A great launching point for sightseeing and fishing excursions, this pier is always a-bustle. On one day, an excited crowd may gather to see the weigh-in for a lucky angler's enormous marlin. On another, folks may witness the frenzy that takes place as more than 1500 world-class competitors await the sounding of the gun for the first leg of the Ironman Triathlon. Of course, there's much more to do. Fishing tackle can be rented by landlubbers wary of getting too far from terra firma. Plus, sunsets are nothing short of spectacular � rumor has it that the end of the pier has heard more than its share of marriage proposals.
Local Expert tip: Look for an outrigger canoe race.
The Big Island version of the Valley of the Kings, Waipi'o has long maintained a special place in the hearts of locals. Steeped in legend, the deep, narrow valley stretches some 5-plus miles, flanked on either side by towering rock walls. The valley floor is a lush tapestry of tropical flora, and guava, red banana, and taro hide a multitude of natural treasures, like tranquil freshwater streams and waterfalls. Tourists are discouraged from taking cars into the valley. A good alternative, though, is Waipi'o Valley Shuttle (808-775-7121), which offers narrated, 4-wheel drive tours. Visitors not wanting to take the 90-minute trip can experience the valley's beauty from the overlook.
Recommended for Beaches because: Waipi'o Valley is a gorgeous and sacred part of the island that enhances any visit.
Local Expert tip: You can only take a four wheel drive down into the valley.
Historically, Kawaihae Harbor is significant because from here King Kamehameha the Great and his followers set out to conquer other civilizations on the archipelago. Years later, ships dropped anchor with the first horses and cattle to set foot on the Big Island. In more recent times, the bay served as the setting for portions of Kevin Costner's film, Waterworld. Visitors may take in a stunning view of the bay from the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, a structure built in the late 18th century to honor the god of war, Kuka'ilimoku. Towering Mauna Kea is visible from the bay on clear days.
Local Expert tip: Stop by on the way to Pololulu Valley or while having dinner at Kawaihae Cafe Pesto.
Easily one of the Big Island's most popular beaches, Kahalu'u offers parking, equipment rental stalls, a covered pavilion, and a snack bar. A reef far offshore prevents the waters from getting too rough, making a terrific snorkeling opportunity. Have care, though: the beach tends to get crowded early since thousands of locals and tourists flock here to take advantage of the calm turquoise waters. Kahalu'u is situated between Kailua-Kona and Kealakekua.
Local Expert tip: Buy some fish food at the beach for an epic snorkeling experience.
Some beaches are beautiful, but you can't park anywhere near them. Old Kona Airport beach is attractive AND has lots of parking. In fact, the original airport runway now functions as a parking lot. It's ideal for a family outing, with picnic tables and shelters, showers, and Little League fields, plus ample opportunity for tidal pool exploration. The northern section of the mile-long beach is favored by local surfers and boogie boarders.
Local Expert tip: A perfect stop during a day in town.
One of the Big Island's top beaches, A-Bay is known for metallic, yellow-hued sands that earn it the nickname "Gold Coast." The bay's crystal blue waters are ideal for snorkeling, scuba, kayaking, surfing, and windsailing. Several popular resort hotels are within easy walking distance of the beach, so you can rest assured that it will always be peppered with a myriad of bathing beauties. During the winter, whales make an annual pass by Anaeho'omalu Bay, so make sure you bring a telescoping lens for your camera. Sea-turtles at play in the bay can also be seen.
Local Expert tip: Take a surf lesson here.
South of Hapuna Beach, Mauna Kea is regarded by many as one of Hawaii's – if not the world's – top beaches. Smooth, golden sands are flanked on one side by lush coconut groves and on the other by calm, crystalline waters protected from strong currents by a series of offshore lava flows. Try to arrive early – by 10am most days, you'll find the beach already staked out by sunbathers and the waters brimming with snorkelers, kids trying out new boogie boards, and those just wanting to cool off with a quick dip. Parking is limited, and the resort that maintains the beach allows only a certain number of visitors at a time – two more reasons to get there early.
Local Expert tip: Just go, it's truly amazing.
Wedged between Kau Desert and Ka Lae (the South Cape), this exquisite black sand beach is one of the Big Island's most beautiful. Although facilities are scarce, you'll likely find ample privacy since few visitors make it this far south, save an occasional sea turtle. Freshwater springs that bubble up from the cove's floor chill the water somewhat, making it all the more refreshing during summer months. An interesting tidbit: local legend suggests that the northern and southern tips of the cove were once sites of sacrificial stones.
Local Expert tip: A must stop for black sand beauty when taking the southern route to or from Kona.
Easily offering one of the best vistas on the island, this leaf-like peninsula extends far into the Pacific. In the mid-'40s, tragedy struck the village located here when a tsunami swept across the peninsula and claimed the lives of 24 people. A memorial in the park remembers that dreadful incident. Today, Laupahoehoe Point is a terrific place to spend the afternoon, whether your aim is to explore surrounding waterfalls or do some fishing. (Have care: the undertow can be deadly during winter months.) Camping is permitted at the park, and facilities include a pavilion area, restrooms, showers, and camping sites with drinking water and electrical outlets.
Local Expert tip: Stop for lunch and a swim down here along the drive to or form Hilo.
Hapuna Beach, nestled between Waikui and Puako, is known for being one of the cleanest, most family-friendly beaches on Hawaii. Its smooth, white sands extend far out into the surf, so wading in the shallows is easy on your feet. During summer months, the beach is at its widest and stays crowded from sunup to sunset; in contrast, winter months bring unfriendly waters with deadly riptides. (Combined with the fact that lifeguards don't work the beach during this season, swimming is unwise.) Beach facilities include camping areas, men's and women's showers, a snack bar, and a pavilion.
Local Expert tip: Spend a full beach day at Hapuna with lunch and ocean toys.