Snorkling at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Snorkling at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel; Photo: Courtesy of Mauna Kea Resort

The youngest and largest island in the archipelago, Hawai‘i Island is home to 10 different climate types, black sand beaches, lava flows, and even snowfall. Here, the insider's guide to the island's can't-miss beaches, activities, restaurants, and more.

By Caroline McKenzie

Secret Beach: Kahalu‘u Beach Park
The big payoff at this tiny, sheltered cove on the west side of the island is what’s under the water: The snorkeling is out of this world. Get here before 10 a.m. for the best show of colorful fish, and bring some dive socks (to navigate the rocks) and cash (to rent your snorkeling gear). 

Mauna Kea
Christopher Chan/Getty

Famous and Worth It: Maunakea
The highest point in the state (13,796 feet above sea level) is an epic journey to an astronomically important and environmentally sensitive site that literally takes the breath out of breathtaking in both aesthetic and physical terms. Be mindful of the potentially serious effects of high altitude, and check with the folks at the Visitor Information Station (VIS) on the way up for the mountain’s changeable weather conditions. Stargazing is available at the VIS four nights a week.

Old-School Favorite: Punalu‘u Bake Shop
The southern portion of Hawai‘i is pleasantly frozen in time. No surprise it’s the location of the classic Punalu‘u Bake Shop, which makes the island’s best cookies and sweet breads. Resist the urge to order macadamia nut–filled everything and also sample a few of the taro-infused treats.

Shopping Stop: Pueo Boutique
With a focus on local brands, this shop with two locations in Kailua-Kona curates clothing (including for kids), handbags, and home-design items. Pueo also has a namesake line emblazoned with the short-eared owl that’s native to the islands—a portion of proceeds from sales of these products goes to the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center.

Top-Notch Mai Tai: Jackie Rey's Ohana Gril Hilo
There’s always a little hyperbole in mai tai world, but this restaurant’s “Da Best” Mai Tai earns its moniker thanks to both the happy-hour price ($5) and the fresh ingredients, including a giant slice of pineapple.

Sushi U
Courtesy of @lilfoodiefamily

Meal of the Moment: Sushi U
Locals love Samuel Sapp’s take-out spot in Kailua-Kona, and the option to customize your own rolls. While Yelp may say the place is open until 4 p.m., anyone who knows better will tell you the sign says, “11-pau (finished).” Plan accordingly, and stay chill about it; 808/756-0163. 

Natural Wonder: Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park
It’s a must. Make time to do Volcanoes' Crater Rim Drive, a tour of the summit of Kīlauea volcano with plenty of stop-offs, including the cool and misty Steam Vents lookout. The $25 park pass is good for seven days; plan a return trip for a day hike.

Kona's coffee country
Danita Delimont/Alamy

Culture Excursion: Kona's Coffee Country
Combine sunshine, art, and coffee and you have a day in Kona. This sunny and expansive stretch on the island’s western flank is home to more than 600 coffee farms, and many are open for tours and tastings. For a charming double team of art and history, stop in Hōlualoa, a small village and art enclave perched in the upland farms.

Snorkling at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
Snorkling at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel; Photo: Courtesy of Mauna Kea Resort

Rest Your Head At: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
In 1965, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel opened as Hawai‘i Island’s first resort. More than half a century later, the property includes a championship golf course, a secluded shoreline, and an expansive collection of Pacific-Rim artwork and artifacts. While there, ask the beach bartender for a “Fredrico.” Locals swear by one (or two). Rates start at $455.

Souvenir Power Move: Pareu From Sig Zane Designs
Swing by the textile designer’s flagship Hilo store and score an exquisite pareu (Tahitian for “sarong”). You’ll marvel at the fine detailing of Zane’s Hawaiian flora and tribal motifs, along with the versatility of the piece (swim cover-up, wall-hanging, or folded as a carryall, to name a few).Related: Perfect Weekend on the Island of Hawai'i:

Sweet Sunset Spot: Hāpuna Beach State Recreation Area
Whether you roll up to this beach near Maunakea just for the celestial show or spend the entire day on these broad, pale sands, the setting sun shimmers unforgettably on the placid waters here.

Prime Watering Hole: Lava Lava Beach Club
This spot on Anaeho‘omalu Bay is an esteemed hangout of the toes-in-the-sand variety. Not to be missed: Hawaiian music legend Henry Kapono, who performs the third Friday night of each month.

Don't Leave Before You: Snorkel with Manta Rays...at Night
Snorkelers and scuba divers alike hail Big Island Divers’s manta ray night excursion, where the giant creatures swirl between plankton-attracting light boxes. Spring for the GoPro add-on and capture your very own take on the once-in-a-lifetime experience. Excursions start at $10.

Insider Take: Where the Architect Goes for Inspiration
“The Big Island’s ancient spiritual landmarks have a powerful presence. There’s the temple of Pu‘ukoholā Heiau and the sacred Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau. I’m also moved by Hawai‘i’s numerous rural churches—humble structures that speak to a simpler time.” —Mark De Reus, founder of De Reus Architects