HAWAII VACATION IDEAS
Insider Secrets of Hawaii
The historical sites of Oahu. The out-of-this-world volcanic landscape of the Big Island. And of course the beaches! Here are 20 tips for visiting the Hawaiian Islands that you won't hear anywhere else.
Thinking of taking a trip to Hawaii? Having spent most of my childhood living on the island of Oahu, I've been able to assemble some great tips for visiting the Hawaiian Islands over the years. This comes in handy especially when my friends and family ask about the best places to visit and how to find the best airfares—always check for flight specials on Hawaiian Airlines, which has been offering great sales ever since they started offering non-stop service from New York's JFK airport back in June, and if you don't see anything you like there, browse Budget Travel's Hawaii travel deals to find air and hotel packages to the islands. From the historical sites of Oahu to the out-of-this-world volcanic landscape of the Big Island, here are 20 tips to keep in mind the next time you head to Hawaii. (Special note: you will need a car to reach most of the places mentioned).
If you want to see Pearl Harbor, reserve your tickets ahead of time online
Nothing ruins a trip more than not planning ahead and getting locked out of a major attraction you came all the way to see. Anyone interested in World War II history will want to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, a moving reminder of the attack that launched the United States into World War II in the Pacific. Reserve your tickets ahead of time (you'll have to pay a $1.50 convenience fee per ticket but other than that, it's free.) Each historic tour is about an hour and 15 minutes long, and includes a boat ride to the site of the USS Arizona Memorial, where you can see the remains of the battleship just below the water's surface.
Make time to venture out of Waikiki and Honolulu
Some of the island's best attractions are located out of the main tourist zone of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, but are still worth checking out. The Bus, Hawaii's main form of public transportation, offers a variety of options for as low as $2.50 a ride with free transfers, or you could even hop on one of the Circle Island Tours, which last anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 hours depending on where you board. Of course, the other option is to rent a car and travel around the island at your own pace.
Spend a day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, a protected nature preserve on Oahu's southeast coast that rents out snorkel gear and a supply of fish food guaranteed to work the wildlife into a tizzy you'll never forget. Tickets start at $7.50 per person, free for children under 3 and Hawaii residents and it costs $1 to park. Open daily except Tuesday.
Go for a drive up the windward coast on Kalanianaole (pronounced "ka-la-nee-ah-nah-oh-lee") Highway, where you'll have Koko Head, a dormant yet impressive-looking volcano on one side, and sharp cliffs leading into the bluest ocean you've ever seen on the other. Further down the road in Kailua, take in the beauty of Lanikai Beach, constantly voted as Hawaii's number one beach by the Travel Channel, and still off the beaten path enough to not be bogged down with tourists.
Visit Oahu's North Shore and spend a day exploring the Polynesian Cultural Center, kind of like Disney's EPCOT, in the sense that every culture from Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, and several other islands showcases their cultural dances, food, music, and other traditions (tickets start at $49.95 for adults, $39.95 for kids).
Explore Hawaiian food specialties
Every time someone asks me what to see and do on Oahu, food automatically ends up in our conversation. If you're staying in the Waikiki Beach area, don't miss the chance to have dinner at Duke's Waikiki, a restaurant named after surf legend Duke Kahanamoku, with a buffet full of Hawaiian favorites like fresh poke, kalua pork, and huli huli chicken among other options. If you're venturing up to see the sights of Oahu's North Shore, make sure you stop by Giovanni's Shrimp Truck just outside the town of Laie—their shrimp scampi is still something I think about, even though it's been eleven years since we moved. The North Shore is also home to Oahu's legendary shaved ice spot, Matsumoto Shave Ice, in the historic town of Haleiwa. They're known all over the island for having a unique variety of flavors like tangerine, green tea, and creamsicle among others, so choose wisely.