Containing 63% of the Hawaiian archipelago’s land and a good portion of the state’s natural beauty, no trip to Hawaii is complete without a visit to the Big Island. But where do you stay to ensure you soak up its natural beauty? Read on to find out.
Where to Stay on the Big Island
Big Island is the biggest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. Somewhat confusingly, the island itself is also named Hawaii, which is why many people refer to it simply as “The Big Island” to avoid confusion.
Most tourists flock to Maui and Kauai, but the Big Island can’t be overlooked. It is packed with locations of great natural beauty, such as Akaka Falls, Mauna Kea, and more.
That doesn’t mean that all there is to do on the Big Island is to “ooh” and “aah” at the scenery. The island has many sites important to indigenous Hawaiian history and culture, such as the Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historical Site and the Hulihe’e Palace.
There are plenty of activities to do on the Big Island, from relaxing on the beach to climbing mountains.
These activities are spread out all over the island, so you can choose where to stay based on what you want to do. The Big Island doesn’t have any big cities, but each of its laid-back towns and regions has a distinctive vibe that you will enjoy.
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The 5 Main Parts of the Island
Here are some of the best towns and regions where you can stay on the Big Island. Divide your stay between a few of these locations to really experience what the island has to offer:
- Hilo: Best for urban vibes and accessibility
- Kailua-Kona: Best beach town with history
- Kohala: Best for inland exploring and luxurious beach time
- Volcano Town: Best for volcanoes and adventure
- Waikoloa: Best family-friendly destination
The Big Island’s Best Areas and Hotels
With plenty of natural beauty sprawling over the biggest island in the United States, there’s so much to see on the Big Island. Staying in these strategic locations will help you make the most of your stay. Below, you’ll find our hand-picked guide to the best towns and hotels to stay in while you are on the Big Island.
Hilo is the largest settlement on the Big Island and the county seat. If you’re flying into the Big Island, Hilo is probably the first place that you’ll land. Hilo makes for an excellent base to explore the wilder, untamed side of the island’s natural beauties.
Hilo is a short drive away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a complex that includes the famous Mauna Loa. You can also check out the inland rainforests and waterfalls. If you’re looking for a little urban character during your stay, Hilo is the closest thing to a metropolis that laid-back Big Island has.
Explore the local shops selling artisanal products or wander down to Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, the USA’s only rainforest zoo. If you want to learn about the history of the state of Hawaii during your stay, then Hilo is a great place to visit.
Attractions such as the Lyman Museum tell the story of Hawaiian culture and history in a real mission house. Hilo has other excellent museums such as the Eastern Hawaii Cultural Center and the Imiloa Astronomy Center, a haven for science buffs.
However, if you’re looking for a tropical vacation, Hilo is not the best place to stay. The area on the eastern side of the island tends to be foggy and very rainy. For pristine beaches, concentrate your stay on the western side.
Things to Do in Hilo:
- Take a day trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- Visit Akaka Falls State Park for the most famous waterfalls on the island.
- Check out the Imiloa Astronomy Center for a blend of science and culture.
- Grab some local produce and crafts at the Hilo Farmers Market.
- Sample some local craft brews at Hilo Brewing Co.
Where to Eat in Hilo:
- Hilo Bay Café for local ingredients with a modern twist (and a dining room with a view).
- Paul’s Place for quick lunch bites, nutritious smoothies, and local coffee.
- Moon and Turtle for upscale and unpretentious Asian fusion.
- Café 100 for local specialties including the Loco Moco.
Hilo Budget Hotels
- The Big Island Hostel. Centrally located hostel only a few minutes away from the beach and other Hilo attractions. A great place for budget travelers to meet like-minded people. Private rooms available.
- Hilo Reeds Bay Hotel. This hotel with a view also has a central location and amenities such as an en-suite bathroom, flat-screen TV and more. Free Wi-Fi in public areas and free parking.
Hilo Mid-Range Hotels
- Arnott’s Lodge and Hiking Adventures. This lodge is the perfect place to stay for adventure lovers, with activities such as volcano adventure tours offered through the hotel. After your adventure, kick back in the relaxing suites, some of which have balconies.
- SCP Hilo Hotel. This hotel allows you to stay centrally in Hilo while remaining close to natural wonders such as the Liliuokalani Gardens. Amenities include a swimming pool, comfortable rooms, and free Wi-Fi.
Hilo Luxury Hotels
- Hilo Bay Oceanfront Bed & Breakfast. This gorgeous, centrally located hotel offers brilliant views of the water as well as amenities including complimentary breakfast, a free shuttle service, and help with arranging activities.
- The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls. If you’re looking for a luxurious getaway in nature but still close enough to Hilo to go into town, check out this inn. Guests have access to a private waterfall, lush property, and free local breakfast. The property is eco-friendly and sustainable.
Kailua-Kona is the name for the region on the west side of the Big Island. This area of the island is the closest you can get to a quintessential tropical paradise. Kona is the name for the whole district on the west coast, while Kailua is the name of the main village that most tourists use as their base to explore this part of the island.
The village itself is sometimes called Kailua-Kona to distinguish it from another town of the same name on Oahu. If you’re interested in swimming, snorkeling, and other beach activities, then this is the place to go on Big Island.
Whether you choose to stay in a luxurious resort or a smaller, laid-back budget accommodation, you can easily find prime beach real estate. That’s not to say that there’s not much to do inland in this area of the island.
World-famous Kona coffee comes from this region, and many coffee plantations offer opportunities to visitors who want to see where coffee beans come from. The town of Kailua-Kona itself is a lively beach town full of amenities for tourists, including restaurants, shops, and bars serving the town’s famous Mai Tai cocktails.
Kailua-Kona is also a place of great historical significance to Hawaii as it was the capital during King Kamehameha’s reign. For excellent history, culture, and of course, natural beauty, make Kailua-Kona your base.
However, if you are traveling on a budget, Kailua-Kona may not be the best place to stay as this is one of the pricier areas of the Big Island.
Things to Do in Kailua-Kona:
- Go snorkeling and diving. Look out for special packages such as the opportunity to dive with manta rays.
- Walk or cruise down Ali’I Drive, the place in town to see and be seen.
- Get out of town and check out a Kona coffee farm.
- Explore the beaches, including fabulous King Kam beach.
- Visit the Waikoloa Petroglyph Field for a dose of Hawaiian history.
Where to Eat in Kailua-Kona:
- Da Poke Shack for poke, the raw fish-based Hawaiian specialty, and other local treats right by the beach.
- Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill for American comfort food and local specialties such as pupu platters.
- Kona Pub and Brewing for local beers from Kona Brewing Co, served on a traditional outdoor lanai.
- Gecko Girlz Shave Ice for a traditional Hawaiian sweet treat, perfect for cooling down after the beach.
Kailua-Kona Budget Hotels:
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Kailua-Kona. The budget chain stalwart’s outpost in Kailua-Kona features a central location, outdoor pool, and fitness center.
- Aeolian Ranch. Venture a little outside the town of Kailua for this guest house in the lush wilderness. Guests can wander the property, enjoy oceanfront views, and mingle with others in this secluded guest house while still being a short drive away from Kailua’s attractions.
Kailua-Kona Mid-Range Hotels:
- Royal Kona Resort. If you’re on a budget but still want to stay in a resort, the relatively affordable Royal Kona Resort is one of your best bets. Amenities include a private beach area a 15-minute walk from the property, lanais in all rooms, and on-site parking.
- Big Island Retreat. This airy beachfront property is one of the most relaxing places to stay in Kailua-Kona. The retreat is close to many local attractions and features amenities such as a shared kitchen with a barbecue and some rooms with balconies.
Kailua-Kona Luxury Hotels:
- Aston Kona By the Sea. This is one of the best luxury resorts in Kailua-Kona, featuring an oceanfront pool, luxuriously appointed suites, and even a barbecue for guests to use.
- Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Everything you could ever want is at this resort, including two restaurants, an on-site mall, seasonal luaus, and even in-room Kona coffee.
Kohala is the region of the Big Island that stretches north from Kailua-Kona. Kohala is divided into sections, North Kohala and South Kohala. North Kohala includes the towns of Hala’ula, Hawi, and Kapa’au.
Southern Kohala contains the luxurious resort towns of Puako and Waimea along with gorgeous stretches of beach. Kohala is a vital location for the history of the Big Island and Hawaii as a whole. It is the birthplace of King Kamehameha I, one of Hawaii’s greatest kings, who actually united the archipelago into one kingdom.
Kohala was the center of Hawaiian society and cultural life for many centuries, and you can see the historical legacy on your visit today. Everything from the great king’s birthplace to temples to ancient settlements are nestled in Kohala’s lush hills.
North Kohala also offers visitors the opportunity to check out a unique aspect of Hawaiian life that most tourists skip: the paniolos. Paniolos are Hawaiian cowboys who played an important role when the lush hills of Kohala were covered with ranches.
Although industrial ranching is less common today, you can check out the legacy at the Paniolo Heritage Center. That doesn’t mean that Kohala is all about history and education. The resorts and beaches that line the shores of this region are the perfect place to unplug your brain, relax, and unwind.
There’s a reason why Kohala is nicknamed the “Gold Coast.” Besides beautiful, natural beaches, Kohala’s coast is home to plenty of creature comforts, including resorts packed with amenities and luxurious shopping opportunities. Kohala truly has it all, from rugged natural beauty to historical importance to beautiful beaches.
However, one of the things that it does not have is budget accommodations. If you’re not a fan of luxury travel (or more accurately, your wallet is not a fan of it), stay elsewhere on Big Island. While there are some more affordable B&Bs in inland North Kohala, they are few and far between in this underdeveloped rural area.
Things to Do in Kohala:
- Visit the Paniolo Heritage Center in Waimea.
- Explore sites related to the life of King Kamehameha I, such as the Pu’ukohola Heiau temple that he built.
- Splash around in the pristine waters of Hapuna Beach State Park.
- Hike the volcanic landscape and check out the black sand beach of Pololu Valley.
- Go whale-watching in the Hawaiian Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary.
Where to Eat in Kohala:
- Red Water Café in Waimea is a great high-end dining destination serving up American classics and local favorites made with fresh ingredients.
- Kohala Coffee Mill is a popular café in Hawi with a lanai for enjoying your coffee and sandwiches.
- Hawaiian Style Café in Waimea is another place serving up hearty American food with a Hawaiian twist.
- Gill’s Lanai is great for a road trip through Kohala, including hot dogs and tacos.
Kohala Budget Hotels:
- Waipi’o Lodge. For budget friendly stays in Kohala, head inland and north. Waipi’o Lodge is nestled in the hill country near Kukuihaele. Guests can hike the property and enjoy clean but unfussy rooms with a bright communal space for mingling.
- Castle Waimea Country Lodge. This airy property offers gorgeous views of Mauna Kea and close proximity to historic Waimea. Enjoy amenities such as spacious rooms, an outdoor eating area, and an en-suite bathroom.
Kohala Mid-Range Hotels:
- Kohala Lodge (Short-Term Rental House). For a moderate price, you can rent an entire vacation home on ranchland near Hawi. Have the whole place to yourself as you enjoy gorgeous sunsets, views of the pastures, and easy access to Hawaii’s cowboy country.
- Aloha Boutique Hotel. Another one of Hawi’s gems, this boutique hotel offers rooms with plenty of amenities, including a terrace with a view and an outdoor pool.
Kohala Luxury Hotels:
- The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. This romantic resort is directly on popular Hapuna Beach. It is packed with amenities including a golf course, beach access, and activities such as snorkeling.
- Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection. This luxurious hotel is the jewel of Hapuna Beach’s crown. From the second you receive your floral lei on arrival to the last cocktail you sip at the on-premises bar, you will feel perfectly pampered.
Volcano is a village on the Big Island that delivers exactly what it promises—easy access to volcanoes, and lots of them. The village itself is fairly rustic, although its small size hides considerable charms. It is a popular destination for artists that helped build its quirky culture.
To get a taste of life in Volcano Village, be sure to check out the local farmer’s market (and who would want to pass up a chance at sampling Hawaiian produce?). The village may be small, but it even has a small winery nearby, selling beverages made from grapes that grow in the fertile volcanic soil.
However, the real attraction of staying in Volcano is that it is right by Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park. Hawaii is one of the only places in the United States where you can catch active volcanic activity, and this natural park is one of the best places to do so.
Volcanoes National Park is enormous. Some visitors take two full days to explore everything that the park has to offer. The most famous sight is Kilauea volcano, which exhibits many signs of volcanic activity, including slow flows of lava, hot steam vents, and a stunning caldera.
Kilauea is jokingly referred to as a “drive-in” volcano, but the park also has hundreds of miles of hiking trails. You can also use the town of Volcano as your base to go hiking and camping on Big Island’s rugged south shore.
If you love the outdoors, adventure, and travel, Volcano will be your idea of a heaven away from home, but not so much if you prefer creature comforts. This rugged area has little in the way of resorts, luxury accommodations, or shopping.
Things to Do in Volcano:
- Visit Volcanoes National Park, especially Kilauea volcano.
- Check out the Volcano Art Center, a space for local artists inspired by the majesty of Kilauea to show their work.
- Go hiking in the rainforest around Volcano Village.
- Visit the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens in Ola’a Rainforest Reserve.
- Go wine-tasting at The Volcano Winery.
Where to Eat in Volcano:
- Thai Bistro & Bar for flavorful Thai food (and some Western entrees).
- Eagles Lighthouse Café for quick, hearty breakfasts and lunches on your way to explore the natural park.
- ‘Ohelo Café for upscale Hawaiian and Italian fusion.
- Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant for upscale meals with locally sourced ingredients.
Volcano Budget Hotels:
- Alii Kane Cottages & Loft. Some of the best options for budget accommodations in and around Volcano or vacation rental homes, and this complex of cottages has some of the best ratings. Enjoy free parking, laundry, and gorgeous rustic décor.
- Kilauea House. This simple Bed & Breakfast offers clean, comfortable rooms with TVs and a free continental breakfast in a central location.
Volcano Mid-Range Hotels:
- The Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant. This lodge is one of the closest you can get to luxury in Volcano Village. Amenities include gorgeous, locally inspired rooms, a hot tub, and an on-site restaurant.
- Lokahi Lodge. This simple but well-appointed lodge has on-site, free parking, garden views, and an excellent location near everything that the area has to offer.
Volcano Luxury Hotels:
- Volcano Village Estates. This luxurious bed & breakfast is located close to the National Park and Art Center. Amenities include free Wi-Fi, a fireplace in each room, and space to stroll in Cottage Hale Ohia.
- Rainforest Eco Cabin. A room in this luxurious chalet surrounded by the rainforest will truly help you take a break from the rat race. Enjoy amenities such as free bike rentals, complimentary breakfast supplies, and a cozy cabin all to yourself.
Waikoloa is technically part of the Kohala Coast, but this resort town deserves its own mention. Waikoloa is one of the jewel resort towns that gives Kohala its nickname of “Gold Coast.” Most of the resorts, activities, and amenities along the coast are clustered in this town.
One of the best things about Waikoloa is how many kid-friendly activities it has. Other areas of the Big Island are often too rugged for pint-sized travelers, but Waikoloa has plenty to keep little ones entertained, including gorgeous beaches, forest spaces, activities such as swimming with dolphins, and more.
If you want to get out of town, Waikoloa is close enough to Hamakua to go for a road trip and explore the rest of the Gold Coast. The best thing to do in Waikoloa is to do nothing. Lounge by the beach, wander through the farmer’s market while eating local produce, and let the waves wash your worries away.
That does mean that if you are an adventure traveler, or someone who likes to get off the beaten path, Waikoloa is not the place for you. It’s also one of the priciest places on Kohala’s Gold Coast, so also not a good fit for budget travelers.
Things to Do in Waikoloa:
- Go swimming at one of the many beautiful beaches.
- Swim with some animal friends at Dolphin Quest.
- Check out Waikoloa Dry Forest Initiative, a local nature preserve protecting wiliwili trees and other indigenous Hawaiian plants.
- Take golfing lessons or putt a few holes at Mauna Lani Golf, one of the best courses in the state.
- Pick up souvenirs at The Shops at Mauna Lani.
Where to Eat in Waikoloa:
- Napua at Mauna Lani Beach Club for upscale American classics made with the freshest local ingredients.
- Pueo’s Osteria for Italian food with Hawaiian influence, including the freshest local seafood.
- Island Lava Java for casual cuisine, including Hawaiian favorites and organic Kona coffee.
- Knead & Bake for excellent pie to fuel you as you ship until you drop at The Shops at Mauna Lani (all the dining options here are excellent).
Waikoloa Budget Hotels:
- Paniolo Greens Resort. This resort is one of the few in Waikoloa whose prices cater to families on a budget without compromising on quality. Enjoy amenities such as fully furnished villas, wading areas just for children, and a quiet, relaxing atmosphere.
- Hilton Grand Vacations Club Kings Land Waikoloa. Amenities at this resort include children’s activities, a restaurant, swimming pools, and a hot tub. The price may not fit most budget traveler’s budget, but in Waikoloa this counts as budget accommodation.
Waikoloa Mid-Range Hotels:
- Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. This resort is walking distance away from the beach and features excellent amenities such as a spa, a children’s pool, and organized activities such as lei-making for guests of all ages.
- Castle Halii Kai at Waikoloa. This resort consists of self-catering villas for the perfect private vacation. On-site amenities include a children’s pool, restaurant, fitness center, and more.
Waikoloa Luxury Hotels:
- The Fairmont Orchid. This luxurious resort sprawls over 32 acres of private property, including a private beach that often plays host to sea turtles. Other amenities include an outdoor spa, golf course, tennis courts, luxuriously appointed rooms, and more.
- Mauna Lani, Auberge Resorts Collection. This resort is one of the fanciest that you can get on the Big Island. Besides a private beach, other amenities include a private terrace with each room, two golf courses, two restaurants, a spa, and more, including cultural activities.
So, Where Should You Stay on the Big Island?
Hawaii’s Big Island has many diverse parts of town. And each one is a great pick to see the island’s natural beauty, ranging from pristine beaches to wild volcanic landscapes, local Hawaiian history, and a laid-back small-town vibe.
Whether you want to stay close to the lava action in Volcano Village or explore the beach town of Kailua-Kona, you can find accommodations for every budget and taste.