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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.