When booking a place to stay in Hawaiʻi, many people simply look for a beach resort within their price range and call it a day. This strategy works just fine in many scenarios across the different islands; however, when visiting the Big Island, we suggest a more involved approach due to the size of the island, the differences between the regions, and the long drive times between attractions.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Our suggestions for… families, beach bums, backpackers, etc.
- Big Island Regions, compared
- Should you stay in… a Hotel, a Vacation Rental, or something else?
Below, we break down the different regions on the Big Island to give you a better sense of their individual pros and cons and offer some advice about how to decide between them. We also dive into the different types of accommodations available – hotel rooms, and vacation rentals – to help you decide which is the best fit for you.
THE BEST PLACES TO STAY FOR…
These are the places we recommend to stay for families, beach bums, luxury seekers, backpackers, surfers, and active adventurers:
Beach bums should stay on the Kohala Coast because that puts them smack in the middle of some world class beaches.
The Kohala Coast has the best selection of luxury resorts.
What Region is best suited for your stay on the Big Island?
Here is a breakdown of the different regions to stay on the Big Island:
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN KAILUA-KONA?
Kailua-Kona is a well-rounded hub with many things to offer.
- Walkability. Kailua-Kona offers unmatched walkability to a variety of shops, restaurants, bars, and other services.
- Sunset views. Located on the west coast, you will enjoy sunsets every evening in Kailua-Kona.
- Myriad of tour operators. Looking for activities in Kona? You’ll find plenty of opportunities for land and water-based tours.
- Abundance of services. From grocery stores to outlet shops, Kailua-Kona has everything you might need.
- Nightlife. Unlike other parts of the island, Kailua-Kona has myriad nightlife, including karaoke, live music, and dancing.
- Central location. From Kailua-Kona, it’s easy to explore the west coast’s many areas on a day trip.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN KAILUA-KONA?
There are some considerations to make before booking a place in Kailua-Kona:
- Busy. There’s a lot happening in Kailua-Kona, so if you’re looking to get away from it all, this isn’t the place.
- Older properties. There are many nice hotels in Kailua-Kona, but the newest resorts are located outside of the city limits.
- Lack of big beaches. There are quite a few smaller beaches in Kailua-Kona, but the island’s best are located further up north.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN KAILUA-KONA ARE GOOD FOR:
Families: The proximity of restaurants and shops, the availability of services, and the variety of activities make Kailua-Kona a great hub for families.
First-timers and Solo travelers: If it’s your first time to the Big Island, Kailua-Kona is a great introduction to the island thanks to its variety of offerings. Solo travelers will like the chance to meet other travelers in the bustle of town, for example by staying in one of the local hostels.
Active Travelers: Kailua-Kona is a great hub for adventure due to the number of tour operators that call it home. Snorkeling, boating, ATVs, hiking, and other tours can be booked in town with ease. Nearby areas, like the Kona Coffee Belt, are also easily accessible.
South Kona Coast
South Kona is home to a variety of lodging in areas such as Captain Cook and Keauhou.
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN SOUTH KONA?
Folks who stay in South Kona love:
- Away from the bustle of town. If you want to be close to Kailua-Kona but not right in town, consider a hotel or vacation rental in South Kona.
- Proximity to boat tours. Keauhou Harbor is a hub for boat tours, including the world-famous manta ray night snorkel. Kealakekua Bay is another South Kona gem for snorkeling and boat tours.
- Golf. The Kona Country Club is located in Keauhou.
- Variety of accommodations. Keauhou is home to bigger resorts and hotels, while Captain Cook offers a variety of smaller inns and bed and breakfasts.
- Sunset views. Enjoy the sunset from your hotel lanai.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN SOUTH KONA?
Some drawbacks to South Kona are:
- Lack of nearby services. There are less services (shopping, restaurants, bars) in this area.
- No nightlife outside hotels. You won’t find much going on at night outside of the hotels.
- Not many beaches. If you’re looking for a bunch of long, white-sand beaches, this area is pretty slim.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN SOUTH KONA ARE GOOD FOR:
Families: The full-service resorts in Keauhou make life for families easy.
Kohala Coast/North Kona
Looking for the island’s best resorts and beaches? Look no further than the Kohala Coast/North Kona, in areas such as Waikoloa.
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN NORTH KONA?
There are many reasons to stay in Kohala/North Kona:
- Beautiful white sand beaches. A majority of the island’s long, white-sand beaches are located in this area, including Hapuna Beach and A-Bay.
- Sunset views. Sunsets are spectacular form the beaches in North Kona.
- Full-service resorts. This area is home to the island’s newest and most state-of-the-art resorts, with sprawling properties and many activities/services.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN NORTH KONA?
Some drawbacks include:
- Lack of local feel. This area is mainly condos and resorts, so don’t expect a local community feel.
- Lack of services outside resorts. Once you get outside of the resort properties, there’s not many local restaurants or shops in this area, save for a few shopping centers.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN NORTH KONA ARE GOOD FOR:
Beach bums: With so many good beaches, many just steps away from your hotel room, this area is the perfect hub for beach bums.
Families: The full-service resorts provide a haven for families with small children, offering a variety of services, activities, and beach opportunities without leaving the property.
Holualoa is a small coffee and art-based village located in the hillsides above Kailua-Kona and offers visitors a unique experience.
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN HOLUALOA?
- Tranquility. Located about 1,400 feet above sea level in a coffee farming region, the vacation rentals and inns in this area are quaint, quiet, and tranquil.
- Coffee tours. When you stay in the Kona coffee belt, you have easy access to visit different coffee farms.
- Views. The views from this elevation are postcard worthy looking out over the Kona coast. Sunset is especially special.
- Cooler Temperatures. Because of its elevation, Holualoa is often much cooler than Kailua-Kona, especially in summer.
- Art galleries. Along with coffee fields, Holualoa offers a variety of local art galleries to explore.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN HOLUALOA?
Staying in Holualoa isn’t for everyone.
- It’s far from the beach. You’ll wake up to great views, but if you plan to hit the beach every day, it won’t be very convenient.
- Higher chance of rain. It rains more in this area than it does down on the coast.
- Lack of nightlife. There aren’t many places open late in this area.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN HOLUALOA ARE GOOD FOR:
Repeat Visitors: If you’ve been to the Big Island before and are looking for something different, Holualoa offers an upcountry experience that you won’t find elsewhere on the island.
Hilo is the main hub on the east side of the Big Island and the capital city.
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN HILO?
- Local vibe. Hilo is truly a local community first and foremost, and the largest residential community on the island.
- Laid-back vibe. Whereas Kailua-Kona pulses with activity, Hilo is more laid back, with much less tourism. There are still plenty of things to do in and around Hilo though if you don’t mind a short drive.
- Good hub for exploring the east side. Go south and you hit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Go north, and you’ll find the incredibly scenic Hamakua Coast.
- Variety of restaurants and shops. Though not as extensive as Kailua-Kona, Hilo is home to many good restaurants and local shopping.
- Sunrise views. If you wake up early, you’ll have the chance to catch the sunrise from the coast around Hilo.
- Unique beaches. Though it lacks the truly long white sand beaches of Kohala, there are a variety of great beaches to check out, including black sand beaches.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN HILO?
Things to consider before booking a room in Hilo are:
- Higher chance of rain. Located on the “windwardside” of the Big Island, Hilo receives much more rain than Kailua-Kona.
- Fewer accommodation choices. There are a handful of hotels in Hilo, but there are less options (by far) than on the west coast.
- Lack of beaches. There are beaches in the area, just not as many as on the west coast.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN HILO ARE GOOD FOR:
Active Adventurers: People looking to explore the natural world will find Hilo to be a great home base. Explore nearby attractions such as Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, ʻAkaka Falls, or Waipiʻo Valley during the day, then come back to Hilo at night and visit one of its many restaurants.
Families: Hilo has enough infrastructure to support traveling families, providing a nice home base to explore the island’s east side.
Volcano Village is located approximately 4,000 feet above sea level on Kīlauea Volcano:
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN VOLCANO?
Volcano is great because:
- Closest hub to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. This is the number one reason to stay in this area. The entrance to the Park is just minutes away, making a multi-day exploration or nighttime viewing of the volcano a breeze.
- Variety of small, quaint inns. You won’t find any big hotels here, just a collection of dreamy vacation rentals and small lodges and inns that carry their own sense of charm and aloha. This gives it a very relaxed and “small-town” feel.
- Unique environment. Volcano is located in a high-elevation rainforest, offering a completely different feel from the other hubs listed here.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN VOLCANO?
However, some things to be aware of:
- The weather can be unpredictable. Because it’s located at elevation and on a volcano, the weather is much cooler than down at the coast, and it rains often.
- Lack of services nearby. There is a small village in Volcano with a couple restaurants and a general store, but you’ll have to travel back to Hilo for more variety.
- Lack of full-service hotels. There are only small inns, lodges, and vacation rentals in this area, so it’s not great for folks or families looking for extensive services.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN VOLCANO ARE GOOD FOR:
Active Adventurers: Volcano is located just minutes away from the entrance to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, and a short drive from Punaluʻu Beach. Those who stay in this area are mostly interested in exploring the national park for several days, or viewing the lava at night. (see also our list of things to do in Volcano Village).
If you’re looking for an off the beaten path place to stay, Puna is the place.
WHY SHOULD YOU STAY IN PUNA?
People stay in Puna because:
- It’s well off the beaten path. Most visitors who travel to the Big Island have never heard of Puna, let alone stayed there. You won’t find any hustle or bustle, and the area remains locally oriented.
- Variety of small “ecovillages.” If you like small, intimate lodging, Puna has a selection of naturally-oriented eco-lodging type properties, mostly in the 1, 2, and 3 star categories, some with cabins. Some examples include the Lava Tree Tropic Inn, Josanna’s Garden, Cinderland EcoVillage, and more.
- A beautiful, unspoiled coastline. A mix of small local beaches and rocky lava fields provide a beautiful backdrop in Puna for relaxing, walking, swimming, and exploring as various parks, including MacKenzie State Park, Kehena Black Sand Beach, Lava Tree State Monument, Lighthouse Beach, and more.
WHY SHOULDN’T YOU STAY IN PUNA?
However, some things to be aware of:
- Services are limited. Pāhoa is the main town in the Puna area, and it offers your basic services, like a grocery store and handful of small eateries/shops. But don’t expect anything over the top.
- Lack of full-service hotels. Families looking for the conveniences and amenities of a resort won’t find them in Puna.
- Lack of walkability. Puna is spread out, and you will need a car to get around and explore, eat, shop, etc.
ACCOMMODATIONS IN PUNA ARE GOOD FOR:
Active Adventurers: Puna is a great place to explore the combination of rocky coastlines, black sand beaches, rainforests, and lava flows. From Kehena Beach to Kalapana lava fields, there are many small coastal parks to check out. People who stay in this area usually are active by day and low-key by night.
TIPS FOR DECIDING BETWEEN A HOTEL, RESORT, AND VACATION RENTAL ON THE BIG ISLAND
Here are some things to consider when deciding on location and on what kind of accommodation to book on the Big Island:
- Consider/understand the size of the Big Island. The Big Island is BIG, and driving times between destinations can be hours. So, you want to make sure the location of your accommodation corresponds to where you will spend most of your time.
- How much time will you spend at your accommodation? Do you plan to relax and be a beach bum? Will you be out and about all day? Do you want to do a lot of activities? The answer to these questions will help you decide on the location and type of accommodation.
- What’s for dinner? Do you want the ability to walk to local restaurants? Do you want to cook at your accommodation?
- Where are you headed and what will you do? Consider what areas of the island you plan to visit, and how often. The east side is great as a hub for Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, while the west side is better for boating.
We lay out these things and more and help you choose the best accommodations for your group in our “Where should you stay? Different accommodation options compared” guide.
Accommodation options on the other islands
We also have published accommodation overviews for our neighboring islands in which we shortly describe all regions of the islands and give recommendations for where to stay for families, beach-goers, backpackers, luxury seekers, etc. Interested? Check out our following guides: