Where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii in 2022

Read all about where to stay on the Big Island to be close to the action. What’s the best place to stay on Big Island: Hilo, Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa? Find out! One thing’s for sure: When you’re looking to explore the real Hawaii, then this island should definitely on your radar. The Big Island is the best Hawaiian island for families with somewhat older kids and travelers with a taste for adventure. It sure brought out the adventurer in us during our Hawaii island hopping trip!

You’ll find some of the dreamiest Hawaiian Airbnbs on this island too, from enchanting cabins in the woods to romantic treehouses. To make the most out of your Hawaii trip, however, you will need to do your research. Some of the best things to do on the Big Island are spread out over its entire surface of 4,028 mi² (10,430 km²) which makes it essential to carefully consider where to stay in Hawaii Big Island.

Swimming pool and silhouette of beach umbrellas and palms at sunset at one of the places to stay on Big Island Hawaii
Tropical garden and lounge chairs at one of the best places to stay on Big Island“ data-pin-title=“Where to stay on Big Island Hawaii: Hilo, Kona, Waikoloa on the Kohala coast or Volcano Village?


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Here are our top picks for the best place to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Keep scrolling for a comprehensive overview of all areas of the Big Island with what to experience as well as a selection of Big Island vacation rentals, luxury resorts and the best hotels on the Big Island.

Rainforest retreat amidst a lush garden and with waterfall views

The Falls at Reed’s Island: out-of-this-world 3-bedroom rainforest retreat directly overlooking a waterfall

Kona

Holulaloa Inn is where to stay on th Big Island for a carefree stay near Kailua-Kona

Holualoa Inn: gorgeous boutique hotel set amidst a tropical garden with ocean views

Villa rental with pool on Big Island Hawaii

Tropical Paradise: amazing 3-bedroom home in gated community with heated private pool

South Kohala Coast (Waikoloa)

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is where to stay on Big Island for a beach vacation

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel: Beautiful resort near the finest white sand beaches

Breakfast on the terrace with chair and blue pillows

Always on My Mind Penthouse: 2-bedroom penthouse villa in gated community with direct beach access

Volcano Village

This cabin in the woods is one of the best places to stay on Big Island

Kuono: stunning 1-bedroom rainforest cabin with hot tub and fire pit near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

And if you happen to be visiting more than one of the Hawaiian islands, then might want to check out our article on the best areas to stay on Maui too.

Best places to stay on the Big Island on the map

Here’s a map indicating of the best places to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii. We’ll go over them one by one in this article.

Map of places to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii

Where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii by region

Because the climate is such an influential factor on the island, locals use other terms to indicate the coasts (no Hawaiian words but specific English terms). The east side of the island is called the windward side, because that’s the side where the wind comes, while the west coast is called the leeward side. So, where you decide to stay on the Big Island will largely determine what to pack for your vacation.

If you want to make the most of your stay on Big Island and get an idea of its natural diversity, then you’ll need to divide your vacation time over the west and east coast. To facilitate that, there are two international airports on Hawaii Island, one on each coast.

But if you don’t have the luxury of time, then you’ll have to choose the best area to stay on Big Island on your interests and travel plans. So, which side of the Big Island is best to stay? Let’s find out.

Hilo is the best place to stay for adventure and affordability

The windward coast is the lush side of Hawaii with waterfalls, rainforests, tropical flowers and a true Hawaiian feel. Don’t expect sandy beaches on this part of the main island of Hawaii since the coastline is formed by black lava rocks. That’s one of the reasons why you won’t find any beach resorts here. Hilo is the main town on the east side of the island and a great base to explore the Hamakua coast.

Black lava rock instead of sandy beach on the windward side, an important consideration when researching where to stay on Big Island Hawaii

The windward side is known to be pretty rainy, especially from November to March. How else could the Hilo area be so lush and tropical? But chances are that you’ll be able to escape any shower by just driving a few miles further because the weather is pretty localized. When we where there in April, we hardly had any rain.

The east coast is also a very budget-friendly area to stay on Big Island, especially when compared to the west coast.

From Hilo International Airport (ITO) it’s just a 10-minute drive to downtown Hilo.

Best things to do in Hilo

Hilo’s tropical nature is incredibly versatile. You’ll find black lava rock beaches, colorful flowers and lush landscapes. Chase waterfalls at Rainbow Falls in Wailuku River State Park, visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum, enjoy a picnic at Liliuokalani Gardens, swim with turtles at Carlsmith beach park, visit the Lyman Museum and Mission House, eat your heart out at a macadamia nut farm, admire the Hamakua coast, visit the farmers market, visit the Kaumana caves or a tropical garden.

Akaka Falls State Park on Big Island's windward side a region known for its waterfalls
GoPro for your Hawaii vacation

Hilo is also perfectly located for day trips to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park or to Waipio Valley on the north coast. Do note that you can no longer access Waipio Valley since the road leading to it has been closed to the public.

The Mauna Kea volcano is the place to be when it comes to stargazing . It’s within easy reach of downtown Hilo. Did you know that this is the tallest mountain in the world, even higher than Mount Everest? Surprised? We’ve dedicated an entire article on surprising facts about Hawaii. Go check it out! 

For more inspiration on nearby activities, check out our article on things to do in Hilo and beyond.

Best hotels in Hilo

We stayed at the Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton, offering gorgeous views over Hilo Bay. It’s the best equipped hotel at the east side of the island and has very spacious rooms (ours came with a kitchenette). It’s perfectly located to explore the best things to do in Hilo and beyond. The farmers market, shops and restaurants are just a short stroll away.

The hotel next door, the newly renovated SCP Hotel Hilo, makes for a wonderful eco-friendly alternative.

Ocean views over Hilo Bay from a room at the budget friendly Grand Naniloa Hotel, the best place to stay on Big Island's windward side near Hilo

Best vacation rentals in Hilo

We love the Big Island so much that we’ve put together a wish list of places to stay near Hilo in the future and we’d love to share it with you. Three of the options mentioned below look out over a waterfall and two of those even allow swimming!

Rental home with spacious rooms in Hilo town
Image courtesy of VRBO – Hilo Town Retreat
Porch and rental house in Hilo Hawaii set in a lush garden with ocean views
Image courtesy of VRBO – Robert Tag
Kapehu Retreat House

This rental house in Hilo Hawaii is located in one of the best areas to stay on the Big Island
Image courtesy of VRBO – Reeds Island Ohana
This Hilo vacation rental with pool is where to stay on east side of Big Island
Image courtesy of VRBO – Robert Tag
Creekside Cottage

Kona is the best place to stay for culture and entertainment

Located on the west coast of the island, the Kona region is a long stretch of coastline known for its sunny weather. The landscape is very different on this side of the island: less tropical vegetation, more dry landscapes. Kailua-Kona is the main town of the Kona region.

Kailua-Kona town is the most popular place to stay in Kona. It’s a bustling town with plenty of surfer shops, grocery stores and dining options. Do note that Kailua-Kona feels pretty touristy and that the traffic in and around town is terrible. Other, more tranquil, towns in the Kona region and located just south of Kailua-Kona town are Holualoa and Kealakekua. These are residential towns with a more authentic vibe.

Inside Kona Airport

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) is the best choice if you’re staying at this side of the island. It’s located on the main road north of Kailua-Kona.

Best things to do in Kona

There are plenty of heritage sites on the Big Island where you can learn about the native Hawaiian culture. All of the historical parks are located on the Kona coast.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park on the Big Island's west coast

Snorkel with manta rays, learn about Hawaiian culture andset foot on royal ground at Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park, check out the petroglyphs from an early Hawaiian settlement at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park, kayak to the Captain Cook monument inthe Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, visit a Kona coffee plantation, snorkel at Kealakekua Bay, discover the Kona Cloud Forest or visit a seahorse farm.

When the sun sets, watch a luau performance in one of the Kona hotels. There’s the Haleo luau at the Sheraton Kona Resort in Keauhou, the Voyagers of the Pacific luau at the Royal Kona Resort and the Island Breeze luau at the Courtyard King Kamehamehaʻs Kona Beach Hotel.

Best hotels in Kona

A popular choice is the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa but apart from that, there really aren’t that many hotel options in Kailua-Kona. We actually stayed in the city centre during our trip but really regretted our choice. It’s over-touristy, overbuilt and you’re stuck in traffic whatever direction you choose. Walking from your accommodation to the centre, even it’s very close, is not really an option either since there are no sidewalks.

Therefore, we’d strongly recommend staying either just south of Kailua-Kona, towards Captain Cook, or just north, near the airport. This little gem must be Kona’s best kept secret: a tropical garden dotted with boutique accommodations and the most personal service. it’s located in Holualoa, just south of Kailua-Kona, and one of the best accommodation options for a romantic getaway. You can either rent the entire property or book individual rooms.

This boutique hotel is one of the best accommodation options on the Big Island and offers amazing ocean views
Image courtesy of VRBO – Holualoa Inn

Best vacation rentals in Kona

Of course, you’ll also find plenty of condos and villas in this area. We love the Big Island so much that we’ve put together a wish list of places to stay near Kailua-Kona in the future and we’d love to share it with you:

South Kohala and Waikoloa are the best places to stay for beach bums and nature lovers

Are you looking for rest and relaxation during your vacation? Then the South Kohala region is the where to stay on the Big Island. This coastline is also located on the leeward side of the island, right above the Kona coastline. Sunny weather is practically guaranteed year-round in South Kohala.

The Kohala coast is known for its gorgeous sandy beaches, the most idyllic one being Hapuna State Recreation area. Boutiques and restaurants galore in the family-friendly resort area of Waikoloa Village thanks to the Kings’ Shops and Queens’ MarketPlace.

Hapuna beach at Hawaii Big Island

The resort towns of Puako and Waikoloa Village guarantee a carefree beach vacation. Puako is more tranquil whilst Waikoloa is the perfect destination for a family vacation.

Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA) is the best choice if you’re staying at this side of the island. It’s located on the main road south of this region.

Best things to do in Waikoloa

Swim with turtles at Hapuna Beach State Park (our favorite of all the sandy beaches on the island), watch the sunset while sipping mai tais at the Lava Lava beach club, visit Puakō Petroglyph Park and Anaeho’omalu Petroglyph Field, discover the captivating beauty of Kiholo Bay which is home to one of the most beautiful black sand beaches on Hawaii island, go horse-riding at Parker Ranch, go shopping atthe Kings’ Shops and Queens’ MarketPlace or dine at one of the many on-site restaurants.

CosmopoliMom Sarah and her daughter sitting in a red sofa at Waikoloa Village which is where to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii with kids

Waikoloa is a great area to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii if you’re looking to explore the tropical island nature on the north coast. You’ll actually be pretty close to Waimea (Kamuela), the Polulu Valley and Waipio Valley so you’ll have a diversity of landscapes at your fingertips. Adventurous day trips guaranteed.

Best resorts in Waikoloa and the South Kohala district

You’ll find plenty of luxury resorts along the Kohala coast. Some of those are massive, like the Hilton Waikoloa Village. If you like a theme-park like atmosphere with plenty of pools and restaurants to choose from then this is where you want to be staying at on the Big Island with kids. We visited the hotel just get an idea of its size.

Little girl running towards the camera on a suspension bridge over the pools at Hilton Waikoloa Village, the best place to stay on the Big Island for families
Capture every moment when you stay in Big Island's towns of Kailua-Kona or Waikoloa

If you’re not into that vibe then you’ll find some of the island’s best luxurious resorts here too, such as the Four Seasons Hualalai and the Fairmont Orchid. For our next Hawaii vacation, we would opt for the one beach hotel that enjoys an enviable location along the island’s most popular white sand beach (Hapuna beach) and that’s The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, just a mile further north, is another excellent beach resort. The pool may be a bit less impressive than that at The Westin, but the hotel itself is amazing and the beach a bit quieter.

Best vacation rentals in Waikoloa

Here are some of the amazing vacation rentals on the South Kohala coast that caught our eye.

Volcano is the best place to stay for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Instead of visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from Hilo, you could stay at rustic Volcano Village. It’s located in the Puna region and right next to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, theUNESCO designated Biosphere Reserve that encompasses both the Kilauea and Mauna Loa summit areas.

Because of the elevation, temperatures here are much cooler. It can get foggy and rainy here too, especially in the morning. Before visiting, it’s always recommended to stop by the Visitor Center. Kilauea is an active volcano and the conditions are always subject to change. The same goes for the wind, moving toxic sulfur dioxide and volcanic gases to different areas of the park.

Viewpoint from the rainforest over the Kilauea Iki crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Best things to do in Volcano Village

The obvious activity is visiting the Big Island’s star attraction: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Some of the top things to do include hiking (the Kilauea Iki hike is out-of-this-world!), seeing the lava flows, visiting the sulfur banks and the hot steam vents. Other popular activities are visiting the Thurston Lava Tube, seeing the glowing lava lake in the Halama’uma’u crater, and driving the Chain of Craters road.

Volcano Village is a rustic little country town. There’s not much to see but that’s exactly the beauty of it. No better place to unplug than this landscape of lava fields and jungle views. You can visit the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, the local winery or the vast lava fields in the Puna region. It’s also perfectly located to visit Punalu’u beach, the most popular of all black sand beaches in Hawaii.

Best vacation rentals in Volcano Village

Tucked away between the ferns, you’ll find some quaint accommodation options. This enchanting cabin in the woods for one, with its hot tub and fire pit. Some of the dreamiest Airbnbs in Hawaii can be found on this part of the island too. Just check out these amazing options:

Cottage in Volcano Village Big Island and one of the best places to stay on Big Island close to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Image courtesy of VRBO – Kahaualea Cottage
Hammock on the porch of a rainforest cabin in the Puna region
Image Courtesy of VBRO – Serenity Suite
This cabin in the woods is one of the best places to stay on Big Island if you want to experience more of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park than possible on a day trip
Image courtesy of VRBO – Kuono
On all Hawaiian islands you need a rental car to get around the island

The perfect Big Island itinerary

Ideally, you’ll want to spend one week on the island, dividing your time over the windward and leeward side. On our Big Island trip, we combined 3 nights in Hilo with 5 nights in Kailua-Kona. Looking back, an extra night in Hilo would have been very welcome. Unfortunately, Kailua-Kona didn’t live up to our expectations and we lost too much of our west coast time in traffic.

From our experience, we put together what we think is the ultimate itinerary for first time visitors to the Big Island:

Papakolea green sand beach is hard to reach so keep that in mind when researching where to stay in Big Island Hawaii

So, ideally, you would arrive in one Big Island airport and depart from the other. We arrived in Hilo airport where we picked up our car and departed from Kona airport where we turned back our rental vehicle.

Getting around on the Big Island

Public transportation options on Hawaii main island are very limited so a rental car is a necessity. We used Discount Hawaii Car Rental to to book our car rental from Hilo airport with the option to return it at Kona airport. Driving on the Big Island is easy, as long as you stay on one of the few main roads.

Little girl in the back seat as seen from the rear view mirror during a road trip through Hawaii Big Island
On all Hawaiian islands you need a rental car to get around the island

We didn’t drive Saddle Road, which runs through the heart of the island, but heard that it can be dangerous because of the vog (volcanic smog). It’s also pitch dark at night. Under these circumstances, it is recommended to take the north or the south route.

To make things as easy as possible for you, we’ve collected the driving times to most points of interest from the main tourist resorts. You’re welcome!

Driving times to all popular attractions from the main Big Island  resorts

What’s your favorite place to stay in Big Island?

Planning a Big Island trip anytime soon? Now that you’ve read all possible angles on where to stay on Big Island Hawaii, we can’t wait to find out which area(s) you’ll choose when you’ll travel to the island for the first time. Been there, done that? Then we want to know all about your favorite places to stay on the Big Island. The comment box is all yours.

Pinning this post would be much appreciated!

Pool area and beach of one of the Big Island hotels near Waikoloa
Night falls over a palm-fringed pool at a Big Island hotel


As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. In addition, we have sprinkled other affiliate links throughout the site content as well. Clicking on such a hyperlink and/or making a purchase to the website it refers to, may result in a commission for CosmopoliClan at no additional cost to you. It allows us to dedicate enough personal time and energy to this blog. For more information, visit the Disclaimer page.

3 Comments

    1. Sarah

      Hi Johnny. Pahoa is a very small town, located south-east of Hilo, and a bit of a special case. While it’s certainly authentic and worth the drive, if only for the unique wooden boardwalks and a couple of tourist sights such as the painted church, the Lava Tree Monument and of course the lava flows, it might be a bit out of the comfort zone for most visitors to Hawaii when it comes to accommodation. It’s a hippy town, home to some communes, that comes with a quirky vibe. We wouldn’t have felt that comfortable (or maybe even welcome) staying there. If you prefer staying in a remote part of Big Island, then we’d definitely choose Volcano over Pahoa. Or how about Waimea, in the north? The rural setting may be different, away from the lava and amidst the pastures, but it’s a very friendly little town amidst the lush Kohala valleys (north-east) and the white-sand beaches near Waikoloa (west).
      Should you decide to stay in Pahoa anyway, I’d love to hear about your experience after you return. We might be totally wrong in our opinion about this town, so feel free to contradict our point of view. Happy (and safe) travels, Johnny!

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