The marine sanctuary of Kealakekua Bay ranks among Hawaii’s most scenic spots for snorkeling, swimming, and hiking. The beautiful bay, home to spinner dolphins and backed by green mountain slopes, was the site where Captain James Cook landed—and was later killed—on the Big Island in 1779, forever altering the history and culture of the archipelago.
Kealakekua Bay is one of the most popular day trips from Kailua-Kona. Most visitors arrive by tour for snorkeling, kayaking, dolphin watching, or learning about the site’s historical significance over a Hawaiian-style meal. The protected waters are often ideal for swimming, often alongside dolphins, tropical fish, and a range of other marine life. Don’t overlook the Captain Cook Monument, a white obelisk commemorating Captain James Cook, who was killed in a skirmish with Native Hawaiians in February 1779.
Things to Know Before You Go
Kealakekua Bay is a must-visit for history buffs and nature lovers alike.
A small park near the beach offers a picnic pavilion, restrooms, and a water fountain.
Don’t forget to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and a hat.
No lifeguards are on duty in the bay, so swim at your own risk.
Most snorkeling tours include all necessary snorkel gear.
How to Get There
Kealakekua Bay sits on the Big Island’s western Kona Coast, within the protected Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park. If you don’t have a rental car to drive there yourself, the easiest way to visit is through an organized tour from Kailua-Kona.
When to Get There
Since much of the appeal of Kealakekua Bay lies in its turquoise waters, plan to visit on a warm, sunny day. For the best chance to spot spinner dolphins near the shore, opt for an evening cruise along the Kona Coast.
Kayaking to Kealakekua Bay
Due to the growing popularity of Kealakekua Bay (and the risk that popularity poses to the underwater ecosystem), kayakers wishing to land boats along the shoreline have to get a permit ahead of time. Most guided kayak tours and kayak rentals already include the necessary permits, but it’s a good idea to check.