Kailua-Kona Guide

Kailua-Kona Guide
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Address , Kailua-Kona, HI
A guide to the city of Kailu-Kona on Hawaii's Big Island.

• General: Educational • General: History

Guide Series: Hawaii City Guides
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Kailula-Kona, is commonly referred to as “Kona” so as not to confuse it with the Kailua on Oahu. There are several historic sites, beaches, and activities that make Kona popular with visitors. Dolphin tours, sport fishing, snorkeling, and night manta ray tours are among the most fun – and popular boat tours. Surf and stand-up paddle-board lessons are also popular outdoor activities. The beaches are white and sandy making them ideal for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling. The town of Kailua-Kona is more economical way to visit the Big Island since lodging and restaurants are much more affordable than the resorts at Waikoloa and the Kohala Coast.

Geography & Population & Weather

The west coast of Hawaii is known as the “Kona Side” of the Big Island. It’s located near and below the Hualalai Volcano and is the largest city on the west side of the island. The area encompasses a population of 34,000 residents. The weather is typically dry with little rain as is the west side of all the Hawaiian Islands. There are around 300 days of sun each year. There are little if any northeasterly trade winds because the mountains provide a diverting wind barrier.

In recent years, Kailua-Kona has experienced an increase in Vog (short for volcanic fog) from Kilauea Volcano due to wind patterns up the South Kona Coast between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Kailua-Kona also suffered damage being at the epicenter of the 2006 earthquake.


Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA) or Keahole Airport is the main airport serving the west side of the Big Island. It’s located about 11 miles north of Kailua-Kona. Most visitors rent cars at the airport to get around. Fortunately, traffic is light on the Big Island relative to the other Hawaiian Islands. However, it does get congested if accidents occur or events are taking place such as the Ironman World Championship - Kona.

Cruise ships arrive typically arrive at the Kailua Pier on Wednesdays. The Norwegian Cruise Line - Pride of America ship, Pride of America, serves the island weekly. Other cruise lines such as Princess Cruises and Holland America visit the island seasonally from the mainland.


The area was once a small fishing village. The uniter of the Hawaiian Islands, King Kamehameha, chose to live here until he passed away. His son King Liholiho, known for abolishing the kapu (forbidden) system, that enforced harsh code of conduct for natives, also lived in Kailua-Kona. It later became the capital for the Kingdom of Hawaii before it moved to Lahaina, and finally Honolulu.

Missionaries later took residency in the early 1800s, and built the first Christian missionaries churches and planted coffee in the slopes below Hualalai Volcano. The region transformed from a once sleepy fishing village into a port of commerce and center for government in the 1800's.

In the late 1900's investment and growth took hold of the region and fueled development of hotels, homes, and condos supported by shops and restaurants in Kailua-Kona.


Kailua-Kona doesn't have the best beaches on the Big Island, but there are several worth visiting if your staying here.

Kahalu'u Beach is a nice family beach with tranquil waters (perfect for snorkeling) and an adjoining beach park. Best to go mid-week as it gets crowded on the weekends.

Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel is located in front of Kamakahonu Beach. There are equipment rentals available and it’s located right on Alii Drive which is convenient for grabbing a bite or exploring the walk once you're done playing in the water.


The two most popular events on the Big Island are the Ironman World Championship - Kona in October and the Merrie Monarch Festival.

The Ironman World Championship - Kona is one of the most inspirational things one can ever see. Many of the participants have overcome huge obstacles to compete in this brutal competition of iron wills. It is the consummate event showing what man is physically capable of through determination. The event features a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride and capped with a 26.2 mile run. Thousands of triathletes apply to participate, but the selection process is not solely based on having the absolute top athletes, but also people who have overcome life events such as cancer. Only 1800 athletes are selected to participate. You have no reason to whine about working out after watching these warriors cross the finish line.

The Merrie Monarch Festival is a celebration of Hawaiian culture with a a week-long festival off exhibits musical entertainment, and most notably – the hula competitions. The Miss Aloha Hula, kahiko, and ‘auana, hula competitions are nods to the best of Hula from ancient times to modern. Book accommodations early since this televised event attracts visitors and performers from around the world.

Other popular annual events are the Kona Coffee Festival, and the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament.


Manta Ray night dives are offered by several companies that will take you on an excursion to the enormous but harmless manta rays off the waters of Kailua-Kona. The guide will shine lights on the water, which attracts plankton, and the manta rays will come out to feed on it. Snorkel and dive tours are available. Little snorkel experience is needed to enjoy the experience.

Visit Moku'aikaua Church, the first Christian church in Hawaii. Built in 1837, Moku'aikaua Church remains much intact as it did almost 200 years ago. It’s still an active congregational church with Sunday services. It was build with lava rock, coral based mortar, and includes the ballasts of sailing ships. It has beautiful native Hawaiian in the interior, and has old artifacts on display.

Take a 90 minute historic walking tour of Kailua Village. Operated by the Kona Historical Society, the tour visits historic structures such as Hulihe'e Palace, Moku'aikaua Church, and St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

Visit the The Kona Coffee Living History Farm. This 5.5 acre farm offers visitors an opportunity to visit a coffee farm as it was in 1900. Costumed performers demonstrate methods of farming and creating tools and crafts. Visitors can walk through macadamia nut and coffee fields, see donkeys and other farm animals and explore a historic farmhouse. The stories of Japanese immigrants who worked the orchards are depicted in their daily lives.

Take a swim with the Dolphins. Dolphins are intelligent enchanting creatures that exist in a different world than us. Taking a tour to a school of dolphins and watching them interact is like seeing another civilization living on a different plane. It’s possible to see dolphins while swimming offshore, but to ensure that you’ll see them you should take a tour. People of all ages and swimming abilities can enjoy dolphin swims. Tour operators will take you to the places dolphins are mostly likely to be, then equip you with snorkels, masks, and life vests. Bring a GoPro or waterproof camera.