Looking to cruise to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii? Here are 20 ways to enjoy the stunning destination. From volcanic mountain escapades, beautiful tropical beaches, and some of the world’s best coffee, fun awaits you on the big island.
Kona’s conditions allow it to boast of the best beaches on the island. The beaches are perfect for snorkeling. It is also popularly known for its world-famous Kona Coffee. Visiting the island allows you to not only sample the coffee but see it’s production from farm to the mug.
Where is Kailua-Kona, Hawaii?
Kailua-Kona is the Big island’s leeward side. Located on the western side it is dryer and sunnier year-round. This makes it a popular destination in Hawaii, any time of the year. The cruise destination is around 167 miles southeast of Honolulu.
This conditions made it a suitable place for business, thus making it the Capital City of the Big Island. Kona enjoys great sunny weather all year round. It has the best beaches on the island featuring clear warm waters perfect for snorkeling.
Separated from Hilo by a range of volcanic mountains, there are plenty of exciting adventures awaiting you in Kona, Hawaii. However, with limited time in port, you might not get to do them all.
Kailua-Kona Port Information
Ships anchor offshore at Kailua Bay and tender cruisers to Kailua pier located at the center of Kailua village. The historic village features plenty of restaurants and shops which you can tour on foot.
There are two beaches on either side of the pier. These beaches are great for sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling. To go into the town, board the $1 trolley that covers the entire Kona town.
What to do in Kailua Kona
Without further delay let’s find out what you can do during a port of call in Kona. We’ve listed them in no particular order:
1. Kailua Kona City Tour
Explore the historic Kona coast along Ali’i Drive, by stopping at national historic landmarks such as Hulihee Palace, Mokuaikaua Church, and Ahuena Heiau temple.
Hulihee Palace was once the summer home of Hawaiian Royals. Mokuaikaua Church was the first Christian church to be built in Hawaii. While the Ahuena Heiau temple was King Kamehameha 1’s sacred and political strong house. It’s the thatched house seen from the pier.
Start this tour at Kailua village located right at the pier. Here you will shop for Hawaiian t-shirts, ukulele, crafts, and other souvenirs. Or dine in one of the many restaurants in the area.
Don’t limit yourself to a city tour only. With limited time on the island, a day trip to popular sites on the Big Island will help you see the whole island in a short period. The best and safest way is to book directly through the cruise line.
2. Wander Along Ali’i Drive
Wander along Kailua Kona’s main street. This mile-long coastal road stretches from Kailua Pier to Keauhou Shopping Center. It fronts shopping outlets, historic places, the farmers market, restaurant, and eateries.
Referred to as the heart of Kona, Ali’i drive is the best place to shop while you are on the Big Island. Here is where you can shop for jewelry, cheap souvenirs, locally made art, and more.
Take a stroll along the sea, enjoy the views or chat up local fishermen going about their day. Explore the historic landmarks along the drive and stop by restaurants to grab lunch. On the other side of the road are great places to picnic and just enjoy the sea breeze.
3. Visit the Place of Refuge
In Hawaii’s ancient times, people were governed by a set of rules known as the Kapu. Breaking these rules was the same as committing a taboo. It could have been anything, from setting foot on royal grounds to eating certain foods or standing in a chief’s shadow and more. The punishment for such was death by human sacrifice.
However, there was a way to escape this judgment. A person had to reach the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau grounds to be pardoned. That’s why the grounds are called the Place of Refuge.
Fronted by Honaunau Bay which at the time was infested by sharks and the only way to get to the safe grounds. Pu’uhonua grounds were divided into two parts, the royal family grounds, and the place of refuge. Visit the grounds and learn the history of Hawaiians and the royal families.
4. Beach Bum on Hawaii’s Best Beaches
Make it a beach day at the Kekaha Kai State Park which features three beaches, Maniniowali, Mahaiʻula, and Makalawena. These beaches have crystal clear turquoise waters and a black lava rock background.
Granted these are not the most accessible beaches, but their off-the-beaten-path-nature makes them secluded and uncrowded; perfect for a great beach day.
- Kua Bay (Maniniowali) beach features a stretch of sugary white sand with crystal clear waters; perfect for snorkeling.
- Mahaiʻula Beach is pretty with plenty of shade from an abundance of coconut palms. This is not the best beach for swimming though.
- If you are up for a strenuous mile-long hike, then Makalawena Beach found a mile away from Mahai’ula Beach is perfect for you.
- Check out the White Sands (magic) beach. This beach’s sand temporarily disappears when there is a rough surf. It’s great for surfing.
- Go snorkeling at Kahalu’u beach. Blessed with a fertile offshore reef makes this beach, one of the best snorkeling beaches on the Big Island. Enjoy lying on the beach’s dark grey sands.
- Other great beaches include Hapuna and Mauna Kea Beach, both located north of Kona in Kohala. They both boast of soft sands and crystal clear water that is good for swimming and snorkeling.
Other than the beaches of Kekaha Kai state park, the rest have plenty of amenities like showers, bathrooms, parking, and restaurants.
5. Visit the Kona Historical Society
History Buffs and coffee lovers must make a stop at Kona Historical Society located at Mamalahoa Highway Kealakekua, just a few miles south of Kona. This non-profit organization aims at collecting, preserving, and telling the history of Kona.
The society has two Historical sites, the H.N Greenwell Store Museum and Kona Coffee Living History Farm. Learn how to roll and make traditional Polynesian sweetbreads in an interactive baking class on-site. Or tour the Greenwell Store Museum for a glimpse into the culture and history of the property.
You can also take a stroll in the coffee farm to learn the history of Kona Coffee and the family that owned the coffee fields. Then sample Kona coffee, bananas, and macadamia nuts grown in the farm.
6. Snorkel at Kealakekua Bay
Snorkeling is one of the reasons that Kailua Kona is so famous and one of the best places to snorkel is at Kealakekua Bay. This historic bay is where Captain Cook was killed.
Located 12 miles south of Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua is a marine preserve with plenty of coral and tropical fish. It’s warm clear waters teem with marine life including spinner dolphins. It’s a popular snorkel and dive destination on Hawaii’s Big Island.
The park is free to enter though kayaks and snorkeling gear are rented at a fee. For the former, a landing certificate is required. There is a nice picnic area to have lunch. The best time to snorkel is in the middle of the day when the sun shines through the water.
7. Kohala Waterfall Adventure
Go on a thrilling waterfall adventure in Kohala. This adventure involves hiking through the verdant countryside of Kohala, crossing plantations, creeks, and forest areas to get to the waterfalls. All seven waterfalls are remarkable with the last being the best.
Your adventure will start with a scenic drive along Kona’s North Coast. Then follow with a hike through the Kohala Ditch Trail, whose waters come from the waterfalls. This ditch once provided water for sugarcane plantations nearby.
Lunch and hiking gear is provided. If you feel hot after the hike, cool off by swimming in the waters of the last waterfall. You can book this tour with your cruise line or reputable local tour operators.
8. Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park
Located on the rugged south coast of Kona is Kaloko-Honokohau National Park. This wilderness of lava was once a settlement for the Kanaka Maoli people. It’s interesting to learn how they survived here and why. It’s believed the Kanaka Maoli people found mana(power in Hawaiian) in the area. You can see their traditions and beliefs embedded in petroglyphs throughout the park.
Kaloko-Honokohau is also popular for its green turtles and the two ancient fish ponds found in the park. Explore the fish ponds to discover the incredible engineering skills that past Hawaiian civilizations possessed.
You will have a chance to see a lot of Hawaiian fish, green turtles, monk seals, and native birds in this park.
Hike to get to the beach or to explore the petroglyph rocks but do it early morning or late afternoon to avoid the intense heat. If you are not interested in hiking, just drive to the marina, the beach is close by from there.
Pack light when cruising to Kailua-Kona Hawaii and leave room for keepsakes in your suitcase. In Kona, you can purchase the unique Hawaiian bowls made from Koa wood, jewelry, Hawaiian quilts, and designer aloha shirts.
The main shopping areas are at Historic Kailua Village and Keauhou Shopping Center. Not forgetting the Kona farmers market, which sells the freshest tropical fruits in all of Hawaii.
10. Kona Farmers Market
Kona Farmers Market is located on Ali’i Drive in the heart of Kailua Kona. It is a large outdoor market that opens from Wednesday to Sunday from 7 am to 4 pm.
The market features over 40 stalls selling fresh flowers, fruits, vegetables, and Kona coffee. Jewelry, handmade local arts, and crafts are other items you can find at the market.
At this market is where you can sample every tropical fruit imaginable. Enjoy the varieties of fruits such as rambutan, longan, and dragon fruit. The prices are affordable too. Don’t miss out on the sweet snacks made from these fruits, especially the lilikoi (passion fruit) pound cake.
11. Taste Kailua-Kona
Hawaii’s food scene is as varied as it’s topography. Luckily you get to taste all these food varieties in Kona. Enjoy seafood-based dishes comprising of Mahi Mahi and the popular Ahi tuna.
Devour dishes infused with Papaya, Macadamia nuts, and locally sourced ingredients. Of course, you cannot say you have tasted Hawaii if you haven’t had their popular Plate Lunch. It’s a rice-based dish, served with savory meats that have been slow-cooked for over half a day with a topping of potato mac n cheese salad.
One of the most popular places to eat at in Kona is the Big Island Grill famous for its loco moco. Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill the place for pork chops and seafood platters and healthy eating at Island Naturals Market and Deli.
12. Visit the Petroglyph Fields
There are many Petroglyph fields in Hawaii. These fields feature graphic drawings of what seems to be stick men, canoes, and animals. Other carvings are in the form of lines and dots. What they mean, no one knows, but it’s fun to check them out and try to imagine what life was like nearly 1000 years ago.
The major petroglyph fields in Kona are found on its northern coast. These are the Puako and Waikoloa Petroglyph fields, which are filled with hundreds of carved images.
The largest concentration with 1200 petroglyphs can be seen at Puako Petroglyph Archeological Preserve. Located on Highway 19, it takes about 30 minutes to reach the Archeological Preserve. Or you can take a tour here
Try visiting early morning or late afternoon. Wear good sturdy shoes, carry plenty of water and wear a hat, it can get hot out there pretty quickly.
13. Go on a Kona Coffee Tour
Kona is best known for its coffee. Kona coffee farms are found on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa volcanoes north and south of Kona district. Favored with high elevation points, rich volcanic soil, and constant cloud cover, Kona has the best environment for coffee farming.
Go on a coffee tour and learn about coffee farming, processing, and manufacturing. In most tours, you will get a chance to process the coffee yourself and carry it home. There are sampling sessions at the end of these tours.
Kona coffee tours are done at the Greenwell farm and Wailele plantations. You can book these tours via your cruise ship or reputable local tour operators.
14. Helicopter Tour
Hawaii’s diverse landscapes are best seen from the air. There are several places on the Big Island that are unreachable on foot including areas in Kailua-Kona. Helicopters tours make it possible to reach these places and within a very short time too.
Highlights of helicopter tours include touring the Kilauea volcano, the most active volcano in the world. Get a bird’s eye view of the volcano’s core and the fiery red lava that flows out of it.
Then head over to Hamakua Coastline and tour the beautiful rugged coastline all the way to the Kohala mountains. Flying above the mountains reveals the Big Island’s lush interior. The lush Kohala mountains form deep valleys and high peaks graced with multiple cascading waterfalls. The beauty of this place is truly magical.
While it’s a bit expensive to go on a helicopter tour. Kailua-Kona is one of the places that warranties this kind of spending. It will be worth it to see some of the most dramatic landscapes in the world.
15. Whale Watching
If cruising to Kailua-Kona between January and March, then make sure to go whale watching. Whale watching is one of the most unique things to do on the Big Island.
Head on over to the scenic Kohala coast and watch these magnificent creatures as they breach, and tail slap rhythmically. The whales migrate from Alaska’s cold waters during winter to Hawaii’s warm waters to mate and calve.
Through a hydrophone, you can listen to whale songs from the male whales.
Carry camera and binoculars to have a great view of the whales. This trip is seasonal remember to plan accordingly. Book your whale watching tour right here.
16. Atlantis Submarine
Want to see the Kona from a different angle? Then try the Atlantis submarine adventure. Get submerged at least 100 feet below water and get a front-row view to Hawaii’s kaleidoscope reef system with its colorful fish.
Experience the thrill of riding in a submarine. The Atlantis submarine is well conditioned with comfortable interiors to allow you a comfortable environment to see Hawaii’s beautiful marine world.
Your tour starts with a 5-minute boat ride from the pier to the submarine. After a safety briefing, you are ushered into the sub where it descends to 100 feet below water. The sub then glides gently over the coral reef. Keep your camera running, you never know what might pop out of the blues.
Book your Atlantis submarine tour here
17. Kohala Zipline
Go on a ziplining adventure on the North Kohala Mountains. Your adventure starts with a hike up the lush forests of Kohala. At the Zipline site, there are 5 suspension bridges and 9 ziplines. Enjoy flying above the forest’s canopy from tree to tree.
You will get panoramic views of the Kohala Coast and the island of Maui. This tour includes snacks. Enjoy delicious macadamia nuts grown in the nearby farms.
18. Swim with Dolphin
Swim with wild spinner dolphins of Kona shore. Book an encounter with a dolphin tour, and meet them at their most active hours, when they are coming from feeding or when they wake up and are ready to go feed again. You will be guided by professional biologists who ensure the safety of the dolphins first.
Swim along with the dolphin and hope they invite you to play with them in the leaf game. Most trips combine an early morning dolphin swim with a snorkel tour later in the day. Make the most of such trips and enjoy the best of Kona Marine wildlife.
19. Ocean Rider Sea Horse Farm
Visit the only Sea horse farm in the United States. At the sea horse farm, you get to see baby, adult, and pregnant male sea horses. The sea horse farm is also home to the leafy sea dragons. The highlight of this tour is when a sea horse curls up its tail on your finger.
Sea horses are peculiar animals, with the head of a horse, eyes of a chameleon, kangaroo poach, skin instead of scales, and a monkey tail. They make for very interesting pets. However, overfishing, petting, and the increasing medical trade have almost brought this precious creature to extinction.
But at Kona’s Ocean Rider Sea Horse Farm, things are changing. They are helping conserve this mysterious creature through the best practices possible. This farm is located 5 miles north of Kona. Visit the farm and explore over 36 species of sea horses.
20. Go Sportfishing
Kona is known as the billfish capital of the world. Anglers from all over the world come to prove their fishing might here.
If you like sportfishing, why not try it in Hawaii? Book a deep-sea fishing tour in Kailua’s calm warm waters. Release your hook and sink a merlin, wahoo, Ahi Tuna, Mahi Mahi or spear nose fish. Whether you catch something or not, it is a great 5 hours spent on Hawaii’s fertile waters.
Kailua experiences warm weather throughout the year with highs of 95 in the summer and lows of 80 in the winter. There is no good or bad time to visit Kona, which is a plus. However, some activities such as whale watching are seasonal and can only be done between January and March.
Also Read: Best Things to Do in Honolulu, Hawaii (Oahu) for Cruisers
We’ll See You on the Big Island!
With these 20 things to do in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii you are guaranteed to have plenty of fun on your visit to Kona. If your cruise docks overnight, attend the Luau dinner show and learn how to hula dance like Hawaiians.
As mentioned before, this is not an exhaustive list of things to do in Kona for cruise visitors. Therefore, keep an open mind and try any adventurous tour that picks your interest. Happy Cruising!!