Sunshine, big waves on white sand, and exotic cuisine make the 12-hour flight to the hawaiian volcanic archipelago well worth the effort

by Nubia DuVall Wilson

The dramatic cliffs of the Napali Coast on Kauai. The vibrant shores of Waikiki Beach on Oahu. The summit of Haleakala on Maui. Hawaii’s natural beauty alone makes it an ideal destination for a beach getaway. Popular with surfers and honeymooners, this Pacific Ocean destination also offers some of the best (and/or most laidback) luxury and cultural experiences, plus perfect weather all year long.

What To Know Before You Go

In addition to the “Big Island” (Hawaii), there are seven other islands that comprise our 50th State: from northwest to southeast, they are Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lānai, Kahoolawe, and Maui. The Honolulu International Airport is on Oahu, and is the major entry point for most visitors. Direct flights from the U.S. mainland to Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii island are also available, but you will most likely need to connect through Oahu to visit Lānai and Molokai.

The area follows Hawaii Standard Time, which is five hours behind Eastern Standard Time. Hawaii does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so add one extra hour to the time difference during this period (March through November).

Transportation options vary, but to really experience the bigger islands, rent a car. There is simply lovely weather year-round, with average temperatures between 75˚ to 85˚F. Summer is between April and November and is warmer and drier; winter runs from December to March, and is a bit cooler. Whale watching season begins in late December and ends in early May, while surfers typically visit from November through February for the big-wave surf season on Hawaii’s north shores.

Beach Guide
Hapuna Beach, the largest of Hawaii island’s white sand beaches, is consistently included on international top-ten lists. Travel down the volcanic western coastline of Kohala to find this retreat that offers spectacular conditions for swimming, body boarding, sunbathing, and snorkeling. Adjacent is the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, where beachgoers will find ample parking, food vendors, picnic areas, and public restrooms and showers.

Hand & Stone SPREAD

South of Historic Kailua Village on Alii Drive is Kahaluu Beach Park, also called “Turtle Beach,” because of the green sea turtles (honu) that frequent its waters. It is popular with beginner surfers thanks to calm surf beyond the snorkeling lagoon.

There are more than 10 beaches on this island, in addition to impressive clicks, canyons, and rainforests. Its 50 miles of white sand beaches are some of the most picturesque in the state. Beginner snorkelers should check out North Shore beaches Anini Beach Park (which has a quiet lagoon created by a reef) and Kee Beach, found at the end of Highway 560. Traveling families will enjoy Lydgate Beach Park, an east side beach protected from the ocean by a lava rock wall, making it great for snorkeling in the lagoon. Restrooms, picnic grounds, and lifeguards are present. For a more low-key setting, visit Salt Pond Beach Park on the west side, which is great for sunbathing and swimming.

Located at Mile #9 on Hâna Highway (36), Ho’okipa Beach Park is one of the top spots for ocean sports and recreation in Maui. A mecca for surfers of all ages since the 1930s and the “home of contemporary surfing,” Ho’okipa Beach is among the island’s most popular sites for surfing and events. The Aloha Classic and Red Bull surfing competitions have taken place here.

The legendary North Shore is where veteran surfers and beginners alike quest for the perfect wave. Winter surf reached heights of more than thirty feet, but in the summer months conditions are gentler, when even first-timers can learn to “walk on water.”

Where to Stay
Oahu The Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina /, $$$
Set to open this summer, this five-star beachfront resort is on the western coast near Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. It contains 371 rooms, an indoor and outdoor spa, three pools, a tennis center, fitness facilities, and four restaurants. A short complimentary shuttle ride takes visitors to the 18-hole Ko Olina Golf Club, designed by Ted Robinson. Guests can choose from oceanfront one- or two-bedroom suites, or a specialty suite like the Ko Olina three-bedroom—a 4,000-square-foot wonder complete with pantry, dining room, living area, large veranda, and two bathrooms.

Kauai Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa /, $$$
This sprawling resort in the heart of Poipu is set between lush mountains and the azure sea. The AAA Four Diamond island retreat features 602 guestrooms with private balconies, an 18-hole championship golf course, Camp Hyatt for children ages three and up, the award-winning open-air Anara Spa, al fresco dining (during which a private butler serves a four course meal), a pool, and beach activities like watersports and scuba diving. Suites range from 1,055 to 1,376 square feet and include a sitting area, dining table for four, wet bar, beverage chiller, and private balcony. The Presidential Suite features a kitchen and dining table for six.

Hawaii Fairmont Orchid Hawaii, $$$
This resort offers big luxury on the Big Island. An AAA Four Diamond oceanfront facility along the Kohala Coast, the 32-acre hotel features a sugar-white sandy lagoon, a year-round children’s program, spa, golf, tennis, six restaurants, and the recently renovated and exclusive Fairmont Gold north tower with guestrooms and suites. Relax in the Spa Without Walls, which has waterfall massage hale (huts) and offers oceanfront massage cabanas that draw from the island’s natural healing mana (power). The Hui Holokai Beach Club Ambassadors cater to your sandy comforts by setting up chairs and cabanas with towels and ice water and supplying beach equipment. Consider booking the 4,000-square-foot Fairmont Gold Presidential Suite, which has a butler pantry, dining room, baby grand piano, Jacuzzi tub, and sunset views over the ocean.

Maui: The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, $$$
This AAA five-diamond beachfront resort invites you to a secluded luxury paradise steeped in cultural tradition and world-class service. The 22,000-acre resort boasts one of Hawaii’s largest nature preserves, with two marine sanctuaries, two championship golf courses, the Kapalua Tennis Garden (designed for novices and pros), six dining options, and a 17,500-square-foot spa that features treatments inspired by ancient Hawaiian traditions. In the mood for a splurge? Book the
2,560-square-foot, one-bedroom Ritz Carlton Suite with two spacious ocean view balconies, a living room, master bathroom with oversized soaking tubs, powder room, and walk-in closet.

Oahu Alan Wong’s, $$$
James Beard award-winning Chef Alan Wong’s eatery has been a popular culinary destination since 1995. His flagship restaurant in Honolulu is also a culinary studio where chefs experiment with new flavors and ideas. The contemporary menu is inspired by the diverse ethnic cultures of Hawaii and freshly farmed ingredients from the islands. Try the Cambodian Kampot Black Pepper Maui Cattle Company Tenderloin, with Hamakua Eryngli mushrooms and Hawaiian Hearts of Palm, or the Ginger Crusted Onaga Red Snapper, with miso sesame vinaigrette with Hamuka mushrooms and corn.

Kauai The Shrimp Station, $
This is simply a must stop along Highway 50, especially if you are heading to “the Grand Canyon of Hawaii” (Waimea Canyon). The restaurant may not look like much from the outside, but don’t let that distract—the food is delicious. The menu offers a wide variety of shrimp dishes, including Garlic Shrimp, Cajun Shrimp, Thai Shrimp, Shrimp Tacos, and Coconut Shrimp. Try the specialty burger, too, made from ground shrimp dipped in a secret batter, coated in breadcrumbs and fried to a golden brown.

Maui Mama’s Fish House, $$
In addition to all the accolades this fine-dining seafood restaurant has received over the years, its founding story is quite impressive. The owners left San Diego in 1960 with their 2-year-old son and sailed to the South Pacific to island hop in search of a new life and opportunities. Years later, they opened their “dream restaurant” on Maui while it was being developed for tourism. Every day, fishermen deliver fresh catch to Mama’s, and it’s always served within 24 hours. Offerings include multi-colored Mahi-Mahi, tropical Ono, reef-feeding bottom fish like Opakapaka, Onaga, Lehi, and Uku, and Moi from the fishponds. Perfect timing would be to dine on the way back from visiting the black sand beach off of the Hana Highway.