TIP: Most hotels have 4 pm check-in. Ask for an early check-in. If they are unable to accommodate, they will usually let you store your bags so you can head to the beach!
Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
King Kamehameha the Great claimed the best sand beach on Kailua Bay for his royal compound; in protected Kamakahonu Cove, warm salt water mixes with cooling freshwater springs before entering broad Kailua Bay. A small heiau (temple) and reconstructed thatched huts mark where he gathered with advisors; his legacy is also present throughout the freshly renovated, 452-room hotel. This is also Ironman World Championship headquarters every October, with the race starting at adjacent Kailua Pier and ending just in front of the hotel. Kids will enjoy splashing in the ocean-view infinity-edge pool. The ground floor has a wealth of conveniences, including the best shave ice on the island, a coffee shop (with Kona coffee, of course), day spa, fitness center, yoga studio, convenience/gift store and Honu’s on the Beach, a resort-quality restaurant with more affordable prices. Dozens more shops and restaurants line nearby Ali‘i Drive, also home to a historic church and summer palace open to visitors.
- The friendly staff at the Kona Beach Boys concession will help the family get in the ocean with all kinds of gear.
- Afterwards, enjoy lunch or dinner with a view from Billfish Poolside Bar & Grille. Sunset, snorkeling and seasonal whale-watch cruises depart regularly from Kailua Pier.
- The exciting oceanfront luau reflects the area’s history, starting with a royal procession that arrives by outrigger canoe.
Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay
This multi-wing hotel with open-air corridors spreads across 22 acres like one of the graceful manta rays that visit neighboring Keauhou Bay and can be spotted from the hotel grounds. Snorkeling and seasonal whale-watching cruises as well as a new water taxi to Kona that includes a cultural tour also depart from Keauhou Harbor, where King Kamehameha III was born. Currently closed, the vibrant dinner and happy-hour spot Rays on the Bay is expected to reopen post-pandemic; some of Kona’s best sushi, pizza and other dining choices lie a short drive uphill at the Keauhou Shopping Center. Keauhou Bay Adventures will set you up with ocean gear to take advantage of the small beach by the pier just north of the hotel or other spots like nearby Kahalu‘u Beach, a premier destination for snorkelers and surfers.
- You’ll have a hard time getting kids to depart from the oceanfront fantasy pool with a spiraling lava tube waterslide and a large, shallow portion with a sandy bottom and fountain play area; it shares a poolside restaurant with the slightly smaller adults-only pool in the more shaded courtyard.
- Haleo Luau provides an evening of all-ages entertainment under the stars.
At 2,600 feet elevation, Waimea is often 10 degrees or more cooler than the Kohala Coast, but it’s only a 20-minute drive to the beach, making this ranch-inspired boutique inn a great alternative. Foodies will love that it also lies less than a block from some of the Big Island’s best restaurants, including the original Merriman’s, which decades ago helped start the local farm-to-table trend known as Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Built as a motel in the 1930s, and expanded in the 1960s, the 31-room inn (named for the town’s alternative moniker used in addresses) has been carefully renovated with rustic-chic style. such as horseshoe towel racks in the attractive bathrooms tucked behind sliding barn doors. Larger rooms and suites come with modern kitchenettes or full kitchens, respectively, and various bed configurations suitable for families or small groups.
- Thoughtful amenities include eco-friendly, locally made bath products to enjoy in showers with rain-style and handheld shower heads and pillow-top mattresses with luxurious bed linens.
- Room rates include a hearty local breakfast (currently ordered the night before), Wi-Fi and parking.
Grand Naniloa Resort — A DoubleTree by Hilton
The most polished and inviting hotel in Hilo also claims the best spot on Hilo Bay, with beautiful ocean, mountain and bay views from floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies in its 379 rooms. Spread across three towers, the bright white rooms and public spaces showcase $4 million of Kim Taylor Reece’s stunning black-and-white photography of authentic hula dancers. Hula is the theme here, from the name of the lively, locally sourced poolside restaurant Hula Hula’s to the videos of Merrie Monarch hula competition videos running in the lobby near the sleek, open-air lounge. The Hilton branding means bedding is super-comfortable and service is professional. The resort fee includes use of snorkel gear, play on the neighboring 9-hole golf course, tropical cocktails and other amenities.
- A local hula halau (school) practices on the grounds of the resort Monday night.
- The onsite activity center managed by KapohoKine Adventures offers excellent volcano tours, ziplining, helicopter rides and more, while Hilo’s museums, restaurants, sweets shops and farmers market are in easy reach.
The best choice of lodgings near Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is also very close to the park entrance, meaning you’ll have the chance to be among the first to explore its hiking trails, newly reopened lava tube, steam vents and other sights along Halema‘uma‘u Crater. If lava is flowing, as it was in spring 2021, you’ll also be able to visit late at night and see its eerie glow without the crowds. The charmingly rustic inn, which opened in 1938 as a YMCA retreat, is surrounded by rainforest ferns and greenery. Its dozen rooms feature vintage touches like stained glass windows and wood paneling with modern conveniences like gas fireplaces and heated towel racks (Volcano can get quite chilly on winter evenings!)
- The romantic Honeymoon Suite and stand-alone Cottage (built in 1909) offer the most privacy and space.
- Make dinner reservations for Kilauea Lodge restaurant, which has had its menu and hours evolve several times during the pandemic but remains a satisfying and cozy way to end the day.
- Lodge guests should also book time in the hot tub, hidden from view in the lush rear garden.