Courtney in Hawaii (The Big Island)

Last month, we made so many great memories on our trip to The Big Island aka the Island of Hawaii that I was so excited to recap them here. We were able to stay seven nights from a Friday (arrived mid-afternoon) to the following Friday (basically got a full day in since our flight left at 11:45pm). I hope to visit again soon since there is so much to see and do (and eat!) - I suppose it's called the Big Island a reason :) Well, it is the largest in size of the Hawaiian islands. Another unique fact is that the Big Island is home to 8 out of the 13 climate zones. I will say, it was beautiful at every turn.

I really like this map to give you an idea of the sheer size of The Big Island.  Source

I really like this map to give you an idea of the sheer size of The Big Island. Source

The first half of our trip we stayed in Kailua-Kona and the second half we moved up the west coast to Waikoloa Village part of the Kohala Coast.

I'm going to break it down into the three categories of Eat, Play, Stay. Let's get going!


Eat

(Side note: when I say "we" I mean my husband and I - we share so we can try more things! Sharing is caring!)

Kona Brewing Co. - our first meal. It looked like a happening place but since we were tired and hungry, ordered it to-go and ate on our lovely lanai back at the condo. They have two locations so make sure you're looking at the correct menu before getting emotionally attached to certain menu items. (Ooof speaking from experience! #hanger) I tried the Kale Salad (large $14.25) - locally grown kale, bacon, cranberries, tomatoes, Parmesan, toasted macadamia nuts in a citrus-yogurt dressing; and Pork Tacos ($17.25 for three) - Kalua pork, cabbage, pineapple salsa, with Black Sand Porter bbq sauce - they came with a side a papaya slaw. This was a great start to our trip.

Punalu'lu Bake Shop - On our way back from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, (about a 30 min drive) we stopped for lunch and snacks at this gem of bakery/visitor center aka the southernmost bakery in the U.S. They are known for their array of Hawaiian sweetbread. I regret not taking a photo of their menu and its not listed on their site. However, it was a very simple menu including various cold deli sandwiches, hot sandwiches, plate lunches, salads, soups, and of course the baked goods. It all had a very "homemade vibe" but in a good, comforting way. We ordered the fish sandwich, teriyaki chicken plate, hot dog, papaya with cottage cheese, and a variety of filled malasadas which are fried dough confections. My mother in law picked up a couple loaves of the sweetbread, macadamia nut and the Kalakoa (taro, mango, guava combined in one loaf). The next morning she made cream cheese and pineapple stuffed french toast using this bread. So delicious especially with a cup of Kona coffee.

Huggo's On the Rocks - We asked our resort's guest services for family friendly recommendations and they immediately pointed to On The Rocks, the casual sister restaurant to fine-dining Huggo's next door. On The Rocks has it all - ambience (waterfront, on the rocks and sand), casual (kids are welcome), live music, and an excellent menu (seafood!). We ordered the Rocks Poke Bowl ($22.50) with garlic shrimp and quinoa, the Kona Fish Tacos ($18.95), and the kids cheese quesadilla. They don't have a printed kids menu, so just ask. 

Scandanavian Shave Ice - After Huggo's On The Rocks, we took a walk down Kailua-Kona's famous Ali'i Drive, the waterfront main street full of restaurants, shops, and historic sites. Scandi's is a small shop with lots of delicious sounding combinations. They even have step by step ordering instructions. I went with the coconut and lychee flavor ice with macadamia nut ice cream in the middle, topped with boba. I loved this combo of flavors and textures.

Lava Lava Beach Club - our first stop as we drove into Waikoloa seeking lunch. We arrived during happy hour (3-5pm) and didn't realize you could only order from the happy hour food menu. Luckily, everything sounded delicious and made a meal of small plates. We ordered Kimchee Chicken Wings ($12), Seaside Pork Sliders ($8), Blackened Shrimp Tacos ($11), and Hurricane Fries ($6). Our daughter ordered the Chicken Tenders ($), they came with fries and guava bbq sauce. The best part? Eating delicious food with toes in the sand and blue skies.

On our last day, we went back to Lava Lava for dinner. We enjoyed the yard games while we waited for our table (call ahead to get on the waitlist). It was lovely evening dining al fresco with the sounds of waves crashing, live music, and dancing. It was also windy so be careful about wearing hats unless they are secure to your head :) We ordered the Spinugula Salad ($12) - spinach, arugula, strawberries, candied macadamia nuts, Gorgonzola, red onions in a balsamic vinaigrette; the Simple Fish ($38) - Furikake crusted freshly caught mahi mahi with mango-pineapple salsa, the BEST coconut jasmine rice, and fresh veggies; and the Hukilau Chowder ($8) which had chef's choice of local seafood. On both trips to Lava Lava we ordered the Koo Koo for Coconuts ($10.50) - creamy coconut sorbet served in the natural shell - and it was amazing.

Mai Grille - this breakfast gem is housed within the Waikoloa Beach Resort's Golf Clubhouse overlooking the Kings' Course. Beautiful views! It was a bit difficult to find at first but totally worth it. After much contemplation of the menu, we settled on the Breakfast BLT ($14) - signature bacon (sweet and savory, thick but crispy), 2 fried eggs, Nakano tomato,  local butter leaf, sweet roll, and spicy aioli; the unbelievable Banana Brown Butter Pancakes ($21) - 3 cakes, Puako honey, macadamia nuts. 3 scrambled eggs, 1/2 papaya, Portuguese sausage and more bacon :). Our daughter loved her 18 Holes Granola ($14) with toasted coconut, granola, Greek yogurt, fresh pineapple & strawberry, drizzle of Puako honey. There's no kids (keiki) menu for breakfast but the keiki lunch is served starting at 11am.

Island Gourmet Markets - while in Waikoloa, we ended up grilling one afternoon on our villa's lanai so we got some fish from the market along with some other everyday essentials. It was a convenient walk from our villa and had a good mix of groceries and souvenir type of items.

Original Big Island Shave Ice Co.- this came up on my Internet search of 'Waikoloa food trucks'. Lucked out that their truck was at the nearby Kings Shops one afternoon and we were so happy to have our last shave ice of the trip be a memorable one. I was happy with the selection of homemade natural (real fruit) flavors! They also offer more traditional and artificial flavors :) Unfortunately, my DIY flavor combo was a bit off, I loved everything separately but I guess not together. I went with the natural lychee flavor ice with Ube (sweet potato) ice cream in the middle, and topped with azuki beans. My husband got the Almond Joy special which was a masterpiece of coconut flavor ice, vanilla ice cream, chocolate drizzle, condensed cream, whip cream, sliced almonds, and coconut dust! Wow, right?! We both ordered smalls and wished we would've shared one. 

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One morning sitting by the amazing pool at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, we were in the mood for a light lunch so immediately thought of an acai bowl. Luckily, the coffee shop served them along with delicious smoothies, quiche, and other small bites. It hit the spot!


Play

Punalu'u Black Sand Beach - visiting this unique spot was a definite must do because it "is one of the finest examples of a true black sands beach anywhere in the world". I've linked to a great article discussing the black sand formation and composition. This beach is also known for spotting green sea turtles. Since we went early in the morning, we only saw them floating in the shallow water. We were told by another onlooker that they don't come fully out of the water until later so they can bask in the sun. It was still neat to see them hanging out in the water. We also spotted some whales. Overall, the beach was stunning and so glad we made the stop on our way to the Volcanoes National Park.

Volcanoes National Park - our next stop was only about a 20 minute drive from the Black Sand Beach. Upon entering the park, we stopped at the Kīlauea Visitor Center to use the restrooms, get water, and found a helpful visitor guide showing what you should do with the amount of time you have to spend. Since we had two little ones, the clock was ticking so opted for the first part of the suggested Crater Rim Drive Tour including the Jaggar Museum and the Steam Vents. I was impressed and its always a good trip in my mind if we can visit a National Park.

So glad we were able to fit in the Black Sand Beach and Volcanoes National Park while we were staying in Kona since it is closer than Waikoloa.

Island Breeze Luau - we chose this luau because of it's family friendly reviews, proximity to our condo in Kona, and availability (Tuesdays, Thursdays, Sundays). Also, found a deal on hawaiidiscount.com though children 0-4 are free which seemed to be the case for most luau's. As a first-timer to Hawaii, I can honestly say this was one of the highlights of the trip for me. It was well-done and I liked the location outside at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel - it was secluded enough from hotel guests and other tourists. I also thought the host was likeable and kept the "Ohana" themed show running smoothly even with the rain early in the evening. We all got ponchos but luckily the rain let up just before dinner. The buffet was delicious, the hula dancing class, tattoo and game area, and of course the main show were all fantastic! Food highlights: the cucumber namasu, Kalua pork, Hawaiian sweet potatoes in coconut butter, and the coconut pudding. Ono!

Manta Ray Night Snorkel - this was a definite bucket list item and not just because Kona is regarded as a top 10 spot to dive and snorkel with mantas. We checked in at Keauhou Harbor where went through some safety instructions, were outfitted with wet suits and snorkel gear, and headed out about a 10 min ride to the "manta feeding area' in the middle of the ocean. With a flotation noodle in hand we were told to hop right into the water and grab onto the rope attached to their floating light board. There were only 2 rules: 1) keep your body flat and do so by putting the noodle at your waist, and 2) don't touch the manta as it could potentially get them sick. I didn't know what to expect but we were told the manta activity was particularly active that night. We probably saw a manta every couple minutes or so, and they would swim up and eat the plankton within feet if not inches of us! They are truly majestic creatures! The guide also mentioned that mantas are very intelligent and independent creatures, and can sense human heartbeats. The only negative thing and it was more annoying than gross, were the large amount of harmless ocean worms floating all around us. I forgot about them because I was too captivated by the beautiful mantas. One guide said we might have seen Big Bertha who spans 15 feet wide. I love how each manta is uniquely identifiable and named. We booked our snorkel through Kona Ocean Experience, they were very nice and informative.

A shot that my brother-in-law got with his Go Pro.

A shot that my brother-in-law got with his Go Pro.

Anaeho'omalu Beach - our first 'play' spot after eating at Lava Lava Beach Club for late afternoon appetizers because it was right next door and looked great. Not too crowded, plenty of space for the kids to run around, outdoor showers and restrooms, and it made for a picturesque spot to take in the Waikoloa sunset. We enjoyed watching the rowers take off into the sunset, too.

Farmers Market @ Kings' Shops - checking out different farmers market is something we didn't really have time to do. We did make it to the small farmers market at the nearby Kings' Shops which is held every Wednesday from 8:30am - 2:30pm. Fresh jams, pastries, and coffee were more prevelant than fruit and vegetable stands. We did get a variety of tropical fruits from the fruit stand, as well as some macadamia nuts. I also got to sample and take home some delicious Kona coffee from Makua Coffee Co.

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beautiful tropical fruit

Our toddler especially loved the starfruit, pictured here, as well as the rambutan. 

Whale Watching - North Pacific Humpback whales journey for their mating season from Alaska to Hawaii from about Nov-May so February was the perfect time! We lucked out and saw a lot of activity! One whale even slapped its tail for almost 20 minutes straight. Even the boat crew were amazed. I left wondering what was the whale trying to say, if anything? We saw some whales breaching and also some dolphins. I also enjoyed seeing the views of the Big Island from the water. We booked through Wahine Charters and liked how they had a smaller boat for more intimate viewing and also pulled out the hydrophone so we could hear the whales singing. The boat crew supplied fresh fruit and snacks, and sang songs while playing the ukulele. All-around wonderful experience!

Hilton Waikoloa Village pools and Dolphin Quest - The kids (ages 2 & 3.5) loved the Hilton pool so we were happy to have access and towel service through our villa which was also within the Waikoloa Beach Resort. First off, the Hilton property is a huge 62 acres (I mean there is a tram system) and has equally impressive pools to match. The children's pool had a sandy beach walk-in and large enough to not feel crowded.

My daughter and husband also did the Dolphin Quest Wee Tots adventure at the "pristine, ocean-fed, sea sanctuary" within the Hilton. We were tentative about the value of this adventure but my husband said it was worth it as they got up close and personal with the dolphins. Our daughter loved feeding them and seeing them do funny tricks. It was said they each really have their own unique personalities. Amazing creatures, indeed.


Stay

Wyndham Kona - My mother in law used her time share for the first part of our trip in Kailua-Kona. The property was very beautiful, simple, and peaceful. Also, very well-kept - the kids enjoyed walking around the property looking at all the pretty flowers and koi fish ponds. There were even some preserved historic sites. Our condo was also close to one of the pools. We were happy because it had a large kid pool that connected to the main pool. There was also a small gym on site, which we used for some weight training and then pounded the pavement for a scenic waterfront run down Ali'i Drive. I really enjoyed being so close to Ali'i Drive. 

Hilton Beach Villas - As mentioned above, we spent the second half of our trip in Waikoloa, specifically the Waikoloa Beach Resort. This large resort includes two hotels (the 62 acre Hilton and a Marriott), several condo properties, shopping complexes, numerous restaurants, spas, golf courses, historic sites, special events, and the list goes on. We opted for one of the nice sized 3 bedroom/3 bathroom Beach Villas that we booked through Airbnb. Our villa was also close to one of the pools within the villa complex but we also had access to the Hilton pool which was about a mile away. We ended up driving there a couple times because we were hauling kids and stuff, but was not a big deal - parking was ample and free with our pool access.

Our villa was conveniently located next door to the Kings' Shops and Queens' MarketPlace, both of which were nice options for food and shopping. There were also nightly events but with kids and the general busyness of the trip, we needed sleep but could hear lovely music in the distance. During the day, we did check out the farmers market and shave ice truck, both were at the Kings' Shops.

Another interesting site in Waikoloa was the King's Trail and Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve which we accessed from the Kings' Shops parking lot. After the fact, I noticed there's a free guided tour offered through the Kings' Shops. 


Toddler Travel Notes:

  • I would definitely recommend getting a rental vehicle with car seats. Namely a van with remote doors like we did, makes hauling kids and things so much easier.
  • I liked that our Airbnb was equipped with a kids' closet full of beach and pool toys, high chairs, strollers, etc. Ask about these amenities ahead of time, whether an Airbnb or not. 
  • Plan your itinerary around where you're staying geographically unless you don't mind driving a lot.
  • The Black Sand Beach is definitely worth it no matter where you are on the Island. The kids loved playing in the cool looking sand and it was hard to draw them away.
  • Outnumber the toddlers with a 5:2 adult to kid ratio :) In all honesty, traveling with my in-laws, nephew, husband, and daughter allowed the kids and adults to both enjoy themselves and get a good mix of adventure and relaxation. 

Hawaii took a little piece of our hearts and we are dreaming of our next visit. A hui hou (Until we meet again)...