Who should go: Adventurous, active types who want to create their own
vacation and need lots of options.

Minimum stay: Plan to spend at least five days here just to scratch the surface.

Pack: Hiking shoes, a day pack, hat, your PADI certification card, lots of sunscreen.

What you should know: The Big Island isn't known for its white-sand beaches. Here, you'll find the Ironman Triathlon, often-active Kilauea Volcano, excellent diving (dive at night with manta rays in Kona), and more sportsfishing than you can shake a lure at. The Big Island is laid-back, its 150,000 or so residents spread over 4,000-plus square miles of land. To put this in perspective, Oahu logged nearly 900,000 residents in the 2000 census, and its landmass is less than 600 square miles.

Most visitors use Kailua-Kona as their home base for at least half their stay. Nearby, the luxury resorts at South Kohala (also referred to as Waikoloa) can absorb you completely, but if you want to make the most of your experience, plan to spend your days putting miles on your rental car.

Perched above Kailua-Kona, the Holualoa arts community is well worth a stop. You can browse through the local galleries and shops while you enjoy a cup of hot, rich Kona coffee. South of Kona are the little towns of Kealakekua and Captain Cook, and the well-maintained and reconstructed City of Refuge, called Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, where you'll learn about the traditions of ancient islanders. There's a deep sense of spirituality and reverence for nature that's easy to feel once you tune out your everyday life and tune in to the island's rhythm. Here, the myths and legends of old Hawaii won't seem so far off and distant. They'll be your traveling companions.