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Hawaii is the perfect destination for surfers and divers, nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts, spa-goers and Zen-seekers, foodies and culture lovers, and, of course, all types of sun-worshipers. The laid-back pace, consistently warm weather, and exciting recreation also make Hawaii a great choice for families looking to explore a truly exotic destination. Comb the beach for seashells, swim with dolphins, gorge yourself at a luau, and more — it's all in the island fun!
The Big Six
Pick one or see them all! The great thing about Hawaii's distinctive islands is that it is incredibly easy to go "island hopping" and visit multiple islands on one vacation. Island hopping lets you have the best of all worlds in Hawaii and keeps your adventures fresh. But you’ll need to know what to expect on each island.
Sample a little bit of everything: surfing, sunbathing, sightseeing — Hawaii’s third-largest island offers something for everyone.
Grab a board and head to popular Waikiki Beach where you’ll catch locals, sun bathers, and surfers sprinkled throughout the glistening coastline. But if you’re looking to prove you’re a natural at riding legendary waves, then without a doubt hit the North Shore beaches. Meanwhile, beautiful Kailua Beach is great for swimming, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, and volleyball. And if you want a quiet patch of sand to rest near some of the most immaculate and serene turquoise waters on the planet, then take some much-deserved R&R at Lanaikai Beach.
Beyond the beaches, Oahu offers incredible hiking at the iconic Diamond Head crater and Nu'uanu Pali Lookout. Honolulu is full of art galleries, shopping, and a fast-paced nightlife. And foodies can savor authentic Hawaiian dishes with a 360⁰ birds-eye view of Waikiki at the revolving restaurant, Top of Waikiki, or sample bold Hawaiian Fusion cuisine at Roy "Iron Chef" Yamaguchi's restaurants. Oahu is also home to a number of Pearl Harbor memorials, museums, and historic tours.
Volcanoes, whale-watching, pineapple plantations, crashing surf, stunning cliffs…yep, you’re in Maui! The second most visited Hawaiian island was formed from a pair of volcanoes that overlapped one another to form a valley-like isthmus. Most of the touristy resort areas hug the western shore where the pristine waters of Pacific Ocean crash against spectacular beaches.
Speaking of the beaches, DT Fleming Beach Park, at the north end of Kapalua, has calm waters, a wide sandy beach, lifeguards, BBQ grills, a snack bar, picnic areas, and shady trees, making it perfect for families. Head to Ho'okipa Beach Park for premier windsurfing, with strong currents and intense shore breaks offering the ultimate challenge. It is to topnotch windsurfers what Daytona is to racers. Swimmers enjoy the gentle drop off of Wailea Beach, which is also an exceptional whale-watching vantage point in winter.
Away from the sand, Hana is Maui’s undeveloped paradise. Just keep in mind you’re in for quite the ride with 52 miles of twists and turns and bridges to get there! But at the end of the trip, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view of Maui’s jaw-dropping eastern coastline, rounded out with natural wonders including cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests, and, at the top, The Seven Sacred Pools. Maui also offers breathtaking golf courses designed by the likes of Arnold Palmer and Ben Crenshaw, and the hip, hot Lahaina, which is packed with bars, cafés, restaurants, and dance clubs.
Think Kauai and think Waimea Canyon and Na Pali Coast. Decked out in fairytale greenery, Kauai, also known as the “Garden Island,” is the oldest island in Hawaii and the wettest – and undoubtedly the lushest!
Waimea Canyon, is a sight to behold, and is called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” for good reason, dropping 3,000 feet in some places. Na Pali Coast State Park spans over 6,000 acres and features sheer cliffs that drop into the crystal blue Pacific Ocean. Pu’u o Kila Lookout affords amazing views of the surrounding area, including Mount Waialeale, the wettest place on Kauai (and, some say, the world, though that is in dispute).
For beaches, families can enjoy Lydgate Beach Park, which features some of the safest swimming on Kauai with a swimming area protected by an artificial rock barrier, plus a lifeguard. Popular white-sand Kalapaki Beach invites you to get into surfing, sailing, windsurfing, and boogie boarding, thanks to easy availability of professional instruction and rental gear. Anahola Beach Park has good swimming thanks to a protective reef offshore and a sandy beach backed by shady trees.
The Big Island
Think Big. Best golf, best coffee, best stargazing, best landscape where the sun shines daily – the Big Island. Verdant rainforests and arid deserts, black-sand beaches and white-capped mountains, unparalleled stargazing and down-to-earth people, world-class golf and world-famous coffee. Yes, the Big Island is all that and more.
Watch the eruption of Kilauea in real time, and marvel at its lava flow that has actually been creating new land continuously since 1983! Visit one of the Kona Coast's 600 coffee farms, and snag a bag of prized gourmet coffee beans. Stroll the personable town of Hilo, lined with restaurants, shops, and historic Victorian homes. And drive to the summit of Mauna Kea, the world's tallest mountain (33,000+ feet, as measured from the ocean floor), to take in an unparalleled view of the stars.
The Big Island also has big beaches. Better known as "Snorkel Beach," Kahalu'u Beach Park is fed by a fresh spring, and the waters are almost always calm, revealing colorful corals, rock formations, and 100+ species of fish. Families enjoy Spencer Beach with its gently sloping reef-protected white-sand shore, and Hapuna Beach, The Big Island’s largest beach, features lifeguards, gear rentals, picnic areas, and a snack bar.
Molokai & Lanai
Place the world on hold and disconnect on these tiny islands. Expect serenity, simple pleasures, and, perhaps most of all, a sense of perspective when you visit the mostly-undeveloped gems known as Molokai and Lanai – tiny islands with big possibilities.
Malokai offers no discos, fast-food joints, or shopping malls. No elevators, traffic lights, or crowds. The good people of Molokai savor a simple way of life to be lived amid unspoiled beauty and awesome natural wonders. Head inland to Molokai Ranch Outfitters Center and arrange mountain biking, horseback riding, kayaking, hikes, and more family fun.
Lanai is a largely undeveloped island ripe for discovery. Venture northwest on a rugged jeep road to an arid landscape strewn with boulders – the Garden of the Gods. In quaint Lanai City, shop whimsical boutiques, grab a mahi-mahi sandwich on a deck overlooking Dole Park, and stop to chat with friendly locals.
There are no lifeguards on Molokai, however Murphy's Beach is very suitable for families, since the waters are sheltered by the barrier reef. Lanai's remote Lopa Beach attracts local fishermen. And the southeast-facing breaks are inviting for novice surfers. On Molokai's east shore, crescent-shaped Sandy Beach is a pocket of golden sand that, thanks to a protective reef and deep shore bottom, is ideal for swimming.
Pineapples and coconuts usually spring to mind when talk turns to "Hawaiian food," but a better example of authentic local cuisine is the fare served at luaus that you’ll want to sink your teeth into:
- Poi, mash made from the root of the taro plant;
- laulau, pork, chicken, and salted butterfish wrapped in taro leaves;
- Kalua Pua’a, or roast pig;
- ono (wahoo) and mahi mahi (dolphinfish).
Things to do
Head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on The Big Island for amazing views of Kilauea's lava flows, which have been running non-stop since 1983.
Visit the century-old Makapu'u Lighthouse at Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline in Oahu for Pacific views and whale watching.
Set sail on a catamaran cruise off Waikiki to watch a sunset you'll never forget.
Immerse yourself in a sublime state of mind, body, and spiritual well-being – as well as feel fit and get that island glow while receiving the pampering you deserve – at one of the many deluxe spas. Luxuriate in the soothing powers of lomi lomi, enjoy the holistic Hawaiian massage, and balance the senses with the healing properties of local ingredients used in ancient therapies.
Groove to traditional music, savor local cuisine, and immerse yourself in the cultural dances at a classic Hawaiian luau.
Visit the real-life Kauai "movie sets,” including Hanalei, where some of the screen's biggest hits were filmed.
Sport fish for marlin, wahoo, mahi mahi, and tuna, among other ocean giants.
Visit the Kona Coast and find out why it has the optimal growing conditions for the famous Kona Coffee. Visit one of the Kona Coast's 600 coffee farms, and snag a bag of prized gourmet coffee beans.