Family Travel


Wailea vs. Hilo: A Hawaii Travel Guide

Majesitc Rainbow Falls waterfall in Hilo, Wailuku River State Park, Hawaii. The falls flows over a natural lava cave, the mythological home to Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess.

Wailea vs. Hilo: A Hawaii Travel Guide

If you are planning a vacation to Hawaii, it can be tough to decide where to stay. Hawaii is made up of multiple islands, each with its unique attractions and vibe. To pick the best location for your vacation, you will need to do some research.

If you are currently weighing the pros and cons of Wailea vs Hilo, we can help. We have recommendations on the best places to eat, shop, stay, and visit. Our Hawaiian travel guide is the perfect tool to help you choose the best place for your next getaway.

Wailea vs. Hilo: Wailea

If you travel by car for 35 minutes from Kahului Airport, you will reach Wailea. Wailea is a luxurious area located in South Maui, spanning over 1,500 acres, offering high-end beaches, resorts, and attractions. This stunning area is renowned for its five crescent-shaped beaches, which offer breathtaking oceanviews. Additionally, Wailea is famous for its world-class golf courses that attract visitors from all over the world.

Coastline along Wailea Beach Path near Polo Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii.
Located on 1,500 acres in South Maui, Wailea is famous for its crescent-shaped beaches and luxury resorts.

©Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Wailea: Beaches and Swimming

When visiting Hawaii, exploring the beaches is a must. Here are a few of the must-see beaches in Wailea.

Wailea Beach

The Wailea area has a treasure trove of stunning beaches, each with its unique charm. Among them, Wailea Beach stands out as a true gem. It is no surprise that this beach was crowned “America's Best Beach” in 1999. The crystal-clear waters of the Pacific Ocean offer a perfect setting for everything from snorkeling to swimming. Of course, it is okay to simply lounge around in the sun.

If you enjoy snorkeling, there are several snorkeling tours to choose from in Wailea. You can go snorkeling with sea turtles and get free underwater photos, or try the snorkeling sea scooter tour. If you are new to snorkeling or not a strong swimmer, you can opt for the snorkeling for non-swimmers tour.

Polo Beach

Polo Beach is another stunning beach known for its crystal-clear waters and picturesque views. However, Polo Beach is a rockier beach than other beaches in the area. In fact, the beach's full name, “Ke One o Polo,” is an accurate description of this beach. The name translates to “The sand is not thick.” Also, Polo Beach is a better name than this beach's previous name, “Dead Horse Beach,” which probably did not attract a lot of tourists.

Furthermore, this beach is an ideal spot for swimming. Moreover, the abundance of marine life makes it another perfect snorkeling spot. You can get up close and personal with colorful fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins if you are lucky. Additionally, the white sandy beach is great for sunbathing. This beach's gentle waves make it an excellent place for children to play. However, Polo Beach does tend to get crowded due to its proximity to the resorts in the area.

Ulua Beach Park

Ulua Beach Park is a picturesque crescent-shaped beach with a sandy bottom that's perfect for swimming. This area is also perfect for walking and jogging, thanks to the park's well-maintained facilities. It also has magnificent views of the ocean from the walking trail. Additionally, the park's ADA-accessible sidewalks make it a great destination for visitors of all ages.

There are plenty of activities to enjoy at Ulua Beach Park, including fishing, picnicking, and playing beach volleyball. The calm waters of the beach make it ideal for stand-up paddle boarding. Meanwhile, snorkelers can easily view the surrounding coral reefs in shallow water. It is a wonderful place for the entire family to relax, unwind, and appreciate the beauty of the scenery.

Although parking is free, the lot fills up quickly as this beach is quite popular. While there are no picnic tables or concession stands on the beach, public restrooms and showers are available.

Senior happy couple taking selfie in tropical sea excursion with water camera - Boat trip snorkeling in exotic scenarios - Active retired elderly and fun concept on scuba diving - Warm vivid filter
Wailea Beach is a great place to go snorkeling.

©View Apart/Shutterstock.com

Wailea: Golfing

Wailea is a popular destination for golf enthusiasts worldwide. Wailea Golf Club has three championship courses: Wailea Blue, Wailea Gold, and Wailea Emerald, totaling fifty-four holes.

The Wailea Blue golf course is in the heart of Wailea. Lush coconut trees and tropical foliage surround this golf course. Furthermore, the Wailea Gold golf course has been featured in Golfweek, Golf Digest, Golf Advisor, and Golf Magazine. This golf course is renowned for its difficult level, having been played by legendary golfers such as Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, and Gary Player.

The Wailea Emerald golf course is framed by lovely bright bougainvillea and green fairways. Golfers play against a backdrop of gorgeous ocean views, which makes this course a popular golfing destination.

Maui Golf Course
Wailea, Hawaii, is a well-known golf destination with three courses: Wailea Blue, Gold, and Emerald. They are all part of the Wailea Golf Club.


Wailea: Dining and Shopping

When you are back in town, you must visit The Shops at Wailea. This massive shopping center is open from 10 AM to 9 PM. It features high-end stores such as Gucci and Prada. However, it has more affordable options like the Maui Flip Flop Shop and Sephora. You can also grab a cup of coffee at Honolulu Coffee Company or enjoy a dinner at Ruth Chris Steakhouse. Other shops include LuluLemon, the Apple Store, and Tiffany and Co. 

After you finish shopping at The Shops in Wailea, there are many other places to visit. If you appreciate art, check out Lahaina Gallery and the Collective Gallery while you are there. If you have a sweet tooth, you should definitely stop by Sweet Paradise Chocolatier. And if you want to burn off those chocolate calories, you can attend a yoga class at Maui Yoga Studio.

Wailea: Where to Stay

Wailea is a beautiful resort community that has five outstanding hotels. According to U.S. News and World Report, these are the five best hotels in Wailea.

  • Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea
  • Hotel Wailea
  • Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui
  • Grand Wailea
  • Ho'olei at Grand Wailea

The two most popular hotels provide guests with an opportunity to enjoy a luxurious vacation. The Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa is an excellent option for anyone seeking top-quality services and amenities. The resort is situated on a sprawling forty-acre property. It also has five restaurants, a spa, a water park, and three golf courses.

The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea offers 380 guest rooms and suites with private lanais. The resort also features saltwater pools, a spa, and access to outdoor activities such as snorkeling and golf.

For a more intimate and private setting, Wailea offers many condominiums and private homes in addition to its two popular hotels. There are currently around 4,654 condos and apartments available for booking in Wailea, with prices starting at $145 per night. The average cost of renting a house in Wailea is $1,531 per night, while the average cost of renting an apartment is $649 per night.

happy holidays in beautiful beach hotel at sunset, man sitting near swimming pool and relaxing
Wailea is a breathtaking resort community that features five luxury resorts that offer truly luxurious experiences to guests.


Wailea Vs. Hilo: Hilo

Hilo is a town situated on the northeastern side of the island of Hawaii. It is the biggest town on the Big Island. Hilo is famous for its crescent-shaped bay, stunning gardens, lush rainforests, and waterfalls. It also has black sandy beaches resulting from volcanic ash.

Although Hilo is a well-known tourist destination, it receives fewer visitors than the western coast of the Big Island. This is largely due to the fact that the western coast has sunnier weather, less rainfall, and more hotels and resorts.

If you are looking for a less crowded spot on the Big Island, you should consider Hilo. Not only does it offer more affordable accommodations, but there is plenty to do, including hiking, ziplining, and visiting national parks. One of Hilo's biggest draws is the Merrie Monarch Festival, which kicks off on Easter Sunday each year.

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are flying on the backgro
If you visit Hilo at the end of March, you can attend the Merrie Monarch Butterfly Festival, which begins each year on Easter Sunday.

©GUDKOV ANDREY/Shutterstock.com

Hilo: Beaches and Swimming

There are a number of popular beaches in Hilo. Here are some Hilo beaches that we recommend.

Hilo Bayfront Beach Park

Hilo is home to several black sandy beaches, one of which is Hilo Bayfront Beach Park. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of Hilo Bay, Mauna Kea, and the Pacific Ocean. The park's eastern location on the island makes it an excellent spot for sunrise-watching. Paddleboarders and snorkelers love this beach because of its calm waters. Moreover, you can rent water gear right off the beach. There are cafes located at both ends of the beach park. Visitors can also check out the Hilo Farmers Market, open every day from 7 AM to 3 PM.

Onekahakaha Beach Park

Onekahakaha Beach Park is a popular Hilo destination for families with young children. This tiny but stunning sand-bottomed ocean pool is considered one of the safest swimming areas along the Hilo coast. Although there is not a traditional beach, the park itself is perfect for picnics. It also offers stunning views of Hilo Bay.

Moreover, it is an excellent place for family snorkeling. You can also explore tide pools for sea urchins, sea stars, mollusks, and crabs. The beach park has many amenities, including picnic tables, grills, pavilions, showers, a playground, and lifeguards for your safety. Moreover, the water is super shallow all the way to the breakwater, making it safe for young children.

Reeds Bay Beach Park

Reeds Bay Beach Park is a small bay beach that is protected by a breakwater, which creates calm and clear waters in the ocean. The beach is an ideal spot to observe tropical fish and sea turtles. It is also known as the “Ice Pond” due to the water being connected to an underground freshwater spring. As a result, it tends to be colder than typical ocean water. If you do not mind the chilly water and are feeling adventurous, you can safely go for a swim here.

This beach park is located in the heart of Hilo Town. It is easily accessible on foot, but make sure to wear sturdy shoes because of the beach's chunky coral and volcanic rock. The park has restrooms, picnic tables, and a shaved ice hut just off the beach. Furthermore, it is a great spot to watch the cruise ships come into Hilo Harbor.

The beautiful Blacksand beaches of Hawaii specifically kilo Hawaii in the big island
Hilo's black sand beaches are made of volcanic ash and lava fragments that the ocean's waves have broken down.

©Jimmie Rodgers/Shutterstock.com

Hilo: Dining and Shopping

Downtown Hilo is a fantastic place to explore. One of the most highly recommended destinations is the Hilo Farmer's Market. This popular open-air market is open year-round and attracts vendors from all over the Big Island. Typically, over 200 vendors sell fresh produce, artisanal foods, and homemade crafts. The market also features several restaurants and cafes where you can grab a bite to eat while you shop.

If you are a book lover or just need something to read while you relax in the sun, you should check out Basically Books, an independently-owned bookstore in Downtown Hilo. The store sells a wide selection of books and art. It also has a large collection of Hawaiian music for music lovers.

If you are in the mood for a sweet treat and some caffeine, Puna Chocolate Company & Café is the perfect spot. Not only does it have a great atmosphere, but this café offers interesting combinations of chocolate and coffee drinks. It also serves alcohol and light food. Online reviewers rave about their delicious peanut butter cups.

Hilo: Where to Stay

This charming town on the Big Island offers a variety of affordable accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. To help you plan your stay, we recommend the following places in Hilo.

According to the US News and World Report, the SCP Hilo Hotel holds the top spot as the best hotel in Hilo and ranks seventeenth in all of Hawaii. The hotel offers guests a variety of options for rooms, including poolside and “serene” rooms, to cater to their guests' relaxation needs. Additionally, the hotel provides access to a fitness room and a market stocked with locally-sourced organic snacks.

Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is a fantastic choice for families visiting Hilo. This hotel is near many popular tourist attractions in the area and offers bike rental services to guests who want to explore the surroundings. Each of the 286 rooms is equipped with a flat-screen TV and a refrigerator. Additionally, the hotel provides convenient amenities, such as dry cleaning and laundry services, and a full-service beauty salon.

If you are looking for a more private vacation spot, especially for couples, Aaron's Cottage is an excellent choice. This highly-rated bungalow park offers small but cozy bungalows that are conveniently located near several parks and beaches. Additionally, each room comes with a flat-screen TV and free WIFI, ensuring that you can stay connected and entertained throughout your stay if you choose to spend a night in.

Hilo: More Places to Consider for Your Stay

In addition to these top-rated accommodations, here are a few more places to consider.

  • Hilo Bay Hostel: This affordable hostel is located near the town center and offers both dormitory-style and private rooms.
  • Grand Naniloa Hotel Hilo – a DoubleTree by Hilton: This waterfront hotel offers comfortable rooms with ocean views. It is also located near the airport.
  • Dolphin Bay Hotel: This charming bed and breakfast is located in a historic building. It features cozy rooms and a beautiful garden.
A Farmers market in Hawaii
The Hilo Farmer's Market is a highly recommended attraction in Hilo. It features over 200 vendors from around Hawaii.

©Allison H. Smith/Shutterstock.com

Final Thoughts

Choosing between Wailea and Hilo for a vacation in Hawaii depends on your expectations and personal preferences. Wailea offers sunny weather, luxury resorts, sandy beaches, and opportunities for activities like golfing and snorkeling.

On the other hand, Hilo provides a lush, rainforest-filled environment featuring waterfalls and black sandy beaches. You can also spend more time with the locals in Hilo, visiting the Hilo Farmers' Market and perusing its bookstores and coffee shops. Moreover, like Wailea, there is a wide variety of accommodations available. However, Hilo has cheaper accommodations that still offer a quality stay.

Whether you are seeking relaxation in a luxurious setting or prefer immersing yourself in nature and the local culture, both destinations offer unique and memorable experiences for visitors to Hawaii.

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