Hawaii - The Big Island Travel Guide

USA  #2 in Best Places to Visit in December
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Hawaii - The Big Island Area Map

Neighborhoods

Many people refer to the Big Island in terms of its Leeward (or western Kona side) and its Windward (or eastern Hilo side), but there are other major designations. Areas like Kau, Puna, Waimea, or Pahoa (mostly in the interior or southeast) see fewer visitors. Most travelers spend the majority of their time in northwestern Kona, where the resort area of the Kohala Coast lies; the eastern capital city of Hilo. Beaches in Kona on the Kohala Coast are particularly popular, but there are also a few coveted shores on the southwest coast. And then there are the volcanoes. Big Island's most visited volcanoes are found in the in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, on the southeast side.

Kailua-Kona (or Kona, for short) is known for its beaches and calm turquoise waters. Most of the resort areas are located on the Kohala Coast, just north of Kona town, and this is a great place to stay or visit for its touristy shops and cafes, as well as outdoorsy activities. Check out the beautiful beaches of Kaunaoa or Hapuna, north of Kona off of HI-19. Nearby Anaehoomalu Beach, commonly known as A-Bay, offers calm waters for trying water activities, such as stand-up paddle boarding. 

History buffs may also want to explore Kona for its significant cultural sites, including Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park and Hulihee Palace.

Hilo is the capital of Big Island as well as its largest city, and it's known for its funky, hippy-like ambience. Located on the eastern or windward coast, this town is home to the University of Hawai'i at Hilo and Hilo International Airport. Its popular attractions include the always-busy Hilo Farmers Market or the Akaka Falls State Park. If you're looking for a natural attraction a bit closer to downtown Hilo, consider Wailuku River State Park, which sits less than 5 miles west of the city center and is home to an 80-foot waterfall.

Remote as it may be, Hamakua is steadily becoming a popular place to hole up in a private cottage or romantic bed-and-breakfast. The north coast area also has a particularly popular tourist attraction: The beautiful Waipio Valley, or "Valley of the Kings." 

Some of Big Island's top attractions are also located in small towns that just touch –  but are not part of –  Hilo, Kona or on the Hamakua Coast. One such place, the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, spreads through much of the southeast. At some point during your trip, you're likely to end up here. This park is where the Kilauea volcano is often spewing lava into the sea; its now-dormant Mauna Kea volcano is the highest point in the state.

Crime is rare on the Big Island. Your primary concern should be water safety. While the water temperature is almost always agreeable, winter surf can get very rough, especially along the north shore and on the beaches in the west coast. Strong currents have caused drownings in the past, so swim with caution and never enter the water alone or without the supervision of a lifeguard. If you plan to hike or walk along the coastline, be sure to wear sneakers or protective footwear so that your feet aren't exposed to sharp rocks. You should also wear sunscreen, especially at higher altitudes.

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