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With its year-round warm weather, stunning beaches, and abundance of activities, Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island is a dream destination for many. However, when time is limited to just a single day, the key is careful planning to make the most of your precious 24 hours in paradise.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Pick 1-2 top attractions like snorkeling, surfing lessons or a coffee farm tour in the morning. Grab lunch from a local food truck then relax on the beach in the afternoon.

Catch an epic sunset with dinner and drinks in Kailua-Kona to cap it all off.

From world-class snorkeling to incredible sunsets, here’s how to experience the best of Kona in a day.

Start Your Day with an Ocean Activity

Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay Marine Reserve

Kealakekua Bay Marine Reserve is considered one of the best snorkeling spots on the Big Island with vivid coral reefs and abundant marine life. Over 400 species of fish can be found in the bay’s clear waters, along with green sea turtles and spinner dolphins.

It’s an underwater sanctuary not to be missed.

Kealakekua Bay is located just 20 minutes south of Kona. Make sure to arrive early, as parking is limited. Bring your own gear or rent from one of the local shops in town. Put on some sunscreen and get ready for incredible underwater sights!

Take Surfing Lessons

With warm waters and gentle waves, the beaches around Kona are perfect for learning how to ride the waves. Popular spots like Kahaluu Beach Park offer surf lessons from experienced locals who will have even first-timers hanging ten in no time.

Surf instructors provide all the necessary gear and tailor the lessons based on your skill level, age, and athletic ability. Prices typically range from $75 for a two-hour group lesson to $150 for a full-day private tutorial.

It’s an iconic Hawaiian activity that shouldn’t be missed on a trip to the Big Island!

Go on a Whale Watching Cruise

From December to April each year, thousands of humpback whales make the long journey from Alaska to Hawaii’s warm waters to mate and birth calves. Kona serves as the winter home for the majority of Hawaii’s visiting whale population.

Whale watching cruises allow you to catch a glimpse of humpbacks demonstrating incredible behaviors like breaching, tail slapping, and competitive group activities. Many cruises come equipped with hydrophones so you can even eavesdrop on the whales communicating with each other!

Tours last 2-3 hours and run around $100/adult. Whale sightings are extremely common during the season, so grab your camera and get ready for a majestic experience out on the Pacific.

Learn the History and Culture of Kona

Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of Kona during your Hawaii vacation. From ancient Hawaiian sites to the world-famous Kona coffee farms, there are many ways to discover what makes this region so special.

Visit Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

This National Park Service site on the Kona Coast was once a place of refuge and peacemaking for ancient Hawaiians. Take a self-guided walking tour to see the Great Wall bordering the royal grounds, ancient temple sites, royal fishponds, and more.

Check out the cultural demonstrations from 11am-2pm daily to watch native crafts like pounding barkcloth or twining rope the traditional way.

The park also hosts various Hawaiian cultural festivals throughout the year. Visitors say the tranquil atmosphere offers a glimpse into Old Hawaii, with scenic ocean vistas to enjoy too. Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park is considered a must-see for understanding Kona’s cultural roots (

Tour a Kona Coffee Farm

The fertile volcanic soil and ideal climate of the Kona region produces some of the world’s best coffee. Take a farm tour to see how Kona coffee is grown and harvested.

Many tours include tastings so you can savor that signature Kona flavor right at the source. Some farms like Greenwell Farms and KonaJoe offer complete “bean to cup” tours showing the roasting process too.

The friendly farmers are happy to share entertaining stories about local coffee cultivation history.

Coffee lovers say going straight to the source is the best way to appreciate Kona coffee’s distinct flavor notes. You’ll discover why authentic Kona coffee commands premium prices around the world.

Explore Huliheʻe Palace

Soak up some royal history in Kona by touring Huliheʻe Palace, a stately stone and brick mansion that was a vacation residence of Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s. It offers a window into the lifestyle of Hawaii’s past monarchs with much of its original 19th-century furniture and artifacts.

See Hawaiian quilts made for kings and queens, impressive koa wood furniture, gold musical instruments, and other royal collectibles. Friendly docents share stories about the palace’s famous visitors like American author Mark Twain.

The palace grounds also host community events that showcase traditional Hawaiian music, hula, and crafts.

Visitors give rave reviews of Huliheʻe Palace for providing an intimate look into 19th-century Hawaiian royal history. Wandering the palace rooms feels like stepping back in time (

Fuel Up at a Local Spot for Lunch

Da Poke Shack

If you’re looking for a tasty, casual lunch spot in Kona, you can’t go wrong with Da Poke Shack. This laid-back eatery serves up fresh and flavorful poke bowls overflowing with cubed raw fish, vegetables, and signature sauces.

Their ahi tuna poke is a local favorite, marinated to perfection in soy sauce and sesame oil. For meat lovers, the Korean Bulgogi beef bowl brings some flavorful heat. And for vegetarians, the tropical mango avocado bowl is a refreshing choice.

Da Poke Shack’s website says their goal is to provide diners with “da best poke” using high quality, locally-sourced ingredients. Judging by their devoted following and rave online reviews, it’s clear they’ve succeeded!


Another excellent lunch choice is Umekes, a popular spot for fresh fish and rice bowls in the heart of Kona. Umekes prides itself on serving up Hawaiian-style plate lunches made with quality ingredients sourced from local providers when possible.

Their most popular selection is the loco moco – a quintessential Hawaiian meal of rice, hamburger patty, eggs, and brown gravy. For lighter fare, build your own poke bowl with your choice of fresh ahi or tako (octopus) atop a bed of sushi rice or local greens.

Umekes’ portions are generous and prices are budget-friendly, making it a go-to lunch destination for visitors and locals alike. Don’t be surprised if you have to wait in line during peak hours – all the more reason that Umekes should be on your Kona bucket list!

Island Lava Java

No trip to Hawaii’s Big Island is complete without trying some locally-grown and roasted coffee. Luckily, Kona is home to Island Lava Java, a popular cafe serving up hot and cold coffee drinks, breakfast items, and light snacks.

This laid-back coffeehouse uses 100% Kona coffee beans harvested from local farms to craft smooth, well-balanced blends and single-origin brews. In addition to classic lattes and cappuccinos, Island Lava Java serves up signature drinks like the Macadamia Nut Latte and Coconut Mocha.

Their food menu ranges from hearty breakfast sandwiches to acai bowls to freshly-baked pastries. With indoor and outdoor seating overlooking scenic Ali’i Drive, this cafe is a perfect spot to recharge with a caffeine fix and a bite to eat between adventuring around Kona.

Afternoon Beach Time and Water Sports

Relax at Hapuna Beach State Park

After an active morning exploring Kona, head to the renowned Hapuna Beach State Park in the early afternoon to relax on one of Hawaii’s most magnificent sandy beaches. Widely considered one of the world’s best beaches, Hapuna offers over half a mile of powdery white sand and calm, crystal clear waters perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and simply reveling in the island paradise ambience.

Arrive early to secure beachfront parking and a prime spot to set up for an idyllic afternoon.

Hapuna is located about 30 minutes north of Kona. The enormous beach features multiple facilities like outdoor showers, restrooms, a large pavilion, and food concessions. Lifeguards are also on duty daily.

Since Hapuna allows alcohol, it’s common to see lively social scenes with groups barbecuing, playing games, and enjoying tropical cocktails like mai tais. Just be sure to clean up any trash when departing to preserve Hawaii’s natural splendor.

When you’re ready for a quick dip, take the short trail from the main parking lot out to the beach. Wade into the calm turquoise waters that average around 80 degrees year-round. With very gradual entry and mild waves, swimming conditions are extremely beginner-friendly.

Just be cautious of rip currents near rocks; lifeguards actively monitor various flags indicating ocean hazards. And don’t forget the sunscreen with UV levels extreme in Hawaii!

Stand Up Paddle Boarding

What better place than legendary Kona waters to try exhilarating stand up paddle boarding? Kona Boys Beach Shack offers top-notch paddle board rentals, lessons, and even guided tours along the coastline.

Trained instructors will provide a 30-minute beginner’s orientation on land before leading you into optimal learning waters just steps away. No experience? No worries! Their patient teachers will have even first-timers standing and paddling with ease in the calm bays near Kamakahonu Beach before venturing out further as skills progress.

Paddle boarding is a fantastic full-body workout that engages your core, arms, shoulders, glutes, and legs while testing balance. And the payoff? Spectacular views of Hawaii’s rugged lava-rock coastline and wildlife like sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, and tropical fish visible through crystal clear shallows.

Guided tours allow you to paddle out to secluded coves and snorkeling spots not accessible otherwise. Just be sure to apply reef-safe sunscreen to protect delicate marine ecosystems.


For another fun-filled way to experience Kona’s captivating shoreline from the water, try kayaking! Several highly-rated outfitters like Adventures in Paradise offer kayak rentals and tours along the coast’s sea caves, lava tubes, historical sites, and more.

Choose from single or tandem kayaks depending on skill level and whether you want a social excursion. Their knowledgeable guides will provide paddling instruction before leading you to optimal destinations like secluded Kealakekua Bay based on conditions.

Kayaking allows more freedom to explore than larger boats, and it’s easier master than stand up paddling. As you paddle along, enjoy closeup views of Kona’s dramatic black lava landscape dotted with oases of green foliage and colorful native flowers.

Watch for spinner dolphins, sea turtles coming up for air, manta and eagle rays gliding by, and clouds of bright tropical fish while paddling over reefs. Just be careful not to damage coral or disturb wildlife.

Cap off the Day with an Epic Sunset

Dine at Huggo’s on the Rocks

As the sun begins its descent over the Pacific Ocean horizon, head to the iconic Huggo’s on the Rocks restaurant. Perched seaside on lava rocks overlooking the waves, Huggo’s offers unbeatable sunset viewing and delicious Hawaiian fusion cuisine.

Try the seared ahi tuna poke nachos or macadamia nut crusted fresh island fish while sipping a Lilikoi lava flow cocktail. With candlelit tables directly facing the sunset and live guitar music setting the mood, Huggo’s creates an unforgettable ambiance (

Catch the Green Flash

According to Hawaiian legend, right as the last sliver of sun disappears below the horizon, a bright green flash of light may appear. Watch closely for this elusive “green flash” phenomenon from Huggo’s outdoor dining area.

Though it only lasts a second or two, catching sight of the green flash is considered good luck. So order another round of passionfruit Mai Tais and keep your eyes glued to the painted sunset until it fades to twilight.

Toast with Sunset Cocktails at Holualoa Inn

Cap off an exceptional day in Kona by watching the sunset with a cocktail in hand at the Holualoa Inn‘s cliffside infinity pool and lounge area. The small boutique inn sits 400 feet above the coastline overlooking the ocean, providing a breathtaking vantage point.

Sip an Old Fashioned, Singapore Sling, or the inn’s signature Lilikoi lemon drop martini while admiring the sunset’s ever-changing display of orange, pink, purple and red hues dancing across the waters below.

Clink glasses with your travel companions and toast to memories made during an incredible day discovering the natural and cultural beauty of Hawaii’s Big Island.


With careful planning, you truly can experience the best of the Kona area in just 24 hours. By focusing on 1-2 main attractions in the morning, fueling up at a local spot for lunch, heading to the beach in the afternoon, and capping it all off with sunset cocktails and dinner, this itinerary allows you to see stunning sights, learn about Hawaiian history and culture, enjoy water sports, relax on the beach, and savor mouthwatering local cuisine and drinks.

The key is not trying to overstuff your day but instead picking your top must-see spots and activities to allow time to fully experience each one. Follow this blueprint for an unforgettable day discovering paradise in Kona!

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