On the leeward side of the Big Island, Kona is a conscientious tourist’s paradise, combining picturesque snorkeling beaches and souvenir shops without losing sight of the Hawaiian history and cultural traditions that make the island more than just an upscale resort destination.

Though Kona doesn’t have the rainforests of Hilo on the opposite side of the island, the landscape is still marvelously diverse, a combination of dense hillsides and desolate dried lava flows. Pop-up fruit stands and world-famous highland coffee farms dot the roadsides leading in and out of town, but the culinary side of Hawaii shines brightest within the village.

Restaurants

Poke bowls at Umeke’s (Photo: Ewen Roberts via Flickr)

Poke bowls at Umeke’s (Photo: Ewen Roberts via Flickr)

Arguably the village’s best poke bowls come from Umeke’s (75-143 Hualalai Rd, Ste. 104), where their “boat to bowl” approach lets diners enjoy fresh Big Island fish with your choice of hot and sweet seasonings. Delicious sides like seaweed salad and lomi salmon join the generous scoops of condiment-soaked seafood. With a locally brewed kombucha or homemade lemonade from their drink fridge, such a bowl makes for an extremely satisfying lunch.

Great food, friendly wait staff and a lively tiki-style atmosphere make Splasher’s Grill (75-5663 Palani Rd) more than just your standard ocean-side eatery. At breakfast, they serve daily catch seafood omelets or pancakes topped with fresh tropical fruits, but dinnertime specialties like the seared ahi and barbecue chicken are also not to be missed.

A mother and daughter team run this quintessentially Hawaiian diner. Kaaloa’s Super J’s (83-5409 Mamalahoa Hwy) is a roadside shack with unfussy décor and flavorful island specialties like pork Lau Lau—pork marinated for eight to 10 hours and wrapped in a taro leaf. The plate lunches are delicious, served with homemade macaroni salad and white rice, and best followed up with their seasonal baked goods like a loaf of Kulolo—sweet bread baked with taro and coconut.

One Aloha Shave Ice Co. (Photo: Rich Kaszeta via Flickr)

One Aloha Shave Ice Co. (Photo: Rich Kaszeta via Flickr)

The rough shave ice served at ice cream stands and county fairs across the mainland is nothing to compare with the fluffy ice and subtly-sweet tropical syrups they offer at One Aloha Shave Ice Co (75-5626 Kuakini Hwy, Ste 7). Their organic approach makes a true difference in taste, as natural island flavors like white pineapple and guava meld with the ice’s texture. Don’t forget to top it off with coconut milk and a dash of tart li hing mui powder.

Bars

It’s hard to imagine a seaside bar and grill more idyllic than On the Rocks (75-5824 Kahakai Rd).Views of rocky tide pools and endless ocean attract drinkers before sunset. Come nightfall, live ukulele music and sociable performers beckon guests to dance barefoot on the sandy makeshift dance floor. The menu includes burgers made from grass-fed island beef and shareable cocktails with mango, guava and lilikoi (passion fruit) flavors.

On the Rocks (Photo: Bill Birdsall via Flickr)

On the Rocks (Photo: Bill Birdsall via Flickr)

The company behind some of the nation’s best and most beautifully designed craft beers, The Kona Brewing Company (75-5629 Kuakini Hwy) makes for a surprisingly family-friendly restaurant, but even with island-remixed pub favorites like kalua pork and fire wings marinated in ale, the biggest draws here are the beers themselves. Seasonal and staple varieties are all available on tap or in bottles that come with a complimentary bottle opener. Pay heed to the menu’s recommended food-and-beer pairings for a real treat.

As its name implies, Sam’s Hideaway (75-5729 Ali’i Dr) is a hole-in-the-wall shelter from the touristy kitsch along Kailua’s main drag, boasting real Hawaiian color and divey charm that attracts locals and visitors alike. Cold beer and strong but sweet cocktails come cheap here, and the regulars are almost as easygoing and welcoming as the bartenders diligently serving their drinks.

There’s always something going on at My Bar (74-5606 Luhia St), most of it appealing to those who just want to forget their troubles and dance with a cheap drink in hand. This gay-friendly night club plays a solid variety of danceable music, but given that this is Hawaii, the atmosphere is still laidback and friendly for anyone who’d rather just sit at the bar and chat with new potential friends.

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Jeff Rindskopf is a freelance writer and editor. Born and raised in southern California, he attended film school at Chapman University before deciding to focus on journalism and fiction writing. He moved to Seattle to begin his career as a freelancer, writing about travel, music, film, food and more.

Read more about the best shops and outdoor destinations in Kailua-Kona at the source article here.

About Jeff Rindskopf

Jeff Rindskopf is a freelance writer and editor. Born and raised in southern California, he attended film school at Chapman University before deciding to focus on journalism and fiction writing. He moved to Seattle to begin his career as a freelancer, writing about travel, music, film, food and more.

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