Travel

What to see and do in Hawai‘i

Waianapanapa beach on Maui The black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on the island of Maui.

Right in the heart of the Pacific, the remote and beautiful archipelago of Hawai‘i is about as fabled a vacation destination as they come.

Its scenery—palm and pandanus beaches, knife-back ridges cloaked in tropical vegetation, otherworldly volcanic craters and lava fields—is dreamlike, and its indigenous Polynesian culture is alive, strong, and fascinating. It’s easy to feel like you’re at the ends of the Earth in this tropical wonderland, which makes it all the more remarkable how quickly you can reach it from the West Coast.

To help guide us through the fundamentals and highlights of Hawai‘i travel, we turn to Susan Gildart, a AAA travel agent who needed only one trip to fall head over heels for the islands. “Hawai‘i is one of the most unique destinations in the world,” she says. “From volcanic mountains to the lush tropical landscapes, these exotic islands of paradise are just a flight away. No passport necessary!”

The different island have different testing and quarantine rules for travelers during the COVID-19, especially those traveling between Hawaiian islands. To simplfiy your trip, you may want to stick to visiting just 1 island. Here's a look at what the Big Island, O'ahu, Maui, and Kaua'i have to offer so you can make the best choice for you. 

Travel to Hawai‘i resumes with COVID-19 testing

Beginning October 15, visitors can travel to Hawai'i without quarantining if they meet certain preconditions. All travelers must also complete an online Safe Travels application, which collects health and travel information to protect visitors and residents.

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Travel to Hawaiʻi and get up to $750 back1

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AAA Travel Agent Susan Gildart

Travel agent spotlight

Susan Gildart is here to share her tips and insights on Hawai'i. AAA can help you plan the perfect trip to Hawai'i, or wherever your dream vacation is. Contact a AAA travel agent today, or visit a branch to meet with an agent or take advantage of other travel services.

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Fast facts

A map of Hawai'i

A chain of 8

The main Hawaiian islands are, from east to west, Hawai‘i (often called “the Big Island”), Maui, Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, O‘ahu, Kaua‘i, and Ni‘ihau. A string of uninhabited isles and atolls form the Northwestern Hawai‘ian Islands to the northwest of Ni‘ihau, including French Frigate Shoals and Midway Atoll.

Hawai‘i's hub

Honolulu on the island of O‘ahu is the capital and biggest city in Hawai‘i, and serves as a popular jumping-off point for explorations of the island chain.

Fun fact

The Hawaiian islands compose the most remote major landmass on the planet, with the nearest significant land—the western coast of North America and other Polynesian islands—more than 2,400 miles away.

What to see

An aerial view of Diamond Head on O'ahu with Honolulu in the background

Diamond Head (O‘ahu)

Lace up your sneakers (or hiking boots) and trek to the 761-foot summit of Diamond Head State Monument, where you'll be treated to spectacular 360-degree vistas of Waikiki. The hike is steep and you'll need to bring water and sun protection, but the breathtaking views make the effort worthwhile, and this is one of the best fun things to do with friends.

The USS Arizona Memorial at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor (O‘ahu)

On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes and submarines attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on the O‘ahu shore—the galvanizing event that ushered America into the Second World War. Today, this fateful lagoon falls within the Pearl Harbor National Memorial (formerly part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument), where you can reflect upon the military strike and its repercussions.

“I’d read about it, watched movies depicting it, and heard about it all my life,” Susan says. “But the emotions that come over you when you visit this sacred sight are truly hard to describe.”

Glowing lava at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (The Big Island)

One of the standout sites in the U.S. National Park Service, Hawai‘i Volcanoes encompasses a pair of extraordinary “fire mountains”: Mauna Loa, among the largest summits on Earth; and Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes. Kilauea, Susan notes, “is seen by millions of tourists each year, which makes it the most visited attraction in Hawai‘i and the most visited volcano in the world.”

From its bleakly beautiful craters to its thriving rainforest, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park is spellbinding. Kilauea stopped erupting in September 2018, and according to the National Park Service, there is no lava to see in the park as of October 2020. That could change on short notice, so be sure to check conditions before visiting. 

The Milky Way in the night sky above Mauna Kea in Hawai‘i

Mauna Kea (The Big Island)

It's no secret that this dormant volcano has great night skies—that's why its 13,800-foot summit is home to 13 telescopes, including some of the largest in the world. Since the summit is closed to the public at night, stargazers should head to the parking lot at the Maunakea Visitor Information Station at 9,200 feet. (The center itself is closed as of Oct. 19.) Nighttime temperatures at this elevation can fall below freezing, so dress warmly.

The Hana Highway on Maui

The Road to Hana (Maui)

Ranking among the world’s all-out beauty drives, the Road to Hana—aka the Hana Highway—runs some 65 miles between Kahului and Hana along Maui's northern coast. On tap is a magnificent distillation of some of Hawai‘i's defining scenery: abundant waterfalls, verdant plant life, postcard-perfect beaches, and ocean vistas: 

“The drive to Hana is definitely worth it,” Susan says. “For those who get carsick, though, you might want to refrain" or take motion-sickness medicine.

Read about the top 7 things to do on a Hana Highway road trip

The view atop Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui

Haleakala National Park (Maui)

The highest point on Maui, this 10,023-foot shield volcano dominates the island’s east and is the centerpiece of Haleakala National Park. This remarkable terrain stretches from the vast, windswept summit crater to the pounding surf of the Kipahulu coast. As the national park with the most endangered species in the country, Haleakala is teeming with unique beauty.

Read about the top 5 things to do at Haleakala National Park

A view of Waimea Canyon on Kaua‘i

Waimea Canyon (Kaua‘i)

The awe-inspiring Waimea Canyon in western Kaua'i is a gaping, colorful abyss more than 2,500 feet deep that you can goggle at from Highway 550, or drop into via an extensive trail network.

As Susan puts it: “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific—what more can you say but, ‘Spectacular!’ ”

The Na Pali coastline in Kaua‘i, Hawai‘i, as seen from the air

The Na Pali Coast (Kaua‘i)

Rejuvenate the soul with a sail hike, or helicopter tour along Kaua‘i's famous Na Pali Coast. Emerald green pinnacles extend upwards towards crystal skies for 17 miles. Velvety cliffs and fresh waterfalls line stupendous valleys. The terrain is as it has been for centuries: respected and revered by man.

Hawaii.svg

Get up to $900 in value on select Pleasant Holidays® vacations2

Receive up to $150 in value per booking3 during our triple member benefits promotion, and get up to $750 cash back1 when you book by December 31, 2020, for travel through December 2021.

Plus, for a limited time, earn 5x points4 when you use your AAA Member Rewards Visa® card to book your next Pleasant Holidays vacation.

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What to eat

Kalua pork

Traditional luau food

Communal cooking and feasting combined with music and dancing makes the luau one of the best-known cultural experiences in Hawai‘i. “This celebration of Hawaiian culture is not to be missed,” Susan says. Dishes at luaus often include kalua pig roasted in an underground oven, the taro-root starch known as poi, and the zestily seasoned raw fish called poke.

Spam musubi

Spam

Yes, you read that right: Spam, the humble canned meat brought to Hawai‘i by the U.S. military and enthusiastically adapted into local cuisine.

“Hawai‘i consumes more Spam than any other state,” Susan explains. “It can be found in many dishes, from Spam fried rice to Spam eggs. Hawai‘i even hosts a Spam festival each year.”

Bags of Kona coffee beans

Kona coffee

Among the most coveted Hawaiian exports is Kona coffee, grown on the rich volcanic slopes of the Big Island’s Kona Districts. Susan: “For coffee lovers, this is a must-try!”

Where to stay & how to get around

Hotels along Waikiki Beach on O‘ahu

Stay on O‘ahu

"In O‘ahu, consider iconic Waikiki Beach for surfing, shopping, and easy transportation around the island," Susan says. "If you’re in the mood for a quieter and more peaceful relaxation-focused getaway, Turtle Bay in the north may be more up your alley.”

A golf course in Wailea on Maui

Stay on Maui

“In Maui,” Susan says, “consider the Wailea area if you’re a golf enthusiast. For great stretches of beach, plentiful restaurants, and nightlife, look into the Ka'anapali area.”

A Jeep driving on a highway in Hawai‘i

Getting around the state

“If you are staying on O‘ahu near Waikiki Beach,” Susan says, “no car’s necessary as it is easy to get around the island via trolleys and city buses. On Maui, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island of Hawai‘i, renting a car is your best bet.”

AAA Travel Alert: Several countries, states, and cities have implemented travel and business restrictions due to COVID-19. Prior to making any travel reservations, please ensure that hotels, attractions, and restaurants are open. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information about your destination.

Travel offers and deals

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Travel to Hawai‘i and get up to $750 back1

Book a qualifying cruise or tour by Dec. 31 to get up to $750 back per booking.

View offer details

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Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

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1Travel Savings offer (“Offer”) only valid on new bookings with participating AAA preferred travel providers made through your local AAA club. Maximum one (1) travel credit per booking. Offer valid only on new bookings made on or after October 1, 2020 with full deposit no later than December 31, 2020 for travel commencing no later than December 31, 2021. Incentive will be provided to lead client/trip payee following trip departure. Bookings of $2,000 – $3,999 qualify to receive a $100 credit; bookings of $4,000 – $7,999 qualify to receive a $125 credit; bookings of $8,000 – $9,999 qualify to receive a $200 credit; bookings of $10,000 – $11,999 qualify to receive a $300 credit; bookings of $12,000 – $14,999 qualify to receive a $500 credit; bookings $15,000+ qualify to receive a $750 credit. Valid only on cruise or tour bookings provided through one of AAA’s preferred travel providers; not valid on Fly/Drive packages. Incentives cannot be substituted, are nonrefundable, and nontransferable. The promotion’s Gift Card merchants are subject to change at any time and are not endorsed by or affiliated with AAA, nor are such merchants considered sponsors or co-sponsors of this promotion.  AAA disclaims responsibility for any products or services purchased using a gift card provided under the promotion. Gift cards/certificates are subject to the issuing merchant’s terms and conditions, which are subject to change at merchant’s sole discretion. A U.S. address is required for delivery.

2The value listed is per booking and equals the total of the Triple Benefits Offer3, plus the total of the Travel Savings Offer.1

3Triple Member Benefit: Valid on new bookings made November 1 – December 31, 2020 for travel through December 31, 2021. Minimum five-night stay at participating AAA Vacations® properties required. $150 activity voucher (standard Member Benefit $50 activity voucher) is nonrefundable, nontransferable, has no cash value and applies to the following destinations: Mexico, Hawai’i, Central & South America and select Caribbean destinations. Savings not reflected in rates shown and applies to the following destinations: USA (excluding Hawai’i), Canada – $75 savings (standard Member Benefit $25 savings); Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Asia, select Caribbean destinations (Anguilla, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Curaçao, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Croix, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Martin and St. Maarten, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks & Caicos), Tahiti (French Polynesia), Fiji and Cook Islands – $150 savings (standard Member Benefit $50 savings).

4For information about rates, fees, other costs and benefits associated with the use of this credit card, or to apply, visit your local AAA and refer to the disclosures accompanying the application. Credit Card Travel Bonus Points Offer: You will earn 5 points per dollar spent (consisting of 4 bonus points and 1 base point) on Pleasant Holidays transaction(s) that have a transaction date from November 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Purchases made through merchants other than Pleasant Holidays will not qualify for the bonus points. Merchants are assigned a merchant category code (MCC) and merchant name. We do not determine which MCC or merchant name a merchant chooses to classify itself. Your purchase may not qualify to receive the bonus earn rate if the merchant does not process transactions under the MCC or merchant name that corresponds with the bonus. This promotion will not impact the standard earn rate on purchases or the bonus rewards offers on travel, gas, grocery store, wholesale club and drugstore purchases. The value of this reward may constitute taxable income to you. You may be issued an Internal Revenue Service Form 1099 (or other appropriate form) that reflects the value of such reward. Please consult your tax advisor, as neither Bank of America, nor its affiliates, provide tax advice. Bonus points earned as a result of this promotion will not receive any Preferred Rewards/Preferred Rewards for Wealth Management Program Bonuses. Details are available at bankofamerica.com/preferred-rewards. This credit card program is issued and administered by Bank of America, N.A. Visa is a registered trademark of Visa International Service Association and is used by the issuer pursuant to license from Visa U.S.A. Inc. AAA is a registered trademark of American Automobile Association, Inc. © 2020 Bank of America Corporation © 2020 AAA MAP3284708. Certain restrictions apply. Visit AAA.com/AAAVacations or your AAA Travel Agent for full details.

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