Hawaii is rightly known as America’s most paradisiacal state. Consisting of eight major islands and many smaller ones, Hawaii offers a spectacular range of adventures, natural environments, and activities in a compact, but thrillingly constructed space.
Most travelers arrive by plane to the state capital and largest city, Honolulu, a stunning holiday destination including the most luxurious in resort accommodations, white sand beaches, incredible views, an exciting urban environment home to close to 400,000, and a distinctively laid-back sense of welcome. Until December 1941, many Americans probably wouldn’t have been able to point to Honolulu on a map. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that marked America’s entrance into World War II, however, it became a famous historical site and hallowed place for patriots and those in the service. The USS Arizona Memorial, built on the deck of the sunken battleship and accessible by boat, is a hauntingly beautiful way to appreciate this pivotal event, alongside other monuments and memorials worth visiting around Pearl Harbor.
Today, many Americans recognize Honolulu instead for the Waikiki neighborhood, a sizzling good time frequented as much by out-of-towners as fun-seeking locals. A white sand beach links Waikiki to the sea, and mai tais, high-end beach resorts, and Hawaiian music complement the scenery.
It’s easy to get out of multicultural Honolulu to a different-looking O’ahu, home to almost a million and Hawaii’s most populated island. Opportunities for windsurfing, hiking, diving, and almost every other species of adventure – with supreme serenity always an option –line in wait in wider O’ahu. Postcard-perfect Hanauma Bay, no more than an hour’s drive from Waikiki Beach, consists of gorgeous water studded with reefs and surrounded by volcanic rock and a white beach. This is a world-famous snorkeling spot, an experience that should not be missed.
Many more sights await on Maui, not the least of which is the throwback vacation village of Lahaina, a seaside retreat of little more than 10,000 year-round residents. Visitors can find many of the most quintessential, but tourist-friendly, Hawaiian experiences right here, including a tasteful and welcoming luau. Hiking is practically accessible by foot from Lahaina, as is the surrounding beauty of wider West Maui. Hana, all the way on the other side of Maui, is reached by the famous Hana Highway, a must-drive scenic route along seaside cliffs. Hana itself provides an atmosphere of mystical peace and otherworldly beauty. Wailea, Kihei, and many other small towns all offer different flavors of Maui, from high end to historical, serene to thrilling.
Many more Hawaiian Islands await, far beyond the major eight, with many quite easily accessible from larger nearby islands. The Big Island, larger than all of the other islands combined but with a fraction of O’ahu’s population, provides some of the most intense environmental contrasts and wonders – and almost certainly the most proximate coexistence of contrasts in all U.S. territory. Kauai, a universe apart, hosts the quirky village of Hanalei and a collection of bizarrely fascinating cliffs, volcanoes, and mountains over six million years old.
Honolulu, the gateway to Hawaii for so many visitors seeking adventure, the good life, or just some time away from the every day, is also the state’s capital and largest city. Located on the island of O’ahu – whose name means “meeting place” – it is the definitive cultural and commercial hub of this singular island state. Splendid resort and hotel accommodations, with gorgeous views and high-end pampering, make Honolulu a wonderful place to kick back on a white sand beach with a cocktail or two, do some excellent shopping, and generally enjoy life, Hawaiian style. Those who like to raise their heart rate will find world-class snorkeling, surfing, waterskiing, and more outdoor adventure in close proximity to the city. There is easily accessible hiking at Diamond Head, a volcanic cone with spectacular views of the island and the ocean, as well as in the Ko’olau Range and elsewhere, with a range of difficulty levels, trail lengths, sights, and sounds.
Though most people who end up in Honolulu are probably there more for the finer things nature has to offer, the city touts plenty of human culture as well. Beyond the many monuments, memorials, and museums covering World War II history, there is the Bishop Museum, with a range of cultural and scientific exhibits covering Hawaii, the Honolulu Museum of Art, Chinatown, and more.
Hilton Hawaiian Village
2005 Kalia Road
Honolulu, Oahu, HI 96815
Front Street – Maui
844 Front St.
Lahaina, HI 96761