After setting foot in Kona, I wondered how it was even possible I’d let seven years pass since I’d been to Maui. In case you were wondering if all the islands of Hawai’i are the same, Maui and Kona were very different, even though I have yet to visit the others. Kona feels more rugged and sparse, Maui more slick and developed.
My Favorite Beaches
Let’s get right to it, my favorite part of Hawai’i. I’m a happy beach bum. As our host noted, many beaches in Kona have very rough water and rocky floors. Please be extremely careful deciding to enter the water and water socks are a necessity. Maui this ain’t, but the beaches are still stunning, even if a few are just for the view and not for the swim. Noting that beaches sometimes go by two or three names, and we regrettably didn’t have a lot of time to explore the furthest Northeast part of the island, these were our favorite beaches.
Ho’okena Beach Park
The long and winding road leads to dark gray sand and secluded, crescent beach. The water got a bit rough towards sunset as usual. The mysterious seclusion and stunning cliffs above were amazing.
It’s easy to get to, has a ton of parking, the water is rather calm and the sand is soft. Conveniently located near the resort and the Queens’ and Kings’ shops.
Kekaha Kai State Park – Kua Bay
We took sandwiches here to watch the body boarders and the sunset on our last evening on the island.
Punalu’u Beach Park (mostly known as Black Sand Beach)
The water was too rough for a swim the day we visited, but this beach is crowded for a reason. We spotted turtles and the black sand next to the bright green foliage is beautiful.
A must is Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Kailua-Kona, so plan to make it out of the door early in the morning. You can hike the 4-mile roundtrip path that takes you around the top edge then down and across the lava crater. $15 per car to enter.
We’ve shied away from professional luaus in Hawai’i for many reasons. They are expensive, feature a lot of food we don’t eat and we don’t necessarily enjoy tourist crowds. I found the perfect solution watching the free Hawaiian dance, music and culture showcases at the Coronation Pavilion at Queens’ Marketplace on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6 to 7 pm.
We enjoyed watching the amazing hula dancers from Halau O Po’ohala. They range in age from elementary school to seniors, and they were mesmerizing. Catch this hula school presentation every Monday.
Pololū Valley is the place to watch the clouds pass over the dramatically steep and lush landscape. There is a rather long and arduous path down to the bottom and further to the ocean.
Where to Stay
I think hotels and resorts are boring and a rip off. We usually opt for hostels, but this time I decided to try Airbnb for the first time. We were both impressed by our stay and plan on using this site many more times in the future. We stayed at a studio apartment in Kailua-Kona in a quiet residential neighborhood and couldn’t have been happier to wake up to the ocean in the distance and the birdsong.
It’s Hawai’i, you need a car. We always find great rental car deals on Priceline.com. Be warned that GPS often does not work in Hawai’i. Stop off at the airport tourist welcome desk and pick up plenty of paper maps. Also, police are very strict with speeding drivers and jaywalkers. Ticket prices start at around $200 per offense.
Food and Drink
We always prefer a place with a kitchen. Not only does it save us money, but as we are vegan, traveling can be a challenge. We stocked up at the excellent Island Naturals food store and had their delicious hot/cold buffet twice. When we did go out, we went to a specifically vegan café, ‘Ai Pono, and Kona Brewing. My husband’s dish at ‘Ai Pono was excellent, mine was so-so. It’s located next to a bakery and pizzeria that offer some vegan and gluten-free options.
Kona Brewing does have a couple things that were “vegan-izeable,” including a delicious vegetable panini and a hummus platter. Of course, the main attraction is the justifiably famous beer. Coming from Portland, I have gotten tired of the “in yo face” bitter, over-hopped beers. Kona Brewing was a welcome change of pace. The Lemongrass Luau and the Koko Brown are highly recommended.
Mahalo for reading! Happy travels!