All of the hotels on the Kohala Coast have fine dining and at least one beach or poolside grill. The best luau is at Kona Village or Mauna Kea. Elsewhere, good food is found at:
BAMBOO RESTAURANT (Regional) Hwy. 270, Hawi; 808-889-5555. $$
THE CANOE HOUSE (Pacific Rim) 68-1400 Mauna Lani Drive, Kohala Coast; 808-885-6622. Long considered one of the island's best. $$$
KAWAIHAE HARBOR GRILL (Seafood) Kawaihae Road, Kawaihae; 808-882-1368. $$
MERRIMAN'S RESTAURANT (Regional) 65-1227 Hwy. 19, Kohala Coast; 808-885-6822. $$
PAHU I'A AT THE FOUR SEASONS (New American) 100 Kaupulehu Drive, Kaupulehu-Kona; 808-325-8333. One of the best--and priciest--on the island. $$$$
THE PAVILION AT MAUNA KEA (Continental) 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast; 808-882-7222. The best alfresco setting for brunch. $$ to $$$
ROY'S WAIKOLOA BAR AND GRILL (Pacific Rim) Waikoloa Beach Resort, Waikoloa; 808-886-4321. $$
Any short list of other activities does the Big Island a disservice, but the following must be included. The best guidebook for all details is Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed, The Ultimate Guidebook, by Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman (Wizard Publications).
POLOLU VALLEY and WAIPIO VALLEY, each about thirty miles from the Kohala Coast as the crow flies to the northeast, are spectacularly different worlds on the wet, windy, windward coast.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, two or three hours around the island from Kohala, has a bizarre terrain and the most active volcano in the U.S. The Kilauea Iki hike into, across and then out of a quiet but still-smoldering crater is phenomenal, and not difficult.
WHALE WATCHING during the winter is a given. You'll see them--or at least their spouts--from the beach, the cabana and even the highway, but getting among them on a boat is hard to beat. Captain Dan McSweeney's Year Round Whale-Watching Adventures, 808-322-0028. Rates: Adult $54.50; children $34.50.
HELICOPTER TOURS of the coasts, waterfalls and volcanoes are a blast and the best way to get an overall sense of the variety on the island. One dependable outfitter is Mauna Kea Helicopters, 808-885-6400. Rates: $140$310.
Because beaches require time--lots of time--to develop, and because the Big Island is the youngest in the Hawaiian chain, it has fewer beaches per mile of shoreline than the other islands. But it also has two of the best, and both are on the Kohala Coast. One is Kauna'oa, at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel; the other is Hapuna, a mile to the south and the premier amenity of the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. It's half a mile long and often voted the best in the state. Admission here is not a problem.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Drive, Kohala Coast. Rates: Free for hotel guests; limited passes available for public.
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, 62-100 Kauna'oa Drive, Kohala Coast. Rates: Free.