Hawaii Island Highlights

Swimming with manta rays, an exquisite getaway in the rain forest, some of the best shave ice anywhere, and local diners along the west coast of Hawaii Island.

79-7251 Hawaii Belt Rd, Kealakekua, HI 96750, USA
Teshima’s Restaurant is a historic Japanese diner on the west coast of Hawaii Island in Kealakekua. Welcoming and reasonably priced, the diner serves Hawaiian Japanese comfort food. The set meals are the best value, a sampling of small dishes that might include sashimi, sukiyaki, fried fish, rice, and sides of cucumber, cabbage, and miso soup. The ahi is excellent (and the wasabi so soft and fresh), but the restaurant is really known for its shrimp tempura: Every local we asked about Japanese food told us to try it here. You can get it on its own, or as part of the “deep sea trio” of shrimp tempura, fried fish, and sashimi.
61-3616 Kawaihae Road
This unassuming trailer in a parking lot opposite a port in Kawaihae serves what may be the best shave ice on Hawaii Island, and possibly in the whole state. Why? First up, the syrups (divided into artificial, creamy, and fruit) really taste of what they are supposed to. This is one shave ice where you need to be careful which flavors you combine, because they don’t just bleed into each other. (Also note that the li hing mui comes with the powder, too, so get ready for that strange salty/sour/sweet hit.) More importantly, however, is the texture, which is smooth and creamy and more like compacted snow than ice. It was so different from anything we’d had before that we asked the staff whether they used a different machine than everyone else. Nope—they just make it using the technique their grandmother passed down to them.
79-7399 Hawaii Belt Rd, Kealakekua, HI 96750, USA
Rebel Kitchen is a welcoming food joint in Kainaliu, just up from the Donkey Balls Factory. Choose from a selection of reasonably priced sandwiches and burgers made from local ingredients (there are a few mains, too, like jambalaya and coconut curry shrimp) or just kick back with an island beer, kombucha, or homemade lemonade. Happy hour is 4–6 p.m., there’s a garden to the side if you want to eat outside, and that oh-so-moreish ketchup and hot sauce on each table? It’s made in-house, and bottles are for sale.
79-7407 Mamalahoa Hwy, Kealakekua, HI 96750, USA
This is a worthwhile quick stop for anyone who enjoys chocolate or innuendo and is passing through Kainaliu on the west coast of Hawaii Island (around eight miles south of Kailua-Kona, just before Captain Cook). They specialize in donkey balls, which are macadamia nuts covered in thick milk chocolate. Actually, they have a whole menagerie of balls beyond donkey: boar, goat, monkey, dolphin.... Whether you want milk, dark, or white chocolate, coconut flakes or a salty caramel crunch, or just candied mac nuts without the chocolate, there’s something for you. It’s all made on-site, and the smut doesn’t stop with the names: You’ll be asked if you “want a sack for your balls,” too. Whatever you choose, they’ll make a great gift... if they last that long. (If you’d rather save the balls for a special occasion, Rebel Kitchen is just a couple yards away.)
19-4245 Kekoa Nui Blvd #213, Volcano, HI 96785, USA
Lotus Garden Cottages is an adorable boutique escape set among the rain forest of Volcano Village near to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The four luxury rooms—two cottages, two suites—are furnished in warm wood and each comes with a lanai, small kitchen, and TV equipped with Roku box. The rooms are decorated with artifacts taken from Korean temples, and this Zen vibe extends to the grounds, too, with a peaceful meditation garden, koi pond, and outdoor hot tub. Breakfast includes the most exquisitely plated fruit you have ever seen, served in your room by the proprietor, John. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear him playing violin in the office while you bask in a tranquility that is all the more remarkable given the restless fury of the nearby volcanoes.
82-6160 Mamalahoa Highway
This small farmers’ market takes place every Sunday from around 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Captain Cook on the west coast of Hawaii Island. There’s local produce on sale, as well as the obligatory macadamia nuts, honey, and Kona coffee, but much of the market is occupied with arts and crafts by local artists, including jewelry, pottery, wood carvings, and even some magic wands. Visitors can also look forward to live music, food stands, crystal healing, and massages. The vibe is chill and welcoming, with stallholders eager to chat and offer you samples of their wares—no strings attached. Come spring, the market will add another site for vendors on Halekii Street. Called the Pure Kona International Market, the indoor spot will be open six days a week.
83-5308 Mamalahoa Hwy # B, Captain Cook, HI 96704, USA
Hit this classic joint for a quick bite after snorkeling at Two Step or exploring Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. It has a lot in common with the nearby (and popular) Da Poke Shack, but Big Jake’s has its own following—and rightly so. Go for the delicious pulled pork or meaty, succulent ribs done Kansas-style and slathered in a sharp, spicy, fruity sauce (ask for it on the side if chili heat’s a concern). Combo specials include coleslaw and smoky baked beans. This roadside attraction has no indoor seating, but diners can snag a seat at the picnic tables.
75-5699 Alii Dr, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, USA
Scandinavian Shave Ice is Hawaii Island’s most iconic purveyor of the frozen treat—though it’s not quite so big a deal on this island as some of the others. That said, Scandi’s is everything you want your shave ice shop to be. Dozens of flavors to choose from, including some with no added sugar? Check. Choice of ice cream for the center? Check. Snow cap and other, more exotic, toppings available (like li hing mui powder or mochi)? Check. Sassy servers? Check. The result is a carefully sculpted ball of colorful ice the size of your head (go for the small size!), with a soft but cohesive texture, flavors more subtle than they look, and the ice cream in the center rather than the bottom—meaning you get to it even quicker! Yum.
82-6066 Mamalahoa Highway
Loko Wraps is perfect if you’re looking for something cheap and cheerful to eat in the Captain Cook area of Hawaii Island. It’s a Hawaiian take on Mexican tacos and burritos, with local meats (or jackfruit for veggies!) and tangy sauces infused with island fruits. As well as the meat, the wraps (which is what the burritos are called) are filled with coconut rice, salad, and slaw, but no cheese or avocado, so they are filling but don’t sit heavy in the stomach. Juices and smoothies are available, too. Try the dragonfruit lemonade if you can—it’s clearly but subtly flavored and not too sweet.
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