Five Things to Do On Your First Hawaii Vacation

A group of people kayaking in the ocean near a mountain during a Hawaii vacation.

Although Hawaii is hands-down the most popular honeymoon destination in the United States (three of the islands are among the top five honeymoons as listed by US News and World Report), and more than 8 million people visit Hawaii every year, there are still lots of folks who have not experienced the islands’ tropical delights. If you’re one of those, it’s definitely time to change your visitor status and plan your first trip to America’s 50th state.

First, though, you should know that there are six major inhabited islands within the state—each with distinct characteristics and unique reasons to visit. From Hawaii, the main and largest island, with its volcanoes and coffee farms, to the “garden island” of Kauai, which boasts dramatic canyons and spectacular waterfalls, you’re sure to find an island (or two or three) that fits you and your travel companions’ vacation expectations.

No matter where your airplane or cruise ship drops you off (remember, Hawaii is completely surrounded by the beautiful blue-green waters of the Pacific, so you can only reach it by air or sea), be sure to add some of these must-do activities to your agenda.

Catch a wave

No matter where you go within the Hawaiian islands, you’re never too far from the ocean and everything it has to offer. The state boasts over 1000 miles of coastline and features 100 incredible beaches. Of course, relaxing on the sand under the hot Hawaiian sun sounds wonderful, but if you’re looking for other ways to enjoy the water, how about taking bodyboarding, stand-up boarding, or surf lessons in Waikiki?

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A surfer riding a wave while on a Hawaii vacation.

Any of these activities will be fun in the sun, and lessons range from beginner to advanced. You can even learn the basics in as little as an hour!

Swim with the fishes

Speaking of water, there’s definitely a reason that Huffington Post recently dubbed Hawaii as a “snorkeler’s heaven.” With an ample share of sheltered bays, shallow tide pools, enclosed coves, and volcanic crater crescents encircling transparent turquoise waters, there are plenty of wave- and current-free spots across the many islands to fulfill all of your snorkeling desires.

A school of fish swimming on a coral reef during a Hawaii vacation.

Even inexperienced snorkelers will safely enjoy exploring the scenery of colorful, living coral and sharing the waters with dolphins, sea turtles, and schools of fish.

Hula like a native

Tell the truth. When you think of Hawaii, you immediately envision coconuts, leis, grass skirt-clad hula girls, right? You can enjoy all three—plus some grass-skirted guys, too—when you partake in Maui luaus.

Hawaiian hula dancers performing at sunset during a Hawaii Vacation.

Luaus are Hawaiian parties, complete with food, drink, and lots of traditional entertainment, including singing native Hawaiian songs, knife-throwing, and, of course, hula dancing. Often held at beachside in the evenings, luaus are a perfect way to wind down after an adventurous day on any of the islands.

Visit a volcano

The Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic activity hundreds of thousands of years ago, so exploring the volcanic sites, lava formations, and craters should definitely make it to your must-do list during your visit. The National Park Service recently reopened the Hawaii Volcanoes site on the big island after Kilauea volcano spewed steam and lava earlier this year.

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A group of people on a Hawaii Vacation watching a lava flow.

Although breathtaking, volcanoes can be dangerous—not just because of hot lava and steam, but also thanks to the craggy rocks that are formed by cooled lava and shifted earth—so it’s best to take part in a guided tour or visit the national park to gaze at the volcanic glory.

Honor the heroes

The island of Oahu is often called “the gathering place;” it is located halfway between the Japanese coast and the western coast of the United States and is a bustling city featuring a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures. It’s also home to Pearl Harbor, an active military base, headquarters of the Pacific fleet, and a national historic landmark paying homage to the many heroes who lost their lives during the December 7, 1941 surprise Japanese attack.

A statue of an anchor in front of a body of water during a Hawaii vacation.

A visit to this awe-inspiring site would be the perfect way to end your Hawaiian vacation, remembering the day that forever changed the lives of so many of our grandparents and great-grandparents. Schedule at least a half-day to enjoy everything this site has to offer, including the USS Arizona monument (constructed over the submerged wreckage of the ship), the Battleship Missouri memorial, the USS Bowfin submarine museum, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.

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