As far as island destinations go, it is hard to beat Hawaii. It is unlike any other travel destination, from its spectacular beaches to the local culture, breathtaking landscapes, and awe-inspiring sunsets.
It is the total package. Whether you are used to luxurious resorts or prefer to stay at affordable accommodation options, you will enjoy gorgeous scenery, get up close exotic marine life, luxuriate in the perfect climate, embark on exciting adventures and family-friendly activities, and savour a mix of regional and international cuisines.
But with several islands to choose from – each with its own unique offerings – choosing which islands to visit on your first trip to Hawaii won’t be an easy task. Additionally, determining which sights and activities to prioritise can be time-consuming and overwhelming. So take the stress out of planning your first trip to Hawaii with this 8-day itinerary that covers all the top attractions and things to do in Oahu, Kauai, and Maui.
Day 1: Oahu – Honolulu, Waikiki Beach, and Diamond Head Crater
While some travel blogs might suggest you skip Honolulu in favour of less touristy destinations in Hawaii, it is a must-visit for first-time visitors to Hawaii. The state capital offers a plethora of attractions – fabulous beaches, volcanic craters, historic and cultural sites, and a bustling nightlife.
Start your day early with a hike that will take you all the way to the summit of the Diamond Head Crater. The Diamond Head, a site of great cultural and spiritual importance to the locals, is one of the most popular landmarks of Hawaii. You can actually drive all the way to the crater floor but for a more scenic experience, opt for the very doable hike from the visitor’s station to the summit. There are food trucks at the visitor centre so if you’re peckish, it would be wise to grab a bite to eat before you proceed.
You will come across several vantage points that offers great views of Waikiki Beach but it is the views from the summit that will take your breath away. The return hike will take you about 2 hours to complete.
After your visit to the Diamond Head Crater, it is time to explore one of the most popular beaches in the world, Waikiki Beach. Waikiki Beach is a 3.2- kilometre stretch of white sand, from Sheraton Waikiki all the way to Queen’s Beach. You can spend the rest of the day exploring its length.
Because this part of Honolulu is always packed with tourists, the vibe is fun, energetic, and lively rather than relaxing. You’ll never run of out interesting things to do – swim, surf, shop, or just relax at one of open-air beach bars. For lunch and dinner, you will have so many options to choose from. Check out the array of dining options at the Ala Moana Center, Honolulu’s leading shopping center and the largest open-air shopping mall in the world.
Day 2: Oahu – Hanauma Bay and Dole Plantation
Spend your 2nd day in Hawaii exploring Hanauma Bay and the Dole Plantation. You will be outdoors so do not forget to pack sunscreen, clothes, water, food, towels, and a life vest if you need one. Don’t bother bringing snorkel gear with you because you can just rent them there.
Head to Hanauma Bay, definitely one of the best snorkeling spots in Oahu. Go there early because they limit the number visitors in the marine park. Spend a few hours swimming in the shallow, crystal-clear, and calm waters of the bay in the company of sea turtles and tropical fishes.
After Hanauma Bay, take the hour-long trip towards Dole Plantation, one of the most-visited attractions in Oahu. A trip to the plantation is a fun, learning experience. Join tours that will take you around the place and learn a thing or two about growing, harvesting, and processing pineapples. You’ll also get to taste the world-famous Dole pineapples as well as the Dole Whip, the frozen non-dairy dessert the plantation is known for. The classic pineapple flavour is heavenly but the other fruit flavours are also worth a try.
The Oahu Grand Circle Island Tour is highly recommended for travellers who want to have an astounding range of experiences in one day. In a span of 9 hours, you will embark on a 120-mile adventure to see the pristine beaches of Hanauma Bay, see the iconic Diamond Head Crater, and visit the Dole Pineapple Plantation and other popular attractions in Oahu.
Day 3: Oahu – Pearl Harbor Historic Sites
The Pearl Harbor Historic Sites are considered some of the most important attractions in the United States and a must for every visitor to Hawaii. You need to spend a whole day to fully experience what Pearl Harbor offers. Remember to go really early to beat the crowds. And of course, you want to arrive at the sites before tickets run out. Furthermore, you cannot bring your bags inside the historic sites so you’ll have to leave your bags at the baggage storage area for a minimal amount. You don’t have to worry about food while visiting Pearl Harbor because there are restaurants and food stands on site.
Your first stop should be the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. It houses museums where you’ll learn about the 1941 event that claimed more than 2,400 American lives. There are many educational materials that you can access for free so it is a good idea to have background knowledge before proceeding to the other historic sites. You can even climb up the USS Bowfin at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park and explore the exhibits at the Pacific Submarine Museum.
After exploring the museums at the Visitor Center, head to the USS Arizona Memorial. Admission to the memorial is free and you can spend more than an hour there. Watch the 25-minute documentary about the Pearl Harbor attack before hopping on the boat that will take you to the memorial.
The next sites you will visit are Battleship Missouri Memorial and the Pacific Aviation Museum, both on Ford Island. You will have to take a shuttle bus to get there. There’s a shuttle bus departing from the Visitor Center every 15 minutes.
The USS Missouri is the last battleship built by the US Navy and was the site of the Japanese surrender, formally ending WWII. There are different types of tours available and you can choose between a guided tour, an audio tour, or a self-guided walking tour of the battleship. The Pacific Aviation Museum, on the other hand, is housed within two WWII hangars. Explore the museum’s exhibits to gain perspective on the 1941 attack.
The USS Missouri, Arizona Memorial, & Pearl Harbor tour is a must when visiting Hawaii. Skip the lines and save time at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites like the Arizona Memorial and Pearl Harbor Visitor Centre and even take a guided tour inside the the majestic USS Missouri. You will also visit historic buildings in Honolulu like the Kawaiahao Church and see the Punchbowl National Cemetery during this half-day tour.
Day 4: Oahu – Oahu’s Scenic Southeast Shore
Your 4th day in Oahu should be an epic one. With a camera in tow, hit the road for one of the most epic journeys of your life. Head towards Oahu’s southeast shore until you reach the Lanai Lookout on Kalanianole Highway. On a clear day, the lookout point offers amazing views of the islands of Lanai and Molokai.
A very short distance from the Lanai Lookout is the Halona Blowhole Lookout, where you can marvel at the Halona Blowhole, an amazing spectacle that’s one of Oahu’s most popular natural attractions. Beside the blowhole and hidden beneath the highway is Cockroach Beach, a small cove that’s great for a swim when the surf is calm.
Your next stop is Sandy Beach, considered one of the best bodyboarding beaches in Hawaii. Known for incredibly powerful waves and shorebreaks, the beach although beautiful, isn’t one you’d want to swim in.
Further along the Kalanianaole Highway – about 5 mins from Sandy Beach – is Makapu‘u Point Lighthouse Trail. Follow the trail to experience for a scenic, hugely satisfying hike that will take you to the lighthouse and viewing area where you will be met by amazing views of Koko Head Crater, Makapu’u Beach, Sandy Beach, and even the island of Molokai. It is also a great spot for whale-watching during the winter months.
You also have the option to stop at the Makapu’u Lookout for more amazing views of the coastline before heading to Waimanalo Beach, another must-visit beach in Oahu. Unlike Sandy Beach, Waimanalo Beach is safe for both swimming and surfing.
Take Highway 61 during your drive back to Honolulu so you’ll get to stop at Pali Lookout. The lookout offers the best sweeping views of Oahu’s Windward side in addition to unparalleled views of Kailua, Kaneohe, and Kaneohe Bay.
The Mini Circle Island Tour with Scenic Shores will satisfy all your fantasies about the ultimate island getaway in Hawaii. See attractions like the picturesque Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head Crater, Sandy Beach, and Halona Blowhole. You’ll also take in scenic vistas from different lookout points and enjoy food tastings at select locations during the tour.
Day 5: Kauai – Waimea Canyon and Wailua River
From Honololu, fly to the island of Kauai. Fondly called the Garden Island, Kauai is home to lush tropical rainforests, emerald-green valleys, jagged cliffs, and pristine beaches, in addition to the breathtaking Waimea Canyon, one of the most beautiful canyons in the world.
To fully experience the natural beauty of the tropical paradise that’s widely regarded as the ultimate destination in the Hawaiian Islands, we suggest taking a full-day tour that covers the island’s highlights – Waimea Canyon, Hanapepe Valley, Wailua River plus stops at local attractions like the Spouting Horn Blowhole, the Koloa Sugar Mill, Nawiliwili Harbor, Coco Palms Grove, and Queen Victoria’s profile.
Enjoy your scenic drive towards the rim of the 10-mile-long red lava rock canyon to admire its colour and impressive geological features. You’ll also get to drive by Poipu, home to the the Spouting Horn Blowhole.
Next, you’ll head to Wailua River, the largest and longest river in the island. Hop on a flat-bottomed boat for your scenic cruise down the length of the river and see the Fern Grotto, ‘Opaeka’a Falls, the Royal Birthstones, and other attractions within the Wailua River State Park.
If you’ve chosen Oahu as your base, experience more of Hawaii by booking the Day Tip to Kauai from Oahu. The full day guided tour includes roundtrip tickets to and from Kauai via Hawaiian Air, a Wailua River cruise, and visits to scenic attractions such as the Waimea Canyon, Hanapepe Valley, Spouting Horn Blowhole, Fern Grotto, and ‘Opaeka’a Falls, in addition to historical and geological landmarks.
Day 6: Kauai – Kauai Filming Locations
A long list of blockbuster movies have been filmed in Kauai. And for your last day in the island, you will be visiting different filming locations and stand in the same spots where scenes from blockbuster films Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Blue Hawaii, South Pacific, and Six Days, Seven Nights were shot.
While you can rent a car and drive to these locations on your own, we suggest you visit them on a tour so you need not worry about stuff like directions and parking and just sit back and have a fantastic experience.
There are many locations to explore in Kauai. Must-visits are Coco Palms, Menehune Fishpond, Aliomanu, Poipu at Kipu Kai, Haupu Ridge, Kealia Overlook, Otsuka’s, Hanamalu Bay, and Ahukini Pier, Opaeka’a Falls, Makaiwa Resort Quest, Hanalei Valley Lookout, Ching Young Village, Lumahai Beach, and Hanalei Pier.
Coco Palms was used in Blue Hawaii, a 1961 box office film starring Elvis Presley while South Pacific, filmed in 1957, featured Lumahai Beach and Hanalei Bay. Menehune Fishpond, a historic fishpond near Huleia National Wildlife Refuge, was a filming location for Raiders of the Lost Ark, a 1981 film by Steven Spielberg. Scenes of Six Days, Seven Nights and Jurassic Park were filmed in Kipu Kai while Hanamalu Bay was featured in the 1963 romantic comedy film Donovan’s Reef.
The Kauai Movie Adventure Tour is specially geared for movie buffs and outdoor lovers who would want to experience key filming locations set in the Hawaiian Islands. On this activity-packed guided tour, you will journey to a total of 15 exciting movie locations featured in blockbuster films such as Jurassic Park, Six Days, Seven Nights, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Donovan’s Reef, Blue Hawaii, and many more. Lunch and hotel pickup and drop off are also provided during the tour.
Day 7: Maui – Haleakala Volcano and Iao Valley
Finally, it is time to explore Maui, the last leg of your journey. The moment you arrive at Kahului airport from Lihue, Kauai, you can start getting excited about the wonderful memories you will be creating in Maui.
The first attraction you should see when in Maui is Haleakala Volcano. You can drive yourself to the summit of the volcano or join a tour. The climb is an opportunity for you to view the sunrise or sunset from over 10,000 feet above sea level. Remember to wear warm clothing because it can get very cold and windy at the Kaleahala National Park. You will pass by several lookout points when you descend.
After Haleakala National Park, you still have time to visit another famous Maui attraction, Iao Valley State Park, where you will enjoy amazing views of the Iao Needle, the plant-covered volcanic monolith which is one of Maui’s most popular landmarks.
Experience the best of Central Maui with the Haleakala, Central Maui & Iao Valley Tour. The guided day tour will let you explore the Haleakala National Park, see the Iao Needle, visit historic Wailuku, and admire flower farms and sugar cane fields. To ensure your maximum comfort during your scenic adventure, hotel pick-up and drop-off are conveniently provided.
Day 8: Maui – Road to Hana
A scenic drive along the Road to Hana is another must-do activity when visiting Maui for the first time. You will encounter nothing but amazing scenery and breathtaking views at every turn – tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, black sand beaches, and probably the most stunning stretch of coastline you’ll see in your lifetime. There are a number of attractions you can visit before reaching the town of Hana, among them a lava tube, arboretums, lookout points, a state park, hiking trails, and a historic church.
The whole journey is about 64.4 miles and will take you approximately 3 hours to complete. The note that the Hana highway can get very narrow with many twists and turns and one-lane bridges. If you’re taking a rental car, you will have to stay focused while driving. So if you want a more relaxing journey, take a bus tour instead.
And lastly, you can’t say you have truly visited Maui without experiencing a luau. A luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast that is all about camaraderie and hospitality and is the perfect way to end your vacation on a good note. Everything about the luau – from the food to the live performances and decorations showcases Pacific Island traditions and culture. You will dine on traditional dishes like kalua pig (pig roasted in an underground over) and poi (fermented taro root) as you watch skilled performers perform the ancient hula.
The Maui Hana Adventure Tour Gold is the tour for you if you want to experience an unforgettable road trip along the idyllic Road to Hana. This guided day tour is inclusive of admission fees, hotel pick up and drop off, breakfast, and lunch.