With the exception of a few bars in Kailua-Kona and Hilo, the Big Island tucks in early, all the better to rise at daybreak, when the weather is cool and the roads (and waves) are open. But live Hawaiian music is everywhere these days, and it’s easy to catch free, engaging hula shows, too, thanks to the courtyard stages at resort malls .
When the sun goes down, the scene heats up in and around Alii Drive. Among the hot spots: On the Rocks, next to Huggo’s restaurant, at 75-5824 Kahakai Rd. (www.huggosontherocks.com; tel. 808/329-1493), has Hawaiian music and hula nightly, till 11pm Friday and Saturday and 10pm Sunday. Across the way in the Coconut Grove Market Place, Laverne’s Sports Bar (formerly Lulu’s; www.laverneskona.com; tel. 808/331-2633) draws a 20-something crowd with happy-hour specials, theme nights, and late-night DJs on weekends. An eclectic mix of musicians—including jazz, country, and rock bands—perform at Bongo Ben’s, 75-5819 Alii Dr. (www.bongobens.com; tel. 808/329-9203), open till 10pm nightly. Rays on the Bay, inside the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa , lures locals and visitors to Keauhou with firepits, a great happy hour, nightly live music, and perhaps best of all, free valet parking.
Sharing Stories & Aloha Under the Stars
If your timing is right, your visit will include the best free entertainment on the island: Twilight at Kalahuipua’a, a monthly Hawaiian-style celebration that includes storytelling, singing, and dancing on the oceanside lawn in front of the Eva Parker Woods Cottage on the Mauna Lani Resort (www.maunalani.com/about/big-island-hawaii-events; tel. 808/881-7911). Held the Saturday closest to the full moon, these events are beloved by visitors and residents alike. Performers include entertainers revered throughout Hawaii as well as local kupuna (elders), who gather to “talk story,” accompanied by music and hula. The show starts at 5:30pm, but the audience starts arriving an hour earlier, with picnic fare and beach mats. Bring yours, and plan to share food as well as the fun. Parking for the event is free, too.
The Kohala Coast
All the resort hotels have at least one lounge with nightly live music, usually traditional or contemporary Hawaiian, often with hula. Members of the renowned Lim Family perform at varying times and venues in the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows , while award-winning singer Darlene Ahuna sings from 7 to 10pm Tuesday to Thursday in the Reef Lounge of the Hapuna Beach PrinceHotel.. Lava Lava Beach Club has created a lively scene at the Waikoloa Beach Resort with nightly music and hula overlooking “A-Bay”.
Just beyond the resorts lies a great open-air music spot—the Blue Dragon, 61–3616 Kawaihae Rd., Kawaihae (www.bluedragonhawaii.com; tel. 808/882-7771), where you can enjoy music—jazz, rock, Hawaiian swing—often with dancing, Thursday through Sunday.
For a uniquely Big Island alternative to a luau, experience An Evening at Kahua Ranch (www.kahuaranch.com), which includes a barbecue with open bar, line dancing, rope tricks, a campfire singalong, and stargazing, on the North Kohala ranch 3,200 feet above the coast. The 3-hour event costs $119 for adults and $60 for kids 6 to 11 (free for kids under 6) with hotel shuttle; drive yourself and it’s $95 and $48, respectively. Festivities start at 6pm Wednesday in summer, 5:30pm in winter.
Opened in 1925, the neoclassical Palace Theater, 38 Haili St. (www.hilopalace.com; tel. 808/934-7010), screens first-run independent movies and hosts concerts, festivals, hula, and theater to support its ongoing restoration. Hilo Town Tavern, 168 Keawe St. (tel. 808/935-2171), is a Cajun restaurant and dive bar open till 2am daily, with a nice pool room and live music. It also supports downtown Hilo’s First Friday Art Walk, the first Friday of each month, when local shops and galleries offer music and refreshments till 8pm.
The bustling Wednesday-night marketplace (5–10pm) at the family compound of Uncle Robert’s Awa Club, at the end of the road in Kalapana (tel. 808/443-6913),typically includes live music from 6 to 9pm. You can try some of the mildly intoxicating awa (the Hawaiian word for kava) at the tiki bar then, or come back Friday night for more live music, starting at 6.
luaus’ new tasteof Old Hawaii
Let’s face it, you will probably never have a truly great meal at a luau, thanks to the numbers served, but on the Big Island you can have a very good meal, with a highly enjoyable—and educational—show to boot. That’s because buffets now offer more intriguing (and tasty) items such as pohole ferns, warabi shoots, and Molokai sweet potatoes, while the shows feature more local history, from the first voyagers to paniolo days, plus the usual fire knife dance and Polynesian revue. Especially if it’s your first time in Hawaii, I recommend one of these oceanfront luaus:
* Haleo (www.haleoluau.com) at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa is simply the best in Kailua-Kona and Keauhou (Mon 4:30pm; also Fri in summer; $88 adults, $55 children 6–12).
* Gathering of the Kings (www.gatheringofthekings.com) at the Fairmont Orchid Hawaii , has the best selection of island-style food, including seafood lū’au, the taro leaf-coconut stew that gave these feasts their name (Sat 4:30pm; $109 adults, $75 children 5–12).
* Legends of Hawaii (www.hiltonwaikoloavillage.com/resort-experiences/legends-of-hawaii-luau) at Hilton Waikoloa Village is the most family-friendly, with pillow seating upfront for kids, plus a show-only price of $60 (Tues, Fri, and Sun 5:30pm; $112 adults, $102 seniors and teens 13–17, $57 children 5–12; free for children 4 and under).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.