An artist couldn’t paint a better picture: white sand meets azure water at the mouth of a lushly green river valley. Black outcroppings of lava rock sit offshore a deep arc of beach. The bay is so stunning, in fact, that it’s hard not to catch your breath when you round the highway curve and see it. Captain Cook’s men, the first Westerners to sail into Waimea Bay, had the same reaction. An entry in the 1779 ship’s log noted its uncommon beauty. Back then the valley was heavily settled; the lowlands terraced in taro, the valley walls dotted with house sites and the ridges topped with heiau. Just about every crop grown in Hawaii thrived in this valley, including a rare pink taro favored by aliʻi (royalty). Back then Waimea River emptied into the bay and served as a passage for canoes traveling to upstream villages. Post contact, logging and plantation clearing resulted in a devastating 1894 flood, after which residents abandoned the settlement. Today, the beach park is an immensely popular stop on Oʻahu itineraries, and you can hike up into the valley to see a few of the original sites.