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The Best Places To Visit in Hawaii

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Travelers Overview of the Hawai'ian Islands

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Hawaii is like an artist’s sun-kissed pallet: rain forests adorned in the deepest greens; lush fruits and flowers of vibrant reds, yellows and pinks; all set on the canvas of an azure-blue ocean. Mark Twain, the famous American writer who visited in the late 19th century described the Aloha State as the “The loveliest fleet of islands that lies anchored in any ocean,” an apt description then and one that continues to be true today.

A visit to Hawaii blends dramatic volcanic landscapes, tropical climate, luxury resorts and the islands' unique Polynesian culture into a vacation experience that is unrivaled anywhere in the world. Hawai'i offers warm weather, broad sandy beaches, lush tropical vegetation, water sports and a slower pace to the day's events than we experience at home. Hawai'i is a place to relax while experiencing countless ways to enjoy your vacation in paradise.

The Hawai'ian Islands attract seven million visitors per year. The majority of guests arrive from the western United States, followed in rank order by visitors from the eastern United States, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and Korea. For most travelers it takes a long plane ride to get there, but visiting Hawai'i is worth the effort.

Hawaii has six destination islands 0ahu, Maui, the Big Island (named Hawai'i), Kauai, Lanai and Molokai. Of the visitors to the Aloha state, two-thirds visit only one island and almost fifty percent of all visitors make that island Oahu, lured by Waikiki, Honolulu and the famous surfing beaches of the North Shore. Oahu is an incredible vacation destination, but we hope to persuade you to sample the “other” Hawai'i as well. Maui, the Big Island, Kauai and Lanai are distinctly different experiences and  all are attractive vacation destinations. We do not cover Molokai, perhaps the least developed island of the Hawai'ian chain. For those of you interested in statistics, the rank ordering of the islands in terms of the number of visitors is Oahu, Maui, Hawai'i (the Big Island) Kauai, Lanai, and Molokai.

The ThereArePlaces Hawai'i Travel Guides

ThereArePlaces Hawaii Guide covers Oahu, Maui, the Big Island (the Island of Hawai'i, Kauai and Lanai. We believe that these islands are the most attractive for vacationing. Our guides to the Hawai'ian Islands are concise, illustrated and focused on the Best Places to Visit in Hawaii. Clicking the map symbol next to an attraction or place name will show you its location on a detailed map of that island in Hawai'i.

Why Vacation in Hawaii?

Once you land upon her shores, Hawaii will captivate you with the scent of tropical flowers carried by soft, warm breezes. Year round, the daytime temperature ranges between 75 and 85 and is perfect for enjoying a day of water sports, golf, sightseeing or just laying at the beach. Something wonderful seems to happen during vacations in Hawai'i. Maybe its the tropics, or the distance away from the "real world" back home, but everything other than vacationing and having fun seems to melt away with the suntan lotion.

Hawaii’s leading resorts often bill themselves as "a complete vacation” and, we think, this is an apt description of many of the resorts in Hawaii. There is often no compelling reason to leave the larger properties, since everything you might want is likely to be supplied there. But trust us; you will finally get tired of relaxing and lazing about at the pool or the beach and want to head out for something , well, different - and Hawaii excels at providing unique experiences.


While Hawaii is a place to relax and get away from it all, it’s not one of those boring vacation spots where there is “nothing to do” buy sit in the sun. If you get tired of soaking up the rays, you will find that Hawai'i offers excellent surfing, diving, golfing, hiking, biking, windsailing and paragliding. If you are an adventurer, you already know that the Hawai'ian Islands owe their existence to volcanoes. If you are among the brave at heart, the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island can provide an incredible adventure. Haleakala on Maui also can provide exceptional adventure for those interested in trekking. If you are really capable, you can learn to Hula - it is harder than it looks and more fun than you can imagine.

The uniqueness of the Islands includes the Hawai'ian culture. Although most often seen by tourist as the luau and Hawai'ian print clothing, the Hawai'ian people have an interesting history. Theirs' is a complex culture that includes wonderful lore and important links between the Hawai'ians and the earth. It is our belief that the closer you get to Hawai'ian culture, the more you will enjoy your trip to the Islands.

For those interested in twentieth century history, there are dramatic memorials commemorating the deaths resulting from the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan, an act that caused a state of war to exist between the present day allies. Although war memorials are not of interest to everyone, visiting the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor is, for many, an important part of the Hawai'ian experience.

Hawai'i is a tropical paradise and most people travel there to take some time to rest and relax in the tropics. If you are looking for a non-stop action packed adventure, Hawai'i may not be the right place for you. If you are looking for great weather, fantastic beaches, excellent water sports and an interesting cultural environment, then read about the wonder of Hawaii.

Travel Preparations for Visiting Hawaii

What are the peak vacation seasons in Hawaii?

There is a secondary peak tourist season in summer, when it is both drier and warmer than in winter, but this one reflects school being out and is when most families can stay in Hawai'i long enough to make it worth the flight.

The lowest prices for rooms are usually found during the “shoulder seasons” of April/May and September/October. In our opinion, Hawaii is a great place to visit whenever you can get there.

What kind of clothes should you take?

It's the tropics, so bring lightweight clothes. During the days you may spend a lot of your time in swimwear. When you are touring or eating, you will probably want to wear shorts, short-sleeve tops and sandals. In the evenings you may want to nightclub or hit fine restaurants, so pack a dress, or a sports coat, as appropriate. A light jacket or a windbreaker is usually a good item to pack, since the temperature drops in the evenings, especially on the coast or in the highlands.

If you are planning on visiting Haleakala on Maui or Mauna Kea or Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island you should pack a sweater/sweatshirt, windbreaker and hiking shoes.

Sunscreen, sun glasses and hats to protect from the sun are a good idea for everyone, as the sun's rays are more direct in Hawai'i than where most of us live.

Island Hopping?

If you have never been to Hawaii, we recommend that you plan a visit that includes Oahu and one other island. Oahu has a lot to see and is a fun place to visit for a few days but, to many tourists, it not the most attractive of the Hawai'ian Islands. We suggest that you spend three or four days exploring Oahu and then head for Maui, the Big Island or Kauai for the another week, if you have the time.

Inter-Island Travel

The main method of inter-Island travel is by air. Aloha Airlines. The main airports are in Honolulu (HNL), Hilo (ITO) and Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, Kahului (OGG) on Maui and Lihue (LIH) on Kauai. There are smaller airports on Lanai and Molokai.

Hawaii Cruises

Cruising Hawai'i sounds idyllic, but there are a couple of clinkers for you to consider. The islands and ports that may be included on a cruise itinerary include: Oahu (Honolulu), Maui (Lahaina or Kahului), the Big Island (Kailua-Kona or Hilo) and Kauai (Nawiliwili).

You really have two choices in respect to itineraries and the difference is significant. First, Norwegian Cruise Lines is the only carrier that operates a cruise ship that is U.S. flagged. This means that the NCL ship that is Hawai'i-based is currently the only liner that can cruise and port in the Hawai'ian Islands without having to make a stop in a "foreign" port.

Non-U.S. flagged cruise lines that visit ports in Hawai'i must, also, call on at least one "foreign" port during their itinerary. Many make a run to Fanning Island in Kiribati (1200 miles southwest of Hawai'i) to satisfy the "foreign" port requirement, before returning to Oahu. Other itineraries may be employed to deal with the foreign port rule, for instance by combining cruises to Hawai'i and Polynesia.

However, before you sign up for a cruise, consider that most vacationers go to Hawai'i to sit on the beach and do lots of lazing around, separated by trips to see the local attractions when they feel they need a break. Sitting around the pool on a boat is not like sitting on the beach in Hawaii! Also, those of you who have cruised before know that the land tours offered by cruise lines are scripted, hurried and often less than satisfying. If you really want to see the Hawai'ian Islands, we think your vacation needs to be land-based. Of course, if you have have been there before, a cruise could be a great way to gain a new perspective on Hawai'i.

Exploring the islands
Plan on renting a car if you want to explore Oahu, Maui, Hawai'i (the Big Island) and Kauai, as there is little in the way of widespread public transportation on most of the islands. A jeep is the best way to see the limited sights on Lanai. An alternative is to find a tour company and let them arrange explorations for you. 

Facts you should know about Hawai'i

Windward and Leeward sides of islands.
The windward side of the Hawai'ian Islands is the coast hit by the prevailing Northeast Trade Winds, which flow from the northeast to the southwest. These winds generally strike the northern or eastern side of the islands, which is called the windward side. The windward side is usually the wetter side of the island, as the land elevation forces the wind to rise to cross the island. Ascending air masses cool, which may cause the water vapor they carry to condense and precipitate as rain. The Leeward side of the island is usually the drier side of the island, since the air carried by the winds has lost its moisture on the windward side of the island. In addition, it is often warmer on the leeward side of the islands, because the trade winds warm as they head to lower elevations after crossing higher land.

Waterfalls and rainforests area common on the windward side of islands and rare on the leeward side. Honolulu, Kanapali and Kona are located on the leeward side of their respective islands.

Hawaii and volcanoes

The Hawai'ian Islands are over 2400 miles from the nearest continent. This mid-Pacific island chain has been forming over the last 81 million years as the Pacific Plate (one of many major movable sections of the earth’ surface) slowly edges northwest. The path of these "migrating" islands passes over a stationary source of magma (a plume) that winds through the earth's crust and eventually oozes out onto the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

Countless eruptions over millions of years sometimes produce layered mounds of lava that are able grow and break the ocean's surface, despite the scouring action of the Pacific. When this happens, an island is born. However, because the plate continues to move towards the northwest, the volcanoes are eventually cut off from the sub-surface lava plume. When this happens, the island reaches a mature stage and it is likely that another new island will start to form to the south.

Which Hawai'ian Island was created first?

In chronological age the Big Island is the youngest of the Hawai'ian chain, and the other islands increase in age to the north, with Kauai being the first (oldest) Hawai'ian Island. The Big Island is currently the lava hotspot in Hawai'i, but its lava action occurs on the south end of the island. Further south of the Big Island, an island-to-be named Loihi is already building up beneath the surface of the Pacific.

Hawai'i and Earthquakes

On October 15, 2006, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake occurred 10 miles west-southwest of Waikoloa off the west coast of the Big Island in Hawai'i. Although there was some structural damage across the Big Island, there were no deaths and limited casualties. Large earthquakes are relatively rare in Hawai'i, although the Big Island is one of the most active seismic zones in the world. The majority of the Big Island earthquakes are small in magnitude and related to the movement of magma flowing through the Kilauea and Loihi volcanoes.

The cause of the October 15th earthquake appears to be related to the weight of the lava that has accumulated during the Big Island's rise from the sea floor. The distance between the highest elevation on island and the sea floor is approximately 30,000 feet. The weight of this landmass depresses the earth's crust around the edges of the island and, from time to time, a rebounding effect generates shearing and tearing of the crust that results in earthquakes.

In addition, the Hawai'ian Islands are part of a chain of volcanoes that stretches nearly 3500 mile across the North Pacific Ocean. Due to the movement of the earth's crust resulting from plate tectonics, the Hawai'ian Island chain is moving to the northwest. These movements of the crust cause earthquakes in zones where plates collide.

Hawai'i and Tsunamis

Major earthquakes that lower or raise of the earth's crust can result in the formation of Tsunamis. Tsunamis are large, rapidly moving ocean waves triggered by a major disturbance of the ocean floor. They are often caused by earthquakes but can be produced by submarine landslides or a volcanic eruptions. Tsunamis have been referred to as "tidal waves," but they have no relation to tides.

Some ports in the Hawai'ian Island were damaged by the tsunami related to the March, 2011 earthquake in Japan.  Hawai'i is included in the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, which is headquartered at Ewa Beach on Oahu. The system relies on sea-level monitoring instrumentation to determine when tsunami warnings should be issued. Although an infrequent phenomenon, tidal waves have occurred in Hawai'i on the east coast of the Big Island at Hilo and further south.

If a tsunami warning is issued, local authorities will implement evacuation plans. Do not return to low-lying areas until notified by the authorities.

Hawaii's No Smoking Ban

In November of 2006, the State of Hawai'i banned public smoking in enclosed or partially enclosed areas (both public and State owned) that are open to the public (including private businesses). Although hotels can reserve 20% of their rooms for smokers, smoking is not allowed in lobbies, reception areas, restaurants, bars or other public areas. In addition, the ban applies at airports, aquariums, galleries, libraries, museums, lobbies, bars (indoor or out), elevators, nightclubs, restaurants, sports venues, retail shops and malls.

Hawaii's Name

While in Hawaii you will notice that the island is sometimes spelled Hawaii and Hawai'i at other times.  The name of the state is Hawaii.  Hawaiians, however, prefer Hawai'i.   We use Hawaii for the state, Hawai'i for the Big Island, Hawai'ians for the people and Hawai'ian Islands for the chain of islands comprising the state.  Yes, it is confusing.

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Best Places to Visit in Hawai'i
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