Absolute Paradise B&B: It takes chutzpah to call yourself Absolute Paradise, but the name fits here. The clothing-optional gay B&B itself is certainly nice enough—three bedrooms in a lovely main residence, plus a separate guesthouse—but paradise really begins in the surroundings. Set in the semi-secluded hippie-and-gay-sprinkled Pahoa area of Puna on the Big Island’s east side, Absolute Paradise is just a short walk from black-sanded naturist-haven Kehena Beach. You’ll need a car here—it’s not called the Big Island for nothing, and you’ll want to explore its breathtaking topography. Don’t miss the very active (but very safe) lava flows just ten minutes away. 12-118 Kipuka St., Pahoa. 808-965-1828. $
Fairmont Orchid: Part of the Kohala Coast’s lush Mauna Lani resort complex, the Fairmont Orchid is one of the Big Island’s top luxury properties. The 540 spacious rooms are warmly appointed, and all offer private lanais with lovely ocean, mountain, or garden views. Adjacent Pauoa Bay is loaded with sea turtles and has a fantastic coral reef, making it super for snorkeling. The 10,000-square-foot heated swimming pool is open 24 hours, while the superb Spa Without Walls features numerous tranquil private outdoor treatment areas. The Fairmont’s 32 acres are also dotted with fascinating remnants from early Hawaiian civilization. 1 North Kaniku Dr., Kohala Coast. 808-885-2000. $$$$
Hilo Bay Hale B&B: One of the best beyond-Honolulu spots in the state to blend a culturally rich in-town address with easy beach proximity, Hilo Bay Hale B&B is set in a 2008 restoration of a lovely 1912 garden-surrounded plantation home. Each of its three Asian-inspired suites has its own private lanai with Hilo Bay views, and the hosts here are exceedingly gracious and gay-friendly. The town of Hilo’s artiest little cafes, galleries and museums are all within walking distance, and Hilo International Airport is just minutes away. 301 Ponahawai St., Hilo. 800-745-5049. $$
Kalani Oceanside Retreat: Part paradisiacal yoga retreat, part Big Island adventure launch-point, and part New Agey creative community, Kalani Oceanside Retreat has been a beloved Hawaiian center for decompression and holistic education for more than three and a half decades. Accommodations in this seaside tropical getaway span a spectrum of comfort levels — from campsite to ocean cottage — to fit any budget, but all include access to Kalani Oceanside facilities like jacuzzi, sauna, and pool. For longer stays, the all-inclusive Kalani Experience package, factoring in everything from airport transfers to meals to massages to activities, is a great value. 12-6860 Kalapana-Kapoho Beach Rd., Pahoa. 808-965-7828. $$
Ka’awa Loa Plantation: Much more than just another gorgeous Hawaiian guesthouse, Ka’awa Loa is also a working 5-acre plantation, growing organic Kona coffee, fruits, macadamia nuts, and lilikoi, under the tutelage of owners Michael and Greg since 2006. The B&B itself consists of two standard ocean view rooms, a luxury suite, and a private cottage, all poised 1,200 feet above the swimming- and snorkeling-friendly Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island’s Kona Coast. Shared guest features include an outdoor hot tub and lava rock showers, a large gourmet kitchen, and a 1,500-square-foot wrap-around lanai. 82-5990 Napoopoo Rd., Captain Cook. 808-323-2686. $$
Kona Coast Resort: Offering Big Island comfort, quality and convenience at relatively reasonable rates, Kona Coast Resort is perfect for those seeking the fully Americanized Hawaii experience. Rooms are big enough to feel like home, with 267 one and two bedroom villas (each 1,000 square feet plus) all boasting full kitchens and private lanais. Budget-minded studios are also available. The resort’s own abundant activity options (21 acres featuring two swimming pools, three Jacuzzis, tennis courts, etc.) are complemented by endless further possibilities nearby (like golfing at the adjacent country club, sport fishing off of Keauhou Bay, or just lounging on Kahaluu Beach). 78-6842 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona. 808-324-1721. $$$
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows: Sharing the Big Island’s gorgeous Mauna Lani resort area with the Fairmont Orchid, the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows is a somewhat smaller and more affordable option, its excellent placement putting the beach (with its excellent snorkeling) and the historic Waipuhi Fishpond literally at your doorstep. The onsite farm-to-table CanoeHouse restaurant is one of the island’s best, while the spa and golf offerings are both world class. The 343 guest rooms (tastefully updated in 2010) are quite large, but for serious space, the five bungalows each boast 2700 square feet indoors and another 1300 out, including private pool. 68-1400 Mauna Lani Dr., Kohala Coast. 808-885-6622. $$$$
Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa: Set on the south end of Waikoloa village on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott is a good upscale choice, offering plenty of Hawaiian beauty and resort-level features without breaking the proverbial bank. The property’s 15 acres include two ancient Hawaiian fish ponds and front a half-mile stretch of swim-and-snorkel-friendly Anaeho’omalu Bay. The 555 guest rooms are decked out in a tastefully colorful Polynesian/Asian palette, and feature Marriott’s signature “Revive” beds. The $25 (plus tax) daily resort fee gets you self-parking, Internet, and local and long distance calls. The infinity pool is a perennial guest favorite. 69-275 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa Beach. 808-886-6789. $$$
Café Ono: Tucked near the terminus of a dead end street in the little Big Island town of Volcano, Café Ono is well worth the excursion: 100% vegetarian fare that’s 100% tasty, served up by owner Ira Ono on the lush grounds of a former garden estate that’s been converted into the wonderful working art studio and gallery known as Volcano Garden Arts. A wide array of soups and sandwiches are available; the lasagna and the multi-grain garlic bread are also big favorites. Ono mascot Ernest the Goat (who even has his own Facebook fan page) will be on hand to greet you. 3834 Old Volcano Rd., Volcano. 808-985-8979. $
Café Pesto: Long beloved by locals and tourists alike, Café Pesto specializes in what it calls Creative Island Cuisine, a delicious blend of Italian favorites and Hawaiian Regional flair. Set in downtown Hilo’s historic 1912 S. Hata Building, Pesto’s bistro atmosphere is lively and casual, and its prices reasonable for the food’s excellent quality. Fan favorites include the Volcano Mist Salad (garnished with Madam Pele crisped onion rings) and the Coconut Crusted Calamari. If you have time, also check out Café Pesto’s original Big Island location in the little harbor town of Kawaihae. 308 Kamehameha Ave., Suite 101, Hilo. 808-969-6640. $$$
Coffee Shack: You can’t get your java much more locally grown than this: The Coffee Shack uses Kona beans harvested from trees on the mountainside directly below its own lanai — greenery that also makes for a gorgeous view, with Kealakekua Bay just beyond. Photo-worthy too are the adorable little geckos who come to munch on the jam left out for them by the staff. The breakfast menu (where the Eggs Benedict excel) is very popular, and for lunch there’s a wide selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. For dessert, the homemade Macadamia Nut Pie is divine. 83-5799 Mamalahoa Hwy., Captain Cook. 808-328-9555. $$
Holuakoa Café: A roadside delight along the Big Island’s Mamalahoa Highway, Holuakoa is up the beautiful mountainside just southeast of Kailua Kona. Using fresh and organic ingredients grown within a five mile radius whenever possible, Holuakoa serves from a delicious, diverse and daily-changing menu, all the while abiding by Slow Food principles. Baked Thick Cut French Toast is a must-have for brunch, while the Menchego Cheese Toasts are dinner starter faves. The views are divine, and on Saturday mornings there’s a small farmer’s market in the garden. Definitely do not miss the fantastic coffee shop (pouring local Kona goodness) next door. 76-5901 Mamalahoa Hwy., Holualoa. 808-322-2233. $$$
Merriman’s Waimea: This is the place that launched it all for Hawaiian culinary icon Peter Merriman, who was espousing local sourcing — a zany concept back then — from the day he opened Merriman’s Waimea in 1988. Today his restaurant family is scattered across three islands (including Merriman’s Fish House in Kauai’s Poipu, and the year-old gastropub Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman in Maui’s Wailea), but this original has a great down-home upscale ambiance, and the distinction of being set in paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country. The Wok Charred Ahi is a signature dish, but whatever you pick, leave room for the Chocolate Purse. 65-1227 Opelo Rd., Kamuela. 808-885-6822. $$$$
Mask-Querade: Hawaii’s only true gay bar beyond Oahu, Mask-querade (or as it’s usually just known, Mask) is a laid-back spot for all walks of LGBT folk on the Big Island, with a staff of friendly bartenders who go out of their way to keep their customers happy. Set in the Kopiko shopping plaza at the center of little Kailua-Kona on the island’s west coast, neighborhood-y Mask offers karaoke and sporadic live shows, but most simply come for the chill Hawaiian aloha. 75-5660 Kopiko St., Suite C5, Kopiko Plaza, Kailua-Kona. 808-329-8558.
My Bar: While not nearly as gay as the across-town Mask-querade, My Bar does see its share of queer patrons (including many from the local drag community), and it’s even served as a venue for a few Hawaiian Pride Festival events in recent years. My Bar’s vibe is friendly and festive, and the dance floor here is much larger than over at Mask, but just be aware that you’ll likely be sharing the space with an eclectic mix of non-gay locals. 75-5606 Luhia St., Kailua-Kona. 808-331-8789.
Kehena Beach: Just over half a century ago, black-sanded Kehena Beach was born when new lava flows created its stunning terrain, which now resembles something of a wooded moonscape. Kehena’s rather remote location (in the Puna District on the Big Island’s east side) makes it a favorite with naturists, and its proximity to the gay-smattered Pahua area means that the LGBT community is usually represented (Absolute Paradise B&B is just a short walk away). Be aware though that the surf is rough here and the bottom rocky offshore, so only the best swimmers should venture too far into the water. Route 137, at mile marker 19, Pahoa, Big Island.
Honokohau Beach: Just a few miles north of Kailua-Kona along Route 19 (Hawaii Belt Road)on the Big Island’s west (or Kona) coast, Honokohau Beach is part of Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, which is itself chock full of natural beauty and fascinating cultural elements like the resurrected Kaloko fishpond. A walking trail leads from the parking lot to the beach (a mix of white coral sand and black lava formations), where at the far north end, you’ll find the gay area (also an unofficial nude area, but crackdowns happen). Sea turtles come here too, but don’t touch them: It’s actually against the law to do so. Route 19, between mile markers 97 and 98, Big Island.
Wailea Bay Beach 67: Not to be confused with Maui’s Wailea-Makena, this Wailea is on the Big Island, just north of Waikoloa at the top of the island’s west side. You’ll find two beaches at Wailea Bay, the larger and more popular Beach 69 (so-called for its corresponding mile marker at the access road), and the smaller, more remote, and more gay-and-nudist-populated Beach 67. Heading north on Old Puako Road, pass the paved Beach 69 entrance on the left; two miles later, you’ll come to the dirt road that’ll take you to Beach 67. All of Wailea Bay offers great snorkeling. Old Puako Road, mile marker 67, Big Island.