Hawaii Travel Guide

10 minutes

Waiki Beach and Diamond Head [photo courtesy of waikiki.com][/caption]Hawaii is America's 50th and youngest state. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is an archipelago of eight islands, though only six are open to visitors, and constitutes the northernmost portion of the Polynesian islands. With their breathtaking scenery and miles of beaches, the Hawaiian Islands have become a travel destination for people from all over the world.

Getting Around

Since Hawaii is a chain of islands, traveling from one to the other is not as simple as renting a car. If you are interested in seeing multiple islands during your Hawaiian vacation, you should plan to fly from one island to the next. The main airport in Hawaii is the Oahu International Airport, and most flights to the other islands will connect here. It is a good idea to plan to start your trip on Oahu, and then make travel arrangements to go to a different island. Flights from Oahu to the other islands are relatively cheap and extremely quick, with flights ranging between 25-50 minutes. If you are on Maui you have the option to take a ferry between to either Lanai or Molokai should you prefer to travel by boat.

To travel on the islands, the best option is to rent a car. There are many places that are only accessible by car, and it will allow you to explore the island at your leisure. In addition, there are public buses available on Oahu, Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island, though on some of the small islands service will be more limited.  If you plan to travel to Lanai or Molokai, a rental car will be necessary. For more information on public transit in Hawaii, click here.

For those looking to travel to the Aloha state while in the U.S., here are some suggestions for what you can see and do while in Hawaii!


Also known as the "Garden Isle," Kauai is Hawaii's oldest and fourth largest island. It is home to tropical rainforests, mountains and pristine beaches.

  •  Koloa Heritage Trail: The Koloa Heritage Trail is a 14-stop self-guided tour of the South Shore section of Kauai. It takes visitors through some of the most important cultural and historic sites on the island. You'll get a chance to visit Poipu Beach Park home to endangered monk seals, the Sugar Monument in Old Koloa town that honors the site of Hawaii's first sugar mill, the Pau A Laka botanical gardens, and much more. For more details about this trail, click here.
  • Waimea Canyon: Known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" this natural wonder is a 14-mile long, 3,600 ft deep canyon located on the southwest side of the island. If you follow Waimea Canyon Drive to the lookout point, you will be met with breathtaking views of deep valleys and crags. There are al  so many hiking routes through the canyon for those seeking for a close look. (Photocred: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Waimea_Canyon_HDR.jpg)
  • Hanalei Bay and Town: Located on the Northern shore of Kauai, the small town of Hanalei has plenty for visitors to enjoy. Check out art galleries and cafes, the historic Waiola Mission House and church, or even hear a ukulele concert on your visit to Hanalei. If you're more interested in lying on the beach, head over to Hanalei Bay with its famous pier that was featured in the 1957 film "South Pacific."


Maui's nickname is the "Magic Isle" and has often been voted the best island by travel magazines.  Maui is the second largest of the Hawaiian Islands and offers visitors plenty to do and see.

  • Kaanapali Beach: Located on the west side of the island, this three-mile white-sand beach was once named America's best beach. It is home to some of the island's best resorts and golf courses. However, it is best known for its daily cliff diving ceremony. Every night at sunset, one cliff diver lights a torch and dives off Black Rock, the area's northernmost cliff as a reenactment of historic King Kahekili.
  • Whale Watching: Maui is home to some of the best places for whale watching in the world. The ocean waters are clear and provide good visibility for those seeking to spot these magnificent sea creatures.  Humpback whales commonly visit Maui's west and south shores during whale watching season from December to May. You can take whale watching tours and cruises throughout the island, Lahaina Harbor and Maalaea Harbor being two of the most popular. However, you can also try whale watching from the beach at spots such as Kihei and Wailea.
  • Haleakala National Park: Star gaze and watch the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala in this national park. Haleakala is home to one of the most beautiful sunrises in the world and is also one of the best places to see the Milky Way due to its high elevation and clear skies. There are also plenty of trails and guided hikes to take, as well as campsites to stay at. If hiking isn't your style, you can also drive up to the campsites.
  • Hana: Located on the eastern coast of Maui, this town is considered one of the "last unspoiled Hawaiian frontiers." In order to get there, visitors must take the Hana Highway, which is one of the greatest scenic drives in the country. The road has 620 curves and 59 bridges, and travels 52 miles to Hana. On the way, you'll see waterfalls, gorgeous coastline, and mountains.


As Hawaii's fifth largest island, Molokai is one of the best places to experience authentic Hawaiian culture.  It is still home to a high percentage of people of Native Hawaiian ancestry and preserves their rural lifestyle to this day.

  • Kaunakakai: If you are looking for somewhere to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, then this small harbor town may be just what you need. There are no traffic lights in the whole town and it is full of welcoming stores and restaurants.  Nearby you can visit the Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, an ancient coconut grove that was first planted in the 1860s.
  • Maunaloa: On the western end of Molokai sits the small plantation town of Maunaloa. It has many unique shops, one of which is the Big Wind Kite Factory that specializes in handmade kites.  It is also near two popular beaches, Papohaku Beach and Kapukahehu beach.
  • Kamakou Preserve: With nearly 2,774 acres to explore, the Kamakou Preserve is home to rare plants and animals, nearly extinct birds, and the island's highest mountain. In order to get there, you will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and tours are offered through the Nature Conservancy of Molokai.


Lanai may be the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island, but it still offers plenty to do.

  • Keahiakawelo: Also called the "Garden of the Gods," this rock garden in northern Lanai is sure to amaze. According to legend, the rocks and landscape were caused by a contest between two priests from Lanai and Molokai who were challenged to keep a fire burning the longest. Lanai's priest was said to have been so devoted to winning that he burned all the vegetation around him, causing these rock formations.
  • Hulopoe Bay: Located on the southern end of Lanai, this bay was named America's best beach in 1997.  The Four Seasons Resort Lanai is located here and is one of the best places to snorkel. The bay has many large tide pools to explore with plenty of sea life to find. However, please do not take any stones, shells, or fish out of their natural habitat in order to help preserve the environment. Spinner dolphins are often seen at Hulopoe, and in the winter you may see humpback whales.
  • Lanai City: This town in central Lanai is a great place to do some shopping and dining on the island. It has many cafes and restaurants, as well as picnic spots in Dole Park. It was originally founded in the 1900's as a plantation town for the pineapple industry. The Hotel Lanai and the Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the Lodge at Koele are located here and are two luxurious places to stay for those looking for a retreat.


Known as "the Gathering Place" Oahu is home to the majority of Hawaii's population and its capital city, Honolulu. It is a place where eastern and western cultures meet and home to a more modern Hawaiian lifestyle.

  • Waikiki: Located in downtown Honolulu, Waikiki is Oahu's main hotel and shopping area. There are tons of stores, restaurants and resorts, as well as attractions like the Waikiki Aquarium and the Honolulu Zoo. The beach in Waikiki has very calm surf, and is a good place for beginners to learn to surf.
  • Leahi, "Diamond Head:" Overlooking Waikiki beach and the city of Honolulu, Diamond Head is a volcanic crater that was created by an eruption approximately 150,000 years ago.  Its Hawaiian name, Leahi, means "brow of the tuna" but it was given its western name by British sailors who thought they saw diamonds on the crater. If you hike to the top, you will get excellent panoramic views of Oahu's south shore.
  • Pearl Harbor: On December 7th, 1941 the American naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan, thus causing the U.S. to enter into World War II. Today, it stands as a National Historic Landmark that honors those who fought and died during the war in the Pacific.  There are many exhibits, memorials and museums throughout Pearl Harbor for visitors to see and learn more about this important part of American history; the most famous is the USS Arizona Memorial. Designed by Honolulu architect Alfred Preis, the memorial is a bridge over the remnants of the ships that were sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor. For more visitors' information, please visit: http://www.pearlharboroahu.com/index.htm (Photo cred: Sarah Wadlinger **You can mark this without a photo cred if you want, I don't care**)
  • North Shore: Known for its massive waves in the winter months, Oahu's North Shore is a destination for surfers and beachgoers year round. During the winter, many surf competitions take place along the 7 miles of beach in the North Shore.  Some of the best places to see the waves are Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Ehukai or "Pipeline" Beach.
  • Kualo Ranch: The Kualo Ranch is a 4,000-acre ranch that stretches from the inland mountains all the way to the ocean. It has been protected from commercial development since it is privately owned and, as such, displays some stunning scenery. There are many tours you can take through the ranch, including on horseback or ATVs. Kualo Ranch is also known for being the site of many movies and television shows, as Jurassic Park, Windtalkers, Pearl Harbor, LOST and Hawaii Five-O were all filmed here.

Hawaii Island 

Known commonly as the "Big Island," Hawaii is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is known for its many volcanoes and black sand beaches.

  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Home to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, this park provides visitors over 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts and rainforests. Kilauea has been constantly erupting since January 3rd, 1983 and releases between 250,000 and 650,000 cubic yards of lava per day. In doing so, it has added 491 new acres of land to the island since 1994. For those less interested in hiking, there is also museum on site and a scenic drive you can take.
  • Downtown Hilo: This historic town is full of shops and sites to visit and is located among beautiful scenery. The town was nearly destroyed twice in the last century by tsunamis, once in 1946 and once in 1960, but has since rebuilt. You can visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum to learn more about these disasters while in Hilo. Or you can browse through the many art galleries or visit the Imiloa Astronomy Center, Liliuokalani Gardens, or Hilo Farmers market instead.
  • Kona: The Kona District is 60-mile region on the western coast of the island. It is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world. For coffee lovers, try taking a tour of some of the area's coffee mills, such as Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, the largest organic coffee farm in the U.S. While in the region, visit the historic Kailua Village, a great place for shopping and dining, as well as home of Hulihee Palace, the former summer retreat of Hawaiian royalty.
  • Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site: Home to the largest restored heiau (temple) in Hawaii, this park is a great place to visit to learn more about ancient Hawaiian culture.  This stone temple was constructed around 1790 by King Kamehameha (before he was king) in order to appease a prophecy that war would end if he built a heaiu to the war god Ku at this site.  Today, it is thought to be the last sacred structure built in Hawaii before the islands were introduced to western influences. The surrounding park has trails for hiking and is also a good place to spot humpback whales in the winter.

There are so many things to do and see in Hawaii! We hope we have given you some great ideas for your own trip to the Aloha State!

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Ani Kington Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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