Hawaii Travel Guide

Over 2,000 miles from any continent is the lush state of Hawaii. Yes, the flight is long, but travelers are rewarded with rainforest trails, sugary beaches, and opportunities for adventure. Go big this year and bring your family on the ultimate exotic getaway. Skip expensive resorts and let VacationRentals.com show you that affordable accommodation exists on all six islands of Hawaii.

During Hawaii vacations you can surf or swim, scuba or sail. A family kayaking adventure might finish with an afternoon snooze on the beach or a refreshing cocktail at sunset. This Hawaii travel guide will help you to determine which island is the perfect fit for your family. Explore one island or explore them all! Once you're ready to book your trip, browse our many Hawaii vacation rentals.

What to Do in Hawaii

hawaii volcanoes

The Big Island

An island known for adventure, the Big Island of Hawaii is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea. Adventurous travelers will get their thrills at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Lava viewings and other natural wonders are only the beginning of Hawaii vacations on the Big Island.

Gaze down at a black sand beach from the Pololu Valley Lookout or snap a photo of waterfalls and botanical gardens on the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. For fine dining and shopping, look no further than Waimea. Historic villages such as Hilo are full of art galleries, museums, and historic attractions. And of course, this Hawaii travel guide can’t overlook the beaches of Keauhou. If there’s one place to give snorkeling a try, Hawaii is it!

Maui

Hawaii vacations to Maui are enchanting for their natural beauty, relaxation, and opportunities for whale-watching. Consistently voted among the best beaches in the world by major travel publications, the shores of Maui are ideal for either a romantic getaway or the family adventure of a lifetime.

Climb aboard a boat to see the humpback whales migrating each year and, if you’re lucky, you might witness them splashing around. Don’t miss spectacular Makena Beach or driving the road to Hana: this winding journey will bring you past waterfalls, sweeping views, and ultimately to a black sand beach perfect for swimming. Championship golf courses, the charming streets of seaside Lahaina, and climbing over cooled lava formations all provide something exciting for each member of the family.

Hawaii Beach Vacation

Kauai

Travelers to Kauai will be torn between sunbathing along the more than 50 miles of blissful beaches and exploring the island. The soaring cliffs of the Napali coast and Waimea Canyon will make you wonder how you never planned Hawaii vacations before!

No Hawaii travel guide would be complete without recommending a helicopter tour, and Kauai is the place to do it. The striking Napali coast is best seen from the air, but can also be explored by boat or on foot. Take the time to visit major waterfalls of the island including Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls. For more water action, visit spouting horn, a blowhole that has become one of the most photographed spots on the island.

Oahu

Hawaii vacations in Oahu are where luxury and natural beauty combine. Home to world-famous Waikiki, the surfing mecca North Shore, and nightlife of Honolulu, Oahu truly has it all. An afternoon can be spent admiring the mountain views of Nuuanu Pali lookout, followed by an evening of fine-dining. Any good Hawaii travel guide will tell you that Oahu has a blend of all Hawaiian pleasures.

If you’re looking to add an educational element to your Hawaii vacations, Oahu is home to Pearl Harbor. Give your kids the chance to learn about this tragedy of World War II firsthand. Pack your hiking boots and hit the trails to see highlights of Oahu including Leahi, the Diamond Head State Monument, or head for Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve for excellent snorkeling. At the end of the day, fine dining and nightlife await for another indulgence.

Lanai

If you’re looking to plan a tranquil Hawaii vacation, Lanai is the choice for you. A good Hawaii travel guide praises Lanai for its serenity and wild beauty. Known as one of the more romantic island options, Lanai is luxurious as well. Off the beaten path, this island isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking to get away from the crowds, Lanai is the answer.

Many golfers plan Hawaii vacations around playing Lanai's two well-known courses. Other sightseeing includes the lunar landscape of the Garden of the Gods, called Keahiakawelo, and Sweetheart Rock, called Puu Pehe. If a quiet beach with dolphins swimming by is the Hawaii you imagine, book vacation rentals in Lanai.

Molokai

Hawaiian traditions are alive and thriving on the island of Molokai. Hawaii vacations take a slower pace on Molokai, whether you choose to spend a quiet week on the beach or head out for a day of sports fishing. One favorite activity is a mule ride along the wild coastline, where Hawaii has remained unchanged for generations.

Away from the bustle of everyday life, Molokai has historic attractions and one of the largest beaches in Hawaii. No Hawaii travel guide would be complete without recommending Molokai for its untamed terrain. Perfect for couples and adventurous families, Molokai will make stress melt away.

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What to See in Hawaii

Encountering exotic wildlife is a treat during Hawaii vacations. From tropical birds to migrating whales, wildlife is at the core of all trips to Hawaii. Visitors with an interest in sea life will love the opportunity to scuba dive or snorkel, while adventurous travelers can head into the rainforest to see native birds and plants.

Each island has its own special landmarks, many of which are scenic overlooks. From the road to Hana in Maui to the Nuuanu Pali lookout on Oahu, many of the landmarks on the islands feature sweeping views. Don’t miss Waimea Canyon on the island of Kauai, this attraction is often called, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific."

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Where to Shop and Eat

Hawaii shopping

The Big Island

Foodies can thank the "Hawaii Regional Cuisine Movement" for the diversity of delicious restaurants on the Big Island. Blending flavors of Hawaii with inspirations from the world, dining is one of the chief pleasures of Hawaii vacations. Two of the top-rated restaurants on the island include Merriman’s Restaurant in Waimea and Roy’s, on the Kohala Coast.

For shopping, unique souvenirs are available throughout the island. Local artisans sell everything from quilts to jewelry to wooden bowls. Places to shop include Hilo, Kohala, and Kailua village. Coffee is another popular purchase; bring home a taste of the islands and relive Hawaii vacations every morning!

Maui

Picked daily from local farms, the ingredients for Maui dining couldn’t be fresher. Traditional Hawaiian cuisine will be found across the island, featuring locally caught fish. Make a reservation in advance for Mama’s Fish House, a fine-dining experience where chefs show their creativity with fish dishes. Small towns such as Wailuku and Paia are worth exploring for their restaurants as well.

Hawaii restaurantsIf you love to shop, add a few extra days on your trip to Maui. Shopping is available across the island, from the upscale shops of Wailea to the artisan shops of Hana. Whether you’re looking for jewelry, souvenirs, or a unique island treasure, you won’t be stuck for choice in Maui!

Kauai

A Hawaii travel guide will say that every island offers fresh cuisine. But which island has the best variety? Kauai offers everything from the finest restaurants to locally-owned options in small towns. The popular fish mahi mahi is reinvented across the island. Try the South Shore for restaurants by well-known chefs Peter Merriman and Roy Yamaguchi at Merriman’s Poipu or Roy’s Poipu.

Did you forget something at home? Don’t worry, the shops of Kauai are stocked with anything you might need for Hawaii vacations. Hawaiian jewelry and art are other popular items for shoppers. The best areas for browsing include Hanalei, Kapaa Town, Kukuiula, and Old Koloa Town. Head to Hanapepe if you’re interested in galleries and local art.

Oahu

Some of the best chefs in the world have chosen Oahu as the location for their restaurants. Famous names include Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, and Sam Choy. Head to Honolulu to taste the culinary creations of these award-winning chefs. If you would rather eat locally, the towns of Kapahulu and Haleiwa offer delicious options.

Leave some room in your suitcase if you plan on shopping during your trip to Oahu. A variety of shopping options include open-air malls, boutiques, and specialty stores. Waikiki has everything from surf shops to trendy clothes shops to Hawaiian crafts. Other shopping venues on the island include Kahala Mall in Honolulu, Waikele Premium Outlets, and the Windward Mall.

Hawaii vacation

Lanai

A Hawaii travel guide focused on cuisine will be quick to point out the variety available on Lanai. Upscale resorts offer intimate dining featuring fine cuisine while Lanai City is the place to go for local flavors. Some of the top choices in Lanai City include Café 565, Blue Ginger Café, and Canoes Lanai Restaurant.

Shopping in Lanai is as laid-back as any other activity on the island. Lazy browsing might turn up a hidden treasure from shops in Lanai City. Boutiques, art galleries, and local fashion are spread throughout Lanai City—there are no malls on the island.

Molokai

What Molokai dining doesn’t have in variety, it makes up for in quality. Fresh island cuisine can be found across Molokai. Local favorites include Molokai Pizza Café and Hula Shores. A handful of restaurants means you can easily find your favorite.

Handmade treasures are the thing to buy on Molokai. You are sure to find a special gift for someone back home at the shops in Maunaloa town and Kaunakakai. Take a tour of a coffee plantation and bring home some rich Hawaiian flavors.

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When to Visit Hawaii

One of the best parts about Hawaii vacations is that they can be planned all year long. Any good Hawaii travel guide will tell you that the islands experience two seasons: wet and dry. The summer season, between April and November, is warmer and drier while the winter season, from December through March is cooler and wetter. This is a relative term though, as visitors enjoy sunbathing year-round with the greater possibility of rain showers during the winter. Trade winds keep Hawaii comfortable year-round and temperatures are constantly between 68 and 88 degrees.

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What to Bring to Hawaii

Hawaii vacations don’t require too much advance thinking about packing. Bring your beach basics including bathing suits, flip flops, sunglasses, a hat, and plenty of sunscreen. If you’re traveling with kids, you may want to consider bringing along beach toys to keep them occupied. A good book is essential for long afternoons on the white-sand beaches. Remember your hiking boots and bug spray if you plan on exploring the rainforests or taking a horseback ride. And don’t forget your camera! All six of the Hawaiian Islands are full of photo opportunities that will capture your family’s happy memories.

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Local Services in Hawaii

While Hawaii vacations will feel exotic, you are still in the United States. It is very convenient using American money and American credit cards without paying any exchange rates or extra ATM fees. Expect access to local services including ATMs and post offices. Grocery stores are large and widely available, especially in resort areas. If you’re exploring the island by car, keep your eyes out for farmer’s markets, which are one of the tastiest and most affordable ways to stock the kitchen of your vacation rental. Shops will provide any beach basics you left behind, so don’t fret if you run out of sunscreen or need a new bathing suit.

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What to Know About Hawaii

One of the biggest mistakes travelers make is trying to see too much during one trip to Hawaii. The best Hawaii travel guide will advise you to choose one, maybe two islands, that you are interested in exploring and seeing them thoroughly. Spending a vacation constantly boarding planes and lugging your suitcase will feel more like work than play. If you have a few weeks, by all means, explore the many sides of Hawaii. Vacations under two weeks should limit their exploration to one or two islands.

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Getting to Hawaii

The major international airport of Hawaii is Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Both domestic and international airlines fly into Honolulu. Direct flights can also be found from the US mainland to Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai. If you’re planning a trip to Lanai or Molokai, you will need to catch a connecting flight in Oahu. If you’re interested in traveling between islands via ferry, there are daily services from Maui to both Lanai and Molokai. All flights within the Hawaiian Islands are under an hour in length, making your final connection in the islands a breeze.

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Why Hawaii Vacation Rentals?

Beach rentals make Hawaii vacations affordable again. Large, impersonal resorts with crowded beaches have long been a disappointment. After a lengthy flight, you will want to spread out in the comfort of your own beach condo or villa. Hawaii vacation rentals are the perfect place to reconnect with your family, over a day of lounging at the beach, or climbing over volcanic rock. With all the money you’ll save on vacation rentals, you will have extra money to spend on fine-dining, activities, and maybe even a whale-watching cruise. Find your own slice of paradise with a Hawaii vacation rental.

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