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Sweet Destinations – Kailua-Kona, Hawaii

Save up your pennies and make a plan to visit Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It’s a sweet destination that is sure to keep you busy and your belly full. Read more about some of the places I went to and fun food I ate. Getaway to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. Where the ocean meets the mountains and the stars are amazing!

I love going back home to Hawaii. I completely admit that I am very fortunate to have grown up in Hawaii, but when you live there, you don’t always appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. I was born and raised on Oahu and moved away at 17 when I left for college on the mainland. Now my parents have retired to the Big Island and I love going back to visit Kailua-Kona for an awesome vacation. It’s great to have a place to stay and a car to drive, which saves a ton of money and allows me to get to do some amazing things with my kid. Kona is a sweet destination full of adventures, food, sunsets, and good times.

Sweet Destinations – places to eat in Kona

I'm all about getting my sweets on and that's no exception while on vacation in Kona, Hawaii. Shave ice, donuts, Mai Tais, and stunning chocolate desserts!

While in Kona there are so many great places to eat, drink and be merry. You can get awesome Mai Tais just about everywhere that you go. Drinks, dinner, and live music can be enjoyed nightly at Huggo’s. I love dining here and watching the sunset from the patio. The food is amazing and you can’t miss the dessert! They make an over-the-top dessert called the “Hualalai Ice Cream Pie” which is Kona Coffee ice cream with an Oreo cookie crust, hot fudge, and whipped cream. OMG! It was so big that my mom and I couldn’t finish it all.

I also discovered Holy Donuts located in Kona town on Alii Drive. One word – DELICIOUS! These donuts are big and simply amazing. A great donut just can’t be beat. Get down there early and pick up a lilikoi glazed donut and some fresh filled malasads and pineapple fritters that are the size of your face. OMG! My family of seven shared 9 donuts and we couldn’t pick a favorite.

Everyday – yes everyday – my daughter wanted shave ice. And it wasn’t just any shave ice, it was Scandinavian Shave Ice and I admit that it was a necessary treat. SnoCones are total crap when compared to Hawaiian Shave Ice. I prefer mine with ice cream inside, my niece liked hers with condensed milk on top, and my aunt wanted azuki beans on top. My daughter just wanted plain Rainbow flavor. Scandi’s is also a PokeStop so we spent A LOT of time there catching Pokemon.

In 2014 I was invited over the the Four Seasons for a fun dessert tasting. WOW! The Four Seasons at Hualalai has two great dining rooms – The Beach Tree and Ulu Ocean Grill. Both are on the beach and they do their best to provide nightly sunsets that will knock your socks off! They make some amazing desserts, like Chocolate Zuccotto, Bon Bons, Chocolate Soufflé , and an amazing chocolate cake that my kid loved. If you’re also looking for a beautiful resort, I’d want to stay here.

Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory Tour

Ever see Cocoa Pods growing on a tree? It's a truly unique experience to explore the only chocolate farm in the United States. Take a leisurely afternoon to explore the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Plantation.

Something new for me was a complementary tour of the Original Hawaii Chocolate Factory (warning they play music on their site). It was really interesting to see how cocoa grows on a tree. I had no idea that the pods grow like growths on the trunk and limbs. Bob and Pam Cooper have been growing cocoa and making chocolate for over 20 years and you can tell how much they love their retirement. The tour included a history of the plantation, a taste of the three types of chocolate they make, a lesson in how they turn the cocoa into chocolate and a tour of their production facility. I think it’s pretty impressive that they can process over 10,000 pounds of cocoa a year, but that’s quite minuscule when compared to the big chocolate factories.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company Tour

Take a drive over to Honokaa and head up the mountain to see the only Vanilla Company in the United States. Enjoy lunch and take a tour of the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

From Kona, you can take a drive north to Waimea and continue on the road to Honoka’a to check out the Hawaiian Vanilla Company plantation up on the side of the mountain. I wasn’t sure if we were actually headed in the right direction because we kept going and going up the mountain. However, once you get up there, the views are beautiful! Be sure to make your reservations for lunch ahead of time. There is limited seating, but my mom said that it was a great lunch filled with vanilla infused food. After lunch, they take you on a stroll of the grounds with a history lesson from plantation owner, Jim Reddekopp. I can’t believe that they hand pollinate the orchids and closely monitor the plants to maximize anywhere from 200 – 500 pounds of dried vanilla beans a years. BTW- did you know that vanilla is the second most expensive spice on the market? Saffon is first, but vanilla can cost up to $1200/pound! WOW! No wonder pure vanilla is so expensive, however, that imitation stuff is crap after baking with the real stuff.

I brought home two containers of their 3 beans in a bottle to make homemade extract. One for a rum based extract and the other for a vodka based one. I’ll let you know in a few months how they turn out. Thanks so much to Ian Reddekopp for the complementary tour of the estate and taking a little extra time to chat with me about growing vanilla.

Fair Wind Snorkeling and Manta Ray Adventure

When you visit Kailua-Kona you must check out Fair Winds for great snorkeling, dolphin watching, and swimming with the manta rays at night. WOW!

2016 is the second time I went on a Fair Winds Snorkeling adventure to Kealakekua Bay. It’s like a step back in time to go to the little bay where Captain Cook first came to Hawaii and later died. It’s a beautiful bay that is perfect for snorkeling. It’s teaming with fish, dolphins, turtles, and manta rays. The water is crystal clear and the 90 minutes of snorkeling goes by way too quickly. The first time we went we used their provided snorkels, but this year we bought some full face masks with build in snorkels and they were so awesome! Yes, they look kinda goofy, but it’s so much easier to breath, the mask didn’t fog up, and I could talk and hear my kid while snorkeling. My kid loved her mask and I did too.

This was the first time we went swimming with the Manta Rays in Keauhou Bay on board the Hula Kai. It was my daughters idea, and I was so excited to take the adventure with her. She thought it would be more like an aquarium but this was an up close and personal experience with the Manta Rays. There were six huge mantas feeding on the plankton that are attracted to the lights in the water. The mantas come inches – no millimeters – from the people and they actually will bump you from time to time. My kid thought that getting that close to the manta rays was a bit too close for comfort and didn’t stay in the water very long. The crew on board took good care of her while I continued to watch the elegant mantas swim.

This was also the time that I was tempted to go out and buy a Go Pro. It would have been so cool to have a video of this experience. But alas, all I have is my memory and a few photos from the Hula Kai boat

Big Island 2

Well, there’s so much more to do when you visit Kailua-Kona and the Big Island, but it’s tough to get it all into one post.  I’ll be publishing a second post for more things to do when you Visit the Big Island soon.

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Art Mcgrath

Thursday 25th of August 2016

Great read, brought back some amazing memories. I've travels a ton for work hosting lavish incentive trips and the Four Seasons Hualalai is amazing. From Sid the beverage guy on the golf course to the attendants at the pool, just amazing.

About 5 years ago my wife and I went to the Vanilla farm and I am happy to say my homemade vanilla is still going strong and taste great! Try to set up a cooking class in addition to lunch.

Thanks for the article

Karyn Granrud

Friday 26th of August 2016

I've just eaten there. I wish I could have stayed in one of their villas! The grounds are amazing! I had no idea they offered cooking classes. I'll have to ask about that the next time. Thanks for the tip!

Kelly @ Nosh and Nourish

Monday 22nd of August 2016

Totally dreaming of Hawaii now! We went to Maui for our honeymoon (12 years ago!), but we want to go back and see some of the other islands. We told our daughter that once she's really good at swimming (incentive!), we'll take her. :)

Karyn Granrud

Tuesday 23rd of August 2016

We did Maui for our anniversary too! Even if she's not good at swimming, Kukio Beach is perfect for little ones who can't swim. Just go!!

Erin @ Texanerin Baking

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

I had no idea you were from Hawaii! Very cool. :) I so want to visit one day! It looks really beautiful and it looks like there's lots to do, too!

Karyn Granrud

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

Yep! Born and raised :) It's a great vacation!

Angie | Big Bear's Wife

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

I always love your Hawaii vacation photos and posts! Makes me want to plan another trip to Hawaii asap! I've got to find out of those Hualalai Ice Cream Pies when we're there!

Karyn Granrud

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

OMG!! That pie was so good! We've been ordering it for the past 15 years! You need to get over to the Big Island!

Julia @ Happy Foods

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

I love reading about places I haven't been to! I've learned a few new things thank to your post. Never ever would I have guessed that the cocoa pods grow like that! Lovely post!

Karyn Granrud

Wednesday 17th of August 2016

Those cocoa pods were like crazy alien fruit on the trees, but the results are AMAZING!!