Travel Guide | Hawaii

College Tourist Student Guide to Hawai’i

Explore all the Beauty, Culture, and History in Hawai’i with this Guide!

By Terah Summers, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

Welcome to the Aloha State! If you are looking for a destination filled with pristine beaches, hidden waterfalls, active volcanoes, rich culture, and riveting history then you’ve come to right place. The Hawaiian Islands are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, making it one of the most isolated places on the planet. There are eight main Hawaiian Islands: Kaua’i, Ni’ihau, Oahu, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, and Hawai’i (Big Island).

Hawai’i is rich in history and has experienced dramatic change over the years. The Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands inhabited Hawai’i around 1,500 years ago. These voyagers of the Pacific made a remarkable 2,000-mile journey to reach Hawai’i’s shores. They used remarkable navigation skills as they travelled across the Pacific in their canoes. These people became the first Hawaiians and they created a new life and culture on the islands.

Since the time of the ancient Hawaiians, Hawai’i has transformed dramatically. After Captain Cook’s arrival in 1778, Hawai’i was exposed to the rest of the world. Everyone from missionaries, whalers, to planation owners settled on the Hawaiian Islands. Sadly the Hawaiian people suffered massive population decline due to new diseases introduced by these new settlers. For many years the Hawaiian culture and language was suppressed. Then in 1893, the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown to the United States of America. These winds of change transformed Hawai’i into the place it is today. Now there is an effort to revive the Hawaiian culture.

Hawai’i also has a rich, diverse culture. People from many different lands now call Hawai’i their home. The people of Hawai’i still stay connected to their culture. Many people love to dance hula, play ukulele, or go surfing. A great respect for Hawaiian culture, the land, and the ocean is important to the people of Hawai’i.

Each island holds it’s own special qualities. Hawai’i has something for everyone, whether you are looking for a global city like Honolulu, action packed volcanoes on the Big Island, or remote waterfalls in Hana, Maui. Hopefully this guide can help you find what you are looking for during your time in Hawai’i!

Honolulu (Oahu)– Hawai’i’s capital is a global melting pot. Explore the historical monuments such as Iolani palace and the King Kamehameha statue. And don’t forget to walk down Hawai’i most famous stretch of beach in Waikiki and hit the waves!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)– This national park has two active volcanoes, Kilauea and Mauna Loa. The park is filled with adventure filled hikes but the highlight is watching the steaming, red lava run into the ocean at night.
Kalaupapa National Park (Moloka’i)– Located on one of the less travelled islands in Hawai’i, Kalaupapa used to be a leper colony. Travel by way of foot or horseback to the remote place where people inflicted with leprosy spent their last days. This is also where Father Damien helped people and later became a saint.
Pearl Harbor (Oahu)– The devastating bombing of Pearl Harbor was the catalyst for America entering World War II. Visit the place where it all began and where many people lost their lives. A visit is a sobering but also very touching, educational experience.

volcano picture

waterfall picture


Hana (Maui)- Declared as one of National Geographic’s ultimate road trips, the drive to Hana is a must do on anyone’s Hawai’i itinerary. The 52 mile drive is anything but a smooth ride, but it passes through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Hawaiian islands. Plunging waterfalls and secret beaches are scattered along the drive and the quaint town of Hana is a fun place to explore after the journey


Kalalau Trail picture

Na Pali Coast (Kaua’i)- On the northern coast of Kaua’i there’s a hidden paradise often overlooked. Untouched beaches and dramatically carved mountain ranges make up this pristine coastline. The Kalalau Trail is perfect for the adventurous traveller. The 11 mile trail will take you on an unreal journey through Hawai’i beautiful landscape.


turtle picture

When it comes to free activities Hawai’i has a ton of option. In fact most popular activities are free. Hit a beach with friends, go on a hike, or swim in waterfalls. The highlight of Hawai’i is enjoying the natural beauty, almost all of which are free. The national parks will charge a small entry fee but all beaches have free access. So grab a beach towel and sunscreen and hit the beach! Also look at local newspapers and see if there is free live music or a free hula show at malls. Those are cheaper options than going to an expensive luau (traditional Hawaiian feast).


Hawai’i’s array of cultures means that good food is never far. Here are a few that are unique to Hawai’i and that will get your taste buds dancing!

Aloha Mix Plate (Lahaina, Maui)- This local hotspot has delicious, cheap plate lunches. They serve traditional Hawaiian food like Laulau plate and Kalua pork along with yummy burgers. The mix fruit smoothies are a refreshing finish.
Rainbow Drive-In (Kaimuki, Oahu)- Rainbow Drive-In is a local classic on Oahu. The foods is cheap, filling, and admittedly not super healthy. But it is a must-try for any person wanting to try real “local” food. Be adventurous and give the Loco Moco a try or the Shoyu chicken plate.
Shirokiya (Ala Moana Shopping Mall)- Tucked away in Ala Moana Shopping Center, this is Japanese food heaven. Hawai’i has many Asian immigrants so this place has some traditional Japanese food. The pricing is reasonable and is always booming during lunch.
Ululani Shave Ice (Lahaina, Maui)- Shave Ice is one of the favorite treats of Hawai’i. Locals will judge a shave ice based on the smooth texture and syrup quality. This place serves one of the best shave ice’s in the island!


Honolulu at night picture

In all honesty Hawai’i has more daylight activities than night but here are a few places that will keep you entertained during the later hours. Most of the nightlife is in Honolulu city, so if you like the night scene stay on Oahu.

Krazy Karaoke (Honolulu, Oahu)- Karaoke night is very popular with students in Hawai’i. There are many karaoke bars to chose from in Honolulu, but this one is clean and you can rent private rooms for an affordable cost
The Republik (Honolulu, Oahu)- This music lounge/bar has some cool concerts and bloc parties that are advertised to students. It has a nice ambience and is a good place to go dancing or listen to some music with friends.
Night surfing (Waikiki, Oahu)- Daring, adventurous people go to Waikiki to go surfing at night. It’s a fun activity that gets your adrenaline racing but it’s recommended to not go out into the water on your own.


On the outer islands (aka all islands other than Honolulu) it’s recommended to get a rental car because public transportation is limited. However on Oahu bus transportation is an option. TheBus (name of the bus system on Oahu) can take you basically anywhere on Oahu. They have an online website with arrival times and different route numbers. However, rental car is by far the easiest way to get around in Hawai’i. And also it’s not possible to drive or take a boat between islands. There is only one existing ferry between the islands of Maui and Lana’i. Other than that an interisland flight is necessary.


Hike at Lanikai picuture

If you are invited to someone’s home, take off your slippers (flip-flops) or shoes before entering the house. If you are going to a dinner is polite to bring a small food or drink contribution.
A local gesture is called the ‘shaka.’ If someone gives you the shaka they are saying hello or thank you. Many times locals will ‘throw the shaka’ when taking a photo.
When greeting someone, sometimes the person will draw you in to touch cheeks. This is a Polynesian custom and not everyone in Hawai’i greets in this manner. Offer your hand then if the person leans then follow suit.
Local slang is called ‘Pidgin’ and can be challenging to understand. A few key words you might here are: How zit (how are you?), dakine (thing), brah (bro), choke (a lot/ plenty), shoots den (ok then/ see you later). A few key Hawaiian words used are: aloha (hello/ good bye), ono (delicious), wahine (woman), kane (man).

Terah Summers

University of Hawaii at Manoa | 15 stories

Terah is an island girl born and raised in Hawai'i. She is an economics major attending University of Hawai'i at Manoa. She also works at her university as a campus tour guide. In her free time she enjoys surfing, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, writing, reading and obsessing over travel photos on Pinterest. After returning from a semester abroad in Spain, she dreams of traveling the world, learning new languages, and making a difference! She is currently traveling in South America so check out here personal blog :

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