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From stunning beaches and volcanoes to waterfalls and wildlife, each of Hawaii’s six major islands has its own beauty and charm. Here’s a brief rundown of what to do and where to eat and stay on each.
Perhaps best known for stunning beaches and the humpback whales that make its waters their winter home, Maui offers a plethora of fantastic ways to fill vacation days.
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Top Things to Do
Snorkeling. Maui is a gorgeous spot for snorkelers. Teralani Sailing Adventures operates relaxing snorkeling cruises with barbecue lunches and an open bar, boarding at West Maui’s Kaanapali Beach. For a more adventurous day on the water, Redline Rafting Co. runs snorkeling tours to the islet of Molokini on small, fast Zodiac boats. Departing at 7 a.m. from Kihei in South Maui, the excursion includes the often-skipped backside of Molokini Crater. (On one early morning snorkeling adventure, I saw two Hawaiian monk seals, among the most endangered seal species in the world.) Hale Huaka'i at Kaanapali Beach Hotel offers outrigger canoe paddling experiences infused with Hawaiian traditions and history.
Road to Hana. For drivers considering braving the Road to Hana, with its legendary cascading waterfalls, reservations are now required to visit Waianapanapa State Park and its stunning black sand beach.
Cacao farm visit. Maui Kuia Estate Chocolate offers tasty tours of its working cacao farm located on the slopes of the West Maui Mountains. One hundred percent of the company’s net profits are donated to Maui charities and nonprofit community organizations. Front Street, in nearby Lahaina, is lined with more shopping opportunities, dozens of restaurants and the largest banyan tree in the United States.
Accommodations and dining
There are scads of hotels and rentals on Maui, with the major resort areas being the Kaanapali Beach Resort in West Maui and the Wailea Resort Association in South Maui. Just opened in late May, the AC Hotel by Marriott Maui Wailea is the brand’s first location in Hawaii. Sleek, contemporary and infused with Hawaiian design, the newcomer isn’t oceanfront, though most of its accommodations boast ocean views.
Set steps off the beach the Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Kaanapali features 770 rooms spread across 12 acres with lush gardens, waterfalls, flamingos and six pools. The newly opened onsite restaurant, Waicoco, serves a seafood-focused dinner menu Wednesday through Sunday and breakfast daily.
The Sandbar at the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa is an ideal location to the watch the cliff-dive ceremony at Puu Kekaa (Black Rock) and the sunset while enjoying pupus (appetizers) and cocktails.
For dining, Star Noodle, the Mala Ocean Tavern and the Paia Fish Market are just a few of the standout dining options in Lahaina. The Paia Fish Market doesn’t take reservations, but it's worth a wait.
Oahu offers Hawaii’s take on big city living. Bustling Waikiki is home to high-rise hotels, restaurants, shopping and one of the world’s most famous beaches. Day trips deliver entertaining doses of culture and history.
Things to do
Pearl Harbor. You’ll want to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial (buy tickets before you arrive). History buffs should consider spending time at other Pearl Harbor historical sites, including the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and the Battleship Missouri Memorial.
Polynesian Cultural Center. Weave a fish of coconut leaves, taste poi or take a canoe ride at this cultural theme park, which also offers a luau and evening show with skilled fire knife dancers.
North Shore. After watching the surfers on the North Shore make the sport look easy, snorkel in the clear water of Shark’s Cove (don’t let the name scare you; sharks aren’t common here). Then head into charming Haleiwa, where you can shop, eat and cool off with shave ice from Matsumoto’s.