From gorgeous beaches to traditional luaus to top-notch surfing, Hawai‘i offers terrific experiences that should be on every traveler’s list. Here’s what to do in Hawaii for a memorable trip.
Hawaii is one of those amazing places that sits at the top of most people’s travel lists, with daydreamers picturing stunning sunsets and sand in their toes. But it’s not all beaches and umbrella drinks here. The chain of islands is as diverse as it is beautiful, and the list of things to do in Hawaii is staggering. Hawaii’s eight primary islands—including Oahu, Hawaii Island (the Big Island), and Maui (there are dozens more atolls and islets in the chain)—have their own personalities and features, offering Hawaiian vacation activities for everyone from the beach bum to the foodie, from the surfer to the adventurer. So eat (here’s a list of the best restaurants in Hawaii), drink, and have fun, because once you arrive in Hawaii and have that lei around your neck, you’ll never want to leave!
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT HAWAII?There isn’t a bad time to visit Hawaii (year-round sunshine and mostly consistent weather), but the rainy season is November through March. December and January see a lot of visitors, so keep in mind when booking your winter getaway. April through September are recommended times to go.
For up-to-date information on Hawaii’s Covid-19 protocols, check out the state of Hawaii’s travel info page.
Hit the Road to Hana
Spectacular views of waterfalls, lush forests, and the sparkling ocean are part of the pleasure of the twisting drive along Maui’s North Shore to tiny, timeless Hana in East Maui. The journey is the destination, but kick back and enjoy once you arrive. Wave to pedestrians, “talk story” with locals in line at the Hasegawa store, and explore the multicolor beaches. An overnight stay here allows for the most relaxed experience—there are plenty of things to do, from exploring a lava tube cave to tasting farm-fresh food. A day trip is a big push, but it’s doable if you get an early start; you may decide to drive just part of the way as an alternative. Just remember that this isn’t just an attraction – residents drive this highway, and good visitors respect the “rules of the road,” including obeying “No Parking” and “No Trespassing” signs.
INSIDER TIPHawaii is a place with significant ancient history that is still alive and thriving today. Many places have deep cultural, historical, and religious meanings and should be met with reverence. Read about these places in detail before visiting for a deeper connection to the place, and be sure to heed warnings and stay out of kapu (forbidden) areas. As an island chain, Hawaii also faces many environmental issues that visitors can help mitigate by keeping trash to a minimum, wearing reef-safe (mineral) sunscreen, and keeping your footprint as small as possible. It’s important to preserve this special place for its residents and all of the future visitors to come.
Related: Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide
Visit Pearl Harbor
This top Honolulu site, a park of the National Park system, is not to be missed. Take in the history at the site of a critical moment in United States history, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ subsequent entry into World War II. Spend the better part of a day touring the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the USS Arizona Memorial (advanced tickets are highly recommended for the USS Arizona program). Visit the Bowfin Submarine Museum and the Pacific Aviation Museum if you have time.
Visit the Earth’s Most Active Volcano
WHERE: The Big Island
Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the aftermath (and occasionally the active lava flow steaming into the ocean, as well as the nighttime lava glow) of one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. The park includes many beautiful hiking options to explore the complex nature of volcanoes or a drive around the Crater Rim. Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube) is a popular cave inside the park, large and accessible enough for amateur spelunkers. Regular eruptions continuously change the park’s landscape, so even if you’ve already visited, it’s a whole new destination every time.
See the Awe-Inspiring Napali Coast
Experiencing Kauai’s emerald green Napali Coast is a must. You can see these awesome cliffs on the island’s northwest side by boat, helicopter, or by hiking the Kalalau Trail. Whichever you pick, you won’t be disappointed. Hiking the 22-mile trail requires a relatively high fitness level and a reservation. Entering Napali Coast State Wilderness Park and Kalalau Trail requires going through Ha‘ena State Park, which requires a day use and parking permit. Camping in Napali Coast SWP also requires a permit, so plan ahead if you want to check this off of your Hawai‘i bucket list.
Related: Fodor’s Kauai Travel Guide
Take time to trek down one of the trails into Haleakala National Park‘s massive bowl and see proof, at this dormant volcano, of how powerful the earth’s exhalations can be. The cinder cones have beautiful swirls of subtle colors that can sparkle in the sunlight. You won’t see a landscape like this anywhere, outside of visiting the moon. The barren terrain is deceptive; however, many of the world’s rarest plants, birds, and insects live here. Trails traverse a variety of ecosystems from the alpine desert at the summit to the lush Kipahulu District that spills over into East Maui and appeal to hikers of all abilities.
Related: The Best Restaurants in Maui
Surf at Waikiki Beach
With its well-shaped but diminutive waves, Waikiki remains the perfect spot for grommets (surfing newbies), though surf schools operate at beaches (and many hotels) around the island. Most companies guarantee at least one standing ride in the course of a lesson. We guarantee you’ll never forget the thrill of catching your first wave. Waikiki is home to a lot of surfing history, including a resurgence in popularity in the sport in the 1920s that saw the emergence of Duke Kahanamoku, who became an Olympian and surfing ambassador to the world.
Catch the Views at Waimea Canyon
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a unique and memorable Kauai destination. From its start in the west Kauai town of Waimea to the road’s end some twenty uphill miles later at Pu‘u o Kila Lookout, you’ll pass through several microclimates—from hot, desert-like conditions at sea level to the cool, deciduous forest of Koke‘e—and navigate through the traditional Hawaiian system of land division called ahupua‘a. You’ll pay entrance and parking fees for incredible views and great hiking for all levels.
Related: Top Things to Do in Kauai
Take a Leisurely Drive Along the Hamakua Coast
WHERE: The Big Island
The views of the Pacific are breathtaking along this stretch of road between Hilo and Waipio. High regional rainfall leads to beautiful, lush rainforests, highway-hugging waterfalls, and deep gulches that make for an incredible drive. Take the Old Mamalahoa Highway’s scenic four-mile detour off Hawai‘i Belt Road for some of the island’s most beautiful views. Plenty of treasures along the way make great stops; attractions like botanical gardens and zipline facilities and small communities like Laupahoehoe and Honoka‘a are great to check out along the way.
Related: Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide
Whale Watch From Your Hotel
Hawaii is the winter destination for hundreds of humpback whales (koholā in Hawaiian) that return every year from late November through April to frolic in the warm waters and give birth. All of the major islands, including Molokai and Lanai, include whale watching opportunities, but places like Wailea and Princeville offer the chance to watch whales directly from your hotel room. Watch a mama whale teach her one-ton calf how to tail-wave while keeping count of endless whale spouts. Book a boat tour for stunning photo opportunities to get way more up close and personal. You can eavesdrop on them, too: Book a tour boat with a hydrophone or just plunk your head underwater to hear the cetaceans’ strange squeaks, groans, and chortles.
Catch a Show at a Luau
Many of the islands play host to a traditional luau, with dancers, music, and a large spread of food. Most are found at resorts and offer a full night of fun. The Old Lahaina Luau on Maui has a warm heart—and seriously good poke (diced raw tuna tossed with herbs and other seasonings). Tuck a flower behind your ear, mix a dab of poi (taro-root paste) with your lomilomi salmon (prepared with onions and herbs), and you’ll be living like a local. Different styles of hula are part of the performance. For any luau, you’ll want to reserve well in advance. Many luaus are shifting away from the traditional buffet to focus on family-style or served courses (along with tropical cocktails) for an improved customer experience.
Related: Hawaiian Greetings and Phrases
Discover the Joy of Snorkeling
Snorkeling in the islands is a must, either on your own with a buddy or on a snorkel cruise. Maui has snorkel boats of all sizes to take you to spots like the Molokini Crater, while Kealakekua Bay is the desired destination on Hawaii Island. On Oahu, Hanauma Bay is a special spot; it’s a state-protected Marine Life Conservation District and nature preserve where education is as important as enjoyment. It’s extremely popular, and reservations can be tough to get, but worth it if you can. Wherever you duck under, you’ll be inducted into a mesmerizing world underwater. Slow down and keep your eyes open; even fish dressed in camouflage can be spotted when they snatch at food passing by.
Stretch Out on Oneloa/Makena Beach
This South Shore beauty is the sand dreams are made of: deep, golden, and pillowy. Don’t be discouraged by the crammed parking lots; there’s more than enough room. Makena (Oneloa in Hawaiian) is still relatively wild. There are no hotels, minimarts, or public restrooms nearby—instead, there’s crystal-clear water, the occasional pod of dolphins, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. You can grab a fish taco and a drink at a nearby truck for a tasty lunch.
Buy Tropical Fruit at a Roadside Stand
Your first taste of ripe guava or mango is something to remember. Delicious lychee, longan, rambutan, mangoes, star fruit, bananas, passion fruit, pineapple, and papaya can be bought on the side of the road with the loose ones that have been floating around your wallet. Let the juice run down your chin, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Farmers’ markets are another place to seek out tasty treats—just be sure to ask if what you crave is, indeed, local.
Visit One of Hawaii’s Amazing Resorts
Hawaii is home to many beautiful resorts that cater to the needs of visitors who want to have a luxurious vacation. Indulge your inner rock star at the posh, pampering resorts and spas around the islands. Sip a “Lime in da Coconut” in the hot tub at the Four Seasons or get massaged poolside at the Grand Wailea on Maui. Enjoy live jazz and tropical cocktails at Halekulani on Oahu and swim with a Spotted Eagle Ray in a private lagoon at the Four Seasons Hualalai on Hawaii Island. Even if you don’t stay the night, you can enjoy the opulent gardens, high-end restaurants, art collections, and perfectly cordial staff. For pure relaxation, book a spa treatment from the extensive menus.
Stargaze at Mauna Kea
WHERE: The Big Island
Teams of astronomers worldwide come to Mauna Kea for the clearest skies and some of the best conditions anywhere. Head up the mountain in the late afternoon for the prettiest sunset on this island and the best stargazing on this planet. A tour group is the suggested method of visiting the summit; otherwise, you’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle on what can sometimes be a treacherous road. If neither of those is an option, driving to the Visitor Information Station still allows for great learning opportunities and stargazing.
Snooze Near a Sea Turtle at Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach
WHERE: The Big Island
Hang out at Punalu‘u Black Sand Beach, fringed with coconut groves, where sea turtles surf the waves and nap on black volcanic sands. If you don’t see any of the beloved honu relaxing on the beach, take a look out into the waters, particularly the waves breaking on the beach—they’ll be there! Just don’t get too close (a minimum of 10 feet, by law), and definitely don’t touch these protected and revered creatures.
Explore the Wide Variety of Coffees
WHERE: The Big Island
Everyone knows that Kona is famous for its coffee, and rightfully so, but it’s not the only district of Hawai‘i Island to produce some excellent beans. The island’s topography makes it excellent for coffee production in a variety of locations. There are tours across the island, from Kohala to Ka’u, showcasing these specialty crops. Visit a working estate and watch as “cherries” become beans, enjoy the smoky aromas of the roasting process, and then indulge in the smoothest cup of coffee you’ll ever taste. In November, the annual 10-day Kona Coffee Cultural Festival celebrates coffee with tours, cupping contests, tastings, and special events.
Swim Through Coral Gardens on the Kona Coast
WHERE: The Big Island
Diving or snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters off the Kona Coast is like being let loose in your very own ocean-size aquarium. Bright yellow, purple, and rose-colored coral create surreal kingdoms ruled by octopi, turtles, rays, dolphins, and fish in every color of the rainbow. Sadly, many other places in the islands have lost their coral reefs (most notably Waikiki) due to physical reef damage, sunscreen, global warming, and coral bleaching. Help mitigate this loss by not walking on the reef and wearing reef-safe (mineral-based) sunscreen in the ocean.
Drive Historic Highway 560
This ten-mile stretch of road starting at the Hanalei Scenic Overlook in Princeville rivals all in Hawaiʻi and, in 2003, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of only about 100 roads nationwide to meet the criteria. Indeed, the road itself is said to follow an ancient Hawaiian walking trail that skirts the ocean. Today, Route 560 includes thirteen historic bridges and culverts, most of which are one lane wide. Be patient.
Paddle Along Kauai’s Beautiful Rivers
The best part about kayaking Kauai’s rivers is that you don’t have to be experienced. There are no rapids to run, no waterfalls to jump, and, therefore, no excuses for not enjoying the scenic sights from the water. On the East Side, try the Wailua River; if you’re on the North Shore, don’t miss the Hanalei River. But if you have some experience and are in reasonably good shape, you may choose to create a few lifetime memories and kayak Napali Coast.
Find Shangri La at the Top of Diamond Head
Built atop the cliffs of Diamond Head in Honolulu, Shangri La is the lavish oceanfront home of American philanthropist Doris Duke. It houses an extensive collection of Islamic art, much of which was collected during her world travels. But the sprawling five-acre estate—with its sweeping views, exotic gardens, and seventy-five-foot saltwater pool—is an architectural wonder in its own right. It’s open to the public for small group tours via the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Hike to Ka‘ena Point
On the island’s westernmost point, magical Ka‘ena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands. It is home to a growing population of wedge-tailed shearwaters and other rare and endangered seabirds. Hawaiian green sea turtles and monk seals often rest along the shore, and in winter, you can often see migrating humpback whales offshore. While you can’t access all 850 acres of this culturally significant place—this area has long been known as the leaping place of souls—you can walk or bike along the coastline. A trek through this protected area may change your mind about Oahu being “too crowded.”
Experience the Art and Flavors of Chinatown
Recently, Chinatown has been transformed into Oahu’s arts scene center. This vibrant neighborhood, which pours into downtown Honolulu, boasts art galleries, eclectic restaurants, hip bars, trendy boutiques, and the historic Hawaii Theatre. There are a few guided tours of the cultural attractions, but you can easily wander the area independently. Every first Friday of the month, there’s a block party, of sorts, when art galleries and restaurants stay open late and bars feature live music. It’s well worth the cab fare.
Watch Wildlife in Its Natural Habitat
Who wouldn’t want these memory snapshots to take home: the unblinking and seemingly amused eye of a spinner dolphin as it arcs through the wake of the catamaran in which you’re riding; the undulating form of an endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle swimming below you; the slap and splash and whoosh of a humpback whale breaching in full view on indigo seas. No matter which island you visit, there are opportunities to see wildlife safely and respectfully, whether from a boat or the shore. Be sure to brush up on local laws about safe distances and how much you can interact with the animals, and don’t forget your underwater camera!
Spend a Day on the North Shore
Head north along Oahu’s eastern coastline toward the famed North Shore, where professional surfers nab some of the world’s best waves. You’ll pass through quaint residential areas, and fruit stands on the side of the road (stop and buy bananas in Kahuku). While you’ll be tempted to try one of the famous shrimp trucks—plates of garlic shrimp hover around $20—consider the variety of eats on the North Shore, from old school bakeries to burger joints to sit-down restaurants. In Haleiwa, cool off at Matsumoto Shave Ice. If you’re visiting in the summer, head to Three Tables or Shark’s Cove for some stellar snorkeling. Or spend a lazy day at Sunset Beach, good book optional.
Take a Trip to Japan on Oahu
Little known outside Oahu’s growing community of Japanese nationals is a class of small restaurant bars called izakaya, or Japanese taverns. Grilled, fried, and raw dishes are perfect with beer, sake, or shochu (a liquor distilled from barley, sweet potato, or rice). Even newer on the scene are okonomi, hip spots that specialize in Osaka-style grilled pancakes and potent Japanese spirits. Both are like a visit to Japan, minus the long plane ride. They are a must-notch in any foodie’s belt.
Eat a Delicious Array of Food in Maui
“Ono kine grinds” is local slang for the delicious food you’ll find at dozens of restaurants island-wide. Though Oahu has the widest selection of dining options, the Valley Isle does not disappoint when it comes to food; from celebrity chef restaurants to hole-in-the-wall spots with no internet presence, there’s something for everyone. Maui chefs take their work seriously, and they have good material to start with: sun-ripened produce and seafood caught the same morning. Try a plate lunch at a casual spot. Sample as many types of fish as you can, and don’t be shy: Try it raw and try shave ice flavored with tropical fruit syrups.
Get Back to Nature at Oahu’s Rainforests and Waterfalls
Wend your way through the hillside neighborhood of ‘Aiea, northwest of Honolulu, and suddenly you’re in a cool green park, scented with astringent eucalyptus. This is the three-and-a-half-mile ‘Aiea Loop Trail, and if you’re committed to squeezing a hike into a short Oahu stay, you couldn’t do better for glimpses of hidden valleys and the experience of an island forest.
If waterfalls are more your speed, then head straight to the back of Manoa Valley, three miles mauka (toward the mountains from Waikiki), and you’ll find a one-and-a-half-mile trail along a well-worn path following Manoa stream through native trees and flowers to the Manoa Falls.
Hula with Heart
Professional hula dancers—the ones in poolside hotel shows and dinner extravaganzas—are perfection: hands like undulating waves, smiles that never waiver. But if you want to experience hula with heart, scan the newspapers for a hula school fundraiser or ask the activities desk about local festivals. You may see some missteps and bumbles, but you’ll also experience different hula styles and hear songs and chants deeply rooted in the culture, all the while surrounded by the scents of a hundred homemade leis. Want to give hula a try? Casual lessons are available at many of the resorts and shopping centers with cultural programming.
Enjoy Hawaiian Music at Venues Around Maui
Before his untimely death in 1997, Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo‘ole woke the world to the sound of modern Hawaiian music. Don’t leave without hearing it live. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului has top Hawaiian entertainers regularly, and so do many island bars, restaurants, and hotels. The Wednesday-night George Kahumoku Jr.’s Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music concert series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort in West Maui is excellent. The Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival features guest performers who play Hawaiʻi’s signature style.
Tee Off in Paradise
Spectacular views, great weather year-round, and challenging courses created by the game’s top designers make Hawai‘i an inspiring place to play golf. The Kapalua Resort on West Maui and the Wailea and Makena resort courses on the South Shore offer memorable rounds. On Lanai, find challenging holes that utilize the Pacific Ocean as a water hazard. Many of the resorts offer packages that beckon all levels of golfers to relax over a few holes.
Tour Maui’s Upcountry
Beach lovers might need some arm-twisting to head up the mountain for a day, but the views and the fresh-smelling countryside are ample reward. On the roads winding through ranchlands, crisp, high-altitude air is scented with eucalyptus and the fragrances of the forest. Small towns like Makawao, Hali‘imaile, and Kula have an abundance of hidden gems for shopping, eating, and exploring. Stop for an agricultural tour and learn where the island’s bounty comes from; you can also sample it.
Take a Windsurfing Lesson at Kanaha Beach
You might not be a water-sports legend, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a try. This renowned windsurfing spot featuring stunning turquoise waters is safe for beginners in the early morning. Don’t settle for the pond in front of your hotel—book a lesson at Kanaha and impress yourself by hanging tough where the action is. More advanced wave riders can also take lessons to up their skill set, though they’ll be hitting the waves in the afternoon when the winds are stronger.
Take a Deep Dive With Atlantis Submarines
Atlantis Submarines gives visitors the chance to see some of Hawaii’s most amazing features through the portholes of a submarine. After riding a boat out to the docking station, guests descend into a submarine that then drops to the bottom of the ocean, allowing guests to see a variety of ocean life set among crystal blue waters. Sadly, the reefs of Maui and Waikiki have been decimated by over-tourism, so Atlantis has had to put millions of dollars into building artificial reefs by bringing in and sinking retired ships. It’s a wonderful experience, dropping to the lowest points that visitors can reach and a reminder of the importance of caring for delicate ecosystems. The reef in Kona is still intact, a 25-acre garden of coral where marine plants and animals flourish, but it is always being closely monitored to ensure its health.
Learn About the Diversity of the Pacific
Hawaii is just one of many members of the Pacific Island chain, an area of the world with a rich, unique culture. The Polynesian Cultural Center brings the cultures and traditions of the Polynesian people to life in a variety of ways. The 42-acre complex allows guests to visit six different island communities through displays and cultural presentations (some with hands-on activities and chances to participate). There’s also a large marketplace, a Polynesian luau with incredible performances, a beautiful food buffet, and the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, among other attractions.
Go Mountain Tubing
The Garden Island is known for its natural beauty and adventurous activities, and Kauai Backcountry Adventures offers one of the most memorable days of fun that visitors can find. It all starts with a four-wheel drive through Kauai’s interior with a bit of education about the island from guides. At the launch site, guests jump in a tube, strap on a headlamp, and set off for an exciting float through flumes and tunnels that originally served as an irrigation system for Lihue Plantation. At the end of the float, which includes passing through some of the island’s most remote areas, guests enjoy lunch and a dip in a natural swimming hole.
Camp at an Old Fishing Village at Ho'okena
WHERE: The Big Island
If beach camping is on your Hawai‘i itinerary, you can’t go wrong with Ho‘okena Beach on the west side of Hawaii Island. As you imagine, it’s classic beach camping with gorgeous gray and coral sand and a beautiful sunset view. Cook your dinner on the standing grills, wake up early to try to catch views of a pod of dolphins swimming by, and enjoy a swim among breaking waves. Even if you’re not a seasoned camper, this is the perfect spot—it has restrooms, port-a-potties, and a daytime snack/ice stand that rents kayaks and other equipment. This spot is a favorite among locals, as it’s the site of one of the last small canoe fishing villages on the island, and it’s still a fishing favorite for many.
Sip Your Way Through Hawaii's Breweries
Hawaii is home to various breweries and distilleries, most of which allow visitors. Popular Kona Brewing Co. is a great destination on Hawaii Island thanks to its seasonal beers, great restaurant, and brand new state-of-the-art brewery. Pair it with Ola Brew Co, a community-owned brewery experimenting with local produce. On Maui, visitors won’t want to skip Hali‘imaile Distillery to taste its diverse spirits lineup, Ocean Vodka for its popular vodka and delicious, casual restaurant, and Maui Brew Co. for a delightful afternoon. On Oahu, Ko Hana Rum welcomes visitors for tours of their operation and tastings of their rum created from pure sugar cane juice versus molasses. Ko‘olau Distillery in Kailua offers tours of their whiskey production featuring volcanic-filtered water from the Ko‘olau Mountains. Kauai Beer is also a nice stop; some visitors say it’s even better than Kona Brew, and you’ll want to grab a growler to go!
Indulge in a Sweet Malasada
This Portuguese donut that Hawaiians have adopted is a must-try, no matter what island you’re on. The malasada can come in various shapes and sizes, based on where you pick it up. Some come plain, some filled with jelly, while still others filled with cream. Flavors range from tropical haupia (coconut) or guava to traditional flavors like chocolate or Bavarian cream, with just about everything in between. On Oahu, you’ll definitely need to get a pink box full at Leonard’s Bakery or Liliha Bakery. On Hawaii Island, a drive along the Hamakua Coast must include a stop at Tex Drive-In or head south to Punalu‘u Bake Shop, the southernmost bakery in the United States. Home Maid Bakery and Sugar Beach Bake Shop are where to stop on Maui.
Rent a Beach Bungalow
Many visitors to Hawaii picture a beachfront bungalow as their ideal way to take in the islands every day, but finding those types of accommodations outside of privately owned homes can be difficult. However, if you’re just dying to stick your toes in the sand when you first wake up in the morning, there are some options to do so. Lava Lava Beach Club’s cottages in Waikoloa are chic and give a great beach vibe with gorgeous outdoor showers, large decks right on the beach, and a quick walk straight into the water of Anaeho‘omalu Bay. Turtle Bay gives the bedroom to beach option on Oahu, with a small bit of manicured grass separating guest cottages from the sand. These cottages are bright and inviting, reflecting the aloha spirit, and sit just outside of ocean waters that serve as a refuge for whales, seals, and turtles.
Visit the Filming Locations From Your Favorite Movies and Shows
Luscious tropical backdrops in films could be made with special effects, but that would get a bit pricey and disingenuous. Naturally, many film productions flock to Hawai‘i for its lovely jungles and sandy beaches. Oahu is the most popular filming spot, with huge blockbusters like Jurassic Park (multiple films) and Hunger Games: Catching Fire and cute comedies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and 50 First Dates. One of the most classic movie moments, the beach kiss in From Here to Eternity, can be found at Halona Beach Cove on Oahu and is a popular view for tourists. The other islands have certainly had their fair share of movies filmed on them, and many of the specific locales can be visited by doing a little research or finding a tour guide.
Try Your Hand at Making Your Own Lei
Wearing a lei, the Hawaiian symbol of affection, is a must during a visit to Hawaii, and being able to make your own is a wonderful treat. Many hotels and resorts offer opportunities to engage in cultural activities, and creating a lei is almost always one of the choices. Some are as simple as stringing flowers into a chain, a nice activity for kids, while others can be more advanced. Making a braided ti leaf lei can be challenging to do and a difficult activity to find, but making one is a special experience. For those not staying at a hotel, look for activities at local libraries, shopping centers, cultural centers, or special events.
Shop for Handmade Souvenirs at Farmer’s Markets
The farmer’s markets of Hawaii are a stop that every visitor needs to make. Not only are these bustling shopping areas full of farm stands overflowing with locally grown produce, but they’re also a great place to find lunch and get some souvenir (or personal) shopping done. Stock up on fresh fruits to snack on during your road trips or back at your hotel, and don’t be shy when you find something that looks like it’s from another planet—just ask the stand owner what it is and how to eat it so that you get a sample before making a purchase. Handmade goods are usually in their own section of the market and typically include a variety of jewelry, clothing, art prints, wood carvings, and lots more.
Taste One of Hawaii's Staple Foods
Poi, made from the corm of the kalo (taro) plant, was one of Hawaii’s original canoe plants—a variety of plants that came over with the Polynesian seafarers who settled on the islands. These canoe plants were fundamental to the survival of early Hawaiians, and still today, the cooked and mashed root of the plant is an essential part of Hawaiian life. Poi can be an acquired taste, but visitors should give this staple a try before leaving the islands. Order a side of it as part of a plate lunch, get a bowl of it served sour (fermented), or find it reinvented in a new way (poi donuts are fun and incredibly delicious). If you’re attending any sort of cultural event, you may also have the chance to try “pounding poi” yourself with a traditional pounder and board.
Volunteer to Help Make Hawaii a Better Place
Though volunteering on vacation may not sound like the best way to spend your trip, this is Hawaii–almost everything is fun to do here! With the Malama Hawaii program, community organizations and private businesses are coming together to offer opportunities for visitors to give back during their trips. Planting trees, cleaning coastlines, restoring ancient fishponds, and participating in sustainable farming are just a few of the ways to help leave the islands a little better off than when you arrived. As added bonuses, these opportunities are some of the best ways to learn from locals, and you might even get a hotel discount out of it.
Experience True Luxury on Lanai
Rough and rugged Lanai requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get to many of its attractions, but the two Four Seasons resorts on the island can’t be beat for a much more relaxed and luxurious vacation. Four Seasons Resort Lanai sits perched atop Hulopo‘e Bay, a protected marine area with one of the island chain’s most beautiful beaches. Gourmet dining, world-class golf, and unique Island excursions are just some of the relaxing distractions. For an even more exclusive experience, visit the adults-only wellness retreat, Sensei Lanai, a Four Seasons Resort, for healing and rejuvenation. Private planes are available to reach this remote destination.
Go Island Hopping
A visit to Hawaii doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck visiting just one island. With each island having its own distinct personality, it’s good to get to know each one. Though travel options are limited, there are a few ways to maximize your visit from one place to another. On Maui, take the Excursions ferry from Lahaina to Lanai for a day or overnight trip (some excursions also take you for ocean activities without actually deboarding). For the widest array of options, check out what flights Mokulele Airlines offers for easy and quick travel (no TSA lines) between islands. Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest also offer interisland options.
Play the Ukulele
One of the many cultural gifts brought to Hawaii during its plantation days, the ukulele (pronounced oo-ku-le-le in Hawaii) is of Portuguese origin but popularized in the Aloha State. The four-stringed instrument is fun to strum, and plucking out a tune isn’t too difficult to pick up. Some hotels even offer complimentary ukuleles in their rooms or lobbies, and introductory lessons are pretty easy to come by–most resorts and shopping centers offer them as part of their cultural programming. If you want to take one home, be sure to stop by a locally-owned shop for expert advice and customer service with aloha.
Get a Massage
Hawaii is a great place for adventure, but it’s an even better destination for relaxing. Start or end your trip with an incredible massage at one of the many amazing spas across the islands. Most resorts have their own spas, and even if you’re not staying there, day passes are often available. If you’ve never experienced traditional lomi lomi massage, characterized by long, rhythmic strokes, now is the time to give it a try. For the ultimate indulgence, opt for an oceanside massage in an outdoor hale (treatment huts).
One of the best things you can do as a visitor is to put your shopping budget directly into the hands of Hawai‘i business owners. Though you can find world-class shopping in some of the more upscale areas, places like open markets, small shopping centers, and walkable downtowns make for great shopping experiences to pick up unique items that showcase local flair. Night markets are popping up more and more on all of the islands, making it easy to enjoy some nightlife, taste local food, and get some shopping in all at the same time.
Editor’s Note: Per the Hawaii Tourism Board, Fodor’s recognizes “the proper use of the Hawaiian language, ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i,’ which includes the ‘okina [‘], a consonant, and the kahakō [ō] or macron.” The Hawai‘i Board on Geographic Names was created to “assure uniformity and standardize spelling of geographic names to communicate unambiguously about places, reducing the potential for confusion.” In order to ensure our readers the best experience reading our Hawaii travel guides, we follow the standardized spelling, but hope to expose readers to the importance and cultural significance of the written Ōlelo Hawai‘i language.