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8 unmissable experiences in Hawaii | Insight Guides Blog

8 unmissable experiences in Hawaii

On the six major, freely visitable islands of Hawaii, spectacular scenery, colourful history and modern comforts add up to paradise. Here's what to see and do on your holiday
Portrait of a beautiful native Hawaiian teenage girl
Portrait of a beautiful native Hawaiian teenage girl. Photo: Shutterstock

Portrait of a beautiful native Hawaiian teenage girl. Photo: Shutterstock


Hawaii is officially the most remote group of islands in the world, thus there really is no better place to getaway. Here are the top 8 experiences you mustn't leave without trying...


1. Watching the sunrise from the top of Haleakala

The Hawaiians called this place the house of the sun for a reason. You’ll feel like you woke up with the sun – because you did – and will be blown away by the beauty of Maui.

Haleakala is a dormant (which means very much not extinct) volcano. Contemplate the crater from one of two lookouts: Kalahaku and Pu'u Ula'ula, and then make your way to the summit. 

Although it can feel a bit like you're on the moon, Haleakala is refuge for two unique species: the remarkable silver-sword plant with its dagger-shaped leaves and the once endangered Nene, or Hawaiian goose. 

2. A surfing lesson in Waikiki

The Hawaiian islands are considered to be the birthplace of modern surfing, which makes them a great place to hang ten. If you don't know what that means, you can pick up the local lingo as well as the essential board moves, in an hour with the help of a local expert. There’s no safer or more picturesque place to learn than from the Waikiki beach boys in the lee of Diamond Head.

3. Learning about Hawaii’s important role in World War II

Hawaii’s fame as a tourist destination rose in part because it was the first glimpse of home for many returning servicemen during the war. It’s role in the war was great, and the USS Arizona Memorial is the place to see it first-hand. Often touted as the islands' biggest attraction, this proves to be a sombre and educational experience for all.  Put by plenty of time to explore this properly and buy your tickets online in advance to save waiting around in lengthy queues. The experience includes a boat ride around Pearl Harbour and the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum too. 


Insight Guides: Explore Hawaii is out now. Pick up your copy for the best routes around the islands


Haleakala volcano. Photo: ShutterstockHaleakala volcano. Photo: Shutterstock


4. Eating a plate lunch

The breadth of food and specialities available on the islands can be a little overwhelming. If you don't know where to start, try Hawaii’s version of the basic meal. A ‘plate lunch’ is a statewide institution defined by a few simple elements. You’ll get a styrofoam container loaded with ‘two scoop rice’, plus a mound of heavily mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad. Order one with teriyaki beef, breaded pork or chicken (katsu), fried fish, or Spam, an unexpected passion among local people. Try Rainbox Drive In, just outside of Waikiki on Kapahulu Avenue.

5. Visiting Bishop Museum

Hawaii’s rich culture and history is unlike anything you’re apt to experience again and there’s no better or more beautiful place to observe it than Bishop Museum – the Pacific equivalent of the Smithsonian. Be warned, this is a trip in itself, rather than something to squeeze into an already packed day itinerary. Its collection is comprehensive with over 200,000 artefacts, 6,000,000 shells, 250,000 plant specimens, and 13,500,000 insects. If that's not enough to keep you busy, you can learn all about the volcanoes that make up this island chain too.

6. Taking a whale-watching or snorkelling tour

Getting out on the water is a must – the islands are most beautiful when looking back at the coast. There are tours on every island and durations that will work for all.

You can see whales anywhere, even off Diamond Head, but your safest bet is the sheltered waters between Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. Don't worry about finding a whale-watching boat on Maui. They'll find you. The best are the Pacific Whale Foundation or Captain Andy's off the west side. 

Whale-watching season is November through April, and sometimes they stay into May. They're not hard to find; you'll see them when they spout and when they fluke, spy hop and breach. 


Let the Insight Guides experts take you there. We can help create the ultimate Hawaii holiday


USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. Photo: ShutterstockUSS Bowfin Submarine Museum. Photo: Shutterstock


7. Having a sunset cocktail on the beach

It’s unlikely anyone needs to be told – but just in case, choose from one of the many waterfront dining options, park yourself at 6pm, and just watch the sun sink with a Mai Tai in hand.

The Mai Tai is a part of the local culture,  and you'll find it on every menu. Perhaps the best place to experience a real tropical drink is an authentic tiki bar: an open-air establishment with South Pacific-style decor. Some of the best bars on the islands are actually 'barefoot bars', meaning they are situated on the sand and the management encourages patrons to take off their shoes before partaking.

8. Meeting the locals

Hawaii’s people are welcoming, kind and excited to share their home with visitors. Ask questions anywhere you go – you’ll find the people are friendlier here than anywhere else in the world.


Humpback whale tail in Hawaii. Photo: ShutterstockHumpback whale tail in Hawaii. Photo: Shutterstock


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