The votes are tallied, and Cooking Light readers’ pick for the world’s best beaches are the islands known for clear air, green mountains, and unforgettable seaside stays.

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  • In Hawaii, all beaches are public up to the vegetation line.

    Kauai: Gillin’s Beach

    Douglas Merriam

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Beach 2―The Big Island of Hawaii: Mauna Kea Beach

North of Kona’s legendary coffee plantations on the leeward side of the Big Island, Mauna Kea Beach is a quarter-mile-long crescent of white sand framed by coconut groves on the Kohala coast. Experienced swimmers will find excellent snorkeling opportunities among the rocks that border each side of the beach.

Where to stay: There are only 30 public parking spots along Mauna Kea Beach, which means guests staying at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (888-977-4623) have the beach almost to themselves. The resort was closed for repair and renovation following an earthquake in 2006, but is scheduled to reopen this spring.

Eat Smart: Just mauka (“up the mountain”) from Mauna Kea in Waimea, try Daniel Thiebaut (808-887-2200), a restored general store divided into five dining rooms. Enjoy a passion fruit mai tai, followed by crab-mango-avocado salad with basil-mango dressing and kampachi, a light fish often raised locally, steamed in a banana leaf with papaya salsa.

Be Fit: Golfers need look no further than the Mauna Kea Golf Course(808-882-5400). It’s exceptionally well maintained and the play more varied than any other area course (its third hole requires a shot out over the ocean and onto the green).

Live Well: Dedicate a day to exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, (808-985-6000) on the opposite side of the island from Mauna Kea. This is where lava flows from Mount Kilauea on a regular basis. (Since lava flows are common occurrences, stop at the visitor’s center to check road and trail conditions.) Traverse older―not molten―lava flows on the two-mile roundtrip Pu’u Loa trail to a field of petroglyphs, ancient carvings in the soft rock. The trail begins at mile marker 16 on Chain of Craters Road, a scenic route through the park.

Beach 1―Kauai: Gillin’s Beach

In Hawaii, all beaches are public up to the vegetation line. But some are backed by private land, making them impossible to reach unless you arrive by sea. Entrepreneur Steve Case allows free access to this beautiful beach from his private road during the day, but at sundown, the gate closes and so does access to one of the finest undeveloped stretches of beach in Hawaii―except for those fortunate enough to rent the Gillin Beach House (from $3,090 per week, 808-742-7561). Occupying a ¾-acre beachfront parcel, the small three-bedroom, two-bath house is the only home in the Maha’ulepu Valley on Kauai’s south shore.

Eat Smart: Stop at Koloa Fish Market (808-742-6199) for fresh-caught ahi or mahi mahi for beachside grilling. If you prefer someone else do the cooking, Tidepools (808-240-6456), located a five- to 10-minute drive away in the Grand Hyatt Kauai, serves contemporary Hawaiian cuisine―garlic chili-glazed opah (mild Hawaiian moonfish) is paired with coconut-crusted lobster and topped with guava lime sauce.

Be Fit: Gillin Beach House faces a lagoon protected by a coral reef. Snorkeling is as simple as walking out the front door, down to the beach, and slipping into the water. Another option: CJM Country Stables (808-742-6096) provides the opportunity to experience the South Shore’s beaches by horseback. Offered Wednesdays and Fridays, guided rides include a stop for a beachside picnic.

Live Well: The National Tropical Botanical Garden (808-742-2623) in the town of Kalaheo is home to Hawaii’s largest assemblage of native plants, such as the Munroidendron racemosum, a small tree in the Ginseng family found only in Kauai. On Sundays the garden’s naturalists offer guided tours.

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