My anxiety levels were at an all-time high on Thursday night. I had a flight booked to Hawaii at 7 the next morning, and I hadn't planned a thing.
This was not normal. I am a planner. I buzz with excitement over researching destinations, scheduling activities, and making restaurant reservations any time we travel.
But Hawaii was a last-minute trip booked unexpectedly when Garrett was asked to speak at a conference for work. It was essentially free, so of course I grabbed at the chance of tagging along. I booked our trip, asked for a few recommendations online, and that was that. Life, work, and sailing got in the way, so other than flights and accommodations, no concrete plans for our Hawaii vacation were made.
The lack of planning felt freeing. And slightly anxiety-inducing.
But as you can imagine, the trip was wonderful. We explored, ate local, spent time in the water, and relaxed. We went to bed and woke up early (a sure sign of getting older, yeah?) to take full advantage of our short time on the Big Island. We snorkeled, sailed, fished, sunbathed. We went to beaches covered in lava rocks and coral rubble. We drank (too many) tropical drinks. And I only got one minor sunburn and a little bit of sun poisoning on the very last day (the plight of a ginger).
Here's a breakdown of how we spent our days in Hawaii. I feel like we barely scratched the surface, and cannot wait to go back.
Garrett and I woke up at 4:45 AM to catch a 7:00 AM flight out of Oakland. Neither of us slept very well (or very long) the night before, so most of our first day in Hawaii was spent in a haze. We arrived in Kona's open-air airport around 11 AM, picked up our rental car, and headed to the Sheraton at Keauhou Bay to drop our bags.
It was our goal to eat local as much as we could while on the Big Island, so we turned to Yelp for a lot of our discoveries. The first place we picked out was called Rebel Kitchen, a local farm-to-table restaurant with a laid back vibe in Kainaliu. The food was fast and delicious (pepperoni fries: they're a thing) and the tiny town was delightful. It felt off the beaten path and devoid of tourists, which is right up our alley.
After lunch, we headed over to Kona Joe Coffee, a beautiful coffee farm right in Kainaliu. We didn't tour the farm but instead grabbed iced coffees (which were SO good and smooth) and sipped them while overlooking the Pacific. It's definitely the most picturesque place I've sat and enjoyed a coffee, ever.
I was eager to get back to the hotel and enjoy being on the water, so we returned to the Sheraton after enjoying our coffee. The lobby of the Sheraton and the property it sits on are amazing, and our room was okay. We booked a night there because the resort we were staying at for the conference was booked Friday night, which was a blessing in disguise. We really enjoyed being on the southern part of the island, closer to Kona and smaller towns, and Keauhou Bay was stunning.
After sunbathing and fishing, we headed into Kona for some local fare and Kava at Kanaka Kava. Kava is a Polynesian drink prepared from the root of a pepper plant called Awa. It's known for its ceremonial, medicinal, and recreational uses and relaxing effects. We sipped the Kava while dining on Kalua Pork and poke, but because we were already so tired from travel, it was hard to gauge whether or not it had an impact. I will say that sitting at the bar and drinking Kava with the locals was one of the cooler experiences we had in Hawaii (even though we stuck out like sore thumbs) and I'd definitely recommend it to others.
Our second day in Hawaii, March 11, is one we'll never forget. We woke up early, dined on a breakfast of coffee, bananas, and croissants while overlooking the Pacific, and walked over to Keauhou Bay to snorkel.
It was awesome to have such easy access to Keauhou Bay — the water was so clear, the coral so diverse, and all of the fish were so colorful. And because it took me a while to adjust to snorkeling (conscious mouth breathing was a challenge), I'm really grateful that we got to access those waters for free. It was a perfect warm up for the snorkel sail we had scheduled for the following day.
After being in the water for about an hour we decided to pack up and head to our next destination, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel. When we got back to our room and phones we were greeted with the best news ever: our nephew Liam had been born! We immediately cracked open a can of Maui Brewing Bikini Blonde Lager to cheers Liam's healthy and happy entrance into the world.
To continue our quest of local eating, we stopped at 808 Grindz Cafe and had an extremely satisfying (see: heavy) meal of mocos and Hawaiian fried rice. The staff were so friendly and the restaurant walls were covered in signatures from visitors — the perfect place for us to commemorate Liam's birth. Jacque and Ethan, you'll have to bring Liam here someday to find his name written on the wall the day he was born. Let us know when the trip is booked and we'll tag along!
After stuffing ourselves (the waiter had asked, "are you sure you want three orders for two people?"), it was time to relax. We checked into the beautiful Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, ordered a couple of tropical drinks at the pool bar, and kicked our feet up on the beach.
A few sea turtles popped up at the water's edge and I got so excited — it was my first time seeing them in person! Getting an up-close look at the turtles and witnessing the most breathtaking sunset I've ever seen was the best way to end a pretty perfect day.
Our third day in Hawaii was definitely my favorite. We woke at 7:45, threw on our bathing suits, and walked over to Mauna Lani Sea Adventures, an on-site company that leads snorkeling, whale watching, and sunset cruises on their catamaran Winona.
Shortly after we arrived to check in, we were ferried the short distance from land to the catamaran and embarked on a beautiful cruise to our snorkeling destination. We were lucky to be in Hawaii during humpback whale season, so we saw a bunch on our way. It was absolutely breathtaking to see the sun glinting off of their black tails and backs before they disappeared into the water, crystal clear and blue like I've never seen.
It took about an hour to motor to the snorkeling cove, mostly because we slowed down a lot anytime we spotted whales. Donning fins and masks, we made our way into the water for a spectacular hour of snorkeling. The water clarity couldn't have been better. I'm not sure what I found more beautiful — the surrounding colorful schools of fish or the sunlight filtering down through the surface. All of it felt surreal, and I was so grateful for the experience.
The best part? We were anchored near two sea turtle cleaning stations, which are areas where sea turtles return to have their shells cleaned by fish. It was so neat to witness groups of turtles lined up, waiting to take their turn for cleaning with the small schools of Yellow Tangs. (One of my biggest regrets was forgetting our GoPro at home, so we weren't able to catch any underwater activity on camera. But this is what a turtle cleaning station looks like, if you're curious!)
Before we got out of the water, I tried being still and silent, to fully take in my surroundings. My breath is so loud underwater, so decided to hold it to find out what I could hear. I was rewarded with hearing whale song.
Whales singing to each other in the distance is a sound that I will never forget. I felt so lucky to experience that. And so small. It was a good reminder of how big the world is outside of our tiny lives.
That morning spent whale watching and snorkeling felt like a gift.
We capped off our beautiful day with a meal and drinks at Napua, one of the most beautiful places where I've enjoyed a meal. If you go to the Big Island, go there. Ask to sit on the patio, order the calamari and shaved ice martini, and soak in the paddle boarding, canoeing, and sunbathing happening right in front of you.
Days 4 and 5 were less exciting because we had to work — but I can't complain too much, because work was the whole reason we were there. Plus, my skin had had enough sun and was ready for some indoor time. We still managed to have an amazing açaí bowl for breakfast one day at Under the Bodhi Tree and explore the black lava rocks and white coral rubble at Holoholokai Beach. We strolled along the water at the Four Seasons and marveled at the contrast of its bright blue washing against the black seawalls. We stopped to observe every sea turtle that we came across. Our long days of work were balanced out by happy evenings spent uncovering new sights, each one more rich than the other.
Hawaii was perfect. It was a breath of fresh air. I didn't know how badly I needed a break until I got there. The nature, the sunshine, the relaxing, the time spent with my husband...I am eternally grateful for all of it.