If you would like to read more about what we did during our entire week, read this detailed “Kona Christmas Vacation” post here!
Here are the restaurants, bars, bakeries, and coffee shops that we visited during our time on the island:
Kona Farmers Market
Pine Tree Cafe and Matsuyama Market
Most of our mornings required grab-and-go breakfasts so that we could start our day off early. We found two great, local restaurants close to our Airbnb that accommodated all of our needs. Both had goodies like egg sandwiches, French toast or pancakes, and other breakfast plates. They also had things like fried rice, pickled items, and SPAM which was new to us!
Another morning, we went downtown to Fish Hopper for breakfast. We all enjoyed meals of steak and eggs, fruit bowls, pancakes, and hash browns. Though our view wasn’t as good as Island Lava Java, we got to see even more dolphins swimming on the horizon. It was another great way to start our day!
Kona Mountain Coffee was near the aforementioned Pine Tree Cafe. After ordering my meal from Pine Tree, I would run over to Kona Mountain and have a nice, hot beverage to go with my meal. I liked Kona Mountain so much I ended up buying a hat from there, and I wear it proudly!
After a marvelous day snorkeling at Kua Bay, we stopped by Quinn’s Almost By The Sea for some food and happy hour drinks. We all enjoyed a round of beers and had baskets of seafood to fill us up. It was a cute pub with a nice, fenced patio, and the prices weren’t bad for the prime location!
Our last meal on the island was at Humpy’s. It’s a little sports bar just off the main Ali’i Drive, and we stopped in for a quick bite before catching our flight. We had typical bar food like pretzels and sliders then had fresh seafood along with it. It was a decent send off for our return home.
After our big meal at Papa Kona, we walked over to Gypsea Gelato for a delicious, local desert. We each had different scoops of Lilikoi cheesecake, salted caramel fudge, mango, and starfruit sorbet! We each loved our creations and enjoyed them to the last lick.
Hilo And Southern Area
One recommended food was Malasadas. They were described to us as soft, filled doughnuts. We stopped at the United States’s southernmost bakery, Punalum’u Bake Shop, to try some out.
See more from our entire time on The Big Island, including all of the places we visited, in the detailed “Hawaiian Christmas Vacation” post here!
We purchased goggles, snorkels, and flippers from Amazon.com and stowed them in our luggage. You can find the link to the pairs we bought here.
I will note that we found the exact same pairs at Target and Safeway in Kona for just a couple of more dollars, so we could have bought them there, but we didn’t want to risk it!
One note of warning: The waves at Kua are HUGE! We were constantly badgered by gigantic sneaker waves crashing over and rushing toward us. They knocked us all over the place. Once we passed the break line of the waves, the water was very calm and the snorkeling was easy!
See exactly what it was like at Kua Bay in my YouTube Video below!
Two Step at Captain Cook
Two Step is very aptly named. The volcanic shelf that separates the beach from the ocean has two steps in the rock that lead straight into the water. Two steps, and you’re in the ocean snorkeling over a beautiful coral reef!
It was the most active area for coral, fish, and other sea life! We saw dozens of different fish, and even though we spent all day here, I feel like we only saw a fraction of the area. It was unbelievable!
You can see more from our afternoon snorkeling at Captain Cook and learning about Hawaiian culture in the video below!
Night Snorkeling with Manta Rays
This experience was the only one for which we paid. All of the other places I have, and will, mention were free to enter and snorkel. That being said, night snorkeling with manta rays was completely worth the cost!
I booked a night time excursion with My Kona Adventures to go snorkeling with manta rays and my parents were very nervous. I surprised them with the plans, because I knew they would be hesitant, but in the end, they agreed it was an incredible experience!
P.S. I was able to get an AWESOME deal for the four of us by emailing ahead of time and asking about the packages they were offering. So don't be shy and ask ahead (and let them know The Traveling Tacos sent ya)!
See more from this nighttime snorkeling trip in my “Night Swimming with Manta Rays” blog post here and in the video below!
Places We Wish We Had Snorkeled:
Queen’s Bath / Kiholo Bay
You can read more about Queen’s Bath and our day of looking for petroglyphs in my “Kilauea-Kona Christmas Vacation” post here!
Sadly, we did not have time to get in the water at Kahalu’u Bay on our way down to Papakōlea’s Green Sand Beach. We were following the “Gypsy Tour Guide” app and it encouraged us to stop. From the shore, we could see brightly colored fish everywhere. It looked incredible, but we just didn’t have time to jump in.
Magic Sands was another stop our “Gypsea Tour Guide” app recommended, but this time, we did things a little differently and enjoyed happy hour drinks by the water. We didn’t get in the water here, but we could see a fair amount of snorkelers.
It looked like a nice spot. Instead, we cheersed our cocktails and watched the sun set!
Overall, we loved snorkeling in Hawai’i. It was extremely easy everywhere we went, and we always found the most interesting things to see. I hope, one day, we can come back and explore more!
Hilo is the United States’s most wet city accumulating over 100 inches of rainfall annually. Compare this to the Kona side, where we were staying, which only gets about 30 inches! This excessive rainfall creates an extremely lush landscape, and we were pumped to explore it!
See our entire day in Hilo in my YouTube video below to get an idea of just how beautiful this side of the island truly is!
Our first stopping point was Waipi’o Valley. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to hike or ride down into the valley, so we just stopped at the overlook and dreamed of what it looked like down below. From atop the view point, it was stunning. After taking it all in, we headed south down Highway 19.
Akaka Falls State Park
See more from the lush Akaka Falls State Park in my YouTube video here!
You can read all about Pineapples and the other places we ate across the island in the “Where We Ate on The Big Island” post here!
Both Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots were nice, quick stops just outside of downtown Hilo.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
You can read more about Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and our two trips in this more detailed blog post here!
We packed a lot into our day trip to Hilo and saw every highlight we could. There was a lot more we could have seen, but our day chasing waterfalls and volcanoes was perfect for us, and we drove back to Kona overjoyed with our day.
See every place we went in Hilo in my Youtube video below, and if you like it hit subscribe to see even more from our time on The Big Island!
If you would like to read more about our entire week on The Big Island, visit my Hawai’i Page, HERE, to read posts about every place we snorkeled, stayed, and ate.
You can read about that Hawaiian Cruise in the “Nannying on a Seven-Day Hawaiian Cruise” blog post here!
We could not have planned our trip much better than we did. We were very fortunate to be on the island when Kilauea erupted on December 20th, 2020.
We were inside the park almost exactly 24 hours before the earthquake and ensuing eruption occurred. At first, we were so upset that we hadn't seen anything, but we returned 72 hours later for one of the most awesome experiences of our lives!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park - First Visit
Our first trip to the national park was pretty uneventful. We arrived way too late in the afternoon to do the things we wanted after visiting South Point and Papakōlea’s Green Sand Beach earlier in the day.
You can read more about each different colored beach, here in my detailed "Hawaiian Christmas Vacation" itinerary post!
I was really hoping we could make it all the way to the end of the road to see where the lava blocks the road, but that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, we stopped at a few overlooks to see Lau Manu and Pauahi Crater before turning around to leave the park.
We were a little disappointed with the experience, but we were glad we tried. Luckily, it wouldn’t be our only trip to the park!
See more from both of these visits in my YouTube video below!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park - Second Visit
We were able to make it back to the park Tuesday evening after our day in Hilo.
Before we went back to the park we spent the day in Hilo hiking to several waterfalls and had the absolute best lunch downtown. Read more on my “Things We Did in Hilo” post here!
All day, we had been following the national park’s social media accounts and ensuring that the area remained safe to visit. These outlets provided a great piece of advice: visit in the evening to see the glow of the lava, because the lava is very deep inside a crater with unstable edges.
Their social media accounts also tagged photos from the same Steam Vents area we had visited before, so we knew exactly where we were going!
This sight more than satisfied every dream I had ever had of coming to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. When I finally got cold and met up with my family, I was happy that we were able to see one of nature’s greatest forces at work just below our feet.
Watch more from this bucket-list experience here, in my YouTube video below!
If you would like to read more about what we did on The Big Island, check out the separate “Kailua-Kona Christmas Vacation” blog post here!
It turns out that there are plenty of others in the world, but supposedly, their size and mineral content don’t qualify them as true “green sand” beaches. Regardless of technicalities, we loved the area!
When we arrived at Papakōlea, we chose to hitch a ride instead of walking the rough 2.5 miles of road. We didn’t have enough time for both hiking and swimming, so we chose to spend our time swimming instead of walking.
It took about 20 minutes to ride out to the edge of the crater, and the road was very bumpy!
I would never ever recommend anyone drive the road unless you have a suitable off-road vehicle. It is a very rough road!
See just exactly how bumpy the ride was in my YouTube video down below - my Hohem Gimball make it look pretty smooth but you can still get a feel!
This area was very different from any other beach I've ever been too! Up above the ocean the land is healthy grassland with lots and lots of green rolling hills, but down below, it's a green-sand treasure.
We walked a path along the cliff’s edge before walking down to the sand. We wanted to see the whole area before getting in the water, and we found an incredible 360-degree view of blue water and lush landscape. We stood at the windy tip then finally headed down the crater wall to the sandy bay.
The whole area was carved out by a volcanic eruption that occurred thousands of years ago, and that’s what made the sand green! Mineral deposits of Olivine were exposed by the eruption and are eroded by waves and wind.
We swam around, laid in the sand, and really enjoyed the afternoon before it was time for us to leave. We rode the bumpy trail back to our car and raved about the time we had just had.
Walking or not, I would recommend this glorious beach to anyone!
See more from our entire trip to Hawai'i on my Hawaiian Islands Blog Page, where I lay out every where we went!
Our first time, we had planned to visit Manini'owali Beach instead, but Kua Bay came highly recommended by our Airbnb hosts. When we googled it, we found that they were effectively the same place! It felt great to be reassured by a local that the place we wanted to visit would be worth it.
Check out the separate blog post about the “Ohana in the Back” that we stayed at and the help they provided to us, here!
We loved how the black, volcanic rocks broke up the shoreline and made a very unique ocean view. Plus, those rocks created small outcoves which made entering the water easier and created tide pools full of fish. The water was unbelievably crystal clear and bright blue! We spent hours floating, swimming, and snorkeling in it.
We loved this place for so many reasons. Beside its sheer beauty, it was convenient to get to! It was only about 15 minutes from downtown Kilauea, and the parking lot was just steps from the beach. There is also plenty of space! In the three times we visited in December, we never had an issue finding a place for our chairs and towels!
Kua Bay and Manini'owali Beach was our very favorite spot of the entire week in Hawai’i. We were so glad we found it early in our trip so that we could visit as many times as we did.
Read a little more about Kua Bay and the other places we snorkeled in the blog post titled, “Where We Found Snorkeling on The Big Island” here!
One of the most memorable things that we did during our Hawaiian Christmas Vacation was go night snorkeling with manta rays through My Kona Adventures!
None of us had ever done anything like this, and I don’t think any of us had ever been in deep ocean in the dark. This experience had come highly recommended by several blogs and websites, then our Airbnb host and another local recommended it, so we were sure to go.
Read more about where we stayed on The Big Island in my "Where We Stayed near Kona" blog post!
I had reached out to My Kona Adventures before our arrival to The Big Island and asked about their availability and packages. I found a good deal on Groupon and was hoping to use it, but it turned out that they were running a better promotion on site. We ended up saving nearly 50%!
If you plan to book your excursion in advance, be sure to email firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about current deals!
We booked a 7 p.m. slot for Friday night and arrived at the boat ramp in the pitch-black darkness. We all got our snorkels, and I asked for a wetsuit for warmth before we boarded the boat. While we took the five minute ride out to the bay, we strapped on ankle floaties to help keep us near the surface.
Our captain explained that our guide, Taco, would meet us in the water, and we all hopped in. Taco was holding onto a special floating board with bright lights attached to the bottom. The bright, blue lights help attract plankton which is what the manta rays eat 22 hours of the day. He informed us that the rays will come within what he called “licking distance”. He told us that absolutely no touching is allowed and that we needed to protect the animals in their natural habitat.
Once he was done talking, we looked down and, right away, could see the majestic beasts somersaulting by another group. We were amazed. The manta rays can have wingspans up to 20 feet, and Taco said they can weigh as much as two tons!
See exactly what we saw under the water in my YouTube video below!
Not long after we put our faces back in the water, the rays started to come closer to us. They found the lights below us and started to work up toward our raft. Before long, they were right under us, and I mean only feet away. These humongous animals came right up under our board, and like Taco said, they came within inches of us. It was incredible, unbelievable, and unreal.
The feeling of being close to these giants was like no other. We felt like we were observing aliens in a foreign world. All of the sudden, a dolphin swam under us too! It was completely unexpected! Everything about the tour was just absolutely incredible. We could not have asked for a better night in the water.
Like all great things, our touring time had come to an end, and it was time for us to get back on the boat. The hour we had spent in the water went by too fast, but we loved every single second of it. Truth be told, it was the perfect amount of time, because our arms started to get tired, and I started to get cold! It was a good thing that our boat ride was only a few minutes long.
Once on the land again, we couldn’t stop raving about how spectacular that experience had been. My parents, who were nervous at first, even said that it was one of the most fun things they had ever done. We highly recommend checking out My Kona Adventures and taking one of their tours. It was fantastic!
If you would like to see more from this snorkeling adventure and our entire trip to The Big Island, please check out my Hawaiian Islands page to see everything!!
Check out the listing for yourself here, as the "Kona Amazing Cottage - Pool/AC/Great Location" on Airbnb.com
Looking back on our booking process, we probably should have looked into things more closely before booking.
If we had read the description, which states, “Two people can feel very comfortable inside. Our unit will accommodate up to 4 people, but please be aware that it will be tight.” We probably would have booked somewhere else, but I’m glad we didn’t!!
They specifically recommended:
They also recommended many more things to do as we explored the island. You can read about it all in the, “What We Did For A Week on Hawai’i” post here.
Check the Airbnb’s availability HERE if you would like to book a stay at this wonderful home!
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!