Hawaii is a dream destination for many. It is exotic and
warm and full of daydream-worthy landscapes that are constantly featured in
calendar images on computer desktops around the world. Since it's a part of the
United States, Americans don't need a passport to visit Hawaii, and yet the
state feels worlds away from the rest of the country.
Chances are that Hawaii is probably on your bucket list too.
But, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to go on an expensive cruise or
book a guided tour to properly enjoy these islands.
Here are some things you can do in Hawaii on your own,
without a tour guide:
Exploring Hawaii on your own terms is quite easy. You can
rent a car on nearly every island and then seek out the places that interest
you most. Find those secluded beaches and jungle overlooks on your own
schedule, and stop at whatever towns or attractions sound appealing to you.
Some rental car agencies have pre-programmed driving guides with their GPS
systems, like on Maui. There the little voice in the box will guide you around
this beautiful island, from the Road to Hana to Haleakala.
Popular road trips:
- Drive from Honolulu to the North Shore of Oahu via the
island's windward side and the town of Kaneohe, enjoying the Ko'olau mountain
range and perhaps stopping at the Byodo-in Temple.
- Drive the Road to Hana on Maui, enjoying 52 miles of bamboo
groves, waterfalls, ocean views, and more.
- On the Big Island, drive yourself along the Hamakua Coast
from Hilo to Waipio Valley for some great coastal views, or take yourself to
Volcanoes National Park.
With seemingly endless stretches of coastline and some
monster waves, Hawaii is known as one of the premier surfing destinations in
the world – in fact, it's said that the sport was “born” in these waters.
Whether you want to take a lesson yourself or just watch the pros at work,
there are ample spots to suit would-be surfers on nearly every island.
Popular surf spots:
The North Shore of Oahu is where you'll find the 30-foot
waves and roiling pipelines, though beaches like Sunset and Laniakea are best
left to the pros.
- You can book regular surfing and paddleboarding lessons at
iconic Waikiki Beach.
- Hanalei Bay on Kauai is known for both its beautiful beach and
its decent waves.
Rent a set of mask and flippers (or, better yet, bring your
own), and you can snorkel to you heart's content all over the Hawaiian Islands.
Keep an eye out for everything from green sea turtles (honu) to Hawaii's state
fish, the colorful reef triggerfish (the humuhumunukunukuāpuaʻa in Hawaiian).
Popular snorkeling spots:
- Horseshoe-shaped Hanauma Bay on Oahu is a protected nature
reserve that is a popular snorkeling spot suitable for the whole family (there
is a fee to visit here, though).
- Kahaluu Beach (AKA Snorkel Beach) on the Big Island is one
of the top snorkeling destinations in Hawaii thanks to a seawall that protects
the beach and makes the water quite calm.
- On Kauai, Anini Beach Park is the place to go since it is protected
by the largest coral reef in Hawaii (meaning calm water and lots of sea life).
You may not immediately associate Hawaii with great hiking,
but there are actually quite a few diverse hikes here. Whether it's jungle,
mountains, coastline, or volcanoes that interest you, Hawaii has a trek for
you. In fact, the different ecosystems found around the islands surprises many
first-time visitors. Hawaii is not just about palms swaying in the afternoon
breeze, there are also dense forests, epic mountains and areas that look more
like the Pacific Northwest than an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
- Hike to the summit of Diamond Head on Oahu for great views
and a sense of accomplishment.
- Hike a portion of the Kalalau Trail along the coastline of
Kauai; this 11-mile trek is known as “the” hike to do on Kauai.
- Hike across an active volcano on the Big Island, tackling
the 4-mile Kilauea Iki Trail within Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
- On Lanai venture out along the Koloiki Ridge Trail where you
will experience some of the most beautiful landscapes on the island and where
you might be able to spot a reclusive mouflon or two.
Explore Hawaiian food
Lastly, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without trying
some of the state's unique food. Cultures around the world have helped shape
Hawaii’s unusual culinary traditions, including Polynesian, Chinese and
distinct Japanese influences.
Popular foods to try:
- Loco moco – basically a hamburger patty topped with a fried
egg and gravy, served over rice.
- Kalua pig – pork traditionally cooked in the ground on a bed
of hot stones.
- Poke (pronounced poh-kay) – a raw fish dish usually made
with ahi (tuna); similar to ceviche.
- Poi – mashed taro root.
- Malasada – deep-fried sweet yeast dough that actually has
- Shaved ice – like a snowcone, but way better.
- Spam – After World War II a glut of canned meat supplies
meant that Hawaiians had to learn to enjoy this unusual ingredient. Today it’s
an integral part of Hawaiian soul food and you’ll find dishes incorporating the
mystery meat everywhere from McDonald’s to high-end restaurants.
You can even do tour-like activities on your own in Hawaii,
especially if you have a car. Visit Pearl Harbor on your own, check out the
Polynesian Cultural Center, take a helicopter ride on Maui, or go horseback
riding on Lanai. In Hawaii, the non-tour options really are endless.
What's at the top of YOUR Hawaii wish list?