The west side of the Big Island of Hawaii, known collectively as the “Kona side,” is the main hub for visitors, with many options for lodging, food, and entertainment. Still, there exists a main track, with many people visiting the same, established places – Alii Drive, Hapuna Beach, Kona Brewery, Kahaluu Bay, as examples.
But the opportunities on the Kona side exist in abundance, and there’s plenty more to see. Here are five places that are often overlooked:
Every beer lover who visits Kona goes to Kona Brewery. It’s understandable – it was the first big craft brewery in Hawaii, and people are familiar with its beer, having seen it in stores on the mainland.
But a new brewery and cidery called Ola Brewing is just as worthy. It’s harder to find – it’s tucked away on a side street that is only accessible via other side streets – but once there, solid brews, ciders, poke bowls, and a local crowd await.
The Seahorse Farm and nursey has grown in popularity over the past few years, and, in that same vein, although lesser-known, the Kanaloa Octopus Farm is becoming more attractive to visitors. Located near the airport in the Hawaii Ocean Science Technology Park, tours are offered twice a day (10 a.m. and 2 p.m.) and explore the farm’s ongoing research into the life-cycle of cephalopods.
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The hot days in Kona usually mean people have beer or mai tais on the brain. But once night falls, there’s another Polynesian beverage that’s worth a try.
Kanaka Kava is a small, couple-table outdoor bar, equating to not much more than a patio. It serves different kinds of kava, which is a drink made from the pulverized root of the kava plant. Nonalcoholic, it is loved for its peaceful, sedative effects – it relaxes the body and focuses the mind. The taste is somewhat acquired – some people think it tastes like dirt – and it tends to numb the tongue. Like it or not, it’s worth a try for its revered role in Polynesian societies.
Kanaka Kava also serves local food, like squid lau lau, purple sweet potatoes, and kalua pork.
Kailua Beach and Old Kona Airport State Recreational Area
There are plenty of ocean views to be had in downtown Kona along Alii Drive, but one thing that is at somewhat of a premium is sandy beaches. There are a few small entrances along the harborfront, a small beach in front of the Marriott King Kamehameha hotel, and a couple south of town, such as Kahaluu Bay, that most people check out.
Oddly enough, one place that’s often overlooked is hiding in plain sight: Kailua Beach. Located right there in downtown Kona, its entrance on a side street away from the shops and restaurants of Alii Drive prevents walk-in traffic, leaving it mostly to the locals.
Kailua Beach is located alongside the Old Kona Airport State Recreational Area, named for obvious reasons. Swimming is not the main event here due to the rocky water entrance, but it is possible to take a dip, and more so, it’s a perfect place to grab some sand and catch a sunset without the crowds.
Hayashi’s You Make the Roll
Seafood is certainly a thing in Hawaii – fresh poke is found on almost every menu, and restaurants around the harborfront are packed each and every night (some for quality; some for convenience).
If you are looking for something more local and a bit hidden from tourists, try Hayashi’s. It doesn’t have a website, which is always good to keep visitors at bay, but make no mistake – this place is a local favorite. It’s the kind of place that runs out of food, so expect a line and be sure to show up early.
Save your poke eating for another place (like Ola Brewing). At Hayashi’s, it’s all about the sushi rolls. Menu rolls are between five and seven dollars, but a lot of people come for the “make your own roll,” where you can pick exactly what you want.