11. 7:30 a.m. Epic Kayaking
A dozen miles south of Kailua-Kona, a small obelisk on the edge of Kealakekua Bay marks the spot where the British explorer Captain James Cook was killed in 1779, evidently after overstaying his welcome. Today, the ecologically sensitive site is a magnet less for history buffs than for snorkelers, who take advantage of crystalline waters teeming with coral and colorful reef fish. While the area grows clogged with tour-boat traffic as the day wears on, hardy early risers can rent a kayak at nearby Ehu and Kai Adventures ($60) for an invigorating 20-minute paddle to the monument. En route, watch out for spinner dolphins or, if you’re lucky (as I was), humpback whales splashing in the distance.
12. 10:30 a.m. Market Breakfast
With plenty of local fruit (surprisingly hard to find on the Big Island), homemade honeys and jams and even kombucha on tap, the South Kona Green Market, in the nearby town of Captain Cook, is a Sunday institution for both locals and travelers. Shoppers — sipping smoothies in flavors such as papaya and lilikoi (passion fruit) — wander through a maze of stands selling pottery and mosaics, Kona coffee, handmade flower leis and endless varieties of macadamia nuts. Farmers and artisans, a bohemian vibe, and live traditional Hawaiian music make this market well worth the trek.
13. Noon. Souvenir Run
Crafts in Kailua-Kona can be hit or miss (or, worse, imported), which makes the small town of Kealakekua a welcomed find for souvenir hunters. Inside Kiernan Music, the luthier and owner Brian Kiernan sells dozens of models of Hawaii’s signature instrument, the ukulele — from tiny sopranos to large baritones; locally made koa-wood ukes top $1,000. Across the street at Makau Nui, the Hawaiian carver Benjamin Muti makes intricate pendants in cattle bone, marlin bill, abalone and more. His designs can be spotted on Pierce Brosnan, Jillian Michaels and Helen Hunt, among others.
South of Kona, Ali’i Drive threads along the coast through a range of residential neighborhoods (including Ali’i Kai), offering abundant rental options just a few minutes drive from the city center. One bedrooms range from condos near the ocean to guest suites set back on residential streets (about $125 to $250).
About a mile from the heart of Kailua-Kona, the Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort hits a sweet spot of price, location and ambience, in a city where this combination can be elusive (75-5961 Ali’i Drive, clubwyndham.com/cw/resorts/wyndham-kona-hawaiian.page; from around $250).
For a more intimate (and higher-end) option, the Holualoa Inn is set amid 30 acres of lush fruit gardens and coffee trees, 1,300 feet above the city (76-5932 Mamalahoa Highway, holualoainn.com; from around $395). Elegant, plantation-style suites and cottages feature original eucalyptus floors, private hot tubs and lanais for sunset views over the Pacific.