Planning a vacation in Hawaii but not sure if it’s actually worth visiting? Well, you’ve come to the right place! As a Hawaii local, I’ve been privileged enough to see all of the major islands in the Hawaiian archipelago.
If you’re curious whether “is Hawaii worth visiting?” dive in. While I can give you the short answer (YES; Hawaii is worth visiting, and some), let’s break down the intricacies of planning a Hawaii trip.
Each of the different islands has unique landmarks and reasons to visit, so the best Hawaiian island to visit can vary based on what you’re looking to get out of your vacation.
Island hopping is common and pretty easy to do, but if you only have time to visit one island, figuring out which one is the best for you can require a lot of research.
Continue reading to get our best tips for traveling to Hawaii. You’ll find out the answer to the question, “is Hawaii worth the trip?” and figure out where to travel in Hawaii!
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Table of Contents
- How Do I Get to The Hawaiian Islands?
- Flying to the Islands
- Major Airports in Hawaii
- Getting Around the Islands
- What Are the Best Places to Visit in Hawaii?
- Big Island
- What are Must-Have Items to Pack?
- Is Hawaii Expensive to Visit?
- How Can I Save Money While Planning a Trip to Hawaii?
- Will I Need Travel Insurance to visit Hawaii?
How Do I Get to The Hawaiian Islands?
Visiting Hawaii is only possible by flight. Thankfully, most major cities in the United States and around the Pacific Rim offer direct flights to Hawaii, or at least Honolulu, the capital city of the islands.
Flying to the Islands
There are non-stop flights from many major cities across the United States, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York. Direct flights from the East Coast take approximately 11 hours, while flights from San Francisco can be as short as 4 hours and 45 minutes.
Our favorite way to find great deals on flights to visit Hawaii is by using a service like Scott’s Cheap Flights. You must select your favorite airports, and the best deals will be sent directly to your inbox.
Skyscanner is a great free option to instantly find amazing deals on flights to these beautiful islands.
Major Airports in Hawaii
- Oahu: Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
- Kauai: Lihue Airport (LIH)
- Maui: Kahului Airport (OGG)
- Hawaii Island: Kona International Airport (KOA) and Hilo International Airport (ITO)
Getting Around the Islands
When planning how to travel in Hawaii, we recommend rentalcars.com for the best bargain on car hire throughout the islands. Renting a car is the best way to explore all of the Hawaiian islands and everything they have to offer. Second to this is going on group tours.
There are pros and cons to both. On the one hand, you have complete freedom to plan your days how you’d like with a car. Still, going on a tour takes all the worry out of planning logistics and buying individual tickets for each attraction you plan to visit.
It’s really up to you and your travel companions on how you’d like to get around, and you can also do a combination of touring and driving.
See Related: Do You Need a Car in Maui? Things to Know
What Are the Best Places to Visit in Hawaii?
As I mentioned, each island is known for its unique landmarks and features. Knowing the top tourist attractions can quickly help you figure out which Hawaiian islands to visit during your stay.
Here are the best things to do on each of the Hawaiian islands!
Oahu is the main island of the entire island chain and home to Hawaii’s capital city, Honolulu. It’s known for its famous sites like Pearl Harbor, Diamond Head, and Waikiki Beach.
It’s a great mix of city life and natural beauty, making it a perfect destination for those traveling to the islands for the first time. Or, if you’re planning a short vacation of a week or less, you can pack a lot in on Oahu. If you’re wanting to visit just one island, I’d recommend this one.
My favorite part of the island is the lovely North Shore. It’s home to the world-renowned Pipeline surf break, made famous by its towering waves and stunning scenery.
You can find the Polynesian Cultural Center in nearby La’ie town. It’s a great place to educate yourself about the local culture, Hawaiian culture, and the earliest Polynesian settlers across the Pacific.
The most convenient way to see the whole island if you’re short on time is by doing a Circle Island Tour. This tour will take you to the most lovely spots on the island, including the Buddhist Byodo-In Temple and the famous Dole Pineapple Plantation.
Where to stay on Oahu:
- Budget: Oceanview Studio – This studio is just steps from the famous Waikiki Beach in a quieter part of town. You’ll be able to get stunning views of the beach and Diamond Head from the property.
- Mid-Range: The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club – The Surfjack is an Instagrammer’s dream. Every corner of this vintage-inspired property is just waiting for you to snap a pic of it. It’s a few short blocks from the beach and features a super cute pool and coffee bar.
- Luxury: The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort – The Royal Hawaiian, affectionately known by locals and regulars as “the Pink Palace,” is one of the oldest and most iconic hotels of Waikiki. The lovely staff and ambiance will welcome you when entering the hotel and immediately make you love Hawaii.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii
Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle, is just northwest of Oahu. It’s about a 30-minute flight from Honolulu to Lihue Airport. Kauai is known for its natural beauty and would make a dream vacation for nature lovers. I think Kauai offers the best beaches out of all the islands.
Many people visit Kauai for its breathtaking hiking trails to the Na Pali Coast. If hiking isn’t for you, you can also see the coast by boat on a tour like this one, which is the best way to see it, in my opinion.
It’s the best island to visit in Hawaii if you’re craving some major outdoor adventures. After seeing the Na Pali Coast, head up to Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Don’t miss out on Kauai’s beautiful beaches; my top favorites are Anini Beach and Poipu Beach. Anini Beach is just one of the stunning white sandy beaches on the island and is a popular spot for windsurfing, whereas Poipu Beach is the top place for snorkeling amongst colorful tropical fish.
Where to stay on Kauai:
- Budget: Prince Kuhio 212 Condo – This highly-rated condo is located just steps away from beautiful Poipu beach. It’s beautifully decorated in a vintage Hawaiian plantation style and overlooks a tranquil garden and koi pond.
- Mid-Range: Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay – The Hilton Garden Inn is located in Kapa’a, right next to the beach. The beautiful pool area is a great spot to catch the sunset.
- Luxury: Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection – This gorgeous resort is located fifteen minutes away from the gorgeous beach at Poipu and features two large pools, free parking, and free wifi.
Hawaii Island, more commonly referred to by its nickname, the Big Island, is the largest island in the Hawaiian islands today. It’s still growing due to Kilauea, the most active volcano in Hawaii.
The Big Island is also home to four other volcanoes: Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, and Kohala. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are the only active volcanoes, while Mauna Kea is known for its snow-capped mountains.
There are five national parks in the state of Hawaii, four of which can be found on the Big Island. One thing not to miss on this island is the volcanic landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Check out this helicopter tour over the national park for a unique perspective. The spectacular view of a live lava flow is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
Punalu’u Beach is the most notable black sand beach in the entire state. It is gorgeous to see the black sand beaches contrasting against the blue water and definitely worth visiting. Oftentimes you’ll be able to see some beautiful green sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals at this beach.
Where to stay on the Big Island:
- Budget: Cozy Kailua-Kona Condo – This condo gives you ample room to spread out and relax. It is a certified short-term vacation rental and is just a 5-minute walk to Ali’i Drive, where you’ll find amazing eateries and shops.
- Mid-Range: Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel – This hotel is located right on Hilo Bay and features magnificent views of the Mauna Kea volcano. In addition to the beach, you are not too far from lush rainforests and waterfalls.
- Luxury: Four Seasons Resort Hualalai – This stunning property in Kailua-Kona features seven gorgeous pools and an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus signature golf course. It’s a lovely spot to disconnect and just relax. Don’t forget to stop by King’s Pond, a saltwater pool connected directly to the ocean, to say hi to Kainalu, the resident spotted eagle ray.
Maui, also known as the Valley Isle, is just southeast of Oahu. There are direct flights to Kahului Airport from more than 25 cities on the mainland; otherwise, it’s a quick 30-minute flight from Honolulu, and you’ll be able to see more than one island on your Hawaii vacation.
The charming island of Maui is known for being a great spot for spotting humpback whales during the winter months. I highly recommend this 2-Hour Whale Watching Tour if you’re visiting between December and April to get up close and personal with these gentle giants.
Haleakala National Park is another must-see to add to your list. It is a volcano whose name means “house of the sun” and is absolutely the best place to watch the sunrise. Don’t forget to pack some warm clothes if you plan to catch the sunrise at Haleakala, as temperatures can dip into the 50s due to the high altitude.
Other top spots I recommend visiting in Maui are Front Street in Lahaina for some delicious food and Iao Valley State Park for its lush greenery and easy hiking trails. Maui is one of the best islands to visit in Hawaii to get in a good mixture of relaxation and adventure.
Where to stay on Maui:
- Budget: Romantic Private Garden Cottage – This relaxing cottage located in Kihei features a beautiful view of Haleakala and makes you feel like you’re staying at a resort without the resort fees. You’ll also be giving back to the local community because a portion of every stay is donated to Maui Rescue Mission, a non-profit dedicated to helping the homeless population on Maui.
- Mid-Range: Days Inn by Wyndham Maui Oceanfront – This property is located right on Keawakapu Beach, one of many stunning golden sand beaches on the island. It features a fitness center, barbecue area, and laundry facilities for guests to use.
- Luxury: The Westin Maui Resort & Spa – Located in Kaanapali, this beautiful resort features six outdoor pools, including one for adults only and one with a water slide. You are in close proximity to great shopping and plenty of fancy restaurants. Try out one of their hula dancing or lei-making classes offered on-site to immerse yourself in the Hawaiian culture.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Maui, Hawaii
Lanai is the smallest of the main Hawaiian islands you can visit and certainly the most luxurious. If you are looking for a once-in-a-lifetime extravagant vacation, Lanai is the island for you. It is home to two Four Seasons luxury hotels, one focused on wellness and one overlooking the stunning Hulopo’e Bay.
Besides lounging around the fancy hotels, explore the island by renting a Jeep directly from the hotel to go off-roading. Visit places like Shipwreck Beach and Keahiakawelo, an area filled with spiral rock formations created naturally by erosion.
The Four Seasons Hotel Lanai can be out of range for most people, so you can also visit the island via ferry from Maui. The ferry is a great way to make a day trip to the island that won’t break the bank.
Where to stay on Lanai:
- Mid-Range: Hotel Lanai – Hotel Lanai is the only other hotel on the island besides the Four Seasons. It’s beautifully designed to make you feel as if you’d been transported to an old Hawaiian pineapple plantation while still having modern amenities and finishes.
- Luxury: Four Seasons Resort Lanai – This breathtaking resort is my favorite hotel in all of Hawaii. If you are looking for the peak of luxury, this is it. Each room feels super private and makes you feel completely disconnected from the rest of the world.
The pool area features several lagoon-style pools and includes an adults-only pool with a lovely waterfall feature. Don’t pass up the wonderful buffet breakfast; I recommend the lemon ricotta pancakes and bulgogi bowl.
See Related: 25 Best Things to do in Waikiki, Hawaii
Molokai perfectly lives up to its nickname of the Friendly Isle by having some of the most welcoming and friendly residents in the state. You can definitely feel the aloha spirit while strolling through Kaunakakai town. The slower pace of life here transports you back in time to a Hawaii of long ago.
The top attraction on Molokai is Kalaupapa Historical National Park, located on the north side of the island. Tours are only given by two certified companies, and you can book them directly on the NPS website.
My favorite beaches on Molokai are Papohaku Beach and Halawa Bay. Papohaku is a long stretch of golden sand, and on clear days, you can see all the way out to Oahu! Halawa Bay is a stunning beach mixed with black and white sand.
Where to stay on Molokai:
- Budget: Kaunakakai Loft – This beautifully renovated loft-style condo is located in the quaint town of Kaunakakai. It features a lovely lanai, ocean views, and a relaxing pool. Free wifi and toiletries are also included.
- Mid-Range: Hotel Molokai – There are no chain hotels on the island, but I recommend Hotel Molokai. Almost every room has a beautiful ocean view, and there is often live entertainment at the poolside restaurant.
What are Must-Have Items to Pack?
Temperatures in Hawaii stay relatively the same year-round, mostly between the mid-70s and mid-80s. Tank tops, shorts, and lightweight clothes are a must. If you’re planning early morning sunrise activities, bring along a light jacket.
Hiking trails are abundant on all the islands, so consider packing a few pairs of workout outfits for those.
And, of course, bathing suits are pretty much a non-negotiable. I usually like to pack at least three or four options, depending on what kind of activities I plan to partake in whilst at the beach.
You can usually rent or borrow certain beach gear items like snorkels, fins, paddle boards, and beach chairs from your hotel or accommodation. You can even find rental companies at some more popular beaches like Waikiki Beach.
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I might be biased, but I find Hawaii to be one of the most stunning places in the world. For this reason, it’s essential to bring some sort of camera with you on your trip.
I also recommend, if possible, a waterproof action camera like a GoPro Hero10 Black. You’ll most likely be enjoying a lot of outdoor activities, and a GoPro is a fabulous way to capture these moments.
Since most of your time will probably be outside, a portable charger is also a must. I highly recommend anything by the Anker brand; their power banks are long-lasting and charge your phone faster than they would if it were plugged into a wall!
Don’t forget the chargers you’ll need to go along with any electronics you plan to bring. Hawaii has the same outlets as the rest of the United States, so there is no need to bring converters.
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Polarized sunglasses are an absolute must-have to protect your eyes from that Hawaiian sun. If you don’t need to wear prescription sunglasses, I recommend getting a cheap pair of sunglasses that you don’t mind losing or getting damaged.
It would be a shame to lose an expensive pair of sunnies in the ocean waves!
Dry bags are great to have if you plan to do something on the water like kayaking or paddle boarding and don’t have anyone to watch your belongings on the beach for you.
They keep the contents dry and secure, leaving you to enjoy your day worry-free. This MARCHWAY Floating Waterproof Dry Bag is perfect for travel because it’s compact and long-lasting.
Reef-safe sunscreen is a must to protect your skin and the delicate reef ecosystem. In 2021, the state of Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that contain chemicals that harm the reef. This CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen is fantastic for sensitive skin and is reef-friendly.
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Is Hawaii Expensive to Visit?
Compared to most destinations within the United States, I’d say yes, Hawaii is an expensive place to visit. However, it’s a lot cheaper than visiting other islands in the Pacific, like Bora Bora or Fiji, and certainly cheaper than any international vacation.
If Hawaii is your dream vacation destination, and you’re still asking, “is Hawaii worth it?” I’m going to say that it is. You don’t have to stay at the most expensive hotels, and all beaches and most hikes are free to visit, so there are definitely ways to bring your trip expenses into a range that is comfortable for you.
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How Can I Save Money While Planning a Trip to Hawaii?
- Accumulate credit card points that can be converted to hotel or airline loyalty points. Our favorite credit cards to accumulate points on purchases are the American Express Platinum card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve card because they are versatile and can be used on various flights, hotels, and experiences.
- Book your travel well in advance. As time gets closer, supply will go down, leading the price of hotels, plane tickets, and sometimes even tours to rise.
- Book your hotels through booking.com. Booking offers an awesome reward of one free night for every ten nights booked.
- If hotels are out of your budget, consider other accommodations through VRBO. However, make sure to confirm with your host that the short-term vacation rental is certified.
Hawaii is very strict about where rentals can be, and each one must be approved by their respective county. There have been nightmare cases of visitors being kicked out of their accommodation because their host did not have the necessary approvals.
- Plan visits around free activities like beaches and hikes. All beaches are free to visit and very few hikes require an entrance fee. Most landmarks like Pearl Harbor are also free to visit; you just need to make a reservation.
- Honestly, 7-Eleven in Hawaii is a hit when it comes to food (no, this is not a joke). I love a good spam or chicken musubi with a Pipeline Punch Monster or strawberry Slushee. There a fewer meal combos more refreshing after a day spent under the sun.
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Will I Need Travel Insurance to visit Hawaii?
While not required, I consider travel insurance essential when traveling anywhere, especially somewhere far from home. It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
We recommend Insured Nomads for their great customer service and many different types of plans so you can find one that perfectly fits your needs.