• Lanikai Beach (Oahu): Too gorgeous to be real, this stretch along the Windward Coast is one of Hawaii’s postcard-perfect beaches—a mile of golden sand as soft as powdered sugar bordering translucent turquoise waters. The waters are calm year round and excellent for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Two tiny offshore islands complete the picture, functioning not only as scenic backdrops,but also as bird sanctuaries.
• Hapuna Beach (Big Island): This half-mile-long crescent regularly wins kudos in the world’s top travel magazines as the most beautiful beach in Hawaii—some consider it one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. One look and you’ll see why: Perfect cream-colored sand slopes down to crystal-clear waters that are great for swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing in summer; come winter, waves thunder in like stampeding horses. The facilities for picnicking and camping are top-notch, and there’splenty of parking.
• Kapalua Beach (Maui): On an island with many great beaches, Kapalua takes the prize. This golden crescent with swaying palms is protected from strong winds and currents by two outstretched lava-rock promontories. Its calm waters are perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and kayaking. Facilities include showers, restrooms, and lifeguards.
• Papohaku Beach (Molokai): These gold sands stretch on for some 3 miles (it’s one of Hawaii’s longest beaches) and are about as wide as a football field. Offshore the ocean churns mightily in winter, but the waves die down in summer, making the calm waters inviting for swimming. It’s also great for picnicking, walking, and watching sunsets.
• Hulopoe Beach (Lanai): Thisgolden, palm-fringed beach off the south coast of Lanai gently slopes down to the azure waters of a Marine Life Conservation District, where clouds of tropical fish flourish and spinner dolphins come to play. A tide pool in the lava rocks defines one side of the bay, while the other is lorded over by the Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay, which sits prominently on the hill above. Offshore you’ll find good swimming, snorkeling, and diving; onshore there’s a full complement of beach facilities, from restrooms to camping areas.
• Haena Beach (Kauai): Backed by verdant cliffs, this curvaceous North Shore beach has starred as Paradise in many a movie. It’s easy to see why Hollywood loves Haena Beach, with its grainy golden sand and translucent turquoise waters. Summer months bring calm waters for swimming and snorkeling; winter brings mighty waves for surfers. There are plenty of facilities on hand, including picnic tables, restrooms, and showers.
Volcanoes: The entire island chain is made of volcanoes; don’t miss the opportunity to see one. On Oahu, the entire family can hike to the top of ancient, world-famous Diamond Head (. At the other end of the spectrum is fire-breathing Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the Big Island, where you can get an up-close-and-personal experience with the red-hot lava ooze .On Maui, Haleakala National Park provides a bird’s-eye view into a long dormant volcanic crater .
• Waterfalls: Rushing waterfalls thundering downward into sparkling freshwater pools are some of Hawaii’s most beautiful natural wonders. If you’re on the Big Island, stop by Rainbow Falls , in Hilo, or the spectacular 442-foot Akaka Falls, just outside Hilo. On Maui,the Road to Hana offers numerous viewing opportunities; at the end of the drive, you’ll find Oheo Gulch (also known as the Seven Sacred Pools), with some of the most dramatic and accessible waterfalls on the islands . Kauai is loaded with waterfalls, especially along the North Shore and in the Wailua area, where you’ll find 40-foot Opaekaa Falls, probably the best-looking drive-up waterfall on Kauai. With scenic mountain peaks in the background and a restored Hawaiian village on the nearby riverbanks, the Opaekaa Falls are what the tourist bureau folks call an eye-popping photo op.
• Gardens: The islands are redolent with the sweet scent of flowers. For a glimpse of the full breadth and beauty of Hawaii’s spectacular range of tropical flora, we suggest spending an afternoon at a lush garden. On Oahu, amid the high-rises of downtown Honolulu, the leafy oasis of Foster Botanical Garden showcases 26 native Hawaiian trees and the last stand of several rare trees, including an East African, whosewhite flowers bloom only at night. On the Big Island, Liliuokalani Gardens , the largest formal Japanese garden this side of Tokyo, resembles a postcard from Asia, with bonsai, carp ponds, pagodas, and even a moon-gate bridge. At Maui’s Kula Botanical Garden , you can take a leisurely self-guided stroll through more than 700 native and exotic plants, including orchids, proteas, and bromeliads. On lush Kauai, Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, on some 240 acres, is sprinkled with around 70 life-size (some larger-than-life-size) whimsical bronze statues, hidden off the beaten path of the North Shore.
• Marine Life Conservation Areas:
Nine underwater parks are spread across Hawaii, most notably Waikiki Beach and Hanauma Bay, on Oahu; Kealakekua Bay, on the Big Island; Molokini, just off the coast of Maui and Lanai’s Manele and Hulopoe bays. Be sure to bring snorkel gear to at least one of these wonderful places during your vacation.
• Garden of the Gods (Lanai): Out on Lanai’s north shore lies the ultimate rock garden: a rugged, barren, beautiful place full of rocks strewn by volcanic forces and molded by the elements into a variety of shapes and colors—brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. Scientists use phrases such as “ongoing posterosional event” or “plain and simple badlands” to describe the desolate, windswept place. The ancient Hawaiians, however, considered the Garden of the Gods to be an entirely supernatural phenomenon. Natural badlands or mystical garden? Take a four-wheel drive trip out here and decide for yourself.
• Waimea Canyon (Kauai): This valley, known for its reddish lava beds, reminds everyone who sees it of Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Kauai’s versionis bursting with ever-changing color, just like its namesake, but it’s smaller—only a mile wide, 3,567 feet deep, and 12 miles long. All this grandeur was caused by a massive earthquake that sent all the streams flowing into a single river, which then carved this picturesque canyon. You can stop by the road and look at it, hike down into it, or swoop through it by helicopter.
Want to Golf?
Mauna Kea & Hapuna GolfCourses (Big Island; 808-882-5400 for Mauna Kea Golf Course, 808-880-3000 for Hapuna Golf Course): The Mauna Kea Golf Course, located out on the Kohala Coast, is everyone’s old favorite. One of the first fields of play to be carved out of the black lava, the dramatic, always-challenging, par-72, 18-hole championship course is still one of Hawaii’s top three. The Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay–designed Hapuna Golf Course rests in the rolling foothills above Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and provides a memorable links-style golf experience along with one of the best views of this unusual coast.
• Mauna Lani Francis H. I’i Brown Championship Courses (Big Island; 808-885-6655): Mauna Lani’s two resort courses, North and South, feature a combination of oceanfront and interior lava-lined holes; both offer wonderful scenery accompanied by strategic, championship-level golf.
• Kapalua Resort (Maui; 877-KAPALUA): Kapalua is probably the best nationally known golf resort in Hawaii, thanks to the PGA Mercedes Championship played each January. The Bay and Village courses are vintage Arnold Palmer designs; the Plantation Course is a strong Ben Crenshaw/Bill Coore design.
• Wailea Golf Club (Maui; 808-875-7450): On Maui’s sun baked south shore stands Wailea Resort, the hot spot for golf in the islands. Three resort courses complement a string of beachfront hotels: The Blue Course is an Arthur Jack Snyder design, while Robert Trent Jones, Jr., is the mastermind behind the Emerald and Gold courses. All three boast outstanding views of the Pacific and the mid-Hawaiian islands.
• The Lanai Courses (Lanai): For quality and seclusion, nothing in Hawaii can touch Lanai’s two resort offerings. The Experience at Koele, designed by Ted Robinson and Greg Norman, and the Challenge at Manele, a wonderful Jack Nicklaus effort with ocean views from every hole, both rate among Hawaii’s best courses.
• Poipu Bay Golf Course (Kauai; 808-742-8711): On Kauai’s flat,dry south shore is a 210-acre, links style course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The course, which for years hosted the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, is not only scenically spectacular, but also a lot of fun to play. A flock of native Hawaiian nene geese frequents the course’s lakes, and you can often see whales, monk seals, and green sea turtles along the shore.
• Princeville Golf Club (Kauai; 800-826-1105): Here you’ll find 45 of the best tropical holes of golf in the world, all the work of Robert Trent Jones, Jr. They range along green bluffs below sharp mountain peaks and offer stunning views in every direction. The 18-hole Prince Course, one of the top three courses in Hawaii, provides a round of golf few ever forget—among 390 acres of scenic tableland bisected by tropical jungles, waterfalls, streams, and ravines.