The Ultimate Hawaii Travel Guide

Hawaii is what island dreams are made of for just about every traveler in the world. Hikers can climb epic volcanoes, water enthusiasts can surf on world-class waves, and newlyweds can have the honeymoon of their dreams. Who wouldn’t want to experience the island?

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, whether it be your first time or not, this ultimate Hawaii travel guide is here to help you make the most out of your vacation. From where to stay and what to do, prepare for an unforgettable paradise adventure.

So, whether you’re trekking solo or bringing your family along, this travel guide to Hawaii will help you have the time of your life in the Aloha state.


Basic Info

  • Population – 1.4 Million
  • Capital – Honolulu
  • Currency – USD
  • Language – English
  • Plugs – Type A or B, 120V / 60Hz
  • Climate – Tropical, with warm temperatures and high humidity year-round
  • Islands – Hawaii is made up of 8 main islands: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and the Big Island. However, only six of them are accessible to visitors.
  • Legal Drinking Age – 21 Years

Airports

Hawaii is no easy trek, but it’s a trip worth the long haul. The islands are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, offering a sense of seclusion and adventure that’s hard to find anywhere else. Getting there requires patience with flights, especially if you’re coming from far away.

But trust me, as someone who’s made the journey more times than I can count, the moment you step off that plane and feel the warm, welcoming breeze, you’ll know it was all worth it.

Hawaii has three international airports:

  • (HNL) Honolulu International Airport, located on Oahu island
  • (OGG) Kahului Airport, located on Maui island
  • (KOA) Kona International Airport, located on the Big Island

Once you reach one of the major airports, you can fly inter-island to explore the other islands, making it easier to see all that Hawaii offers.

Read: 10 Best Airlines To Fly To Hawaii [Pros And Cons]


Top Destinations in Hawaii

Just about every destination in Hawaii will blow your socks off, but there are definitely more popular spots for visitors than others. You’ll find that each island has its own vibe and attracts a certain kind of traveler.

And unless you have an extended amount of time on the Islands, you’ll want to choose your base carefully.

Here is a brief overview of the different islands.

  • Oahu: Known as the Gathering Place, this island is home to Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. It’s the most popular island and the most populated. It’s perfect for those who want a mix of urban and beach experiences, with plenty of shopping, dining, and nightlife options.
  • Maui: The Valley Isle is known for its stunning beaches, waterfalls, and scenic drives along the Road to Hana. This island is great for outdoor enthusiasts and relaxation seekers. The island is swimming with honeymooners and couples, making it a popular destination for romance.
  • Big Island: Also known as the Island of Hawaii, this is the state’s largest and most diverse island. It has everything from active volcanoes to black-sand beaches, making it perfect for adventure-seekers.
  • Kauai: The Garden Isle is a nature lover’s paradise, with lush rainforests, stunning hikes, and beautiful beaches. It’s a quieter and more laid-back island; you’ll find yogis, hippies, and spiritual seekers flocking to this island to unwind and connect with nature. 
  • Lanai: This small, secluded island is perfect for a quiet, luxurious getaway. With only one resort (the four seasons) and a few small towns, it’s an excellent island for those who are looking for seclusion and luxury.
  • Molokai: The Friendly Isle is known for its strong Hawaiian culture and community. It’s a great place to learn about the history and traditions of the islands, as well as enjoy some peace and quiet.

Regions of Hawaii Guides:

A beautiful young woman relaxes on a SUP board in the sea near the island. Standup paddleboarding on Hawaii.
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

Things to Do in Hawaii

When people think about a tropical vacation, I’m sure they imagine days spent lounging on the beach with a drink in hand and nights filled with exciting adventures. And that’s exactly what you’ll find in Hawaii. 

But there’s so much more to this beautiful destination than just sipping Mai Tais on the sand, so here is my list of some of the best things to do in Hawaii.

  • Hike Diamond Head: Located on the island of Oahu, this iconic hike offers breathtaking views of the city and ocean below. It’s a moderate hike that takes about an hour to complete, but the view from the top is definitely worth it. And at sunrise, it’s simply magical.
  • Go snorkeling or scuba diving: With crystal clear waters and colorful marine life, Hawaii is known for its incredible underwater world.
  • Attend a traditional luau: Immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture by attending a traditional feast and performance. Don’t be afraid to move your hips along to the rhythm.
  • Visit Pearl Harbor: This historic site on the island of Oahu is a must for history buffs. It’s a somber yet impactful experience to see why the US entered World War II and pay tribute to those who lost their lives.
  • Catch a wave on the famous North Shore: Surfers must check out North Shore, Oahu. The massive waves are legendary in winter and will definitely get your adrenaline pumping.
  • Go Humpback Whale watching: From December to April, you can witness these magnificent creatures breaching and playing in the warm Hawaiian waters. It’s a truly unforgettable experience.
  • Drive the Road to Hana: Located in Maui, this scenic drive takes you along winding roads with breathtaking views of waterfalls, lush rainforests, and stunning beaches.
  • Take a helicopter ride over Kauai: The island of Kauai is known for its rugged landscape and natural beauty. Seeing it from a bird’s eye view will give you a whole new appreciation for the island’s unique geography.
  • Explore Volcanoes National Park: Hawaii is home to some of the world’s most active volcanoes, and this park on the Big Island allows you to get up close and personal with them.
  • Golf at world-class courses: Hawaii is home to some of the best golf courses in the world, with stunning ocean views and challenging holes.
  • Beach Hopping: With 750+ miles of coastline, you will have plenty of options for beach hopping.
  • Visit a Leper Colony: This may sound like a strange thing to do while on vacation in Hawaii, but it is a fantastic, one-of-a-kind experience on the island of Molokai.

Hawaii Travel Guides:


family in swimming pool at fairmont kea lani
Image Credit: Savoteur.

Where to Stay in Hawaii

Like anywhere, Hawaii offers a wide range of places to stay, and choosing the right one can be overwhelming.

For a more authentic experience, consider staying in a local vacation rental or cottage on Airbnb. This will allow you to live like a true Hawaiian and get insider tips from your hosts on all the best spots to visit.

If you want a luxury experience, Hawaii is home to some of the world’s most luxurious and extravagant resorts, like the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui. These resorts offer top-notch amenities, stunning views, and impeccable service.

For a more laid-back vibe, consider staying at one of the many boutique hotels scattered throughout the islands. These unique properties offer a more personal and intimate experience, with personalized service and attention to detail.

Hawaii isn’t the most budget-friendly destination, but you can still find affordable accommodations using sites like Redweek. There are some great deals to be found in Waikiki, and hostels and campsites are a great option for those looking to save some money without missing out on all of the incredible activities.


Must-Have Food and Drinks in Hawaii

If Hawaiians do one thing right, it’s definitely food. With a melting pot of different cultures and influences, the cuisine in Hawaii is truly unique and delicious. Here are some must-try dishes and drinks during your trip:

  • Poke: You can’t go to Hawaii and not get a Poke Bowl. This traditional dish consists of marinated raw fish served over rice with loads of different toppings to choose from. It’s fresh, flavorful, and perfect for a beach day.
  • Loco Moco: This is not just a meal; it’s a rite of passage when visiting the islands. The breakfast dish typically consists of white rice, a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy. It may sound unusual, but trust us, it’s delicious.
  • Poi: Another staple of Hawaiian cuisine is a traditional dish made from pounded taro root. It has a unique texture and taste that may take some getting used to, but it’s worth trying at least once.
  • Shave ice: On a hot day, there’s nothing better than cold and refreshing shaved ice. It’s similar to a snow cone but with finely shaved ice that melts in your mouth. You can choose from a variety of flavors and even add toppings like condensed milk or mochi.
  • Mai Tai: No trip to Hawaii is complete without enjoying a mai tai. This classic tropical cocktail is made with rum, orange liqueur, and tropical juices. It’s the perfect drink to sip on while watching the sunset.
  • Kona Coffee: Still to this day, the coffee beans grown in Kona, Hawaii are some of the best I’ve ever had. Make sure to try a cup or two during your trip, and maybe even bring some back home as a souvenir. (The macadamia flavor is my fave. YUM!)

Read More: Where to Eat on Kauai? 7 Tasty Options You Shouldn’t Pass Up

Read More: Food In Honolulu Airport


secret cove beach maui hawaii
Image Credit: Savoteur

How to Get Around Hawaii

Getting around Hawaii differs from island to island. The bigger and more developed islands, like Oahu, have better public transportation infrastructure, while the others make it a little harder to move around.

However, renting a car or moped is the best way to explore the islands. Not only does it give you more flexibility and freedom, but it also allows you to see more of the off-the-beaten-path spots that may not be accessible by bus. It will be more expensive, but trust me, it’s worth it if you have the budget.

An alternative to typical car rentals is TURO, which is like Airbnb for cars. It’s quite popular in Hawaii and sometimes you can find some great deals.

Taxis are available on every island but come at a hefty price. Unless you don’t have any other options, do your best to avoid using taxis for transportation.

Ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft can also be a convenient option for getting around the islands, and they are MUCH cheaper than snagging a taxi.

For island hopping, the most common mode of transportation is by plane. Flights are relatively cheap and frequent, making it easy to visit multiple islands during your trip.

A ferry is available from Maui to Lanai if you want to visit the smaller island, but be aware that it only runs a few times a day.

Navigating Hawaii posts:

family travel fairmont kea lani hawaii 11

Travel Advice for Visiting Hawaii

Best Time to Go

The true beauty of Hawaii is that it’s always a good time to visit! The average temperature is around 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, making it the perfect escape from colder climates.

Peak tourist season is generally from mid-December to March and June to August. If you want to avoid the crowds, try visiting during the shoulder seasons of April-May or September-November. This will also help you score some good deals on flights and accommodations.

You might experience some rain towards the end of winter in Feb/Mar, but it’s usually just for a few minutes, and then the sun will come back out. Just pack a light rain jacket or umbrella, just in case.

How to Stay Safe

Hawaii relies heavily on tourism, making it a generally safe destination for travelers. However, like any other place, there are precautions you should take to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Be mindful of your surroundings, especially at the beach or hiking in remote areas. Always follow safety guidelines and signs posted by the local authorities.

Before you book anything, check Government travel advisories and always purchase travel insurance

What to Pack

Packing for Hawaii is super easy. It’s a tropical vacation, so think light and breezy.

  • Hiking shoes/sneakers: Even though you’re at the beach, Hawaii has some incredible hikes worth exploring.
  • Swimwear: This one is a given. With over 750 miles of coastline, there’s no shortage of beautiful beaches to swim in.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: Protect yourself and the environment by using reef-safe sunscreen.
  • Light layers: Even though it’s warm during the day, it can get cooler at night, especially if you stay in higher elevations.
  • Aloha attire: Embrace Hawaii’s casual lifestyle and pack some comfortable, flowy clothing.
  • Reusable water bottle: Stay hydrated while reducing plastic waste on the island.

Read More: Your Hawaii Packing List to Paradise

Read More: What Sunscreen is Banned in Hawaii? Plus 7 Reef Safe Options

Travel Tips

Traveling to Hawaii for the first time is an exciting experience, but it can also be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to make your trip smoother and more enjoyable:

  • Stay away from marine life: This is a big one. As tempting as it may be, do not touch or feed any marine life in Hawaii’s waters. Not only is it dangerous for you, but it also disturbs the natural balance of their ecosystem.
  • Learn a little Hawaiian: English is common in the islands, but knowing some Hawaiian words shows respect for their culture.
  • Bring your own bags: If you’re shopping, bring reusable bags to reduce plastic waste. Stores in Hawaii often charge for plastic bags to help the environment.
  • Make State Park reservations: Book your spot early if you’re heading to Hawaii’s state parks. These popular attractions fill up fast in peak season, and I would hate for you to miss them.
  • Have cash: Tips are expected for tour guides, hotel staff, and restaurant servers in Hawaii. Make sure to have some cash on hand for gratuities.

Info About Hawaii:

Alternatives to Hawaii

woman on jet ski in bora bora
Image Credit: Savoteur

Hawaii is a spectacular location but if you are considering another destination instead, we have plenty of ideas for you.


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Travel Writer at Savoteur | + posts

Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, FOX, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more. When she’s not traveling, she can be found at hockey arenas all over BC cheering on her two young sons.