Ambiance Is Kona's Attraction
The Big Island’s quaint and quirky town on the dry, sunny western side is a beautiful and relaxing place to visit. The Kona district stretches for sixty miles. It begins at the Kona International Airport and stretches beyond Kealakekua Bay. From sandy beaches to a vibrant restaurant scene to historic sites, the Kona district has it all.
It’s also quite live-able, with plenty of schools for children, free outdoor activities for all ages and a setting by the sea on one of the most enticing tropical islands in the world. Let’s explore Kona and all it has to offer. If it was good enough for the King - (King Kamehameha spent his final years in Kona) - it’s good enough for us!
Food and Drink
Kona, also known as Kailua-Kona, offers locals and travelers alike a wide-range of dining experiences for all tastes and budgets, and the food scene continues to grow. As soon as you arrive in Kona, pick up your rental car and head directly to the Kona Brewing Company. This is the best place to sample the local brews - Wailua Wheat with passionfruit, Castaway IPA with mango, the Longboard Lager, the Fire Rock Pale Ale with its citrus-floral hop aroma, Big Wave Golden Ale - this liquid Aloha is the perfect start to your Kona experience. You’ll want to make a special trip here for dinner as well. The menu offers something for every palette. Start off with a pupu (this is Hawaiian for appetizer), of Kawaihae Cajun Seared Ahi or Pele’s Fire Wings. Add a huge salad to the mix - the Island Mixed Greens or Hearty Kale Salad.
Share a pizza with your beloved. You’ll love the names of the hand tossed pies - Kona Garden, Pele’s Own, Ka’u Pesto, or “brew your own,” as they say. The combinations are endless. End your meal with a dessert such as the Mauna Kea Snow Cap or Kilauea Lava Flow. Top it off with a cup of 100% Kona coffee. If you have the pleasure of dining among the ambient tiki torches on a weekend, you’ll be treated to a local band playing soothing sounds from their ukeleles or upbeat reggae beats with steel drums. A trip to the Kona Brewing Company is a casual tropical dining experience like no other.
Shopping along Ali-i Drive in downtown Kona is also a treat. From art galleries featuring the colorful works of local artists to delicately wrapped chocolate covered macadamia nuts, you’ll find a gift for every family member if souvenir shopping is on your itinerary. If not, no worries. This is a lovely area to people-watch and window-shop. Try a shave ice if you’re up for the quintessential island treat. If chocolate’s your thing, The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory will soothe your sweet tooth. Their factory lies on the slopes of Hualalai Mountain, which you can see as you gaze upwards from Kona. Their chocolate comes from hand-picked, sun-dried and processed Hawaiian cocoa beans. You can also pick up a pound of 100% Kona coffee here.
Getting Out Of Town
Mamalahoa Highway is the main drag that takes you around the island. As you drive south from Kona on Mamalahoa Highway you’ll find the Amy B.H. Greenwall Ethnobotanical Garden in Captain Cook, nine miles south of Kona, located 200 yards south of mile marker 110. (The mile marker is the smartest way to find a destination. When you’re looking for directions, ask for the mile marker number.) The Amy B.H. Greenwall Ethnobotanical Garden is a 12-acre garden where you get to explore Hawaiian ethnobotany - (the study of Hawaiian people and their plants). Learn about Hawaii’s local fruits and vegetables - taro root, breadfruit, coconuts, bananas, papayas and a wide array of plants introduced to Hawaii by the Polynesians. The garden is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 9-4pm.
The Kona Farmer’s Market is lively and bountiful. Locally grown produce, arts, crafts, coffee, gifts - it’s all on display here as local vendors sell their wares. It’s another good place to purchase your 100% Kona coffee. The market is open from 7am to 4pm on Wednesdays and Sundays. If you’re cooking in a condo for the week, this is the best and cheapest place in Kona to buy produce.
Swimming in Kona is a real treat - and it’s free! The public swimming pool, officially known as the Kona Community Aquatic Center is located on Kuakini Highway, just north of the old airport. (Ask any local for directions.) The aquatic center offers swimming lessons for adults and children. There are several lap lanes open as well as designated areas for the tots to swim and play. Imagine getting your morning swim in for free every morning while enjoying the warm tropical breeze and stunning mountain scenery of the surrounding countryside.
If you’re a more intrepid swimmer, you must take a swim at “The Pier.” Located on Ali’i Drive (the main drag in downtown Kona), the pier of Kailua Bay is one of the planet’s best backyard swimming pools and also the place where the Ironman Triathlon begins. Here, you are swimming in the bay, so don’t be afraid to get your sea legs wet. If you need a little moral support, there are always friendly swimmers around. There’s even a morning swim group if you find your time in Kona extended. The Pier is truly one of Mother Nature’s best swimming spots. Locals have swam with dolphins, spotted eagle rays and manta rays here. This is also the place where you can hop on a boat tour to Kealakekua Bay - the region’s other premier swimming and snorkeling spot.
Kona is simply bursting with ambience and activity. The people are friendly, the food is great, the coffee is among the best in the world - it’s such a lovely place, don’t be surprised of dreaming up a permanent return one day!
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