The Locals-Only Guide to Kona, Hawaii
Although it's the largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Kona is at its core a small town. The rural topography is peppered with every kind of escape, from white and black sand beaches to pockets of both rain forest and desert. Navigating the Big Island is best with a seasoned local guide. Mine came in the way of a trifecta—dear friend, bartender, and Kona native—who personally squired me about to the following spots over the course of my weeklong sojourn. Keep scrolling for the inside track to everything my favorite local recommends.
WHAT: Calling The Four Seasons Hualalai an oasis is not an overstatement. The sprawling property of immaculately groomed grounds, golf courses, and chef-driven dining more than lives up to the hype. Settle in for an authentic luau or saddle up to the beachside bar. Even if you opt to Airbnb, bookending your journey with a trip to the resort is a must.
WHERE: Historic Ka’upulehu
WHO: Holuakoa Café
WHAT: The garden setting of this open-air, cottage-style restaurant makes it the ideal brunch nook. If you’re recovering from one too many mai tais, they make a mean Bloody Mary and serve up the best tuna melt on the island. Stop in for lunch or brunch; the breezy setting in the hills is idyllic and not to be missed.
WHO: Da Poke Shack
WHAT: This petite hole-in-the-wall eatery was once the single highest rated restaurant in the United States on Travelocity. Since then, it’s been documented by Bon Appetit and a string of other publications. It’s the de-facto spot for eating your body weight in yellow fin tuna.
WHO: Manta Ray Night Dive
WHAT: Kona Honu Divers offers night snorkeling with mantas. The full-service dive training center also hosts a number of expeditions, from dive charters to snorkeling. The after-dark service, however, is undeniably unique.
WHO: Malaekahana Beach Campground
WHAT: If you have wheels (and four-wheel drive), head into the wild for a camping trek. The campsites at this national park come with spectacular oceanfront views and a climate so temperate that all you really need is a hammock to hang from the trees. If you want to add extra wonder, tee up the Jurassic Park original motion picture score on iTunes.
WHERE: Kaewaeli Bay
WHO: Akaka Falls State Park
WHAT: If looking to forgo the logistics and navigational schematics of planning a full-blown camping excursion, venture out for the day to Akaka Falls State Park. It’s one tourist hot spot you won’t need a local to co-pilot your way through. The famous waterfall is a favorite photo op; however, in my book, the banyan tree forest is the real showstopper.
WHO: End of the World
WHAT: A scenic overlook and climb, this remarkable point offers up some of the island's best cliff-jumping or sightseeing, depending on the tide levels. If it’s calm enough, you’ll be able to hurtle off the cliffside down to the caves below. If surf’s up, enjoy the dramatic crashing of the waves against a wall of jet-black lava rock.
WHAT: With 36 beers on tap and an open-air downstairs bar overlooking main street, this local bar and American eatery is a scenic and central nook to while away the sunset and befriend fellow travelers. Ask for Ryan. Tell him we sent you.
WHAT: Odds are you will not find the Sunflower Karaoke Bar in your concierge's guidebook. Nestled up in the hills, this hole-in-the-wall joint is a sure thing for kicking it with the locals and serenading your favorite tunes to the wee hours. The mics are wireless and shared freely. You will make friends.
WHO: Kanaka Kava
WHAT: A natural muscle relaxant, kava root is an island favorite. The nonalcoholic drink is served in a coconut shell and tastes like dirt. It relaxes the body and possesses destressing benefits. Order a bowl of kava and the ulu (breadfruit.) If you're in need of a detox, they also serve noni shots, a local berry of the coffee family with a super-high antioxidant factor.
WHAT: The evening vibe is sublime at Huggo’s. Cocktails flow freely, live bands perform nightly, and the service is some of the friendliest in town. Grab a waterfront seat on the deck and partake of the fresh ocean breeze over shared plates.
WHO: Frenchman's Cafe
WHAT: If looking to venture into more international fare, head to Frenchman's for crêpes and croque madames. The little cafe serves up delectable indulgences you won't find elsewhere on the island.
Shop local island musts below.
Have a favorite Kona spot? Tell us in the comments below.