Looking for the best things to do in Kona, Hawaii? Kailua Kona, often referred to as “Kona” by the locals, is one of the best places to vacation in the United States.
It’s the main town most visitors will pass through as it’s home to the International airport on this beautiful tropical island. Kona is also known for having amazing weather with more than 300 days of sunshine a year. It has a cute town with plenty of boutique shops and restaurants to eat at. Let’s jump into the best things to do in Kona!
Table of Contents
Best Things to do in Kona, Hawaii
1. Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park
- Location: Kailua-Kona
- Insider Tip: If you are driving, park at the small boat harbor.
This national park is a lesson in history & archeology, all set against the beautiful backdrop of blue skies and a bluer ocean. Not only do you get insight into early settlements that thrive along the rocky Kona coast (no small feat), you can hike the region and see sacred temples, petroglyphs, and Hawaiian fishponds. Keep your eyes peeled for spectacular local wildlife, like sea turtles or monk seals.
Follow the sand toward the water to see it turn into lava rock! The impressive array of things to see – from a peek into ancient life to the wildlife that still thrives here – makes this a great family-friendly activity on the Big Island.
2. Hulihe’e Palace
- Location: 75-5718 Alii Dr
- Cost: $10 for adult entry
Hawaii isn’t really a place you’d think of as having a monarchy, but back in the mid-1800s, there was indeed a royal family ruling the tropical island region. And every king needs a palace, which is exactly what this landmark has to offer: the totally preserved summer vacation home of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani.
Built-in the Victorian style, the palace displays artifacts and original furniture from the days of the Hawaiian monarchy. There is also annual live music shows, one Sunday a month, free of charge, by local artists playing everything from traditional Hawaiian-style tunes to folk rock.
3. Mauna Kea Summit
- Location: Kona
- Insider Tip: Access to the Visitors Center and the trail is difficult due to the local political climate and an excess of protesting, so call ahead and find out what the situation is before going all the way there.
Thanks to one of the planet’s most beautiful and diverse landscapes, Hawaii has no problems in the ‘views’ department, which is probably why every photo you see on your friends’ Instagram feed looks like top-tier photography. At an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet, the Mauna Kea Summit is a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the valleys, volcanoes, and sunrise if you are an early riser.
Fun fact: Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its actual base (much of which is underwater).
Mauna Loa is visible from the top (sometimes alight with magma cracks!), so even though you can expect a grueling hike to the summit, the views are worth it. Due to the altitude, the atmosphere gets thin up here! Those who are ill, in poor general health, or pregnant and/or breastfeeding should avoid this particular hike.
4. Old Kona Airport State Recreation Center
- Location: 75-5560 Kuakini Hwy
- Insider Tip: Watch out for mongoose and feral cats in the area!
This public park is unique because it developed on the site of an old World War II airline landing strip. While it used to run nonstop and direct flights to other major cities throughout Hawaii, today, it is a beautiful beach park surrounding bays of calm, warm waters – and a popular place on the list of things to do in Kona.
This region covers a lot of ground, with Pawai Bay offering unique and fascinating terrain like lava tunnels and subterranean caverns periodically hiss out hot steam. Pawai Bay is also the site of some of the best snorkeling (best suited to advanced divers only).
Go a little further down the coast to see the Keiki Ponds, which are large tidal pools perfect for swimming or just floating and watching the waves crash on the rocks safely away.
5. Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation
- Location: 73-1942 Ha’o St
- Insider Tip: Don’t miss the chocolate-covered coffee beans!
If you can’t start your day without your morning cup of joe, then maybe taking a tour of a coffee plantation is something you might enjoy. The Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation offers tours of its farm, free of charge to boot!
Every day of the week, every hour on the hour, and with no booking needed ahead of time, you can show up at the plantation and partake in a tour with a coffee tasting included! Plus, you will walk away with much more information about coffee you never knew.
The 30-minute tour will show you the day-to-day of the plantation’s operations, how the coffee is made, and the entire process from the bean in the ground to the hot brew in your morning cup. Plus, who can say no to free Kona coffee samples?
6. Kamakahonu Historic Landmark
- Location: Kaahumanu Pl, Kailua-Kona
- Insider Tip: The reconstruction of the king’s personal heiau (temple or place of worship) is still considered sacred and is not open to the public.
This unassuming structure may not look like much, but it has an imposing history: it was the last residence of King Kamehameha before his death. This king united all the islands of Hawaii into a single kingdom.
The structure left standing today was once part of an impressive compound of buildings that included the king’s residence, his personal place of worship, thatched houses for the community subjects, and the king’s retreat house.
A mortuary was constructed after his death to house his remains. From the expansive community that once was, there is little left standing, though many of the buildings have been reconstructed to show what life may have been like at the time.
7. Kona Farmers Markets
- Location: Kailua Bay & Kamakaeha Avenue, respectively
- Insider Tip: Prices are more reasonable than grocery stores for food items, so stock up on Macadamia nuts and pineapples!
If you stay at a condo in Kona, you may want some fresh produce. There are many farmers’ markets in Kona, but the two that pack the biggest punch are the Kona Farmers Market in central Kona (near Kailua Bay), and the Pure Kona Green Market in South Kona. At the Kona Farmers Market, you have the island’s best spread of fresh fruit & vegetables, beautiful floral arrangements, and handmade crafts & souvenirs.
Meanwhile, the Pure Kona Green Market is dedicated to sustainability, ethical production, and practices that benefit the earth & community on a local scale. From handmade goods to freshly-made food, this is something you can feel good about supporting while still getting treated to a wonderful experience.
8. Kailua Pier
- Location: Kaahumanu Place
- Insider Tip: Take an evening dinner cruise from here if you want to make your evening plans a little more exciting.
This spot is the city’s capital of outdoor adventuring. If you’re an adrenaline junkie or water sports enthusiast, meet your next outing. Kailua Pier is the jumping-off point for all the local water activities, like snorkeling, scuba diving, party cruises, and fishing or whale watching tours.
To the left of the pier is also the starting point for the Iron Man triathlon; when not used by race-goers, it is a beautiful spot for a swim, with a very vibrant sea life perfect for snorkeling or just observation. Whether you’re here to depart on an ocean adventure for the day or just plan to relax and enjoy your time on the shore, this is a landmark you’ll want to note.
9. Kona Cloud Forest
- Location: 73-1865 Hao St #3
- Insider Tip: Don’t miss the painted trees!
The name of this attraction alone probably already has your interest peaked. The Kona Cloud Forest is pretty much as cool as it sounds, but it’s more than just a neat place to see—it’s an environmental conservation project.
The 70 square kilometer region is privately owned, with every inch bursting with native flora and even some imported plants and flowers to enhance the beauty. You can even spot several species of native birds!
The grounds are open for public botanical tours, where you can learn about reforestation, conservation, and a little about reducing your impact on the earth.
10. Aiopio Fishtrap
- Location: Kailua-Kona
- Insider Tip: This is a great spot for spotting turtles, which will munch on the algae that line the shore. Don’t touch or get near them; they are a protected species.
The Aiopio Fishtrap is, quite simply, a fascinating insight into native Hawaiians’ relationship to the ocean and how it allowed early populations to thrive and flourish.
This nearly two-acre pond is constructed using remnants of lava rock to emulate a wall-like structure, where an opening into the open sea would allow fish to enter at high tide and be trapped once the sea level dropped.
Then, it was easy to net the fish and bring them ashore. The area also has the remnants of a longhouse, which could have been used to store boats and canoes. Nearby, a beautiful white sand beach is tucked away and generally very quiet and private—an excellent spot for an afternoon picnic and swim.
11. Living Stones Church/Hale Halawai O Holualoa
- Location: 76-6224 Alii Dr
- Insider Tip: There is still a Sunday mass service every week.
Looking at this ancient structure, you can tell that this is a building steeped in tradition and history. While today the building is known as the Living Stones Church, this is a recent moniker; it used to be called Hale Halawaio Holualoa. Christian missionaries arrived in the region in 1820, and Hale Halawai O Holualoa was built in the 1850s.
During excavations from this building (made from coral lime and lava rock), game boards were found, proving that this was not just a place of worship for a new religion but also a place of community and togetherness.
With its sprawling lawn and position right near the water, this is a unique sight to see and a marker of the immense changes in culture that arrived with the colonizers.
12. Pawai Bay
- Location: Northern end of the Old Kona Airport
- Insider Tip: Since the water is so clear and the ecosystem here so healthy, visibility can extend hundreds of feet. If you’re really lucky, you might get up close and personal with a dolphin or two!
This is your one-stop shop for all things snorkeling. Pawai Bay is widely known as one of the best places on the big island for diving, thanks to being a younger island with less sand and silt and a rocky shore that leads to some of the planet’s clearest water—in other words, ideal conditions for underwater exploration.
Taking a catamaran snorkeling tour will give you some inside info on the best dive spots. When you want to take a break, your boat has a trampoline-like netting that’s perfect for lounging in the sun before jumping back in the water.
Some wildlife you’ll be lucky enough to see include sea turtles, eagle rays, endless types of tropical fish, and vibrant, brightly-colored coral. Check out the divots and holes in the lava rock, which often hide even more underwater life.
13. Mokuaikaua Church
- Location: 75-5713 Alii Dr
- Insider Tip: Admission to the church is free, whether for a tour or Sunday mass.
Want to see Hawaii’s oldest Christian church? Good, because it’s pretty cool and one of the best things to do in Kona! American Christian missionaries first arrived in Hawaii in the 1820s, and it didn’t take long for them to begin spreading their message (with the king’s permission) and building places of worship; the Mokuaikaua Church was completed in 1837.
The original structure was made of wood obtained from the upper area rainforests, but a series of fires resulted in the final structure, the one that still stands, being constructed from stone.
The church is open to the public for tours. There are artifacts and vestiges from this time in history on display, including a scale model of the Thaddeus, the ship that brought the missionaries to the Hawaiian islands.
14. Island Breeze Luau – He ‘Ohana Kakou
- Location: 75-5660 Palani Rd, in Courtyard by Marriott
Is it even a trip to Hawaii if you don’t see at least one luau while you’re here? The Island Breeze Luau is one of the better-known ones on the island. It’s operated through a Marriott Hotel, so you can be sure that the quality and production value are pretty high.
This is a social and very inclusive affair; you can meet the performers and even partake in craft-making. You’ll then get to see the uncovering of the traditional Hawaiian underground oven and indulge in the vast buffet of traditional Polynesian food that will be cooked on it—plus an open bar!
The show itself is a history lesson; the crew of dancers will arrive by canoe, heralded by conch shell calls, and perform the luau dance under the stars—an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry.
15. Ali’i Drive
Shopping in Kona
- Location: Ali’i Drive, Kona
- Insider Tip: If you didn’t manage to get a plantation tour, don’t miss out on another chance to get some fresh Kona coffee.
While much of this list of things to do on Hawaii’s Big Island is focused on nature exploration and immersing yourself in island culture, every now and then, you might just want some creature comforts and a more laid-back, slower-paced day.
Ali’i Drive is the Kona shopping district – the hot spot for restaurants, nightlife, clothes shopping, and more. This is the ‘it’ place to be and where you’ll find the hub of life in Kona.
There are also lots of family-friendly places to hang out on this street, so there is no need to avoid it if you’re traveling with kids. The location is also right on the shoreline, so you’re never too far away from a dip in the water.
16. St Benedict Catholic Church
- Location: 84-5140 Painted Church Rd, Captain Cook, HI
- Insider Tip: Make sure to bring a camera to photograph all the awesome murals!
Still wondering what to do in Kona. St Benedict Catholic Church, also called “The Painted Church,” is a church listed on the National Register of Historic Places near Kona built between 1899-1902, where artist Fr. Velghe depicted various biblical scenes on the ceilings and walls. It’s a beautiful place to go and admire the artwork.
This church is still in service and holds five masses per week but is open to the public seven days a week.
How to Get Around the Big Island?
You will 100% need a rental car to get around Big Island. This is the United States, after all. Car rental companies are located at Kona International Airport. We went with Avis and were upgraded to a brand-new Jeep for free while in Hawaii. The perfect car for driving around Hawaii!
Where to Stay in Kona