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Hawaii: Must-See Places

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If there’s one place in the U.S. that needs no introduction, it’s Hawaii. The island chain’s blindingly beautiful blues and greens speak for themselves. The most remote chain of inhabited islands in the world, Hawaii is a world unto itself. Whether you’re soaring above the Napali Coast in a private helicopter, hiking the world’s most active volcano, or simply people watching the crowds in Waikiki with a mai tai in hand, Hawaii doesn’t disappoint.

Honolulu
Photo by zetong from Unsplash.

Honolulu

Honolulu, HI, USA

Within a matter of blocks, the city’s glittering skyline of high-rise condos and hotels, punctuated by modernist, Art Deco, and Gothic architectural gems – not to mention Iolani Palace , the only royal palace in the United States – gives way to sandy beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters. Grab a board or book a surf lesson at Moku Hawaii and head straight out to the gentle beginner break at Canoes , or post up on a beach blanket slightly south and watch the pros carve graceful lines on their longboards at Queens Beach . Treat yourself to a malasada (Portuguese doughnut), or three, at Leonard's Bakery (don’t let the line scare you off; you’re on vacation – what’s the hurry?) or grab a poke bowl at Maguro Spot and watch the throngs of tourists surge past on Kuhio Avenue. For cocktails, catch swanky rooftop vibes on the lanai at the Hideout at The Laylow, Autograph Collection , a breath of fresh air only a couple of stories above the bustle of Waikiki below. For a more affordable option, head to Arnold's Beach Bar , a divey tiki shack discreetly tucked behind a chain breakfast spot on Saratoga Road.

Kailua
Original photo by jdnx licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Kailua

Kailua, HI, USA

When you need a break from the crowds, head over to Oahu’s windward (East) side via the winding Pali Highway. Once a sleepy community separated from the hum of Honolulu by the Ko’olau Mountain Range, Kailua is home to beautiful beaches, great farmers markets, and laid-back locals. Watch the sun rise over the unmistakable silhouette of the Mokulua Islands from the Lanikai Pillbox Hike then stock up on provisions at Kalapawai Market for a beach day at Kailua Beach Park or Lanikai Beach . Rent a kayak or paddleboard from nearby Kailua Beach Adventures for a more active exploration of Kailua Bay, or just get your adrenaline pumping by watching the die-hard kite surfers skipping across the waves offshore. When you’ve had your fill of sand and sun, grab a pastry at Mother Bake Shop for fuel and stroll down Hekili Street for some shopping at Island Bungalow , BikiniBird , or Twin Islands . Finish it all off with a deceptively smooth mai tai – there’s a reason they cut you off after three – and some pupus at Buzz's Original Steakhouse , the only restaurant in Kailua with ocean views.

North Shore
Photo by Johannes Andersson from Unsplash.

North Shore

Waialua, HI

Take the scenic Kamehameha Highway up to the North Shore to check out one of the most revered surf breaks on the planet. Banzai Pipeline in all its glory is a site to behold, particularly during the winter months, when the swell is massive. But there’s more to Oahu’s North Shore than just surfing. On the way there, don’t miss the shrimp scampi at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck , the lady selling coconuts on the right-hand side of the road near Ka’a’awa, or the acai bowls at The Sunrise Shack in Haleiwa. Opt for a “shave ice” at Aoki's Shave Ice if you want something sweeter. Burn off those calories hiking the Ehukai Pillboxes or Ka'ena Point , the westernmost tip of Oahu, and then reward yourself with another amazing meal at one of the many food trucks parked along the highway in Haleiwa.

Kauai
Photo by Karsten Winegeart from Unsplash.

Kauai

Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Nicknamed the “garden island,” Kauai takes Hawaii’s beauty to a whole new level. And it doesn’t just have its looks going for it – it’s got personality as well. Stepping out of Kauai’s tiny airport is a bit like stepping back in time. It’s the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain and, with only one main road that doesn’t even traverse about a third of the island, it gives new meaning to Hawaii’s brand of chill. The star of Kauai is the Nā Pali Coast on the north side of the island, which is best accessed from either air or water. Charter a helicopter out of the Lihue airport with Jack Harter Helicopters for a once-in-a-lifetime aerial tour of the razor-sharp cliffs and countless waterfalls that characterize Hawaii’s most iconic coastline. Or catch a catamaran out of Port Allen with Blue Dolphin Charters and enjoy a jaunt around the island complete with snorkeling, sunset cocktails, or cave explorations—depending on the tour you choose. While you’re on that side of the island, walk through the tiny town of Hanapepe – Kauai’s self-proclaimed “biggest little town” – home to art galleries and inviting shops situated in plantation-style buildings that harken back to simpler times.

Island of Hawai'i
Original photo by National Geological Survey licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Island of Hawai'i

Island of Hawai'i, Hawaii, USA

Home to Mauna Loa , the world’s largest volcano, and Kīlauea , the world’s most active volcano, the Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is a land of extremes. On no other island can you experience snowy mountain tops and steamy black sand beaches, all within mere miles of each other. A literal work in progress, the Big Island continues to grow in size at the whim of Mount Kilauea, which was actively exploding until as recently as 2018. Drive to Kalapana near the southeast coast of the island just before sunset, Kalapana Bike Rental , and have one of the most surreal experiences of your life as you pedal a few miles over a Martian landscape of hardened lava beds to the coast. Once there, you can witness the strangely beautiful sight of the earth being created before your very eyes. (Pro tip: Be sure to take flashlights to find your way back and check with the National Park Service first for information about the volcano’s activity levels and safety information.) The volcanic soil and cool air also create the perfect conditions for another one of the Big Island’s most famous exports: coffee. Be sure to visit one of the island’s many coffee farms – check out Greenwell Farms for free tours and Hawaiian hospitality – to learn firsthand why Kona coffee is sought after worldwide. And what trip to Hawaii would be complete without a little snorkeling? Next to Pu'uhonua O National Park is a great snorkeling spot called Honaunau Bay (pro tip: bring your own mask, snorkel and fins).

Maui
Photo by debrupas from Unsplash.

Maui

Maui, HI

If it’s pristine beaches you’re looking for, Maui has you covered. Kaanapali and Wailea offer lovely beachfront strolls and gentle waters perfect for swimming and snorkeling. For a more active option, head over to Haleakalā National Park to hike the volcano’s crater via the Sliding Sands Trail. Park your car at Halemau’u and hitchhike – by far the best option and the one officially endorsed by the National Park Service – your way up to the Keonehe’ehe’e Trailhead. It’s a great way to make friends and have your car waiting for you at the end of the 11-mile, nearly 8,000-foot elevation change hike. Like many hikes in Hawaii, this one is not for the faint of heart, so pack plenty of provisions and prepare to be wowed by the cloud views and vastness of the crater. For spectacular dining, treat yourself to the incredible hospitality, mouth-watering menu, and incredible view at Mama's Fish House , an old-school restaurant and inn in Paia. (Pro tip: Order the Ahi Tahitian with coconut and lime – trust us.)