Polarity Travels: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
By Thao Nguyen
For our annual family trip this year, my family and I went to two of the Hawaiian islands: Hawaii Island and Oahu. Normally, when you think Hawaii, you’re thinking white sand beaches, cerulean waters, and palm trees galore. And while you can find that all on the island of Hawaii (also known as the Big Island) you will also find a lot more. Vast green forests, long stretches of cooled down black lava, and breathtaking sunsets, the island of Hawaii is a feast for the eyes.
Kailua-Kona is on the western side of the Big Island. It’s a short drive away from several must-see sights and must-eat restaurants. A quiet, slowing growing small town nestled between the ocean and the mountains, Kailua-Kona is a true escape from the hustle and bustle of real life. Time really does seem to slow down here. Everyone walks around as if they haven’t a care in the world, and although most restaurants close by 9, there really is no rush to get anywhere. The Big Island is where you can go to get a true sense of the famed, laid-back Hawaiian time.
What to Eat
Da Poke Shack Do NOT make the same mistake we did and come less than an hour before closing - they were cleared out of nearly everything! That’s just how amazing Da Poke Shack is. This little hidden poke stop is one of the highest rated restaurants on TripAdvisor and Yelp and has received the Gordon Ramsay seal of approval, and rightly so. The poke we managed to get was the best and freshest I’ve ever had. Flavorful and filling, the poke is sold by the bowl, plate, or pound based on market prices. You won’t get anything like this on the mainland.
Broke Da Mouth Grindz A couple minutes from Kona International Airport, Broke Da Mouth is a gem. Their amazingly seasoned furikake chicken is what they’re famous for, and despite the huge portions, you’ll leave wanting more. Give their garlic chicken and pork adobo a shot if you have room leftover. The macaroni salad here is amazing, and that means a lot coming from me, because I’ve NEVER been a fan of mac salad until now.
Kona Haven Coffee Kona is famous for its coffee. So, the coffee anywhere on the island is great, but few places have the same ocean-front lanai that Kona Haven Coffee has. The beautiful views, along with their great lattes and bomb breakfast sandwiches are a fantastic way to start your day.
Foster’s Kitchen Right upstairs from Kona Haven Coffee is Foster’s Kitchen, a true farm-to-table restaurant. You can see the ocean from nearly every table in the restaurant, and we were lucky enough to get live music the night we went here. The ribeye is some of the best I’ve ever had, and their desserts are killer. The best part is their house wines are only $5 a glass!
Where to Swim
La’Aloa Beach This is a lot smaller than other beaches that you might find, because it’s also known as the disappearing or magic sands beach. When the tide comes in high enough, the sand disappears completely. Despite its small size, La Aloa is memorable. The sand is amazingly soft, and the sunset I saw from here was breathtakingly gorgeous. There’s plenty of street parking and a small lot, but expect to fight for space with the locals. Showers and a bathroom are only a few feet away, making La’Aloa a great stop at any time of day (as long as the tide isn’t high).
Ho’okena Beach Driving to this beach feels like you’re driving to the end of the world because you have to drive about 4 miles down a mountain side, but the trip is worth it. You’ll feel like you’ve traveled back to a time before technology and industrialism when you come to this beach. It’s secluded, save for a few locals and campers, which means you won’t have to fight for space on the sand or in the crystal-clear waters of the ocean. Soft grey sand and gentle waves make this a family friendly beach for sure. Beware though, this beach is a major camping ground, so there are a few spots that smell like waste.
Hapuna Beach Voted the third best family beach in the world, Hapuna is a delightful beach for people of all ages. For a $5 parking fee, you get access to a giant stretch of sand, beautiful, clear, blue ocean, showers, and facilities. Despite its high rating, Hapuna isn’t crowded and you’re guaranteed to enjoy your time here.
Where to Go
Hawi About an hour and half north of Kailua-Kona ( or 20 minutes from Hapuna Beach), is Hawi -- a quaint small time straight out of a Pinterest dream. Colorful buildings, local businesses, and tons of history are what you’ll find is this quiet, pretty town. Stop by Bamboo Restaurant for one of the best mojitos you’ll ever have, then take some time to peruse the goods of the small shops sprinkled along Hawi’s main street.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach South of Kailua-Kona is Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, which is exactly what it sounds like. The sand here is volcanic and coarse, so tread carefully. It’s also the home to tons of sea turtles.The water here is a little too cold to swim in, unless you’re brave. Right next to Punalu’u is a gigantic lily pond. This whole place is an Instagram post waiting to happen, but make sure to experience and enjoy it in the moment too.
Anaehoomalu Bay Speaking of Instagram, make sure to snap some photos at Anaehoomalu. It’s a small strip of sand surrounded by a coconut grove and pristine waters. The ocean is pretty choppy here, so don’t expect to get any swimming done. Just lean back and enjoy the view.
Hilo farmer’s market On the eastern side of the island is Hawaii’s other large town, Hilo. Less than a two hour drive from Kailua-Kona, making the trek to Hilo’s farmer’s market is worth the time. Open Wednesdays and Saturdays, you’ll find fresh tropical fruits here as well as tons of low-priced souvenirs to bring home to all of your friends. Walk a few blocks up to get shaved ice at Wilson’s By the Bay.
We didn’t have a chance to go, but Two Step is great for snorkeling, and Volcanoes National Park is one of the only places in the world you can witness lava coming out of an active volcano. Also, make sure to stop by one of the many fruit stands on the southern coast of the island to drink some fresh coconut!