The #1 Thing to Do in Kona, According to Locals

Welcome to gorgeous Kona, a sun-kissed district nestled in the heart of Hawaii’s Big Island, boasting a blend of natural beauty, history, and culture. From snorkeling in aquamarine waters to savoring the rich taste of Kona coffee on a guided tour, locals say you’ll never run out of thrilling things to do in Kona Hawaii.

The captivating Kona district in Big Island Hawaii is a place that wraps you in its charm and encourages you to immerse yourself in the local culture. More than just a visual delight, visiting Kona is an experience that makes you wish you had more time to explore its many secrets.

It’s understandably challenging to pinpoint the single best thing to do in Kona from a local’s perspective, with the array of unique and enchanting activities available.

Yet, we’re here to shed light on some of the top picks that are deeply rooted in the essence of the Big Island. Ready to uncover what makes Kona Hawaii unforgettable? Let’s dive in.

Why Ask a Local

When it comes to discovering all the best things to do in Kona, Hawaii, it’s the locals who truly hold the key. Why?

Because locals provide insights based on a lifetime spent in Kona. This is their home and who better to guide you around? Here are a few compelling reasons why you might want to ask a local.

  • Hidden Gems: They Know the Best-Kept Secrets – Locals have an in-depth knowledge of their hometown, Kona. They can guide you to the hidden gems tucked away from the main tourist tracks. These lesser-known spots often include beautiful beaches, trail-blazing hikes, and family-owned eateries that offer authentic Hawaiian cuisine.
  • Respectful Tourism: They Guide You to Be a Conscious Traveler – The people of Kona, Hawaii are very protective of their land and culture. Locals can educate you about respecting their customs, their sacred places, and how to travel sustainably in Kona. This is responsible tourism at its best!
  • Unique Experiences: They Let You in on Local Happenings- Who else but locals to inform you about ongoing cultural happenings and festivities? If you’re fortunate, you might discover a local festival or cultural event while you’re visiting. These are opportunities to experience and embrace Hawaiian traditions and local spirit.

friends sitting together watching the sunrise during the Mauna Kea Sunrise Experience in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, USA

The Best Things to Do in Kona Ranked

10. Try Island-Grown Produce at the Farmer’s Markets

Get ready to taste your way through Kona’s bounty! One of the unmissable things to do in Kona Hawaii is visiting the local farmer’s markets where you’ll find an array of island-grown produce and artisanal goods.

It’s the perfect chance to indulge in the freshness of the tropics and savor delights such as juicy pineapples, sweet mangoes, and creamy avocados. These markets are a real feast for your senses.

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Don’t miss out on sampling unique island specialties like apple bananas or the local root veggies that are staples in Hawaiian cuisine. As you stroll, you’ll come across vendors offering everything from fresh-baked bread to locally-made soaps and exquisite handcrafted jewelry—an authentic slice of island life you won’t find anywhere else.

Much more than a shopping trip, these farmer’s markets are a vibrant community gathering place. Engage in friendly conversations with local farmers, learn about the diverse array of crops grown on the island, and discover traditional Hawaiian cooking methods from those who know them best.

If you’re looking for Kona activities that offer both a flavorful journey and cultural exchange, this is it!

View of Akaka Falls on a sunny day in Hilo, Hawaii, USA

9. Visit a Local, Family-Run Coffee Farm

Perhaps one of the most quintessential experiences to have in Kona, Hawaii, is visiting a local, family-run coffee farm. The region is home to the world-renowned Kona coffee, celebrated globally for its rich, bold flavors. If you’re a coffee enthusiast, you’ll be delighted by the vast variety of coffees you’ll get to sample on your tour.

Following the footsteps of Costa Rica, these local Kona coffee farms offer an engaging, immersive experience. You’ll learn about the history of coffee cultivation in Kona, and the production processes, and witness the roasting and brewing processes.

Many coffee farms in Kona invite guests to take on interactive experiences, including barista training, working alongside roasters, or being a part of home brewing classes. It offers an insightful peek into the love and labor that goes into growing every coffee berry.

With over 700 local coffee farms in the Kona district, each tour offers its unique narrative, offering visitors an insight into the historical significance of coffee in shaping Kona’s economy and cultural fabric.

And of course, every visit ends on a high note — savoring a cup of freshly brewed Kona coffee, perhaps one of the best cups you’ll ever have! Whether it’s your first visit to Kona, or your hundredth, visiting these vibrant coffee farms is a must-do.

Coffee Beans - The Big Island, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Anastasiia Chepinska via Unsplash

Bonus: “Talk Story” at a Cafe and Sample Kona Coffee

No time to visit a local coffee farm in Kona? Drop by a coffee shop instead! Amidst the friendly atmosphere in a traditional Kona café, savor the distinct flavors of Kona coffee, renowned worldwide for its exceptional taste.

Grown locally in the fertile soil of the Kona District, this coffee variety undergoes a distinctive cultivation and processing routine that adds to its unique flavor.

End your busy day of adventure sitting comfortably in a local café, chatting—or as locals say, “talking story”—with baristas, learning about the unique history of Kona coffee, and sipping on a freshly brewed cup.

You’ll get to revisit the day’s exploits, strategize about tomorrow’s plans, and truly absorb the essence of the laid-back Kona lifestyle.

8. Explore Kona’s Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens

Kona is home to numerous botanical gardens, each boasting a variety of vibrant flora unique to the island.

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Whether time on your itinerary is a luxury or a constraint, regardless of the specific aim of your visit, or based on the proximity to your Kona resort, there’s always a botanical garden fitting right into your schedule in Kona, Hawaii.

Here are three of the best botanical gardens in Kona:

Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden

The Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden is a special place nestled in Captain Cook, a mere 30-minute drive from Kailua Kona. It’s a living testament to the native Hawaiian flora and their deep-seated cultural connections.

As you wander through the lush, verdant pathways, you’ll gain valuable insights into the traditional Hawaiian uses for these unique plants in an experience that’s both enchanting and educative. The widely accessible paths ensure no one misses out on this captivating journey, regardless of mobility levels.

helicopter flying over hawaii
photo credit: via Facebook

World Botanical Gardens

The World Botanical Gardens in Kona, Hawaii is notably the largest of the botanic gardens in the area, providing an alluring scenic drive through the elaborate greenery.

This verdant sanctuary showcases an abundance of tropical plants, making it an absolute heaven for botanic enthusiasts seeking a closer look at the biodiversity of the island.

Despite its scale and immense variety, the World Botanical Gardens is situated relatively further from Kona, so be prepared to allocate sufficient travel time to reach and explore this botanical marvel.

Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens

The Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens is situated in the heart of Kailua Kona, offering a conveniently located destination for those seeking a short, botanical outing amid other town activities.

The garden puts a keen focus on native Hawaiian plants, creating an intimate and immersive environment for visitors to learn about the distinctive flora of Kona.

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Although smaller in scale compared to the Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, its accessibility and unique focus make it a worthwhile visit.

7. Learn About Sea Horses at the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm

An excursion to the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm is an absolute must when you’re looking for things to do in Kona Hawaii. Ocean Rider, located just a stone’s throw from the Kona International Airport, has positioned itself as a world leader in seahorse conservation.

This isn’t your typical aquarium visit, as this farm offers an amazing educational experience that will fascinate you.

Immerse yourself in the world of this delicate marine creature through guided tours that provide a fun and enlightening journey underneath the sea!

From seahorse babies to fully grown adults, you’ll witness firsthand this farm’s excellent work in breeding, rearing, and conveying the importance of seahorse protection.

Make sure you don’t miss the chance to hold a friendly little seahorse in your own hands! This unique experience will give you new respect for these tiny, mesmerizing creatures and the vital role they play in their ecosystem. Not to mention, it makes for an unforgettable photo opportunity!

a distant photograph of a man at Mauna Kea Stellar Explorer Kona in Hawaii.
photo credit: KapohoKine Adventures via Facebook

6. Snorkel or Dive in Kealakekua Bay and Other Spots

Just a few miles south of Kona District, Kealakekua Bay beckons, its crystal clear waters providing one of the best snorkeling spots in all of Kona Hawaii. This side of the Big Island truly excels at delivering first-rate marine encounters.

Captain Cook, the famous British explorer, found his final resting place here, but it’s the underwater spectacle that remains the area’s main draw. Teeming with tropical fish in an array of resplendent colors, the bay also welcomes Hawaiian Spinner dolphins that regularly frolic in its warm waters.

For those looking for more Kona Hawaii things to do and craving a touch of history while soaking in the tropical paradise, the Captain Cook Monument is a sight not to be missed.

A short hike leads you to this historical gem, offering a window into Hawaii’s past amidst the sun-soaked beauty of the present.

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Should you find yourself seeking more underwater explorations after your day at Kealakekua Bay, remember that Kona Hawaii is brimming with places to strap on a snorkel. There are beach parks aplenty, each with its own distinctive charm and teeming with marine wildlife.

Whether you’re an experienced diver or trying snorkeling for the first time, Kona’s underwater world is sure to leave you astounded.

close up of Sea Turtle with snorkelers
photo credit: Hawaii – via Facebook

Bonus: Watch the Sunset at Less-Crowded Beaches

When you’re looking for things to do in Kona Hawaii, catching the sunset at one of Kona’s less-crowded beaches is a genuine treat that locals love. Imagine sitting on the white sand, basking in the serene atmosphere as the hues of the setting sun paint an astonishing canvas on the horizon.

Locals often hit the beaches a few miles south of the bustling Kailua Pier to unwind and indulge in the tranquility of nature. For a more engaging experience, bring a picnic blanket, lay back, and let the enchanting twilight of Kona envelop you.

couple holding drinks at Spirit of Aloha Catamaran Sunset Sail with water in background and mountain and buildings in distance in Big Island, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Port Waikiki Cruises via Facebook

5. Paddle a Traditional Outrigger Canoe Tour

Embrace the unique Hawaiian culture by hopping on a traditional outrigger canoe! The journey will seem like retracing the routes of the island’s ancestors and unfurling the pages of Kona’s rich history.

Paddling through the cerulean waters, you will savor the breathtaking sight of Kona’s captivating shoreline. Every stroke will etch a memory of the Pacific paradise in your heart, making it one of the must-try Kona activities.

Guided by seasoned locals, the tour promises knowledge, thrill, and plenty of fun. You are likely to spot resident marine life in their natural habitat – dolphins frolicking in your wake, turtles quietly observing from the sidelines and, if you are lucky, you might even get a spectacular show from the breaching whales (free whale watching for you, then!).

aerial view of turquoise water and green mountains with a blue sky at Waipi'o Valley in Big Island, Hawaii, USA

4. Hike Waipi’o Valley

Wondering what to do in Kona Hawaii? When in Kona, don’t miss the rare opportunity to hike through the awe-inspiring Waipi’o Valley. Known as the ‘Valley of the Kings,’ this location is steeped in Hawaiian history and is nothing short of enchanting.

Marvel at the scenic beauty that unfolds along the trails. From lush green landscapes to stunning cliff faces that seem to touch the sky, it’s a paradise for nature lovers.

As you venture deeper, you’ll witness cascading waterfalls ending in mesmerizing pools, a sight that lingers in many traveler’s memories long after their visit.

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This impressive valley, once home to Hawaiian royalty, now offers hikers a glimpse of some of the most magnificent views on the island. It’s a moderately challenging hike, so be prepared for some steep paths along the way.

For those who prefer a guided experience, there are tour options available that provide a comprehensive overview of the valley, its history, and the incredible flora and fauna that call it home. After a long hike, take a refreshing dip in the Hi’ilawe Falls, the tallest in the state.

Wear suitable footwear, bring ample water, and ensure you’re prepared for the weather – it can change quickly in the valley. From the taro fields to black sand beaches, these picturesque vistas will be a definite highlight of your Kona things to do.

Wide shot of Waipi'o Valley Lookout on a sunny day with bright blue water in Oahu, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Benjamin Vera-Tudela via Facebook

3. Tour Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Looking for the best things to do in Kona Hawaii? Immerse yourself in Hawaiian history as you explore Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historic Park, also known to some as the ‘Place of Refuge.’

This magnificent site, situated about 20 miles south of Kona International Airport, offers a glimpse into ancient Hawaiian culture and its age-old traditions. Visitors to this park find themselves stepping back in time, amid thatched huts, wooden images, and formidable temple walls.

Touring the park, you’ll gain an appreciation for the sacred rituals that took place here and the significance this site held as a sanctuary for those who had broken kapu, the ancient laws.

If someone broke these laws, their only chance for survival was to evade capture and make it to a place of refuge like Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau.

Surrounded by a lyrical landscape of palm groves and white sand, this National Historic Park delivers an educational experience steeped in natural beauty.

Visit the Great Wall that separates the royal grounds from the place of refuge and explore the wooden ki’i (carved images) dotted throughout the park, each with its own story.

Don’t miss the chance to witness a traditional Hawaiian game or peruse the array of crafted items offered by local artisans during your visit. You can even partake in cultural demonstrations ranging from hula performances to traditional food preparation practices if you time your visit right!

two men walking along kilauea iki trail outdoors in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island, Hawaii, USA

2. Join a Manta Ray Night Dive

Your next must-do activity in Kona Hawaii is a night dive with the Pacific’s majestic manta rays. This one-of-a-kind underwater experience is sure to create memories that will last a lifetime, as you observe these gentle giants performing intricate back-flips and somersaults against the velvet blanket of a Kona night sky.

After the sun sets, strap on your snorkeling gear or scuba diving equipment and get ready for an exciting adventure. Your journey begins at the Kailua Pier, where your experienced guide will provide a comprehensive safety briefing and introduce you to the ethereal world of manta rays.

Delving into the ocean depths, you’ll be greeted by the hauntingly beautiful spectacle of manta rays gracefully gliding by, illuminated by your dive lights.

Manta rays are extremely friendly and curious which truly amplifies the intimacy of this encounter. Just remember to keep a respectful distance and never attempt to touch a manta ray.

This activity is family-friendly too! Certified scuba divers (including children) can join this ethereal escapade for free when accompanied by a paid adult. So, don your diving suits, and get ready for this starlit aquatic journey, certainly a top thing to do in Kona Hawaii.

large whale jumping up out of the ocean and flipping through the air

1. Explore the Wonders of Volcanoes National Park

If there’s one activity that tops all the things to do in Kona Hawaii, it is exploring the magical Volcanoes National Park.

As the name suggests, Volcanoes National Park is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes. It’s a living testament to the island’s creation and evolution over countless millennia. This park offers more than just a guided tour for you. It’s an adventure to the world of unparalleled geological wonders.

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The park’s vast 333,000 acres are ripe for exploration. Delve deep into the lush rainforest, walk over stark volcanic landscapes, and get up close to the smoldering action on an active volcano. It’s an otherworldly experience that will stay with you long after your visit.

Aside from the volcanic features, the park is also a sanctuary for the island’s unique ecosystem. It’s home to a myriad of endemic species, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world. From native birds to distinct flora, it’s truly a paradise for nature lovers.

If you crave more after the daytime exploration, consider spending the night at the campgrounds to experience the park under the starlit skies. And, if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of the volcano’s glow against the night sky, a truly breathtaking sight.

No other place on the Big Island encapsulates the power, beauty, and history of Hawaii quite like Volcanoes National Park. It’s a reminder of the raw, untamed spirit of the islands.

So, when in Kona, make sure this is at the top of your to-do list. Your visit here won’t just be a trip; it will be an experience of a lifetime.

Lava Flowing over cliffs into the ocean at Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park - The Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Frequently Asked Questions about Kona

Hapuna Beach State Park is considered the number one beach in Kona Hawaii by locals and visitors alike. Stretching across half a mile of white sand, this majestic beach offers crystal-clear waters perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and snorkeling.

Absolutely! Kona, Hawaii captures the heart of its visitors with its unique blend of tropical beauty, rich history, and a variety of thrilling activities.

From stunning white sand beaches and a laid-back island lifestyle to night dives with manta rays, world-class coffee tours, and visits to historically significant sites, Kona offers an unrivaled potent mix of joy and exploration for every traveler.

Embark on a Guided Tour: The Best of Kona Vacation Package

Experience Kona, Hawaii to the fullest with the help of an all-inclusive vacation package from Tripster. This comprehensive bundle provides not only accommodation and transportation but also guided tours.

Delve into every Kona activity that sparks your interest, from exploring lush botanical gardens to night dives with manta rays.

Even better? The package can be custom-made to suit your preferences. You get to cherry-pick your preferred hotel and draw up a personal itinerary comprising the sites and attractions you’re keen to explore. It’s the most economical and seamless way to ensure that your adventure in Kona is one for the books.

Start customizing your Kona Hawaii adventure package now and witness the wonders of this magical Hawaiian paradise!

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Written by Nicole King

There are only two things that make Nicole really happy–books and travel! When her head’s not buried in a book, she’s most likely...

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