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Hawaii’s Famed Road

On the southwest coast of Hawaii, you can travel through history along the 65 miles from Kailua-Kona to South Point.

Kona Coast, illus. by Michale Klein
Photo caption
Keep gorgeous ocean views in sight as you drive 65 miles down the Kona Coast on the Big Island.

It's 65 miles from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii to Ka Lae, or South Point, where the southernmost tip of the United States ends in forbidding cliffs and the remains of an ancient, windswept temple. The Hawaiian kings who once walked here would be surprised by all the art galleries, tacky tiki culture, history markers, and coffee—some of the world's best—you can now find in one easy drive.

From Kailua-Kona travel 3.7 miles southeast to Holualoa, an old coffee town where you'll find painted gourds at Ipu Hale Gallery, ceramics at Holualoa Gallery, and hats at Kimura's Lauhala Shop. Continue south to Highway 11 and keep an eye out for Kainaliu's 1920s stores, the new and hot Keei Café, the old and reliable Aloha Angel Café in a 1932 theater, and the ugly, reddish orange Discovery Antiques and Ice Cream in Kealakekua. (Try the passion fruit sorbet.) Farther south near Captain Cook, stop for free java and a history lesson at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm.

Clearly marked detours all along Highway 11 will lead you to venerable spots such as the Captain Cook Monument; St. Benedict's Painted Church, a little country jewel with Sistine Chapel aspirations; and Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, where you'll encounter fierce tikis and the restored complex of a temple where Hawaiians who broke a kapu (ancient law) could seek refuge from certain death.

At South Point, look for olivine crystals (the kind found on the moon), the temple remains, and ancient canoe-mooring holes carved into the rock. Down the road at the Hana Hou Naalehu Coffee Shop in Naalehu, Patti Fujimoto makes apple pie just like Grandma's, and her onion soup is positively Parisian.

The southwest coast of Hawaii—65 miles from Kailua-Kona to South Point along Highway 11, not including detours.

Gallery hoppers, trinket shoppers, caffeine fiends, grazers, and old souls who know the destination isn't as important as the journey.

Any time you're on the Big Island.

Illustration by Michael Klein

This article was first published in January 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.