The perfect day in Kona: Hawaiian Heritage, snorkeling, and more

During this day you will interact with the best of Hawaiian heritage in so many ways, and will require minimal driving. It combines both sightseeing and active options. With a reasonable start in the morning, all of these activities and sites can be accomplished in one day.

At the intersection of Lako St. and the Highway, turn SOUTH onto the highway. If you want to stop for breakfast, we suggest Kaya's---super local, awesome coffee, baked goods, quiche, and such. 

  • Stop #1: Ho’okena black/gray sand beach—a locals (and Randall's) favorite! The swimming and snorkeling are both good here. There are no lifeguards--swim at your own risk. We don't advise visiting this beach on weekends as it's truly a locals' spot and gets very busy.

  • Stop #2: Pu'uhonua o Honaunau (aka City of refuge) national historic park. There are very few places that evoke the pre-missionary period when Hawaii was purely for Hawaiians; this is one of them. It is spectacularly beautiful, and the tiki totems will be among the best photographs you'll take anywhere in Hawaii. The site is a joy to stroll around, and often there are Hawaiian cultural craftspeople, dressed in period costumes, making objects in the huts. They're friendly and happy to answer questions. 

Hawaiian craftsman at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Hawaii Big Island
City of Refuge Tiki Totem Hawaii Pu'uhonua o Honaunau
  • Stop #3: 2-Step Beach. Leave your car in the parking lot at City of Refuge, and walk about 2 minutes outside the gates to 2-step/Honaunau Bay for some of the best snorkeling in all Hawaii. If you choose to do this as your first stop, and get there before 8:00am, you have a chance of seeing dolphins.  

  • Stop #4: Painted Church. One of the oldest of the missionary-era churches, Father Damien's Painted Church (Catholic) is a delightful surprise. It's not too interesting on the outside, but inside...WOW. That's all we're telling you!

  • Stop #5: Ka'aloa Super J's for pork lau lau plate lunch (do NOT miss this unless you are vegetarian). This is waaaaay off the tourist-trap list and they'd like it to stay that way (who wouldn't?); it is completely Hawaiian and unique. It is family-run, and only does lau lau lunch (we don't care for their chicken, but the pork is divine). The family that runs it are native Hawaiians, and are some of the most happy and friendly people you will ever encounter. Be sure to ask if they have any dessert, and regardless what it is, you want it. Yum, yum, yum.

  • Stop #6: Greenwell coffee farm. This is the best place to experience an actual coffee farm and learn about 100% Kona coffee. The visit is free, and they do have samples and of course their estate-grown coffee for sale. 

  • Stop #7: Kainaliu Village. Long before there was a "town" at Kailua-Kona, tiny Kainaliu and nearby Kealakekua were the functional and commercial hubs of west Hawaii Island,s supporting the coffee farmers, sugar cane farmers, and locals. Today, Kainaliu Village still has elements of that heritage. There are several very fun vintage shops selling knick-knacks and old Hawaiian shirts, and a don't-miss store called H. Kimura that specializes in Hawaiian and Japanese print fabrics--astonishing, even for non-sewers. The most-famous shop in Kainaliu is the Donkey Balls factory, selling very sweet chocolate balls. The village is also home to the legendary Aloha Theatre, the live theatre company for the west side of the island. Randall is on the board of directors there, and wouldn't be involved if the shows weren't exceptionally good. We strongly suggest you see a show if one is playing.

  • Bonus food options: if Super J's didn't work out, our second choice is Rebel Kitchen in Kainaliu. Very good and many vegetarian options. We are also fans of Teshima's Fine Foods, which is like a vintage 1960 Japanese diner. Gramma Teshima opened the place to feed Japanese cane-field workers an affordable and hearty home-cooked Japanese meal. Little has changed other than the prices, and it's very unique and fun.