My disclaimer for the next post: I’m the type of person who plans my vacation around meals. I like to get suggestions from friends and family who have lived or visited there, and if all else fails, I turn to Yelp or Twitter. There’s nothing I hate more than being forced into “just grabbing something” at the nearest open restaurant. It’s like giving up! If I could pack an extra stomach just for vacations, I truly would. I usually find myself armed with more recommendations than I’ll have time for.
My first morning waking up in the mountains of South Kona and the stillness of the forest outside was almost overwhelming when compared with the city of Honolulu I’d left behind. Huge, stately ohia trees reached up to the sky with lush, green ferns and colored hibiscus flowers scattered throughout canopy below. A little bird sat chirping away in the window, looking confused as to why we’d be wasting such a glorious morning lying around inside.
One look at the gorgeous weather and we packed up to head down to the bay in search of dolphins and whales. We first drove by the historic Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park and although the parking lot was pretty full, even at 8:30am, Kitty’s expert eyes decided that Kealakekua would be our best bet so we kept driving til we reached Manini Beach.
I arrived in Kona late in the evening, and I was a tad disappointed that I hadn’t thought better about timing my flight. I had done my research on which side of the plane would give me the best perspective coming into the landing (right side, I was told) and I always love that first moment when you see the black lava fields coming into view. However, since my flight arrived around 7:30pm all I saw was black. I could tell when we were getting closer to Kona though, because the light on the plane’s wing was cutting through the vog which got thicker and thicker as we drew near.
The Kona airport always makes me a bit nostalgic. If I reach really far back into my memory, I can pull up vague images from when the Maui airport was open-air, like Kona. When instead of jetways you’d use the stairs off the tarmac to board your plane. I still remember the big tree where the baggage claim now lies. So stepping off my plane in Kona, all of those memories came back and it gave me a feeling of going back in time. Already, my mind slows down, muscles relax, and I let out a deep sigh. Ahhhhh…. vacation.
Heading south down the highway, we started climbing higher and higher in elevation, and light rain misting down on the windshield as my girlfriends and I caught up on each other’s lives and loves and all the fun things they’d been doing in Kona without me the past couple of days. We arrived in Kaohe, our home base for the next two days, and in the night we were surrounded by the sounds of the forest and the love from our hosts. I could tell already this was going to be a great trip – you know that feeling when you arrive in a place you’ve never been, yet it feels like home?
While many think of beer (or sake) as the beverage of choice in Hawaii, you may be surprised to hear just how many spots there are for wine lovers in Honolulu.
Wine Bars Restaurants
Amuse Wine Bar – Self-service wine tastings (sold by the ounce) are accessed by a wine card purchased from the bar – Mon & Wed you can purchase a $50 value card for only $30. Happy Hour prices on cocktails and appetizers from 5-7pm Monday through Friday. Tuesday is Wine Lovers Night at Stage Restaurant next door, giving you 50% off bottles.
Formaggio & Formaggio Grill – I’ve never been to the Kailua Formaggio Grill, but Market City’s Formaggio Wine Bar has always had my heart. I love the fonduta appetizer and the crispy-thin shrimp and pancetta pizza. The menu is designed to be wine-friendly and the servers are there to help you pick what goes with what.
Brasserie Du Vin – Currently running a special of half-priced bottles on Tuesdays and Happy Hour on food and wine from 4-6 Monday through Saturdays. The food has occasionally been hit or miss for me but the selection of charcuterie and cheeses are always fun.
Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar – Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya and Chef DK Kodama paired up to create this wine bar in Restaurant Row. Tastings and specials are frequently announced via their website and social media channels. 50% off food if you sit at the bar from 5:30 to 6:30pm.
It’s always nice when a restaurant allows you to bring in your own wine, whether its a special occasion bottle or something to save a few $ on the expensive markups other restaurants charge. The restaurants below charge little or no corkage fee to BYO!
JJ French Pastry – I love JJ’s for their $25 four course prix-fixe menu, but I love it even more that there is no corkage fee! Also great for big groups – they’ve got a private dining room in back for parties.
Olive Tree – Nominal charge of 50 cents per glass, and the wine shop next door is a perfect spot for picking up wine or beer to go with your meal. Fantastic ambience and delicious Greek food.
Himalayan Kitchen – Another spot with great ambience – a nice patio outside is popular for groups to linger over a meal with some BYOB wine! No corkage fee and great Nepalese/Himalayan & Indian food.
>> The Wine Stop also has an extensive list here – call ahead though, some of the places on this list have closed.
Tamura’s – Kaimuki, Aiea, Kailua – wine tastings in stores (see website for details) and a great poke counter.
Wine Stop – King Street – Wine tastings on Saturdays (first week of the month is beer tasting), plus a wine club and special events.
HASR Wine Co – Downtown/Chinatown – Wine Tastings on Tues & Fridays. Specializing in California wines.
Oliver – Kahala – This cute little shop next to the popular Olive Tree Cafe stocks wine, beer, and greek pantry items. You can even purchase the feta and delicious pita bread they use next door.
Fujioka’s – Market City & Mililani – The Market City location is conveniently right next to Formaggio Wine Bar, so you can always take notes on what you like, then head next door to purchase!
Whole Foods – Kahala – I wouldn’t normally list a supermarket because all of them have wine in stock, however Whole Foods is unique in that it does tastings and has a good selection of organic wines too. Plus, great cheese selection to go with your wine.
>> Here’s an article I did for WhyGo Hawaii on Drinking and Dining in Honolulu.
These were just a few of my favorites. Feel free to share yours in the comments below!
One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to do more traveling within Hawaii. When I was growing up on Maui, I don’t think I truly learned to appreciate the islands. I was always pining to be somewhere else – living in New York City, spending holidays in Paris, or taking extended trips around the globe. I’ve lived in Hawaii all my life, yet I’ve really only gotten to know Maui and Oahu. Such a shame!
This year, my brother moved to Hilo to study tropical agriculture. What a perfect reason for me to come visit! Next week I’ll be headed first to Kona/Kealakekua for a few days, then to Hilo. It’s a much-needed vacation so I’m trying not to pack my schedule too tight.
For Hilo, I told Todd that the only two things I really want to do while I’m there are to visit the Hilo Farmers Market and to go see Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Also hoping to detour to Waimea at some point (a friend was just raving about Merriman’s) but we’ll have to see if there’s time… Can’t wait to share pictures and tips!
I’m also signed up for the Kauai Half Marathon which takes place over Labor Day weekend. It’s a long way off, but I’m excited to visit Kauai as well. Hopefully these won’t be the only two interisland trips this year, there’s a lot more to explore even on the islands that I know best – Maui and Oahu. Miss those low interisland airfares!
Do you have suggestions or tips for Hawaii Island or Kauai? Please share in the comments!