A tropical oasis in the midst of ocean expanse, the 1,500-mile Hawaiian Islands chain is like nowhere else on Earth. And while this Pacific paradise’s oceanside sunsets and sandy beaches are sure to please just about everyone, the island cluster is filled with diversity.
Travelers originating from the continental United States can embark from numerous airports on “the mainland.” Cities on the West Coast offer some of the best flight rates and shortest travel times (though still a few hours in the air). Start your Hawaiian adventure from Los Angeles or plan a side trip while visiting San Francisco. Luggage storage in SF makes it simple to branch off for a quick trip; take only what you need and store the rest.
When planning a visit to Hawaii, consider the island vibes. Beach days, hula dances, and traditional Hawaiian luaus probably rank high on the trip itinerary, but delve a little deeper and you can experience a trip to the Hawaiian islands tailored just for you.
Hawai’i – The Big Island
Kona coffee, volcanoes, and vast natural areas to explore; Hawai’i’ offers a balanced blend of cultural attractions, city amenities, and an array of experiences and recreational opportunities.
Favorite pastimes on this sprawling island range from golfing and hiking to snorkeling and beach bumming. Lots of guided tours are on offer, too. Whale-watching excursions and boat tours are fantastic ways to get out on the ocean, and visitors can also partake in guided nature hikes, guided kayaking adventures, and surfing lessons.
Attractions and Cultural Stops
The rugged-yet-refined island of Hawai’i has some pretty fantastic natural areas. In the shadows of the massive Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park features rare plant life, petroglyphs etched into lava rocks, and lots of (sometimes treacherous) land to explore. Backcountry hiking is popular here, though there are also trails designed for day hikes.
On the southeastern coast of Hawai’i, the black sand of Punaluu Beach is a must-see during a Hawaii vacation. Pictures don’t do this otherworldly beach justice…you’ll have to forge a footpath through the coal-colored granules to fully experience the spot. Camping at Punaluu Beach is an option, too; pack the sleeping gear and you can spend a night or two enjoying the oceanfront.
Just a 30-minute drive north of Hilo, you’ll find Akaka Falls State Park. The main trail can get a little challenging here, so bring your A-game. Along the half-mile trail, a series of steps lead climbers to the 400-foot-tall cascades of water at Akaka Falls.
Head to the island’s west coast to experience some history, ocean views, and remnants of island royalty at the Hulihe’e Palace. The former residence of many Hawaiian kings and queens, this lava-rock structure’s been through a lot. Earthquakes and transfers in ownership haven’t done much to shake the palace’s appeal, though. Guided tours are offered, and cultural events are often held here, too.
How to Get to Hawai’i
Touch down at the Hilo International Airport and you’ll be surrounded by this Hawaiian island’s largest city. Hilo’s an excellent place to start your island adventures, and shuttle services, taxis, and rental cars can be easily accessed on-site.
With beaches and a booming nightlife scene, Maui is Hawaii’s entertainment hub. If you’re seeking lots of island-y fun and tourist-centric attractions, this is the place to go. The smaller and less developed islands of Kaho’olawe, Moloka’i, and Lanai surround Maui, offering some limited access to the more rugged regions of the island chain.
The list of Maui’s most popular activities is a long one; for starters, this place can be toured by nearly all methods of transportation. Want to jostle along rustic dirt roads? Book a Jeep tour. Prefer things a little more bumpy? Go for an ATV tour, designed to provide riders access to some otherwise unreachable sites. Horsebacking riding along a rainforest floor is an option, too, and if you’d rather see it all from above, hook up to a zipline.
Attractions and Cultural Stops
Haleakala National Park is one of the most popular natural attractions on Maui. This place highlights Hawaii’s cultural past and features some amazing terrain. If you’ve got the time to plan ahead, book a place on the Haleakala Sunrise list. That’s right, visitors wait for months to position themselves front and center for this epic, seconds-long Maui moment.
See the island for yourself by spending time at some of Maui’s best beaches. For waterfront recreation and vast ocean views, post up at one of the Kama’ole Beach Parks in Kihei. In Maui’s northwestern region, a beach day with a side of snorkeling comes easy at Manini’owali Beach. Here, the sand’s soft, the sun’s usually shining, and swimming and coral-reef scoping are top-tier.
Maui’s packed with fun and inclusive attractions, but the island’s luaus are not to miss. This is a dinner you won’t soon forget. While sampling some excellent island cuisine, you can learn a few Hawaiian moves and a little history, too.
For a fantastic self-guided tour of unique spots around Maui, pack a bag and embark on the Road to Hana. The route spans 60 miles and typically takes two or three hours to complete, but if you’ve got the time, it’s probably worth making it a multi-day excursion.
How to Get to Maui
As one of the most-visited Hawaiian islands, Maui’s easy to reach. The Kahului Airport services flights from all over the world and is in a prime, central location within the island, offering convenient access to all regions of Maui.
Known as “The Gathering Place,” Oahu’s packed with attractions and its hospitality is on-point. Like Maui, entertainment is top-notch, beaches are beautiful, and there’s a ton of nightlife.
Surfing and skydiving are popular activities on Oahu’s North Shore, where adrenaline runs high and the atmosphere counters with a laidback, beach-life charm.
Beach-bopping is another favorite pastime here and there’s plenty of sand for everyone, with over 100 beaches spread out along the island’s coastline. Waikiki Beach, on the southern coast, is probably the most famous, but spots like the tranquil Pokai Beach on the island’s western shore offer some excellent respite from the crowds.
Attractions and Cultural Stops
This hopping island’s got endless entertainment opportunities. And while it’s easy to fill a day (or three) exploring the sites of Downtown Honolulu and Waikiki Beach, there are some other notable places to check out.
The island’s brimming with breathtaking views, so once you’ve maxed out your city explorations, branch out for some scenery changes at some of Oahu’s best natural attractions. The Nuuanu Pali Lookout is in the island’s eastern region (just a short drive from Honolulu) and features sweeping views of the Windward Coast. For more stunning sights, head to the island’s southern tip and explore Ala Moana Beach Park. Walking paths, exercise equipment, and calm waters make this place perfect for an active afternoon along the ocean.
How to Get to Oahu
Home to Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Oahu’s easy to reach from anywhere in the world. This world-class transportation hub has shuttle service to island hotspots, and rental cars are available, too.
This ancient Hawaiian island features rugged terrain ideal for outdoor adventures. The lush landscape here is less developed than the other three major islands – it’s perfect for visitors hoping to experience Hawaii in a more authentic form.
“The Garden Isle” features some of the best outdoor adventures in Hawaii. Scope out some of the terrain by ziplining through rainforests or hooking up with a helicopter tour for aerial views of craggy coastlines, sweeping valleys, and lush greenery.
Ocean kayaking and whale watching are popular, too, and seascapes can also be observed by snorkeling in popular spots like Ke’e Beach. Take surfing lessons, hike the Kalalau Trail, and round out your island visit with a backcountry camping trip on the Napali Coast.
Attractions and Cultural Stops
It comes as no surprise that Kauai’s best attractions are found in nature. The Wailua River is a popular spot for kayaking on Kauai; gear can be rented and tours are offered. Kokee State Park is another place to check out while touring Kauai. Seven hiking trails weave through the park, offering ranges in difficulty and fantastic views of Kalalau Valley.
Exploring some of Kauai’s towns is an excellent way to get a feel for the island’s culture. Several small villages dot the island, though Hanapepe should make it to the top of the list. This artsy town features locally-owned art galleries and shops, and on Fridays, hosts an open-air market with live music, arts and crafts vendors, and food galore.
How to Get to Kauai
Visiting the slightly-secluded Kauai is simple. International, continental U.S., and Honolulu flights are serviced at the Lihue Airport, on the island’s east coast. Buses and taxis offer service to and from the airport, and rental cars are available.