Kailua Kona, Big Island
Kailua was a tiny fishing village in days gone by. Fishermen would haul in giants from the deep, bountiful waters, while farmers tended their fields up the slopes of Hualalai. Many of the great chiefs of old chose this part of the island as their home. Kona weather and Kona waters were known throughout the islands as the very best, and that hasn’t changed. Though no longer the sleepy little village of yesteryear, this is a charming seaside town where the strolling is pleasant, the sunsets are mesmerizing, the food is diverse, and the activities are plentiful. Some people badmouth Kona because it’s not the same as it was 20 years ago—what is? Kona is still great; there are simply more people who know it.
The town is alternately referred to as Kailua-Kona, Kona, Kailua, or sometimes Kailua Town.
Kailua Kona weather
Kailua-Kona traditionally has had weather that can best be described as eternal springtime. Quite simply, Kailua is almost always warm and wonderful. The average high in February (the coldest month) is 80 °F and the low is 64 °F, whereas in August (the warmest month) the high is 87 °F and the low is 69 °F. Humidity is usually between 50 and 80 percent.
The temperature change between night and day is greater than the temperature change between winter and summer, so it could easily be said that nighttime is the winter of the Big Island. Balmy wraparound onshore breezes usually keep it comfortable. The exception is during Kona winds (so named because they come from the Kona direction, rather than out of the northeast as is usually the case). Kona winds occur about 5 percent of the time and bring stillness or warm air to Kona, creating uncomfortably humid conditions.
For 35 years Kona was ravaged by nasty but natural pollutant called vog from Kilauea volcano (thanks to airflow patterns), but with the cessation of volcanic activity in 2018, Kona’s air is now as clean as any part of the island.
Kailua Kona hotels
Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel
The King Kam (as it’s known locally) is a Kona fixture. Located next to the Kailua Pier, the hotel is fronted by the tiny but calm Kamakahonu Beach. The ‘Ahu‘ena Heiau is also on the grounds. This area was the home of King Kamehameha during his later years, and his legacy has been adopted by the hotel in paintings and artwork (they give tours).
It’s amazing what $35 million and a great design team have done for this hotel. Rooms can be described as modern and fresh. The design is rooted heavily in Hawaiian nature patterns and is reflected in everything from the coffee bean fabric on the chairs to lava pattern on the hallway carpets. This design works for us. The staff is really proud of the current look and shows it with a lot of aloha toward guests.
Kanaloa at Kona
Upscale condos with amenities, such as showers with two heads and large Jacuzzi bathtubs in the two- and three-bedroom units by the water, outdoor wet bars, etc. 2/2 units are quite large, 3/2 units simply add an open loft to 2/2 unit. Our only complaint is that they charge an extra $20–$30 per day to use air conditioning (depending on how many bedrooms are in the unit). For these room rates, they should include these. Nice location in Kailua on the lava shore. Overall, you should be pleased here.
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 at this Kailua hotel.
Kailua Hawaii restaurants
Looking for the best Kailua food? Restaurants earn an Ono symbol in our books when they stand out from the rest.
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill
The majority of customers are local, in part because it’s not on touristy Alii Drive, but mostly because Jackie Rey’s excels in every detail, from well-made drinks to decadent desserts. (Except, avoid the dessert drinks.) The appetizer portions are small but tasty and the dinner entrées—fish, steak, pasta and ribs—are attractively presented. The chef here definitely knows how to combine flavors, such as the kalua pork springrolls. Lunch is also good with an array of smart salads and sandwiches, burgers and some odds and ends.
Island Lava Java
An awesome—and highly popular—place for breakfast. The coffee is pretty good (though sometimes not very hot), and the food is tasty and not too ridiculously priced for the location. (They’re right across the street from the ocean with excellent views, and they always have a live musician in the morning softly playing classic Hawaiian melodies, so you ain’t gonna get a bargain.) Above average baked goods and a large breakfast menu with generous portions. Their cinnamon rolls are obscene and utterly massive (big enough to use as a flotation device if you fall in the water), and they taste great. An easy recommendation, although the rolls don’t usually come out of the oven until around 7:30 a.m. and service is sometimes attitudy. Good (though very pricey) fresh-squeezed to order juices, (our favorite being the pineapple). Get an outdoor table.
Want to know where Japanese people go for sushi when they visit Kona? This is it. But even if you’re not a sushi fiend, you’ll find plenty of tasty options (such as the Japanese-style pork chop, Ton Katsu). If you are looking for the sushi experience, the Shiono Boat (three styles, starting at $70) has the chef choose their best options for the night and artfully serve it to you and your partner in a way that must be experienced to be appreciated.
Shopping in Kailua
Kailua-Kona offers many small shopping areas to keep your stomach filled and wallet emptied. Kona Commons is a shopping center north of Kona on Makala Blvd. off Hwy 19. The main store is Target, but you’ll find a collection of not-so-local stores here as well. The Kona International Market in the old industrial area north of Kona on Kaiwi and Luhia has small vendor stalls.
Continuing south on Kuakini is the King Kamehameha Mall where you’ll find more island-inspired shops. This is also a good area to pick up any sandals or clothing you might need, as is Alii Drive. Other shopping areas include Kona Marketplace, Kona Inn Shopping Village, Keauhou Shopping Center and Walmart (the cheapest and unfortunately, easiest place to pick up a bunch of souvenirs at once). Above Kona in Holualoa is a must-stop for art lovers. Here, you’ll find some of the most original galleries on the island.
Kailua Kona things to do
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. Most who give the tours (under an hour) are very knowledgeable and friendly, but occasionally you’ll get some bad historical information.
Call them Jet Skis, Wave Runners (which are brand names) or personal watercraft—whatever your name for them, these motorcycles of the sea can be rented in Kona from Big Island Watersports. Make reservations in advance, and they will shuttle you out to their floating island in the middle of Kailua Bay from the pier so that you can go tearing around on their smallish track.
Early morning is usually very smooth, late afternoon choppy. Late morning seems a good balance to give the water some texture. It’s $119 for 1 hour, $79 for half an hour. Even 30 minutes will tucker out most people, especially if you’re like us and you drive it like it’s stolen. Experiment with different ways to hold your feet while you sit. Extra riders are allowed for $49 (up to three, with 350 pound weight limit,) but we recommend one person per craft. Use the complementary goggles; your eyes will be grateful. Doubling or tripling up seems to increase the risk of the passengers flying off, from what we observed. Some people seem to feel that these craft are hazardous to the ocean; others say modern jet skis are no different than regular boats. We honestly don’t know which is the case; we’re just saying what it’s like to rent one.
Body Glove dinner cruise
Body Glove leaves from Kailua Pier and usually cruises to Red Hill 10 miles to the south. Lots of shade, waterslide, restrooms and a full cash bar on board. Fun noodles and see-thru boogie boards for the timid. Their 4.5-hour morning tour is $132. What they do best is their dinner cruise. They offer a 3-hour dinner cruise from Kailua Pier that heads to Kealakekua Bay. Along the way their impressively researched historical narration keeps things interesting. The food is very good, and their mai tais are better than we expected. (Only one free drink; then it’s a cash bar.) You’ll want to snag a table on the lower deck as soon as you board. (Preferable to the upper deck.) This is a well-oiled machine and one of the best dinner cruises we’ve seen.
Hawaii Big Island
The Big Island has it all. Nowhere else in the world will you find the diversity available here. Pristine rain forests, lava deserts, world-class beaches, snow-covered mountains, an active volcano, dazzling sunsets and just about every activity you can think of. The island is huge—about the size of Connecticut. Navigating your way through this maze of opportunity can be daunting.
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