The Hawaiian Islands are like heaven on earth—diverse coastlines, scenic bays, tropical jungles, towering mountains, deep canyons and sweet-smelling foliage. The chance to experience such beauty comes at all prices. Here are some of our picks.
From top: Poolside at Maui's Fairmont Kea Lani; dinner and a show at the Four Seasons Hualalai’s Pahu i'a restaurant; inside a suite at the Fairmont Kea Lani.
This island has it all—fantastic beaches, rushing waterfalls, protected reefs and lush rain forests. The Wailea area on the southwest coast is lined with luxury resorts and upscale shops, but super savings on accommodations and excursions are also easy to find.
Where to Stay: The all-suite Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui on Polo Beach in Wailea is luxury defined. (Celeb sightings are de rigueur here.) Stay in one of the resort’s 37 oceanfront villas and enjoy a duplex suite with two or three bedrooms, two baths, a separate sitting room and a private terrace with a plunge pool and oversize grill. You can also enjoy complimentary luxury car rentals, private chef service and the ultimate in privacy. Resort amenities include four restaurants, a spa, a 24-hour fitness center and a gourmet shop (fairmont.com/kealani ).
Where to Eat: The evening ambience doesn’t get any better than at Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea. The spectacular beachfront setting is complemented by a torch-lit, open-air design that affords views of the star-filled sky. The food and service are equally extraordinary. Try the signature lobster risotto, a creamy blend of seafood, vegetables and wide-grain rice, or opt for the roasted Hawaiian sea bass, served with garlic confit and Napa cabbage. Nothing beats the decadent flourless Valrhona chocolate cake drenched in pear compote for dessert (fourseasons.com/maui ).
What to Do: For the best views of the entire island and Haleakala, a dormant volcano, take a UFO Parasail tour high above Kaanapali Beach on the west coast. After boarding a small boat and motoring out past breaking waves, you’ll be strapped into a life jacket and harness. As the boat speeds away, you’ll be gently lifted 800 feet into the air. The heart-pumping experience lasts a mere 10 minutes, so try to take it all in (ufoparasailing.com ).
Where to Stay: What do you get when you combine the comforts of home and the amenities of a hotel? The Kaanapali Alii, an oceanfront condo complex that sits on Kaanapali Beach. Along with large accommodations that feel like a private residence, complete with full-size kitchens, big bathrooms and high-end washer/dryers, the Kaanapali Alii has excellent hotel-grade offerings, including daily housekeeping and concierge services, a new fitness center and free use of the tennis courts. You’ll also have privileged access to the restaurants at nearby hotels, as well as the Kaanapali Golf Course (kaanapali-alii.com ).
Where to Eat: Locals and visitors flock to Alexander’s Famous Fish Company for fresh seafood platters. Sure, it’s a fast-food joint, but the prices are among the lowest on Maui, and everything, from the ahi to the ono, is made to order (808-874-0788).
What to Do: At Snorkel Bob’s, which has four locations on Maui and many across the other islands, you can use the fins, snorkel and mask for the length of your stay (snorkelbob.com ). Bonus: No matter which location you rent from, you can return your equipment to any of the others. The shop also offers prescription masks. Once you’ve suited up, head to Black Rock, the stretch of sea fronting the Sheraton Maui, for an all-day snorkel session. You’ll see turtles, coral formations and local fish, like the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (also the longest word in the Hawaiian language). Tip: All Hawaiian beaches are public, so you can swim, stroll and snorkel anywhere you wish.
Photography: (from top) courtesy of Faimont Kea Lani; Four Seasons Resort Hualalai; courtesy of Faimont Kea Lani.
The amazingly diverse landscape here ranges from a lunarlike desert to active coastal volcanoes and snow-capped mountains. The Big Island is also home to Hapuna, one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet, and some of the most exclusive resorts. Spendthrifts enjoy outdoor activities galore and delicious deals at local restaurants.
Where to Stay: A cocoon of luxurious comfort is yours when you stay in a Gold Executive Suite, located on the Gold Floor, at the swank Fairmont Orchid. The Gold Floor features its own lounge, dedicated concierge and fully stocked bar. A daily array of complimentary food includes a deluxe Continental breakfast, afternoon tea with finger sandwiches and evening appetizers, like coconut-crusted shrimp in mango glaze. Large ocean-view suites feature custom beds swathed in high-thread-count sheets and comfy feather duvets. Schedule an in-room massage for two and request the Make Room for Romance turndown service, which includes champagne, chocolate-dipped fruit, a candlelit drawn bath, a trail of fresh orchids and more (fairmont.com/orchid ).
Where to Eat: Settle in for sunset watching on the terrace at Pahuia restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and enjoy pupus (appetizers) as you sip the signature Pele’s Firetini, made of citrus vodka and Cointreau, mixed with lime, cranberry and pineapple juices. Later, linger over the Hamakua mushroom tasting menu, which includes mushroom carpaccio, a slow-baked macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi served with Japanese pumpkin ravioli and the soufflé of the day (fourseasons.com/hualalai ).
What to Do: Take a helicopter tour over an active volcano with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. The two-hour excursion takes you across the entire expanse of the island, flying over a rain forest, mountains, waterfalls and the restless Kilauea volcano. As you hover directly above, you can see steam rising and watch the lava as it flows into the ocean (bluehawaiian.com ;).
Where to Stay: Enjoy the famous Big Island sunsets from your lanai at the Kona Bali Kai, an affordable condominium in the historic Kailua-Kona on the west coast. Other popular activities at the oceanfront complex include surfing and dolphin watching. The property has an outdoor pool and large Jacuzzi, as well as a grilling area with picnic tables. Room amenities include full kitchens, private balconies and high-speed Internet. Smoking is not allowed (konabalikai.com ).
Where to Eat: For some of the freshest seafood dishes around, check out Quinn’s Almost by the Sea in Kona. A local favorite for nearly 30 years, the spot offers fish and chips prepared in beer batter for lunch and a fisherman’s platter piled high with local fish, shrimp and calamari for dinner (808-329-3822).
What to Do: There are 120 miles of trails winding from sea level to the summit of 14,000-foot Mauna Loa at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home of Kilauea, which has been nearly continuously erupting since 1983. Each path has views of the dramatic volcanic steam, colorful native birds, tropical plants and gossamer butterflies. Drive through the park on the 18-mile Chain of Craters Road and you’ll see petroglyphs (nps.gov/havo ).
Due to the fact that just a single road encircles the island, things seem a little more private and exclusive here.
Where to Stay: Located on Kauai’s remote north shore, the impressive Princeville Resort has long been a favorite escape for celebrities. Stay in a Junior Suite and you’ll have unbeatable views of the resort’s pristine beach, sparkling ocean water and the famous Bali Hai peak in the distance. Marble bathrooms feature large soaking tubs and “magic windows” that go opaque for privacy with the touch of a button. Request the Romantic Moment in Paradise turndown service and enjoy sultry scented candles, sexy massage oils and more. Note: In September, the hotel will be starting a large-scale renovation (princevillehotelhawaii.com ).
Where to Eat: Set at the base of a waterfall over koi ponds, Tidepools at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa has a classic Polynesian feel. Each of the restaurant’s five dining rooms is housed in an open-air thatched hut. Start with a sweet Lava Flow rum cocktail and the savory crunch-seared scallops as an appetizer. For an entrée, try the seared opah (mild moonfish) topped with crab, lobster and Tahitian vanilla hollandaise sauce, served with mango-scallion rice. For the most romantic experience, ask for a table in the waterfall room (grandhyattkauai.com ).
What to Do: Kauai Sea Tours offers early morning and evening excursions on Lucky Lady, a deluxe 60-foot catamaran. On the five-hour snorkel trip, you can spot angelfish, sea turtles, octopus and dolphins. The sunset dinner cruise sails along the garden isle’s breathtaking NaPali coast past majestic seaside cliffs, rushing waterfalls and the lush Waimea Valley (kauaiseatours.com ).
Where to Stay: They may be decorated in a kitschy Hawaiiana motif, but the units at Kaha Lani Resort in Lihue have a homey feel. Each has a full-size kitchen, a private lanai and daily housekeeping services. Located adjacent to Lydgate Beach Park, the large property offers a private pool, a putting green, tennis courts and complimentary parking. Plus, it’s only 10 minutes from the island’s main town of Lihue (kahalaniresort.com ).
Where to Eat: The best tables at the Blossoming Lotus are in the courtyard next to the tropical garden and waterfall, a setting that reflects the restaurant’s green philosophy: All the food here is certified organic. The most popular menu selection is the enchilada casserole—it’s common to see fellow patrons taking pictures of their portion. The spicy dish features baked, marinated tempeh with beans, rice, chili sauce and cashew cheese, all topped with a carob-mole sauce marbled with sour cream. And everyone loves the sweet Ecuadorian raw chocolate fudge made with agave nectar and coconut oil and garnished with raspberry coulis (blossominglotus.com ).
What to Do: Take a leisurely paddle along the Hanalei River in a tandem kayak. Begin your adventure at the dock in Hanalei, which is set against the dramatic backdrop of the peaks and waterfalls of the Waioli Valley. Float along the tranquil waters flanked by coco palms and passion fruit and guava trees until you reach a wildlife refuge, where you may see birds like golden plovers and gallinule chickens. Stop at Black Pot County Beach Park for a picnic lunch and incredible views of Bali Hai (kayakkauai.com ).
Photography: (from top) Courtesy of Princeville Resort; courtesy of Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.
From top: The ultraluxe Vera Wang Suite at the Halekulani resort on Oahu; lei-ing around the shores of Oahu.
As home to the state capital and 65 percent of the islands’ total population, Oahu offers something for everyone.
Where to Stay: The one-of-a-kind Vera Wang Suite at the extraordinary Halekulani resort on Waikiki Beach is a resplendent work of art. The sprawling 2,135-square-foot room features a king-size bed, a separate dining room stocked with Vera Wang Wedgwood china and glassware (perfect for romantic dinners) and an enormous bathroom decorated in exotic materials. Available here are a dedicated 24-hour butler service, in-suite spa treatments and roundtrip airport transfers. The room’s private enormous lanai has unparalleled views of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach (halekulani.com ).
Where to Eat: From the local art on its walls to the exemplary Hawaiian cuisine, the legendary Chef Mavro is the ultimate in regional authenticity. Request a table in the upper area (which is a hit with the stars of Lost) and linger over the 11-course Degustation Menu with wine pairings. The offerings change regularly, but one thing remains constant: artful blends of unexpected flavors like lobster served with apple madras curry, and jasmine-wine fish croquettes. The absolute must-order item? Brioche lilikoi-curd malasadas (Portuguese fried dough filled with passion fruit) with homemade pineapple-coconut ice cream (chefmavro.com ).
What to Do: Indulge in a couples lomi lomi massage in an open-air garden cabana at the Abhasa Waikiki Spa at The Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Unwind as you listen to the call of tropical birds and feel the gentle sea breezes on your skin. In the evenings, scented candles decorate the serene space (abhasa.com ).
Where to Stay: Just a block from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki Beach, you can get some peace and quiet—and great views of Diamond Head. At the Aqua Palms & Spa it seems that everything is included in the price—Continental breakfast, comfy bathrobes, Internet access, even telephone calls. All the rooms are nonsmoking and have private balconies and kitchenettes. The hotel is also located next to the Ala Moana Shopping Center and near to jogging trails (aquaresorts.com ).
Where to Eat: A plate lunch in Hawaii typically means a large serving of beef or chicken with two heaping scoops of rice, plus macaroni salad. At The Rainbow Drive-In, not much has changed since 1961 when the diner opened—including the prices. The famous plate lunches are all served up in a flash. Breakfast is also on the menu; selections include French toast and loco moco, fried rice topped with eggs, gravy and a hamburger (808-737-0177).
What to Do: Unwind with a massage at the Hawaii Massage Academy, on Kalakaua Avenue, Honolulu’s main street. Students who have completed more than 500 hours of training perform all the treatments. The center’s nine rooms are mod and boast floor-to-ceiling windows with fantastic views of Diamond Head (hawaiimassageacademy.net ).
Photography: (from top)Hotels and Resorts of Halekulani; courtesy of the Oahu Visitors Bureau.