No matter what the term “paradise” means to you, chances are you can find a piece of it on one of Hawaii’s islands. With near-perfect weather year round (it rarely spikes above 90 or dips below 60, except for in high elevations), white and black sand beaches, swaying palm trees, a native population that welcomes visitors with open arms, and activities that range from being pampered in a five-star spa to hiking into live volcanoes, this is not your typical tropical playground.
I was always under the impression that Hawaii was made up of six islands, but there are actually eight: Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, and the Big Island of Hawaii. The two you likely are unfamiliar with are Niihau and Kahoolawe. Known as “the Forbidden Island,” Niihau has no roads, hotels, or restaurants, and its 250 residents mainly live without electricity. Public access is extremely limited, but there are some helicopter landings at uninhabited sites throughout the island’s 69 square miles. The island of Kahoolawe is blowing up—literally. The U.S. Navy and Air Force once used the island as a target, and are still in the midst of cleaning up shells. No one is allowed to step foot there without permission.
The other six islands certainly are worthy of exploration. From quaint plantation villages to thriving metropolises, whatever your pleasure, the islands of Hawaii can satisfy. Being that only a few miles separate all of the islands, inter-island flights rarely take more than a half-hour, and if you turn up at the airports without a ticket, chances are you can still snag a seat. Since it can be hard to see it all, we compiled a navigational guide that will help you go beyond the mainstream destinations and discover the hidden luxuries that abound in this chain of paradise.
Why Visit: The Island of Oahu is known as “the gathering place” for good reason. The international airport in the state capital of Honolulu is the largest in the State of Hawaii, and it likely will serve as the jumping-off point for your Oloha adventures. Honolulu itself, home to one of the priciest zip codes in all of the U.S., is an historic village worthy of perusing, but the real allure of the island lies in its natural, artistic, and historical wonders.
Where to Stay: Kahala Hotel & Resort is one of Hawaii’s only five-star properties.
Halekulani’s suites elevate Oahu hospitality to a new level; The Orchid Suite even features the first Steinway & Sons Model M in-room hotel home theater, and guests have access to a Sea of Life Wellness Program from the award-winning SpaHalekulani.
Must See: Pearl Harbor. An important part of American history, Pearl Harbor offers many different tours and memorials to honor the events of WWII.
Nature: Diamond Head State Monument. This designated Natural Landmark is one of the most recognized destinations in all of Hawaii. The 350-acre crater was formed during a volcanic explosion some 300,000 years ago; today, its historic hiking trail (roughly eight-tenths of a mile each way) offers some of the most picturesque coastal vistas on the island. We also recommend hiking into the Koolau Mountains above Kaneohe Bay to take in the beauty of one of Hawaii’s famous waterfalls. Also worth a visit: the Lyon Arboretum and Botanical Garden, located in the only tropical rainforest in the U.S.
Adventure: Surfing. If you plan on hanging 10 while in Hawaii, Waikiki is where you want to take your first lesson. The waves are not as gnarly as they can be on some of the other islands, or on Oahu’s North Shore, which is home to Waimea Bay, the Banzai Pipeline, and Sunset Beach.
Pampering: SpaHalekulani. The multiple-award-winning Halekulani is part of the Leading Hotels of the World, and is home to a spa that combines the healing traditions of the Pacific Islands, including Samoa, Tonga, and Tahiti, for an out-of-this-world experience that earned it the Mobil Four-Star rating, the highest the guide offers.
Off the Beaten Path: Art Walks in Honolulu. The arts community in Honolulu is making strides in becoming a cultural destination, and weekly events highlight these advances. If your vacation falls on the first Friday or second Saturday of any month, plan on spending it in Honolulu, when downtown venues, from art galleries to tattoo parlors, throw open their doors and entice visitors and locals alike with live music and entertainment, and free bites and libations. On Fridays, check out the Downtown-Chinatown Gallery Walk, a self-guided tour of local galleries and studios. During Third Thursdays, the locals come out to celebrate their thriving community and continue their work to transform the historic village into a haven for the arts. We recommend you show your support.