Jim’s Hawai’i Island Visitor Guide
Beaches to see:
- (Disclaimer: it is essential that you respect the people of Hawai’i and their culture while visiting our beautiful island. Please do not trespass or explore beyond specifically designated areas, ensuring that you leave any visited space tidier than you found it.)
- Kekahakai State Park (Mahiulas/Makalawena) Avoid this road in a low-clearance rental. The hike to Makalawena takes about 20mins without shade so bring lots of water. Maks is a beautiful and often a less crowded alternative to some of the other Kona side beaches. Visit this spot on weekdays to avoid crowds.
- Pololu Valley
Take in gorgeous views on a quick hike down from the parking area but be prepared for the steep ascent back up. This path ends in a black sand beach with lots of areas to explore.
- Waipio Valley
*currently closed to the public*
Strictly 4WD only. The hike down to this quiet and expansive beach is extremely steep but hitchhiking is often an option. This beautiful black stone beach regularly greets visitors with wild horses and decent shorebreak.
- Hapuna Beach
The most ‘touristy’ item on this list. Big, beautiful white sand beach with lots of parking/amenities and humans.
- Two Step/Honaunau/Place of Refuge
This is the perfect spot to hone your snorkel skills. Honaunau is equipped with healthy, vibrant reef teaming with turtles, dramatic topography and relatively easy ocean access. Don’t forget your reef-safe sunscreen (the only active ingredients listed should be non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide – Nothing Else). Visit the national park for interesting Hawaiian cultural information.
The perfect beginner snorkel spot. Easy access, lifeguards, fresh water showers and restrooms. Swim out towards the barrier reef for the best marine life.
- Waimea Farmer’s Market: Saturday at 7:30 – 12 at Parker School in Waimea or Waimea Homestead market – 7am – 12 on Mamalahoa highway. There are two markets – one with food and produce, one with art and locally made crafts!
- Kona Green Market: 9am – 2pm,
- Amy Greenwells Botanical gardens – offers a variety of Kona made food, arts and produce plus they often have live music.
- Kokua Village Stroll: Held only one Sunday per month on Ali’i drive in Kona town from 1-6. Mixed artisans, restaurants, and locally made goods available plus live music and hula performances at the nearby palace.
Places to eat:
- Pau Hana Poke – Just above Costco, the fish is local and the bowls are ono!
- Basik Café – Swing by here for a tasty fresh açaí bowl!
- Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea is probably the best beer/burger on island.
- Ola Brew in Kona offers a variety of tasty locally made ciders, beers & flatbreads.
- Quinn’s Almost by the Sea – Kona town dive bar with massive reasonably priced tasty meals.
- Fish Hopper – Waterfront breakfast with a great view of Kailua-Bay
- Punalu’u Bakery – Definitely worth a quick stop on your drive to South Point.
- Big Island Pizza – Located near Kona Costco – Great pizza!
- Umekes – Great Poke (Pronounced POKE-A) shop with a variety of menu items.
- Fosters Kitchen – Inventive cocktails and a beautiful terrace for sunset. Reservations recommended
- Kanaka Kava – Head to this little hut for a taste of local Hawaiian food. We recommend the laulau plate or pupu platter.
- Papa Kona’s – American Cuisine with a great waterfront view
- Merriman’s Waimea – Spectacular farm to table dining. Could not recommend enough. Reservations are required.
- Ulu Grill @ 4 seasons – Fantastic menu and location. Easy recommendation for a splurge. Reservations recommended.
- Tommy Bahamas – Surprisingly good food for a chain. Reservations recommended
- Mauna Kea Summit – 4WD only. Pack warm clothes and take at least 30mins at visitor center to acclimate to altitude. Head up for sunset and stay for the stars. Check road closure status online.
- Dahana Ranch Cattle Drive – For the city slicker in all of us. Better with a group. Yeehaw!
- Waipio Lookout – Beautiful scenic overlook
- Volcanoes National Park – Lots to see and explore.
- South Point – Scenic spot with cliff jumpers on days with minimal swell.
Tour Operators for:
Ocean Adventure: SeeThroughSea
Manta: (Attempt this early in the trip in case the Mantas don’t show. Most operators offer a guarantee)
Big Island Divers (scuba) – Professional dive outfit with a nice boat and a great dive shop.
Humpy’s/Laverne’s – Definitely nothing to write home about but the only semblance of a nightlife in Kona
Other helpful tips:
- If you’re invited into a Hawaiian home, it is expected that you remove your shoes before entering.
- Always attempt to be quiet and courteous. Loud, rash behavior rarely encourages locals to engage in a positive way.
- Don’t leave valuables exposed or personal items unattended. Crime exists here like everywhere else, and car-seat laptops and cameras often go missing.
- Quality snorkel gear can be rented for the week for just a few dollars. Check Snorkel Bob’s or Jack’s Diving Locker for rates and availability.
- Ensure the sunscreen you buy is specified Reef Safe. If there’s avobenzone or oxybenzone or any of the ‘zones’ there’s a good chance it isn’t. Or pick up a cheap long sleeve ‘rashguard’ and forgo the gobs of sunscreen altogether.
- Baby shampoo is a terrific fog-deterrent for snorkel masks. One little dab smeared and rinsed should keep your mask fog-free for the duration of your swim.
- Do NOT stand on coral, ever. Don’t touch it, because even the oil on your fingers can kill the tiny polyps.
- Do NOT touch sea turtles either. On land or otherwise attempt to maintain a respectable distance if at all possible.
- Do NOT pursue wild dolphins. If you encounter them along the coast, regardless of what other humans are doing just stay put. You are required by law to avoid them (even if they approach you). If they’re in an area where they’re comfortable they’ll often circle while resting and make for a great experience viewing from afar.
- Do NOT, under any circumstances remove any volcanic rock from the island. There are Hope Diamond style anecdotes of the peril that befalls anyone who steals from Madame Pele. Look it up for yourself.