Hawaii First Time Visitor Guide

by Malia Yoshioka on February 15, 2012

by Malia Yoshioka | February 15th, 2012  

So you’re planning your first trip to Hawaii? Great! We’ve all seen the iconic images of pristine white sand beaches, gently swaying palm trees, and tropical drinks sipped as the sun sets on the horizon. But before you receive that first fresh lei greeting off the plane, you’ll have a little bit of planning to do. Here we’ll take you step-by-step through planning your trip to Hawaii.

When to go?

While you can find Hawaiian sunshine just about every day of the year, the summer tends to be slightly warmer and drier than the winter, when the rainy season takes over. Summer is also prime time for crowds so if you’re looking to avoid those, you may want to stick to the shoulder seasons during the spring or fall. If your itinerary includes seasonal activities, like checking out the big wave surf contests or whale watching, you’ll want to take that into account as well.

>> Get the details on Weather in Hawaii
>> View our full article on When to go to Hawaii
>> Get the basics with general Information on Hawaii such as costs

Which island should you choose?

Each Hawaiian Island has it’s own unique charm and attractions. The state capitol of Honolulu lies on the island of Oahu, along with the best nightlife, and the largest variety of restaurants and shopping centers. Hawaii’s Big Island is where you will find the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. On Maui, you can drive the famous Road to Hana. If you love the outdoors, Kauai’s north shore has a wide array of hiking trails for both novice and experienced hikers. If you are looking for a slower pace or a more “off the beaten path” experience, try Lanai or Molokai, where you can often feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.

>> Check out our Maps of Hawaii
>>See our island guides for more information: Oahu (Honolulu), Maui, Hawaii Island (The Big Island), Kauai, Lanai, Molokai.

Getting to Hawaii

Since Hawaii is separated by thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean from the next major land mass, it comes as no surprise that a vast majority of visitors to the islands arrive by plane. While Honolulu International Airport has long been the major hub for travelers, especially international visitors, the neighbor islands have seen increases in flight capacity from the US Mainland as well as overseas. It’s also quite common for people to fly open-jaws, starting their trip on one island, then hopping over to one or two more before leaving from a different airport. It’s worth comparing this as an option, even if its slightly more expensive, as flying round trip interisland (in addition to your round trip TO the islands) will eat up valuable travel time that you could spend working on your tan!

>> See our complete list of
>> Search for
cheap flights to Hawaii
>> For an alternative to flying, check out

Accommodation in Hawaii

While many dream about an ocean-front balcony in a posh hotel, there are many other options for accommodations in Hawaii. Not to say that luxurious options can’t be found, but a Hawaii vacation doesn’t need to break the bank. If you’re traveling with a group or in a family, you may want to consider vacation rentals in order to cook some of your own meals and stretch your budget. Couples looking for a romantic retreat may opt to stay at a Bed & Breakfast rather than a resort. Budget travelers will be happy to know that there are hostels popping up around the islands, many with access to fun organized activities and tours. If you don’t mind getting a little dirty, you may even want to consider volunteering on an organic farm, or WOOFing.

>> More information on Hotels in Hawaii
>> More information on Hostels in Hawaii
>> More information on Vacation Rentals in Hawaii
>> More information on Accommodation in Hawaii

Getting Around in Hawaii

If you’re visiting the island of Oahu, you’ll have the widest options for public transportation because of an extensive island-wide bus system called, cleverly, The Bus. Otherwise, you’ll probably want to look into renting a car during your trip, even just for a day or two, so that you’ll be able to explore the area outside your home base. If you’re taking interisland trips, you will likely get around by air, with the exception of the ferries which run between Maui, Molokai, and Lanai.

>> More information on Car Rental in Hawaii
>> More information on Bus Travel in Hawaii
>> More information on Ferry Travel in Hawaii

Things to do in Hawaii

Once you’re here, there’s no shortage of things to fill your days and nights, and the beauty of a Hawaiian vacation is that you can choose to do as much or as little as you like. Active types may want to get out and try their hand at surfing, stand up paddle boarding, ziplining, biking or hiking. Sun worshippers will enjoy lounging on one of Hawaii’s pristine beaches. Take in some culture or opt for an organized or a visit to one of Hawaii’s historic sites. From December through March, sign yourself up for a whale watch cruise. You may want to go shopping for souvenirs to take back a little piece of Hawaii for your friends back home. After the sun sets, take in a luau show or explore Honolulu’s nightlife.

>> More information on Things to do in Hawaii
>> Check out our Itinerary Suggestions: 3 Days in Maui
>> Check out our Itinerary Suggestions: The Perfect 2 Weeks in Hawaii

driving photo by Alex1961

{ 1 comment }

Ruth May 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm
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Thanks for writing this post! I’m hoping to plan a trip to Hawaii sometime in the next year and now I feel like I have more of a starting point in the planning process. You talked about crowds during the different seasons–do you notice much difference in prices of plane tickets from season to season? Is it cheaper to fly to Hawaii in the winter? Thanks for your feedback!

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