First-Timer's Guide to Hawaii
The Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit
Aloha Hawaii! Pristine beaches, active volcanoes, quaint towns…Hawaii seems to have it all. So where to begin exploring this string of islands? What makes each one different? Whether you want to island hop or stick to one island, here are some highlights of the 4 main Hawaiian Islands to get you started.
When visiting the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s only fitting to explore its history and culture—both present in the small town of Hanapepe. Historic plantation-style buildings, shops and art galleries abound here. The town’s charm is palpable, playing home to countless artists who are quickly creating a burgeoning, creative community.
The Coconut Coast:
The east side of Kauai earns its nickname from the abundant coconut trees that grow here. Amid the gorgeous groves, golden beaches and rocky lagoons invite you for a swim surrounded by dramatic landscapes.
The great outdoors:
Kauai, deeply rooted in the environment, is brimming with outdoor spots begging to be explored. In addition to hitting up Kauai’s beaches, you can visit remote waterfalls and kayak along the Wailua River, hike through the epic Waimea Canyon and cruise along the scenic, emerald-hued Napali Coast.
Located on Honolulu’s south shore, Waikiki Beach’s calm waters set the tone for a first-time surfing lesson. The North Shore’s bigger waves are perfect for more seasoned surfers, welcoming surf champions and the world’s most famous surf competitions.
The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan is what brought the United States into World War II. This US naval base is now a designated National Historic Landmark with a total of 5 memorial sites. The nearby Hawaii Plantation Village also invites a look into Oahu’s history of agriculture.
Leahi Peak (Diamond Head):
If hiking and taking in coastal views are on your Hawaiian to-do list, then reaching the top of Leahi Peak is a great way to get the best of both worlds. Waikiki and Honolulu are visible from here.
Hawaii regional cuisine is the pièce de resistance in Lahaina, a Maui hotspot. Known as farm-to-table cuisine, this type of fare combines local specialties like seafood with international influences. This town is also a great place to witness a luau, a traditional Hawaiian feast with eating, drinking and Polynesian dancing.
Many of the ingredients used in Hawaii’s regional cuisine come from the produce farms of Kula. Besides taking a farm tour, you can also visit the Kula Botanical Gardens, a vodka distillery and take in sweeping views of Maui from Kula’s high altitude.
Maui’s food is not its only highlight. Head to Iao Valley State Park to see the island’s natural sights like the famed Iao Needle, a protruding green-mantled volcanic rock. Haleakala National Park, with its many hiking trails and dormant volcano, is famed for its scenic sunrise, but also an ideal location to spot endangered species like the nene, a rare Hawaiian goose.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park:
It is home to 2 volcanoes: Maunaloa and Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. In addition to hiking volcanic craters, you can visit the on-site museum or snap photos of some petroglyphs (lava rock carvings).
Sailing the Kona Coast:
Several boat tours depart from Historic Kailua Village and Hilo. Diving with manta rays, whale watching, scuba diving and fishing excursions are also possible from Honokohau Harbor and Kawaihae Harbor.
Horseback riding in Waimea:
Experience the paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) lifestyle by horseback riding through Waimea’s farmlands. Head along the waterfall trails of Waipio Valley or make your way towards Kealakekua Bay to cap off your day with a quick swim.
Want to discover more Hawaii highlights? Plan a Hawaii vacation to see it all for yourself!