Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island. Cornwell David / Getty Images

Kailua-Kona Hawaii is situated where the southwest slope of Hawaii Island, the Big Island's Hualalai Volcano meets the ocean.

The name Kailua-Kona derives from the town's actual name, Kailua, with the added postal designation of the district of the Big Island where it is located, Kona. This is to differentiate it from Kailua on O'ahu and Kailua on Maui.

In Hawaiian "kailua" translates into "two seas," which may refer to the tricky currents offshore, and the word "kona" means "leeward or calm."

Kailua-Kona Weather

The Kona Coast of Hawaii's Big Island is known for its excellent dry and sunny weather. Like most of the Hawaii Islands, the leeward or western sides of the islands are generally warmer and dryer than the windward or eastern sides.

In the winter the lows can reach the mid 60's. In the summer it can reach the high 80's. Most days average between 72-77°F.

Afternoons can see some clouds, particularly over the mountains. Annual rainfall is about 10 inches.

Kona is a popular residential area on the Big Island.

Kailua-Kona History

In ancient times, this area was considered the best place to live on the Big Island due to its excellent weather. Many kings, including Kamehameha I, had homes here.

British explorer Captain James Cook first spotted Hawaii from off the coast of Kailua-Kona and landed at nearby Kealakekua Bay.

The first missionaries in Hawaii built churches and residences here and turned the once small fishing village into a small seaport - a function it retains today.

Many cruise ships dock at Kailua-Kona each year.

Getting to Kailua-Kona Hawaii

From the Kohala Coast Resorts or Kona International Airport, take Highway 19 (Queen Kaʻahumanu Highway) south. At Mile Marker #100, turn right onto Palani Road. Continue to the end of the road which will bear left onto Aliʻi Drive and the heart of the town.

It takes about a twenty minutes from the airport or an hour from the Kohala Coast Resorts.

From Hilo, it's about 126 miles by way of Highway 11 (Mamalahoa Highway) and will take about 3 1/4 hours.

Kailua-Kona Lodging

Kailua-Kona offers a nice selection of lodging both in town and at nearby Keauhou Bay.

You'll find hotels, condominium resorts and luxury resorts in almost every price range.

Kailua-Kona Shopping

Kailua-Kona is a shopper's paradise - in large part due to its role as a cruise port.

Lining both sides of Aliʻi Drive are shops selling everything from souvenirs and t-shirts to expensive jewelry, art and sculpture. In addition to stand-alone shops you'll find small shopping centers such as the Kona Inn Shopping Village, Aliʻi Gardens Marketplace and the Coconut Grove Marketplace.

Further inland you'll find other shopping spots such as the Lanihau Center and the Kona Coast Shopping Center.

Kailua-Kona Dining

Ranging from moderately expensive to fast food, you're sure to find something to your taste in Kailua-Kona.

Head to Fish Hopper Seafood and Steaks on Aliʻi Drive for fresh fish caught off the Big Island. The casual spot was named best seafood restaurant in 2015 and 2016 by West Hawaii Today.

Another popular eatery is Huggo's Restaurant (opened in 1969) along the ocean on Kahakai Road, as well as Quinn's Almost By The Sea and the Kona Inn Restaurant.

Parking in Kailua-Kona

Parking is difficult in Kailua-Kona. It's one of the biggest complaints you'll hear from visitors. The lack of on-street parking is also one of the charms of the town.

You're unlikely to find any free parking unless you're willing to park quite far from Aliʻi Drive and walk.

There are several municipal fee lots located right off Aliʻi Drive that can result in a convenient parking spot with a little patience. They work off an honor system, but be sure to pay or you're likely to be ticketed.

Ironman Triathlon

The annual Ironman World Championship starts in Kailua-Kona. The race, held each October, crowns the best triathlete in the world. Competitors swim 2.4 miles in the open ocean, starting just to the left of Kailua Pier.

A 112-mile bike race then travels north on the Kona Coast to the small village of Hawi before returning along the same route to the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel.

A 26.2 mile marathon course then takes the competitors through Kailua and onto the same highway used for the bike race. Contestants run back into Kailua-Kona, coming down Ali'i Drive to the cheers of more than 25,000 people at the finish line.

Sights to See in Kailua-Kona

Kailua-Kona is a very historic area. While further south you'll find Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and the Puʻuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, within Kailua-Kona there are two places not to miss:

Mokuʻaikaua Church - 75-5713 Ali'i Drive

Located on a piece of land near the harbor given to Hawaii's original missionaries by Kahmehameha I, Moku'aikaua Church was the first Christian Church to be built in Hawaii.

Before the stone structure that stands there today was completed, there were two large thatched roofed structures built under the direction of Asa Thurston in 1820 and 1825.

In 1835 construction began on a permanent stone structure. Finished in 1837, the church still remains active and sits much as it did almost 200 years ago.

Huliheʻe Palace - 75-5718 Aliʻi Drive

The Huliheʻe Palace was built by the second Governor of the Island of Hawaii, John Adams Kuakini, as his principal residence.

Construction was completed in 1838, a year after the completion of Moku'aikaua Church. After his death in 1844, the palace was passed on to his adopted son, William Pitt Leleiohoku. Sadly, Leleiohoku died a few months later, leaving Huliheʻe to his wife Princess Ruth Luka Keʻelikolani.

While Princess Ruth owned the Palace, Huliheʻe was a favorite retreat of the royal families. When Princess Ruth passed away in 1883 leaving no surviving heirs, the property passed on to her cousin, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop. Princess Bernice died the following year and the home was purchased by King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapiʻolani.

Taken as a Whole

Kailua-Kona is one of Hawaii's gems and a perfect location to stay in order to explore both the windward (west) coast and leeward (eastern) coast of Hawaii Island. It features some of the island's best dining and shopping as well as some excellent ocean tour companies that will take you snorkeling or whale watching during the season.