Aloha, welcome to Hawaii. I have lost count of the amount of times I have been to Hawaii. I just love the place and why? Well, I just love the variety of things you can see and do in Hawaii. From spending lazy days on a beach or by a pool, learning to surf or snorkel or maybe hiking through one of the many tropical rainforests. You can also learn the hula, enjoy a luau or sip on a Mai Tai. There are so many things to see and do in Hawaii for everyone.
Hawaii is a state of the United States of America. The state of Hawaii consists of 137 islands with 7 being inhabited. Most first-time visitors to Hawaii spend their time on one or more of four islands – Oahu, Maui, Hawaii and/or Kuwai.
Oahu is the most popular of the islands for visitors, particularly first-timers to Hawaii. Oahu is known as ‘the gathering place’ due to the number of people that live there and it also has the international Honolulu Airport, the doorway to your Hawaiian adventure. So Oahu is a great place to start your Hawaiian adventure because it provides visitors to her shores many things to do and see.
When to visit Hawaii
Anytime is a good time to visit Hawaii though if this is your first time in Hawaii the seasons, accommodation price and crowds can influence your decision.
Hawaii’s climate is quite pleasant all year round with the dry season falling between April and October and the wet season from November to March. Many people visit during the summer months of June, July and August. The climate is usually hot and humid during this time. Flights and accommodation can be more expensive over the summer months as well as during the high season, mid-December to mid-April. However, when you go can depend on when your holidays are. My dad always took holidays in May so that is when we would go to Hawaii.
How to get to Hawaii
As the Hawaiian Islands are surrounded by water, most people arrive by air. For a great deal on an airfare visit Skyscanner. This website allows you to compare airfares. Another way to get to Hawaii is to cruise there. There are people who sail their own boats or those who arrive on a cruise liner such as with P&O.
Accommodation in Hawaii
There is loads of accommodation in Hawaii. You are spoilt for choice with the range available catering to every budget. From hostels to 5-star hotels and everything in between, there will be something there for you. Most people stay in and around the Waikiki Beach area which has loads of accommodation available and provides access to many of things you must see and do while in Hawaii.
Most people stay in and around the Waikiki Beach area which has loads of accommodation available and provides access to many of things you must see and do while in Hawaii. If you are interested in a bed in a hostel then check out the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club or the Waikiki Beachside Hostel. Both offer dormitory style accommodation though the Polynesian Hostel Beach Club does have some private rooms. Both offer breakfast and free Wifi.
If you are seeking a budget hotel in the Waikiki area I recommend the VIVE Hotel Waikiki. It is not right on the beach like some of the more expensive hotels, but it is only a 7 minute walk away. A place I have stayed a number of times is the Hilton Hawaiian Village. It is right on the beach and has easy access to Waikiki Beach and has loads of amenities. You often see it in photos of Waikiki Beach. Another hotel I can recommend is the Ohana Waikiki East by Outrigger. Once again this facility has loads of amenities and is only a 3 minute walk to the beach.
For longer holidays in Hawaii I have stayed in an apartment such as the Aqua Ohio Waikiki Studio Suites which is only 300m from the beach but I like it because it offers a kitchen in your room. This is a great way to help save money on meals as I simply get some basics like orange juice, milk, bread, etc. cause then I don’t need to go out for every meal.
If you want to stay in Downtown Honolulu there is the Pagoda Hotel and also the Ala Moana Hotel which are both close to the Ala Moana Shopping precinct and all the other sites to see in Downtown Honolulu. They are both a great base in Honolulu allowing you to be close to many of the things to see and do in Honolulu.
For other accommodation options in Honolulu and Waikiki check out HostelWorld if you want a bed in a hostel and Booking.com if you want a hotel room or apartment. And don’t forget travel insurance as you just never know what might happen.
What to see and do in Oahu
Waikiki Beach is the most famous and recognised beach in Hawaii. It is a must visit on your Hawaiian itinerary particularly if it is your first time in Hawaii. It is a bustling hub of beaches, shops, restaurants and activities. Some people are quite happy to never leave Waikiki as there is so much to see and do there.
Waikiki Beach is a 2 mile stretch of white sand that has different sections to it. It begins with the Duke Kahanamaku Beach located near the Ala Moana channel and harbour and ends down near the bottom of Diamond Head. Each beach area offers something different. Fort DeRussy Beach Park has a beautiful grassy area with palm trees, shade and picnic tables while other beaches have plenty of waves for surfing and water activities. There are also lagoons with calm water for swimming. There are plenty of shacks where you can rent equipment like surfboards or book a canoe lesson.
Off the beach and Waikiki is a vibrant neighbourhood where you will find designer fashion stores along Kalkaua Avenue as well as souvenir shops and markets. It is abuzz after dark with waterside dining, hula shows and cocktail bars. Try a Mai Tai while listening to someone playing the eucalele. Every Friday night you can watch a firework display held over the water.
Other things to see and do in Waikiki is to visit the Honolulu Zoo or maybe the Aquarium.
Ala Moana Shopping Centre
If in need of some retail therapy you can shop till you drop at The Ala Moana Center. Located just a short drive from Waikiki in Honolulu The Ala Moana Centre is Hawaii’s largest shopping centre and 7th largest in the United States. In fact it is the largest open-air shopping centre in the world. Home to some 350 merchants that include luxury brands, speciality stores and an array of local and international cuisine. You can easily spend a day or two here.
Views from the top.
You cannot go to Hawaii and not see Diamond Head, after all it towers over Waikiki Beach. Formed around 300,000 years ago it is saucer-shaped crater and is actually a volcano that has been dormant for 150,000 years! It got its name from some sailors who thought they could see glittering stones on it, hence the name Diamond Head.
Hike to the top of the crater, 560 feet above sea level, for magnificent views. The hike is only 0.8 miles but it is quite steep and narrow with many steps. The return trip can take 1.5-2 hours but that depends on how long it takes you to hike up and down and how long you spend at the top. If you don’t want to drive yourself there you could take a tour that will drop you off in the Diamond Head car park and let you jump the que to enter. Don’t forget some water, wear sunscreen, light clothing and good walking shoes or runners.
Pearl Harbour is etched in history thanks to the Japanese who bombed the harbour on December 7, 1941. This bombing ultimately led to the United States into World War II. And on your first to Hawaii visiting Pearl Harbour is an extremely interesting and emotional experience. One I guarantee you shouldn’t miss.
Many ships were sunk during the bombing including the USS Arizona. 1,102 sailors lost their lives on the USS Arizona that day and they are entombed in the sunken hull. A floating memorial has been built over the USS Arizona which is a surreal experience to visit. It is quite eery walking over the sunken boat knowing so many souls are entombed below as you walk over the ship. You reach the memorial by small boat.
Tickets to visit the memorial are limited each day so definitely book a ticket in advance. This is something you definitely don’t want to miss out on. There are other attractions to visit at Pearl Harbour including USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, the Battleship Missouri, known as Mighty Moe and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Although you can get to Pearl Harbour by public transport taking a tour will help you jump the que. Plus there are many different tour options from spending 1 or 2 hours there to longer or to visiting other boats like Mighty Moe. Check out the tours here.
Honolulu Historic District Walk
Walking the Honolulu Historic District Walk will give you a great insight in to a part of the Hawaiian History. A period when missionaries came to the island.
One of the main places to visit on your walk is Iolani Palace. This was the official residence of King Kamehameha and is the only royal palace in the United States. In 1893 the monarchy was overthrown and the building was used as a capital building before being restored and opened as a museum in 1978. You are able to enter the palace and visit different rooms including the Throne Room, Grand Hall and the private suites of the King. Portraits of Hawaiian Royalty line the walls. You can take a guided or self-guided tour.
Near the palace is a statue of King Kamehameha. If you love the TV series Hawaii Five-O then you will recognise this statue and of the rooms inside the palace where the show is filmed.
As you continue your walk visit the Mission Houses Museum. Here you can step back in time to when the missionaries first arrived in Hawaii, way back in the 1800’s. Some of the buildings are the oldest western-style buildings still standing in Hawaii, like the Mission House built in 1821.
If you like swimming and snorkelling then spending time at the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve should be high on your Hawaiian itinerary. Here, around 400 species of sea life live in the reef including turtles, fish, rays and more.
Hanauma Bay is a 30-minute drive from Honolulu depending on the traffic that is. It is on the southeastern side of Oahu near Hawaii Kai and tucked into the sheltered side of Koko Head. The bay is essentially a flooded crater in the shape of a horse shoe. It is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and Honolulu. You can spend a quick half hour here (while on a circle island tour) or you could spend a whole day sitting on the beach or snorkelling.
Hanauma Bay is a major attraction with hoards of people coming to visit this marine ecosystem. In 2002 a Marine Education Centre was opened at the entrance of the bay. All visitors must watch a short video about the conservation of the bay before entering the beach.
The beach is reached by walking down a paved but steep path or you could pay to take the shuttle bus. There is also an admission fee. Hanauma Bay is closed on a Tuesday to allow the marine inhabitants a day to feed without interruption from visitors.
There are a number of ways to get to Hanauma Bay. You can take the local bus or visit it on a tour which is a great option as it includes transport to and from the bay plus your entrance and learning to snorkel. You can check out tours here. Or you could hire a car and drive yourself. From Honolulu take Kalanionaole Highway (H1 72) east from the city and then look for the signs to Hanauma Bay.
Don’t forget the sunscreen, your bathers, towel and a hat. You can rent snorkelling equipment on the beach and take lessons if you haven’t snorkelled before.
Circle Island Tour
A great day out is to take a tour or drive yourself around the island of Oahu. I actually took a tour and I am so glad I did cause I learnt a lot of secrets about Hawaii from my tour guide that I would not have learnt if I drove myself. Check out tours here.
There are many places to visit as you drive around the island of Oahu. First stop could be the Nu’uanu Pali Lookout. Located a short 5-mile drive from Honolulu and Waikiki this lookout has some of the best views over Oahu. It is extremely windy here at the lookout. The wind can literally knock you off your feet so hold on to your hat.
Aside from the fantastic views and the wind, this is the site of one of King Kamehameha’s most gruesome victories. King Kamehameha was the king who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1795. I was told that it is windy because Kamehameha’s army pushed the opposition to the edge of the cliff faces. He told them if they didn’t join him they would be killed. Many of them jumped to their deaths causing the wind. About 100 years later around 500 human skulls were found at the base of the mountain.
From the lookout you could head to Hanauma Bay where you could snorkel and swim with the some 400 species of sea life that live in the reef there. See my info previously on this area.
From Hanauma Bay drive around some beautiful coastal scenery with beautiful beaches and small islands off the coast such as Chinaman’s Hat. You could stop at the Polynesian Cultural Center, a Polynesian-themed theme park and discover how Polynesian people arrived in the Hawaiian Islands.
Kualoa Ranch could be a stop on your island tour. This is a 4000 acre private nature reserve and working cattle ranch and is a popular attraction due to the number of movies that have been filmed there. You could walk where the dinosaurs walked in Jurassic Park!
Surfing enthusiasts will love visiting the Oahu’s North Shore. Home to some famous surfing spots such as Sunset Beach, Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Beach. You could head in to the Waimea Valley and walk through a Hawaiian botanical garden of cultural and archaeological significance to visit the beautiful Waimea Waterfall where you could swim in the fresh water.
There are a number of pineapple plantations you could visit on your tour around Oahu, including one of the most popular, Dole Plantation. Learn how they grow the pineapples and try some of their products.
Experience a Luau
There is no other cultural experience like a Hawaiian luau. A luau is more than just a party it is a feast with music and dance to celebrate an event. Most luaus include Hawaiian cuisine like Kalua pig cooked in an Emu (earth oven) or Poi (Taro) followed by Haupia (coconut pudding). As well as the food you will be treated to Hawaiian culture through authentic Hawaiian music, hula performers and fire dancers. Book your Hawaiian Luau here.
Visit other Hawaiian Islands
As mentioned, Hawaii is much more than just the island of Oahu. If you have the time you might want to visit some of the other islands. Each island has something to offer. Kauai is known as the Garden Isle. It has some incredible geological wonders to visit such as the Napali Coast. Here you are treated to lush green cliffs that plunge in to the sea. You could view these by boat or by helicopter. Spectacular is all I can say!
The island of Hawaii is known as the big island, cause it is the biggest of all the islands. One of the best things to do on this island is to visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where you can get up close and personal with a volcano. There are self-guided drivings tours here you could take: The Crater Rim Drive Tour and/or the Chain of Craters Road. Each have unique things to see and you could even walk through a lava tube. Don’t forget a flash light! Or you might want to take a helicopter ride over the area to truly appreciate what you are seeing. Possibly visit Punalu’u Beach, known as Black Sand Beach. The black colour comes from lava fragments of the nearby volcano.
Maui is another one of the islands to visit. Where you could see the Haleakola National Park featuring an incredible summit that rises to above 10,000 feet above sea level. Or you could drive the Hana Highway which is an incredible 56-mile drive that takes you to incredible waterfalls and coastal areas on the island.
There are so many incredible things to see in Hawaii and most of them I have mentioned here in my Hawaii travel guide. Do ensure you make time to spend some lazing by the pool at your resort or on one of the many Waikiki beaches. If you want to be more active have a round of golf, learn to surf, go snorkelling or hiking through the rainforests. There are plenty of things to see and do in Hawaii for first timers. Aloha.
Sharyn has travelled most of her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. In her 20’s she went overseas and spent 4 years living, working, playing and travelling through many countries. Her travels inspire her ‘Live Work and Play’ series of working holiday guides and LiveWorkPlayTravel where she shares her knowledge of travel, being a digital nomad and blogging. Sharyn continues to travel and currently calls Melbourne home.