A gourmet's delight
Pretty much everywhere in Sanya, you will be smacked right in the face with the sweet aroma of seafood being grilled, steamed, fried or slow-cooked in clay pots.
Should you head to a large restaurant and pick something out of the glass cases? Or perhaps wander from stall to stall, snatching up skewers of shrimp and fish? Or start with a steaming bowl of crab porridge followed by fried mussels?
While you make up your mind, your nose will lead you to whole chickens turning on a rotisserie right next to the fresh fruit smoothie stand. Most people will start wildly ordering everything in sight.
Even if all of the beaches in Sanya turned to stone and the wind stopped blowing off the sea, people would still make pilgrimages here just to eat. Tourists return from the beaches every night and begin touring the area's nightlife, some carrying a bowl of noodles and four or five shrimp kebabs.
Then someone orders a plate of mussels and a bowl of seafood porridge. Now the table needs vegetables and something to drink. Soon the whole party is digging into six or seven platters and getting boisterous.
Most people end each night with a large fruit smoothie. You have your choice of standbys such as banana and mango, or local tropical fruits such as papaya and huo long gua.
Hainan has the great fortune of being an island in some of the warmest, calmest waters in the world.
So all the seafood you could want is available here: fish, crab, shrimp, shark, many-tentacled deep dwellers, and every type of clam and mussel in the Pacific.
But that's not all. Hainan chicken is famous around the world. Island chickens just taste better. Maybe it's because island fowl run wild most of the time. Maybe it's because they grow plumper than their harried mainland cousins.
The famous Nanshan Mountain Buddhist Temple region in southwestern Hainan raises some of the most delicious goats around. Any of the home-style kitchens set up across from the Nanshan Mountain Tourism Area gate can roast a full or half-goat for parties of any size.
But it's not just the local fare. Sanya goes out of its way to cater to mainland travellers.
There are Sichuanese restaurants, northeast dumpling restaurants, Guangdong seafood and roast duck restaurants. Pretty much every well-known style of cooking is represented on this little island.
Sheraton Hotel guests can enjoy a Hainan baby lobster cooked with black pepper and onions. The resorts across Sanya provide world-class cuisine using imported foodstuffs - for the Italian, German and steakhouse options - and local ingredients for the seafood and Chinese restaurants.
It's actually difficult not to be satisfied. It is worth cruising the small streets off Sanya Bay, downtown Sanya and Dadonghai for excellent local fare and to splurge on a gourmet meal at one of the many resorts. In fact, some tourists might even miss the food as much or even more than the beaches.