Hawaii Holiday Planning Guide
An archipelago of hundreds of volcanic islands located in a geological hot spot in the middle of Pacific, Hawaii offers diverse natural scenery and a warm tropical climate. The six major islands open to tourism draw visitors with their sun-drenched public beaches and craggy natural trails. Thanks to their mid-Pacific location, the islands boast a vibrant native culture influenced by both North America and Asia. You can spend your entire Hawaii vacation basking in the modern comforts of the big hotels, but to experience the true spirit of these islands, remember that real Hawaiians live outdoors. Encounter nature by surfing, swimming, fishing, and picnicking, or join a guided tour across the ancient lava flows to the top of Hawaii's rugged volcanic peaks.
Places to Visit on HawaiiOahu
: Home to over 85 percent of Hawaii's population, this island includes the busy city of Honolulu as well as secluded beaches, picturesque parks, high mountain peaks, and quaint little towns.Honolulu
: Hawaii's largest urban center, this vibrant city serves as the starting point for many Hawaii tours, offering visitors easy access to sandy beaches and pristine natural areas abundant in native plant and animal life.Maui
: Half of this island's territory lies within 8 km (5 mi) of the sea, so it’s not surprising that most tourist come here to swim with dolphins, snorkel with sea turtles, or simply relax on sun-kissed beaches.Kauai
: Called the "Garden Island" because of its lush greenery and tropical plants, this island contains some of the most popular places to visit in Hawaii, including plunging canyons, tall mountains, and long stretches of unspoiled coastline.Kapaa
: Known for its low-key beaches, this small town with a high concentration of tourist-oriented hotels offers visitors a chance to explore a verdant Hawaiian landscape without the distraction of the archipelago's biggest crowds.Island of Hawaii
: Aptly nicknamed the "Big Island," the Island of Hawaii includes everything from working ranches and macadamia nut plantations to active volcanoes, black-sand beaches, and tropical rainforests.Lahaina
: Formerly the capital of the Hawaiian Kingdom, this tropical city boasts oceanside avenues flanked with restored 19th-century buildings and a string of small restaurants, great places for meeting the locals and learning about their rich Polynesian heritage.Kihei
: Known as one of Hawaii's more budget-friendly vacation spots, Kihei serves as an ideal location for water sports, whale watching, and beach leisure.Kailua-Kona
: Once the favorite retreat of Hawaiian royalty, this thriving little town features an ideal tropical climate that makes it hugely popular with anglers, snorkelers, boaters, and cavers from around the globe.Hilo
: Located near some of the most popular Hawaii tourist attractions, Hilo contains a blend of Asian and Polynesian cultures and offers access to a national park known for encompassing two active volcanoes.
Things to Do on Hawaii
Popular Hawaii Tourist AttractionsUSS Arizona Memorial
: This world-famous memorial marks the final resting place of one of the most iconic American battleships, destroyed during the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.Diamond Head State Monument
: An eye-catching natural landmark and a major Hawaii attraction, this tuff cone features several vantage points offering sweeping vistas of Oahu's tropical landscapes.Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
: Home to some 400 species of fish, this nature preserve features a sheltered inlet of calm and clear waters, hugely appealing to both amateur and professional snorkelers from around the world.Waikiki Beach
: Known for its pristine white sands and pleasant water temperature, this popular beach remains one of Hawaii's best places for various water activities, including surfing, swimming, and snorkeling.Polynesian Cultural Center
: A good starting point for educational Hawaii tours, this living history museum provides hourly tours, live performances, and interactive experiences at each of its seven villages designed to represent different Polynesian cultures.Old Lahaina Luau
: Held on a beach at the north side of Lahaina, this traditional feast offers visitors a chance to take part in hula dances and try some authentic Hawaiian specialties, including kalua pork, ahi poke, and pulehu steak. Trilogy Excursions
: A favorite with tourists interested in active Hawaii holidays, this family-run operation with over four decades of experience provides customizable snorkeling and eco-friendly catamaran tours.Discover Hawaii Tours
: A convenient alternative for travelers with limited time to explore Hawaii, this tour operator provides personalized experiences that range from helicopter tours and traditional luaus to dolphin excursions and visits to the historic battleship memorials of Pearl Harbor.Ka'anapali Beach
: Part of a beachfront resort, this beach lures pleasure seekers with its warm sands and shallow waters, as well as regular boat tours and a string of kiosks offering snorkeling gear and surfing lessons.
Planning a Hawaii Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit on Hawaii with Kids
Life is lived outdoors on Hawaii, a fact that makes it one of the world's most popular destinations for active vacations. The archipelago offers plenty of opportunities to swim, snorkel, fish, surf, or picnic with your "ohana"--extended family and friends. Begin your family's Hawaii trip at Hilo
, a major city on the "Big Island." Filled with urban attractions, the city's walkable downtown features everything from kid-friendly ice cream parlors and farmers markets, to upscale shops and trendy restaurants. Honolulu
remains an ideal destination for families interested in enriching their vacation with a little history. The city's war memorials and museums pay homage to the soldiers who fought in the Pacific War and provide an in-depth look at one of American history's most dramatic episodes. To escape the noisy crowds consistently thronging Hawaii's big urban centers, base your adventure in a smaller town with a low-key character, like Kapaa
Things to Do on Hawaii with Kids
A land of stunning natural beauty and pristine wilderness areas virtually untouched by man, Hawaii has always appealed to families traveling with babies, toddlers, or teens. Instead of spending your entire Hawaii vacation hanging out indoors, take advantage of the archipelago's great outdoors and spend time playing on beaches or exploring natural parks. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
, home to two active volcanoes, the kids can learn about the important role volcanic eruptions have played in shaping the planet. The park offers over 240 km (150 mi) of trails and seven distinct ecological zones. Akaka Falls State Park
features two waterfalls plummeting into a stream-eroded gorge. Popular with amateur photographers, this state park offers a network of easy walking tracks, ideal for families with small children. For a change of pace, take the little ones to see Battleship Missouri Memorial
, where the Japanese military surrendered at the end of World War II. At the end of each day, leave some time for family fun on Hawaii's sunny beaches, like Napili Beach
and Poipu Beach Park
Tips for a Family Vacation on Hawaii
Used to catering to families with kids of all ages, Hawaii remains one of the world's most relaxed holiday destinations. Most popular attractions offer outstanding facilities for children, which you can easily spot by looking for a recognizable family-friendly icon. To experience the best these vibrant islands have to offer, pack your Hawaii itinerary with outdoor activities on land and on the sea. You can swim or surf off most beaches, and hike, cycle, or rock climb at most state and national parks. To soak up some authentic Hawaiian culture, take the family to a luau, an exuberant feast that comes with local music, dancing, and tasty island specialties. Avoid exhausting the kids with too many museums and historical sites, and try to choose activities appealing to the entire family. Select your accommodations based on the family's sightseeing priorities and available modern amenities. Many resort hotels offer plenty of kid-oriented distractions, as well as convenient babysitting services ideal for those nights when parents just need a night all to themselves.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday on Hawaii
Cuisine of Hawaii
As expected from a place that brings together many different cultures, Hawaii features a diverse cuisine blending elements of traditional Polynesian, Portuguese, American, and Asian cooking styles. Fresh seafood remains the staple ingredient of local gastronomy, with many dishes accompanied by tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, banana, and papaya. You'll find trendy restaurants run by big-name chefs in Honolulu
, but to take part in a traditional island event and taste some simple yet tasty foods, include a Lahaina
luau on your list of top things to do in Hawaii. Traditional luaus usually feature most of Hawaii's best-known dishes, including lomi salmon (salted and hand-mixed with vegetables) and kalua pork (wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an underground oven). The easiest way to discover Hawaiian cuisine quickly is on a food tour, but if you have more time to explore, visit places like Kailua Farmers Market
. While exploring this street bazaar, you can try Hawaii's favorite snacks, like candied macadamia nuts, arare rice crackers, and dried octopus strips.
Shopping on Hawaii
A major tourist destination, Hawaii offers visitors plenty of modern buying options, including giant shopping malls and upscale boutiques. A big draw for shopaholics from around the globe, Ala Moana Center
serves as one of the largest outdoor shopping venues in the world, housing nearly 300 stores and 70 restaurants. Another outstanding mall experience, Royal Hawaiian Center
offers shopping, dining, and entertainment, along with regular educational events designed to celebrate local culture and heritage. If you prefer low-key shopping venues, add a few outdoor farmers markets to your Hawaii sightseeing schedule. Good options include Waimea Homestead Farmers Market
and Maui Swap Meet
, where you can pick up everything from huge wood carvings to easy-to-pack shell necklaces.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Hawaii
History of Hawaii
Though historians know little about Hawaii's earliest history, most experts agree the first Polynesian settlers probably arrived around 300 CE. A second wave of immigrants arrived from Tahiti around 1000 CE. Controlled by local chieftains, Hawaii's early society followed a rigorous code of conduct known locally as "kapu." Start your Hawaii tour at Polynesian Cultural Center
, an ideal place to learn about local history and culture.
In 1778 explorer James Cook became the first white Westerner to arrive on the islands. Local tribes mistakenly assumed he was their god Lono and treated him like a deity. Exhibiting suspiciously ungodlike behavior, Cook used local temple idols for firewood and then abducted the King of Hawaii. The king's supporters cut the European visit short by killing Cook and several of his men.
Late 18th century saw the rise of King Kamehameha, credited with uniting all Hawaiian islands and bringing a period of peace and stability to a rapidly changing native society. Learn more about this historical period at Iolani Palace
, once the seat of government for the independent Kingdom of Hawaii. Constructed in 1879, this building witnessed the reign of Queen Lili'uokalani, Hawaii's last monarch.
Christian missionaries and immigrants from China, Japan, Portugal, and the Philippines continued to arrive through the 19th century, bringing with them new culinary, religious, political, and economic influences. The Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown by a group of American businessmen, with the U.S. government annexing Hawaii in 1898. Enhance your Hawaii holiday with visits to places like Kauai Museum
and Puukohola National Historic Park
, where you can immerse yourself in Hawaiian cultural and artistic heritage.
Hawaii played a major role in American history when an unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II. The infamous strike by the Japanese navy sunk four American battleships and killed over 2,400 American soldiers. Visit USS Arizona Memorial
to discover the story behind the lost battleships and pay homage to the American military personnel who participated in this theater of war.
Declared a U.S. state on August 21, 1959, Hawaii features stunning natural scenery, pleasant climate, and an abundance of public beaches that make it one of the world's most popular tourist destinations. Devote a good part of your Hawaii trip to exploring the islands on foot at designated walking tracks like Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail
and Kauai Path
Landscape of Hawaii
Known for its untamed and wildly beautiful landscapes, Hawaii encompasses varied natural features that range from quiet bays to continuously active volcanoes. One of the America's smallest states by area, Hawaii boasts a lengthy coastline stretching for approximately 1,200 km (750 mi). Not surprisingly, most visitors come to this archipelago of six major islands to enjoy sandy beaches and coastal nature preserves, like Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
and Ala Moana Beach Park
. Nature lovers and adventure seekers prefer to spend their Hawaii holidays exploring two national parks. Haleakala Crater
features the currently dormant Haleakala volcano. The World Heritage-listed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
includes Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's biggest subaerial volcano.
Holidays & Festivals on Hawaii
Like the rest of the United States, Hawaii observes a number of major public holidays, including New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The state also offers visitors plenty of local cultural events, ideal opportunities to get in the spirit of island living. Add Hilo
to your Hawaii itinerary to participate in the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a renowned hula competition. Kapalua
hosts the state's longest-running food and wine festival, appealing to visitors interested in Hawaii's traditional cuisine. Hawaii's oldest and largest public park, Kapiolani Regional Park
provides the setting for Lei Day Celebration (May 1), a day dedicated to lei-making competitions and live music performances. If you time your visit for autumn, you can experience the best of Hawaiian music and dance by attending the statewide Aloha Festivals, a series of free cultural celebrations with special activities for tourist families.
Hawaii Travel Tips
Climate of Hawaii
Hawaii's warm tropical climate remains one of the main reasons for visiting the archipelago at any time of year. Though the islands do not experience distinct seasons in the same sense as the rest of the United States, the weather can vary considerably between the "windward" (north and east sides of islands) and "leeward" (south and west) areas. The wet season runs from October to March and brings with it cooler temperatures and more rainfall. This wetter time of year is also Hawaii's high season, ideal for whale-watching and surfing. If you plan your Hawaii trip for any time between April and September, you'll experience significantly warmer temperatures and less rainfall. September belongs to Hawaii's shoulder season, a time of mostly cloudless skies, fewer crowds, and lower prices.
Transportation on Hawaii
Most visitors who fly to Hawaii land in Honolulu, home to an international airport serving as the main gateway for the entire archipelago. Air travel remains the best way to travel between the islands as well, though you can also take advantage of limited ferry services linking Maui with Molokai and Lanai. Consider renting a car if you prefer to enjoy your Hawaii vacation at your own pace and on your own terms. All of the bigger islands offer decent public transportation, but many visitors find that access to a private car opens up more options for off-the-beaten-track excursions. If you prefer to travel in a les motorized manner, use a bicycle as your primary mode of transport. Many resort areas feature bicycle shops where you can rent or repair your beach cruiser or road bike. If you do go for cycle touring, be mindful of Hawaii's narrow roads and heavy traffic in and around big urban centers.
Language of Hawaii
In addition to English, expect to hear a great deal of Hawaiian during your trip. Closely related to other Polynesian languages, Hawaiian only has 13 letters. Learning a few basic phrases in the native tongue can greatly enhance your Hawaii holiday, helping you make friends and making it easier to read local street signs. Incorporating elements of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, and many other languages, Hawaiian "pidgin" English is another dialect frequently heard on the islands. Numerous ethnic communities also speak their native languages, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, Korean, Samoan, and Ilocano.