Kauna'oa Bay, Hawaii
Picture Hawaii and you're probably conjuring images of Kauna'oa Bay without even realizing it. Located on the Kohala Coast of the Aloha-state's Big Island, Kauna'oa Bay is quintessential, picture-postcard Hawaii. With its abundant white sand, palm trees and clear, calm blue water, the crescent-shaped beach is a natural draw for sun worshipers, water sport enthusiasts and families in search of safe, sandy fun.
Perched at the water's edge is the beach's most dominant feature, The Westin Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, a name almost synonymous with Kauna'oa Bay. If you're staying at the Westin Mauna Kea or its nearby sister resort, Westin Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, you're in luck. Both resorts offer complete access to the beach at Kauna'oa Bay and give guests the full use of either resorts' plush facilities.
If you're not a resort guest, don't worry, you can still enjoy the beach via a public access entrance, but with some restrictions. The Westin Mauna Kea maintains both its own beach and the public beach and limits public access to 25 passes at any given time.
Best on the Beach
Westin Mauna Kea Beach Resort
Like the beach, the 310-room Westin Mauna Kea Beach resort is vintage Hawaii. Built in 1965, it was the first resort to break ground on the Kohala Coast. In addition to standard guestrooms, all with private lanai, the resort has 10 suites, including the granddaddy of them all, the 8,000 square foot, free-standing Hapuna suite.
Throughout the resort, more than 1,600 museum-quality pieces of Asian and Pacific art grace the walls. Outside, lush vegetation - Kauna'oa is also the name of the vine that grows on the bay's shoreline - combined with meticulous landscaping create a lavish backdrop to this paradise.
Next Best Bet
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel
If there's one strip of sand on the Big Island that rivals Kauna'oa Bay, it's Hapuna Beach and the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, nestled in the cliffs above. The resort, with its 350 guest rooms, including 36 suites, shares 1,839 acres with its sister property, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
The area takes its name from underground springs that once created natural artesian fountains - called hapuna, or spring of life. The resort stays close to its roots, pledging to offer an environment where travelers can rejuvenate. Guests here also have full privileges at the Westin Mauna Kea, just a short walk or free bus ride away.
Best Family Hotel
Hilton Waikoloa Village
The locals call Hilton Waikoloa Village Disneyland and, like the land of Mickey, it hits the mark with kid-friendly features - a monorail, an acre of swimming pools, a lazy river, a man-made beach and a four-acre lagoon complete with dolphins. The resort's 1,240 guestrooms and suites are divided among three low-rise towers. Seven restaurants serve up Japanese, Chinese and Italian as well as steak, seafood, snacks and even organic dishes. Guests can also enjoy privileges at 2 golf courses, 8 tennis courts, 6 bars and an 18-hole executive putting course.
Kona Village Resort
With 125 individual cottages, Kona Village offers an escape from the modern world, without doing away with luxuries expected from a trip to paradise. There are no en suite telephones, TVs or radios and guests stay in individual, thatched roof cottages strewn across 82 acres of seaside property. Of course, you will never be far from the modern world and all of its diversions - pools, restaurants, bars, tennis, sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, volleyball, a glass-bottom boat and petroglyph tours are all available. Located about 15 miles south of Kauna'oa Bay, this resort also offers access to black-sand and white-sand beaches located nearby.
Food & Drink
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
Kamuela Provision Company
The popular Kamuela Provision Company at the Hilton Waikoloa Village serves up a stunning view of the Pacific along with creative Pacific fusion cuisine that takes full advantage of the sea's bounty as well as local gardens. The atmosphere is causal but the entrees are upscale. Sit inside or if it's whale season, ask to be seated in the lanai dining area, which offers some of the best whale watching in the resort. The restaurant is also home to the resort's only wine bar, with more than 40 labels offered by the glass.
Excellent Local Seafood
With plenty of fresh local seafood, and a curious combination of Italian and Asian inspiration, Cafe Pesto is a tasty alternative to the local resorts. Set in the tiny harbor town of Kawaihae, the Cafe began as a take-out pizzeria and quickly became associated with regional cuisine. Take your pick of culinary delights - from the fresh catch of the day, to wok-fired shrimp and scallops to Pacific island seafood risotto and, of course, hand-tossed pizzas with creative toppings.
Best Family Restaurant
Lu'au, Westin Mauna Kea Beach Resort
It might seem hokey, but for family fun Hawaiian style, a lu'au is a must. Every Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. on the oceanside lu'au grounds of the Westin Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, resort staff open the emu pit - an underground oven where a pig has been roasting for most of the day. The pig is removed, prepared and then served up as part of a traditional Hawaiian buffet. Join the feast and relax while local hula dancers entertain to the tune of ancient and modern Hawaiian music.
Best Kid Stuff
It may come as a surprise to most visitors - and their kids - that the 50th state is home to the nation's largest privately owned cattle ranch. Sprawled between the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes, the 225,000-acre Parker Ranch surrounds the town of Waimea and Kamuela. It produces 10 million pounds of beef each year, and its paniolos, or cowboys, work nearly 400 horses and more than 50,000 cattle. During the summer, there are even rodeos. The ranch also offers tours, wagon rides, historic homes and plenty of dining options - believe it or not, there's more than just beef.
Best Day Trip
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Home to both the world's most massive volcano, Mauna Loa, and the world's most active volcano, Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may be the Big Island's biggest attraction. The park's 218,000 acres range from sea level to a dizzying 13,677 feet at the peak of Mauna Loa. Kilauea's ongoing volcanic activity, meanwhile, continues to add mass to the Big Island, spewing molten lava that slowly increases the island's base. Hiking trails abound, as do cautions about the area's fragile ecosystem. The park has been named an International Biosphere Reserve as well as a World Heritage Site and more than half of its acres have been designated wilderness.
Best Site Seeing
The Big Island, although not the most populated of the Hawaiian islands, is the largest, so there is plenty of ground to cover. And the best views of the island's diverse terrain can be seen from the air. Helicopter operators close to the Kohala Coast include: Sunshine Helicopters: 808-882-1223; www.sunshinehelicopters.com
Mauna Kea Observatories Support Services
At 14,000 feet, Mauna Kea offers of one the island's best vantage points for exploring the sky. Each evening the Mauna Kea Observatory Visitor Information Station, located at 9,300 feet above sea level, hosts a stargazing program. The road to the visitor's center is paved and children are encouraged to visit, but to get higher into the mountain a 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed. Traveling the unpaved road to the summit is arduous and visitors must provide their own 4-wheel-drive transportation. In addition to its sky view, Mauna Kea also offers another rare Hawaiian treat - skiing. There are no lifts or ropes, but for those who want to race down a snow-covered mountain before they head back to the beach, there is no better bet.