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A Complete Guide to Hawaii

By: Swena Kalra

Edited By: Scott Sidders

Updated on November 6, 2023

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Hawaii is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. People from all over the globe flock to the island state every year to enjoy its stunning natural scenery, unique culture, and exciting activities.
If you're planning a trip to Hawaii, you'll want to ensure you know what to expect. In this complete guide to Hawaii, we'll cover everything you need to know about visiting the islands, from where to go, what to do, and how to get around.

When most people think of Hawaii, they picture white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, and palm trees. And while that's definitely a part of the islands, there's so much more to see and do.
Hawaii is made up of eight main islands: Oahu, Maui, the Big Island of Hawaii, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Each island has its unique personality, so looking at all your options for your vacation is essential.


Aerial of Honolulu, Hawaii beyond Diamond Head on the Island of Oahu.

The most popular island for tourists, Oahu is home to the state capital of Honolulu, as well as Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head, and a variety of other attractions. So if you're looking for a lively atmosphere with plenty to see and do, Oahu is a perfect choice. This is also the best island for those interested in surfing. It's a surfer's paradise, attracting surfers globally every year.


Maui Coastline, Hawaii Islands

Maui is often referred to as the "Valley Isle" due to the large valley that runs through its center. This island is a popular choice for honeymooners and couples, as it's known for its romantic atmosphere. Maui is also home to Haleakala National Park, a must-see for any nature lover.

The Big Island of Hawaii

Aerial of Waipio bay and valley in Big Island Hawaii

As the largest island in the state, the Big Island of Hawaii has a lot to offer visitors. From active volcanoes to black sand beaches, there's something for everyone on this island. The Big Island is also home to the majority of Hawaii's population, so it has a more diverse culture than the other islands. It's also the only place in the state where coffee is grown.


Bali Hai from Tunnels Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Often called the "Garden Isle," Kauai is known for its lush, tropical landscape. This island is perfect for those looking to get away from it all, as it's relatively undeveloped and has a slower pace of life than the other islands. Kauai is also a great choice for nature lovers, as it's home to Waimea Canyon, one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii.


Manele Bay on the Island of Lanai in Hawaii

The smallest inhabited island in Hawaii, Lanai is a great place to get away from it all. The island is home to luxury resorts, as well as a number of secluded beaches. It's also the perfect place for a round of golf, with no fewer than three championship golf courses.


Aerial View of Kalaupapa, Molokai, Hawaii

Molokai is a quiet island with a largely rural population. This is a great place to visit if you're looking for a taste of traditional Hawaiian life. Molokai is also home to Kalaupapa National Historical Park, where you can learn about the island's fascinating history. It is often called the "Friendly Isle" due to the warm and welcoming nature of its residents. The island has a more laid-back atmosphere than some of the other Hawaiian islands, making it a great place to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of Hawaii.


Niihau island of Hawaii

The "Forbidden Isle," Niihau is a privately-owned island that is off-limits to most visitors. The only way to get to Niihau is by plane or boat, and you must have permission from the owners of the island to land. Those who are lucky enough to visit Niihau will find an island that is untouched by modern life, with a population that still speaks Hawaiian as their first language.



The smallest of the main Hawaiian islands, Kahoolawe, is uninhabited and largely undeveloped. This island was once used as a military bombing range, but it has since been turned into a wildlife refuge. Kahoolawe is only accessible by boat, and visitors must have a permit to land on the island.

The Best Time to visit Hawaii

Kaanapali Beach and resort Hotels on Maui Hawaii

The best time to visit Hawaii depends on what you want to do while you're there. If you're looking to experience all that the islands have to offer, from swimming and sunbathing on the beaches to hiking through lush tropical forests, then the best time to visit Hawaii is during the summer months of June through August.

However, if you're looking to avoid the crowds and enjoy more relaxed conditions, then the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-October are a great option. Keep in mind that the weather in Hawaii can vary from one island to the next, so be sure to check the forecast for your specific destination.

When it comes to booking your trip, keep in mind that the prices for flights and accommodation tend to be highest during the peak summer months. If you're looking to save money, consider traveling during the shoulder seasons or even the winter months of November through February.

How to Get to Hawaii

Aerial view on famous Koko crater Honolulu, Hawaii from an airplane.

There are two ways to get to Hawaii: by plane or by boat.

If you're coming from the mainland United States, the easiest way to get to Hawaii is by flying. Several major airlines offer direct flights from various cities across the country, and there are also a number of smaller regional carriers that fly to Hawaii from select cities.

If you're coming from outside the US, you'll likely have to connect through a major US hub city like Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle before continuing on to Hawaii.

The other way to get to Hawaii is by boat. This is a popular option for people coming from the neighboring islands of Tahiti, Samoa, or Fiji.

There are a number of cruise lines that offer trips to Hawaii as well, but these tend to be much longer (and more expensive) than flying.

Getting Around Hawaii

Catamaran Inter-Island Ferry in the Honolulu harbor

Once you're in Hawaii, there are a few different ways to get around. The most popular way to get around the islands is by car. Renting a car is a great option if you're planning on doing a lot of exploring, and it's also the easiest way to get to some of the more remote beaches and hiking trails. If you're just planning on staying in one area, or if you're not comfortable driving on the island's winding roads, then another option is to use public transportation.

On the larger islands of Oahu and Maui, there are buses that run regularly between the major tourist areas. There is also a system of inter-island ferries that can take you between the islands, although this is a slower option and is typically only used by people who are traveling by their own car.

Accommodation Options in Hawaii

Luxury Resort on the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii Islands

Hawaii has a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget, from camping and hostels to luxury resorts. On the smaller islands like Lanai and Molokai, there are a limited number of hotels and resorts, so booking in advance is recommended. The larger islands of Oahu, Maui, and Hawaii Island have a much wider range of accommodation options, from budget-friendly hotels to upscale resorts.

Here are some of the best places to stay in Hawaii:

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea

Wailea Point Condominiums and the Four Seasons Resort in Maui, Hawaii

The Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea is a luxurious hotel that sits on the southwest coast of Maui. It features exquisite rooms with beautiful views of either the ocean, gardens, or mountains. Each room comes equipped with free Wi-Fi, a flat-screen TV, and tea and coffee-making facilities. Guests can enjoy access to the beach, three pools, and 58 cabanas. Other amenities include three restaurants, a 24-hour fitness center, a spa, and tennis courts. Whether you're looking to relax or explore, the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea has something for everyone.


Volcano Rainforest Retreat

Kilauea Iki Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Volcano Rainforest Retreat is a bed and breakfast that is surrounded by 1.5 acres of rainforest. It is located 3 miles from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The retreat has four cedarwood cottages that are individually decorated and have a tropical feel. All of the cottages have free Wi-Fi, sitting areas, and kitchenettes or kitchens. Some of the cottages also have hot tubs and outdoor showers. Free continental breakfast with local Kona coffee is provided in each cottage the night before. The retreat also has a shared outdoor Japanese-style soaking tub among the trees. The owners of the retreat can also arrange massages and spa services.

Hāmākua Guesthouse and Camping Cabanas

Akaka Falls, Big Island, Hawaii

The Hāmākua Guesthouse and Camping Cabanas are great places to stay if you're looking for a modest, agricultural area. The guesthouse is 4 miles away from both ʻAkaka Falls State Park and Hakalau Beach Park, and it's 16 miles away from the Hilo International Airport. The rooms offer Wi-Fi and shared bathrooms, and some of them have ocean views. The cabins feature kitchenettes, porches, and en suite facilities, while the open-air rooms and dorms have hammocks. There are also common areas that include a kitchen, a dining area, and a living space with a TV.

These options are just a few of the many accommodation choices that are available in Hawaii. No matter what your budget or preferences are, you're sure to find a place that's perfect for you.

Things to Do in Hawaii

There are endless things to do in Hawaii, no matter what island you're on. Whether you want to relax on the beach, hike through a rainforest, or learn about the culture and history of the islands, there's something for everyone. Here are some of the best things to do in Hawaii:

1. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii volcanoes National Park

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. The park is home to two of the world's most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. You can hike through lava fields, see steaming craters, and learn about the geological history of the islands.

2. Go Snorkeling or Diving

Hawaii sea turtle encounter while snorkeling

Another popular activity in Hawaii is snorkeling or diving. With its clear waters and diverse marine life, Hawaii is a paradise for underwater explorers. You can find plenty of snorkeling and diving spots on all of the islands, but some of the best include Hanauma Bay on Oahu and Molokini Crater off the coast of Maui.

3. Visit Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Pearl Harbor is a must-see for anyone visiting Hawaii. The site of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II is now home to the USS Arizona Memorial, which honors the more than 1,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the attack. You can also visit the USS Missouri, where the Japanese signed the surrender agreement, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

4. Explore Hawaii's Beaches

Waikiki beach and Diamond Head mountain peak at sunset, Oahu island, Hawaii.

Of course, one of the best things to do in Hawaii is to simply relax on one of its many beautiful beaches. With over 750 miles of coastline, there are plenty of beaches to choose from. Some of the most popular include Waikiki Beach on Oahu, Hapuna Beach on the Big Island, and Kapalua Bay Beach on Maui.

5. Soak in a Hawaiian Sunset

Hawaiian sunset with sailboat and mountains

One of the best ways to end a day in Hawaii is by watching the sunset over the ocean. There are plenty of great spots to catch a sunset, but some of the best include Lanikai Beach on Oahu, Haleakala National Park on Maui, and Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island. This is just a small sample of what Hawaii has to offer visitors. Many tour companies offer romantic sunset cruises if you're looking for something unique to try one evening.

Food and Drinks in Hawaii

Hawaiian traditional plate lunch

Hawaii is renowned for its diverse cuisine, which is a reflection of the many different cultures that have influenced the island. The most popular Hawaiian dishes include poi (a paste made from taro root), poke (raw fish salad), Lomi salmon (salted and diced salmon), and kalua pig (slow-roasted pork), and Haupia (coconut pudding).

Of course, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without trying delicious Hawaiian shave ice. This refreshing treat is made with shaved ice and flavored syrup and can usually be found at roadside stands or in shaved ice trucks.

When it comes to drinks, coffee is Hawaii's specialty. Kona coffee is grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai, two volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. This coffee is known for its rich flavor and smooth texture. If you're a fan of fruit juices, you'll be spoiled for choice in Hawaii. Pineapple, mango, guava, and passionfruit juice are just some of the many delicious options that are available.

If you're looking to try something truly unique, make sure to check out Hawaii's local beer scene. Hawaiian breweries use locally grown ingredients to create their beers, which often have a tropical twist. For example, the Maui Brewing Company's Coconut Porter is made with toasted coconut, while the Big Island Brewhaus's Overboard IPA is brewed with passionfruit.

No matter what you're in the mood for, you're sure to find it in Hawaii. From fresh seafood to delicious shave ice, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

Shopping in Hawaii

Hawaii State Art Museum

Hawaii is a shopper's paradise, with plenty of opportunities to find unique gifts and souvenirs.
If you're looking for Hawaiian-made products, the best place to start is the Hawaii State Art Museum. The museum has a shop that sells works by local artists, as well as books about Hawaiian art and culture.
For locally made food products, head to the Honolulu Farmer's Market. This market is held every Wednesday and features a variety of vendors selling fresh produce, Hawaii-grown coffee, honey, and more.

If you're in search of the perfect souvenir, stop by one of Hawaii's many gift shops. You'll find everything from Hawaiian-print shirts to hand-carved wood sculptures. When it comes to shopping, Hawaii has something for everyone. Whether you're looking for art, food, or souvenirs, you're sure to find what you're looking for.

Safety in Hawaii

Surfing in Kauai Hawaii

Hawaii is generally a safe place to travel, but there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure that your trip is enjoyable and incident-free. First and foremost, it's important to be aware of the dangers posed by Hawaii's natural environment. The state is home to active volcanoes, as well as dangerous surf conditions at times.

When hiking, be sure to stay on marked trails and avoid venturing off into the wilderness alone.
Also, be cautious when swimming in the ocean. Be aware of the signs that indicate dangerous rip currents, and never swim alone. If you do get caught in a rip current, relax and let the current carry you until it dissipates.

Finally, it's important to be aware of the crime rate in Hawaii. While the overall crime rate is relatively low, there have been reports of petty theft and pickpocketing, especially in crowded tourist areas.
By taking a few precautions, you can ensure that your trip to Hawaii is safe and enjoyable.

Top 10 Tips for Visiting Hawaii

Humpback whale and her calf swimming in the ocean

The Hawaiian Islands are a popular destination for travelers from all over the world. If you're planning a trip to Hawaii, here are 10 top tips to help you make the most of your visit.

1. Choose your island wisely

With so many islands to choose from, it can be tough to decide which one is right for you. When choosing your island, consider your budget, the activities you want to do, and the type of atmosphere you're looking for.

2. Travel during the shoulder season

To avoid the crowds and get the best deals, plan to travel to Hawaii during the shoulder season, which runs from April to June or September to November.

3. Rent a car

While you can get around most Hawaiian islands without a car, renting one will give you the freedom to explore at your own pace. Just be sure to drive safely and watch out for pedestrians, as they have the right of way in Hawaii.

4. Don't forget your sunscreen

With year-round sunshine, it's important to wear sunscreen every day, even if it's cloudy. Be sure to reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

5. Pack light

With its tropical climate, Hawaii is a casual place, so there's no need to pack formal clothes. Instead, pack light, comfortable clothing that can be easily layered.

6. Bring cash

While most places in Hawaii accept credit cards, there are some exceptions. To avoid being stranded without cash, bring along a small amount of cash for emergencies.

7. Be respectful of Hawaiian culture

When visiting Hawaii, be sure to show respect for the local culture. This includes things like not wearing shoes in someone's home or taking your shoes off before entering a place of worship.

8. Learn a few words in Hawaiian

While you don't need to be fluent in Hawaiian, learning a few basic phrases will go a long way in demonstrating your respect for the local culture.

9. Don't collect sand or shells

It may be tempting to take home a souvenir from the beach, but it's important to resist the urge. Sand and shells are an important part of the Hawaiian ecosystem, and taking them from the beach can damage delicate coral reefs.

10. Dispose of your trash properly

Hawaii is a beautiful place, so do your part to keep it that way by disposing of your trash properly. This includes things like putting cigarette butts in the ashtray and recycling bottles and cans.

Final Thoughts

Aerial View of Kualoa area of Oahu, Hawaii

As you can see, Hawaii is a fascinating place with plenty to offer tourists and residents alike. Whether you're looking for sandy beaches, lush jungles, or snow-capped mountains, you can find them in Hawaii. With so much to see and do, it's no wonder that Hawaii is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Using this guide, you can make the most of your time in Hawaii, whether you're visiting for a few days or staying for a longer vacation. Mahalo!

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