As the largest isle in the Hawaiian archipelago, the Big Island inspires wonder from sea level to summit. With 10 of the world’s 14 major climate zones, the Island of Hawaii’s scenery changes drastically every few miles. Within a day it’s possible to make a snow angel atop Mauna Kea and a sand castle at Hapuna Beach, mosey past a ranch and swing into a jungle, or marvel at an active volcano and sip your way through a coffee farm. The options are endless. These beautiful contrasts not only attract visitors but woo locals with vacation-level wonders at every turn. Here are their inspirations, starting at the beach (spoiler alert: Locals love paradise, too).
1. Find the Daily Catch
The romance of living off the land and sea is “reel” in Hawaii. Surrounded by an ocean teeming with fish, locals take the concept of fresh (ie: caught within a few hours) very seriously. To get onboard with the way citizens of the Aloha State source and savor their catch, charter a deep-sea fishing boat with Pursuit Sport Fishing. Owner Jason Holtz, a fourth-generation captain, has chased marlin in more than 10 countries around the globe giving him an encyclopedic knowledge of fish-to-fork living.
2. Order Up some Hawaiian Comfort Food
While verandas with a view, such as Huggo’s or the Lava Lava Beach Club, are local delights, there’s a bevy of island-insider eateries outside the tourist lens. Find true Hawaiian cooking at Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea or Hilo. Serving the Aloha State’s signature comfort foods, the beloved diner’s must-try dishes include Hawaiian sweet bread french toast, loco moco (white rice topped with two hamburger patties, grilled onions, an egg, and brown gravy) or beef stew with ingredients sourced from surrounding foothills. Know before you go: Portion sizes are fit for a king, so consider sharing to leave room for the next stop on your culinary adventure at TEX Drive-In. Here you’ll find the treat you can’t leave Hawaii without trying: a Malasada. Topped with sugar or filled with guava or chocolate, these doughy, handmade donuts are as popular as shave ice and don’t seem to have any calories (because calories don’t count on vacation).
3. Head for the Hills
In addition to slippers (the local name for flip-flops), hiking boots are among the regular footwear you’ll find on a Hawaiian’s doorstep. With jungles, lava fields and snow-topped peaks dotting the terrain, hiking is an ideal way to experience the island’s diverse climate zones—and views!—first-hand (or first-foot). Trails of varying lengths and skill levels can be found at every point from sea to summit, though one trek residents and tourists treasure is the Pololu Valley Outlook trail (pictured right). Praised for its panoramic views over verdant cliffs, this heart-pumping trail also boasts a wild and untouched beach at the halfway point. For a different top-of-the-world perspective, head to Pu’u Wa’awa’a, an ancient cinder cone featuring a network of well-maintained trails in the upland’s rolling ranchland. Note: Weather patterns change quickly, so bring sturdy shoes and clothing for sun and rain.
4. Hunt down a Secluded Beach
Tourists aren’t the only ones who flock to the Island of Hawaii’s gorgeous ribbons of sand—locals love the easy-breezy beach life, too. From manicured to rugged, all beaches in the State of Hawaii are public, so anyone can enjoy the white-, black- and green-sand shorelines. If sugary shores make your heart swell, take your footprints to Hapuna Beach along the sunny Kohala Coast. Adored by locals for its flat entry and top-notch conditions for sunning and swimming, this best-in-class beach is the kind of place where you can find solitude even when it’s busy. Another can’t-miss section of sand is Waialea Beach, known by island insiders for its kiawe trees shading the shore—no beach umbrella required! The beach is also part of a marine life conservation district, so both the sand and the water are pristine.
5. Treat your Taste Buds at the Farmer’s Market
In addition to the island’s fertile surf, its turf is so abundant that some restaurants source their entire menu within a 15-mile radius. Locals take advantage of this field-fresh lifestyle at the plentiful farmers’ markets around the island. Tune your tastebuds to Hawaii’s just-picked provisions in Waimea—in the heart of the island’s pastures—known for its literal bounty of produce pop-ups. Visiting on a Saturday morning will allow you to browse the Waimea Town Farmers’ Market at the Parker School for all the fieldfare including Waimea Strawberries, celebrated by local celeb chefs Sam Choy and Peter Merriman as the world’s juiciest variety.
6. Enjoy the Freshest Coffee you’ll Ever Taste
Mention Kona coffee to any coffee enthusiast and they’ll long for the soothing taste of the region’s light and fruity brew. Shipped to coffeehouses around the globe, the famous beans are especially cherished by the local folk who can easily access freshly roasted batches at estates along the Kona countryside. One of these addresses is Greenwell Farms, where the Greenwell family has grown coffee beans since 1850. Stop by to visit the shop or take a soil-to-sip farm tour. Make sure you save space in your suitcase to bring home bags of liquid gold for those moments when you want to be transported back to paradise for a hot minute.
7. Indulge in A-List Amenities
And finally, the splurge-factor. Blessed with gorgeous resorts that invest heavily in the landscape and their A-list amenities, the Big Island has indulgence dialed—something locals tap into for special occasions or a day of pampering. The sweet spot for splurging at the spa or sipping Champagne under the glow of tiki torches is The Fairmont Orchid. The resort’s Hawaiian royalty-inspired spa treatments in thatched-roof waterfall huts and sustainable fare served under the stars at Brown’s Beach House consistently top best-of lists by islanders and visitors alike.