Located on the Big Island of Hawaii (also called the Orchid Isle), Kailua-Kona (different from Kailua on the windward side of Oahu) is often referred to as “Kona” by locals and is located on the western coast of the Hualalai Volcano. Kailua-Kona is a quaint seaside town that has lots of open-air restaurants located next to the ocean, souvenir shops, and a variety of historic sites to make your visit more interesting.
There are many great things to do in Kailua-Kona, including a visit to Kahaluu Beach for snorkeling, and relaxing at Kamakahonu Beach, which is more family and kid-friendly. Alii Drive is the main street in town, and one of the highlights here is Ahuhena Heiau, a temple complex that was where King Kamehameha the Great spent his last days. Other historic points of interest on Alii Drive include Hulihee Palace, which was the last royal palace in the United States, and an ancient battleground that is now home to graves of ancient Hawaiians who fought here.
One major point of interest is Hilo, which is located on the east side of the island, opposite of Kailua-Kona. It is approximately an hour-and-a-half drive by car when driving straight across the island, or if you opt to take the more scenic Hilo-Hamakua coastal route, it takes just over two hours. Some of the top things to do in Hilo (which happens to be the rainiest city in the United States) include taking in the Rainbow Falls at Wailuku State Park, which cascade 80 feet over a cave and are located just a few miles from downtown. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is home to 2,000 species of flora, and visitors enjoy taking in the collection of orchids (and parrots and monkeys) at the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Downtown Hilo is also home to a renovated historical district, the historical Palace Theater, and the Lyman Mission House and Museum, which details the Hawaiian Islands’ natural and cultural history. Waimea is another great day trip and is approximately an hour drive via the HI-190 and Hawaii Belt Road. In Waimea, you can go horseback riding at Dahana Ranch, go for an oceanfront picnic at Spencer Beach Park, discover the history and see old houses at Parker Ranch, and shop for fresh fruits and other goods at the Waimea Homestead Farmers Market.
Kailua-Kona is located on the west side of the island, and there are a variety of accommodations where you can book your rental, from luxury condos to beach house, that stretch from the Gold Kahala coast north of Kailua-Kona town to the areas just past its southern tip. Waikaloa and Kohala, which are along the Kohala Gold Coast, are close to beaches and there is an abundance of shopping and restaurants, but much of the area is in a lava field and not as scenic. Directly in Kailua-Kona, there is an abundance of shopping and places to visit, but traffic can be quite bad and it gets more crowded than other parts of the island, due to being the most popular tourist spot on the island.
Rental car companies are located at both the Kona and Hilo International Airports, as well as at various resorts throughout the island. Taxis are also available curbside. Hawaii County offers free mass transit on the Hele On (Let’s Go) bus, which has stops all around the island and offers service between Kona and Hilo six days a week (Sundays excluded.)
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