Kona tourist attractions

Kona tourist attractions- 45 BEST things to do in Kona, Hawaii 2023

Kona in Big Island, Hawaii is a popular tourist destination for the perfect Hawaiian vacation vibes. Kona is well known for its white sand beaches, brand name resorts and world class snorkeling. There are a multitude of awesome Kona tourist attractions, with Kona primarily being a tourist town.

In Kona you will find National Historic Parks to learn the history and culture of Hawaii, best snorkeling spots of Big Island including the world famous snorkeling with manta rays, several amazing beaches, coffee and cacao plantations, several easy as well as challenging hikes and much more.

I recently visited Kona, Hawaii with my family during my Big Island vacation and had a lot of fun exploring the various awesome things to do in Kona.

Kona tourist attractions – Top Sights in Kona

Even though Hawaii is synonymous to beaches and resorts, Kona and Big Island are home to some great sights that represent the history and culture of native Hawaiians and a must see on your trip to Kona and Big Island.

1. Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

The Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National historical park is in south Kona and has historic significance as a place of refuge for Hawaiian ancestors. It has beautiful ocean views. 

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park

You can fit this in your itinerary whenever you have a couple of hours in Kona. Take some time to read about the history and cultural significance of this park. The walk through the park is just a gentle stroll suitable for all ages. The palm trees and historic artifacts make for some great pictures. 

Visiting Pu`uhonua o Honaunau National historical park is one of the most popular historical Kona tourist attractions.

2. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is another costal historic park south of Kona airport, and has historic and cultural significance for the natives of Hawaii. There are some amazing fishponds here and you can spot wildlife like turtles.

Visit this park to learn about the ancient Hawaiian culture, to explore the trails here and to enjoy the amazing coastal views. The beach here has calm waters and good for children. This is a great beach to spot green sea turtles!

Kona Big Island

There are no entrance fees here. Visiting Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is one of the free things to do in Kona.

3. Hulihee Palace

Hulihee Palace is in the heart of downtown Kona on Ali’i drive. The Hulihee Palace has historical significance and was once a vacation home to the Hawaiian royalty. It is now converted into a museum showcasing royal artifacts.

Visit the Daughters of Hawaii official website for more information about hours of operation, and to book a tour.

4. Mokuaikaua Church

Right across the street from Hulihee Palace is Mokuaikaua Church which is Hawaii’s oldest Christian church. This is a beautiful historic church right along Ali’i drive. The church is functional and holds services.

Visiting Mokuaikaua Church is one of the free things to do in Kona.

5. ‘Painted Church’

St Benedict Catholic Church also known as the Painted Church, is in South Kona and is a beautiful historic church and worth a visit if you have time.

The walls are painted with stories about early Hawaiian life. The grounds are beautiful too. The church is still active, check the open hours before your visit.

Visiting Painted Church is one of the free things to do in Kona.

Kona tourist attractions – Best activities in and near Kona

Big Island is a snorkeling heaven and there are several world class snorkeling spots for every interest. Snorkeling is one of the most popular things to do in Kona.

6. Snorkeling in Kona with Manta Rays on Keauhou Bay

Snorkeling with the manta rays is one of the most popular Kona tourist attractions. Keauhou Bay in Kona is world famous for its resident manta rays. There are several tour companies that provide night time snorkeling experiences where you get to see the giant manta rays up close.

Manta Ray Snorkeling in Big Island
Manta Ray Snorkeling in Big Island

7. Snorkeling at Two Step beach

A famous snorkeling area in Big Island is the Honaunau Bay (also called Two Step beach) which is right outside the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. There are some great coral reefs here to explore. 

Snorkeling at Two Step beach is one of the free things to do in Kona, although you might have to pay for parking in the lot.

8. Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument

The Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument is another popular spot for snorkeling in Big Island. You can reach the Captain Cook monument for snorkeling by boat tours, by hiking or by kayak. You cannot drive to the monument. Going by boat tours is recommended if you are not in the mood for a long and difficult hike.

Stargazing at Mauna Kea mountain

Stargazing at the Mauna Kea mountain is a popular Kona tourist attraction. Keep in mind that the weather up the Mauna Kea is very different than Hawaii and it can be cold, foggy or rainy. Call the Mauna Kea visitor center before you drive up the mountain for the weather forecast.

9. Take a tour to Mauna Kea summit

You can go to the Mauna Kea summit and visit the observatories by booking a tour through the many tour operators in the region. Kids under 16 are not allowed to go to the summit because of the altitude change and health risks associated with that.

10. Stargazing at Mauna Kea visitor center

You can also do stargazing at Mauna Kea visitor center. You do not need a tour for this. There is a small hill opposite the visitor center parking lot from where you can do stargazing. It is really cold up there so make sure to bring some warm clothes. 

Stargazing at Mauna Kea visitor center is one of the free things to do in Kona.

Visit a Coffee plantation

Kona coffee is world famous and if you are a coffee enthusiast then you are in luck on your trip to Big Island. There are several Kona coffee farms in the Kona region that offer tours and coffee tasting that coffee lovers will really enjoy. Visiting a Kona coffee plantation is a popular Kona tourist attraction.

11. Mountain Thunder Coffee plantation

Mountain Thunder Coffee plantation is a large grower of private reserve 100% Kona coffee only 15 minutes from Kona International airport and downtown Kona. They offer free 20 minute tours of their Kona coffee processing center every half hour from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM.

The complimentary tour includes sampling their 100% Kona coffee! They have a gift shop to buy their delicious coffee to take home and for gifts! They also have a paid nature walk in which you can explore the grounds and check out a lava tube. Mountain thunder is a really cool coffee plantation if you like coffee.

12. Kona Coffee Living History Farm

Kona Coffee Living History Farm is a one of a kind living historical museum which shows the daily life of early Hawaiian coffee farmers with docents in period costumes. There are no reservations needed, you just pay the entrance fee and take the self guided tour through the museum and the farm. Please note that this is not a coffee tasting farm, this is more like a museum showing life in early coffee farms.

Cacao pods farm tour Big Island
Cacao pods in the Cacao farm tour

Visit a Cacao farm

There are several Cacao orchards on both Kona and Hilo side that offer paid tours of their cacao orchards and explain how they process their cacao beans and turn them into delicious chocolate. You even get to sample some of the chocolate. 

13. Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm

Visit the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Farm in South Kona. They offer paid one hour tours of their orchard and explain how the the cacao pods and beans are processed to make fine chocolate. The tour offered their 3 varieties of chocolate to sample. You can buy their delicious chocolate from the gift shop to take home.

You can book their tour from their Original Hawaiian Chocolate website.

14. Attend a luau

No trip to Hawaii is complete without attending a luau where you can experience the traditional Hawaiian culture, songs, dance rituals and unlimited Hawaiian food buffets. All the popular luaus are in the brand name resorts in the western Kona region. Attending a luau is a popular Kona tourist attraction.

Below are some of the most popular luaus on Big Island:

15. Enjoy magnificent sunsets on the west coast of Kona

On the western side of the Big Island you can see magnificent sunsets no matter where you are on the western coast. Sit down anywhere along the western coast and admire the sunset hues in the sky!

Sunset in big Island
Sunset in Kona

16. Explore Kona’s farmer market

In central Kona, Kona farmers market is popular where you can buy fresh produce, flowers, and handmade arts and crafts as gift items. It is located in Alii drive in the heart of downtown Kona. It is open Wednesdays to Sundays 7 AM to 4 PM.

17. Ocean Rider Sea horse farm tour

If you are looking for more experience with marine life, then make sure to check out the seahorse tour at Ocean Rider Seahorse farm in Kona. This farm is located just 5 minutes from Kona airport. Reservations are required on this tour. 

https://seahorse.com/product-category/seahorse-farm-tour-tickets/

18. Kanaloa Octopus farm tour

There is an Octopus farm near Seahorse farm that allows tours as well. Kanaloa Octopus Farm is located on the Big Island of Hawai’i, behind the Kona International Airport, in the Hawai’i Ocean Science and Technology Park.

https://www.kanaloaoctopus.com/

If you want to visit both seahorse and octopus farms on the same day, make sure you visit seahorse farm first. Because of strict biosecurity rules in place, you will not be allowed to visit seahorse farm if you have been to any other aqua farm including Octopus farm earlier that day. 

19. Take a Helicopter tour on Big Island

Take a helicopter tour to see an aerial view of the Hawaii Volcanoes national park, rain forests and waterfalls. Many of Big Island’s waterfalls are on private property and helicopter tours can take you to some incredible waterfalls.

20. Do some Whale watching

If you are travelling during the whale season which is typically December to March in Big Island, you can see a humpback whale up close by taking a whale watching tour. There are many tour companies in Kona that offer these tours.

21. Try ziplining over waterfalls or ATV adventure

The Umauma experience in Hilo has zipline tours over 14 Umauma waterfalls and lush green rainforests. If you love ziplining, this is a must do experience. Umauma experience also has ATV tours for a 4 wheel adventure.

Kona tourist attractions – Best beaches in and near Kona

The western coast of Hawaii is home to some of the best white sand beaches, apart from the snorkeling spots mentioned above. There are some great beaches in and near Kona region.

22. Maniniʻowali Beach

Maniniʻowali Beach in Kua Kay is a small secluded white sand beach in North Kona. This beach is part of Kekaha Kai state park and is very popular with locals and tourists for swimming and snorkeling. The beach gets crowded fast on the weekends so come early in the day.

The water here is quite clear and you can see variety of fish and sea turtles too. You might even see a whale! The waves are sometimes strong so be careful.

There is a parking lot, showers and restrooms. There is no food nearby so bring your own. There might be an occasional food truck. Also there is no shade in this beach so avoid very hot afternoons. Bring an umbrella!

This is a great place to watch sunset, but keep in mind that the park gates close at 7 PM.

Maniniʻowali Beach is one of the free things to do in Kona.

23. Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach is a gorgeous secluded white sand beach in North Kona. This beach require around 2 mile hike across lava fields to get to, which makes it less crowded even in the weekends.

Once you make it to Makalawena Beach after the hike, the beach itself is very beautiful with clear waters and wildlife like fish, turtles. Excellent for swimming, snorkeling and tide pooling.

There are no facilities at this beach like restrooms or parking. Closed toe shoes are highly recommended to hike across the lava fields. The terrain is quite rough with the lava rocks.

Makalawena Beach is one of the free things to do in Kona.

24. Hapuna beach

Hapuna beach is one of the best white sand beaches north of Kona, in the Waikoloa region of Big Island. It has a beautiful stretch of white sand, and is very family friendly. It is right next to the The Westin Hapuna beach resort and has a huge paid parking lot.

25. Mauna Kea beach

Mauna Kea beach is another great family friendly white sand beach north of Kona, in the Waikoloa region of Big Island. It is right next to the Mauna Kea resort. Parking is paid here too, but the lot is smaller and it is hard to find parking in the mornings.

Kona tourist attractions – Best hikes in and near Kona

26. Walk along Alii drive

This is more of a leisurely coastal stroll/walk to explore the sights and shops on Alii drive. Alii drive starts a little north of Kailua pier in downtown Kona and goes around 12 miles south. You can just walk a portion of it and turn back. Make a lot of stops to explore Kona. This is one of the free things to do in Kona.

27. Hike to Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach is a gorgeous secluded white sand beach in North Kona. There is a 2 mile hike each way across lava fields to get to this beach. Closed toe shoes are highly recommended to hike across the lava fields. The terrain is quite rough with the lava rocks.

There is no shade in the hike, bring plenty of water. There are no facilities at this beach like restrooms or parking. Makalawena Beach hike is one of the free things to do in Kona.

28. Hike to Captain Cook Monument

The Kaawaloa Captain Cook Monument hike is a total 4 miles out and back hike in south Kona and is quite intense with around 1250 feet elevation. The hike down to the monument is easy but quite difficult climbing back up. Save your water for the climb on the way out.

There is excellent snorkeling at Captain Cook monument which make the hike worth it. Also the ocean views going down to the base.

29. Hike to Papakolea Green Sand Beach

This hike is in the southern part of Big Island and around 1.5 hours drive each way from Kona. The hike to reach Papakolea green sand beach is a very long around 6 miles hike along the ocean.

Papakolea green sand beach
Papakolea green sand beach

There is no shade anywhere on this hike and it can get windy and dusty due to the sand. Note that this is a very secluded area and there are no restrooms or water past the parking lot. So carry enough water with you on a hot day.

Hiking and visiting Papakolea green sand beach is one of the free things to do near Kona.

30. Kilauea Iki Crater Hike

Kilauea Iki Trail is in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and one of the best hikes in Big Island. This is a very unique hike as you walk inside the volcano crater on a hardened lava lake, and also through a beautiful lush rainforest. Plus at the end you can visit the super cool Thurston lava tube! 

The hike is a 3 mile loop with a 700 feet elevation gain. Walk the hike counterclockwise starting from the right side of the parking lot so that you walk through the cool rain forest after the exposed crater walk.

Kilauea Iki Crater hike
Kilauea Iki Crater hike

It around takes around 2 hours drive each way to reach Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from Kona. It is recommended to stay overnight in Kona or at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to minimize driving time.

31. Pololu Valley hike

Pololu valley trail is a 1 mile out and back hike from the Pololu Valley Lookout to the Pololu valley and the black sand beach. The trail is very steep and rocky and slippery if wet. Good hiking shoes or sneakers are recommended.

Pololu valley is around 1.5 hours drive from Kona, and in the northern Kohala coast of Big Island, Hawaii. Parking is limited but there is street parking as well. The valley behind the beach is private property so best to stick to the Pololu lookout, marked trail and the beach.

32. Akaka falls hike

Akaka falls hike is in the Akaka falls state park in Hilo region. This is more like a walk through a maintained rain forest.

Akaka falls in Big Island
Akaka falls in Big Island

There is a short easy paved trail through a beautiful and dense rainforest to get to the falls overlook. Akaka waterfall has an impressive 422 feet drop with lush greenery surrounding it. The trail loop is only half a mile. 

Kona tourist attractions – Best Day trips from Kona

Kona is an excellent base to explore Big Island and you can do a lot of day trips to different parts of the Big Island. Below are some of the best day trips from Kona, Hawaii. Make sure to start early in the day from Kona to maximize your exploration time.

33. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

In your trip to Big Island, you should plan to spend at least one day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, as it is a very unique place with amazing things to do.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is around 2 hours drive each way from Kona. If doing a day trip from Kona, make sure to start really early in the day.

Here you can visit the Halema`uma`u crater Overlook at the Volcano House and see the steam rising from the crater.

If you have time you can do the Kilauea Iki Crater hike. This is a very unique hike as you walk inside a volcano crater and also through a beautiful lush rainforest. Plus at the end you can visit a lava tube! 

Kilauea Volcano glow Big Island
Kilauea Volcano glow seen from Devastation Trail Big Island

Drive on the Chain of Craters scenic drive all the way to the end of the road, which ends at the sea. At the end of the Chain of Craters road is the Holei Sea Arch which is 90 feet high arch carved in the lava rocks due to erosion and is impressive to see.

In the evening, just before dark park at the Devastation trail parking lot and walk the short and easy paved trail to the Kilauea overlook. From here you can see Halema`uma`u crater and any lava activity and glow. 

Check if there is any volcanic activity happening before visiting. You can check the current conditions at the Hawaii Volcanoes Nation Park official website.

34. Explore the town of Hilo

Explore the town of Hilo by visiting the downtown Hilo region. Visit Coconut Island which is a small island accessible by a pedestrian bridge on Banyan drive. You can see incredible views of Mauna Kea mountain peak from Coconut island on a clear day.

Downtown Hilo
Downtown Hilo

Walk along Banyan Drive which is lined by massive banyan trees. The Banyan drive is called the ‘Hilo Walk of Fame‘ as these banyan trees were planted by celebrities. In front of each banyan tree is a plaque that lists the celebrity who planted it. Each banyan tree with its roots hanging from the branches and touching the ground seems like a mini forest!

Liliuokalani Park is a beautifully landscaped park in a Japanese garden style near Coconut island.

Visit the various waterfalls in Hilo like Akaka falls, Rainbow falls, Peepee falls. If you have time to visit only one waterfall in Big Island then it should be Akaka falls and Akaka state park.

35. Papakolea green sand beach and South Point

Papakolea green sand beach is on the southern most part of Big Island and it is far from both Hilo and Kona. It takes around 2 hours drive each way to reach this beach’s parking lot from either Hilo or Kona. Plus the hike to the green sand beach from the parking lot is another 6 miles round trip.

Visiting the southern part of the big island takes an entire day trip from either side of the island!

36. Punaluu Black sand beach

Punaluu black sand beach Big Island
Punaluu black sand beach in Big Island

Punaluu Black Sand beach is on the south east part of the Island and around 1.5 hours drive from Hilo. No matter how many days you are spending on Big Island, I believe the Punaluu black sand beach must be on your to do list for sure.

The sand is actually tiny particles of black lava rocks and looks like black sand. You can spot some sea turtles in the water if you are lucky.

Visiting the Punaluu black sand beach is one of the free things to do near Kona.

37. Visit the Waipio valley lookout and Drive the scenic Hamakua coast

Waipio valley lookout big island
Waipio valley lookout in Big Island

The Waipio valley is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is sacred to the people of the island. There is an overlook at the parking lot for some breathtaking views of the valley. From the lookout you can see Waipio black sand beach.

If you have an extra day in Hilo consider driving north of Hilo on the scenic Hamakua coast. The drive between Waipio valley and Hilo is the scenic Hamakua coast. You will pass many small plantation towns, waterfalls and incredible views and vistas along the way.

38. Visit Pololu Valley lookout in the northeast part of Big Island

Pololu Valley Lookout is a sea front vista point on the north east part of the island with stunning views and hiking trail to the beach. Parking is limited but there is street parking as well. If you are planning to hike to the beach make sure you have proper shoes as the trail is steep and rocky but doable.

Kona tourist attractions – Best restaurants in and near Kona

39. The Coffee Shack in Kona is so worth it for the views! Try to get a seat in the inside room next to the window. The views were amazing here and so were the pies, Liliokai pie was delicious! The geckos roaming on the window were so cute.

40. Island Ono Loa Grill in Kona is a great non-fussy eatery serving delicious fire frilled food like burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches and Hawaiian lunch plates. They also have vegetarian options.

41. Gypsea Gelato in Kona is great for icecream! The Mauka trail is so good with the macadamia nuts, chocolate and coffee.

42. Merriman’s Big Island in Waimea is a very popular restaurant. Little on the pricey side but the food is worth the price. Reservations are highly recommended for this one.

43. James Angelo’s Underground Pizza in Waimea has the most delicious New York style pizza I have ever eaten! The tiramisu was so good too!

44. Lava Lava beach club in Waikoloa is another very popular beach front restaurant. Great sunset views and a very relaxed vibe. They have lawn games and live music.

45. Pineapples is great in downtown Hilo. The food was good and the pineapple drinks were amazing. Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo is a 24 hour diner with local as well as classic American food and

Where to stay in Kona, Hawaii

Kona has a variety of accommodations for every budget as compared to Waikoloa region which has all the bigger and more expensive resorts.

Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is a great resort at a great location and has a beachfront. This is a popular option with families.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa (formerly the Sheraton Kona) is a great resort overlooking the Keauhou Bay. From the resort you can see the nightly manta ray feeding lights shine into the ocean.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is on the expensive side but a world class resort with all the luxury amenities.

Where to stay in Waikoloa

You can choose to stay in the Waikoloa regions which is just 20 minutes north of Kona and has some great resorts.

Hilton Waikoloa village is the grandest resort I have ever seen! They even have their own train to transport guests between buildings! They have a dolphin lagoon as well, with shows. We saw spectacular sunsets there in the evenings. If you want to stay in a happening place and want to never have to leave the resort than Hilton is a great option.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is another great resort option in Waikoloa. Great pool, spectacular sunsets to come back to after your excursions.

The Westin Hapuna beach resort provides great access to the Hapuna beach which I think is the best beach on Big Island.

Similarly Mauna Kea beach hotel provides access to Mauna Kea beach and has great resort amenities.

Hilo region also has some hotels and it is generally cheaper than Kona. Check out my post about Hilo vs Kona to determine how many days to spend on each side of the Big Island.

Best month to go to Kona, Hawaii

Kona’s drier season is between November to March and that is the best time to visit Kona. April to October is the rainy season in Kona.

The Thanksgiving week in November and two weeks of winter break are the most busy tourist seasons and prices are generally high for flights, hotels and rental cars.

If looking for budget friendly trip then shoulder months of early November and mid-January to mid-March are the best months to visit Kona.

Is Kona worth visiting?

Kona and Big Island in general is a bucket list destination and 100% worth visiting. There are so many amazing things to do here like unique beaches and hikes, world class resorts, history, culture, rainforests, volcanoes, waterfalls, etc. The list of Kona tourist attractions is endless!

Wrap-up of Kona tourist attractions

Hope you enjoyed reading my post about the world famous Kona tourist attractions. Add a few of them (or all!) to your vacation itinerary and have an awesome time in Kona, Hawaii and Big Island!

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