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If getting back to nature and having plenty of wide-open spaces is your idea of an awesome Hawaiian vacation, then definitely plan to spend some time exploring the top attractions on the Big Island. One of the best regions to visit here is the Kona Coast, which is on the western side of the island and a great place to soak up some sunshine, learn about local history, and enjoy some water sports. After landing at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole, check out these top things to do on the Kona Coast.
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Depending on where you’re traveling from, jet lag can be a big issue when you arrive in Hawaii. To fight it off in a fun and delicious way, visit some of the many Kona coffee farms in the southern and western parts of Hawaii. The conditions in this part of the island are ideal for growing coffee, and many farms here are open to the public for tours and tastings. Some top places to visit are the Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Rooster Farms, and the Holualoa Kona Coffee Company. Meanwhile, Paradise Meadows Orchard and Bee Farm is a wonderful place to visit for a casual self-guided tour around the lovely farm and lots of samples of locally-grown coffee, macadamia nuts, and honey.
One of the most beautiful places on the island is Pu’uhonua Honaunau National Historical Park, which holds a special place in Hawaiian history. Take some time to explore the royal grounds, the temple with bones of the chiefs, and carved statues that watch over the area. Rangers lead talks daily to tell you more about the park, or you can walk through on a self-guided basis and see the cultural demonstrations. At select times, native Hawaiians tell stories and show off traditional skills to take you back in time in this visually stunning landscape.
A malasada is not your average doughnut. Malasadas are a Hawaiian specialty and yeast-leavened fried dough often stuffed with a tasty filling. They originated from the Portuguese population that inhabited the island and are made with butter, eggs, milk, and sugar. You can get them stuffed with pudding or fillings, such as mango, papaya, and caramel. Stop by the Hot Malasada food truck on Hawaii’s western coast near Waimea for a road trip treat, and you won’t be disappointed!
While many ocean areas are too chilly to really enjoy a good swim, the Kona Coast is a wonderful place to enjoy warm swimming waters. One nice spot for swimming is the Ho’okena Beach Park, which also has a campground if you want to pitch a tent on the beach. Hapuna Beach north of Kona is a popular beach for soft sand and nice swimming conditions. Other nice swimming areas are Maniniowali Beach and Makalawena Beach. Rent snorkel gear before you head to the beach to swim because you can often see colorful fish even if you don’t want to stray very far from the shore.
No trip to Hawaii is complete without a delicious shave ice treat. Shave ice is another Hawaiian specialty and a cool dessert made by shaving a block of ice. You can get lots of different flavors of shaved ice and even add some tasty decadence to your creation with a scoop of ice cream underneath or a splash of sweetened condensed cream on top. In the Kona Coast area, Da Shaved Ice Place and Gecko Girlz Shave Ice Shack are great options. Scandinavian Shave Ice, Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice, and One Aloha Shave Ice Co. are also local favorites on this side of the island.
The Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park is another recommended place to learn about Hawaiian history while you’re in the Kona area and enjoy the scenery. Here you can see the lava flows and learn how ancient people fished here to help their community thrive. Take a hike through the rugged lava fields and along the coast while keeping an eye out for the large sea turtles that often reside in the area. The seashore here is peaceful and serene, especially at sunset. There’s also a visitor center and bookshop to explore and learn more about fishing, petroglyphs and sea turtles.
Established in 1994, the Kona Brewing Company is a local institution on the Big Island. You’ll find this brand of beers all over the Mainland U.S., but there are many more to try when you visit the actual brewery. The Kona Pub & Brewery is the site of the brewery and first restaurant, and it offers tours and both indoor and outdoor seating. Come here for a flight of local beer and some pizza, but be prepared to wait for a table because it does get busy in the evenings.
To learn even more about Hawaiian culture, head to the Pu-ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. Here you can learn about the great chief who ruled the island and perhaps even see sharks swimming in the ocean nearby. Stop at the visitor center for a map and then walk around the site at your own pace.
There’s no better send-off from Hawaii than seeing a rainbow, just like the ones you’ve been seeing on all those Hawaiian license plates during your time on the Kona Coast. The Big Island often sees daily rain showers followed by sunshine, which is the perfect recipe for rainbow viewing if you’re lucky.
While air travel isn’t always necessarily fun, Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole puts many other standard airports to shame. This airport allows you to actually sit outside in the fresh Hawaiian air while waiting for your plane. Even the baggage claim area is in the open air! This airport services direct flights to and from the other Hawaiian Islands, as well as to and from major U.S. cities, including Phoenix, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.