Mountains, beach and ocean of Hawaii

Hawaii: A Definitive Guide to the 6 Main Islands (2019)

Destinations

“No place else could have provided me with the environment, the climate, in which I could not only grow but also get a sense of being loved. There is no doubt that the residue of Hawaii will always stay with me. And that it is a part of my core. And that what’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the message of Hawaii.”

That’s a direct quote, from the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama.

He was born in Hawaii. And this statement may be a little biased. But if Hawaii is good enough for a president, it’s probably good enough for you.

Welcome to your official crash course on the Aloha state.

Let’s go island hopping.

Map of Hawaii

Map of Hawaii via Nat Geo
Map of Hawaii (National Geographic)

If we’re being technical, Hawaii is actually made up of over 100 islands. That said, over 90 percent of them are uninhabited or undeveloped. People traveling to Hawaii tend to focus on the 6 main islands (see above). See giant turtles, active volcanoes and experience island hospitality the Hawaiian way.

Looking for cheap tickets to Hawaii? Head to our official site to save big.

Weather in Hawaii

Kalepa Ridge, Hawaii
Kalepa Ridge, Hawaii

Aside from its people and flawless natural landscape, weather is Hawaii’s best feature. Winter and summer temperatures range from 26 to 29 degrees Celsius (79 to 84 F). Landscape variations allow for deserts, beaches, rain forests and cooler regions too. In North America, people gravitate to sunny weather. And Hawaii’s weather is great all year long.

For more Hawaii weather information, check out Holiday Weather.

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Hilo and Kona, Hawaii (Big Island)

Waipi'o Valley, Big Island
Waipi’o Valley, Big Island

Disambiguation: There’s Hawaii, the state. And there’s Hawaii, the island.

Hawaii isn’t just another island. It’s known as the Big Island. Can you guess why? Hint: it’s by far the largest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Throw in a rich culture and history, and you’ll see why the Big Island is so special.

There are two major towns on the Big Island, Hilo and Kona. Let’s start with the former.

Hilo

Tucked away on the east coast of Hawaii, you’ll find its capital, Hilo. Waterfalls, beaches, rain forests and more make it a natural wonder. It’s also filled with modern amenities to keep locals and visitors happy.

Things to Do in Hilo

Downtown Hilo: Art galleries, rustic storefronts, and dining for everyone—downtown Hilo is convenient and fun.

Wailuku River State Park: Home to Waianuene (Rainbow Falls) and Boiling Pots (natural pools), Wailuku River State Park is a literal breath of fresh air.

Akaka Falls State Park: A scenic state park with two impressive waterfalls: Akaka and Kahuna Falls. These waterfalls are worth the chase.

Liliuokalani Gardens: Nearly 25 acres of perfectly sculpted garden space. There are rock gardens, pagodas, ponds and more. It’s free and open 24-7.

Farmer’s Market: A pleasant open-air market with tasty fruits, veggies and plants. Pick up unique local crafts there too.

Kona

Geographically opposite Hilo, Kona pulses to the rhythm of its own drum. Go there to try their famous Kona coffee. Stay for water activities like snorkeling or dolphin and turtle spotting. You’ll have your pick of restaurants, museums and nightlife.

Things to Do in Kona

Keauhou: The Keauhou resort area is perfect for vacationers. Stroll down to the ocean to witness marine life up close too.

Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park: Sprawling coastal national park with once in a lifetime views. It’s also a great place to learn about early coastal Hawaiian settlements.

Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona): It’s filled with historic sites and coastal views. Stop by Hulihee Palace for a flash back to the time of Hawaiian royalty. You don’t want to miss it.

Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park: This park was once exclusive to Hawaiian Royals. One look at it and you’ll know exactly why. It was also a sacred safe haven. Follow the maps while exploring. It’s a deep dive into Haiwaiian culture, old and new.

Honolulu, Oahu

View of Honolulu from the mountains
Diamond Head, Honolulu

Hawaii has become synonymous with paradise. Oahu, one of 6 major Hawaiian Islands is at the center of it all. And at the heart of Oahu, you’ll find the capital, Honolulu.

Traveling on a budget? Check out our guides to budget accommodation & cheap fares every time you travel.

Honolulu

Go to Honolulu to experience Hawaii in its truest form. There’s something for everyone in this city. Chow down at regional eateries. Enjoy skyscraper views at sunset. Learn about historic architecture. Get retail therapy at the biggest open-air mall in the world. Lay back on the beach, hike trails or stroll through curated museums.

Things to Do in Honolulu

Pearl Harbor: Look down on the wreckage of the USS Arizona (attacked during WWII). Tour the Battleship Missouri. See everything this historic site has to offer on a Pearl Harbor tour. It’s perfect for your inner history buff.

Makapuu Point: It’s on the eastern edge of Oahu Island. Makapuu Point’s rugged trail is an amazing hike. And it leads to an absolutely perfect view.

Waikiki Beach: Waikiki is the life of the Hawaiian party. Its beach by the same name is a world-renowned surf spot. Fancy hotels, trendy fashion, nightlife and authentic hula shows. What more could you ask for?

Iolani Palace: Curious about Hawaii’s royal heritage? Visit Iolani Palace. It was home to Hawaiian royals for decades. These days, Iolani Palace is a well-restored and carefully curated museum.

Leahi (Diamond Head): No Diamond Head, no Hawaii. That’s how important this landmark is. Visit this 760-foot crater for an incredible view of the ocean. Head back down, grab a drink and rest a while on one of the nearby beaches.

Kapahulu: Kapahulu is the go-to neighborhood for the tastiest Hawaiian food near Waikiki. Find all kinds of Asian food, including Thai, Japanese and Chinese. Eat baked goods, desserts, or gourmet dishes. If you’re serious about tasting Hawaii, there’s no place you’d rather be.

Bishop Museum: It’s also known as the Hawaii State Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Why’s it so special? It’s the largest museum in the state of Hawaii. And it holds nearly 25 million natural history specimens and artifacts. Historically speaking, it’s a goldmine into the past. Check it out!

Kahului, Maui

Surfboards in front of house in Maui
Maui, USA

Maui’s natural wonder is perfect for outdoorsy travelers. Taste Maui’s delicious food, made with local ingredients. You’ll quickly understand why this island is a one of a kind experience.

Kahului

It’s not just another Hawaiian town with nice weather. Dig deeper. You’ll quickly realize Kahului is a diamond in the rough. Despite being overshadowed by Oahu, local culture in Kahului thrives. If you’re wondering how, see list of activities below.

Things to Do in Kahalui

Kanaha Beach: It’s ideal for swimming, kite and wind surfing, volleyball and picnicking. This beach is situated between downtown Kahului and the main airport. No matter where you are, it’s a short drive away.

Maui Nui Botanical Gardens: Botanical gardens are always a good idea. Wild and beautiful plants overrun Hawaii. But you can expect to see several different ones here. These gardens span for 7 acres and hope to preserve Hawaii’s native plants. Worth the visit!

Schaefer International Gallery: Schaefer International Gallery is a beautiful space. The art installations are free. And it’s the perfect chance to learn about local and international cultures alike. If you’re looking for a laid back activity in Kahalui, this is your best bet.

Kahului Harbor: This isn’t any old harbor. It’s the entry point to a town with a lengthy history. Fuel the local economy with a little shopping. Watch humpback whales. Take one of several mountain or valley walking tours. Don’t let this ‘unassuming’ town fool you. There’s something for everyone to do.

Kanaha Pond State Wildlife Sanctuary: Have you visited any royal fishponds today? I certainly haven’t. But that’s what Kanaha pond used to be. Nowadays, it’s a sanctuary for more than 4-dozen bird types. Stroll down the designated walking space to see the birds up close. It’s a pretty cool experience.

Kauai

Vacation resort, Kauai, USA

Kauai is so beautiful you’ll think your senses are broken. But why else would it be nicknamed the Garden Isle? Go there for sheer wonder, adventure and of course down time. Canyons, beaches, rivers and parks are the tip of the iceberg. Kauai deserves to be explored.

Things to Do in Kauai

Kee Beach: You’ll come for the golden sunsets. But the breathtaking views will convince you to stay. This beach couldn’t be more picturesque. That said, the waters can be dangerous, even for strong swimmers.

Wailua Falls: Who doesn’t love a beautiful waterfall? Answer: Literally no one. And that’s exactly why Wailua Falls is a must-see. This nearly 200 feet high waterfall does not fall short (pun intended).

Lawai International Center: The Lawai International Center is over 100 years old. It’s also one of the oldest Buddhist temple sites in America. Locally, it’s known as a place of healing. And both locals and foreigners are welcome.

Kauai’s Hindu Monastery: Also known as Kauai Aadheenam, this Hindu Monastery is profoundly spiritual. Furthermore, the complex stands in arguably the most beautiful place in Hawaii.

Salt Pond Beach Park: Possibly the best aquatic activity spot on Kauai. Surf, snorkel, scuba dive, go fish and loads more. Make sure to double-check the sea and beach conditions. Stay safe out there.

Molokai

Molokai Cliffs, Hawaii

Molokai is easily the most laid back major Hawaiian Island. The majority of the locals there are descendants of Native Hawaiians. Their spirit is self-sustaining, proud and friendly. The people of Molokai are so warm-natured, the island is known as the Friendly Isle. Go there to experience the true heritage of Hawaii.

Travel hack: Smile and be friendly with locals. They give the best tips on navigating the local landscape.

Things to Do in Molokai

Papohaku Beach: This is one of Hawaii’s best white sand beaches. It stretches for nearly 5 miles and is as wide as a football field is long. The views are impeccable. And far off in the distance, you’ll see iconic Diamond Head.

Halawa Valley: See the Hawaii the first Polynesians loved nearly 3000 years ago.
The vistas here will take your breath away. Hidden places of worship are scattered all over. Hike terrific trails. You’ll stare up at giant waterfalls too.

Moaula & Hipuapua Falls:
Speaking of waterfalls, Moaula and Hipuapua are two of the best. These twin falls are your reward for trekking through the Halawa Valley. Take in all the sights along the way. Keep in mind; you must be accompanied by a local guide.

Kalaupapa Overlook: Nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, experience the Kalaupapa Overlook. It’s a few miles away from the quiet town of the same name. Last but not least, the Kalaupapa Historical National Park is in the same region. You’ll rarely experience anything else like it.

Lanai

Lanai Island Beach

Of the inhabited Hawaiian Islands, Lanai is the smallest. But it has mass appeal to visitors. Lanai has two faces. The first is natural, rough and filled with adventure. Its second side features lavish resorts, and of course golf. Regardless of your preference, Lanai is a Hawaiian treasure.

Things to Do in Lanai

Keahiakawelo | Garden of the Gods: Like Chile’s Death Valley, the Garden of the Gods isn’t your typical garden. It’s filled with rock towers, spires, and other natural formations. Some of the most beautiful red and purple sunsets can be seen from there. You have to see it to believe it.

Lanai Culture & Heritage Center: Hawaii has no shortage of natural wonders. Dial it down a notch at the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center. Like Lanai, the museum is small. But it contains big hints about the island’s curious history. Learn how and why Lanai earned the nickname Pineapple Island. What have you got to lose?

Lanai’s Cat Sanctuary: Canada, Greece, Thailand, Costa Rica and other countries have dog sanctuaries. Lanai has a cat sanctuary. It’s paradise for cat lovers. The sanctuary is run by volunteers. They rely on donations to keep their doors open. Stop by for a furry and unique experience.

Kanepuu Preserve: It’s nearly 600 acres large. Kanepuu Preserve is where almost 50 different types of Hawaiian plants can be found. The best part? These plants are exclusive to Hawaii. It also houses the largest remaining dry land region in Hawaii. And it’s legally protected. A visit to this preserve is special, even among other Hawaiian islands.

Thanks for making it this far! If you’re thinking of visiting other destinations, keep browsing our blog.

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