The Big Island of Hawaii is a little bit country and a whole lot of lava rock and roll—especially whenever Kilauea is pouring hot magma into the Pacific at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the eastern shore. (Check with the park service for eruption updates.) Far from urban Honolulu, this mostly rural island has its own cowboy culture, farmers’ markets, tropical rain forests, and black-, green-, and white-sand beaches. Learn how to ride horseback like a real paniolo, or Hawaiian cowboy, at Parker Ranch, in Waimea. Then head for nearby Village Burger, where chef Edwin Goto tops the island’s grass-fed beef with local avocados, mushrooms, and ripe tomatoes. Hike down the steep pali (cliff) into the lush, remote Pololu Valley, or explore neighboring Hapuna Beach State Park, one of the few white-sand stretches ideal for both body surfing and sunbathing. Wind up the day with a Tom’s Pink Shirt—guava liqueur, fresh strawberries, lime juice, and agave nectar—at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai’s Beach Tree bar; it has one of the best pau hana (cocktail hour) views at sunset.
Hawaii, the Big Island Active Tip: Big Island Eco Adventures will take you on an off-road safari in the North Kohala mountains. You’ll hike across a suspension bridge above a waterfall and ride the new 2,000-foot-long zipline above a tropical ravine. 510 Hawi Rd., Hawi; 808/889-5111; four-hour safaris from $169 per person.
Hawaii, the Big Island Family Tip: Teach the kids na lani—everything under the heavens—at the Imiloa Astronomy Center, in Hilo. This planetarium has a “Voyage Through Space” show that reviews 13 billion years of history, plus exhibits on Polynesian navigation and Hawaiian language classes. 600 Imiloa Place, Hilo; 808/969-9703.
Hawaii, the Big Island: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 7 island overall
No. 1 island in Hawaii
Cowboys of Hawaii at Parker Ranch Waimea; 808/887-1046; parkerranch.com; horseback-riding tours from $79 per person.
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai 72-100 Kaupulehu Dr., Kailua-Kona; 808/325-8000; fourseasons.com; doubles from $795; drinks for two $32.
Hapuna Beach State Park 2.3 miles south of Kawaihae on Hwy. 19; hawaiistateparks.org.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 808/985-6000; nps.gov/havo.
Village Burger Parker Ranch Center, Waimea; 808/885-7319; villageburgerwaimea.com; lunch for two $20.