Ahhhhh Hawaii. Dreams of vacation with my lover, hikes to majestic mountain tops, kayaking the coast and night dives immediately come to mind. LOL – Not this trip. We are calling this: Big Island, Todder Style. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip with our 18 month old and already cant wait to go back. Our itinerary: rent a van and spend 5 nights near Kona and 2 nights in Volcano. There is so much to see and do on the island, we could have easily stayed longer and added Hilo and many other attractions. Next trip!

Kona: Eating, drinking, coffee and buffalo!

After six hours in a plane with our (thankfully) sleeping kiddo, we de-planed in Kona to a balmy 70 degree evening, grabbed our rental car and headed to our now favorite place to stay: Beach Villas at Kahaluu. AirBNB.com offered this gem at a steal of a price. We enjoyed 2 bedrooms (a great way to enjoy the evening after the kiddo goes to sleep), a kitchen and best of all, one of the best snorkling beaches was ACROSS THE STREET! Score points for entertaining a kid without a drive! Also, points for having a great pool right below our window – perfect for a pre-nap dip.

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While in the Kona area, several activities stand out as fantastic experiences. Snorkeling with sea turtles before breakfast, eating and drinking delicious food to our hearts content (more on this later) and exploring the fabulous art and culture of the island were some of the highlights. The two things we did in the area that topped our list was a tour at the Three Ring Ranch and a tour at Hula Daddy Coffee.

The Three Ring Ranch will forever be one of my favorite experiences. It mixes kind people, animals, education and fun all in one. Ann is a spectacular host with an amazing story. She rescues exotic animals, brings them back to health and then teaches humans how to safely and effectively interact with the animals. It is a spectacular display of passion, education and an effectively run ranch. Plus, did I mention my daughter got to feed an ostrich? We met zebras, fed a buffalo, learned about monkeys, interacted with birds of all kinds. We learned about smaller animals and how they all interact with each other on the ranch. If you want an experience that you will never forget, give Ann a call. This is a true sanctuary and will therefore never be open to the public. Ann gives tours to collect donations to keep the lights on. We paid for a private tour so we could tailor the experience for our daughter (we didn’t want anyone else to have a terrible tour if our daughter decided to melt down). It was worth every penny and then some. A few tips: 1) make sure your kiddos can follow instructions and are ready to learn 2) remember sunscreen 3) prepare to be amazed!

The second amazing experience was the Hula Daddy Coffee Plantation tour. Book ahead on their website to book your spot. Use that little box to highlight what you are interested in because they do take it to heart! We were thrilled when we showed up ready for a 30 minute tour and they took nearly two hours to show us around a fantastic Kona coffee operation. We were treated to a personal interview with Laura their roaster who delighted us with a cupping of the weeks latest roast. We toured the field, got to know their roasting process and equipment, tasted some delicious brew and enjoyed learning about the history of the place. Did I mention it is a GORGEOUS tasting room complete with koa wood and every kind of brewing equipment you could ever want? Our daughter enjoyed every minute due to the copious geckos and cool rocks and plants to check out. We splurged and purchased a bag for home, which we now enjoy on weekends. We sip and remember the amazing time we had with the Hula Daddy crew!

Now for the food. Hawaiians really know how to make you feel at home. We were so happy to enjoy island style dishes, treats and drinks. While no place was bad, we were able to eat our way through the Kona area to find some new favorites.

The Kona Inn: We stumbled into this place after our daughter had a blow out and we needed a bathroom IMMEDIATELY. Low and behold, it was happy hour! Not only were they kind enough to let us use their facilities without question, we enjoyed some very strong drinks, friendly people, a beautiful view and great food! This place was a little spendy for us, but we splurged and had dinner here one evening. We even returned for more happy hour drinks because of their amazing keiki (kids) menu!

Island Lava Java: Best mai tai of our trip and had an excellent poke app!

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Island Lava Java wins best mai tai of our trip!

The Frenchman’s Cafe: Go here, order literally anything off the menu and coffee and sit outside. This is a breakfast that I will remember for years to come. This delightful french cafe is the perfect place to start your day. The owners and staff are wonderfully kind people, the food is some of the best breakfast food I’ve had and its all top notch quality. We picked up some coffee and honey to enjoy for the rest of our stay here as well. They were wonderful with our daughter to boot!

Da Poke Shack: A welcome shack beckoning with delicious fish! Hands down the best poke I have ever had. Plus the selection is amazing. Be prepared for a line, but they have their process down – it goes relatively quickly. It was all amazing, but especially the avocado poke. Go there. They didnt have much for our daughter, so plan accordingly if you have a kiddo, but if you like poke at all, its worth it!

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The Holuakoa Garden Cafe: This is a beautiful, farm to table garden cafe near the coffee plantations and Holuakoa artist shops. Enjoy a slow, delicious breakfast here – it is a great, leisurely start to the day. They have a beautiful koi pond and have a wonderful kids menu. They even brought out food for our daughter to feed the fish! This is one of the nicer places we went – be sure to get a reservation and don’t be in a hurry!

One Aloha Shave Ice: While all shave ice is good shave ice, this was the best for us. They had an enormous selection of house-made syrups and offered tons of delicious samples. Their place is worth the walk up from the main drag in Kona! Our daughter had a great time exploring their restaurant area.

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Kona Brewing: Any beer lover will enjoy the Kona Brewing experience. We made the mistake of not being hungry when we went, but we enjoyed lots of great local beer! All of this food was packed up and went with us back to the condo. The kids plate is no joke! Expect a wait, but its worth it to settle down with a fresh brewski!

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Kona treated us so well, we were reluctant to leave. We stumbled into an Avocado festival, enjoyed lots of sunny walks on the beach, showed our daughter all kinds of new flowers, animals and of course, the ocean. The people of Kona were stunning and we are so grateful for a wonderful experience. We loaded up our giant avocado, our full bellies and a copious amount of gecko books and pointed the van toward Volcano to round out our adventure.

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