Spewing volcanos, spectacular beaches, the world's best surfing: Hawaii offers all of that and more.
The biggest mistake first-time visitors make is to island hop too much. You want to settle in and get to know an island. Limit yourselves to one or two. Hawaii will be there when you come back again. Skip those big luaus too and instead seek out small, local entertainment. You can also save money by splitting your stay between luxurious resorts that are everything you expect them to be, and more economical condos where you won’t have to go out for every meal. (Check the listings from www.vrbo.com or www.flipkey.com as well as Aston and Outrigger. )
Oahu, of course, is famous for Waikiki (it is really crowded), the surfing on the North Shore (love the vibe at Haleiwa Town and the months between November and February are best to watch big wave surfing and Pearl Harbor. If you’ve got kids with you, be forewarned that they won’t want to leave Disney’s Aulani Resort.
Kauai is the best island for adventurers with Waimea Canyon, which many compare to the Grand Canyon. 50 miles of beaches, the chance to hike along the famous Napali Coast, kayak on the Wailua River and enjoy shaved ice lice a local in tiny Hanalei. The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is everything you imagine a Hawaii resort to be with tropical gardens, golf, and swimming lagoons. If simpler is more your style, you’ll love the oceanfront Hanalei Colony Resort on the island’s north shore.
Maui of course is famous for its beaches as well as Haeleakala National Park, the historic town of Lahaina and the scenic road to Hana (skip the ride if you are prone to car sickness!) Come in winter for the chance to see thousands of whales. The Grand Wailea is known for its water park as well as its gargantuan spa.
Hawaii, the Big Island is bigger than all the other Hawaiian Islands combined. You can’t miss seeing Kilauea at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which has been erupting continuously for 28 years. You can stargaze at Mauna Kea, which is home to the world’s largest astronomical observatory, visit Parker Ranch, one of the oldest cattle ranches in the country and check out Akaka Falls—its 420 feet! Go deep sea fishing, walk on a black sand beach or play golf. The Four Seasons Resort Hualalai boasts dramatic black-lava in its landscape but make sure to spend at least a night on the other side of the island near the volcano where you will find plenty of small hotels.
Make sure to have at least one drink with an umbrella.
Eileen Ogintz is a nationally syndicated columnist and creator of TakingtheKids.com. Her new Kids Guide to LA is available online and from major booksellers, along with the Kids Guides to NYC, Washington, DC, Orlando and coming in December, Chicago.