Welcome to our Hawaii 8 day itinerary. It’s a jam-packed, action-filled romp through the land of aloha that aims to check off some of the most iconic sights and attractions the islands have to offer in one fell swoop. You’ll be moving all the time; gawping at smoking volcanos one moment, swimming in crystal-clear coves the next.
Yep, our Hawaii 8 day itinerary encompasses not one, not two, but three of the top-draw islands of the USA’s 50th state. It begins in Oahu, where Honolulu and the beaches of Waikiki beckon with their cruisy surf breaks. From there, you’ll hop south to Big Island, the home of the most iconic volcanos and mountains in the chain. Then it’s up to Maui, a quintessential tropical paradise that’s R&R from head to toe.
It will certainly help if you hire a car to get from A to B on each individual island. Getting between the islands themselves is usually done by direct flight. Hawaiian Airlines are the best for that – they have connections between the trio on our list that take around just 40 minutes each leg.
Day 1 – Honolulu and Waikiki (Oahu)
Welcome to the Aloha State! The vast majority of travelers here touch down in the big airport in Honolulu. The good news is that’s a fantastic starting base. Make a beeline straight for the city center and see if you can spy out the Iolani Palace. Once the home of the Kamehameha Dynasty kings and queens, it’s a glimpse at the legacy of Hawaii before it was assumed into the United States.
From there, it’s only a quick hop and a skip over to Chinatown. One of the biggest of its kind in the country, it’s a bustling collection of dumpling kitchens and artsy noodle outlets. Also, it’s the perfect place for lunch!
For the evening, there’s nothing for it but a jaunt to Waikiki. Arguably the most iconic seafront district in the world, it’s hailed as the home of surfing. You can rent longboards from any one of the stalls along the main beaches and hit the cruisy breaks – most are beginner friendly. Alternatively, do as most vacationers do and settle in for a Mai Tai or 10 in the cool 50s-style bars that dot Kalakaua Ave just behind.
Day 2 – Pearl Harbor National Memorial (Oahu)
No trip to Hawaii’s main island could possibly be complete without a taste of the raw modern history of the place. Cue Pearl Harbor. There are few sites quite so pivotal to the story of the USA in the 20th century as this, for it was here, in the early hours of 7th December 1941 that Japan dragged America into WWII with its surprise air attack on a US naval base.
Most people recommend spending at least a day at the site to make the most of it. There are several main parts to get through, including:
- USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park – Step inside a real submarine from the 1940s and feel what life was like living underwater in such cramped conditions.
- Battleship Missouri – Hailed as one of the most iconic ships of all time, the Missouri witnessed the surrender of the Japanese at the end of WWII.
- USS Arizona – Perhaps the most moving part of the whole Pearl Harbor memorial, this sunken battleship marks the resting place of over 1,100 seamen who were killed during the Japanese attack.
- Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum – One for the most dedicated history buffs out there, the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum showcases the ins and outs of the US flying fleet back in the 1940s. It’s got vintage planes aplenty, and more.
Day 3 – North Shore (Oahu)
The drive to the North Shore takes about 30 minutes. It’s a fine one, though, whisking you straight through the heart of the island, past a montage of windblown farm fields framed by serrated mountains to the east and west.
What awaits at the end of the road is some of the most iconic surf territory on the planet. Stringing from Hale’iwa Ali’i Beach Park in the southwest to Kawela Bay in the northeast, the North Shore is 10 miles of pure perfection. We’re talking yellow-tinged sands threaded by palms, lapping waves, and a backdrop of rugged peaks.
The surf is gnarly stuff and it’s really spectator only for most travelers. Between November and February, be sure to drop into Waimea Bay, a super-famous spot eulogized by the Beach Boys, and Pupukea Beach, which hosts the mega-hollow Banzai Pipeline, a tube wave like no other on earth.
Day 4 – Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)
It’s a quick 45-minute hop on Hawaiian Airlines to the southernmost member of the Hawaii chain: Big Island. Named for its size, it’s also home to the most dramatic volcanoes and peaks in the whole territory. They hit a zenith at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, which is where you’ll spend your first day on Big Island.
The best way to see it all is with your own hire car. Get in as early as possible because queues will build up at the entrance points. Then, you’ll be able to drive two seriously jaw-dropping roads. The first is the Crater Rim Drive Tour. That’s probably the most famous, letting you peer into the colossal Kilauea Caldera. The other, the Chain of Craters Road, lets you come close to petrified lava fields and frozen lava chutes.
We’d also recommend spending at least an hour at the visitor’s center right by the main entrance. That tells the story of these great volcanos and explains why Hawaii remains one of the most volatile regions on the planet when it comes to eruptions.
Day 5 – Hamakua Coast (Big Island)
From the sulphur-belching mountains you’ll head down to the salt-washed coast. And what a coast it is! The Hamakua Coast of Big Island is one of the wildest wonders of Hawaii. It’s nowhere near as popular with visitors as the body-packed strips of Waikiki or the North Shore, and showcases lush, green forests and blooming orchid beds next to black-sand beaches.
The main roadway here is the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. It’s actually a part of the Hawaii Belt Road, running from Hilo to the Waipi’o Valley. You can complete it in just an hour if you keep the pedal down but we think it deserves a whole day.
The reason? There’s oodles to see, including:
- Laupāhoehoe Point – A craggy lookout over the Pacific that has gnarled rocks and big waves.
- Akaka Falls – 442 feet high and as jaw dropping as they come, don’t miss these waterfalls!
- Hawai’i Tropical Botanical Garden – The perfect place for botanists looking to learn all about Hawaii’s booming biodiversity and plant life.
Day 6 – Haleakala National Park (Maui)
Day 6 sees you bid farewell to Big Island for the paradise of Maui. Perhaps the most famous of all the Hawaiian islands, even a mention of the name is enough to conjure images of pristine yellow beaches, lux hotels, and turquoise waters.
But before you get the R&R flowing, make time for some more volcanos. The Haleakala National Park dominates the heart of this rock. It spreads over a whopping 33,000 acres of land and encompasses a clutch of dormant volcanic summits. The highest of them is Haleakala itself, set 10,000 feet above sea level. Drive to its top for the sunrise if you can. It’s often got cloud inversions and sweeping views of the blue Pacific through the mists.
Aside from sunrises you’ll never forget, there’s also a whole web of hiking paths that weave through the calderas and around the main craters. At lower altitudes, you can ramble on boardwalk trails through thick bamboo groves to see ancient banyan trees. It’s all very cool.
Day 7 – Wailea (Maui)
There’s a quintet of spectacular beaches over in Wailea. Together, they offer all the sunbathing, snorkelling, surfing, and chill factor that you could possibly need after long hikes on the rugged volcanos of south-central Maui. Oh yea, and most are backed up by five-star hotels that promise pampering from check in to check out.
Of all the beaches in the region, we think the following are most worthy of a whole day’s relaxation:
- Po’olenalena Beach – Also called Paipu, this beige-colored beach is great for escaping the crowds. It’s got sea vines and fantastic sunsets.
- Keawakapu Beach – Hit Keawakapu Beach to snorkel with the sea turtles.
- Kamaole Beach – Super clear waters and long runs of sand join the two sections of this beach. Plus, you get awesome views of the West Maui Mountains in the distance.
Day 8 – Kaanapali and the West Maui Mountains (Maui)
The grand finale of our Hawaii 8 day itinerary comes courtesy of the stunning West Maui Mountains. These craggy massifs form the northwesternmost leg of the island. They jut out into the Pacific Ocean with beaches on three sides and an ancient volcanic crater looming overhead.
The way we see it, you have two options when it comes to that last day’s activity: Hike or laze. If you choose the former, you’ll pull on the boots and go up into the West Maui Forest Reserve, where lookouts like Pu’u Kukui are seriously amazing – think sinewy peaks covered in vines and jungle. That’s also the home of the incredible Honokohau Falls, the tallest in Maui at a whopping 1,100 feet!
Prefer lazing? No worries. The end point of our Hawaii 8 day itinerary has you covered thanks to the lovely sands of Kaanapali. They’re among the highest-rated in the whole of the USA, with wispy white powders and azure seas. There are also golf courses, country clubs, and more top-quality hotels in the area than you can shake your Tiki cocktail cup at!