The Best Big Island City to Explore When Visting Hawaii

More than 1.7 million visitors come to the Big Island of Hawaii each year. It’s easy to see why. The Island of Hawaii, the largest in the Hawaiian Island chain, has everything from unique black lava beaches to spectacular, active volcanoes. You can be as active, or as relaxed, as you choose on this diverse island. 

The Big Island of Hawaii has a number of popular cities to visit. The one that’s best for you and your family depends on your travel tastes, your budget, and what activities you want to enjoy on your vacation.


Kona Country Club | 78-7000 Ali‘i Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 | (808) 322-2595

Located on the western coast of the Big Island, Kona is probably most closely associated with the eponymous coffee that comes from that region. However, this region is also home to many of the island’s best beaches (including the famous black sand beach) as well as several popular golf courses.

This is the region where most of the big resort hotels are located, and it’s where you want to head if you’re looking for a vacation filled with beaches and water sports. Kailua-Kona was also the vacation home of the Hawaii royal family and a colonial mission town. The history of both of these eras is well represented in the architecture and culture of the region.


Hilo Burger Joint | 776 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720 | (808) 935-8880

Hilo, on the opposite side of the island from Kona, is a city as well as a tourist mecca. This is where the island’s administrative offices and many services are located. However, that’s not to say that the city lacks tourist appeal.

Hilo makes a great base for exploring the lush beauty of the island, including the orchid farms, tropical jungle, and volcanoes. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and the famous Moana Loa, are just a short drive away. Other unique sites in and around Hilo include the only rainforest zoo in the US and the Lyman House, a museum about Hawaiian culture.

On the plus side, accommodations in Hilo tend to be less expensive than those on the western coast. However, the weather on the east coast can be a little rainy and foggy. 


Waimea Valley, Haleiwa, HI 96712 | (808) 638-7766

This landlocked region of the Big Island is situated 3,000 feet in the air, in the northwestern part of the island. This is the place to stay if you prefer to be away from the touristy spots and just want to enjoy the raw Hawaiian natural beauty. This is where the majority of Hawaii’s cattle ranches are located as well as the observatory on Mauna Kea. Stargazing is popular here since Waimea’s wide open spaces and clear skies increase visibility.

Visitors to Waimea can take ATV tours of the lush landscape, go horseback riding, and tour a working Hawaiian cattle ranch. If you decide you need a day at the beach or on the golf course, Hawaii’s Gold Coast is a short drive away.


Roy’s Waikoloa Bar and Grill | 69-250 Waikōloa Beach Dr, Waikoloa Village, HI 96738 | (808) 886-4321

Located on the northwest side of the Big Island, Waikoloa is a small resort area, along Hawaii’s “Gold Coast”. This is a family-friendly area, with walkable beaches (compared to the craggy beach approaches found elsewhere on the island) and plenty for visitors of all ages to enjoy. You can swim with dolphins here, hike around the local nature preserve, and play a round of golf at the renowned Mauna Lani Golf Course

The good news is that there really is no wrong choice when it comes to where to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. Opt to stay in Kailua-Kona if you want to spend your vacation enjoying the beaches, in Hilo as a home base for exploring the interior of the island and Volcanoes National Park, Waimea if you crave adventure and Waikoloa if you want a family-friendly beach location that won’t break your budget.