Where to Stay on the Big Island of Hawaii: Hilo or Kona Kohala?

The island of Hawaii is the largest in the state. If you’re looking forward to taking a trip there, you’re likely wondering which place is best to visit. Hilo and Kona are two of the popular areas on Hawaii island and both have much to offer. If you’re feeling indecisive about the area that you should stay and visit, it’s best to learn more about these hot spots and what they’ll offer to you.

Insider Tip: Find out what is the best Hawaiian island for families, or the best one for your preferences!

The writer just returned from a visit to Hawai’i and was hosted , provided a discount or complimentary nights/ activities, during her visit by Fairmont Orchid, Hilton Grand Vacations, Hawaii Forest and Trail and Ocean Cruises. As always, our opinions are our own.

The Best Reasons to Plan a Stay in Kona Kohala

Kona and Kohala coastal areas are found on the west side of Hawaii. Kona is home to nearly 15,500 people. Although it doesn’t have a massive population like other areas around the country, it’s a place that people love to visit because of the beautiful coastal views and all they can do in the area.

These are some of the things you can do if you choose to stay in Kona Kohala areas during your visit. Enjoy spending time in the sun on unique, beautiful sand beaches. Kona has a reputation for its stunning beaches and variety of fun water activities.

Serenity pool at Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations in Waikoloa,

This is where you will find luxury beach resorts in the Hilton Waikoloa Village area, including Hilton Grand Vacations properties ideal for families. Beautiful pools and the Waikoloa beach make this area popular with families. Five star resorts such as the Fairmont Orchid and Four Seasons Resort Hualalai also line this beautiful coastal area. Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea beach hotels are also popular island hotels that are upscale resorts, all with beautiful sunsets and lagoons for snorkeling.

Visit the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park to learn more about lava rocks, sea turtles and other wildlife.

Check out the local restaurants. Brown’s Beach House at Fairmont Orchid delivers delicious island food, fantastic views and stellar service. It is the perfect place to rekindle romance.

Sunset enjoyed at Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont Orchid.

Enjoy luxury resorts with beautiful pool and spectacular views. If you’re looking for a comfortable place to stay with endless amenities that will leave you feeling like royalty, you’ll love the resorts in Kona.

Kona is a tourist-friendly hot spot in Hawaii. If your purpose of visiting is to spend time on the beach while sunbathing, playing in the water, and fishing, you’ll love this area. You’ll also enjoy staying in Kona if you want to sleep in a high-quality resort with all the amenities you can imagine. It all depends on what you’d like to do while you’re there.

While Hilo is home to the most famous waterfalls on the island there are also many beautiful waterfalls located just north of the Kona-Kohala coastal areas. Hawaii Forest and Trails is an excellent local tour guide. They offer a waterfall tour just north of Hawi on private land where they maintain the trails. It offers a unique way to learn about the area, take a dip in a waterfall on private land and end the afternoon with lunch on what may be the most spectacular outlook on the island.

Best Places to Stay in Kona Kohala

We have two favorite Kona Kohala coast resorts. They each have different reasons why we love them.

Kids checking out the view from the large lanai at Kings Land. Plenty of space to be kids.

Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations

This is one of a handful of Hilton Grand Vacations resorts in the Waikoloa area on the Kona coast. Here the rooms are akin to spacious condos. But with the amenities of a resort. The Kings’ Land by Hilton Grand Vacations pools are amazing. The rooms are very large and have everything you could need for an stay of several days. A convenient shuttle takes you to both Queens Market and Kings Shops where there are plenty of restaurants to enjoy when you don’t feel like cooking or grilling at one of the many grills spread throughout the property. Also, Kings’ Land guests have access to the Hilton Waikoloa pool, beach and lagoon.

Only one of many beautiful views paired with delicious food at Fairmont Orchid.

Fairmont Orchid

The Fairmont Orchid has a spectacular location on the Kohala coast where you can enjoy ocean sunrises and sunset from the lanai of your hotel room. The property boasts several wonderful restaurants on site. There’s a beach and lagoon where you can purchase Fun & Sun passes to take out kayaks, SUPs and more. It is an easy walk down to the beach with your snorkel gear to swim with the tropical fish. Servers take food and beverage orders at both the pool and beach. The property offers services at the Spa Without Walls. And the entire property boasts beautiful views, serene waterfalls and Koi ponds.

View from private land near Pololu Valley Lookout where we enjoyed a picnic at the end of our Hawaii Forest and Trails Waterfall Tour.

The Best Reasons to Consider a Stay in Hilo

Now that you know a bit more about what you’ll have access to when staying in Kona, it’s essential to find out what Hilo has to offer its guests. Hilo is a town in Hawaii with a larger population than Kona. More than 45,000 people call Hilo home. While it’s not nearly as talked about as Kona, it’s still a great place to visit for many reasons. Some of the things you can do while you’re there include:

Go hiking and explore the outdoors. If you’re an outdoorsy person who enjoys staying out for hours to have fun and explore, you’ll love Hilo. It’s home to gorgeous rainforests that you can visit and explore.

Visit Akaka Falls. Many people want to see Akaka Falls while visiting Hawaii, and you’ll have the perfect opportunity to see it for yourself while in Hilo. You can go on a hike and get as close as possible to the falls for an unforgettable experience.

Hawai Volcanoes National Park in 2015.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park makes the must-see list of attractions for many visitors to the big island. Hilo is closest to the park. It may make sense to plan a night or two in this area if the volcanoes national park is a priority for you and your family. You may want to check before you go to see what the conditions are like. There was no opportunity for us to see lava during our recent visit. So we stuck mostly to the Kohala-Kona area during our recent visit.

Enjoy local food at some of the different restaurants in Hilo. There isn’t a shortage of fantastic restaurants to visit during your stay. If you’d like to taste some of the local cuisines, stop by some of the best restaurants, such as Hawaiian Style Cafe Hilo, Aloha Mondays, and Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill Hilo.

Save money during your stay. It typically costs less money to stay in Hilo than it does to stay in Kona. If you’re trying to travel to Hawaii while on a budget, consider booking a stay in Hilo. You can compare the cost of a visit between these two areas to see the difference between them.

Some people skip out on visiting Hilo because they’re interested in the nightlife. While Hilo doesn’t have nearly as many bars, clubs, and other nightlife activities, it’s still a great place to visit. It’s even better for those traveling with children because it’s such a family-friendly area.

Mauna Lani Beach. This area is one of the best places to stay on the big island.

Is Kona Better Than Hilo?

Both Kona and Hilo are great places to visit. Kona isn’t necessarily better than Hilo, but it does offer more perks for those who want to spend time relaxing on beaches, playing in pools and enjoying restaurants. It has a resort-like feel to it, which some people want when traveling to a new area. The weather is often beautiful, making Kona a great place to stay on the big island of Hawaii.

It does rain a lot in Hilo. Not everyone is fond of dealing with rain, especially when on vacation. If you don’t like the rain and want to avoid it, you’re better off staying in Kona. However, if you don’t mind the rain, you want to see some fantastic falls, and you don’t care about fine dining, Hilo could be the spot for you.

Akaka Falls one of the beautiful waterfalls on the big island of Hawaii
Akaka waterfall in the Hilo area.

Is Kona a Safe Place to Stay?

Kona is a safe place to stay. Since it’s predominantly a tourist area, it’s full of resorts and hardworking employees who ensure the safety of guests. There is little to no crime in the area, making it a safe place to stay when traveling alone, with friends, or with your family members.

Is Hilo a Safe Place to Stay?

Much like Kona, Hilo is a safe place to stay. There is not much crime that takes place. However, tourists can, at times, drive erratically in the area. If you’re not planning to go out after dark alone, this isn’t something you’ll need to stress over.

Knowing what both Hilo and Kona have to offer will help you make the decision on where you should stay during your visit. Consider all the different activities you’d like to participate in during your visit before choosing the specific area and book a stay. No matter which location you choose, you’ll have an unforgettable experience exploring the area and taking advantage of the many attractions.

Where to Stay on the Big Island of Hawaii: Hilo or Kona Kohala?

Liana Moore

Liana Moore is a third-culture kid with a hangover from those days that is a severe case of wanderlust. She is more comfortable driving the cliffs of Amalfi, Italy or the dirt roads of Costa Rica or attempting to decipher the street signs of Osaka, Japan than navigating the theme parks of Disney World. But she loves it all. She doesn't believe a vacation is complete without an adventure. Her husband and kids know well that "adventure" often is code for mishap or challenge and it usually results in a good story. They seek outdoor experiences whether in the mountains, on a beach or in the jungle of a tropical country. Her favorite vacation is... all the ones she hasn't yet taken, as well as those she plans on taking again. And, that list is so, so long. But she continues to extensively explore her home state of Colorado, spends lots of time wandering Texas, California, New Mexico, Costa Rica, Mexico, Norway and has even explored Kazakhstan.

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