Kailua Kona Airport
Flight schedules change all the time, but United and others often have direct flights to Kona from the mainland. Not having to cool your heels while changing planes on O‘ahu is a big plus because interisland flights aren’t quite as simple and painless as they used to be.
Flight attendants zip up and down the aisles hurling juice at you for the short, interisland flight. If you fly to Kona from Honolulu, sit on the left side (seats with an “A”) coming in (right side going out) for superb views of several other islands. If you fly into Hilo, sit on the right side coming in. When flying to O‘ahu from the mainland, seats on the left side have the best views.
Interisland flights are done by Hawaiian and Mokulele. We prefer Mokulele when possible because their smaller planes leave out of the commuter terminal in Kona, avoiding TSA and the rest of the Kailua Kona airport system. Arrive 10 minutes early instead of 90.
Kona International Airport Car Rental
Rental car prices in Hawai‘i can be (but aren’t always) cheaper than almost anywhere else in the country, and the competition is ferocious. Nearly every visitor to the Big Island gets around in a rental car, and for good reason—it’s a big island. Fortunately, none have mileage charges.
At Kailua Kona Airport, rental cars are a shuttle bus ride away. It’s a good idea to reserve your car in advance since companies can run out of cars during peak times.
Many hotels, condos and rental agents offer excellent room/car packages. Find out from your hotel or travel agent if one is available. You can rent a car in Hilo and return it to Kona (or vice versa). There’s usually an extra fee of about $50–$100 (depending on the company and car). And prices overall are usually much higher in Hilo than in Kona.
Kona Hotels – Where to Stay Near Kailua Kona Airport
Holiday Inn Kona
A three-story resort completed in late 2014 sitting behind Uncle Billy’s in Kona town. This is a familiar brand, and the one here is no different except they used a slightly more Hawaiian color palate in their modern room design. A couple of room features we really liked were the soft and firm pillow options (which they have cleverly embroidered on the pillowcases in case you can’t tell the difference) on the beds and the pullout desk on wheels. Fairly urban views from rooms at this hotel, and you are not on the ocean. The resort finishes feel cheap to us, so we’re not sure how things will hold up over time. The pool is kind of small here, and some rooms literally are at eye level with it. Their light buffet breakfast adds value and makes this an easy Solid Gold Value, especially if you get a good discount off the rack rates listed. Suites add a larger fridge and a pullout sofa bed. No lanais—just a few Juliet balconies.
Hale Kona Kai
This condo is broken into two wings (the short wing and the long wing) with no grounds. Rooms are pleasant and clean, and the living rooms and bedrooms both look out on the water from ocean-facing units. In ocean-facing units in the long wing, you will not get tired of watching the turtles in the tide-pools below. Many units have been updated. The pool’s so close to the ocean you’ll get sprayed on big surf days. Rooms ending with 07 and 08 have bedrooms that face each other, affording less privacy. The Solid Gold Value is because of their stellar ocean proximity and closeness to town. Definitely get an ocean-facing room here.
Where to Eat Near Kailua Kona Airport
They raise lots of cattle on this island, but most burgers are made from frozen beef flown in from the mainland. Not this place. The hamburger is fresh and locally raised (which seems to have a… beefier flavor than standard beef). They also mix herbs into the meat, and results are wonderful. Patties are a third of a pound, and you can get one to four of them on a bun. (For the record, we can’t visualize how someone could chow down the one-and-a-third-pound TKO burger.) The quality is excellent as are the tasty (but pricey) ultimate fries. Try the lava burger if you’re feeling adventurous. Beer is also available. Line can be long at peak hours. In the Kona Commons on Makala north of downtown Kona.
Ask anyone who frequents Harbor House why they go, and they’ll give you a one-word answer—schooners! Located at Honokohau Harbor 2 miles north of Kona overlooking the water and boats, they serve the coldest beer on the island in ultra-thick, 18-ounce frosted schooners for around $3–$5. (Oh, almost forgot, they serve food, too.) This is a popular place to stop after a fishing or scuba excursion. The food consists of average fish and chips, fried calamari, burgers and other assorted bar food. (Good fish sandwich, though.) We didn’t give ’em an ono because of the food; it’s just a great place to tip a cold one and watch the tranquil harbor waters while you go over your adventures of the day. If you sit near the bar, you may hear lots of watering hole talk.
What to do on the Big Island
Magic Sands Beach Park
Also known as White Sands, La‘aloa Bay Beach Park and Disappearing Sands. Located just north of mile marker 4 on Alii Drive in Kailua, this small beach has particularly nomadic sand that retreats at the first sign of a surf assault, settling in a repository just offshore. Once the surf subsides, the sand slowly drifts back onto the shoreline until the next high surf. This occasional flushing of the sand tends to keep it clean and white. Those who live here can tell you of countless instances where the entire beach washes away in less than a day. Much of the time there is a shallow sandbar just offshore, making the swimming and boogie boarding quite good. (The best wave break is on the left [south] side of the beach.) Watch for undertow and some rocks at the end of the ride. When the sand’s thick, the frolicking is good.
This palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, quickly became the house of choice for vacationing Hawaiian royalty until 1914. Now a museum lovingly run by the Daughters of Hawai‘i, inside you’ll find a nice collection of koa furniture, including some stunning armoires, and a 6-foot diameter table cut from a single piece of koa. Most of the furniture was auctioned off in the 1920s but fortunately was cataloged. Later, the buyers were contacted, and many have graciously lent the items to the museum for display. There are many photos of Hawaiian royalty, including Princess Ruth. (History books never mention her without mentioning her size, but we’re above that… no, we’re not. Estimates range from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-10, 400–450 lbs. She slept in a hut outside.) Spears, fishhooks and other artifacts make this museum a worthwhile stop.
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