12 Things to Do in Kona
By Janet Benoir – October 20, 2023
Kailua-Kona, typically known as Kona, is a picturesque town on the western coast of Hawaii’s Big Island. Once a humble fishing village, Kona has evolved into a bustling center for locals and a beloved vacation destination. Its significance in history is notable, as it was formerly the capital of the unified Kingdom of Hawaii.
Today, Kona serves as more than just a relaxing retreat. The laid-back town offers a gateway to exciting volcanic adventures, surfing opportunities, snorkeling, and a chance to immerse yourself in Hawaiian history and culture. With an abundance of activities to choose from, this guide presents some of the top attractions in the area, leaving you inspired for your next visit to this beautiful part of the Big Island.
Watch the Sunset from Mauna Kea’s Peak
One of the most unforgettable things to do in Kona is to watch the sunset from the summit of Mauna Kea. Standing at an elevation of 13,796 feet above sea level, the dormant volcano is the perfect vantage point for taking in the breathtaking view of the sunset. You’ll feel like you’re on top of the world as you watch the sun’s rays slowly disappear below the horizon, painting the sky in an array of warm and vibrant colors.
To make the most out of this experience, consider joining a guided tour that will transport you to the summit and provide guidance on the best spots to view the sunset. Tours typically include travel in a 4-wheel drive vehicle for navigating Mauna Kea’s steep landscape. Be sure to bring warm clothing, as temperatures at the summit can drop significantly after the sun goes down.
Go Snorkeling at Kamakahonu Beach
Kamakahonu Beach, also known as King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach, offers a unique snorkeling experience amid the Kona area’s historic surroundings. As you dive into the crystal clear waters, not only are you greeted by colorful marine life but also a window into Hawaii’s past, as the beach once served as King Kamehameha’s residence.
The calm waters and abundant coral reefs make Kamakahonu Beach perfect for all skill levels, from novice to experienced snorkelers. Take your time exploring the underwater world while marveling at the turtles, tropical fish, and stunning centuries-old history that await you at this enticing Kona destination.
Get Started with Surfing
Kona, located on the Big Island of Hawaii, offers a variety of activities to enjoy. Among these, surfing is a popular choice for both seasoned athletes and beginners alike. In this section, we’ll guide you through some basics to get started.
Find a good beach with gentle waves, such as White Sands Beach or Kahalu’u Beach Park. Rent a surfboard, and don’t forget to use a leash to keep it close. As you paddle, maintain an extension in your arms, and to balance, position your chest and head up while looking towards the beach. Finally, push off your hands, slide your feet underneath you, and rise into a stable surfing position. Enjoy riding the Kona waves!
Visit the Cloud Forest
While visiting Kona, indulge in the unique and enchanting experience of exploring the cloud forest. You’ll immerse yourself in the lush, mysterious landscape that is home to a diverse array of rare and endangered flora and fauna. As you trek through the verdant surroundings, keep an eye out for exotic birds, delicate orchids, and ancient tree ferns that make up the ecological wonder that is Kona’s cloud forest.
Delight in the opportunity to learn about the complex ecosystem and conservation efforts in place to preserve this natural gem. Guided tours are available to provide you with expert knowledge and insight, ensuring that you fully appreciate the nuances of this magical place. Don’t miss out on this incomparable adventure – add exploring Kona’s cloud forest to your itinerary for a truly unforgettable experience.
Take a Tour of Hulihe’e Palace
While exploring Kona, make sure to visit the Hulihe’e Palace. This historical landmark offers you a rich glimpse into Hawaiian royal history. Constructed in 1838, the palace served as a summer retreat for Hawaiian royalty. Today, it is a brilliantly preserved museum that showcases beautiful koa wood furniture, royal portraits, elegant artifacts, and traditional Hawaiian quilts.
During your visit, you will get to appreciate the unique architectural features of the palace built in the Victorian style. Embrace the spirit of Hawaii’s past as you stroll through lovely, manicured grounds and take in the panoramic views of Kailua Bay. Don’t forget your camera to capture the breathtaking surroundings and the memories of this remarkable experience.
Learn About Kona Coffee
In the heart of Kona, you’ll find world-renowned coffee plantations. This unique coffee, known as Kona coffee, originates from Arabica coffee beans grown in the fertile volcanic soil of Hawaii’s Big Island. The climate, elevation, and soil composition of this region give the beans their distinct flavor profile, so make sure to indulge in a cup or two while you’re there.
Pay a visit to a Kona coffee farm, where you can learn about the entire coffee production process and even take a guided tour. As you walk through the coffee fields, you’ll see firsthand how the coffee cherries are harvested, processed, and roasted. After the informative tour, treat yourself to a flavorful cup of freshly brewed Kona coffee. And don’t forget to buy some beans to take home, so you can savor the taste of Kona even after your trip.
Walk around Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
When visiting Kona, make sure to explore the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. This park provides a glimpse into the traditional Hawaiian way of life, with ancient sites and petroglyphs waiting to be discovered. As you walk through the park, you’ll come across the well-preserved remains of fishponds and heiau (temples), which showcase the ingenuity of the Hawaiian people. Don’t forget to take your camera along, as the picturesque scenery offers abundant photo opportunities.
During your visit, keep an eye out for native wildlife such as the honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) and various bird species which call the park their home. There are also beautiful sandy beaches where you can unwind and soak up the sun as you experience the serenity of the park. Embrace the tranquility of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and connect with the rich Hawaiian heritage it offers.
Stop by Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay is a must-visit destination when you’re in Kona. Rich with history, this picturesque location offers stunning views and numerous activities to make your trip memorable. Visit the Captain Cook Monument, commemorating the spot where the famous explorer first set foot on the island. Snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters provides an opportunity to discover vibrant marine life, including tropical fish, sea turtles, and occasionally dolphins.
If you prefer to stay above water, try kayaking or paddleboarding for a unique vantage point to explore the bay. Additionally, consider joining a guided boat tour to learn more about the area’s history and marine ecology. Make sure to capture the beautiful moments on camera as you immerse yourself in the wonders of Kealakekua Bay, a truly unforgettable experience in Kona.
See Hawaii’s Oldest Christian Church
While exploring Kona, take a moment to visit the oldest Christian church in Hawaii, Mokuaikaua Church. Standing tall since 1820, this historical site offers a glimpse into the past of Hawaii’s Christian heritage. As you walk through the church, admire its unique architecture which combines traditional Hawaiian elements with western design. Notice the lava rock walls and the tall steeple that houses a rustic bell.
Inside, you’ll find a captivating display of artifacts and exhibits that provide insight into the early missionaries’ lives who established the church. Learn about the incredible journey of Reverend Asa Thurston and his wife Lucy as they traveled from New England to Hawaii to spread Christianity. This stop on your Kona adventure is not just a religious experience, but also an opportunity to appreciate the cultural importance of Mokuaikaua Church in Hawaii’s history.
Feed Manta Rays
One captivating activity to experience in Kona is witnessing the beauty of manta rays at night. To begin your adventure, join a nighttime snorkeling or scuba diving tour. These tours will take you to popular spots near the coastline where manta rays are known to gather and feed on plankton attracted by underwater lights.
During your underwater excursion, you can expect to observe these majestic creatures gracefully gliding through the water while they devour their evening banquet. Soaking in the ethereal atmosphere, you’ll create an unforgettable memory in the alluring waters of Kona.
Carve a Tiki
While exploring Kona, take the opportunity to learn the art of tiki carving. Tiki figures, which represent Polynesian deities, have a storied history in Hawaiian culture and offer a fascinating insight into the island’s customs and beliefs. By honing your tiki carving skills, you’ll not only gain a deeper appreciation for local craftsmanship but also create a unique souvenir to bring home.
To get started, look for workshops or classes led by experienced carvers in the Kona area. Many offer hands-on guidance, teaching you the basics of selecting the right wood, proper carving techniques, and understanding traditional tiki symbolism. Remember to exercise patience as you work on your piece – success lies in the details, and attention to those details will help you create a tiki to cherish for years to come.
Visit Kona Farmers Market
If you’re looking for a unique experience while visiting Kona, stop by the Kona Farmers Market. With locally grown fruits, vegetables, and handicrafts, you’ll feel immersed in the vibrant culture of the area. Sample fresh fruits, discover handmade crafts, and enjoy the lively atmosphere.
During your visit, you’ll notice the market is bustling with locals and visitors alike. Devour the flavors of the island during your exploration, whether it’s indulging in a homemade treat or purchasing authentic souvenirs for yourself and loved ones. Spending your time at the Kona Farmers Market is a fulfilling way to engage with the community and fully embrace your time in Kona.