Caity Lincoln for Hula Land on things to do in Kona. On your list should be an amazing night manta ray tour. Join us on the Hoku Nui to go out to safely get up close to the majestic and graceful sea creatures. It will be an experience you’ll never forget!
They don’t call it the “Big Island” for nothing. While it’s not the main island (that would be Oahu), the Big Island (also known as Hawaii) is…not surprisingly…the largest Hawaiian island. And that means that there’s absolutely no shortage of amazing things to see and do. Keep reading for my favorite things to do in Kona, Hawaii…
For starters, let’s break down the lay of the is(land). Kona is the largest town on the island (and where you’ll find Costco, Target, and the main airport although there’s another one in Hilo). But because it’s such a large island and things are so spread out, the term “Kona side” is used to refer to pretty much the entire western side of the island.
The Kona side of the island is dry, sunny, and where 99% of the beaches are. So if you’re looking for traditional “Hawaii vacation” activities (snorkeling, surfing, sunbathing, etc) this is where you’ll find them.
For the purposes of this post, I’m defining “Kona” as everything in Kona town and including the area north up through the Kohala Coast (including Waikoloa) and south to Kealakekua Bay and the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. That’s a big area!
From downtown Kona, that’s up to an hour in either direction (northern and southern limits) so just because I’ve grouped all of these activities into the Kona section, you’ll still want to make good use of a Google map when planning out your days to make sure you’re not backtracking or spending too much time in the car.
So now that you’ve got a point of reference, here are 25 things to do in Kona (plus recommendations on where to stay and restaurants):
25 Things to Do in Kona
Don’t Miss Experiences
Snorkel Kealakekua Bay. One of the Big Island’s best snorkel spots also happens to be where Captain Cook first landed when he came to Hawaii in the 1700s. Dozens of large snorkel boats take tourists to the bay to snorkel, but the best way to see it is by kayak.
Don’t miss these Big Island “Must Dos”
Only a couple of companies have permits to land vessels at the monument and snorkel from land (everyone else just drops anchor or floats around) and the best ones leave early to beat the afternoon crowds. Read about my experience kayaking to and snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay here and then you can book the same tour here.
Night scuba (or snorkel) with the manta rays. Diving with manta rays is an experience that’s unique to the Big Island (none of the other Hawaiian Islands have this phenomenon). I’ll admit…I haven’t quite worked up the nerve to do this yet (being in the ocean at night seems a little scary haha), but everyone who does this absolutely RAVES about it and it’s at the very tip top of my list next time I’m on the Big Island. Book your tour here.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. It’s not everyday that you get to hold a seahorse! The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm in Kona breeds seahorses and is making great strides in their conservation efforts. The fee you pay to tour their facilities goes towards research and conservation and not only do you get to see lots of species of seahorses, but at the end of the tour you submerge your hands into a tank and let one of the seahorses wrap around your finger. I’ve done this tour twice and it’s seriously always a trip highlight Find more info here.
Visit the City of Refuge (Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park). Not only does this site have tremendous cultural significance, but it’s so beautiful! If you’re only going to visit one of the Big Island’s National Historical Sites, make it this one!
Tour a coffee plantation. Kona coffee is famous so of course touring a coffee plantation is a must do. There’s plenty to choose from on the Kona side of the island and the best ones will have tasting rooms where you can purchase coffee to take back as souvenirs. Because the climate on the Big Island is so diverse, it’s home to a lot of different types of farms. I really want to take this tour which combines some historic, cultural, and agricultural sites around the Kona part of the island (bees! I really want to see the bees!!).
Go to a luau. For most people, attending a luau is a must do Hawaiian experience and the Island Breeze Luau at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel is definitely a favorite on the island. It’s location right on Kona Bay makes it not only picturesque but also super convenient. Buy tickets here.
See historic Kona town. This charming seaside town dates back to the early 1800s. Tour the Hulihe’e Palace (a former royal vacation home) and Mokuaikaua Church (the oldest Christian church in Hawaii), and have a sunset dinner.
Visit the world’s first octopus farm. If you thought the seahorse farm sounded cool, just wait until you hear about THIS. The Kanaluoa Octopus Farm is an amazing place to learn about these mysterious creatures and the research that’s currently being done to assist in their conservation efforts.
Hike to the Pololu Valley. Drive up the Kohala Coast as far as the road goes and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best scenic lookouts on the island. If you’re up for a sweat, make the short (but steep!) hike down to the black sand beach at the bottom. On the drive there, stop in the cute town of Hawi and take a look around.
Watch sunset at Anaehoomalu Beach. This gorgeous golden beach is a photographers dream at sunset. Orangey pink sunsets and palm tree silhouettes? Yes please. Also do yourself a favor and don’t miss sunset mai tais at the Lava Lava Beach Club!
Sunbathe on Hapuna Beach. This is hands down my favorite beach on the Big Island. It’s a state park so there’s a $10 fee per vehicle to enter. It’s large, stunningly beautiful, and perfect for swimming. There’s also a decent amount of shade to be found which is rare at a lot of beaches. And the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort sits at one of the beach if you find yourself in need of a tropical cocktail.
Discover Kua Bay (Manini’owali Beach). This stunning white sand beach is beautiful and a bit secluded. If you’re a beach lover, you’re definitely not going to want to miss this one.
Side Note: If you’re looking for a rental car for your trip, I LOVE Discount Hawaii Car Rentals. They’re seriously the only company I ever use. They’ll give you the very best prices, you don’t have to reserve with a credit card or pay until you show up, you can cancel and re-book anytime if you find a better rate, and they usually have a special that adds additional drivers for no fee. It’s a no brainer. Click here to check rates for your trip.
Adventures & Activities
Golf at Mauna Kea. Recently ranked #19 of Golf Magazine’s top 100 golf courses, if you’re a golfer, you’ll definitely want to snag a tee time here!
Zipline through a Hawaiian forest. Kohala Zipline has some of the best zipline courses in Hawaii. If you’re looking for adventure, you’ll definitely find it here!
Learn to surf (or paddleboard). Book a private or small group surf lesson and you’ll be surprised how quickly they’ll have you standing up on the board and catching waves! Book your lesson here.
Whale watching. Humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of Hawaii to mate and give birth every winter (season is usually December 15-April 15) and they’re really something to see! If you’ll be in Hawaii during the season, you’ll for sure want to go out on a whale watching expedition for the best chance of seeing them. Take a look at this tour.
Swim with wild dolphins. While there’s a spot on the Big Island that has a dolphin “experience” in captivity, that just seems extra sad to me in Hawaii. The Kona coast has a LOT of wild dolphins, so I recommend doing a boat tour where you have a good chance of getting to swim with them in their natural habitat.
Helicopter Tour from Kohala. While most Big Island helicopter tours leave out of Hilo for the volcano, Blue Hawaiian operates a tour that departs from Kohala and does a fly over of the gorgeous north shore on the way to the volcano. If you’re looking to splurge on one big experience, this is it!