The Kona coast is the leeward (western) side of the Big Island. If you are a coffee or Ironman fan, you’ve heard about it. Yet there are lots of things to do in Kona that are fun for all kinds of interests. Kailua Kona village is home to the airport and the pier. In Part 2, we will visit more of the southern Kona coast.
The big stone church visible from all around Ali’i Drive is the first church in Hawaii, Mokuaikaua. This still-operating Congregational church was built in the 1830s with stones from a heiau, mortar of burnt coral, and wood from ‘ōhi’a lehua and koa trees. You can take a tour of the sanctuary with one of the church members and see the scale model of the ship Thaddeus that brought the first New England missionaries to Hawaii in 1820.
The Hulihe’e Palace is a historic landmark along the waterfront of Kailua Kona. This museum house is run by the Daughters of Hawaii. The palace, the Big Island royal home, is built of lava rock and furnished in beautiful Victorian style with belongings of King David Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani. The stories I liked the best on the tour were about Princess Ruth and her insistence on living the old ways. Hulihe’e was her favorite home, but she lived in a grass house on the grounds and used the palace for her visitors. The Hulihe’e Palace is open every day but major holidays and admission is charged for tours.
Kamakahonu beach is right near the Kailua pier. King Kamehameha the Great spent his last years in this spot and you can see the recreated temple. This is a nice little calm beach with water sports available.
- Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark
- Kamakahonu Beach from Love Big Island
- Mokuaikaua Church
- Hulihe’e Palace
The Kona Inn is another Ali’i Drive landmark. This is the place for small local shops and quick food. One of the great shops in the Kona Inn is Krazy About Kona. This gallery and boutique has fantastic jewelry by local artists and exciting photography. Be sure to work your way down to the east end of the Inn and give yourself time to really enjoy the art work here.
When shopping in Kailua Kona, I like to stop at the Unison Hawaii shop. The owners are very involved in sporting events in Kona and you can pick up tips from them if you are planning to watch or participate in the Ironman competition. The shop has lots of fun gift ideas but also technical gear for swimming, biking, or running.
- Krazy about Kona
- Unison Hawaii
Big Island map – Kailua Kona
Grabbing a bite
Kona Brewing has a large complex above the downtown of Kailua Kona. For the pub you can eat outside on the lanai surrounded by tropical plants or in the air conditioning with the koa wood bar. Pizza, sandwiches, and salads are all available with Kona’s brews on draft, and sometimes a special beer you can only get in Hawaii! You can tour the brewery (over 300,000 gallons produced each year!) for a small fee. Book ahead, there are only two tours each day.
Island Lava Java is a nice stop for breakfast, especially if you like Kona coffee. Situated on Ali’i Drive, you can sit outside with a beautiful view of the bay and listen to the live music. Island Lava Java uses local farm products and bakes their own sweets. And who wouldn’t want an omelet with kalua pork and grilled pineapple served with Portuguese sausage? The restaurant is open from 6:30 am to 9 pm and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai is south of Kailua Kona in the Keauhou area near He’eia Bay. Chef Choy is one of the founders of Hawaii Regional Cuisine and he’s got a fabulous location for this family restaurant. The restaurant is perched on a bluff above the bay making the views just spectacular. The restaurant and bar are very casual with home style Hawaiian food. Fish, ribs, duck, pork, steak, and an extensive wine list are all on the menu. I ate the pipi stew, Hawaii’s comfort food beef stew. On the side was potato salad made with Maui purple sweet potatoes and dressing made from breadfruit. I have no words for how good this was!
- Kona Pub and Brewery
- Island Lava Java
- Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai
There are many places to stay on the Kona coast, from full-service resorts to bed and breakfast. We like the Royal Kona Resort on Ali’i Drive in Kailua Kona. This friendly hotel is right on the bay with a pool and swimming lagoon on the ocean with wonderful views. No matter where you are staying, you should check out the resort’s Events page for their weekly Thursday music series. Hawaiian music stars play live on Thursdays at Don’s Mai Tai Bar. This is absolutely worth it! Don’s Mai Tai Bar is outdoors with wonderful views of Kailua Bay and the pier. I tried the flight of mai tais with my dinner and I loved the variety of flavors the bartenders have created.
- Royal Kona Resort
- Princess Ruth’s grass house
- Local style beef stew from Cooking Hawaiian Style
- Don the Beachcomber, famous for his rum drink inventions and tiki bars
See Part 2 for more of the Kona coast!
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