Known for its beauty, music, and sweet spirit, Hawaii is a traveling tourist's literal paradise. Most tourists plan vacations for a week to two weeks. There is too much there to see and do in such a short amount of time, but a lot can still be done.
Visiting the neighbor islands (Hawaii (or Big Island), Maui, Molokai, Lanai, and Kauai) is strongly recommended, as all of the islands have unique personalities and traits. For those interested in Niihau - sorry, it is not available to tourists. Kahoolawe is the smallest island, and is uninhabited. There are options to visit through many tourist agencies.
However, most visitors go to Oahu and stay in Honolulu. There is much to be done if you are planning a trip to Oahu.
A tip for military travellers, look into the the cabins on Pearl Harbor, Hickam AFB, and in Kaneohe. Ask about military discounts for car rentals, too. The cost-savings is substantial.
The following is a short list of some favorites, as well as some lesser known sites.
Swim with dolphins: This can be arranged through Sea Life Park.
Whale watching tours (specific to December through April). Several companies offer tours. Here's one of them -- Adventure in Hawaii.
Hanauma Bay (also known as the Toilet Bowl): This is a really unusual spot to watch the tides. Be careful of trying to body surf in there, though. Many a swimmer has been slammed to the surf.
Dole Plantation: Located near Schofield Barracks, this is a favorite tourist spot. The drive from Honolulu to Dole Plantation is lovely. Further north, you will eventually reach...
North Shore: This is a fun venue for surfing, sport fishing, shark-seeing, and other away-from-downtown attractions. A note of warning here, though. Up in the North Shore area are many "Locals Only" places - respect that. Living in Hawaii, there are tourists seemingly everywhere, all the time - and for locals, wanting a place that is strictly theirs is understandable.Oh, and please don't call the locals "natives" - they are no more "native" than you or me. Like anywhere you visit, a little bit of respect goes a long way.
The Polynesian Cultural Center: For a bit of history of the different Polynesian cultures, this is a spectacular place to visit for a day.
Paradise Cove: Most people envision luaus when they think of Hawaii. A luau is a feast that is incomparable to many dinner parties available on the mainland. While family-style luau is very different from tourist luau, Paradise Cove offers a glimpse into how cool the Hawaiian culture is, and is a very reasonably priced tourist luau.
The Stairway to Heaven: Located near Kaneohe, this is one of the coolest attractions around. Forbidden for climbing due to structural damage, it still a spectacular site. While on the windward side, be sure to visit...
Chinaman's Hat: There are many different stories and legends about this little island. A great place to stop and rest while taking in the scenery. Another gorgeous venue while visiting that side of the island is...
Kailua Beach: Kailua Beach is arguably the most beautiful beach on Oahu, and has been called the best beach in the world. On your way back to Honolulu, take a trip on the Pali Highway, and be sure to stop at...
The Pali Lookout: See one of Oahu's most breathtaking panoramic vistas. Take care up there, though, it gets very windy.
There are, of course, the staple tours of Hawaii that should be on every visiting tourist to-do list while there:
Pearl Harbor tours to the Arizona Memorial. On that same note, the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl is a beautiful and humbling place.
From all over Honolulu, Diamond Head, the most famous volcanic crater in the world, is visible. Looking at it from a distance, though, does the wonder that it is little justice. Take the hike - which is also an awesome workout.
Another great location is the Moanalua Gardens. Located near Tripler Army Medical Center (which I call the Big Pink Eyesore), the foundation's mission is to preserve native culture and environment of Hawaii through education. Oh, and it is exquisitely beautiful.
Fun shopping venues:
The Aloha Stadium Swap Meet is an extraordinarily huge swap meet, and a good half- to full-day adventure. Other fun places to shop are Ala Moana Shopping Center and the International Market Place.
No visit to Hawaii is complete without trying some of the "so ono" local kine grinds, and there are many great places to get it.
If you go to North Shore, there are a couple of places to get plate lunch, which is light fare, and quite yummy. Almost everywhere you can get real shave ice, which is heavenly. This is one of the more popular places for shave ice up in North Shore, but there are places pretty much all over.
Sam Choy's is a good restaurant.. As a tourist, getting there is easy, as it is located on Nimitz Highway (the road off the airport that becomes Ala Moana Boulevard as you get approach downtown Honolulu).
If you like sweet breads, then you will love Hawaiian sweet bread - and Leonard's bakery is one of the best.
Big Island Candy dipped shortbread cookies are a must have, they really are to die for. Hawaiian Host chocolate is decent also.
If you're set on macadamia nuts, Mauna Loa headquarters are on Big Island (Hawaii), but you can get them pretty much anywhere. One good location is in Aiea, which will also take you out of tourist central.
Be sure to try local favorites, like laulau, lomi salmon, and poi. A couple of suggestions for anyone who has never tasted poi - try eating it "baby style" the first time (with milk and sugar); or take a big bite of fish before you take a bite of poi. Poi is extremely healthy, and is a staple menu item in the islands, but you will likely get little warning about its texture or flavor (an understandable source of amusement for those who know).
For adults who enjoy a nice cocktail, the Lava Flow is tasty (basically a piña colada drizzled with strawberry) - but the classic Hawaiian cocktail is the famous Mai Tai. Mai Tai is delightful, but here is another word of sincere caution: they are so delicious and light to the tongue that their potency is extremely deceptive.
Other fun things to try are mochi crunch, iso peanuts, wasabi peas, li-hing pineapple and mango, and the list goes on and on. Most of these local kine snacks can be found at just about any ABC Store - which are all over downtown, too.
These are but a few things you can see and do while visiting Oahu. Aloha!