Category Archives: Beaches

Kahalu’u Beach Park; Great beginner snorkeling

 

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Paradise would not be complete without warm, tropical, blue-green water. The water is one of the main reasons I am drawn to Hawaii or anywhere tropical for that matter. As we planned our trip to Kona this year, I did a fair amount of research on where the best places would be to go snorkeling with a 6-year-old and 34-month-old.

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What we stumbled across was a fabulous little beach just south of Kailua-Kona, called Kahalu’u Beach Park. This turned out to be the perfect beach for my little family. We ended up coming here on several occasions and used it as our goto spot aka, our backup plan.

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Kahalu’u is a protected cove, meaning that the water is fairly calm and easy to navigate. The beach has a coarser salt and pepper colored sand, and the beach area is rather small. The facilities here are very nice and every time we came here, there were classes and activities for the youth, and volunteers on standby to teach about the fish, corals, and sea turtles in Kahalu’u bay.

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One of the best things about this park is that it is completely free.

The parking is free, and access to the beach is free (as it should be). A catering truck shows up daily offering food, shave ice, iced coffee, and even locker rentals for $5 for the day so you can store your valuables safely while you are in the water.

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As far as being kid friendly we could not ask for anything more. The water was calm and the fish population is pretty dense. This trip was an opportunity to introduce our kids to the ocean undersea life, and we wanted to do so in a positive way.

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For the nearly 3-year-old, we purchased a Sea Window snorkeling raft. This is a raft that is made for adults up to 300 lbs. It has a viewing window that magnifies the underwater view by 25x. The size made it perfect for our youngest to lay on and feel completely safe while being able to enjoy the fish and corals along with the rest of us. (it was well worth the $59 price tag). For the 6-year-old, we purchased a $3 donut raft. This gave him some security and confidence as he braved the open waters with us.

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This little bay is amazing. The corals are abundant and beautiful, as well as the fish. We found that closer in to shore, the water was a little murky, however, this seemed to be where most of the snorkelers were hanging out. We made our way a little further out and found the water to be exceedingly clear and the scenery and wild life to be quite stunning, with hardly any other snorkelers around. We saw sea turtles on every visit here. We also spotted a moray eel as well as a zebra eel. The concentration and variety of fish was incredible. We spent many hours in the water here and always tried to squeeze in a trip to this beach whenever we had a some spare time in our day.

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The kids would lose interest in snorkeling after a while, but they would stay entertained for hours playing on the beach. My wife and I took turns snorkeling while the other one sunbathed and kept an eye on the kids. The volunteers at this beach have a true love for the sea life and are very knowledgeable. They are an asset to the park and were there to educate the public and to protect the reefs and stop the tourist from trying to feed or harass the fish and sea turtles.

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Go to Kahalu’u if:

 

  1. You have small kids
  2. you are a beginning snorkeler or want to learn how to snorkel.
  3. you want to see and possibly swim next to sea turtles
  4. you are on a budget and want a fun, low-cost adventure
  5. you are staying in Kailua-Kona and you have an hour or two to spare

Don’t go if:

  1. You like challenging intermediate to advanced snorkeling (or scuba diving)
  2. you are looking for a quiet beech to lay in the sun
  3. you don’t want to be around children (mainly on the beach or close in)
  4. you can’t keep from standing on the corals.

Snorkeling can work up your appetite. Fortunately, just a short trip up the road from Kahalu’u, we discovered one of the best places to eat ahi poke (pronounced POH-kay) in Kailua-kona; Da Poke Shack. If you are a fan of poke, don’t pass this place up. If you are not a fan, they offer some awesome Huli Huli Chicken and Kailua Pork that will satisfy even the most discerning palate.  To compliment the perfect Hawaiian meal, keep your eyes open for a roadside coconut vendor. For about $5, they slice off the top of a fresh, young, green coconut and stick a straw in it, and serve you the freshest coconut water available.

Snorkeling with the family at Kahalu’u, lunch at Da Poke Shack, and a fresh green coconut to drink = the perfect Hawaiian experience.

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Doran Beach

At the edge of a town made famous in Alfred Hitchcocks’ classic, “The Birds”, and at the foot of a would be nuclear power plant, there is one of Sonoma counties best beaches: Doran beach aka Doran Regional Park.

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 Doran Regional Park is on a peninsula separating Bodega Bay from the pacific ocean. If I could use one word to describe this beach, it would be “Windy.”

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Cold and windy might be a bit more accurate, however, I really don’t want to come off sounding like I am putting this place down, after all, I bring the family to Doran beach quite often. Kite borders and kite fliers both take advantage of this wind, and celebrate it.  Doran Regional Park, is a crescent shaped sand bar, for all intents and purposes, consisting of a campground, boat launch, and day use beach areas.

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The Bodega Bay side of the peninsula, is where most of the campsites are located, tucked in between sand dunes, ice plant and a few windswept trees. The campsites are all equipped with fire rings and picnic benches, but do not offer any onsite electric or water hook ups for RV’ers. The downside to this is the constant background drone of RV generators running so their occupants can sit inside and watch TV…isn’t the point of camping to escape all that? Apparently not for everyone! There are restrooms and shower facilities available throughout the campground and along the beach day use areas which makes it enjoyable for tent campers, RV’ers, and day trippers alike. 

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There are several things that keep us coming back to Doran Beach year round: The crescent shape of the sandy beach, the proximity to our home, dungeoness crab, and fishing (Notice how I did not mention warm weather).You may question what the shape of the beach has to do with anything. Let me explain: The ocean along the northern California coast, tends to be rough, choppy, and prone to rip tides and dangerous conditions. The beach at Doran offers protection from the onslaught of waves and currents depending on where you are along the beach. The further out that you go along the peninsula, the more protected and calmer the water is. As of this writing, I have a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old. We tend to go all the way to end of the beach right next to the jetty, if we are only going for the day. The water is calm enough here that we can let our kids play as much as they would like (in the frigid water), without concern that they are going to be knocked over by a rouge wave.

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When we feel like freezing our butts off along with the kids, we will move further down the beach where the waves are a little more prevalent and take the boys out into the water and let the waves chase us back to the shore…until we are completely numb from the cold. The kids will do this until they are blue and their teeth are chattering. They love this game. If we happen to be camping, we have the option to retreat to our campground and warm up by the fire. If we are using the day use area, we will wrap the kids in blankets, and curl up next to them in sand and soak up the warmth of the sun.

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A little aside here: When leaving the beach for the day, we always drive around to the opposite side of the Bodega Bay to warm our bones with the BEST clam chowder anywhere: Spud Point Crab Company. This is a tiny little place that is standing room only and there is almost always a line out the door. It is well worth the wait!

Although I am not big on fishing, our older boys are. The jetty at Doran offers some decent fishing and poke pole fishing, as well as crabbing. When camping here, we often enjoy a meal of fresh dungeoness crab, rock crab, and monkey faced eel. When feeling ambitious, we will sometimes travel around the bay to Bodega Head and harvest some fresh mussels from the rocks at low tide, and then steam them in white wine for an extra tasty treat.

There is so much to do at this beach that we never get bored coming here. Bring your bikes, kayaks, stand-up paddle board, kite board, kites, binoculars (bird watching), fishing gear, poke poles, crab pots… there is something for everyone. Doran is a great place for families. The facilities are well maintained, the campsites are spacious, the beaches clean, and you can always count on the wind, so bring a kite. But most importantly, bring warm clothing and dress in layers. Fog is a staple here, second only to the wind.

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I consider myself tropical so I complain about the “cold” at Doran, but many people come here in the summer to escape the inland heat. I can speak from experience when I tell you that we left our home just 24 miles away and a temperature of 102° and arrived at Doran and 66° just 40 minutes later. This natural air-conditioning also makes this park fill up quickly on hot days, so plan on arriving early or you wont be allowed in. Camping reservations need to be made a minimum of 10 days in advance, and most weekends it is hard to find an open spot when reserving a campsite less than a month out.

Doran is a popular site for all that it offers but due to the way the beach and campground is laid out, It never feels really all that crowded. There are some notable days here that are worth mentioning: Castles and Kites, is an annual castle building and kite flying celebration, usually in May, and Fireworks on the Bay, which usually takes place on the 5th of July. Doran beach will be booked up far in advance for both of these celebrations, so planning ahead is essential. 

I will cover Bodega Bay, and the town of Bodega more extensively on a future post.The town and the bay have their own small town charm and are worthy of exploration even if you don’t like the beach or camping. As for Doran Beach, I may complain about the cold, but we come here year round, and have camped here regularly around New Years. So please, take my rantings about the cold with a grain of salt. Everyone has their kryptonite, the cold just happens to be mine.