Who knew there were so many things to see, eat and do in South Kona? From historic sites to isle beaches and downright delicious eats, the area makes for a day well spent.
Anything but your typical burger joint, the philosophy behind Annie’s Island Fresh Burgers stresses three factors that make for a wholesome, authentic dining experience—local, fresh and organic.
As one of the pioneers and leaders in the farm-to-table movement on the Big Island for the last 10 years, “Annie’s has always emphasized the use of locally sourced and organic ingredients to make sure we are taking care of guests, neighbors and planet,” says Assistant General Manager Ann Levenson. “In fact, a source of great pride to us is that our ingredients are so fresh, we don’t even have a freezer!
“We chose burgers as our medium to help make farm-to-table dining more approachable and accessible to the masses, in addition to the amazing flavor combinations they allow us to create with our fresh housemade sauces and toppings,” she adds. “The freshness of what we provide to our guests is tasted in every bite. Our local grass-fed Big Island beef patties are hand-formed daily. All of our sauces, toppings and dressings from mayonnaise to our ‘southernmost’ South Point BBQ sauce are made fresh, in-house.”
What’s the best Annie’s has to offer? Levenson suggests the BBQ South Point Burger or Travel Channel’s Award-Winning Firecracker Burger. “They’d have to be considered as two of our most popular menu items,” says Levenson, “but you really can’t miss when pairing any beef, chicken, fish, vegetarian or vegan option on the menu with a local Ola Brew on tap or our refreshing Lilikoi Rum Spritzer. And don’t forget our signature housemade dessert—a thick, dark chocolate pudding, unlike any you’ve ever tried before. Trust us. We hear it all day and it gives us joy when our guests enjoy our suggestions.
“Also, if you haven’t tried our crispy sweet onion rings, you are missing out!” she throws in. “Craving something spicy? The jalapeno goat cheese poppers with sweet chili sauce will make your mouth dance.”
Levenson’s personal favorite is the Steakhouse Burger. “Hawai‘i Island beef with arugula, Hamakua mushrooms and blue cheese,” she describes. “It’s the perfect combination.”
Approaching its 10th anniversary, Annie’s is a multi-award winning restaurant, racking up accolades from various local and national entities. But what’s more important is the customer experience.
“Serving our guests delicious, fresh-made menu items and providing them with an authentic Big Island experience is our passion,” says Levenson. “Our unique ambiance and lush mountain views all the way down to the ocean—you don’t just eat a meal; you enjoy a dining experience at Annie’s. We share our aloha with every guest who comes through our door.”
There are times when vacation dining calls for an elegant meal complemented by a stunning view, and perhaps, a spectacular sunset. Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai has all that and a whole lot more.
At Kai Lanai, the incredible ocean and sunset views will leave you speechless while the innovative Hawaiian Heritage Cuisine and warmth of Hawaiian hospitality will make you a return guest. The love of good food and aloha for his guests have made Sam Choy an award-winning and popular chef, and it’s here that you’ll enjoy his popular dishes such as the Seafood Lau Lau, Macadamia Nut Crusted Chicken (a signature dish and deservedly so) and Island Ahi Poké Plate, all made with fresh, local ingredients.
As for the signature dessert? It’s the award-winning Kai Lanai Chocolate Cake! And for pupus (appetizers) and a premium cocktail or island heritage cocktail, make The Short Bait bar your first stop during Happy Hour 3-5 p.m. daily.
Who knew balls could be yummy? We’re talking about Donkey Balls Store & Chocolate Factory, handcrafted balls made with high-quality Guittard chocolate in its donkey balls, boar balls, goat balls, monkey balls and more. Everything is made in the Kainaliu factory, including delicious brittles and hot sauces.
Imagine swimming in clear water that shimmers in alluring shades of blue. A few feet below sits a thriving coral reef that’s home to schools of colorful fish. This is what awaits at Kealakekua Bay when you head out with Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Cruises.
“A common comment we get from guests is that it was the best part of their vacation,” says Director of Sales and Marketing Penn Henderson, who’s been with Fair Wind for 16 years. “Often times, people visit Hawai‘i and simply enjoy the beach and pool at their resort. But once people actually decide to take a snorkel cruise, they’re blown away with everything from the beautiful coastline sights while cruising to the magnificent underwater world they get to experience while snorkeling. Plus they’re getting breakfast and lunch, and get to learn a little bit about Hawai‘i’s history from our knowledgeable crew.”
Fair Wind is coming up on nearly 50 years of serving visitors and residents, and has had time to perfect the snorkel tours and optimize their vessels. They offer four ocean cruises—three daytime snorkel cruises to various locations, and an evening manta ray snorkel adventure.
“For first time snorkelers, we always recommend going out on the Fair Wind II vessel to Kealakekua Bay,” says Henderson. “It’s a large boat with easy access stairs to the water. Plus, there’s no better place than Kealakekua Bay, which is renown for its calm and clear waters with abundant marine life.
“We encounter all sorts of wonderful things during our cruises!” he adds. “Depending on the season, we’ll see whales, dolphins and turtles. While snorkeling, it’s pretty much a showcase of various fishes in a kaleidoscope of colors. Sometimes we’ll see eels and octopus too.”
Henderson says they provide a lot of education about what it means to be eco-friendly and eco-conscious. He adds, “One of the big things right now is educating people about the importance of using only reef-safe sunscreen and/or covering up with UV clothing when possible. In fact, starting this year, our guests are no longer allowed to use anything but reef-safe sunscreen that only contain zinc and titanium dioxide as active ingredients.”
As of press time, something new and exciting is in the works.
“We’re very excited to be launching new tours later in 2020 that will provide guests with the opportunity to partake in actual scientific research on the reef and marine life,” shares Henderson. “Documenting the health of coral, taking water samples, identifying fish populations, etc. These will be smaller charters with one-on-one interactions with marine life experts. So stay tuned!”
An exciting ocean adventure is one thing, but Henderson adds that “One of the biggest takeaways for our guests after a snorkel tour is their newfound understanding and appreciation for the environment.” Enjoy an eye-opening experience in more ways than one with Fair Wind!
Meaning “Place of Refuge of Ho¯naunau,” Pu‘uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park is just one of the island’s many historically and culturally rich sites worth a stop. It’s where ancient Hawaiians fled for safety during war or to seek absolution after breaking kapu (laws). The 180-acre park is nestled at the ocean’s edge and canopied by a palm grove. See stately ki‘i (carved wooden images) surrounding Hale o Keawe, where the bones of 23 Hawaiian chiefs are interred. The massive Great Wall, measuring nearly 1,000 feet long, 10 feet high and 17 feet wide, stands sentinel over the solemn grounds. nps.gov/puho.
The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is the nation’s only living history coffee farm. Costumed interpreters demonstrate traditional crafts and agricultural activities that provide a glimpse into the past. It’s open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon.-Fri. konahistorical.org.
[A version of this article can be found in print in the pages of This Week Big Island]