The Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii is an excellent choice for families interested in an upscale Hawaii vacation with cultural activities at your fingertips. In fact, the Kohala Coast has some of the finest oceanfront resorts, vacation rentals, white sand beaches and golf courses on the island.
Fun fact: It’s also the birthplace of King Kamehameha I.
A scenic 20-minute drive from Kona, the Kohala Coast is separated into North Kohala and South Kohala. The north side includes the towns of Halaʻula, Hāwī, and Kapaʻau. The south side encompasses Puako, Waikoloa Village, and Waimea. In addition, it’s home to the unincorporated town of Kawaihae and Kawaihae Harbor.
From national historic sites to beautiful beaches, there are many fun things to do on the Kohala Coast.
Read More: The Best Hawaii Resorts for Families on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
Fun on the Kohala Coast
In general, you’ll find that the resort areas and vacation rentals offer many onsite cultural activities and amenities. Our favorite hotels include the Fairmont Orchid, Kings’ Land by Hilton and Outrigger Kona Resort & Spa. Still, it’s worth leaving the property for a few hours to explore the Big Island. We usually start our day with a morning water sport while the ocean is calm. Morning hours are usually best for paddling, kayaking and snorkeling.
Afterwards, we pack snacks in the car and go exploring! From national historic sites and lava rocks to scenic points and parks, there’s a lot to see on Hawaii Island. After a day of sightseeing, we head back to the resort to relax and enjoy a sunset dinner.
Here’s what you’ll find within the resort areas and beyond on the black-lava Kohala Coast.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Be sure to rent a car to tour the island and visit Kona, Hilo, Volcanoes National Park and other attractions.
Swim at Hapuna Beach State Park
Located north of Kailua-Kona, Hapuna Beach is the largest of the island’s white sand beaches. Hapuna also offers good conditions for swimming and snorkeling.
In the early part of the year, you may spot migrating whales in the distance as well. Amenities include picnic areas, restrooms and showers. The entrance fee for non-residents is $5 per person (under age 3 free).
Soak up History at the Kohala Institute
Situated in North Kohala, the Kohala Institute offers fascinating tours and programs about its lo‘i kalo (taro patches). Our tour began with a Hawaiian history lesson about taro fields.
Because of its location on the windward side with water resources, this land is ideal for farming kalo (taro). The heart-shaped plant has been a major staple for the Hawaiian people for hundreds of years.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Walking through the taro fields you may get muddy. Don’t wear a light-colored t-shirt like I did.
Explore the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve
The 223-acre Puako Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve has more than 3,000 ancient petroglyphs, or kii pohaku that date back to 1200 AD. In fact, these lava rock carvings etched into stone are thought to be records of births and other significant events of early Hawaiians.
Find the petroglyphs near the Mauna Lani Resort.
Meet Locals at Kamuela Farmers Market
If you’re in town, stop by the Kamuela Farmers Market. It’s a good place to meet locals and shop.
In fact, the Kamuela Farmers Market at Pukalani Stables is a local favorite on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The market features food trucks, local food and goodies.
Shop in Hawi
Hawai’i’s greatest king — Kamehameha I – was born in North Kohala above the quaint town of Hawi. If you’re in town on Kamehameha Day (June 11th), you’ll see the Kamehameha statue draped with colorful leis.
Beyond Hawi is the town of Kapaau, home of the original King Kamehameha I Statue. Continue driving east on Highway 270 and you’ll come to the end of the road at the stunning Pololu Valley Overlook.
Feeling adventurous? Take a 25-minute hike down to the valley floor and the black sand beach. However, swimming is discouraged because of strong currents.
SheBuysTravel Tip: This is a good place to buy local goods, such as handmade jewelry, crafts and Kona coffee.
Visit the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site
The majestic, stone Puukohola Heiau can be seen off the road, just north of the resorts of the Kohala Coast. This National Historic Site is home to one of the largest restored heiau (temple) in Hawaii.
Heiau were sacred places of worship for Native Hawaiians. Puukohola Heiau was a site built to fulfill a historic prophecy.
Learn About Lapakahi State Historical Park
An ancient fishing village, Lapakahi State Historical Park consists of a large area of ruins.
History buffs will dig the partially restored remains of this ancient Hawaiian coastal settlement.
Kohala Coast Oceanfront Resorts and Vacation Rentals
Not only are Kohala Coast resorts aesthetically pleasing, but some – like the Fairmont Orchid – are located on spiritual, historic grounds. Staying at resorts that offer cultural activities is a great way to learn about Hawaiian traditions and history, says Ka’iulani Blankenfeld, Director of Hawaiian Culture at the resort.
“I think more and more travelers are looking for an authentic cultural experience when they travel to Hawaii,” she says.