#1 Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Worthy of several days for full exploration, it’s still worth a visit if you have only one day. That’s enough time to experience HVNP’s Thurston Lava Tube, museums, trails and steaming vents.
For pure magic, visit Jaggar Museum to view Kilauea’s Halemaumau Crater lava lake after dark. Avid hikers can reserve space for weekly guided four-mile treks to and into Puapoo Lava Tube, an ornate natural wonder with lavacicles, driblet spires, lava lines and flow ripples.
Quaint and cute, Hilo brims with historic buildings, parks, museums and lush gardens. Flowers thrive, especially within Queen Liliuokalani Gardens’ 30 acres of Hawaiian and Oriental plantings, walkways, pagodas, bridges and ponds. Also scope out Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots, the terraced pools that fed by Peepee Falls in heavy rains and bubble as if they are boiling.
#3 Hamakua Coast
This stunning north coast area is known for its Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive garnished by lush rainforests and waterfalls. Akaka Falls State Park delivers two beautiful cascades on one short hike. The overlook view of Waipio Valley is stunning. Get up close and explore the valley via van tour, hiking or horseback riding. Or discover the coast with a different perspective on a boat excursion that voyages off black sand beaches, sea caves and nearly 40 stunning waterfalls plunging over towering cliffs into Onomea Bay.
#4 Waimea Town
Home of the paniolo (cowboy), Waimea rests some 2,500 feet above sea level amid rolling hills, rail-fenced pastures and plenty of fresh mountain air. Its 225,000-acre Parker Ranch owns bragging rights as the largest single-owned cattle ranch in the U.S.
Adding recreation to its ranching endeavors, nearby Kahua Ranch lets you explore Waimea’s scenic landscapes by horseback or ATV.
Expert tip: Stay on for the evening to enjoy a Big Island sunset with paniolo-style barbecue dinner, live music, dancing and toasty campfire.
The ancient playground of Hawaiian royalty, this former fishing village more commonly known as Kona is coveted for deep sea fishing. On Alii Drive, you’ll find Mokuaikaua Church, Hulihee Palace and Kamakahonu, the restored compound where King Kamehameha spent his final years. This mellow town is a hub for primo sport fishing, stand up paddling and kayaking in typically gentle waters.
Expert tip: Grab a table at oceanfront eateries like Huggo’s to savor a legendary Kona Coast sunset.
#6 Snorkeling at Kealakekua
Flaunting some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling, Kealakekua Bay is marked by a monument honoring explorer Captain James Cook who lost his life there in 1779. Here, you can meander amid abundant marine life within coral and lava rock reefs. Below-the-surface visibility is up to 100 feet deep.
#7 Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Beyond Kealakekua, the “City of Refuge” was a 16th century sanctuary for defeated warriors and war victims. Once inside the lava rock compound, they could be blessed for returning safely to society.
Expert tip: Soak in the sacred calm by dialing 808-217-9279 on your cell phone to plug into an audio walking tour.