Updated: Oct 17, 2019
If you are planning a trip to Honolulu, Maui and the Big Island of Hawaii, I've compiled a helpful list of things you can do and places to eat at. Enjoy your trip in the land of Aloha!
So you're planning a trip to visit Hawaii huh? Did you narrow your island or islands down?
I will admit that I don't know everything there is to do in Hawaii, but after visiting a couple times I've covered a lot of ground or I should say islands. I did these 16 things and had a blast!
Replenish your calories by grabbing a fresh Açaí bowl and some corned beef hash at Bogart's Cafe in Honolulu. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
1. Hike Diamond Head, then eat an Açaí bowl at Bogart's Cafe
Finding Diamond Head is relatively easy. As a matter of fact it's so easy, you can even walk there from downtown Honolulu. A good plan is to wake up super-early, say around 5:00 AM then start walking south. By the time you get to Diamond Head, you'll pass the gates and the sun will start rising. You'll enjoy a great view of the Pacific Ocean in addition to getting your daily steps in!
Enjoy the view from atop Diamond Head even on a rainy Hawaiian day! (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
After you explore Diamond Head, make your way back down in reverse. Your next stop, because you earned those calories is Bogart's Cafe. Bogart's Cafe is a small cafe with limited seating, but trust me, it's all worth the wait. The Açaí bowl is so refreshing. You really feel like your skin is being cleansed right then and there. A cool thing to point out about this place are the unique coffee mugs they have!
Bogart's Cafe has a bunch of cool coffee mugs like these. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
The best way to experience Hawaii is by dropping the top of your rental car! (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
2. Rent a Jeep, drop the top, then drive the Road to Hana
If you're in Maui then you need to rent some wheels! I recommend renting a 4x4 Jeep convertible so you'll be able to go off-road in some parts of the island and to soak up as many harmful sun-rays as possible. So make sure you wear some shades and sunscreen.
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A short video clip of what it's like driving the Road to Hana. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
When you visit Maui I suggest you drive The Road to Hana. In case you didn't know this is a very famous stretch of road that well...it leads to a town called Hana. Thousands of people from all walks of life partake in this drive every year.
It's a jungle out there while you drive the Road to Hana. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
It's a very soothing experience as you get to see a part of Maui that you won't see anywhere else. Yes it does zig zag, but the green jungle canopy that envelopes you is simply peaceful. When you drive in a vehicle drop the top or open your windows because you can hear nature and all of her beautiful creatures. Make sure you plan accordingly though because you'll want to stop at various picturesque spots along the way. Plan about a 6 hour round trip which includes stops.
Make sure you do the audio tour of the U.S.S. Bowfin at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
3. Visit Pearl Harbor
If you know anything about history, especially World War II then you'll want to take a few hours to visit Pearl Harbor. As an American or more specifically as a combat veteran myself (U.S. Army veteran, who served in Eastern Europe and the Middle East) I definitely wanted to visit Pearl Harbor.
You can either purchase a tour (good for visitors who need transportation, guides and a structured schedule) or a ticket (good for visitors who are planners).
My wife checking out this anti-aircraft weapon in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
My wife and I opted for the ticket route. We actually drove a scooter that we rented from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor. It was a very fun, yet semi-dangerous ride because you'll be on the H-1 highway. Another thing is not make the mistake of taking the wrong exit! We took the exit to the military base, even though I had a military ID card we didn't have helmets on.
American's will never forget December 7, 1941 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Once you make it Pearl Harbor, just park in the parking lot and walk towards the ticket counter/entrance. You can literally spend an entire day exploring everything Pearl Harbor has to offer. I highly recommend the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center and Museum and doing the audio tour of the Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. It's just an amazing experience to visualize all the history here. Oh and check out the gift shop because they have some great souvenirs to bring back home.
A handful of some very green sand. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
4. Discover Green Sand Beach (Papakolea)
When you are on the Big Island (Hawaii) make sure you check out the Green Sand Beach officially known as Papkolea. The sand gets it's color from a silicate deposit called olivine.
Just follow these dug out road trails towards Green Sand Beach - bring lot's of water. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
It's a bit out of the way and you'll need to do some walking (rack up those daily steps), but trust me it's all worth it. You'll see a rough parking lot with locals working it. Just park your car there. You also can pay to take a 4x4 to the Green Sand Beach, but I recommend walking if you can.
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Martian-like scenery while you hike towards the Green Sand Beach. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
The scenery is almost martian-like. It's about 2 to 3 miles one-way so make sure you bring enough snacks, water and wear sunscreen. The dunes and the dirt tracks are a good route to follow. There is a small slice of really, really green sand about 3/4 of a mile from the actual Green Sand Beach, that is super green and no one around.
Look for this small slice of green sand about 3/4 of a mile away from the actual Green Sand Beach. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
I wish I could have marked the spot, but if you follow the dirt tracks as close to the ocean as possible you'll run into it. It's a very small slice, nothing big so keep your eyes peeled!
Eat poke and lau lau like a local at Yama's Fish Market in Honolulu. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
5. Eat at Poke and Lau Lau at Yama's Fish Market
Shhhh...the locals don't want me telling you about Yama's Fish Market, their go-to spot for the BEST poke and lau lau in Hawaii since 1980. This tiny blue shop offers many varieties of poke and the Hawaiian comfort food called lau lau, which is fish and pork wrapped inside a taro leaf or luau leaf.
Inside a lau lau after you peel apart the green taro leaves. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
As you peel apart the green leaves, you'll see the steam evaporate and the meat falling apart. Try it because it's delicious! The poke choices are plentiful, I'm talking about A LOT of variations. You'll be very happy you came here.
Ahi Masagi Poke at Yama's Fish Market in Honolulu. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Ahi Lime Poke at Yama's Fish Market in Honolulu. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Wasabi Ahi Poke at Yama's Fish Market in Honolulu. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Enjoy the tranquility at Black Sand Beach. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
6. See sea turtles on Black Sand Beach (Punalu'u Beach)
I've been to a handful of beaches with black sand (Puerto Rico, Iceland), but what makes Punalu'u Beach stand-out is the ability to come very close to sea turtles. You'll see signs posted to keep a distance away from these amazing sea creatures, but the beach is small enough with pockets of tide pools where you can see a few of them floating or basking in the sun.
You have great chance to see sea turtles and walk in the black sand. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
This is a good place to take your family for a day at the beach and to picnic because you they have good facilities (i.e. bathrooms, showers, etc...) It's also a good place to stop by if you are driving around the Big Island for photo ops. Don't forget to check out the lagoon in the back where you will see beautiful flowers sprouting from the lily pads.
Spoil yourself by splurging at the Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateux on Maui. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
7. Spend a few nights at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateux
If you don't have kids and want to experience a luxury, adults-only accommodation then splurge and spend a few nights at Hotel Wailea Relais & Chateux. Voted the #1 Hotel in Hawaii by Condé Nast Traveler in 2017, you'll understand why as soon as you pull onto this gorgeous gated property.
Quick note: If you have a Visa Infinite credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, don't forget to use it (you'll get a VIP Welcome like a bottle of wine or champagne, complimentary breakfast). Due to the partnership with Relais & Chateux your stay here will count towards the 2 stays (this is accelerated because normally you need 15 stays) needed in 12 months to join the exclusive Club 5C.
Enjoy a VIP welcome and experience at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateux on Maui. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Your valet will take care of your car and luggage. Just walk in to the open-air reception area. You'll be greeted with fresh leis and a cold alcoholic drink while you check-in. After check-in and brief layout of the property, you're personal assistant will ask you to hop in a golf car to take you to your suite.
The beautiful grounds and luxury condos at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateux. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Enjoy all the luxury amenities at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateux. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
The rooms are basically luxurious condos with top notch amenities (i.e. teas, soaps, etc...) Don't be surprised if you have a nice bottle of wine with a hand written message personally welcoming you to this already tropical paradise of a island called Maui.
View of the enticing swimming pool at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateux. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Explore the hotel grounds because they paid attention-to-detail from the quiet swimming pool to the lanai's to the herb garden and of course their wonderful dining experience at The Restaurant. Staying here was definitely a 5 star experience.
Chowing down on some lobster at The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
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The Haleo Luau at the Sheraton Kona Resort. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
8. Partake in a luau feast
You will find numerous luau's everywhere in Hawaii. I've been to a couple and from what I've experienced they offer the same basic things: an authentic Hawaiian experience, a terrific buffet meal and most importantly entertainment in the form of hardworking, beautiful performers.
My most recent luau was the Haleo Luau (the Voice of Life) at the Sheraton Kona Resort. This luau has some great food and you'll learn a lot about the history of Kamehameha III, who was the third king of Hawaii from 1825 to 1854. The storytelling begins as soon as the sun starts to set.
If you are going to stay in Waikiki Beach I highly recommend renting a scooter - they are convenient! (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
9. Rent a scooter to cruise Waikiki Beach from Hawaiian Style Rentals & Sales
Trust me, I love to walk while on trips, but I also love to rent a scooter if it's available. How could I not? My wonderful wife taught me how to ride a scooter in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, so I've been hooked ever since. I even bought the same Honda PCX scooter back home in California.
The service and choices (hourly, daily, 1 or 2 person, etc...) at Hawaiian Style Rentals & Sales is superb. If you plan on doing more than cruising up and down Waikiki Beach, I recommend renting a scooter with more than 200 cc so you will have enough speed to keep up with traffic on the busier roads.
It's so much fun riding around Waikiki Beach on a scooter. You experience the scene in a different way because you have the speed of a vehicle, but can use all your senses (sight, smell and sound) to take in the beach and the crowds. Last but not least you have a much easier time finding parking spaces and you don't have to wear a helmet (unless you are under 18 years old).
Start each day by grabbing coffee at Kona Coffee & Tea. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
10. Drink Kona coffee
Kona coffee is world-famous. Who hasn't received a bag of Kona coffee beans as a gift from someone you know who visited Hawaii? If you find yourself in Kona, Hawaii, make sure you include a daily pit stop at the Kona Coffee & Tea shop which is celebrating their 20th year of business.
This stand-alone shop has plenty of parking spaces (it's co-located in a strip mall) so there's no stress looking for parking. They grow their own coffee, which is also milled and roasted on a farm less than 10 miles away. You can't ask for anything fresher!
My wife and I collect these t-shirt to frame and hang around the house. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Inside you can order coffee, tea, deli items and even beer and wine. They also sell souvenirs. My wife and I were very happy when we saw a "I *heart* Kona" t-shirt since we collect and frame these types of t-shirts around our house.
Admire the natural beauty of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
11. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which features the world's only drive-in volcano
Do you like nature? Have you been to an active volcano? If you said yes, go visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you staying in Kona it's only a 2 hour drive away and if you're in Hilo it's even shorter at a 45 minute drive to this sacred land.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is totally worth checking out. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
You'll see a couple of volcanoes to include the ever-popular Maunaloa and Kilauea, which if the timing is right could erupt with red molten lava. There are also miles of hiking trails, a museum, a walk-in lava tube and epic desert and rain forest scenery.
Hana Hou holds the title of the, "Southernmost Restaurant in the U.S.A!" (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
12. Grab lunch at the southernmost restaurant in the U.S.A
Did you know that you can eat at the southernmost restaurant in the U.S.A right on the Big Island? No, well then you better bookmark Hana Hou! This little restaurant serves the best Hawaiian comfort food. It's a great place to take a break from driving around.
Eat this loco moco at the southernmost restaurant in America. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
The loco moco is served with brown rice, gravy, hamburger patty and a couple of sunny-side up eggs. My mouth is watering just thinking about it again. You'll be satisfied and you'll be proud to say that you ate at the southernmost restaurant in the U.S.A!
Naung Mai Thai Kitchen in Hilo was a life saver. (Photo by Digital Nomad Kitchen)
13. Enjoy a spicy Thai meal and dragon fruit gelato in Hilo
Hopefully you don't get stuck in traffic for hours on the two lane highway in Hilo like my friends and I did. If you do and get hungry there is a very good Thai restaurant called Naung Mai you should check out. Be prepared if you ask for super spicy because the 3rd generation Thai chefs don't play around! We made the mistake because we thought the food was prepared for the "American" palate so we figured asking for super spicy would make it moderately hot - you'll drink a gallon of water if you opt for this!
When you get stuck in traffic on a 2-lane highway for hours in Hilo, you get very hungry: THANK YOU Naung Mai Thai Kitchen in Hilo! (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Hilo is a small town, a little run down compared to almost all the other cities I've visited in the Hawaiian islands, but they do have some cute shops if you look hard enough. Lucky for you I'm providing recommendations.
Enjoy this dragon fruit gelato at Hilo Sharks Coffee, it's yummy. (Photo by Digital Nomad)
So if you like gelato go to Hilo Sharks Coffee to try a dragon fruit gelato. Dragon fruit also known as "pitaya" is a tropical fruit that has bright reddish-purple skin with a thick white inside filled with tiny edible black seeds. The dragon fruit gelato is super good, so make sure you try it.
I love the ice cubes at Hilo Sharks Coffee. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Of course since this is a coffee shop, you definitely need to try their own coffee. I opted for the iced coffee and I was pleasantly surprised to not only enjoy a caffeine-infused treat, but also because I noticed that the ice cubes were actually frozen coffee. That's ingenious to me because when it melts your coffee doesn't get watered-down.
Some of the best sashimi you'll ever eat is at Mama's Fish House. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
14. Eat Mama's Fish House
As soon you can, make sure you reserve a table at the 2nd most popular restaurant in America: Mama's Fish House, because this place gets packed! Mama's has been in business for eons. Well actually you can read about their cool story of how they came to be here.
This Tristan Island Lobster Tail is from the most remote inhabited island in the world and yeah it's GOOD. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
They have valet parking service available so make sure you use it. After that, check in and absorb the entire setting and ambiance that they provide. Oh and by the way, the food is superb!
Some restaurants use fake flowers, but not at Mama's Fish House in Maui. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
My lovely wife enjoying the details at Mama's Fish House. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Get your daily steps in and walk the Wailea Beach Path. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
15. Walk the Wailea Beach Path
If you are staying in Wailea, then wake up early in the morning and get your daily steps in by walking the Wailea Beach Path. The easy ocean breeze, gentle waves all caress you awake and by the time you are fully awake you'll be full of energy.
There is some serious scenery when you walk along the Wailea Beach Path. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
Da Kitchen Express has all the Hawaiian comfort food. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
16. Grab Hawaiian comfort food at Da Kitchen Express
If you are looking for a one-stop shop that even former President Obama has approved, then grab Hawaiian comfort food at Da Kitchen Express in Kihei, Hawaii. They really have everything from teriyaki beef, loco moco, katsu cutlet, lau lau plates to saimin. It's all good too. Next door is a liquor store, you can go there to purchase drinks and bring them back to enjoy with your food.
So many great choices you want to order everything, plus go next door to grab some beers to drink. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
There so many cool little spots along this path to either take a once-in-a-lifetime photo, grab a early morning beer, rent a paddle board or just to rinse your feet off in the showers this path has it all. Check it out because you won't be disappointed.