About the destination:
Hawaii is located in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,000 miles away from the mainland. It is a chain of islands with a complex history that we learned about while visiting. The 8 main islands are Hawai’i, Maui, Koho’olawe, Moloka’i, Lana’i, O’ahu, Kaua’i and Ni’ihau. The islands all have something that they are known for in particular and have nicknames because of this.
It can get a little confusing. Many people believe that Honolulu is on the island of Hawai’i but Honolulu is on the island of Oahu and is the most touristic city on all of the islands. Hawai’i is actually known as the Big Island and is known for the National Volcano Park.
Keep in mind that there are many remote areas of Hawaii as well. However, some of these areas are for locals only. It is important to respect the culture of the local people of Hawaii and it is also smart to stay safe and not enter areas where visitors are unwanted. There is even an island known as the “Forbidden Island” which no one can visit without explicit invitation and ONLY Hawaiian (the Olelo Kanaka Niihau dialect) is spoken.
Hawai’i is presented as paradise. It is shown as beautiful, lush, bright, and tranquil. These things are true. However, there is much more to Hawai’i.
What no one told us:
If you are from a tropical area or have visited many beach towns in the USA already (Florida, Southern California, etc) you may not be too impressed with the landscape of Hawaii. The beaches are very similar to what you find on the mainland. There are very few native plants and animals (mostly marine life). The main differences we noticed between a beach town in our home state of Florida and a popular city in Hawaii were:
- the sight of mountains in the background
- islands in the distance
- more surfers
- more sea turtles
- much higher prices
If that doesn’t make you too excited and has you questioning your list of travel destinations, we have some ideas for you. We recommend checking into the Yucatan Peninsula, MX, Puerto Rico, or an island nation in Asia. With any of those options, you will likely experience more culture, interact with more locals, taste delicious food, hear unique music, and still get a tropical fix but feel like you really did leave your home state. This is NOT to say that Hawaii isn’t worth visiting or to say it isn’t beautiful or has no culture, it just was not what we had hoped for. Everyone has some travel disappointments and this happened to be one of ours.
What to do:
The islands have many things to offer. There are island tours, surfing lessons, fishing charters, guided hikes, nature walks, whale watching, movie shoot location tours, scenic boat trips, adventure boat rides, and much more. There is a ton of shopping from small souvenir shops to top end luxury stores. There are some amazing Asian restaurants and of course, you have to try Hawaiian shaved ice. There are some simple things to do that are inexpensive or free such as strolling along the beach, catching a sunrise or sunset with distant islands in view, people watching in Waikiki, hiking to amazing viewpoints, browsing farmer’s markets, going for a scenic drive or bus ride, renting bikes to ride around town, window shopping, and more.
Who to bring:
This really depends on which island you choose. We found Kaua’i, Maui, and Oahu to be family friendly.
O’ahu is best for large groups and for nightlife. It is the perfect destination for large family trips because it has a lot to offer for all ages.
Maui is beautiful and less commercialized than O’ahu. Just make sure to book a rental vehicle because it is a large island that is not easy to navigate by public transportation.
Kaua’i would be our choice for a return trip. It is super easy to navigate by public transportation and there is something to do for everyone. There is almost zero nightlife, so we wouldn’t recommend it for a young group trip. However, it’s great for a couple or a family.
Moloka’i is only for those who are truly seeking a remote vacation.
How to get around:
We got around by foot for the most part. During our time there, rentals were either unavailable or extremely expensive. We enjoyed the bus system in Kaua’i. We used the bus system in Oahu but it was less reliable. We took advantage of trips offered by hostels. We also spent a short time with friends who had a rental car through Turo. We recommend a car for Maui, Oahu, and Moloka’i. Kaua’i, you can do without and not miss anything. We usually prefer to walk when we can and for the most part, we enjoyed an island breeze.
Which islands we saw:
Because we traveled during Covid-19, there were many changes to our trips plans. Check out our map for locations under Maps and Routes.
We found this website to be super helpful in our planning: Go Hawaii.
We decided to island hop. Our original plan was to visit O’ahu, Maui, and Moloka’i. Once testing rules for interisland travel changed, we added in the Big Island. However, after we learned the Big Island was expensive and only had the Volcano Park, we changed our plans to visit Kaua’i.
Kaua’i is popular for the Nā Pali Coast and it’s rugged nature. We recommend this island for families to enjoy time together in a simple location. It is less commercialized, which we loved.
Maui is gorgeous and the road to Hana is definitely worth the visit. There is so much to see and we were able to meet a family member also, which was really cool. We went hiking and enjoyed some island specialties and the slower pace of life.
The most visited island is O’ahu, with the famous Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and Diamond Head, among many other sites. This island has something for everyone, but it was not our favorite because of the major touristic nature.
Moloka’i is for people looking for time away from everything, with a pretty view. It is very difficult to get around without a car and car rental is not readily available. There is extremely limited infrastructure for tourism. We wouldn’t recommend that anyone spend much time there simply because there is truly very little to do or see, but it would be nice to spend one night on the west side of the island and take a quick trip to see and hear the history of Kalaupapa (a colony for those with Hansen’s disease).