should also consider one of the quaint and cozy Big Island Bed & Breakfasts – many are located near the Volcanoes National Park, near Captain Cook at Kealakekua Bay, and even conveniently right in Kailua-Kona. Save $30 on a B&B Online Reservation!
Read our next article: Compare a Bargain Hotel to a 5-Star Hotel
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