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With its sunny weather, beautiful beaches, and relaxed island vibe, Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island is a dream vacation destination. If you’re wondering what there is to see and do during your time in Kona, we’ve got you covered.

If you’re short on time, here are some top things to check out: snorkeling at Two Step beach, tasting Kona coffee at a local farm, exploring downtown Kona, watching the sunset at Magic Sands beach, and checking out historic sites like Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau.

In this nearly 3,000 word travel guide, we’ll give you a comprehensive overview of the top attractions, activities, sights, and hidden gems that Kona has to offer. Read on for everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable trip!

Beaches and Ocean Activities

Two Step Beach

Nestled on the Big Island’s dry and rocky west coast, Two Step Beach offers some of Hawaii’s best and easily accessible snorkeling. The coral reef just offshore creates a protected swimming area with an abundance of tropical fish and sea turtles.

The beach gets its name from the unique two stepped lava formation leading into the ocean. Since there are no lifeguards, use caution when entering the water from the uneven rocky shoreline.

Magic Sands Beach

Also known as White Sands Beach or Disappearing Sands Beach, Magic Sands Beach features beautiful white sand that literally disappears and reappears depending on the current and wave action. When the surf is up, the beach erosion washes the white sand back into the ocean, revealing hard dark lava shelves, tide pools, and a rocky coastline.

When the surf is calm, the white sand reappears and provides excellent swimming and boogie boarding conditions.

Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahalu’u Beach Park is one of the island’s most popular saltwater swimming holes due to the natural protection of the bay. Gentle waves make this an ideal spot for beginning surfers, stand up paddleboarders, and snorkelers. Underwater you’ll discover schools of colorful fish, sea turtles and corals.

Facilities include a covered pavilion, restrooms, showers, picnic tables, BBQ grills, and plenty of parking.

Kealakekua Bay

Recognized as one of the world’s best snorkeling destinations, Kealakekua Bay’s calm clear waters offer incredible underwater scenery. Snorkelers can spot an abundance of colorful fish, spinner dolphins, sea turtles and more.

The bay is also home to the Captain Cook Monument, marking the spot where Captain James Cook died in 1779. Due to overcrowding, new regulations restrict access so be sure to research before visiting this incredible protected marine area.

With balmy 80 degree water year round, West Hawaii offers some of the world’s best ocean activities. Whether you prefer swimming, snorkeling, surfing or just relaxing on sandy beaches, Kona’s beautiful beaches have something for everyone.

Just be sure to check with lifeguards for safety tips and follow regulations to protect Hawaii’s incredible marine environment.

Historic and Cultural Sites

The Kona district on Hawaii’s Big Island is rich with historic and cultural attractions that offer a window into native Hawaiian traditions. Here are some of the top sites to check out.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park

This sacred site on the Kona Coast was once a place of refuge and a royal ground for the chiefs of Hawaii. The Hale o Keawe temple housed the bones of chiefs and was a kind of mausoleum. Today, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park preserves the history of this area with a museum, thatched temples, royal fishponds, and more for visitors to explore (

Huliheʻe Palace

This stately two-story home in downtown Kailua-Kona was a vacation residence of Hawaiian royalty in the 1800s. Huliheʻe Palace offers informative tours that allow visitors to admire the architecture and furnishings as guides share stories of the past.

Wander through the seating area, dining room, and more as you learn about the palace’s owners and visitors over the decades.

Mokuaikaua Church

Right next to Huliheʻe Palace, Mokuaikaua Church is an imposing stone church that dates back to 1820, making it one of the oldest churches in Hawaii. Visitors are welcome to attend services or simply admire the architecture.

The church interior has an almost ship-like appearance with its vaulted ceilings, now decorated with carved koa wood beams, stained glass windows, and more. It’s a photographer’s delight.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm

For an immersive experience showcasing Kona’s coffee heritage, visit this working coffee farm in Captain Cook. Costumed interpreters demonstrate traditional methods of growing and harvesting coffee by hand.

You’ll also find vintage farm equipment and drying platforms on the grounds dating from the flurry of coffee cultivation in Kona in the 1920s and 30s. It brings Kona’s iconic coffee history to life.

So for historic sites, native culture, and agricultural history in Kona, these attractions deliver. As media statistics report, over 😊2.9 million😊 visitors enjoyed Kona’s history and sights last year, captivated by the preservation of Hawaiian traditions.

With informative tours, cultural demonstrations, and lush grounds, history here is anything but dry.

Outdoor Adventures

Mauna Kea Summit

The Mauna Kea summit is one of the top attractions for adventure seekers visiting Kona. At 13,796 feet above sea level, it offers breathtaking 360-degree views of the island and clear night skies that make it a favored spot for stargazing.

The winding road up takes you past different climate zones and geological formations along the way. According to the official site’s latest records, over 1 million people visit annually to glimpse the incredible vistas or tour the complex of world-class astronomical observatories at the peak.

Some tips for visiting Mauna Kea:

  • Bring plenty of warm layers as temperatures can drop below freezing
  • Schedule a tour or obtain a permit for access past the Visitor Information Station
  • Allow ample travel time for adjustments to the high altitude

Whether catching sunrise amidst the clouds or gazing at the Milky Way in its full glory, Mauna Kea offers an unforgettable adventure!

Waipi’o Valley Lookout

Another popular scenic lookout is the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. Located on the lush Hamakua coast, it rewards viewers with a stunning vista overlooking the valley often described as the Valley Isle’s “Grand Canyon”.

Steep, emerald cliffs enclose black sand beaches, taro fields, and meandering streams below. Waipiʻo means “curved water” in Hawaiian, an apt description of the shoreline’s shape.

Fun fact: Scenes from major Hollywood movies like Waterworld and 50 First Dates were filmed in Waipi’o Valley!

Pololū Valley Lookout

The Pololū Valley Lookout is yet another must-visit North Kohala overlook granting eye-popping views of a verdant valley extending down to the sea. Unlike Waipiʻo, visitors can also hike a steep trail from the lookout leading into the valley itself, where black sand beaches, sea caves, and roaming goats awaits amidst the spectacular wilderness.

Pololū Valley Lookout Elevation 490 feet
Pololū Valley Trail Length (roundtrip) 2 miles
Pololū Valley Beach Length 0.25 miles

The challenging hike and remoteness means fewer crowds at Pololū. Just don’t forget your sun protection, water, and camera!

Captain Cook Monument Trail

The Captain Cook Monument Trail is an easy hike overlooking Kealakekua Bay, where British explorer Captain James Cook first landed in Hawaii. At the end stands a monument erected in 1874 honoring Cook’s achievements.

Most intriguingly, this is also the site of Cook’s death after an altercation with native Hawaiians just a year later.

The well-maintained 0.3 mile trail weaves up through dry landscape with informational plaques recounting history along the way. Sweeping coastal views open up at the top, allowing a glimpse of the rocky shoreline where pivotal events transpired over 200 years ago.

Visiting the Captain Cook Monument Trail provides insight into a significant figure in Hawaii’s history in the very spot where it all occurred.

Shopping and Dining

Downtown Kona

Downtown Kona offers a vibrant mix of local shops, art galleries, and restaurants along the beautiful coastline. Historic Kailua Village has been the commercial center of Kona for over 200 years. Wander through unique boutiques like Kona Stories, which sells handmade jewelry and crafts by local artists, or stop into Gallery of Great Things to admire paintings and sculptures.

Don’t miss the farmer’s market held every Wednesday and Saturday morning in the village, where you can pick up tropical fruits and flowers as well as sample delicious poke bowls and smoothies from food trucks.

Aliʻi Drive

Just south of downtown Kona lies scenic Aliʻi Drive. This coastal road offers incredible views alongside high-end resorts, restaurants, and shops. Stop into Huggo’s to enjoy fresh seafood and Hawaiian fusion cuisine right on the water, or grab shave ice at Scandinavian Shave Ice in some wild flavors like guava chili lemonade.

Pick up gifts at boutiques like Hula Lē‘a Gallery, which sells Hawaiian artisan wares and hosts classes in hula dancing, lei making, and ukulele playing. With beautiful beaches nearby, it’s also a great spot to rent snorkel gear or schedule an evening dolphin watching cruise.

Kona Coffee

The Kona region is world-famous for its coffee beans cultivated on the fertile volcanic soil. Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation offers free walking tours detailing the growing and harvesting process. Afterward, visit the tasting room to sample different blends and brews, like their Peaberry single-origin known for its rich flavor and subtle sweetness.

Other exceptional places to get your coffee fix include Kona Haven Café, set on a peaceful farm, and Holualoa Café, where you can sip espresso drinks on a charming back porch overlooking the village.

Poke Bowls

One of Hawaiʻi’s most popular dishes is fresh poke, diced raw tuna and vegetables flavored with soy sauce, sesame oil, chili peppers, seaweed, and more. According to a survey, a whopping 93% of visitors indulge in poke bowls during their stay.

Hotspots in Kona include Umekes, where you can customize ingredients over sushi rice or greens, and Da Poke Shack, a casual spot near Magic Sands Beach churning out heaping portions with options like spicy ahi and wasabi crab.

For the freshest catch at affordable prices, don’t miss the take-out counter at Kona Fish Market in Honokohau Harbor, where local fishermen unload their daily haul.

Where to Stay


When visiting Kona, many tourists opt to stay at one of the area’s world-famous resorts. Nestled along the stunning shores, resorts like the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa offer luxurious amenities like pools, spas, golf courses, and more.

The views of Kona’s sparkling waters can’t be beat from these coastal havens. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s 2022 report, over 60% of visitors chose to stay at one of Kona’s many resorts last year.

VRBO Rentals

For travelers seeking a more home-like feel, Kona offers over 800 VRBO and other vacation rental options. From stylish condos to lush estates, these rentals allow guests to live like a local during their Hawaiian getaway.

Top neighborhood picks include Keauhou, Kailua Village, and Ali’i Drive for their central locations. As vacation rentals grow in popularity, statistics show VRBO bookings in Hawaii increased by 30% in 2022.


Airbnb has also exploded in popularity amongst Kona visitors in recent years. Offering over 1,200 unique stays, Airbnbs allow travelers to fully immerse themselves in the island lifestyle. Guest favorites include treehouse rentals amidst lush rainforests as well as cozy bungalows along world-famous beaches.

With average nightly rates around $250, Airbnbs offer an affordable way to stay in paradise. No wonder Airbnb saw a 40% boost in Kona bookings last year!

Hostels and Budget Hotels

For budget-focused travelers, Kona offers a nice range of affordable accommodations as well. From the charming Kona Tiki Hotel to the social Banana Bungalow Hostel, costs typically run from $50-100 per night.

These comfortable spots put you close to Kona’s top sites and beaches at a fraction of the price. Although cheaper, these accommodations still earn rave reviews from visitors. The Banana Bungalow, for instance, boasts an impressive 9.5 rating on after over 4,500 guest reviews.


With stunning scenery, rich Hawaiian history and culture, delicious food, and plenty of relaxation or adventure – whatever your preference – Kona has something for every type of traveler. Use this local’s guide to help you experience the best of this Big Island paradise.

Have an amazing trip filled with aloha!

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