Heavenly Hawaii—this volcanic chain of islands in the Pacific is at the top of almost every traveler’s bucket list. With its lush, untouched natural wonder, laid-back lifestyle, and endless opportunities for adventure, Hawaii truly is a piece of paradise. We sail to the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and Hawaii—and while we could write a whole blog about each amazing island (odds are, we probably will), we’ve kept it short and made a list of our top seven things to do in Hawaii.
With warm tropical breezes blowing year-round, it’s no surprise most activities center around being outside—including shopping! Ala Moana Center in Honolulu is the largest open-air shopping center in the world, with luxury brand retailers, local specialty shops, and fine dining experiences. Take a break from bustling Waikiki Beach (just a few minutes away), stroll past calm koi ponds and swaying palm trees, and shop to your heart’s content.
On the island of Hawaii, you’ve got to visit the Hilo Farmers Market. Steps from Hilo Bay, over 200 local vendors serve up the best of Hawaiian fruit, vegetables, baked goods, coffee and handcrafted keepsakes. Forget plastic pretenders—you can find gorgeous handmade leis using delicate orchids and other island flowers. A must-try at the market is the strawberry papaya. While it looks like a regular papaya, this local delicacy has pinkish-orange flesh that’s sweeter and juicier than its more common cousin.
Savor some unique cuisine
Hawaiian cuisine is flavorful, eclectic, and a little adventurous. With the growth of pineapple and sugarcane plantations from the 1850s through the 1930s, immigrant workers from Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, Portugal and Puerto Rico infused essences of their culture with traditional island ingredients and cooking methods.
Some must-tastes as you island hop around Hawaii? Leave room for hearty loco moco. Rumor has it hungry teenagers in Hilo created this staple lunch dish consisting of rice, a hamburger patty, a fried egg, and gravy. If you’re in the mood for something lighter, dig into a big bowl of poke (pronounced poh-kay). It’s raw, chopped fish (usually yellowfin tuna) seasoned with top-quality soy sauce, pa‘akai (Hawaiian sea salt), and limu (seaweed), and often served with rice and fresh veggies. Poke is taking the culinary world by storm, but the most authentic versions can only be found on Hawaii.
The quintessential Hawaiian comfort food is saimin. It might remind you of ramen, but locals don’t refer to it as that. Developed during the plantation era, Chinese, Japanese and Filipino workers combined their own traditional noodle soups to create this version with wheat noodles, shrimp broth, and pork. Dumplings like Japanese gyoza and Chinese wontons are often added, as well as that Hawaiian classic: Spam! It’s nothing to turn your nose up at here, locals use this often-overlooked food in really creative ways.
Experience authentic island life
You can’t leave Hawaii without going to a Luau! At the Old Lahaina Luau, learn to hula and explore human history on the island. Then, after you’ve worked up an appetite, feast your eyes on the Kalua pig being unearthed from the imu (a traditional underground oven), and prepare yourself for a meal to remember long after you leave Lahaina.
The Garden Island of Kauai is removed from the resort-focused atmosphere you’ll find elsewhere around Hawaii. The pace of life in Nawiliwili is decidedly gentle and easygoing, and famously friendly locals will show you what it’s like to truly live on island time. Hang ten with a beginner surf lesson at calm Kalpaki Beach, then wind your way down the Wailua River by boat or kayak. At the end, you’ll emerge in a romantic fern-draped, lava rock grotto and be serenaded with a performance of the Hawaiian Wedding Song. Its natural acoustics are simply stunning.
Visit the only palace in America
Dating back to the early 19th century, Iolani Palace in downtown Honolulu served as the royal residence for the Hawaiian monarchy until its overthrow in 1893. It’s recognized as “the spiritual and physical multicultural epicenter of Hawaii,” and is the only official royal palace in the United States. A mixture of Italian Renaissance and native Hawaiian architectural styles and materials combine to create the only example of American Florentine architecture.
Kings were crowned on the palace grounds, and queens were imprisoned upstairs following the monarchy’s fall—it’s a historic, sacred place that will put the story of Hawaii in perspective.
Discover Japanese Influences
Japanese immigrants brought their culture and religion to Hawaii, and you’ll find influences on every island you visit. On Maui, the Jodo Mission in Lahaina boasts one of the world’s largest Buddha statues outside of Japan. Set against a backdrop of lush palms and misty mountains, the serene copper Buddha, pagoda, and surrounding gardens offer a peaceful escape from the bustle of this vibrant port town.
For more gorgeous Japanese gardens, head to the Liliu'okalani Gardens in Hilo. Named for Hawaii’s last reigning monarch, this 25-acre park was dedicated in 1917 to the island’s first Japanese immigrants who arrived to work sugar cane plantations. Set out on a leisurely stroll and discover arching bridges, a teahouse, torii gates, fishponds, and stunning views of Hilo Bay. Grab a poke bowl or fresh sushi and have a picnic on picturesque Coconut Island in the park.
See it from a different perspective
With so much breathtaking natural beauty, Hawaii deserves to be explored from every angle—and our immersive shore excursions are just the ticket! In Honolulu, take to the skies on a thrilling helicopter tour of the island of Oahu. Get a bird’s-eye view of the USS Arizona Memorial as you soar over Pearl Harbor. Marking the final resting place of over 1,000 sailors and marines, you’ll learn about one of the most pivotal moments in American history. You’ll also fly over pineapple plantations, Nuuanu Valley Rainforest, and Diamond Head State Monument. This ancient volcanic tuff cone is impressive enough from the ground, but gazing down into its interior and beyond Waikiki Beach is an unforgettable experience.
In Lahaina, go beneath the waves on an incredible submarine adventure. This state-of-the-art submarine dives 125 feet to explore Maui’s coral reefs and sunken ships. Oversized portholes give you a window on this enchanting underwater world. Watch as rainbow-hued tropical fish swim by, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a whale or two!
Get up close with an active volcano
While Diamond Head is a sleeping giant in terms of volcanoes, Mount Kilauea is a feisty firecracker. In Hilo, head south of town to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to discover this incredible active volcano and a UNESCO World Biosphere and Heritage site. Start by trekking through a dewy rainforest 4,300 feet above sea level, with crashing waterfalls and blooming botanical gardens. Then, pass through the Thurston Lava Tube. This tunnel was carved out by an ancient lava stream, and showcases the impressive power of nature. On this bucket list-worthy excursion, you’ll also get to see molten lava ooze into the bright sea below.
For a volcanic venture that’s more low-key, Volcano Winery (also outside of Hilo) is unlike any vineyard you’ve ever visited. Nestled in the highlands, the winery uses rich volcanic soil and tangy tropical fruits like white guava and tangy jaboticaba berries to create some truly exotic white wines. Ever heard of tea wine? Volcano Winery is famous for it, so be sure to sample some during your tasting session.
Now that you’ve got ample inspiration for a Hawaii vacation, it’s time to cruise! In 2020, our 18-Night Hawaii & Tahiti Voyage is the perfect way to experience the very best of Hawaii and the South Pacific.
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