Planning a Trip to Hawaii for the First Time: Unforgettable Experiences Waiting

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii for the first time, you’re probably wondering where to begin. From world-famous beaches to active volcanoes, each island in Hawaii has its own unique flavor to explore.

Embarking on your very first journey to Hawaii is an exciting adventure, filled with promise and opportunity. The Aloha State, home to a rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, and unforgettable experiences, is an idyllic destination for first-time visitors.

Whether you’re planning a family vacation, an intimate getaway, or an adventurous solo trip, each Hawaiian Island offers something unique. From the bustling cityscapes of Oahu to the captivating sights of the Big Island and the laid-back ambiance of Maui and Kauai, your trip will be soaked in sunshine, sprinkled with aloha, and underscored by the gentle rhythm of the Pacific waves.

So, where to go in Hawaii first time? Let’s dive in!

Big Island Must-Visit Attractions for First-Time Visitors

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Open in Maps: Volcano, HI 96785

If you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time, a trip to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is absolutely essential. This unique park grants you an unparalleled experience of nature’s profound power and beauty, with magnificent volcanic landscapes, intricate lava tubes, historic petroglyphs, and – if conditions permit – the unforgettable sight of flowing lava.

Encompassing two active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea, it’s a window into the raw, dynamic processes that shape our planet and a testament to the transformative nature of Earth’s forces.

The park is also home to some of Hawaii’s most iconic species, providing a captivating opportunity for wildlife observation and photography.

Before you go, make sure to read the biggest mistakes people make at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park so you can learn from the mistakes of those who’ve gone before you.

Lava Flowing over cliffs into the ocean at Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park - The Big Island, Hawaii, USA

Manta Ray Night Dive/Snorkel

First time in Hawaii? If you’re seeking an adventure that marries both awe and intrigue, look no further than a manta ray night dive or snorkel. The mesmerizing dance of the manta rays under the cloak of the Pacific night sky offers you an unforgettable encounter with these stunning creatures.

Spotlighting their natural grace and agility, this experience offers a captivating glimpse into Hawaii’s vibrant marine fauna.

Related Post: Best Snorkel Tour Big Island – 4 Ways to Save Up to 6% Off

For the best encounter, we recommend the moonlit waters off the Kona Coast on Big Island. Renowned for its rich plankton population, it’s a favored spot for these gentle giants and an absolute must-do for marine enthusiasts!

Waipio Valley and Black Sand Beach

For first-time visitors, the best way to experience the Waipio Valley and Black Sand Beach is to participate in a guided tour. These tours provide a unique perspective as they are administered by locals who have intimate knowledge of the area and its history.

Moreover, the drive down to the valley can be challenging due to its steep nature. A guided tour eliminates this concern. Once there, take a leisurely walk along the black sand beach, brown toes in the cool surf, and marvel at the valley’s towering cliffs.

Whatever your fitness level, don’t forget to bring your camera – the views here are spectacular and well worth remembering.

Wide shot of Waipi'o Valley Lookout on a sunny day with bright blue water in Oahu, Hawaii, USA
photo credit: Benjamin Vera-Tudela via Facebook

Where to Go in Oahu for First-Time Visitors

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Open in Maps: 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818

For the first-time traveler to Oahu, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a must-see destination. This place will always top our list for Hawaii for beginners.

As a poignant reminder of this pivotal moment in history, the memorial stands as a testament to the men and women who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

Offering various points of interest like the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri Memorial, a visit here allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the events that shaped America during the war years.

Embraced by natural beauty, the central Oahu area where the memorial is located is a sight to behold in itself, further enhancing your visit.

An average visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial can take around 4-6 hours, which includes exploring the various sites within the memorial premises. A visit to this world-famous destination is not just a dive into history, but also a commemoration of courage and resilience.

a photograph of the battleship in Peal Harbor from the side

Waikiki Beach

Open in Maps: Honolulu, HI 96815

Soaking up the sun at the world-famous Waikiki Beach is an unforgettable experience for any first-time visitor to Hawaii.

With its gentle waves and crystal clear waters, it’s the perfect place to relax, swim, or indulge in water sports. Here, you can try your hand at surfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, and many more fun activities.

Related Post: Volcano Tours Big Island – 5 Incredible Hawaii Adventures

Moreover, it’s also famous for its legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku. You’ll find numerous shops along the beachfront where you can rent equipment or take a lesson if you’re a beginner.

Waikiki Beach is ideal all year round, but for the warmest weather, aim to visit between April and November. Just remember, it can get quite busy, so beat the crowd by arriving early in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Tall Coconut Palm trees line this section of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu on the Island of Oahu, Hawaii.

Polynesian Cultural Center

Open in Maps: 55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Laie, HI 96762

The Polynesian Cultural Center, situated on the North Shore of Oahu, is an absolute must-visit for anyone visiting Hawaii for the first time. It offers a captivating exploration of the cultures, traditions, and history of Polynesia.

Part theme park, part living museum, you’ll be charmed by the interactive villages showcasing the art, dance, and daily life of the Polynesian people, from Hawaii to Fiji, Samoa, and beyond.

For an immersive experience, try their world-class luau, complete with a feast and show. However, the exploration of such rich history and culture isn’t free.

Entry to the Polynesian Cultural Center requires paid admission, but its unforgettable experiences make the cost worthwhile. But don’t worry! Polynesian Cultural Center discount tickets are frequently available on Tripster.

Polynesian man climbing a large palm tree to get yellow fruit in Oahu, Hawaii
photo credit: Polynesian Cultural Center via Facebook

Things to Do in Maui for First-Time Visitors

Road to Hana

For first-time visitors seeking out the natural beauty of Hawai’i, the Road to Hana, located in East Maui, is an unforgettable journey. This winding, scenic route is known for its lush landscapes, countless waterfalls, and serene black sand beaches.

This road trip is arguably the best way to visit Hawaii. But for a grander view, you can take a helicopter tour too!

Key stopovers on this adventure include the historic Hana Town, Seven Sacred Pools at Ohe’o, and the Pipiwai Trail which takes you through a bamboo forest straight to an awe-inspiring waterfall. Don’t forget to indulge in the exotic, fresh fruit stands along the route too!

aerial view of Hana Highway along coastline in Maui Hawaii, USA
Gorgeous famous road to Hana along the ocean in Maui, Hawaii.

Haleakalā National Park

When visiting Maui for the first time, be prepared to be swept off your feet by the breathtaking view and unique experience that Haleakalā National Park offers.

From the highest peak that stands mighty at 10,023 feet above sea level, you can witness the sun awaken above the cloud line, painting the sky in hues of spectral brilliance. Remember to bring warm clothing as it can get quite chilly at that elevation.

The Park is a representation of Hawaii’s diverse natural beauty, housing a variety of landscapes from the volcanic Haleakalā crater to the subtropical rainforest in the Kipahulu section, teeming with waterfalls and beautiful trails.

You can also explore Hawaiian culture here, as the park plays host to a myriad of native species and has significant cultural sites which are great for understanding Hawaii’s rich cultural heritage.

Whether it is stargazing or hiking, Haleakalā National Park offers an unforgettable experience for every type of traveler.

Aerial View of a Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour over Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano - Maui, Hawaii, USA
Maui: Touring Haleakala, the world’s largest dormant volcano.

Molokini Crater Snorkeling

If you’re wondering where to go in Hawaii for your first time, don’t let the opportunity to snorkel at the world-famous Molokini Crater pass you by.

Positioned between the islands of Maui and Kaho’olawe, this crescent-shaped, partly submerged volcanic crater provides an underwater sanctuary perfect for first-time family vacations to Hawaii.

Related Post: Maui Itineraries – The Ultimate Day-by-Day Guide for Your Maui Vacation

The clear, sheltered waters brimming with vibrant coral and a diverse range of marine life promise an unforgettable snorkeling experience.

You might spy turtles, manta rays, and a plethora of tropical fish – truly a natural spectacle to behold. The Molokini Crater is also an easily accessible snorkeling spot, with numerous tour operators conducting trips from Maui.

Aerial View of Molokini Crater and Ocean - Maui, Hawaii, USA

What to See in Kauai for First-Time Visitors

Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast, known for its breathtaking beauty, rugged terrain, and cascading waterfalls, is sure to leave an indelible impression on any first-time visitor to Hawaii.

These towering emerald cliffs draped in mist, dramatically contrasting against the endless azure ocean, offer an unparalleled view of the island’s primitive charm.

Due to the rugged nature of the coast, the best ways to fully appreciate Na Pali’s majesty are either by helicopter tours, which give you a bird’s eye view of the stunning scenery, or, for the more adventurous, by hiking the legendary Kalalau Trail.

The strenuous trek isn’t for everyone, but it’s the perfect way to fully immerse in the natural beauty of the Na Pali Coast. However, this journey requires preparation and a good level of fitness.

beautiful mountain in Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park in Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Waimea Canyon Lookout

Open in Maps: Waimea, HI 96796

Possessing a reputation for being the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’, Waimea Canyon cuts a dramatic figure across Kauai’s landscape. Colors ignite the cliffs, displaying hues of red, green, and blue, a testament to the geologic richness of the area.

For the optimal experience, take a hike along one of the marked trails that navigate their way through the canyon.

Related Post: Waimea Canyon Hike – Explore Kauai’s Natural Wonder

From easily accessible walks to more strenuous hikes, there’s an opportunity for everyone to witness the spectacle. And when you reach the lookout point, brace yourself for unobstructed views of Hawaii’s most jaw-dropping natural beauty.

The views are magnificent and unforgettable, making it an absolute must for your Hawaiian first time visit.

aerial view of rainbow over Waimea Canyon State Park in Kauai, Hawaii, USA

Hanalei Bay and Valley

One place you mustn’t miss on your first time in Hawaii is the breathtaking Hanalei Bay and Valley on Kauai Island. This natural beauty is considered a gem of Hawaii, showcasing a landscape that is nothing short of picturesque.

The Bay features gentle waves perfect for beginners in water activities, and the lush greenery of the valley offers some of the best hiking trails on the island.

What adds to its charm is the historic town of Hanalei nestled near the bay. Here you can immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture, savor local cuisine, and shop for distinctive Hawaiian crafts and artworks, making the Hanalei Bay and Valley not just a sightseeing stop, but a full-fledged Hawaiian experience.

Aerial drone shot of Hanalei bay and beach on the north shore of Kauai in Hawaii


Hawaii First-Time Visitor FAQs

If you're planning a first-time family vacation to Hawaii, Oahu is a wonderful choice with its world-famous Waikiki Beach and historic landmarks like Pearl Harbor National Memorial.

Maui is another excellent option for families, offering the breathtaking Road to Hana, while Kauai charms with attractions such as Waimea Canyon.

However, for diverse experiences ranging from active volcanoes to black sand beaches and manta ray snorkeling, the Big Island stands out as an unforgettable destination.

The best way to see Hawaii for the first time is by planning your trip and identifying the unique experiences and sights that each island has to offer. Book activities in advance, consider island hopping for a diverse experience and don't forget to budget for dining and activities.

This strategy ensures you don’t miss out on the unforgettable experiences on the major islands, the natural beauty, and the world-famous attractions that the Hawaiian Islands are famous for.

The prime time for whale watching in Hawaii is the winter season, particularly from mid-December through mid-April. During these months, the shallow warm waters of Maui become a popular spot for migrating humpback whales to give birth.

The lighthouse lookout on Oahu's Windward Coast offers spectacular views with whales often spotted in the Molokai Channel at this time.

A trip there is the best way to visit Hawaii for the first time if you're after breathtaking views and responsible whale watching. Read our guide to the best places for whale watching.

If you're visiting Hawaii for the first time, Oahu is often considered the best island to start your Hawaiian journey as it provides a mix of urban city life, stunning natural beauty, and immersive Hawaiian culture.

However, the ideal choice highly depends on your personal travel style and interests. The Big Island of Hawaii is highly recommended if you're seeking a diverse range of experiences, from active volcanoes to black-sand beaches and unique encounters like night snorkeling with manta rays.

Hawaii hosts a total of three international airports. These are located on the islands of Oahu (Honolulu International Airport), Maui (Kahului Airport), and The Big Island (Kona International Airport).

Need Help Planning Your First Trip to Hawaii?

For those visiting Hawaii for the first time, a smart and cost-effective approach to planning your trip is to take advantage of Hawaii vacation packages available on Tripster.

These packages offer the convenience of bundling everything – from your accommodation to your activities. Whether it’s a first time family vacation to Hawaii or it’s a solo Hawaii first time visit, Tripster has got you covered!

With various options to select from, you can access discounted tickets to top attractions, renowned tours, and unique experiences, all tailored to suit your budget. It’s a hassle-free method to ensure you experience the best Hawaii has to offer during your first visit.

Start planning your unforgettable Hawaiian adventure today — secure your discounted tickets and make your dream Hawaii trip a reality!

What Did We Miss?

Do you have any additional tips or insights to share? Leave us a comment below!

Avatar photo

Written by Michaela Satterfield

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people....

Have something to add? Post it here:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Are you a Tripster?

Create an account to get access to exclusive pricing and rewards.

Tagged in this post

Hawaii Planning