Destination Hawaii: A Full Guide To The Islands

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Maui Coast Line

OAHU

It can be hard to decide what island to visit when booking a trip to Hawaii. I didn’t want to miss out on anything, and finally made up my mind to visit the three main islands so I can get the full Hawaiian experience.

Oahu has a more “commercialized” feel, especially in Waikiki, but still offers a good mix of island and city life.

Below are my Oahu highlights:

Oahu Hikes-  If you enjoy hiking, there are some great scenic hikes on Oahu. Some of my favorites include:

   ~Lanikai Pillbox Hike: Hike right before sunrise for some breathtaking views

   ~Diamond Head Hike: Set on the Waikiki coastline, you’ll get to see both city and ocean views

   ~Koko Head Hike: 1000+ stairs — brace yourself!

   ~Makapu’u Tidepools: A great spot for snorkeling and swimming but can be dangerous getting to the bottom so be careful!

North Shore

For a completely different experience than Waikiki and Honolulu, be sure to visit North Shore, Oahu. It’s a surfer town with beautiful beaches and a “locals only” vibe. If you like to surf, North Shore is the perfect place. There are tons of local fruit stands and food trucks off the side of the road across from the beaches. You can grab fresh banana bread or a pitaya bowl and head across the street to the beach for a day of surf and sand.

I stayed at Turtle Bay Resort tucked away on one of North Shore’s beautiful shorelines. The resort is buzzing with energy and is very lively- and I felt like I was right in the middle of all the action. Home to some of the most powerful waves in the world, the resort offers access to surfing and all kinds of water sport activities right off its beach, along with plenty of other activities to fill your schedule. If you want to swim or snorkel in calm waters, there are tranquil bays around the property as well. My room was bright and spacious with a bedroom, living area with a pull out couch, and a large balcony and bathroom. Every room has a beautiful ocean view and my room balcony was the prime spot for watching the sunset each night.

Turtle Bay Resort
Turtle Bay Resort

Turtle Bay Resort is a great option for accommodations in North Shore Oahu.

Beaches- Best beaches to hit up on the North Shore: Sunset Beach, Pipeline, Pupukea, and Waimea Bay. 

Pupukea Grill Head to the North Shore and stop by this cute food truck off the side of the road in Pupukea for some of the best poke and fresh smoothies before making your way to the beach.

Pupukea Grill
Pupukea Grill

Sky diving- North Shore, Oahu has one of the world’s most beautiful drop zones for Skydiving and is an experience of a lifetime. If you are an adrenaline junkie and feel like being daring, Oahu is the perfect place to skydive! There are a few reputable skydiving companies on the island to choose from, most of them located on the North Shore.

Honolulu/Waikiki

If you want to experience Hawaii’s city life where all the action is, Waikiki in Honolulu is the place to be. Designer shopping, big hotel chains, countless restaurants, boutiques, bars and night clubs galore! The beaches are crowded and the streets are buzzing with people day and night.

KAUAI

Kauai is regarded as Hawaii’s most authentic island. It’s quiet, lush and tropical, and its natural beauty is breathtaking. Some highlights:

Na Pali Coast- The gem of Kauai. You can only see Kauai’s magical Na Pali Coast by boat or by helicopter. I experienced both and enjoyed each for different reasons. You can venture into sea caves, snorkel and get closer views by boat (and you may even see dolphins and whales along the way!). Seeing aerial views of the coast by helicopter is breathtaking and also a unique experience. Helicopter is a shorter excursion and the more expensive option, but was worth it.

Wailua Falls- The most jaw dropping waterfall I came across in Hawaii. Located just north of Lihue and a three mile drive up the road, there is an accessible parking lot with the best views of the falls.

Wailua Falls
Wailua Falls

Poipu- Poipu is located on the south side of Kauai and Poipu Beach is definitely worth a visit. There is a great 50ft cliff jump in Poipu on the Hyatt Regency Resort Beach!

Local Eats- Pono Market for traditional Hawaiian lunch plates like Lau Lau and Kalua Pig, Fish Express for Poke, Kilauea Fish Market, Java Kai and Kauai Juice company for coffee and fresh juices. Also Bubba’s Burgers for an awesome burger!

Kilauea Fish Market- I saw this on The Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” show and decided to try it when I visited Kauai for the first time a few years ago. Their ahi tuna wrap is to die for, and I had to go back again for seconds this time around, and it didn’t disappoint!

Hanalei Bay- The largest bay on the north shore of the island, Hanalei Bay is a serene and stunning bay great for swimming, snorkeling and sun bathing.

MAUI

To see an in-depth article and full guide to Maui, check out “DESTINATION OBSESSION: MAUI”. [LINK TO PREVIOUS MAUI ARTICLE]

WHERE TO STAY:

Fairmont Kealani The Fairmont Kealani is a luxury all-suite and villa oceanfront resort, situated on Wailea’s beautiful coastline. After recently completing a stunning 70-million dollar renovation, the resort is in exquisite condition and a perfect choice for a Maui getaway. The oceanfront paradise is located on Wailea’s Polo beach, with convenient beach access to all kinds of water sports and home to one of the best snorkeling on the island. The resort offers three swimming pools plus an adult only pool, four unique dining restaurants, a state-of-the-art spa, and a comprehensive fitness and wellness program. Make sure to experience Nick’s Fish Market and their award winning signature restaurant Ko, both top fine dining restaurants on the island located right on the resort property. Also, Luana is the perfect setting for cocktails, small bites, music and Hawaiian culture. The Fairmont Kealani has everything you would want for a perfect Hawaiian getaway.

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea  The Four Seasons Resort at Wailea is also one of my favorite resorts on Maui. To see a more in-depth review, check out my full Maui travel guide here.

The Four Seasons Hawaii
The Four Seasons Maui at Wailea

MAUI MUSTS:

-Rent a Jeep. I suggest renting a car in Maui. It gives you the freedom to see the entire island at your own leisure. It’s a pretty big island so renting a car is definitely the best way to get around. There are several rental car companies at the Maui International airport.

-Road to Hana. The Road to Hana is an absolute must. It was definitely a highlight of my trip. I stayed in Wailea and the Road To Hana starts on the other side of the island, about an hour and twenty minute drive away, and the drive to Hana from Mile Marker 1 (Road to Hana starting point) takes around three hours or more, depending on how much you stop. It is an all day excursion so be prepared for a lot of driving. I suggest starting early to really get the most out of your day. There a several beautiful waterfalls, viewpoints and secluded beaches to stop along the way. Be sure to stop and get gas in Paia before your journey, there are no gas stations until you get all the way to Hana. Also, make sure to stop and get fresh banana bread off the side of the road…a must!

Road To Hana
Road To Hana

Haleakala National Park. If you ever want to know what it’s like to drive above the clouds, pay a visit to Haleakala National Park. It’s a 37 mile drive from sea level to the top at a 10023 ft. summit. It’s the worlds highest elevation gain in the shortest distance. There is a $20 admission fee into the park. You drive above the clouds all the way up to the summit and the views at the top are breathtaking. Make sure to dress warm, it’s freezing no matter what time of day it is. (I learned that the hard way). If you are really daring to be adventurous and brave the cold, Haleakala is the best stargazing spot on the island. You can camp at night in the middle of the crater to stargaze and wake up to watch the incredible sunrise at Haleakala. Tip: It is a long drive from pretty much anywhere on the island (approx. a two hour drive from Wailea), so make sure you stop and get gas before the adventure!

Snorkeling. You can snorkel off most beaches in Maui. I snorkeled off the Four Seasons Resort beach in Wailea and it was great. Most resorts have complimentary snorkel gear, or stations on the beach for rentals.

Experience a Hawaiian Luau. You can’t visit Hawaii without partaking in a traditional Hawaiian Luau. Taking place every night at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort in Lahaina alongside the beach, The Drums of the Pacific Luau is one of the best luau’s in Maui. Enjoy a traditional Imu Ceremony (unearthing of the kalua pig), an authentic Hawaiian food buffet, Hula dance lessons and the Drums of the Pacific Luau show which is a combination of songs, chants and dances from Hawaii and the neighboring Polynesian islands that have influenced Hawaiian culture and customs for centuries.

MAUI DINING:  

Mama’s Fish House. If you are a foodie and have done your Maui research, I’m sure most likely familiar with Mama’s Fish House. Located in Paia on Maui’s North Shore, Mama’s Fish House is a family owned restaurant established in 1973, serving fresh seafood caught daily and authentic Hawaiian cuisine. It’s famous in Maui, and Trip Advisor coined it in the top 10 fine dining restaurants in the US.

Nick’s Fish Market. Located at The Fairmont Kea Lani, Nick’s Fishmarket is also considered one of the best restaurants on the island, and for good reason. I enjoyed a few of their signature dishes such as the Black and Blue Ahi and Fresh Oysters topped with Ahi tartare and White Truffle oil for appetizers, the Potato “Scaled” Mahi Mahi for the main, and the spectacular Strawberries Panzini Flambeed Tableside with Grand Marnier for dessert, which was quite the presentation. It was an exceptional dining experience.

DUO. A premium seafood and steakhouse located at The Four Seasons Resort in Wailea, DUO gave me a dining experience to remember. The 35 Day Dry Aged Bone in Ribeye was by far one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life, and the Black truffle Mac & Cheese was a game changer (I consider myself a Mac & Cheese enthusiast!). Other dishes worth mentioning include the Crab Cakes with Maui Honey, Calamansi Aioli, & Avocado, the Foie Gras Parfait, Sesame Crusted Ahi, and the Truffled Hamakua Mushrooms. The entire dining experience really blew me away and can’t wait to go back again for the ribeye steak and mac & cheese!

I will definitely be back in Hawaii soon. Aloha!

To see more of my travels, visit nicoleisaacs.com & Instagram.com/NicoleIsaacs.

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