Coming to Hawaii for a honeymoon: romantic things to do

Hawaii is one of the most popular honeymoon destinations in the world. The islands’ tropical climate, beautiful white-sand beaches and scenic views create the perfect setting for a romantic getaway. Here are some ideas of what you can do during your honeymoon in Hawaii.

Hawaiian LuauVisit a luau. A luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast combined with a dinner show. Luaus are usually held in a romantic setting (usually near the beach) in the dim light of the setting sun. It is a feast of life, a way of celebrating any special occasion, such as your honeymoon. Luaus take place on the four main Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii. You’ll be able to taste traditional Hawaiian delicacies as well as standard American fare if you’re less adventurous, sip tropical cocktails and watch a Polynesian show with music and dances from various Polynesian island nations, including Hawaiian hula performances.

Hawaii Dinner CruiseGo to a dinner cruise and sail into the sunset with one of the many romantic cruises that are offered in Hawaii. Most of the dinner cruise providers will try to impress you with Polynesian entertainment aboard, local or international cuisine, drinks and friendly service. But what’s most impressing is the panoramic island views that will reveal in front of you as you cruise along the shore. If you happen to take a cruise during the whale season (November to March) you may even see breaching whales.

Island sceneryRent a car for a day and explore the island on your own. All Hawaiian islands are unique and offer numerous scenic drives. Visit popular attractions or stop at a remote beach where you can enjoy more privacy and the company of each other. If you prefer someone else to do the driving, do a guided island tour instead.

musicListen to live Hawaiian music. If you are staying in Waikiki or another resort area you will most likely find live Hawaiian performances right there. Many of the hotel bars and restaurants have nightly entertainment with live Hawaiian or contemporary music. You can also pick-up free brochures and island magazines at the airport that will give you an idea of what else you can do in Hawaii.

Family-friendly beaches on Oahu

Oahu is perhaps the only Hawaiian island that offers such a diversity of beaches – swimming, snorkeling, surfing, boadybodring, diving, etc. So if you are visiting with your children you will also find some excellent family-friendly beaches here.

Ala Moana Beach

Ala Moana BeachThis half-mile long beach is located between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu and is the perfect place to spend a day with your family. The nearshore water here is calm because the beach is protected by a reef. The best area for swimming is the eastern part of the beach, where the ocean bottom is sandy. This area is also a popular gathering spot and you will see many local families barbecuing and playing games in the weekend. There are a few shady spots under the trees along the beach and many more on the nearby Magic Island peninsula. Because of its central location Ala Moana Beach is very close to stores and restaurants. If you get hungry you can hop over to Ala Moana Center’s food court, located across the beach.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma BayHanauma Bay is one of the most popular snorkeling destinations in Hawaii where the water is very clear and protected by a large reef, which makes it an ideal family beach. This is actually not a beach park, but a nature preserve. All visitors have to pay an admission fee and then watch a short educational video about the bay’s geology and diverse marine life. At the beach you can rent snorkeling equipment in case you didn’t bring your own. It is a good idea to bring an underwater camera because the fish are not shy and are easy to photograph. Even though there isn’t much shade on the beach, there is a large park with trees and picnic tables at the entrance where you can have a picnic before or after spending time on the beach. At the entrance you’ll also find a take-out restaurant. Behind it a paved trail leads to a nice lookout point from where you can enjoy nice views of the bay and the sparkling blue ocean. It’s the perfect backdrop for a memorable family photo. On a very clear day you can even see the neighbor islands of Molokai and Lanai from here.

Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon

Duke Kahanamoku LagoonThe Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon was named the No. 2 best beach in America in 2012 by Dr. Beach. This picturesque man-made lagoon located on Waikiki Beach near the Hilton Hawaiian Village is a popular gathering spot. You will see many families with children playing or paddling in the water. The lagoon is surrounded by fine white sand and palm trees providing a few shady spots. You can also rent beach chairs and umbrellas from the Waikiki Beach Activities stand located near the lagoon. If your children want some ice cream or pizza you won’t have to go far to get it. There are a few eateries right behind the lagoon and several bars and restaurants are at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

Ko Olina Lagoons

Ko Olina LagoonsThe Ko Olina Lagoons consist of four man-made sandy coves backed by beautifully landscaped grounds and a few world-class luxury vacation resorts. The lagoons are protected and are ideal for small children or novice simmers and snorkelers. One thing you should keep in mind though is that there is a limited public parking here. If you don’t stay at one of these fancy hotels, it is best is to come early in the morning or on a weekday when there is a better chance of finding a parking spot.

Hawaii Banyan Trees

Hawaii has an amazing number of large banyan (ficus) trees. People who see a banyan for the first time often look at it in awe. The amazing thing about banyans is that they grow upwards as well as sideways by dropping aerial roots to the ground from the undersides of their branches. When these roots reach the ground, they thicken and form a new trunk. For a fully grown banyan tree with many branches and trunks it is often difficult to tell which one is the main trunk or the core.

Ala Moana Beach Park, Oahu

Banyan tree near Ali’iolani Hale in Honolulu, Oahu

Lahaina Banyan Tree, Maui

Nuuanu Valley Park, Oahu


Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, Big Island

Ala Moana Beach Park, Oahu

Reeds Bbay Beach Park, Big Island

Waikiki, Oahu

Best snorkeling spots on Oahu

With Oahu known for having clear water and coral reefs teaming with all kinds of marine life, the island has quite a few popular snorkeling locations. Here are three of the best spots:

Hanauma Bay

hanauma_bayHanauma Bay is probably the most popular snorkeling spot not just on Oahu, but in the entire state of Hawaii. About a million people come here every year. Located on the southeastern shore of Oahu, the bay has crystal clear waters and a coral reef that is home to numerous fish, many of which are endemic to Hawaii (found nowhere else in the world). The fish at Hanauma Bay are quite tame, meaning that they aren’t shy around humans. So you’ll be able to swim right next to them and watch them feed on the reef. Especially the parrotfish are fun to watch as they scratch algae off the reef (you can literally hear them chew!). The nice thing at Hanauma Bay is that you don’t have to swim out far to see the fish. You can literally stand in chest-deep water, put your head below the surface and see the fish. Venturing out into the deeper waters of the bay is recommended for advanced snorkelers only.

Kahe Point

Located on Oahu’s leeward (west) coast near the Ko Olina resort area, Kahe Point is a snorkeling destination unlike any other on the island. A power plant across the beach uses seawater as a coolant and then discards this water through a pipe out into the ocean. Since this water is warm, it attracts a wide variety of fish as well as turtles. No need to worry that the discarded water is dirty. It is just used as a coolant and is clean. You’ll also see boats anchor here. These are tour companies that offer cruises along Oahu’s leeward coast and many of them stop at Kahe Point as this is one of the best snorkeling spots along this coast. Keep an eye out for boat traffic if you plan to snorkel here.

Shark’s Cove

sharkscoveThis bay on Oahu’s North Shore is a great snorkeling spot, but only in the summer months. In winter the surf is up on Oahu’s North Shore and this is when the ocean is too rough for snorkeling. When the ocean is calm you can see many colorful tropical fish here. It’s a good idea to wear fins or reef shoes as the cove has a reef and is surrounded by sharp rocks. And no need to worry. You’re not likely to encounter any sharks inside the bay. Shark’s Cove got its name from a popular story that says that the outline of a reef outside the cove looks like a shark when seen from above.

Hawaii’s sweet airport lei greeting tradition

Giving and wearing a flower lei (a garland strung from fresh blossoms that is worn like a necklace) is a common and popular tradition in Hawaii. If you have been to Hawaii before you have probably seen quite a few people wearing one and maybe you even wore one yourself. In Hawaii, leis are usually given to loved ones for special occasions, such as birthdays, graduations, achievements, funerals or to welcome someone or say goodbye. These colorful garlands are made of flower blossoms strung together. Flowers that are used for lei-making include for example plumeria, orchid, pikake or maile leaves. They can also include kukui nuts or shells, such as the rare Ni’ihau shells.

When the Hawaii tourism industry kicked off in the late 1800s and steamships brought the first visitors to the Islands, these visitors were often greeted with a fragrant flower lei. At the end of their stay, they were often again given a lei as a goodbye. During this time new legends around the lei sprung up, for example that it would bring you good luck. It was also believed that if you threw the lei overboard after leaving the island and the lei floated back towards the beach it meant that you would return to the island some day. Whenever a steamship left with visitors aboard, many leis were seen floating on the ocean.

Hawaiian LeiAs the tourism industry picked up in the 1960s and 1970s and most visitors were now arriving by plane, it became much harder to greet every tourist as the numbers went from just hundreds to thousands and then millions. However, this sweet tradition of welcoming people to Hawaii with a lei continues until today. Many travel companies incorporate an airport flower lei welcome into their vacation packages. Being greeted and welcomed to the Islands with a fresh and sweet-smelling lei is a nice way to start your vacation. Even if your vacation package doesn’t include an airport lei greeting or you booked your flight and accommodation separately, it is easy to add a lei greeting before arriving in Hawaii. Below you will find useful resources.

Things to do on Molokai

If you are planning a vacation on Molokai you are likely looking to escape from the hustle and bustle of the typical tourist destinations. Here you won’t find shopping malls, night clubs and other types of entertainment. Instead you will find a place that offers peace and tranquility providing the ideal conditions for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Kalaupapa PeninsulaBut you also don’t have to worry about feeling bored on this island. There are quite a few things to do here, most of them out in nature. Molokai’s Kalaupapa Peninsula for example is one of the most scenic places on the island. Located at the base of the world’s highest sea cliffs, the Kalaupapa Peninsula was once a leprosy settlement where people who had this disease were forced to live in exile. The peninsula is very difficult to access and can only be done if you join a guided tour. A steep trail leads down to it and you can either walk down or ride a mule. There is a local company that offers mule riding tours to the peninsula. Alternatively, you can see the peninsula from the Kalaupapa Lookout, located within the Pala’au State Park.

Pala'au State Park The drive to the lookout is very scenic and reveals amazing panoramic views of Molokai’s south shore and the neighbor island of Lanai. Shortly before you reach the lookout the road leads through a forest where you will find a couple of small roadside parks with picnic tables. Pala’au State Park has several hiking trails and the most popular one leads to the Phallic Rock, also known as the Fertility Rock (you will know why when you see its shape).

Coffees of HawaiiIf you love coffee, you will be happy to hear that one of the largest coffee plantations in Hawaii is located on Molokai. Coffees of Molokai in Kualapu’u has a gift shop and café that sells a variety of coffees, sandwiches, pastries and shakes. While you are still in the mood of trying local food products, hop over to Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nut Farm, located less than 2 miles away from here. Purdy will let you crack some macadamia nuts and you can try them with a slice of coconut or Hawaiian honey. At his farm you can see how the nuts are grown and harvested.

Coconut GroveWhile you’re on Molokai you’ll surely also want to visit Kaunakakai, the largest town on the island where you can stock up on groceries and supplies. While in town take a walk along Ala Malama Street where you will find a few gift shops, a pizza café and a public library. Two other nearby attractions are Kaunakakai Wharf, the longest wharf in the state of Hawaii, and Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, a large picturesque palm tree grove next to the ocean.

Maunaloa HighwayIf you like narrow and winding roads, take Highway 450 east to Halawa Valley on the island’s east shore. The “highway” which turns into a narrow one-lane road for the last 9 miles of the way, features beautiful views of the ocean, lush valleys, waterfalls and tropical vegetation. If you prefer an easier drive on a wider road head west on Maunaloa Highway (Hwy 460), which leads through Molokai’s central plateau to the upcountry town of Maunaloa. You will find many scenic lookouts along the way boasting spectacular views of Molokai’s south and west shore, scenic hills and valleys, tall mountains and open grasslands.

Papohaku Beach When you have done all the things above and you just want to sit back, relax, read a book, or just be alone with your loved one, visit one of Molokai’s west shore beaches, which are the finest on the island. Even though swimming here is not recommended due to strong currents, these beaches are great for a quiet day on the beach. Two-mile long Papohaku Beach for example is ideal for a long beach stroll. Or you can enjoy a picnic here. The spacious beach park is equipped with picnic tables.

Renting a car on Oahu or not?

Are you debating if you should rent a car on Oahu or not? Here is our take on this.

Advantages:

  • Renting a car on Oahu is certainly a good idea if you plan to do a lot of exploring. You will be independent to go wherever you want to and stay as long as you want to vs. guided tours or city buses that run on a schedule.
    Recently The Bus (the local public bus) schedule was changed and quite a few bus routes were either eliminated or buses run less frequent.
  • You can bring more items with you while traveling – Road by the beachcamera, pack your own food, beach chair or umbrella, etc. It is especially convenient if you travel with small children.
  • Other people will not sit next to you so you will have more privacy. Also, if you take the bus you may not even get a seat if it’s crowded.
  • Car rental companies on Oahu provide brochures including maps giving you an idea of all points of interest. You can also rent an additional GPS system.
  • You can choose the type of car you want to rent.

Disadvantages:

  • If you plan to stay mainly in the Waikiki area you don’t need to rent a car. Waikiki has it all – restaurants, beaches, shops and a variety of outdoor and evening entertainment. Also, most of the hotels charge extra if you have a rental car.
  • TrafficThe small island of Oahu has almost a million residents, so the island’s streets are pretty busy. There is usually a lot of traffic in and out of Honolulu and Waikiki.
  • Public parking is another issue. Finding a parking spot at popular beach parks such as Waikiki Beach, Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach can be challenging. These places are usually full even on days when there are no major events going on. You will find paid parking options, especially in Waikiki and Honolulu but it is costly.
  • There is always the risk of car break-ins, occurring especially at beach parks so don’t be surprised if you see smashed window glass in parking lots. Don’t leave any valuables inside the car. If you carry any packages or bags with food or less valuable items, best is to lock them in the trunk.
  • If you are not familiar with the island you need to spend much more attention on the road, where to turn, where not to turn, etc. That’s why many first-time visitors prefer guided tours, so they won’t have to worry about driving.

Hiking Oahu’s most popular volcanic crater Diamond Head

Only 150,000 years old, Diamond Head is an extinct volcano and one of the most photographed attractions on Oahu. In fact, it is a worldwide symbol of Hawaii and Waikiki, made popular in numerous movies and on postcards and wall calendars. Because of its unique geological history, Diamond Head was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1968.

Stairs leading to the summit

If you are feeling fit, a hike up to the summit of Diamond Head is a must-do while on Oahu. This moderate 1.5-mile (2.2 km) hike leads up along a steep narrow trail with many switchbacks, steep stairways and a dark tunnel. The trail was recently renovated and made easier. Going through the dark tunnel now is optional because there is a new easier paved path and stairs that lead to the top.

On your way up, you will get to several lookouts from where you can enjoy beautiful south shore and mountain views. Wait until you get to the summit where stunning 360-degree views of Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and the blue Pacific await. On clear day you can even see the neighbor islands of Molokai and Lanai on the horizon.

Diamond Head State Park

It takes 35-45 minutes to reach the summit, and there isn’t much shade along the way. So bring a hat, sunscreen and water. To avoid the crowds and hot temperatures, it is best to come early in the morning. The park is open from 6 am to 6 pm. There is an admission fee of $1 per person (or $5 per car). There are also guided Diamond Head tours departing from Waikiki that include roundtrip transportation.

Visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona MemoOil Leaking from USS Arizonarial at Pearl Harbor is one of the most popular attractions on Oahu. More than one million people visit it each year. The USS Arizona is a sunken battleship and the resting place of 1,102 marines killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. At the time of the attack there were 1.4 millions of gallons of fuel aboard the USS Arizona, and up until today it is leaking from the sunken battleship, forming oil droplets on the ocean’s surface. Some people call them “black tears.”

Admission to the Pearl Harbor visitor center and the USS Arizona Memorial is free, however, you need to get a ticket to board a US Navy shuttle boat that takes you to the Memorial. Around 4,500 tickets are available daily, but they are usually all taken around noon, so if you come in the afternoon, it might be too late. On the ticket is shows the shuttle boat departure time, and usually you’ll have to wait an hour or two and sometimes even longer before it’s your turn (depending on how many visitors there are that day). So if you come in the morning and get a ticket with an assigned time in the afternoon you will have enough time to explore other visitor attractions at Pearl Harbor.

Entering USS Arizona MemorialWhile waiting you can explore the visitor center where you will find interesting exhibits and information about the Pearl Harbor attack. There is also a bookstore and a snack shop. Right before you board the shuttle boat that will take you to the Memorial, you will be taken to the Pearl Harbor Memorial Theater where you will watch a 23-minute documentary film about the attack.

One important thing to keep in mind when visiting is that purses, bags and other personal belongings are not permitted at Pearl Harbor. You can only bring a camera.

Many visitors come to Pearl Harbor with a tour group. Pearl Harbor tours include roundtrip transportation from Waikiki hotels, tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial (so you will not have to wait in line) and a local tour guide who will provide narration. Some tours include admission to other Pearl Harbor attractions, such as the USS Missouri battleship, the USS Bowfin submarine and the Pacific Aviation Museum. Other Pearl Harbor tours include a visit to other island attractions, such as downtown Honolulu, the Dole Plantation, Oahu’s North Shore and more.

Kilauea Volcano Tours – Visit the most popular Hawaii attraction

A visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must for every visitor to Hawaii’s Big Island. This is where you can see one of the most active volcanoes in the world – Kilauea Volcano. About 2.6 million people visit the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park every year.

There is so much to do and see here that it can easily take a full day. As you drive along Crater Rim Drive (the main road in the national park) you will see sulfur springs, steam vents, unique flora and fauna, and a variety of dried lava formations. Another interesting attraction is the Thurston Lava Tube, a natural lava tube that you can walk through, which is surrounded by a lush tropical forest.

Jaggar MuseumThe Thomas A. Jaggar Museum is also worth a stop. Here you can see multi-media displays and learn about the volcano’s behavior, eruption history, the different types of lava and more. There is an overlook outside the museum building featuring incredible views of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, rising 13,679 feet (4,169 m)

There are many local tour companies offering excursions to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The advantage of coming here with a tour group is that you will have your own guide who will provide detailed narration along the way and take you to all the must-see attractions within the park. Tours depart from the Hilo and Kona area and usually last 9-12 hours. Helicopter tours are also offered and they usually take 1-2 hours.