Puuhonua O Honaunau, City of Refuge: In ancient times, anyone caught violating a kapu, a sacred taboo, was captured and put to death ... unless, that is, he could reach a puuhonua, or place of refuge. There, he could be absolved by the priest and return home safe and forgiven. O Honaunau is the best preserved of the sacred puuhonuas in the islands -- and the most famous. It is a National Historic Park and includes ruins of the king's home, heiau (temples), royal fish ponds and the huge wall that separated the chief's residence from the puuhonua. You may also witness canoe-building, rock bowling or spear-throwing demonstrations. Puuhonua O Honaunau is located about a 35-minute drive south of Kailua-Kona, just beyond the town of Captain Cook.
Kona Coffee Plantation: Kona coffee is one of the most sought-after brews in the world, and this region is the only place in the U.S. where coffee production has been ongoing for 200 years. On a visit to a coffee plantation, you'll probably get a full tour with an explanation of the farm and the family that runs it, an overview of the harvesting, processing and roasting processes, and the opportunity to taste and then buy coffee. There are several great farms to visit, including Pele Plantations, Holualoa Kona Coffee Co., Bay View Farm, Greenwell Farms, Mountain Thunder and Ueshima Coffee Co.
Snorkeling: The west side of Hawaii provides the best snorkeling spots on the island, with several unique species and corals. You can make a day of it without renting a car; take a cab or the Keauhou Trolley to Kahaluu Beach Park, about five miles south of the tender pier on the main oceanfront boulevard (Alii Drive). The black sand beach is protected, and it's an easy walk to the snorkeling spots. The shallow waters make the park a great place for kids; green sea turtles occasionally come up on shore to graze. The park also has picnic tables, equipment rental, lifeguards, shade trees and concession stands for lunch and drinks. Other excellent snorkel spots include Kelakeau Bay by the Captain Cook Monument (accessible only by kayak or catamaran tour) and Honaunau Bay (also called Two Step), located next to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.
Golf: The Big Island features a variety of world-class golf courses, many of which are attached to the big-name resorts on the Kohala Coast. Mauna Lani Bay Hotel offers two world-renowned courses; built on a lava bed, the North Course is more difficult, while the South Course features a panorama of both mountain and sea. The Waikoloa Beach Resort boasts the Beach and Kings' Courses, also a mix of greenery, sea views and black lava, and the Mauna Kea Golf Course offers a course in a beautiful, coastal spot with palm trees and ocean views. The Kona Country Club, located just south of Kailua Village, features the William Bell-designed par 72 Ocean Course or the William Bell, Nelson and Robin Wright-designed par 72 Mountain Course. Both are due to reopen in spring 2014.
If you don't mind a more mountainous course or are looking for cooler climes for golfing, try Makalei Golf Club, set amid lush forest scenery, and Big Island Country Club, located on the slopes of Mauna Kea mountain.
Lunch in Kona can be almost anything you want, from extravagant elegance in the hotels around Waikoloa to cheap eats just a few blocks from the tender dock. Fresh fish is a Hawaiian staple; look for mahimahi, opakapaka, opah and ahi. Fresh fruit (including tropical ones like pineapples and coconuts) are also a good bet.
One very typical Hawaiian meal is the plate lunch. It consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and one protein: Choose from options such as barbecue chicken, kalbi ribs, hamburger steak, beef stew or the fish of the day. A mixed plate lets you choose two different meats. For a perfect dessert on a hot day, stop in any shave ice shop. Hawaii's version of the snow cone consists of ice shaved off a large block then topped with flavored syrups. You can even order them with a scoop of ice cream in the center.
If Hawaiian food isn't your thing, don't worry. Restaurants in Hawaii are quite diverse with ethnic cuisines including standard American, Chinese, Korean, Italian, Japanese, Mexican and French. Cruise Critic members have been pleased with several of the near-to-pier options, including Splasher's Grill and The Fish Hopper.
Kona Inn: Sit on the open terrace for lunch, where the prices are lower, the views of the bay fantastic and the mai tais are potent. It's located on Alii Drive, not far from the pier and attached to a shopping center. The food's good, but the Hawaiian atmosphere, ocean breezes and views make it special. (75-5744 Alii Drive, Kailua-Kona; 808-239-4455) For a more casual vibe and sports on the TV, stop at Kona Canoe Club, in the same marketplace. It has a similar menu and prices.
Kona Brewing Co.: If you want to try local beer, it's worth the uphill walk to the Kona Brewing Co. to sample their brews -- including ones you can't find in the supermarket. Lunch is typical salads and sandwiches, pizza and pupus (appetizers). It's a bit pricey but typical for Hawaii rates. Get here super-early (before noon) or be prepared to wait for a table. Don't worry -- you can sip a Longboard Island Lager or Pipeline Porter while you wait.
Hawaii Calls at Waikoloa Beach Marriott: If you're heading north toward Waikaloa and the Kohalo Coast, this is a fabulous place to have lunch. It's open air, with a koi pond and waterfalls, and serves fresh fish and produce. It's pricier than some of the other recommendations, but it's well worth it. (69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Kohalo Coast; 808-886-8111)
Huggo's On the Rocks: Located about a mile south of the tender pier, On the Rocks is the place to eat with your toes in the sand. The casual menu offers up sandwiches, burgers, tacos and fish and chips -- not to mention an array of "exotic tropical potions." In season, you might even spy a few humpback whales diving offshore. (75-5824 Kahakai Road, Kailua-Kona; 808-329-1493; open Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. )
Scandinavian Shave Ice: This small downtown shop is in the running for the title of Hawaii's Best Shave Ice. We're no experts, but we loved the choices of sizes, flavors (65!), toppings and ice cream or frozen yogurt centers. A small can easily be shared by two; the larges are enormous. Eat it there or sit on the seawall across the street as you indulge. (75-5699 Alii Drive)