Hawaii’s top sights include Diamond Head State Park and Waimea Canyon…
Carved over countless centuries by the mighty Waimea River and the forces of wind and rain, this dramatic gorge is aptly nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Hiking and hunting trails wind through the canyon, which is 3,600 feet deep, 2 miles wide, and 10 miles long. The deep red, brown, and green hues are constantly changing in the sun, and frequent rainbows and waterfalls enhance the natural beauty. (photo, right)
Kailua Beach Park
This is like a big Lanikai Beach, but windier and a little wider. It’s a better spot for a full day at the beach, though. A line of palms provides shade on the sand, a huge park has picnic pavilions where you can escape the heat or feed the hordes. This is the “it” spot if you’re looking to try your hand at windsurfing.
īao Valley State Park
Yosemite it’s not, but it is a lovely deep valley with the curious īao Needle, a spire that rises more than 2,000 feet from the valley floor. You can take one of several easy hikes from the parking lot across īao Stream and explore the junglelike area. This park has a beautiful network of well-maintained walks, where you can stop and meditate by the edge of a stream or marvel at the native plants and flowers.
There is no better place on this or any other island to watch the world’s best windsurfers in action. The surfers know five different surf breaks here by name. Unless it’s a rare day without wind or waves, you’re sure to get a show. It’s not safe to park on the shoulder. (photo, right)
This is one of the most beautiful spots on the island. Dramatic cliffs surround crystal clear, turqoise water chock-full of stunning coral and tropical fish. Before the arrival here of Captain Cook in the late 18th century, this now tranquil state marine park and sanctuary lay at the center of Hawaiian life. Historians consider Kealakekua Bay to be the birthing ground for the postcontact era.
Mauna Kea is the antithesis of the typical island experience. Freezing temperatures and arctic conditions are common at the summit, and snowstorms can occur year-round. It’s also home to Lake Waiau, one of the highest lakes in the world. The summit — at 13,796 feet — is reputedly the clearest place in the world for viewing the night sky; it’s also an outstanding place to see the sun rise and set.
Diamond Head State Monument and Park
Panoramas from this 760-foot extinct volcanic peak extend from Waikiki and Honolulu in one direction and out to Koko Head in the other, with surfers and windsurfers scattered like confetti on the cresting waves below. This 360-degree perspective is a great orientation for first-time visitors. On a clear day you can even see the islands of Maui and Moloka’i if you look to your left. (photo, right)
Want to stay dry while exploring the undersea world? Climb aboard the 48-foot Atlantis submarine anchored off Kailua Pier, across from King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona. A large glass dome in the bow and 13 viewing ports on the sides allow clear views of the aquatic world more than 100 feet down. This is a great trip for kids and nonswimmers. The company also operates on Maui and Oahu.
Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Lighthouse
A beacon for sea traffic since it was built in 1913, this National Historic Landmark has the largest clamshell lens of any lighthouse in the world. It’s within a national wildlife refuge, where thousands of seabirds soar on the trade winds and nest on the steep ocean cliffs. Endangered geese, native plants, dolphins, humpback whales, huge winter surf, and gorgeous views of the North Shore add to the drama of this special place, making it well worth the modest entry fee.