Which Hawaii Is Right for You?

Here's a snapshot of defining experiences on the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu: majestic landscapes, traditional dances and dishes, and beaches for every water sport. Get a sense of which ones fit your travel style and your budget.

Two historic residences in Honolulu reveal how the upper crust once lived. Crown jewels, feathered cloaks, and royal china within Iolani Palacethe only palace in the U.S.reflect the tastes of the late 19th-century Hawaiian monarchy. The Royal Hawaiian Band plays a concert on the grounds at noon most Fridays. Shangri La, a magnificent estate built in the 1930s, was the pet project of tobacco heiress Doris Duke. She fell in love with Hawaii on her honeymoon, which also took her through the Islamic world, inspiring her to decorate the home with rare Islamic art.

Hapuna, a half-mile-long white-sand beach surrounded by lava fields on the Big Island, can handle snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, body surfing, and boogie boarding. For near-shore scuba diving, head to Kealakekua Bay and pick up your gear from Snorkel Bob's (gear rental $9–$44 per week). The Big Island's best-known surfing spots—Lymans and Banyans—are next to each other, just south of Kailua town on Alii Drive, but the surf breaks on sharp lava reefs and crowds can be intense. It's not for novices.

Snorkelers on Maui favor the western shore from Kaanapali to Kapalua. Black Rock, sheltered on Kaanapali Beach near the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa, offers easy access to boat tours, fishing, and kayaking. Goofy Foot Surf School runs two-hour lessons for $65. Hookipa, on the island's north shore near Paia town, is a world-class windsurfing venue where you can see the pros in action.

Waikiki draws tourist crowds, but it's still great for hee nalu (wave-sliding): surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, canoe surfing. Catamaran sailing tours leave right off the beach (Waikiki Beach Services, surf lessons $40–$75; canoe rides $10–$15). On Oahu's North Shore, surfers clog the roads to reach the roughly eight-mile string of beaches whose wintertime waves swell to upward of 30 feet in height. In summer, the ocean appears as calm as a lake, and Shark's Cove, in front of the Sunset Beach Fire Station in Pupukea, fills with snorkelers and scuba divers. A reef quickly drops away to depths of 30 feet or more and supports abundant sea life, including the occasional turtle (but no sharks, despite the cove's name).

Hanalei Bay, on Kauai's north shore, has a spectacular beach bordered by the Waipa and Hanalei rivers with access to virtually every ocean activity, from surfing and windsurfing to snorkeling, boating, and kayaking up the Hanalei River. There is even a pier for fishing. One note of caution: Like all north-facing beaches in the islands, Hanalei sees very large waves in the winter. At Poipu Beach, on the south shore, a small breakwater creates an ideal pool for youngsters.

1. Oahu's public bus system—simply known as TheBus—covers every inch of the island for $2.25 per trip (with one free transfer). If you have a day to spare, try the circle island route as a tour. There is also a $25, four-day unlimited-trip pass for visitors. On other islands, public transportation ranges from limited to nonexistent.

2. All major rental-car agencies operate in the islands. Car shortages can occur during peak seasons (June–August and December–April). Gas prices are among the highest in the U.S.—as much as $1 per gallon more than on the mainland. In general, gas also costs a few cents more per gallon near resort areas and airports.

3. Some Hawaiian delicacies deciphered: kalua pig (wrapped in leaves of the Polynesian ti plant and roasted in an underground oven); laulau (taro leaves, butterfish, and pork, beef, or chicken, wrapped in ti leaves and steamed); poke (marinated raw fish, usually yellowfin tuna); pipikaula (Hawaiian beef jerky); poi (mashed root of the taro plant); haupia (coconut-milk based dessert). Plate lunch: rice, macaroni salad, and any combination of the above, plus chicken katsu (Japanese fried chicken), and kalbi (Korean barbecued beef).

4. Hip clubs cluster on and around Hotel Street in Honolulu's Chinatown, among them, thirtyninehotel, Loft Gallery and Lounge, SoHo Mixed Media Bar, and The Dragon Upstairs. Cover charges range from free to $20. Friday nights tend to be crowded as downtown workers party before heading home for the weekend. On the first Friday of each month, Chinatown's galleries are open late.


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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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