From snowcapped volcanoes to rainforests to lava-rock deserts, Hawaii is much more than the parade of high-rise hotels that hug glorious Waikiki Beach. The push and pull between highly developed tourist apex, ancient Polynesian culture, and natural paradise is palpable in the complex 50th state. Add to that the vestiges of “old” (pre–1959 statehood) Hawaii—the one where mai tais are poured in a salty seaside shack to the tune of hapa haole (Hawaiian music with English lyrics), and you have a destination with a rich, complex identity. But everywhere the generous spirit of “aloha” is infectious, making lifetime repeat visitors of many who set foot on these exotic, yet very American, islands.
Located in the Pacific Ocean west of California, Hawaii is the only state to be completely surrounded by water. It consists of six main islands—the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, and Lanai. Cascading waterfalls, black-sand beaches, and rugged canyons make Hawaii travel great for relaxation or adventure. And getting around is easy—there's one major airport and several smaller ones. This Hawaii travel guide is filled with ideas to kick-start your vacation planning.
Things Not to Miss in Hawaii
Here, a few highlights of this idyllic island chain.
• Snorkel to view bright corals, tropical fish, and sea turtles.
• Sunbathe on one of the many beaches that dot the 750 miles of coastline.
• Go whale-watching during humpback migration season (December—April)
When to Visit Hawaii
Hawaii is in the tropics, but has a cooler, drier climate due to the trade winds that blow from the east. Temperatures are consistently warm but comfortable throughout the year, but it's important to keep in mind when planning your travel to Hawaii that May through October is dry season, while November through April is the rainy season. If you visit Hawaii in the winter months, it is advisable to bring rain gear.
- A horseback or carriage ride into the Big Island’s Waipio Valley, a lush ancient gorge sacred to the Hawaiians, where taro is still cultivated as it was by the original Polynesian settlers who set foot here more than a thousand years ago.
- Ringing the enormous bell at Oahu’s stunning Byodo–In temple, a replica of a 900-year-old building in Uji, Japan, with a gorgeous green mountain backdrop.
- Seeing some of the best hula dancers in the state at the dance’s traditional birthplace on rural Molokai at the three-day Molokai Ka Hula Piko festival in May.