Kailua-Kona is a charming sea-side oasis of green amidst a volcanic and relatively barren landscape. With a population of little more than 10,000, Kailua-Kona is only a quarter the size of comparatively lush and urban Hilo on the opposite coast. Yet this city, home to the Ironman Triathlon, numerous historical sites, tidepools and a quaint down-town area is a character-rich mix of modern and natural.
Snorkelers can explore the waters around White Sands Beach County Park when there is enough sand to get down past the coral to the water, or Honokohau Beach and nearby Kaloko Beach north of Kailua-Kona's city center. Honokohau Harbor is where fishing boats come at night to roost. Pick up the latest gossip dockside before jumping aboard and heading out to see first-hand how the marlin are biting. Optionally, take a submarine cruise on the Atlantis and watch streaks of color flash past the windows as you descend to 120 feet—not quite Verne's 2,000 leagues under the sea but about as close as you can get in one morning.
Wander the small down-town area for your chance to buy macadamia nuts, snorkeling equipment and other souvenirs before relaxing with a cup of Kona coffee, locally grown and brewed. Thus invigorated, take a quick look at Mokuaikaua Church and Hulihee Palace or join a historical walking tour and leave the navigation to someone else.
If you're not in the area to participate in the Ironman yourself, rent bikes and spend a day exploring the environs before washing off with a swim, running to catch the sunset and celebrating your day with a Polynesian luau feast.
Kailua-Kona is due west of Hilo, though Saddle Road winds circuitously around for 55 miles before joining Route 190 for the 33-mile stretch to the city, making the actual driving distance longer than the physical distance.