If you are looking for restaurants, shops, farmer’s markets and things to do in Kona then downtown Kona on Ali‘i Dr is the place to go.
Downtown Kona is a one mile stretch in Kailua-Kona along Aliʻi Drive starting at Palani Rd on the north and ending at Kahakai Rd on the south providing great views of Kailua and Ōneo Bays. You will find Kamakahonu Beach, Kailua Pier, a variety of restaurants and shops, novelties such as shave ice and gelato, the Kona Farmer’s Market and historic landmarks such as Hulihe‘e Palace.
Strolling & Site Seeing in Downtown Kona
One of the many things that we love about Hawaii is being outdoors. We love to take walks. Whether it is around the neighborhood, on the beach or along Ali‘i Dr in downtown Kona we’re happy to be outdoors enjoying the weather and taking in the sights and sounds.
Downtown Kona is a unique spot that offers a bit of everything.
Relaxing at the Beach or Paddle Boarding with Dolphins
Sometimes we will head over to Kamakahonu beach right next to the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel (better known as King Kam Hotel). What’s nice about this particular beach is it’s calm water which makes it a great spot for us to take our paddle boards. Although parking can be a bit tricky sometimes it is worth it.
Kamakahonu beach is protected on both sides making it a great beach to just hang out or for families with younger kids. On the north side of the beach sits the last home of King Kamehameha I, Ahu’ena Heiau. On the other side of the beach is Kailua Pier where cruise ships’ tenders drop off passengers to experience all Kona has to offer. This creates a great spot with no big waves to worry about and a nice sandy beach to hang out.
Right on the other side of Kailua Pier is another very small beach called Kaiakeakua beach. From a passerby’s perspective it may not even be considered a beach or anything if significance. But, this particular beach is actually a pretty big landmark in Kona. In fact, Kaiakeakua beach is the starting point of the IRONMAN Triathlon World Championship. Each year, in October hundreds, if not thousands, come to this spot to compete in one of the biggest races in the world.
When IRONMAN is not in town Kailua Bay is a great spot for us to enjoy paddle boarding because we can spend time with the dolphins. Normally we can catch them as they play in the bay between 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM each day. Even if we are just going for a walk along Ali‘i Dr we often catch the young spinner dolphins leaping and spinning in the air. But the best experience is being out in the water with them as the pods of hundreds of dolphins swim by.
Vacations in Kona are pretty amazing and Hawaiian royalty agreed which is why they built their summer home here. Hulihe‘e Palace was built in 1838 during the time of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapiolani as summer vacation home. Today Hulihe‘e Palace acts as a museum featuring Victorian artifacts, koa wood furniture and Hawaiian artifacts.
Sometimes we even happen to wander by when the Palace has live music, performers, local vendors and tours being offered.
Grabbing a Cup of Coffee
Further on down Ali‘i, just past Hale Halawai Park is a coffee shop we enjoy called Daylight Mind Coffee Company.
There’s nothing particularly special about their coffee, in my opinion, but what they have going for them is their location. Daylight Mind sits right on the ocean looking out over Ōneo Bay giving us a great place to just hang out or meet up for a business meeting.
Volleyball Pickup Game Anyone?
Towards the south end of “downtown” we often get to watch people playing volleyball at the sand volleyball court at Coconut Grove Marketplace. The court sits right between Foster’s Kitchen and Humpy’s Big Island Alehouse.
Sometimes we are able to catch a highly competitive game with two local teams playing. Other times it is more of a pickup game with anyone who wants to join in able to do so. Either way, grabbing a spot at Foster’s Kitchen or across the street on the lava rock wall can be a great way to pass some time.
Restaurants Along Ali‘i Drive
Speaking of restaurants, downtown Kona has a lot of great options. No matter what you’re in the mood for you can find it right there on Ali‘i!
We’ve got a few favorites…
Breakfast or Brunch at Bongo Ben’s
Bongo Ben’s Island Cafe was one of the first places we ever ate at when visiting Kona. We went for breakfast and were hooked ever since.
Would you like to know a little secret? Bongo Ben’s has some of the best biscuits! But here’s the secret…they run out. Each day they only make a certain amount and when they’re out, they’re out. These biscuits…oh…so yummy. Big, soft, buttery deliciousness. So, if you want to get your hands on one of these biscuits be sure to show up “early”. Now, you don’t need to get there at 6:00 AM or anything but you will need to be there before lunch time. We’ve been there around 10:00 AM and they have run out while on other days we’ve been there as late as 11:30 AM and have been able to get one. So it is a but of a wild card on timing.
Other than the biscuits Marla enjoys The Big Bongo Omelet when we aren’t being disciplined with our keto diet. A farily traditional omelet but with country gravy covering the whole thing! And when I’m off the keto bandwagon and eating at Bongo Ben’s it is the Banana Mac Nut Stack that I go for! Warm fluffy buttermilk pancakes. Crunchy buttery macadamia nuts. Sweet bananas. Decadent coconut syrup. My mouth is watering just writing this.
Check it out if you’re going out for breakfast or brunch.
Lunch at Foster’s
Foster’s Kitchen, which I mentioned earlier when talking about the volleyball court, is a great spot for lunch.
They make everything from scratch from fresh local food. Oh, and they sit right across Ali‘i Dr with a great view of Ōneo Bay. Don’t get too excited about the view though. Sure, you get some great sights from the second level Foster’s sits but the problem is those darn power lines. They run right along the street and obstruct your view slightly which means you’re not going to get a great photo from there.
Overall the food is great and you have a nice view while enjoying your meal.
Dinner at Huggo’s
When we are headed out to dinner for a special occasion Huggo’s is our spot.
Funny story about Huggo’s…
It was our anniversary and we decided on Huggo’s as the spot for dinner. I grabbed my phone, opened up the OpenTable app and made reservations for sunset…about 6:45 or so.
Later that day we headed towards downtown Kona, found a parking spot and headed towards the restaurant. We were a bit early but figured we could just hang out at the bar if our table wasn’t ready. We arrived at the host stand, informed them that we had made reservations and gave them our name. As they were looking at their iPad they seemed a bit confused. They confirmed our name and then asked us for our phone number. They found it…for 6:45……AM! AM!
Here’s what happened. When I made the reservation I made it in the morning so when the app provided available reservation times it gave the next available time for 6:45 AM, not PM!
After realizing what happened we figured we would stay and make the best of it. They said they would get us a table as soon as they could but estimated it would be about 45 minutes and offered us a spot in the bar area. We grabbed a couple of drinks and a pu-pu (appetizer) while we enjoyed the sunset. Not quite what we had planned but it was still a great evening.
Shop ’til You Drop with Great Shops in Downtown Kona
I’m not much of a shopper. I do enjoy window shopping but when it comes to actually buying things I just don’t get the thrill others get.
Even so, there are some great shops along Ali‘i. There are even a few shopping centers including:
- Kona Square
- Kona Banyan Court
- Kona Marketplace
- Kona Inn Shopping Village
- Waterfront Row
- Coconut Grove
If you are looking for well known shops like Sunglass Hut or you want to find some great local vendors you can find it in downtown Kona.
Kona Farmer’s Market
One of the most popular farmer’s markets in the Kona area is the Kona Farmer’s Market with over 40 vendors with fresh produce, flowers, jewelry, Kona coffee, photographs and clothing.
The Kona Farmer’s Market is open from 7:00 AM to 4:00 PM Wednesdays through Sundays.
A word of caution, though. Cruise ships dock in Kona nearly every Wednesday of the year and sometimes there are two ships in port at the same time so you may want to plan your trips to downtown Kona on a different day if you have the flexibility.
Can you see why we love downtown Kona? There is so much to do.