Where to Stay on the Big Island: 5 Jaw-dropping Areas to Consider

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If you’re visiting the Big Island, you’ve probably noticed that it’s, well, realllllly big. So big, that it would take you six hours to drive the full loop around it. So it can feel a bit overwhelming to pick where to stay, given how huge of an impact this will have on how easily you’re able to explore this slice of paradise. Here’s everything you need to know about where to stay on the Big Island, from the areas’ driveability, proximity to the island’s best beaches and attractions, and how easy (or not!) it’ll be on your wallet.

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Reflective pool at the Hilton Waikoloa Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii
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First things first—the Big Island is HUGE.

In fact, you could fit all of the other Hawaiian Islands inside its massive footprint- pretty wild, huh? So, where you’re staying during your time here is going to dictate whether you’re conveniently located close to the attractions that you want to hit—or whether you’re going to spend your precious time in paradise, driving for hours on end from your accommodations to wherever you’d rather be exploring. 

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that most travelers choose between staying on Kona and Kohala on the west side or Hilo on the east side. We wrote a whole article about Kona vs. Hilo, but in a nutshell, Kona and Kohala are sunnier and drier, with easier access to beaches and water activities, whereas Hilo is rainier and lush, with close proximity to Volcanoes National Park and some of the best hikes on the Big Island.

Woman in a sea pool along the Kona coastline of the Big Island of Hawaii

If you have more than a couple of days here, I’d suggest breaking up your Big Island itinerary so that you can stay on both the east and west sides of the island and explore each of these incredible places a little bit deeper. 

However, if you’re just going to be on the Big Island for a day or two, I’d personally suggest that most travelers stay in Kona or Kohala, due to their proximity to the majority of the most popular tourist attractions. 

On the other hand, if you’ve got quite a bit of time here or you’re looking to soak up some more authentic island vibes, there’s other lesser-explored areas around the Big Island that may be more up your alley (but more on those below!).

Punaluʻu black sand beach on the Big Island on Hawaii

With that context in mind, let’s get into it!

Where to Stay on the Big Island

The Big Island is so big that it’s broken into several sections. Starting from Kona on the west side (which is confusingly both the name of a city and the name of a section of the island) and moving clockwise along the coastline, you’ll find Kohala, Hamakua, Hilo, Puna, and Ka’u. 

Below, I’m skipping the sections that really don’t have accommodations (I’m looking at you, Ka’u), and am ranking the others in accordance to the best places to stay on the Big Island. Although, to be clear, there’s definitely no wrong choice here!

1. Kona 

As mentioned above, Kona is located on the west side of the island and is where the majority of travelers fly into and stay.

This makes total sense- it has the most accommodations, as well as bars and restaurants in its adorable and charming downtown (I loooove the enormous banyan trees here!). Plus there’s tons of things to do in Kona, from sipping Kona coffee at any of its 650(!!) coffee farms or watching the sunset before enjoying a feast at a luau, like the Voyagers of the Pacific at the Royal Kona Resort. It’s also where most Big Island tours, like snorkeling with manta rays at night or snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, depart from.

And if you’re coming to the Big Island to soak up the sun, Kona and the rest of the western side has more beautiful beaches AND more beach vacation-y weather than the rest of the island.

Aerial beach with volcanic rock and turquoise water in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii

To be totally honest, despite being the hub for all of the action, many of the hotels in Kona can feel a little bit dated—there’s really only one option here, the Four Seasons, if you’re looking to stay in the lap of luxury (have you ever been inside a Four Seasons? They smell AMAZING!). 

The amazingness of how the Four Seasons smells, aside, if you don’t need a four star resort, Kona will generally offer a better value than some of the other areas on the western side of the island. To be clear, I wouldn’t exactly expect budget-friendly hotels in Kona either- the western side of the island tends to be pretty pricey!

Buildings in downtown Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii

So if you can look past the slightly dated interiors, consider staying at:

  • King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort (Courtyard by Marriott): This property strikes the perfect balance—it’s within walking distance to Kona’s charming, historic downtown but is tucked far enough away from the action along its very own beach. The perfectly clean rooms have balconies (some with ocean views!) and the property comes with on-site dining options and a stunning beachside pool, with plenty of chairs and umbrellas to lounge under. 
  • Royal Kona Resort: At this beachfront resort, you’re basically in the heart of downtown Kona. Every room has a spacious lanai (some with mountain or ocean views) and the resort boasts all of the amenities you’d need on a Hawaiian vacation—a pool overlooking the ocean, an onsite restaurant with a killer patio, and a spa, in case you want to treat yourself during your time in paradise. 
Sunset along the Kona coastline on the Big Island of Hawaii
  • Kona Seaside Hotel: Inarguably one of the best value accommodations in Kona, this Native Hawaiian owned and operated hotel is a charming alternative to the larger mega resorts. Here, you’ll find calming swings on the lanai, beautifully manicured grounds, and friendly and helpful staff.
  • Four Seasons Hualalai: One of these things is not like the other—this one definitely doesn’t fit into either the outdated or budget-friendly category. In fact, the Four Seasons is probably the most luxurious resort in all of Hawaii—which is saying a lot! 

    At this incredible property, you’ll never want for anything—you can expect seven(!!!) pools, including an infinity pool overlooking its own lagoon; five onsite dining options (including the only Forbes star-rated restaurant on the island); and a cultural center that offers classes and activities to highlight Hawaiian culture and history.

    There’s no “rooms” here per say and instead, spacious two-story bungalows thoughtfully arranged around a secluded beach. It’s no surprise, of course, that this is the only Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond Rated Resort in the entire state!
Man standing on the balcony at the Four Season Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii
Photo by wyteone, licensed under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

2. Kohala

If you’re looking for something a bit more premium than some of the slightly outdated hotels in Kona, the area directly north of Kona, named Kohala, is going to be your best bet. Just think of Kohala as Kona’s younger brother, who makes way too much money in tech and drives around a fancy electric car.

The beaches in Kohala have incredibly soft, white sand, as compared to the rocky volcanic shores you’ll find on the rest of the island. Of course, this means that you’ll find the island’s most stunning beaches, like Anaehoʻomalu, Waikoloa, and Hapuna Beaches, within its footprint. With its location on the west side of the island, Kohala still has the perfect weather to lay out on the beach and is conveniently close to most of the island’s star attractions.

Aerial shot in Hapuna Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii

Because of its enviable beaches, many luxury resorts have been built here– especially around the Waikoloa area. If you’re coming to the Big Island on your honeymoon, to celebrate a big occasion, or are just in the mood to splurge it up, Waikoloa and its upscale resorts are definitely going to be where you should stay.

Consider staying at:

  • Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: This resort is situated on one of the island’s most beautiful beaches and has a very cool old-Hawaii-while-still-being-impossibly-modern kind of vibe. What makes this resort stand out is its own private manta ray viewing platform, where you can watch these gentle giants of the ocean swoop and summersault through the water beneath you—plus private snorkeling tours to go swim with them. Yes please!
Photo by Gabi L., licensed under the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
  • Hapuna Beach Westin: From the moment you check-in to the hotel and are greeted with a fresh flower lei to the moment you check out, you’ll feel relaxed in this bright, modern, and airy space. The Westin is located on Hapuna Beach, inarguably one of the most stunning on the island, and if you get bored with that, there’s, of course, a pool, golf course, and plenty of onsite dining to keep you busy.
  • Fairmont Orchid: The Fairmont resorts are known for their luxurious rooms and jaw-dropping locations around the world. And the Fairmont Orchid is no exception. For example, it has a comically enormous pool (at 10,000 square feet) overlooking the ocean and its own sandy beach, with calm water that’s perfect for snorkeling.  Add in an incredibly friendly staff and this is an excellent option, especially for families, in Kohala. 
Photo by sk, licensed under Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

3. Hilo

As mentioned above, Hilo is found on the east side of the island and feels a bit more authentic than Kona and Kohala.  Beyond its slightly unpolished vibes, most of the best things to do in Hilo are outdoor activities, like exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or seeing the lush rainforest or incredible waterfalls around Hilo, making it a perfect home base for more adventurous travelers. Plus it tends to be considerably more affordable than the western side. 

Colorful buildings in downtown Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii

Most of the beaches you’ll find on the eastern side of the island will be made of volcanic rock, so not exactly the best for lounging around. Still, between Hilo’s plethora of bars and restaurants, its budget-friendliness, and all of the outdoor adventures to be had here, I think Hilo is an excellent place to stay on the Big Island, at least for a couple of days.

While you’ll be hard pressed to find any mega-resorts here, you’ll find plenty of laidback home-stays, family-run hotels, and charming little inns. Consider:

  • SCP Hilo Hotel: This eco-conscious hotel is perfectly reflective of Hilo’s chill atmosphere, from the welcome kombucha (on tap, of course) to the onsite yoga room and free paddleboard rentals. Despite its crunchy undertones, the SCP still feels plenty luxurious, with a relaxing pool area and really cool perks, like lei making classes. If I had to pick my all-time favorite hotel on the island, it probably would be this one!
  • Dolphin Bay Hotel: Continuing on with yet another totally charming hotel, the family-owned and operated Dolphin Bay Hotel kind of feels like you’re staying at an old friend’s house. Here, you’ll find fresh fruit and homemade banana bread on a daily basis, breezy lanais to sip your morning coffee, and an adorable resident cat. If you like cozy hotels with just a dash of quirk, Dolphin Bay is totally up your alley. 
Akaka Falls in Akaka Falls State Park on the Big Island
  • Hilo Bay Oceanfront Bed and Breakfast: Wanna fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing below your window? At this secluded bed and breakfast, which is surrounded on three sides by ocean views, that could totally be your reality—plus delicious made-to-order coconut pancakes when you wake up. The rooms are spacious, with super comfy beds, and, even though this little inn feels totally secluded, you’ll still be within walking distance of Hilo’s downtown.

So 99% of Big Island visitors are going to choose to stay in either Kona, Kohola, or Hilo. If you want something a bit more off-the-beaten path or have a week or two to explore the Big Island, there’s a couple more under-the-radar sections of the island that you could consider staying in.

4. Puna

The Puna section of the Island is located on its southeastern side, directly to the east of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and to the south of Hilo.

While there isn’t a ton of things to do here, I personally think this section is still highly underrated. For example, it’s home to one of the most beautiful black sand beaches near Hilo, the Isaac Hale Beach Park, which just so happens to be the youngest beach on the island (formed in 2018 by a massive volcanic eruption) and offers the only accessible hot springs on the island, Pohoiki Hot Springs. There’s also a handful of quirky hippie towns to explore, like Pahao or Kehena. 

Puna is where you should stay on the Big Island if you’re looking to spend a day or two in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park—while most visitors don’t need more than a day here, I’d highly recommend staying until dark if there’s a lava flow, so that you can truly appreciate the sight of glowing magma. And having a place to stay nearby will allow you to enjoy the lava glow without having to drive an hour-plus home at night. 

Alternatively, if you’re one of my granola brethren and looking for someplace to better your yoga practice or just re-center, Puna (and more specifically, the town of Pahoa) would be perfect for that. 

If you’re looking for someplace to stay near the national park, consider these hotels in Volcano:

  • Kilauea Lodge and Restaurant: Located in a lush rainforest right by the national park, this quiet and charming hotel has stunning grounds and staff that make you feel like family. After a long day of hiking in the park, head to the lodge’s hot tub, surrounded by impossibly luscious greenery, and simply relax. 
Man hiking through Hawaii Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii
  • Volcano Village Lodge: While you’re staying at this lodge, you’ll get your own secluded cabin, with enormous glass walls looking out into the lush jungle. Your own little slice of paradise!

    This retro lodge really leans into the cozy vibes— you’ll get your own in-room fireplace, plush robes to lounge around in, and a light breakfast delivered to your room every night so you can eat it at your leisure whenever you want to wake up.

If you’re, instead, looking for a unique and more local place to stay (drum circles, anyone?), check out these accommodations in the very crunchy town of Pahoa:

  • Ma’ukele Lodge: This unique property is right on the ocean, on its own black sand beach. The owners’ attention to detail is truly what sets this place apart. For example, you can get a breakfast of luscious tropical fruits, artfully arranged, every morning out on the lanai and you’ll almost certainly be accompanied by a visit from a gaggle of friendly (and hungry!) gecko dining companions.

    Plus your comfortable room (some of which come with outdoor showers!) will be stocked with pretty much everything you need, from snorkeling gear to suntan lotion and toothpaste (and, yep, even more tropical fruit). All in all, this is one of the best places to stay on the Big Island. 
Palm trees along a road in Pahao on the Big Island of Hawaii
  • Hawaiian Sanctuary: If energy healing and ecstatic dancing sound up your alley, this casual inn may just be the perfect place for you. The impossibly lush property is HUGE, sprawling over 40 acres of rainforest, with tons of animal friends, like peacocks and chickens, running around. While some of the facilities are a bit on the rustic side, there’s still plenty of perks, like daily yoga classes and a fantastic hot tub.
  • Lava Tree Tropic Inn: This family-owned-and-operated inn is tucked away in the jungle, but still just a short drive from several beaches and the awesome hikes in Volcanoes National Park, like the Kilauea Iki trail. Every stay here comes with a complimentary continental breakfast or, for a $15 upcharge, you can get a fresh home-made breakfast, including the freshest tropical fruit. Between the incredible hostess and the charming property (complete with lots of cats and chickens), you’ll feel like you’ve found your Big Island home.
Sign for the Lava Tree Tropic Inn at the Big Island of Hawaii
Photo by Edna Winti, licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

5. Hamakua 

Hamakua is a remote section along the northern tip of the island, sandwiched between Kohala to the west and Hilo to the east. In terms of restaurants and stores and, well, stuff, there isn’t a whole lot in this region of the Big Island. 

Instead, you’ll find tiny towns with historic plantation-style buildings; jaw-dropping landscapes, like the rugged sea cliffs along the Pololu Trail or in the highlands of Waimea; and “hang loose” kinda vibes. 

Polulu Beach from the Pololu Valley Overlook on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you’re looking to do and see all of the things the Big Island has to offer, Hamakua probably isn’t your best choice. However, if you’re, instead, looking to disconnect, relax, and set your body clock to island time, this area may just be perfect

Consider: 

  • Kohala Village Inn: This plantation-style inn feels what I imagine that Hawaii felt like decades ago, before all of the luxury resorts were constructed here—clean, simple, and relaxed. You’ll be within walking distance of several incredible restaurants in the charming downtown area of Hawi and there’s a lovely airy courtyard to soak up the sun or feel the island breeze across your face. 

Phew, I hope you have a better idea of where to stay on the Big Island. Do you have any questions about the different areas of the island or the accommodations recommended above? Let me know in the comments below!

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