When I was living in Kona, it was a haul to come up to the Kohala Coast, so I did not spend a lot of time up here, but now that I live here, I have found some really great things to love about being THIS CLOSE to the other half of West Hawaii.
Hapuna Beach-People have been raving about this beach to me for years and I had only been three times in seven years. A few reasons I love it now, it is 15 minutes from Waikoloa Village (about 45 from Kona). We have been zipping down there as a family a few times a week to watch sunset and play in the water and I went last Friday morning when it was completely flat and tranquil. Here is what I wrote about this experience to my friends:
The ocean was almost flat, so I went for a swim and ended up snorkeling near the rocks on the far end of the beach near the Hapuna Prince Resort. The first thing I saw was a group of light blue needle fish ranging in sizes from a few inches to almost a foot. Then two dozen plate sized black fish came swooshing up and over the rocks at me, followed by a few two pound white and blue Skip Jacks. Around another corner, delicate Convict Tang played in a few inches of water in a white sandy cove. As I turned around, a foot long Barracuda was patrolling the area and I got right up to him to see his long row of razor sharp teeth. The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau was playing out in front of me along the lava rocks. Floating weightless, suspended by the ocean, watching life literally go with the flow across the rocks, and feeling like an aquatic interloper gave me the zen I needed.
Facts: Parking is free is you are a Hawaii resident, $5 if not. The best shade, and almost only shade, is near the rocks between Hapuna Beach proper and the Hapuna Prince Resort beach. Mornings are good, as afternoon winds can come in and give you a sand blasting (as we are discovering). We also had a boogie board go sailing off in the wind to Maui this week when there were 30 mph gusts. It is paradise if you catch this beach just right!
Lava Lava Beach Club and A-Bay-We have enjoyed drinks and pupu’s on the beach at Lava Lava Beach Club about three times since we moved to Waikoloa and each time we have been lucky enough to get the cushy beach furniture right out on the sand which makes you feel you are lounging in the best dream you ever had about Hawaii. Seriously. The Mai Tai’s are strong, service good, the food a bit pricey, but not much beats the view, ambiance and sheer “Whohoo! I’m in Hawaii!” than being right there…especially at sunset. The musicians stop performing and just allow everyone ten minutes to get their cameras, take photos of their beaming friends and family and watch another day drop into the ocean. If you love sea turtles, you can see them haul themselves up on the rocks not far from the restaurant.
If you want to skip the restaurant and just hang out on the beach to see the sunset, there are some available lounge chairs on the beach. We brought a picnic dinner down and enjoyed wine and jumped into the water for a swim, too!
Here is a video of what you will find right in front of the restaurant at sunset.
Facts: Parking is free, but get there early. During the height of the tourism season, this place is on fire and getting in is a chore. Make reservations ahead of time and know that those cool chairs out in front of the restaurant are first come, first served. They now have a little lounge drinking area to the right, if you have to wait for a table.
Pueos Osteria– I had been meaning to try Pueo’s ever since it opened a few years ago, but never could get up to Waikoloa Village at dinner time since it does not open until 5 pm. Now, I can walk there! We went with my son, so we had pizza. But we started it off with their Caprese salad that was one of the best I have had. Nice and peppery and the Chef, James Babian, of Four Seasons fame, uses Waimea tomatoes that melt in your mouth. We then had truffle mushroom pizza (my son had cheese on half of it, I forgive him) and it was beyond rich and savory. I can NOT forget how happy eating that gooey, flavorful pizza made me feel. Then the server suggested the lilikoi cheesecake, which I almost declined as I was full. Glad we ordered it as it was a perfect tropically induced delight to share. I have worked in Italian restaurants in my life and that food was top notch. They have special events with wine pairings often and I am glad it is our neighborhood restaurant.
Facts: Free parking and located in the Waikoloa Village Shopping Center. It’s about a 6 mile drive off of Queen K to get there, but if you have eaten your way through all the Kohala restaurants and want to try food that is artisanal, regional and seasonal, come and get it.
The Shops at Mauna Lani and FoodLand: Yes, I know, Foodland is not something you would see on a “things to do” list, but if you love fine wine, cheeses, charcuterie and bakery items, I am telling you, check this out. The store expanded about a year ago to include what used to be Jam’s World, so it’s BIG..plenty of chilled wines, Prosecco, champagne, craft beer, water, beverages, etc. I enjoyed choosing some different kinds of imported soft cheeses in their cheese section and need to get back for their Monchego. They have a BIG deli counter on the “specialty store” side cutting up a variety of cured meats, but also make $7 flat grilled sandwiches in the other deli in the store, as well. The bakery has cakes, cookies AND items like orange pudding bread, mango and guava breads. If you are looking for the makings for a swanky picnic or dinner on the beach, GO HERE. The shopping center in general is fun for its art galleries, specialty shops and my personal favorite, Tommy Bahama..both a restaurant AND clothing store. (Tommy’s “beach lifestyle” concept helped move my fate to living here!) You will also find a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and the best vegan restaurant on the island, Under the Bodhi Tree.
Facts: Sadly, there is absolutely NO signage on Queen K Highway to direct you to this shopping center, so look for the big Mauna Lani sign. Plenty of free parking and there are often really fun events being held here like the upcoming Visitors Aloha Society of Hawaii’s annual “UnCorked” event coming up on Nov 11th at the Shops.
PS: One of my 365 Things to Do in Kona fans on Facebook said to add this:
“You might also want to mention (1) the free Polynesian hula shows at The Shops at Mauna Lani on Monday and Thursday evenings and (2) the green sea turtles swimming in the indoor saltwater lagoon of the Mauna Lani lobby, and their release into the ocean on the honu independence day (July 4th). Thanks Tai Nagasawa!
Thank you for the wonderful insights into this area. We have spent many days at Hapuna but it is a bit of a drive to and from Kona. We will definitely try the restaurant and shopping center you mentioned on our next trip in June.
There are days you just need to make a plan and go for it! Put it all on the itinerary and you will thank me later! lol. June is good, too..not too crowded and the waves are down. Have fun while you are here!
You’re suggestions are right on. Our hearts are on Kohala coast. Nothing else like it. ABay is pretty special, too, as there is free parking and beautiful grounds along the fish ponds, and a kiosk where you can rent beach toys. Sea turtles off to the left on the rocks and a path along the shore for quite aways in front of the hotels. ONO.
Thanks for reading! Yes, the grounds around the fish ponds are beautiful and I ran, one time, from the Fairmont Orchid all the way past Lava Lava on that beach trail. That would make for a good post, too..
I have friends saying don’t make where to find those turtles too public..the joy is in the discovery..right?