Here are the best things to do in Kona that you can’t afford to miss!
Kona is a coastal town located on the west coast of Hawaii’s Big Island.
Like any destination in Hawaii, Kona is fantastically appealing, with picture-perfect beaches, wondrous marine life, historical landmarks, and sunsets as fantastic as they can get, thanks to the fact that Koka sits on the western coast of the island.
Plus, Kona is also a great base to explore several parks and other attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii.
If you’re planning on a trip to Kona, don’t be fooled by its small size. There’s a lot to do and see in this paradisiac location.
Oh, and there’s also a fantastic coffee culture here, but let’s talk about that later on!
From dreamy Big Island beaches to ocean adventures and outdoor experiences like no other, here’s the ultimate list of the best things to do in Kona so you can start planning your itinerary!
26 Best Things to Do in Kona
1. Snorkel experience
Snorkeling is one of the most famous Kona activities.
Thanks to its location on the west side of the island, the water around Kona is pretty calm, which makes it a welcoming place for marine life of all shapes, sizes, and colors.
Some beautiful spots in Kona seem like real-sized aquariums because of the quantity and diversity of marine life to be seen, including green turtles, octopuses, eels, tons of bright-colored tropical fish, whale sharks, manta rays, and even dolphin pods if you get lucky!
Favorite spots for snorkeling are Kealakekua Bay (also known as Captain Cook), Two Step, and Kahalu’u Beach (a black sand beach).
Magic Sands Beach Park is also a great place for beginner snorkelers, while King Kam Beach is right in town, making it a great place for a quick snorkel session in the early morning.
2. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Home to over 200 archaeological sites, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park provides a great opportunity for you to get acquainted with Hawaiian history and Hawaiian culture.
Throughout the 1,600 acres, the park encompasses, you’ll be able to take a trip back in time and get glimpses of how people lived on the island since prehistoric times.
Kaloko-Honokohau has a historical, cultural, and emotional significance for the people of Hawaii, who deeply honor their ancestors and culture.
The park harbors well-preserved religious and historical sites, housing, lava tubes, fish ponds, roads, and petroglyphs that depict what life used to be like in ancient Hawaiian communities.
3. Pu’uhonua-o-Honaunau National Historical Park
Set on the south Kona coast, Pu’uhonua-o-Honaunau National Historical Park will take you through years’ worth of history in order to encounter more of Hawaii’s past.
In ancient times, this spot was a place of spiritual power, refuge, and forgiveness for those that broke the Kapu sacred laws and beliefs, which were capital crimes.
Those that were able to reach Puʻuhonua, though, were pardoned.
4. Kanaloa Octopus Farm
Inside the Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park’s research campus in Kona, you’ll find Kanaloa Octopus Farm, the first one of its kind in the entire world!
Kanaloa Octopus Farm was opened with the aim of breeding octopuses, all of which is done inside its advanced aquaculture facility.
Aside from supporting the farm’s conservation efforts with your visit, you can also take several tours in order to learn more about the species, which are offered twice a day.
5. Manta Ray Night Dive
Want to have a diving experience of a lifetime? One of the best things to do in Kona for marine life lovers is taking part in a manta ray night dive, which, as its name suggests, is basically a dive done in order to see mantas at night!
During the dive, you’ll get to use flashlights in order to draw plankton to the area. Once the plankton is there, they will lure hungry mantas!
Divers get to sit at the bottom of the ocean at a depth of approximately 40 feet in order to watch the spectacle manta rays create once they start arriving.
6. Hulihe‘e Palace
Hulihee Palace is a museum that displays items from the times of Hawaii’s royal past, back when the islands were unified and considered a dynasty.
The palace consists of six large rooms, two ample oceanfront lanai, and beautiful gardens, all of which you’ll get to stroll through so you can be taken back to the era of King Kalākaua and Queen Kapiolani.
The palace was originally built as the summer home of the Hawaiian royalty by High Chief John Adams Kuakini, Governor of the island of Hawaii during the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.
7. Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum and Gallery
Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum and Gallery was created by a teacher named Karen to honor and display the richness of Hawaiian quilting.
A visit to this wonderful museum will give you the chance to admire vintage as well as contemporary pieces, all of which are handmade and completely one of a kind!
While here, you can also learn about the history and process of creating Kona cloth, a soft yet sturdy fabric used for quilting, apparel, and more.
One of the most popular pieces in the museum is the famous Hawaiian flag from royal times, which was once prohibited on the island.
As an additional fact, Kona Hawaiian Quilt Museum and Gallery is one of only twenty-one quilting museums in the United States, which makes it even more special!
8. Thunder Mountain Coffee Plantation
No trip to Kona would be complete without visiting Thunder Mountain Coffee Plantation.
Growers of the world-famous Kona coffee, the plantation offers several tours and experiences that will take you through their organic coffee fields in order to learn about Hawaii’s coffee production.
What makes Kona coffee’s flavor so unique is the fact that its grains are grown on volcanic soil, which is rich in minerals and gives it a special kick!
There are also several nature trails and lava tubes inside the plantation, which are additional Kona experiences you don’t want to miss out on.
9. Old Hawaiian Chocolate Factory
Chocolate may not be the first thing that pops to mind when you think of Hawaii, but the Aloha State is actually a mecca for cacao, and the result is absolutely delicious!
The Old Hawaiian Chocolate Factory is located on Kahookele Street, and it goes without saying that it’s a chocolate lover’s heaven and one of the best things to do in Kona for those with a sweet tooth.
Take an educational tour of the factory and learn about the steps involved in producing their splendid milk, dark, and rare criollo tree-to-bar chocolates.
At the factory, they pick, process cacao beans, and mold each handmade chocolate bar with no blending in order to preserve the quality. Of course, you’ll get to sample some of them too!
If you want to go a bit further, you can visit their cacao plantation in the Hualalai Mountain region on the Big Island for a scenic walking tour among the cacao plants and the artisan farmers in order to get the full farm-to-bar experience.
10. Kealakekua Bay
About 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona, you’ll find Kealakekua Bay, a snorkeler’s underwater paradise.
The clear waters found at Kealakekua Bay are literally full of thousands of colorful tropical fish and coral.
On occasions, you can also see dolphins swimming placidly, making it one of the best things to do in Kona for marine sightings.
Besides the natural beauty you’ll find all over Kealakekua Bay, you’ll also stumble across several historical and cultural sights.
A sacred temple where the Hawaiian god Lono is usually honored by locals stands in this area as well as a monument dedicated to John Cook, the first western person to arrive on the island from the United Kingdom.
11. Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm
The only aquarium in the United States where you can actually pet a seahorse is the Seahorse Farm in Kona.
Home to more than 20,000 seahorses as a way to preserve them, a visit here delights adults and kids alike!
During your visit, you’ll not only help support their conservation efforts but also get the unique chance to understand more about these interesting marine creatures by going on a tour of the facility to learn more about them and what you can do in order to save them from extinction.
12. Watch for Wildlife
While marine life is usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Hawaii, Kona also homes a vast array of wildlife on its land, too!
While the list of species to spot in Hawaii is pretty endless, a must-see creature worth keeping your eyes out for a while exploring is the Nene Goose, a smaller, terrestrial relative of the Canadian Goose that also happens to be the official state bird of Hawaii.
Another well-known land animal that lives on the Big Island is the wild horse of Waipi’o Valley. Although this is not precisely in the Kailua-Kona region, you can get there in no time because it’s only 59 miles away from Kona.
For a truly unique experience, you can book a tour to look for herds of feral Spanish Mustangs.
Legend has it that these horses are descendants of a herd that was left behind right after the devastating 1946 tsunami.
With no humans around to tame them, these horses became the masters of the valley.
13. Island Breeze Luau
A luau is an ancient tradition that Hawaiians have preserved over the centuries.
It involves spending a delightful evening under the stars while eating Hawaiian goodies, listening to stories of past times, and enjoying authentic Polynesian entertainment.
The Island Breeze Luau is held at the Courtyard King Kamehamehaʻs Kona Beach Hotel and what makes it truly special is the fact that it is the only luau that features a representation of the Royal Court!
If you’re wondering what to do in Kona to get your heart pumping, ziplining across its forest is a surefire way to do so!
Starting off in Kapaau, you’ll get to soar above the island to see it in its full glory from up above.
Plus, you can combine your ziplining Kona experience with a treetop canopy trek and a suspension bridge for extra thrills!
15. Helicopter Tour
One of the most exhilarating things to do in Kona is to fly above it! If you wish to experience the Kona Coast from the air, check out this tour on Viator.
They offer several options for flying you over the lush forests, sandy beaches, and clear-blue ocean, all of which come with striking Kona and ocean views, of course!
Plus, if you happen to be in the area during whale season and wish to see the whales from up high, they have a very special tour for that too.
16. Kona Village Farmers Market
Love all things local? Farmers’ markets are a fantastic place to visit in Hawaii, especially if you want to experience daily life in the destination you’re visiting.
Located south of Kailua Bay, the Kona Village Farmers Market is a wonderful place to visit to find locally grown fruits, vegetables, and all sorts of goodies.
Once you get there, you’ll be almost overwhelmed with all the treats on offer, which include scones, turmeric tonics, Indian fusion food, flowers, and so much more!
17. H.N. Greenwell Store Museum
Located inside one of the oldest surviving buildings in Hawaii, the H.N. Greenwell Store are the oldest store premises in Kona.
Built by Englishman Henry Nicholas Greenwell in 1870, the store sold goods and supplies to the immigrant community who lived in the Kailua-Kona area.
Because it was the only shop in what was once a remote area, it did so well that Henry was able to buy thousands of acres of land.
His wife, Elizabeth Caroline, took over the store while Henry and their sons developed the ranching industry.
H.N. Greenwell Store was entered into the National and State Registers of Historic Places, restored, and turned into a museum.
Today, you can visit and see it in its former glory, and if you’re the nosy type, you’ll actually be able to see original inventory records and actual shopping lists to know what clients bought back in the day!
18. Kamaka Onu National Historic Landmark
If you’re into history, another must-see Kona attraction is the Kamaka Onu National Historic Landmark.
This place preserves the home of King Kamehameha the Great during the last years of his life – he was a ruler who was able to unify all the Hawaiian islands under one dynasty back in the 17th century.
Originally built out of lava rock, this is the place where the first missionaries came ashore when they reached Hawaii and received permission from the king to stay on the islands.
After you’re done exploring Kamaka Onu, you can head down to King Kam Beach, where you can snorkel, swim, and catch a glorious sunset.
19. Kona Coffee Living History Farm
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is a beloved attraction in the Kona region. As the name implies, it’s a history-living farm – the only one in the country!
Here, you can stroll around on a self-guided tour to learn about how Kona’s coffee pioneers lived about one hundred years ago.
Living history makes the experience more vivid. During the tour, you’ll find yourself among actors who’ll reenact everyday tasks, traditional crafts, and farming activities.
You’ll see a lady cooking or a farmer picking and drying coffee beans the exact same way they did at the beginning of the past century!
Other coffee farms include Greenwell Farms, Hula Daddy, Rooster Farms, and Mountain Thunder.
20. Island Ono Loa Grill
If you’re a foodie on the lookout for a great (but quick) meal, a visit to the Island Ono Loa Grill is one of the best things to do in Kona.
Their hamburgers are excellent, as are their French fries, onion rings, and salads.
The service is really fast, so it’s a great place to head to for a quick bite after snorkeling, hiking, sightseeing, or just frolicking on the beach.
21. Huggo’s Restaurant
Huggo’s is an iconic restaurant and bar that opened in 1969 as a gathering spot in Kona.
Soon after its opening, it quickly became a favorite in Kona.
Its privileged ocean-front location, elegant casual vibe, and fresh mahi-mahi fish and teriyaki steaks were more than enough to establish it as a Kona classic where locals and visitors love to eat, drink and have fun while watching spectacular sunsets.
Add-on: Huggo’s has a sister restaurant, Huggo’s on the Rocks, where you can grab a casual bite and drink.
It was named that way because it stands literally on the rocks at the beach, right by the original Huggo’s.
22. Kona Brewpub
Kona Brewing Co. was founded 29 years ago and proudly crafts a fine collection of local craft beers, from light spicy ales to tasty passionfruit and citrus-flavored varieties.
Four years later, the company decided to open up a taproom right by the brewery, and the Kona Brewpub was born.
Today, it features a 2,000-square-foot lanai for visitors to chill and breathe the island air while sipping their famous “liquid aloha.”
Aside from serving their delicious beer, they also offer casual dishes to dine in or take out, serve beer-to-go in the Growler Shack, and consistently host live music and entertainment for visitors to enjoy.
23. Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill
Another favorite place with locals and tourists alike is Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill.
It is a full-service restaurant that offers great food and drinks, but they actually give much more than that, not only in services but also in experiences.
Besides featuring a full bar with outdoor seating, they also offer a splendid Hook ‘em and Cook ‘em fishing experience for you to enjoy.
You’ll actually be fishing and cooking your own dinner with their help!
Mahi Mahi fish, pokes, and fish tacos are favorites here, as well as their Hawaiian fusion dishes. Cocktails with aged Hawaiian rum are great too.
Make sure to check out their web page for special events like buffets and live music nights before your visit!
24. Menehune Coffee Company
Located in the Kailua Kona Marriott, having breakfast in Menehune Coffee Company is almost a rite of passage in the Kailua Kona region.
Their coffee is unbelievably good, their breakfasts are hearty, and their pastries and scones are absolutely mouth-watering.
Plus, they also sell roasted and green 100% Kona coffee beans to bring back home.
25. Manini’owali Beach (Kua Bay)
Also known as Kua Bay, Manini’owali Beach is nestled inside the Kekaha Kai State Park, just north of Kona International Airport.
This popular white sand beach has crystalline and warm water, which makes it great for swimming and snorkeling.
Don’t be surprised at all if you see tropical fish and green sea turtles gliding right past you as you swim!
Manini’owali Beach is very family-friendly. It’s a good option if you’re traveling with kids.
The water is calm, there are lifeguards on duty, and you’ll also find a few hiking trails nearby. Rental snorkeling equipment is available from in-site vendors.
26. Makalawena Beach
If you’re the type of traveler who prefers to avoid large crowds and visit places that are considered somewhat off the beaten track, Makalawena Beach is just the place for you!
Located close to Kekaha Kai State Park, this glorious beach features crystal-clear calm waters, soft white sand, and plenty of shade from the many palm trees that dot the shore.
You’ll either have to park your car and walk for about thirty minutes to reach it or else drive a pretty winding road that can only be done on a 4×4. The effort is well worth it once you get there, though!
Final Words on What to Do in Kona
We hope this list of the best things to do in Kona helped you craft the perfect itinerary for your visit to this wonderful region of the Big Island.
What are some other amazing things to do and attractions to see in Kona? If you know of any others that didn’t make it to the list, feel free to drop your recommendations in the comment section below!