Home > Hobbies > Travel > Hawaii > Plan Your Vacation
|So, you've decided to finally take that
dream vacation? "I think that there are only two kinds of people: those
who have yet to visit Hawaii, and those who are between visits" (Keith
Wood, The Sierra Times).
After living a few years on Oahu, vacationing on Kauai, and receiving
numerous requests from friends and family for information about Hawaii
for travel there, I decided to create this page as a reference, specifically
about vacationing to either Kauai or Oahu. I offer this information as
my personal opinion, as one who has lived there, about what places and
activities are worthwhile, as well as the places to avoid because they're
not worth your time and money.
to go see on Kauai
to go see on Oahu
One thing that many people don't think to do that helps a lot is pick
up the free tourist brochures located at the airport baggage claim and
along the sidewalks in Honolulu, especially in the Waikiki area. In the
brochures are not only plenty of ideas of places to go see, but also helpful
roadmaps for navigating around the maze of streets in Honolulu and around
the island. I recommend you get a few maps of the island and Honolulu
and keep them with you.
Unless you plan to do a lot more than relax on Kauai, you don't necessarily
want to rent a car there since the point of going to Kauai is to either
relax on the beach or go hiking. There's not much on Kauai other than
its natural beauty, which you can see by helicopter; plus, there are shuttles
from hotels that can take you where you want to go. However, you'll definitely
want to rent a car on Oahu to get around and see all the sites. "The
Bus" just doesn't cut it; you'd spend all day trying to get where
you want to go.
WARNING: Hawaiian beaches are very alluring and can easily lull you into
the worst sunburn of your life if you're not careful. Then you'll spend
the rest of your vacation in a lot of pain! I've seen crab-colored tourists
begging for aloe vera all too often. Don't go out without sun block on,
and don't stay out on the beach for several hours at a time.
You'll want to plot out which places are near each other and visit them
on the same day so you're not running back and forth across the island.
Some of the places I've included below are popular tourist attractions,
while others are places the locals and the people in the know go to.
Places to go see on Kauai
|Sadly, most visitors to Hawaii just go to the island of Oahu
and figure they have seen all there is to see in Hawaii. As the locals will
tell you, every island in Hawaii is very different. While Oahu has plenty
to see and do for a very active vacation, the other islands, such as Maui
and Kauai, have less urban development and are the places to go to relax.
Kauai is argued by many to be the most beautiful of the Hawaiian Islands,
being known as the Garden Isle (which is one reason why we went there for
our honeymoon; that, and I know too many people on Oahu). I've heard that
one of the best beaches to go relax on in Kauai is Poipu Beach on the south
side of the island, but I've never tested this rumor myself. Should you
go to Kauai, don't expect a lot of big tourist attractions like theme parks.
For those travelers looking for adventure instead of just lying on the beach,
you can hike the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" or, even more beautiful,
View of the Napali Coast from a helicopter tour. This
beatiful area, popular for hiking, remains almost completely untouched.
The Fern Grotto
Relaxing on the beach or near a hotel pool are the activities of choice
for visitors to Kauai. However, if you want to break the routine for an
easy going tour that will take a few hours out of your lazy day, you can
go see the fern grotto. As shown at right, first, you ride a large boat
up a river along beautiful jungle scenery, then hike along a paved path
to the fern grotto, which is a shallow cave with unique ferns hanging
down from its walls. The place has been the site for several weddings.
It's not a heart-stopping experience, but it certainly is pretty jungle
scenery and worth the few dollars for the boat ride. Ask your hotel about
getting a shuttle to the grotto. Boats leave regularly and make several
trips a day.
Since there is isn't much to do on Kauai other than relax and enjoy the
peaceful beauty, renting car isn't necessarily required as long as you
don't mind walking to the store and riding shuttles for tours from your
hotel. One way to forego renting a car and still see just about the entire
island is to go on a helicopter tour of the island. There are a few companies
that offer these tours, and around $150 a person, it will be the highlight
of your stay on Kauai. The view from the aircraft as you flying alongside
steep, green mountains and into valleys of waterfalls is breathtaking.
The Napali Coast is especially beautiful. If you do nothing else on Kauai,
go on a helicopter ride! It's a must.
A typical tour includes a shuttle ride from your hotel to the office
of the tour company. There, you'll wait with other tourists for the next
flight and probably hear a short training on safety and receive life vests
to wear, as pictured at right. From there, you'll ride out to the launch
pad and prepare for take off. The tours usually include a description
from the pilot of the sites you're seeing, which you can hear with headphones.
If you're interested in getting a video of your flight, check with the
different companies before you buy your tour, as not all companies offer
Places to go see on Oahu
Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is the most popular paid attraction in
the state of Hawaii, and with good reason. The cultural center is not
only the closest thing to a theme park in Hawaii, it also portrays the
genuine and rich cultures of the South Pacific.
The center is located in the quiet town of Laie, which is on the northeast
side of the island, near the northern most point of the island. The drive
up the winding windward shore on the Kamehameha Highway is very beautiful,
and you pass by several beaches. Laie is about an hour's drive from Honolulu,
and the highway is windy and frequently under construction, so drive carefully.
Unlike most tourist attractions on the island, the Polynesian Cultural
Center is an all-day event, so make sure you plan plenty of time for it.
The center opens at noon, and you really want to arrive when it opens
or shortly after and go through all the villages, see the canoe pageant,
ride the canoe, and maybe watch an IMAX movie. I've always preferred the
cultural presentations in the villages to the IMAX movies since the villages
were real-life, but the IMAX can be nice on rainy days or if you really
need air conditioning on hot days. There are also several gift shops to
You'll definitely want to stay for dinner and the night show afterwards.
Of the three restaurants in the cultural center and the McDonald's in
the parking lot outside, I recommend the Ali'i Luau if you want a genuine
Hawaii dining experience. The Gateway Buffet is an inexpensive alternative
if you're more of a "beef and potatoes" kind of person, and
the Ambassador Dining is a fancier place, which caters greatly to the
Asian tourists. I've eaten at all three restaurants, several times, and
I definitely would recommend the Ali'i Luau not only for the food, but
also for the luau experience. The climax of the night is the night show
after dinner, the biggest show in Hawaii, with more performers than any
other attraction. However, the cultural presentations in the villages
alone are worth the price of admission. Before dinner, make sure you see
the show in the Samoan and Tongan villages.
In addition to the cultural center, the small town of Laie has Hukilau
Beach at the north end of town just off the Kamehameha Highway and Temple
Beach just up the road from the cultural center after the Foodland shopping
center. Also, a visit to the Hawaii Temple in Laie is very beautiful.
However, remember the Polynesian Cultural Center is an all-day activity.
(Some "circle island tours" just stop there for one village
show and let their customers pay the price of admission, but they really
miss out.) Fortunately, the cultural center offers free half-hour shuttle
tours to the neighboring BYU-Hawaii campus and the Hawaii Temple, so you
can see both if you like while at the center.
Explore seven villages, each showing the culture of a
different island nation, and take a canoe ride.
The Ali'i Luau not only offers the chance to offer food
traditionally eaten at a real luau, but also Hawaiian songs and dances
for entertainment while you eat.
The cultural center's after dinner show is the biggest
show in Hawaii.
Valley of the Temples
One stop you could make in the morning as you drive up the windward coast
to the Polynesian is the Valley of the Temples. Just north of the city
Kaneohe on Highway 83 is the Byodo Temple, a very beautiful Buddhist temple
hidden from the highway. Just ask locals where to find the Valley of the
Temples or the Buddhist temple. You will know the intersection from the
highway because there is a McDonald's at the light on one side and a large
cemetery on the other. You turn into the cemetery and drive until the
road ends. There hidden in some trees at the base of a mountain is the
temple. It's open to the public and very interesting. It's not far from
the highway and doesn't take long to see.
The colorful fish in the ponds there are interesting to look at, and
you can purchase food to feed them from a small gift shop that neighbors
the temple. When entering the innermost part of the temple, you will see
signs asking you to remove your shoes. Besides fish, there are also several
birds, including swans and peacocks, which frequent the temple grounds.
Central Oahu and the North Shore
The Dole Plantation is located almost in the center of the island. You'll
see lots of pineapple fields as you drive there. I recommend going through
the maze they have there, which typically takes about 30-45 minutes to
go through. You can also try some of the pineapple ice cream and check
out the different kinds of pineapples growing to the left of the maze,
as well as some fish they have in a pond there.
North Shore Beaches
Since the Dole Plantation is located in central Oahu, you could also drive
along the North Shore and see the beaches of the big surf, such as Waimea.
These beaches are famous for the big waves and ideal surfing conditions
during the winter. You can also cruise through the town of Haleiwa (pronounced
ha-lay-ee-va), a town that caters greatly to surfers, as you'll notice
when you go there. Stopping in Haleiwa and getting some shaved ice is
a nice way to cool off. I've also heard that Shark's Cove is a good place
to go snorkeling. I recommend against going to the Waimea waterfall park;
it's a waste of time and money. I actually got in for free as a local
and still felt like I got ripped off.
This is a must see for all patriots, but be forewarned if you go during
the weekend or later in the day, you can expect a waiting time of up to
three hours. When you go in the door at the visitors' center, you receive
a ticket with a number on it and told an estimated waiting time. From there,
while waiting, there are a few museum exhibits you can walk through. Listen
to hear when your group's number is called, and line up at the entrance
to the theater. You will watch a short documentary about the attack on Pearl
Harbor, after which all of the people in the theater will board a ferry
and ride out to the memorial that directly above the sunken hulk of the
U.S.S. Arizona. Go first thing in the morning and get into the video and
onto the ferry out to the ship in less than an hour! This is a very solemn
and quiet experience. Parks officials allow photography on the memorial,
but they ask that you keep your voice to a whisper out of respect, as the
ship is the final resting place of over 1000 men. If you look closely, you
can see some of the features of the ship below the water, including oil
that still comes up to the surface.
Right down the street from the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is the
Aloha Stadium. DO NOT buy any souvenirs at tourist shops!!! Every Wednesday,
Saturday, and Sunday they hold the SWAP MEET, the place where all the
locals go to get Hawaiian stuff cheap! Parking is $1, and then it's a
huge ocean of cheap booths that stretch all the way around the stadium.
Do not shop anywhere else (except maybe at the Polynesian Cultural Center,
where they have unique items). Get all your souvenirs here for far less
at the Swap Meet. You may want to do this toward the end of your trip
if you can, so you have an idea of what you want after seeing it overpriced
I the stores. You have to go early in the day; the booths start packing
up as early at 1 or 2 in the afternoon. Go in the morning, perhaps right
after the Arizona Memorial.
Waikiki is undoubtedly famous, most popular, and most crowded beach on
Oahu. (If you're looking for secluded beaches, try another island, the
North Shore, or Hukilau Beach in Laie.) You can relax on the beach and
check out all the cool stuff to see on the streets closest to the beach.
Just north of Waikiki, this national cemetery is inside a volcano crater.
It has war memorials and a great view of the city if you walk up to the
view area on the south side. It's a little hard to find driving. Not really
high on the list of things to do, but something really cool if you're
This giant aquarium is just one of the many interest sites
to see along Waikiki Beach.
This is a popular snorkeling spot. Actually, this is the only place I've
ever gone snorkeling. I thought it was cool, but my father-in-law who
knows snorkeling, said it was lacking. This is a nature preserve; you
have to pay a few bucks to get in and watch a video about how you're not
to step on the choral, just the sand. You can rent snorkel gear there
or buy a cheap set at a grocery store somewhere. There's a steep walk
down to the beach from the parking lot on a paved road. If you're not
up to walking up or down the steep road, there is a bus that shuttles
people up and down that costs about a dollar. Another place that I've
heard is good for snorkeling is Shark's Cove on the North Shore.
Up in the mountains overlooking Kaneohe, this place is hard to find but
a breath taking view if you can find it. This spot is always windy, so
bring a jacket. There's also a lot of history about this spot. This mountain
pass was where King Kamehameha defeated the inhabitants of Oahu, apparently
by forcing several of them off the cliff during battle, thus conquering
all of Hawaii for the first time in history.
Unfortunately, unless you know someone with a beach house or condo you
can stay at, overpriced hotels are the rule in Hawaii. However, here is
a list of a few hotels you can research.
I don't know a heck of a lot about the different hotels on Kauai except
that looking for one that wasn't expensive was difficult. When we went
to Kauai, we stayed at the Kauai
Sands Hotel and were satisfied. The hotel has two swimming pools and
an okay (but not spectacular) beach. Right next door is a cute little
market place with many different shops. The Foodland grocery store is
about a half mile down the road. Nice and quiet place.
Although most hotels are located in Waikiki, I recommend trying places
outside of the city of Honolulu so you can see more of the natural beauty
without having to drive as far to see it. Kaneohe, on the southern part
of the windward coast, is nicely located to drive to several of the sites
above. I would recommend against staying on the far leeward side of the
island; it's a long drive to anywhere from there.
Speaking of getting out of Honolulu, you can't get any farther and still
be on the island than the Turtle Bay Resort. Located on the northern most
point of the island, this hotel is big and very nice looking (check out
their website). It's right on the beach, and it's just off the Kamehameha
highway. The Polynesian Cultural Center and the rest of the windward coast
are just down the road from here, and driving down the opposite direction
takes you to the North Shore.
57-091 Kamehameha Highway
Kahuku Oahu, Hawaii 96731
The Laie Inn is one choice if your main purpose on Oahu is related to
the Polynesian Cultural Center or something else in Laie. However, I've
heard that this hotel isn't exactly your top-of-the-line hotel. So, this
might be a good way to save money, but I make no guarantees on the quality
of the hotel. Me, I'm easily satisfied, so I could sleep on the beach.
This hotel is located right next to the Polynesian Cultural Center in
the town of Laie. It has a McDonald's right next door and beach access
across the highway.
55-109 Laniloa St.
Laie Oahu, HI 96762
Here are some hotels if you prefer or must stay in Waikiki:
Terrace Hotel. I've stayed at this one, and it's not too bad. You
have to walk through a park to get to the beach.
Moana Hotel This one's further west in Honolulu than Waikiki. It has
the most popular shopping mall on the island next to it.
Resorts Several locations on multiple islands
There are tons and tons of more hotels; just run a search and see for
Why are the islands so special? Check out this article that appeared
in the Sierra
Times about the Polynesian Cultural Center and the town of Laie. If
you can understand what journalist Keith Wood is saying, you can almost
understand why this is a special place. Unfortunately, the rest of it,
the warm weather, rich cultures, and breathtaking scenery you would have
to experience for yourself.