Tips for an Unforgettable Hawaii Vacation

The vibrant island state of Hawaii has something for everyone, from beach bums to adventure seekers to those who just love to shop until they drop.

Made up of eight large islands and isolated islets, Hawaii is known for its history, predominantly its sugar and pineapple plantations and the site of the Pearl Harbor attack. Oahu's gorgeous North Coast and the lush views of Kauai's Na Pali Coast State Wilderness, once home to royalty, are some of the state's most popular destinations. However, Hawaii offers many other stunning ecological and historical sites for those willing to break away from the crowds.


01Waikiki Beach

surfboards on Waikiki Beach solar737 / Getty Images

If you're searching for the kitchy Hawaii of 60s sitcoms, colorful, lively Waikiki Beach is for you. The birthplace of surfing, Americans started to embrace Waikiki Beach following World War II. By the time Hawaii had become a U.S. state in 1959, celebrities such as Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby had imprinted Waikiki into American popular culture. Waikiki Beach is a must-see if you're looking for tiki bars and hula dances.


02Haleakala National Park

sunrise at Haleakala Crater jezdicek / Getty Images

The island of Maui offers breathtaking views of the natural side of Hawaii. One of the highlights of this island is Haleakala National Park. Haleakala Crater, at the summit of a dormant volcano, is the centerpiece of this island. Those who take the two-hour scenic drive to the top of the volcano will have the rare chance to view volcanic features up close. The clear views of the sky at the summit offer some of the best stargazing opportunities in the world, as well. If possible, try to get a permit to view the sunrise from the park summit; it's an Instagrammable moment that will make the pre-dawn drive worth it. (Better yet, camp at the park to enjoy sunrise, sunset, and the stars!)


03Road to Hana's Hiking Trails

Hiking on Pipiwai Trail VisualCommunications / Getty Images

Driving 64-mile Hana Highway, also known as the "Road to Hana," puts any other scenic drive to shame. While many people choose to experience the drive from their cars, the real way to travel the Road to Hana is to incorporate the breathtaking stops along the way. Short hikes branching off from the highway lead to waterfalls and lava tubes. Skip the more obvious roadside stops of Twin Falls and Upper Waikanai Falls in favor of hikes at Kaeleku Caverns and Pipiwai Trail. A drive on the Road to Hana isn't complete without a few slices of Maui's famous banana bread, so don't forget to stop at a farm stand and pick some up along the way.


04Nakalele Point Blowhole

Nakalele Blowhole exploding stockstudioX / Getty Images

If a scenic drive and zen-like hikes on the Road to Hana sound too tame for you, then add the Nakalele Point blowhole to your Maui itinerary. This marine geyser can spurt water up to 100 feet in the air, shaking the ground when it blows. Nakalele Point is also known for the "Acid War Zone," an area of eroded boulders with an eerie vibe. The area can be explored on foot, but dirt bikes and ATVs are also permitted on some trails.


05Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Kalaupapa cliffs Major Sky Photography / Getty Images

How would you like to check out a leprosy colony on your Hawaii vacation? Sounds crazy, but Kalaupapa National Historical Park offers some of the most thrilling chances for adventure as well as a rather dark history lesson. Approachable only by plane, mule, or a rugged 3.5-mile hike, this park stands on land declared a settlement for those with leprosy -- also known as Hansen's disease -- in 1866. The area has served as inspiration for writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London. Some residents of the colony continue to reside on park land.


06Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

flowing lava in Hawaii Eachat / Getty Images

When you picture your Hawaii vacation, do images of flowing lava right out of Reading Rainbow or Sesame Street come to mind? Feel free to release that inner child at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Remember learning about Mount Kiluea in elementary school? This famous volcano erupted recently -- September 2018 -- permanently altering some of the park's terrain. Be sure to check the park's website for daily seismic activity and eruption updates before your trip. Portions of the park are closed when volcanic conditions become too dangerous.


07Papakolea Beach and Punalu'u Beach

rare green sand beach EvaKaufman / Getty Images

If you're bored with white sand beaches, the Big Island is the place for you. Featuring not only the famous Black Sand Beach (aka Punalu'u Beach), it is also home to one of only four green sand beaches in the world.

Punalu'u Beach's black sand is created when hot lava is cooled by ocean water. Papakolea Beach's green sand is composed of a rare mineral, olivine. Offering sanctuary for rare birds as well as endangered green turtles, both of these beaches serve up Instagrammable opportunities you're unlikely to find anywhere else.


08Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon vista hawaii Pawel Gaul / Getty Images

How big is Waimea Canyon? The fact that it's also known as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" should give you an idea. Located on the island of Kaua'i, Waimea Canyon State Park is the place to view this ten-mile long canyon, a remnant of the volcanic collapse that produced the island. While the rim overlooks won't let you down when it comes to views, the best way to explore is on foot. If you plan to camp, be sure to secure a permit through the Department of Land and Natural Resources ahead of time.


09Dole Park

Dole Park, located in the center of Lanai City on the island of Lanai, is beloved by locals and visitors alike. The park is a peaceful oasis filled with gorgeous Cook Island pine trees. Try to hit Dole Park on a Saturday to explore its arts and crafts fair and farmer's market, especially if you're always on the lookout for unique souvenirs and gifts for friends back home. If you can't make it to the park on a Saturday, don't worry: boutiques, art galleries, and local restaurants abound in Lanai City.

10Lanai Cat Sanctuary

cat at Lanai Cat Sanctuary Tom Simak / Getty Images

Lanai Cat Sanctuary might be the cutest destination on your Hawaii itinerary. Created as a home for the island's many stray cats in 2009, the sanctuary provides shelter and health care for over 500 cats, as well as protection from cats for the island's endangered bird population. A picnic at Lanai Cat Sanctuary is fun for cat- and bird-lovers alike.

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