Big Island of Hawaii Best Areas to Stay
Finding Lodging on Big Island, Hawaii
Knowing where to stay on the Big Island is essential. The island is large (twice the size of all the other islands combined) and diverse. Many visitors find it challenging to decide upon an island accommodation. To assist the process, choose a location on the island that you will enjoy. Our guide will list some essential considerations to help you choose wisely.
Where Do You Stay on The Big Island?
Consider a location that affords you enough time to visit all or most popular attractions. A week might cut it on smaller islands like Kauai, Maui, or Oahu. But the size of the Big Island requires more time to see all the worthwhile attractions. We suggest one week as a minimum, but two or three weeks are ideal. Plan to divide your time between the two primary halves of the island: the West Side and the East Side.
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On this page, we'll cover each of the major Big Island regions you can find accommodations within. Here are this page's highlights...
- General overview of staying West side vs. East side
- Explore the Kohala Coast Region including its pros and cons
- Discover the Kailua-Kona Region and surrounding areas
- Explore the Hilo Town Region
- Discover places to stay in the Volcano Town Region
- Explore accommodation options in the north Hamakua Coast region
- Discover options in other regions including Puna, North Kohala, South (Kau), and Waimea Town
- Search for Big Island of Hawaii Hotels and find the Best Rates
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How to Maximize Your Stay From the West to the East of the Big Island
We suggest splitting your stay between Kailua-Kona on the west side and Hilo (or Volcano) on the east side during your trip. This will ease a lot of extra driving and allow you to experience both sides of the island. If you have only allocated a week to visit the island, four nights in Hilo and three in Kailua-Kona will suffice. Use that same ratio for more extended visits. Most visitors spend longer periods in Kailua-Kona since most hotels, upscale resorts, vacation rentals, and Big Island motels are here. The north of Kailua-Kona on the Kohala 'Gold' Coast hosts lodging options. Yet, since most of the Big Island's best attractions & sights are closer to Hilo, visitors should attempt to book accommodations in Hilo for at least half of their stay on the island.
Reasons for Staying Hilo Side
The main reason for staying on the Hilo side, whether in Downtown Hilo or the beautiful Volcano area, is proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park is so large that it takes about two days to explore, especially if there is any lava activity you want to see. The rangers at the visitor center can tell you all about what's happening in the park (you may even want to call ahead so you'll know in advance). If you plan to drive up to the summit of Mauna Kea, then Hilo is the best side to start your journey along Saddle Road. Additionally, many of the north (Hamakua) sites and Puna attractions are best visited from Hilo.
Reasons for Staying Kona Side
On the Kailua-Kona side, you'll have more time to explore the sights, beaches, historical and cultural locations, and attractions on that side of the island, including day trips up to Pololu and Waipio Valleys. Depending on your interests, you may want to give yourself more time in Kailua-Kona or Hilo- it's really up to you. Knowing where to stay and knowing when to visit the Big Island of Hawaii is equally essential.
Visiting the Hilo (East) Side
Hilo side is what we refer to the East side of the island, including downtown Hilo (the second largest town in Hawaii) and the Volcano area. This side of the island is considerably wetter than the west side, but the extra rain also create a lush and verdant paradise, unlike the barren lava fields of the Kona side. You'll find an abundance of waterfalls here right outside of Hilo. The Hilo airport is located here and, as noted above, can serve as a good place to either fly into or out of the island. One real downside to the east side is the lack of good beaches; they are few and far between here unfortunately. Ultimately, it's the east side's proximity to all of the great Big Island attractions that make staying here worth it though.
When visiting the Hilo side, we recommend staying either in a small hotel in town or preferably in one of the lodges/inns near Volcano. We love the Volcano area not only because of its proximity to the park but also because of the lush scenery.
Both Hilo and the Volcano area are lush and green for a reason- as noted above, it rains a good bit in these areas. Be sure to read our Big Island of Hawaii Weather article for more information.
The contrast between this side of the island and the Kailua-Kona side is incredible. Stark and barren lava fields on one side and lush and verdant rainforest on the other.
Visiting the Kona (West) Side
Kona side is the term used to refer to the entirety of the western side of the Big Island, including Kailua-Kona town. This side of the island is dry and barren, with lava fields stretching as far as you can see in some places. But the weather is considerably drier here than on the east side and the beaches are far superior on this side of the island too (even if some of them take a little work to access). The main airport on the island is also located here and combined with the variety of accommodations, can make this side of the island an excellent base by which to explore from.
When staying on the Kailua-Kona side, again, for those who are budget conscience, we recommend staying in a small inn or B&B. If budget isn't as much of a concern, there are an incredible assortment of accommodations available on this side of the island- including upscale luxury resorts.
Stretching from the Gold Kohala Coast north of Kailua-Kona town to the areas south of Kailua-Kona town you'll find everything from multimillion-dollar resorts to economical condominium rentals.
Here are some tips on making this division work in your best interest... plus, they'll save you some driving time.
- Fly into one of the major airports at either Kailua-Kona (KOA) or Hilo (ITO) and depart from the other. This may mean a slight fee for turning in your car on the opposite side of the island from where you rented it. But it isn't significant considering gas prices on the island. If the volcano in Hilo is doing something special (another reason to call the Park in advance), then it's worth staying on the Hilo side first. Then, you can explore the Park during the first or second day/night of your visit. Be sure to check out Hawaiian Airlines for great rates.
- Visit everything you want to see on that island and then drive to the other side. The volcano is very unpredictable. So if it's doing something spectacular at the start of your trip, make sure you see it. That activity can end the next day.
- When driving from one side of the island to the other, always take the Northern (Hamakua) Coast route. It's safer, and the speed limit is higher. There are also more attractions on that stretch of the island. We are not suggesting taking the southern route drive, as it's also quite scenic. Only do so when the weather is good and preferably early in the day. The fog and other weather can make the drive hazardous later in the day. The drive from Kailua-Kona to Hilo is more scenic via the northern route than driving from Hilo to Kailua-Kona when taking the southern way.
- Avoid Waimea town and Kailua-Kona (especially north of town) during rush hour. Traffic will slow to a crawl and can be very frustrating when trying to reach your destination.
Big Island Accommodations by Region
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of each of the areas we've briefly discussed above. These are in order of popularity, by our account.
Staying on the Kohala (Gold) Coast
Including Waikaloa and Kohala
Stretching north of Kailua-Kona town toward Kohala, you'll discover a part of the Kona coast known as the 'Gold Coast. That said, it lacks any authentic budget accommodations. Big Island's natural sights vary. Visit the primarily barren lava fields and volcanoes here.
Why Should You Stay in Kohala (Gold) Coast?
It's home to the Big Island's top resorts and some of the best beaches found anywhere. This includes the Waikoloa area. Also, you can find a variety of shops and restaurants here. Yet, this area screams luxury.
The Disadvantages of Staying in Kohala (Gold) Coast?
The Gold Coast takes you further away from many of the great attractions on the north (Hamakua) coast and east side of the island (like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park). Also, the area lacks a range of budget lodgings.
Our Recommended Places to Stay on the Kohala (Gold) Coast
A few of the most popular properties in this area are the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, the Fairmont Orchid, the Hilton Waikoloa Village, and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.
Pros and Cons of Staying In Kohala (Gold) Coast
- Wide variety of upscale resorts
- Great beaches available over much of the coastline
- An abundance of shopping and restaurants
- No budget-friendly hotels or accommodations
- Much of the area is in a lava field and not incredibly scenic
Staying in Kailua-Kona
Including Kailua-Kona and Nearby Areas
Kona refers to the western side of the Big Island, including Kailua-Kona town. This side of the island is dry, with lava fields stretching as far as you can see in some places. But the weather is considerably drier here than on the east side. The beaches are far superior on this side of the island, too. However, some may take a little work to access.
The major airport on the island is also located here. The Kailua-Kona area offers a variety of budget-friendly accommodations, making it ideal for those budget travelers looking to stay on the Westside. This side of the island is an excellent base from which to explore. Besides these Big Island lodging options, expect great family beaches, fantastic parks, activity-packed spots, and great dining options.
Why Should You Stay on Kailua-Kona and Nearby Areas?
Hotels vs. Vacation Rentals: Get ready for a rich supply of resorts, hotels, and vacation rentals here. Head to the South of Kailua-Kona for long-term vacation rentals on Big Island. Keauhou supplies several top alternatives for luxury seekers. Some of these resorts rest on sandy beaches. For more affordable, budget-friendly resorts, consider going to Kohala or Waikoloa.
Time to explore rich attractions: Spend more time exploring the sights, beaches, historical and cultural locations.
Day trips to Pololu and Waipio Valleys: What could be more beautiful than the valleys and mountains of the backcountry? Pololu and Waipio Valleys offer stunning scenery, lush vegetation, and rich streams.
The Disadvantages of Staying in Kailua-Kona and Nearby Areas
Many visitors refer to Kailua-Kona as a more 'touristy destination. Thus, crowds litter this area, especially after a cruise ship stops at its ports. Therefore, expect more noise and longer waits at attractions.
Our Favorite Places to Stay in Kailua-Kona
Stretching from the Gold Kohala Coast to the areas south of Kailua-Kona town, you'll find everything: multimillion-dollar resorts, economic condominium rentals, top-notch hostels, and cheap motels. So please check out Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, the Wyndham Mauna Loa Village, and the Kona Coast Resort.
- A wide variety of accommodations available, including budget accommodations
- Great assortment of beaches available just north of Kailua-Kona
- Several historic sites in the area for history buffs
- Great location to base from for West Side attractions
- An abundance of shopping and restaurants available
- Can be quite touristy in most places
- Can be very crowded in parts of Kailua-Kona town
- Traffic can be horrible from 3pm-6pm north of town
- May experience VOG (volcanic smog) at times
One of our absolute favorite places to stay on the Big Island is just south of Kailua-Kona. Holualoa Inn is a luxury Big Island Bed and Breakfast that features spectacular Pacific Ocean views on 30 lush acres of well-tended tropical fruit and flower gardens. Holualoa Inn provides the perfect blend of casual elegance and Polynesian luxury. A stunning custom-tiled mosaic pool, hot tub, six exquisite guest rooms, a private honeymoon cottage, rooftop pool, and garden gazebos have delighted guests for years. Plus, there are over 5,000 Kona Coffee trees on the property!
Staying in Hilo Town
Including Hilo and Nearby Areas
Locals refer to the Hilo side as the island's East side, which includes downtown Hilo (the second largest town in Hawaii) and the Volcano area. Ultimately, the east side's proximity to all the great Big Island attractions makes staying here worthwhile. Hilo is considerably less touristy than the west side of the island. It offers a range of lodgings for different budgets. The Hilo airport is located here and, as noted above, can serve as an excellent place to either fly into or out of the island.
Why Should You Stay in Hilo and Nearby Areas?
Hilo lies near a variety of famous sights and attractions. Many visiting families and individuals find this base optimal for sightseeing.
Nature and Weather: Enjoy the luxury of nature here. Here, the wet climate cultivates rushing waterfalls, intensely lush vegetation, and wildflowers and plant life. Both Hilo and the Volcano area are lush because it rains a good bit in these areas. Be sure to read our Big Island of Hawaii Weather article for more information.
Famous Sights: Hilo makes an excellent base for a drive up to the summit of Mauna Kea. Hilo is the best side to start your journey along Saddle Road. Hilo best visits many north (Hamakua) sites and Puna attractions.
Our Recommended Places to Stay in Hilo and Nearby Areas
Budget-friendly Hostels in Hilo: The town holds several hostels that cater to clean, affordable accommodation travelers. And many of them offer free Wi-Fi and breakfast. Arnott's Lodge & Hiking Adventures and the Hilo Bay Hostel receive the most positive feedback.
Long-term Vacation Rentals in Hilo: These rentals provide more privacy and an intimate experience to relax in nature. The space holds enough space to accommodate families and friend groups. Your travel group can benefit from amenities like a kitchen or private garden. Their prices vary, but check AirBnB for the best deals, especially along the Hamakua Coast.
Charming Bed And Breakfasts in Hilo: Many types of beds and breakfasts span across Hilo. You can choose from rustic chic to romantic ones. Each one offers a unique experience that will create an unforgettable memory for you. Like Hilo Bay, some of the popular Beds & Breakfasts in Hilo offer many exclusives to enhance your experience of Hilo's beautiful islands. You can enjoy the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
Take advantage of being so close to Volcano Park: We enjoy this area because of its proximity to the park and the lush scenery. We recommend staying either in small budget-friendly hotels in town or preferably in a lodge or inn near the Volcano.
The Disadvantages of Staying in Hilo and Nearby Areas
It's considerably wetter on this side of the island than in other locations. The rainy season can impede some of your travel plans or outdoor activities. Unfortunately, one absolute downside to the east side is the lack of good beaches; few are here. Therefore, beach bums may not favor this place.
Pros and Cons of Staying in Hilo and Nearby Areas
- Great proximity to Hamakua and Hilo attractions
- A good place to base from for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Decent selection of shops and/or markets available
- Very good access to Saddle Road and Mauna Kea attractions
- Lack of swimmable beaches
- Limited accommodations are available
- General area not as hospitable to visitors
- Can be quite wet in this area, especially at night
Staying in Volcano Town
Located just outside of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this area hosts some suitable lodgings for budgets and goals.
Why Should You Stay in Volcano Town?
This thrilling town holds many charming cottages, a few hostels, and hotels surrounded by ferns and lush vegetation. This area makes for an excellent place to set up camp to explore the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or the exciting spots along the Big Island's south (Kau) shoreline. Expect to spend about two full days exploring the park, especially if you're fortunate enough to find the lava active during your visit.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.: The park spans so far that it takes about two days to explore. It may take longer if you encounter any lava activity that you want to see. The rangers at the visitor center can inform you about the park's happenings. You can call them in advance to assist with your planning.
The Disadvantages of Staying in Volcano Town
The area lacks any large resorts near Volcano Park. You also have a limited supply of hotels and hostels.
Our Recommended Places to Stay in Volcano Town
We highly recommend the private luxury of a vacation rental. These luxurious properties range in rates and amenities. You can find them in the lush rainforest near the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Many find the area appealing for its privacy, family-friendly ambiance, and romantic setting. Additionally, most Hawaiian lodgings provide cozy amenities like a fireplace and hot tub.
The Pros and Cons of Staying in Volcano Town
- Great proximity to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
- Very lush jungle scenery
- Can be quite wet in this area
- Geographically isolated from most other attractions
Staying on the Hamakua Coast
Including all places on North Shore
The Hamakua Coast is a paradise for surfers. On the North Shore, surfers and water sports enthusiasts frequent several beaches. Yet, the place lacks proper accommodations. Consider staying nearby and making the area a day trip.
- Good proximity to many sights on the island (except Kailua-Kona)
- Can be very wet over much of the north coast
- Lack of major accommodations
Staying in Puna
Including Keaau and Pahoa
On the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, staying in Puna is not a simple task. Much of the area is still recovering from the devastating impact of the 2011 Kilauea volcano eruption. Thus, it lacks lodging for visitors.
- Good proximity to Hilo and HVNP
- Very lush scenery
- Not very hospitable to visitors
- Lack of major accommodations
- Very wet area
Staying in North Kohala
Including Hawi and Kapaau
You can get away from the crowds and enjoy much natural beauty while still being close enough to town to access local goods and services. Some of the wet, rough roads make travel difficult.
- Good proximity to many sights on the island (except HVNP and South attractions)
- Good variety of shops and art stores
- Can be fairly wet in places
- Lack of major accommodations
Staying in South (Kau)
Kau's charming coastal town of Punaluu provides the perfect setting to enjoy the sunsets and sunrises.
- Proximity to South Point and Punaluu Beach
- Poor proximity to many of the island's attractions
- Lack of major accommodations
Staying in Waimea Town
Waimea is a popular getaway for many people. Waimea is a great place for your next vacation. It has a beautiful natural setting and reasonable access to great hiking, surfing, and horseback riding on the Big Island. We recommend long-term rentals in Waimea, Big Island, for more extended stays in Hawaii.
Check out the Waimea Gardens Cottage in the heart of Waimea Valley. The location offers magnificent ocean views! Some other great options are Bed & Breakfasts.
- Great proximity to many sights on the island (except HVNP)
- Decent selection of shops
- Traffic can be very bad at times, especially during rush hour
- Lack of major accommodations
Best Places to Stay on The Big Island: A Guide for Every Type of Traveler
Use our quick guide to help you find the best areas to stay.
Best place to stay for families:
Consider the following resorts for families with children: Head to Waikoloa village for family-friendly beaches and resorts. The area offer multiple restaurants, poolside cabanas, and an on-site spa. Also, go to Kohala Coast on the northwestern shore of the island for white sand and calm swimming conditions for your children.
Best place to stay for Beach Bums:
Bar none, head to Hapuna Beach or South Kohala for the best beaches. You can find water activities, great waters, and nice sand.
Best place to stay for luxury seekers:
For a luxurious getaway, go to Kohala. The beachfront resorts are more expensive than other locations on the island. But the luxurious amenities make it worthwhile.
Best place to stay for backpackers:
Kona offers excellent deals. You can find beachfront lodgings or lodgings near the beach for a deal. The area host several dining options, shopping, and social gatherings besides the beautiful beaches. For budget travelers, we recommend staying in a small inn or B&B
Best place to stay for surfers:
Kahaluʻu (in Kona) and Banyans (in Kona) are popular surfing and snorkeling spots that offer good beginner and intermediate level surfing and snorkeling.
Best place to stay for couples on a romantic getaway:
For a private, romantic getaway, we recommend Papakolea Beach. Papakōlea Beach is a green sand beach near South Point, in the Kaʻū. While here, enjoy the adventure, beautiful views of the coastline, and the bright green sand.
Best place to stay for adventurer seekers:
The South Eastern Shore is the best side for adventure. People can visit the Kilauea volcano.
There are a lot of choices, but now that you know how to spend your time, what are the best places to stay in Hawaii, which routes to take during your travel, and vacation accommodations, you can begin narrowing down your options.
Best of luck as you complete your plans to visit the place of the incredible diversity that is the Big Island of Hawaii.