Best Cities to Stay on the Big Island of Hawaii: Discover Hidden Gems

Dreaming of a Hawaiian getaway? You’re in for a treat on the Big Island, where the spirit of aloha is as vast as its volcanic landscapes. Picking the perfect city to stay in can make or break your island adventure.

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From the sunny shores of Kona to the lush rainforests of Hilo, each city on the Big Island has its unique charm. You’ll want to choose a spot that not only fits your vibe but also puts you close to the breathtaking nature and culture Hawaii is known for.

Kona: A Sunny Paradise

When you’re dreaming of perfect sunny days on the Big Island, Kona is the place to be. As a seasoned Hawaii travel expert, I’ve relished the Kona coast’s clear skies and warm sunshine, which grace the area nearly year-round. This side of the island is sheltered from the trade winds by the mighty Maunaloa, ensuring that Kona is your sunny paradise.

Kona’s magic isn’t just in its weather; it’s also the go-to spot for world-class coffee. Kona Coffee is cultivated on the fertile slopes of the local volcanoes, where it’s handpicked and roasted to create a cup that’s as unforgettable as the island itself. During your stay, you can visit multiple coffee farms and immerse yourself in the rich aroma of coffee brewing – a true sensory delight.

  • Engage in water activities like snorkeling and deep-sea fishing.
  • Explore historical sites like the Hulihe‘e Palace and the sacred City of Refuge.
  • Attend the Ironman World Championship if you’re here in October.

In Kona, the beaches beckon with their white sands and tranquil waves. For adventurers, the opportunities are boundless. Within a short drive, you can find some of the Big Island’s most renowned snorkeling spots, brimming with vibrant sea life. It’s here that I’ve spent countless hours floating above coral gardens, in the company of colorful fish and gentle sea turtles.

Shopping and dining in Kona offer a mix of local and international flavors. The Ali’i Drive is a bustling oceanfront street lined with shops, restaurants, and galleries that feature local artisans. Whether you’re craving fresh poke or shopping for unique island-inspired crafts, Kona’s blend of cultural experiences satisfies all kinds of visitors.

With each visit to Kona, you’ll discover new treasures – from hidden coves to gourmet island treats. So grab your sunscreen, pack your spirit of adventure, and prepare to soak up all the joys this sun-kissed paradise has to offer.

Hilo: A Tropical Wonderland

Nestled on the east coast of the Big Island, you’ll find Hilo—the beating heart of Hawaii’s tropical rainforest region. Unlike the dry landscapes of Kona, Hilo greets you with lush greenery and a balmy climate that nourishes the spirit as much as the eye. Here, rainfall is a daily blessing that creates a verdant tapestry and breathtaking landscapes, ensuring every shade of green imaginable is well represented.

Experience the Vibrant Culture that thrives in Hilo, where traditions run deep. The city’s tempo is a harmonious blend of laid-back living and rich cultural expression. Meander through bustling farmers’ markets where the island’s finest produce, from exotic fruits to the freshest seafood, display the island’s bounty and the locals’ love for their land.

Volcanoes National Park, a short drive from Hilo, commands your attention. The park, home to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, offers you a rare chance to witness the primal forces shaping our world. Hiking trails wind through volcanic craters and lush rainforests, leading you to otherworldly landscapes that are as educational as they are awe-inspiring.

Hilo’s coastline is a rugged contrast to the sandy beaches of the west side. Here, dramatic cliffs give way to crashing waves and serene waterfalls. You’re invited to explore the tranquil beauty of parks such as the Liliuokalani Gardens, where Japanese-style gardens provide a peaceful retreat.

While in Hilo, don’t miss the opportunity to dive into its historical roots. The Lyman Museum and Mission House offer you a glimpse into the past, detailing the island’s geological evolution and showcasing the influence of early missionaries.

  • Enjoy a visit to the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo, the only tropical rainforest zoo in the United States.
  • Treat yourself to traditional Hawaiian flavors and modern fusion cuisine at local eateries.

From sunrise to sunset, Hilo exudes an enchantment that’s both grounding and thrilling. Let the spirit of this tropical wonderland inspire your explorations as you discover why residents are so attached to their rain-soaked slice of paradise.

Waimea: A Taste of Paniolo Culture

As you journey from the lush landscapes of Hilo, your next stop on the Big Island adventure brings you to the upland town of Waimea, also known as Kamuela. Here, you’ll trade tropical rainforests for rolling, green pastures and an introduction to Hawaii’s cowboy, or “paniolo,” heritage. The cooler climate and rustic scenery are a stark contrast to the coastal vibes you’ve experienced thus far, but just as enchanting in their own right.

Waimea’s heart beats to the rhythm of a rich ranching history, still alive and kicking at places like Parker Ranch, one of the oldest and largest ranches in the United States. You’ll get the chance to witness this living legacy up close by visiting the ranch and possibly even seeing a real-life paniolo in action. Make sure you attend a local rodeo if your visit aligns with the event schedule.

Aside from its paniolo culture, Waimea is celebrated for its vibrant farmer’s markets. Here, the produce is as fresh as the morning dew, and you’re likely to stumble across some of the island’s best harvests:

  • Waimea Homestead Farmers Market
  • Kamuela Farmers Market
  • Waimea Town Market at Parker School

Don’t leave without savoring the flavors of locally-grown coffee or hoofing it over to the farmers markets where you can sample and take home an array of local specialties—from exotic fruits to artisanal cheeses and freshly baked goods.

As you wander through Waimea, let your curiosity lead you to the crossroads of cowboy culture and aloha spirit. Stroll through the town and you’ll find charming boutiques, art galleries, and even occasional live music that will have you tapping your boots. It’s this unique blend of traditions and communal warmth that truly sets Waimea apart as a destination on the Big Island.

So saddle up for an escapade in Waimea—where the paniolo spirit welcomes you with open arms and the promise of new discoveries around every bend.

Volcano: Living on Sacred Ground

As you continue your journey on the Big Island of Hawaii, don’t miss the chance to experience Volcano, a small town nestled at the edge of one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kīlauea. Here, you’re not just visiting a locality; you’re stepping onto sacred ground revered by the native Hawaiians. The town itself is a sanctuary for those looking to connect with the powerful forces of nature and Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes.

Tucked in Volcano’s verdant rainforest, you’ll find cozy bed and breakfasts and fine examples of local artistry at the Volcano Art Center. For those of you who love the thrill of adventure and the chill of nighttime walks, an evening hike to see the red glow of lava from Halema’uma’u Crater is an absolute must. It’s a profound moment, where you’ll witness the heartbeat of the island and feel the warmth of the earth beneath your feet.

Volcano Village also offers a unique atmosphere that’s markedly different from other destinations on the Big Island. It’s common to wake up to a cool mist contrasting sharply with the heat generated by the volcanic landscape. Here, the fertile soil gives life to an array of exotic flora, making it a fantastic spot for orchid enthusiasts and botanical explorers.

While in Volcano, enhance your understanding of the area’s significance through the Kīlauea Visitor Center. It provides educational displays and updates on volcanic activity. Rangers are available to educate visitors on the sacred land and its ecosystem. The nearby Thomas A. Jaggar Museum gives you a glimpse into the world of volcanology with its rich collection of geological displays and scientific data.

For those craving culinary adventures, Volcano does not disappoint. Local restaurants serve up delightful dishes created with fresh, volcanic soil-grown produce. And if it’s local crafts you’re after, the weekly farmers’ market is a treasure trove of handmade crafts, tropical fruits, and rare finds.

Transitioning from the paniolo country of Waimea to the mystical lands of Volcano, you’ve now traveled from the uplands to the realm of gods and legends. This is where the power of Hawaii’s natural elements comes to life and where you’re reminded of the sheer majesty the Big Island holds.

Hawi: Discover the Charm of North Kohala

As you leave the mystical lands of Volcano behind, North Kohala welcomes you with open arms. In this region lies Hawi, a gem of a town that captures the essence of old Hawaii with its laid-back atmosphere and rich cultural heritage.

Hawi may be small, but it’s packed with character. Known for its plantation-era buildings, this town was once a bustling sugar industry hub. Today, it’s a haven for artists and musicians, and the colorful storefronts now house quaint galleries, interesting boutiques, and inviting restaurants.

  • Discover artwork inspired by the island’s beauty
  • Taste the unique flavors of North Kohala at family-owned eateries
  • Enjoy live music performed by talented local artists

The Kohala Historic Sites State Monument is just a short drive from Hawi, where you can explore the Mo‘okini Heiau, one of Hawaii’s oldest sacred sites, and the birthplace of King Kamehameha I. Here, history whispers to you through the winds, and you’ll feel the mana (spiritual energy) that runs deep through the Hawaiian soil.

Adventurous souls can’t miss the Pololu Valley Lookout, where stunning cliffs give way to breathtaking views of the coastline and deep valleys. The hiking trail descending into Pololu Valley offers an experience that’s both exhilarating and grounding, as you immerse yourself in the raw beauty of Hawaii’s landscapes.

Pololu Valley Highlights Description
Lookout Panoramic views of the rugged cliffs
Hiking Trail A route to the valley and black sand beach
Nature’s Splendor Lush flora and sightings of local fauna

Hawi embodies the aloha spirit; it’s a place where community and nature blend seamlessly. Whether you’re strolling down the street listening to the strumming of an ukulele or chatting with a craftsman passionate about their work, you’ll feel the warmth and genuine hospitality that Hawaiians are known for.

As the sunlight dances through the foliage and the ocean’s distant roar serenades the town, you’ll understand why Hawi is more than just a destination—it’s a feeling, a memory that’ll cling to your soul long after you’ve departed.


You’ve journeyed through the Big Island’s varied landscapes, from the cowboy charm of Waimea to Volcano’s sacred grounds and Hawi’s nostalgic allure. Each city offers a unique slice of paradise, where culture, nature, and history intertwine to create unforgettable experiences. Whether you’re seeking adventure, tranquility, or a touch of the mystical, the Big Island’s best cities welcome you to discover their hidden gems. So pack your bags, and get ready to immerse yourself in the beauty and spirit of Hawaii. Your perfect island getaway awaits!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the town of Volcano known for?

Volcano is known for its proximity to the active Kīlauea Volcano, its lush rainforests, the Volcano Art Center, and the opportunity to experience the wonder of seeing live lava flows. The town offers a unique chance to connect with Hawaiian culture and the goddess Pele.

Can visitors stay overnight in Volcano?

Yes, visitors can stay overnight in one of the cozy bed and breakfasts that dot the town of Volcano, offering a comfortable and intimate experience close to the magnificent natural surroundings.

What educational facilities can be found in Volcano?

In Volcano, you can visit the Kīlauea Visitor Center and the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum, which provide educational displays and information about the geological and cultural significance of the area.

What culinary experiences does Volcano offer?

Volcano offers culinary adventures with local restaurants serving fresh dishes that are prepared using produce grown in the rich volcanic soil. The town’s weekly farmers’ market is also a great place to sample local fruits and find handmade crafts.

What makes Hawi special?

Hawi is known for its plantation-era buildings, rich cultural heritage, and as a hub for artists and musicians. Its inviting atmosphere, quaint galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and proximity to sacred sites like Mo‘okini Heiau and breathtaking natural beauty like Pololu Valley Lookout make it special.

What can visitors do in North Kohala besides visiting Hawi?

In North Kohala, visitors can explore the Kohala Historic Sites State Monument, witness the Mo‘okini Heiau, and enjoy stunning views from the Pololu Valley Lookout. The region is also a great place to experience the aloha spirit and Hawaii’s natural beauty.

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