The Ultimate Guide To The Hawaiian Islands
We don’t know about you, but working during the summer heat gives us major wanderlust. While we’re stuck in the office all day, we’re daydreaming and planning our next vacay. And where better to escape to and say “aloha” (goodbye) to the grind of daily life and “aloha” (hello) to relaxation than Hawaii? Whether you want to relax beachside with a book, spend time recharging at the spa or take advantage of adventures in the lush landscape, the 50th state has it all. Bring on the mai tais and check out our recommendations for where to go and what to do on the Hawaiian Islands.
You can do it all at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, Maui. There's, of course, out-of-this-world dining at six restaurants on the property, two championship golf courses, tennis, hiking, water sports and a spa. But a unique highlight of this property is its Ambassadors of the Environment program, which aims to teach guests about the environment and nature so they leave with a new appreciation. This is done with excursions and uses Maui as an outdoor classroom—forget the textbooks!
The resort also offers Ritz Kids, a program for children ages five to 14; it's part of the Ambassadors of the Environment program so parents can have a little alone time but rest assured their children are well taken care of and get a little education on their vacation.
The Travaasa in Hana, Maui, is a one-stop shop for everything you could ever want on a Hawaiian vacation. Aside from its picturesque setting, you don't have to leave to fulfill all of your Hawaiian dreams. Lei-making classes? Check. On-site ukulele lessons? Check. Learning how to do Hawaiian throw net fishing? Check. Guided meditation? You bet. Cocktails and smoothies classes? Uh-huh. Do we need to go on?
Located on Maui's Wailea coast, this property features an adults-only pool plus two activity pools that are connected by a 140-foot water slide. There's no shortage of activities at the Fairmont Kea Lani, either. Children ages seven to 12 are invited to attend Mermaid University, where they get one-on-one coaching from a "real" mermaid and learn to swim in their tails. Rent a GoPro to document all of your vacation antics, and all guests are invited to partake in a complimentary photo session.
Check out the town of Paiea, which has a very hippie, Venice Beach vibe. Then make sure to take in the breathtaking Na Pali coastline. Make your way to Hana; there's a rugged coastline near there that's a bit of a trek but worth it if you rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The Seven Sacred Pools are on the road to Hana, too, and shouldn't be missed!
Maui is also home to Jaws, the famous surf break, if you're a pro at hanging ten. And if you get hungry from all of the hiking and surfing, make sure to check out Mama's Fish House. With tons of locally caught fresh fish, the menu makes it hard to choose—but the Tristan Island lobster tails, from one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, are calling our name!
You can't go to Hawaii and not go to a luau. The Mauna Kea Luau on Tuesdays and Fridays isn't to be missed. The preferred attire for the affair is "aloha attire," and aside from all of the traditional fare, there's a fire dance for entertainment. If you want a more traditional meal, the hotel also has a clambake on Saturdays. Aside from food, the pool and spa are pure bliss.
There's no question that all Hiltons are infamous, but the Hilton Waikoloa Village has taken it up a notch. Book a room at the resort's Makai at Lagoon Tower. Aside from the incredible views, these rooms and suites will guarantee you a dedicated chair at the Kona Pool (no waiting!) and priority reservations at the resort for dining and spa services. Trust us, it's worth the upgrade.
Bigger doesn’t always mean better, but there are some definite perks to the Big Island. For instance, it's the best one for scuba diving at night with manta rays.
If you're a wino or even just an occasional wine drinker, check out Volcano Winery. It has a one-of-a-kind Hawaiian guava-grape wine that's a must-try.
Food is a big draw on the Big Island. There's no question you have to experience Merriman's for dinner. (Can you say Maui gold pineapple and toasted macadamia nut bread pudding for dessert?) Café Pesto is another standout. And you can't go wrong with breakfast, brunch or lunch at Lava Java.
Located on the beach of Waikiki with a view of Diamond Head, Halekulani offers the ultimate Hawaiian experience. Aside from the gorgeous beach and a heated 82-foot-pool, Spa Halekulani is a treat. It offers the usual spa services plus a "Living Well" series of lectures on everything from clean eating to optimizing your energy and sleep.
This Hawaiian hotel is off the beaten path, in the best way possible. Mix that with free yoga every morning, stellar views of Diamond Head, the Pacific and the mountains, and a daily wine reception in the lobby to mingle with staff and other guests. Sounds pretty perfect to us.
If you want to do Honolulu like a celeb, Kahala Resort is the resort for you (you might even see some there!). Start your morning with a personal training session at its 24-hour fitness facility or take a free stand-up paddleboarding lesson (they're offered daily). Most nights feature live music on the veranda to enjoy before or after dinner at one of the resort's fine dining establishments. Kahala Resort also has off-property excursions like banana boating, parasailing and snorkeling with sea turtles.
If you're a water baby, head to Hanama Bay for some of Hawaii's best snorkeling. The eastern side of Waikiki has great beaches like Waimanalo, where you can paddleboard for miles to a beautiful little island called Chinaman's Hat.
Oahu is also boogie-boarding heaven: On almost every beach you'll find people doing it, so join in. If you'd rather be on land, the Haiku Stairs are a once-in-a-lifetime must-hike. (They don't call them the Stairway to Heaven for nothing.)
You can also go horseback riding into the mountains in Laiea or check out the Foster Botanical Garden, where there's a free daily tour—make sure to reserve your space beforehand. The garden also has concerts on Thursday evenings. (Tip: After you've worked up an appetite, check out Kua'Aina for lunch.)
While Hawaii has plenty of fancy restaurants, some of the most delicious dining destinations are the local hole in the walls that serve local fare known as simply "plate of lunch." These aren't very touristy, and they will give you a more authentic Hawaiian dining experience.
Leonard's in Waikiki is another must-visit. The bakery serves little donuts called malasadas that would be a shame to pass up. And check out the Waikiki Yokocho Gourmet Alley in the bottom of the shopping plaza—Nana's Green Tea has excellent matcha ice cream.
Four Seasons Lanai is the perfect destination for romantic getaway—it offers all of the usual amazing dining and amenities. The less populated island allows for a bit more privacy during your romantic rendezvous, too. We've all heard of beach dinners under the stars, but the property offers couples golf, where you can challenge your partner to some one-on-one and enjoy a specialty cocktail. If you like to be active, in addition to the Manele Golf Course, Four Seasons Lanai is one of the few Hawaiian resorts with on-property tennis courts, including two Plexipave cushion courts and one green clay court. If you and your partner want to try something new, check out SNUBA: a shallow-water diving system that's a mixture of snorkeling and scuba specifically for those who don't like to travel too deep into the ocean.
One of the smaller islands, Lanai is less about tourist attractions and more about enjoying the peace and quiet. If you do venture away from your hotel, make sure to visit the Garden of the Gods, a rock garden about 45 minutes away from Lanai City. If art is more your thing, make sure to check out Mike Carroll Gallery. And if you're feeling really adventurous, splurge on a helicopter tour.
No luxury is spared at the St. Regis Princeville. Located on the North Shore of Kauai, this resort is the perfect Hawaiian hideaway. You'll be far, far away from all of the crowds and other tourists. The resort features a 5,000-square-foot infinity pool, calm waters protected by the Anini reef and award-winning food and beverages. Simply put, it's a tropical paradise.
If you decide to be more active, the resort is home to the Makai Golf Club. Otherwise, you can opt for an oceanside cabana massage.
Kauai is the oldest of Hawaii's islands and known as the Garden Island. Princeville Ranch Adventures has every outdoorsy activity you could ever want. With its lush setting, you can go ziplining, horseback riding, off-roading, hiking or on a jaunt to a private swimming hole.