Your Guide to the Hawaiian Islands
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Your Guide to the Hawaiian Islands

It can be difficult to know where to start when planning a Hawaii vacation.  All the islands are fantastic vacation destinations, each with unique things to do and landscapes.  Not sure whether to visit a single island or island hop?  We’re here to help.  The following is a quick resource guide detailing what each island offers and should help you decide which paradise is perfect for you.

Kauai

Sailing the Na Pali Coast

Best for beaches, hiking, snorkeling and sightseeing

Kauai is home to gorgeous, world-class beaches like Hanalei Bay and Tunnels Beach.  Not only are the beaches of Kauai wonderful places to swim, sun and relax they also offer vibrant snorkeling opportunities. Stunning sights like Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast are dramatic landscapes waiting to be explored, as are the various waterfalls found throughout the island.  Some of the waterfalls can be accessed by trails, which is another highlight of a visit to this island.  Kauai hiking trails offers hundreds of trail choices for every level of experience. Hike Kauai Trails and connect with nature. It won’t take long to realize that Kauai is a hiker’s paradise waiting to be discovered.

Oahu

Your Guide to the Hawaiian Islands
Waikiki in Oahu

Best for beaches, shopping, surfing, food and culture

Oahu is the most modern of the islands, especially Waikiki.  You can find high-end fashion boutiques, plenty of souvenir shops and even the sprawling Aloha Stadium Flea Market in the Waikiki/Honolulu area of Oahu.  Eating is also top priority during a vacation here, as top chefs create local cuisine bursting with flavor and plenty of top notch restaurants can be found on Kalakaua Avenue.  Doraku Sushi is one of the best places to get fresh, delicious sushi and is helmed by renowned chef Kevin Aoki.  Food trucks, especially those in and around the North Shore, specialize in local cuisine – specifically shrimp.  One of the best is Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  Speaking of the North Shore, world-famous surfing is the standard here, especially at the Banzai Pipeline.  Grab a board and surf a wave, or simply sit back and watch the talented surfers do their thing.  Place like Pearl Harbor, the Punchbowl Memorial, Polynesian Cultural Center, Iolani Palace and Bishop Museum create cultural discoveries visitors treasure, too.

Maui

Your Guide to the Hawaiian Islands
Molokini Crater

Best for beaches, hiking, sightseeing, luaus and activities

Maui is known as the Magic Isle and for good reason.  Sun and surf combine on Maui, creating a magical, laid back ambiance perfect for spending days at the beach.  With over 80 beaches on the island, finding a place to stick your toes in the sand is easy.  Some of our favorite beaches include Kapalua Beach, Kaanapali Beach and Wailea Beach.  Hiking in Maui is also a real treat as Maui trails lead you to some of the most amazing places, including cascading waterfalls, bamboo forests and scenic vistas.  One of the best hikes – the Pipiwai Trail – can be found in the Haleakala National Park.   A myriad of activities, including biking down the Haleakala Crater, traveling the Road to Hana, snorkeling Molokini Crater and even Whale Watching(seasonal from December-April), makes Maui an easy choice for visitors looking to add a little adventure to their vacation relaxation.  Entertainment is easy to find too, with luaus like Drums of the Pacific and Old Lahaina Luau performing almost daily.

Big Island

Your Guide to the Hawaiian Islands
Hawaii Volanoes National Park

Best for outdoor activities, adventure, culture and wildlife

The Big Island of Hawaii is home to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, easily the biggest attraction on the island.  Kilauea, the most active volcano on earth, is found here and the landscape of the national park provides plenty of trails for hikers to discover. One of the reasons why outdoor activities abound on the Big Island is due to the Volcanoes National Park, but you can also experience thrills by ziplining on the Kohala Coast, going for a spectacular helicopter tour of the island, as well as horseback riding through upcountry pastures of Kahua Ranch, the tropical Waipio Valley and the historic trail to Kealakekua Bay.  Culture is evident throughout the Big Island, with sights like the Mookini Heiau State Monument and Liliuokalani Gardens frequent stops of visitors.  Be sure to go to Punaluu Black Sand Beach to see Hawaiian green sea turtles, or Honu, basking in the sun on the ocean’s rocky shore.  This is one of the best places to view sea turtles up-close.  Humpback whales can also be found off the shores of the Big Island (seasonally), as can spinner dolphins.

No matter which island you visit you’re sure to have the vacation of a lifetime.  Hopefully, this at-a-glance summary of each island makes your Hawaiian vacation planning a little easier.  Discover your own paradise with a Hawaii vacation – it’s sure to be all you dreamed of and more.

Find out more about snorkeling in Maui »
Ashley is Reserve Direct’s travel expert, visiting Hawaii to find the best travel tips, money-saving deals and insider information. With over 10 years of experience in first-hand-travel adventures, she shares her stories, advice, and current events to help you stay in the know.
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