With over 4,000 square miles to choose from, picking the best place to stay on Hawaii Island, also known as Big Island, is no simple task. While most visitors tend to lean towards either Kailua-Kona on the west side or Hilo on the east side, there are several other areas on Hawaii Island that shouldn’t go overlooked.
By far the most popular (and tourist-friendly) area to stay on Hawaii Island, Kailua-Kona offers a wide range of accommodations and a large number of nearby beaches. While Hawaii Island in general isn’t particularly known for its shopping, Kailua-Kona has the most diverse and largest amount of shops and restaurants on the island. Watch the boats come in at Kailua Pier, or check out Mokuaikaua Church, the oldest Christian church in the state dating back to the 1800s. You’ll also be close to Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark, the former and final residence of Kamehameha I.
However, this also means that the area can be a tad more touristy than other parts of the island, though nowhere as much as Waikiki on Oahu or Lahaina on Maui. The middle of town can get crowded as well, especially during rush hour when traffic is at its worst.
Hilo Town is the second-most popular place to stay on this island, though don’t expect it to have the same amount of accommodations, restaurants and attractions as Kailua-Kona. The people who live in Hilo are very proud of their small town and have every intention of keeping it that way. Hilo is a good home-base for great sights like the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and Rainbow Falls, and only about 30 miles from Volcanoes National Park. This is also where you’d want to stay if you plan on spending a lot of time at Mauna Kea, either catching the sunrise or sunset or going stargazing.
Hilo is much wetter than Kailua-Kona, which helps give it its lush landscape. There are also not very many white-sand beaches that are good for swimming in the area.
A bit more expensive than the other parts of the island, the Kohala Coast is where two of the largest resorts on the island chose to set up shop. The Waikoloa Beach Resort and the Mauna Lani Resort are both pricey, but you may get lucky looking for a private rental for cheaper. The beaches on this side are some of the best white-sand and swimming beaches in Hawaii, including Hapuna Beach Park and 'Anaeho'omalu Beach. For shopping and restaurants, you’ll be limited to the northern town of Kawaihae as well as the shops at the Waikoloa Beach Resort and the Mauna Lani Resort. Consider saving some money by looking for a condo rental with a kitchen and making a few meals yourself.
Visitors who choose to stay in the southernmost district of Kau on Hawaii Island are interested in getting away from it all. As one of the least-populated areas on the island, keep in mind that accommodations are sparse here. There are a few bed-and-breakfasts and condos available, so make sure to book well in advance to avoid being left without a place to stay.
The Kau District includes Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, one of the most unique and beautiful beaches in the state, as well as the remote Papakolea Green Sand Beach (though keep in mind the latter requires a 5.3-mile round trip hike to access).
Staying in the town of Volcano is a no-brainer if you’ll be spending most of your vacation exploring the epic Volcanoes National Park. Despite its close proximity to the island’s most volcanic landscape, this area is actually quite lush and wet. It has that old-Hawaiian charm that only comes with a small, isolated town with a cute downtown area and a couple of locally-owned restaurants and shops to choose from. The accommodations are limited to small inn-type lodging and B&Bs—though you can always choose to stay inside the National Park at Volcano House with unforgettable views of Halema'uma'u crater and the summit of Kīlauea.
The northern coast of Hawaii Island is far more rugged and remote than other parts of the island, but this only adds to its beauty. Popular with campers due to its nearness to a number of hiking trails and waterfalls, visitors who choose to stay here will find peace, quiet and seclusion. If you don’t want to camp, there are a few serene cottages, vacation rentals, and B&Bs to choose from where you can enjoy the lush scenery from right your window. Marvel at the Waipi'o Valley with its stunning lookouts or visit the thundering Akaka Falls.
The town of Waimea is just north of Kailua-Kona, meaning that visitors there can take advantage of the tourist-friendly attractions while still staying in a quiet, remote area of the island. Waimea town itself does have a small selection of shops and restaurants (such as Big Island Brewhaus and Merriman's), and the centralized location means it is close to a majority of the island’s most popular attractions. Accommodations in town are hard to come by, so expect to stay at a vacation rental or a B&B.