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Best Places to Live + Play: Waimea, Hawaii
National Geographic Adventure announces this year's top 50 adventure towns, state-by-state.   Text by Dan Koeppel

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The Adventure Radius

In town: Saddle up on the trails through nearby Parker Ranch: 50,000-acres (20,234-hectares) of rolling hills set against mighty Mauna Kea.

Within 50 miles (80 kilometers): White-sand Kaunaoa Beach has year-round surf.

Within 100 miles (161 kilometers): Trek Hawaii Volcanoes National Park's 14-mile (23-kilometer) Napau Trail past a slick lava shield, a massive crater, and a rain forest.

Where to sleep: The Jacaranda Inn ($125;

Where to eat: Savor filet steak with Maui onion jam and hamakua mushroom sauté at Merriman's Restaurant.

Waimea, Hawaii

Pacify Yourself in Waimea
- Population: 9,241
- Median home price: $550,000

While many Hawaiian hot-ticket towns have gone the way of destination resorts, sleepy Waimea, at the northern end of 4,034-square-mile (10,448-square-kilometer) Big Island, remains an authentically local retreat. Large-scale developers have mostly passed Waimea by, though the pristine sand on the Kohala and Hamakua Coasts are just a few miles away. "We're within minutes of great surfing and sailing," says local Fiona Sharman, of Waimea's P & P Kayak Rentals. "But because of the elevation it's nice and cool."
Waimea sits at 2,669 feet (814 meters), between the Kohala Mountains and 13,796-foot (4,205-meter) Mauna Kea, and at first glance, its lush valleys look a lot like the Great Plains (albeit set against the sparkling Pacific). Ranching is the big moneymaker here, lending a singular saddle-meets-surfboard vibe to town. Paniolos—the storied breed of Hawaiian cowboys unique to the Big Island—cross paths with beach bums every morning at Waimea's four farmers markets and on the high-mountain trails outside town. Acclimatize on the snaking ride up Kohala Mountain Road, which tops out at 3,400 feet (1,036 meters), where volcanic views—and a pedal-rattling descent—pay you back for your efforts.

Wilderness  |  Small Towns  |  Mountains  |  Waterfront  |  Cities  |  Las Vegas 

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