If you’ve ever wanted to visit America’s own island paradise, it might be more feasible than you initially thought. We often associate “luxury”, “vacation”, and “getaway” with Hawaii, leading people to believe that it is an unattainable destination. However, lucky for all of us, the “off-season”, which paradoxically boasts Hawaii’s best weather of the year, has many good deals on flights, hotels, and activities. Here’s a basic guide to kick-start your vacation planning:
When to Go:
Although weather-wise you can go anytime of year, what time you decide to visit Hawaii will depend on your budget and what you want to experience while there. Generally, the weather is cooler from December to March, and warmer and drier from April to November, which is technically Hawaii’s summer season. To get the best deals on just about everything, visit during the off-season periods between April and June, or September and November. There will be better weather, fewer crowds, and you’ll pay much more if you are traveling during the peak seasons of December to March or July to August.
Where to Go and What to See: A Basic Guide to the Islands
Made up of over one hundred small islands, there are six main ones to consider when planning your trip.
Oahu: The Gathering Place
Hawaii’s third largest island and its governmental and commercial center, Oahu boasts sites such as the famous Waikiki, Hawaii’s capital city of Honolulu, the historic Pearl Harbor, and Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaii’s last two monarchs. The majority of Hawaii’s population resides on Oahu, making it one of the more populous and developed islands (public transportation is widely available). The north shore is a surf mecca, where high season is from November to February and is easily accessible from Honolulu’s airport.
Island of Hawai’i: The Big Island
The youngest and largest of the state’s islands, Hawai’i contains a huge variety of natural wonders, climactic zones, and environments. It is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, the most massive volcano in the world (Mauna Loa), and the world’s tallest sea mountain (Mauna Kea). It also boasts the largest state park out of all the islands, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. With two airports, the Big Island is accessible via direct flights to Kona, or by way of Honolulu, Oahu.
Maui: The Magic Isle
Maui has been rated “the best island” by travel giants like Conde Nast. With a smaller population, Maui has many sophisticated resorts and diversions, as well as some of the best beaches in the world. Golfing and whale watching (from December to May) are especially popular activities, as are trying to survive the road to Hana, snorkeling at Molokini, and exploring Haleakala to watch the stunning sunrise… or a bit later in the day if you’re not much of a morning person. There are three airports on Maui, with non-stop flights available from major cities in the continental U.S. Once there, you can get around by shuttle, tour bus, taxi, public transportation, or rent a car.
Kauai: The Island of Discovery/The Garden Isle
The fourth largest island, Kauai is the oldest and northernmost of Hawaii’s chain, and some parts are only accessible via sea or air! Outdoor activities abound, with lots of opportunities for snorkeling along the Na Pali coast, hiking, kayaking, zip-lining, and exploring the beauty and history of the Waimea Canyon and Wailua River. With its own airport, there are some non-stop flights available, but you can also reach Kauai via Honolulu. Think about renting a car if you plan to explore the island via land, as there is less in the way of public transportation here.
Molokai: The Friendly Isle
This is an island where you can get away from the stressful hustle and bustle of life. The least developed of all of Hawaii’s inhabited islands, there is no traffic and there are no lights or tall buildings to be found. Here, you can live as locals do and discover the Hawaii of the past. As the fifth largest island, it is home to the highest sea cliffs in the world, as well as the longest continuous fringing reef. Most people living on Molokai are of native Hawaiian ancestry, so the island is a place where Hawaiian culture truly thrives. Additionally, a higher elevation gives Molokai a cooler climate. Although the island has its own airport, there is no direct service from the continental U.S., so you’ll want to book a flight through Honolulu or another hub. Once there, a rental car is a must, as there is no public transportation.
Lanai: The Pineapple Isle
Lanai, the smallest of Hawaii’s inhabited islands, is known as the “Pineapple Island” because it is home to the largest pineapple plantation in the world and was once entirely owned by Dole Foods. Words often used to describe Lanai are “romantic,” “tranquil,” “serene,” and “intimate.” If you are looking for a honeymoon or couples getaway with some rugged back roads begging to be explored, this very well could be the island for you. Fun fact: there are no traffic lights on the island, and only about thirty miles of road are actually paved. Though there are no direct flights from the continental U.S., you can connect in Honolulu or Maui to local airlines that will bring you to Lanai’s airport. There is also ferry service from Maui available. The weather is drier and slightly cooler than the other islands, and a convenient island shuttle is available to take you to most frequented locations.
Here are some quick tips to help you work out the details of your Hawaii vacation.
There are cheaper fares available during the spring or fall; they become more expensive during holidays and school vacations. If you can, book far in advance. Also try to book flights mid-week rather than on the weekends for the cheapest fares.
There are LOTS of luxury and mid-range hotels available all over Hawaii. For Honolulu, the Hyatt Regency on Waikiki Beach boasts stunning views, while the Hilton Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Resort features excellent amenities and beach access. Those both are tried-and-true options both worth booking.
Where to eat
Hawaii’s cuisine is flavorful and diverse, but dining out can quickly become a big chunk of your budget if you aren’t careful. Avoid dining in major tourist locations, where prices are always higher, and avoid chain restaurants. Instead, eat where the locals eat; don’t be afraid to ask around to find the best places! Look for hole-in-the-wall or mom-and-pop restaurants, which often source local produce, are cheaper, and have the most delicious offerings anyway. If you are staying in a private vacation rental and have the option to cook for yourself, consider purchasing produce at local farmers’ markets, which are generally cheaper than grocery stores. Finally, be sure to carry water and snacks with you when sightseeing.
Angie Picardo is a writer at TravelNerd, a blog dedicated to helping you save money traveling to the destination of your dreams by comparing airport taxi options at over 72 airports.