Polite haggling is only ever seen at farmers markets and roadside stalls selling art, crafts and souvenirs, and even then, it's rare. Everywhere else, the expectation is that you'll pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Hawaii is generally a safe place to visit. Stay attuned to the vibe on any beaches at night, even where police patrol (eg Waikiki), and in isolated places like campgrounds and roadside county parks. In rural areas, there may be pockets of resentment against tourists, so be respectful while exploring off the beaten path.
If you become the victim of a crime or have an accident while vacationing, the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii provides non-monetary emergency aid. To qualify for assistance, you must have a round-trip ticket back home and be staying in Hawaii for less than 60 days.
Know Before You Go: Hazards & Trespassing
Flash floods, rock falls, tsunami, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, shark attacks, jellyfish stings and, yes, even possibly getting brained by a falling coconut — the potential dangers of traveling in Hawaii might seem alarming at first. But like the old saying goes, statistically you're more likely to get hurt crossing the street at home.
Of course, that's not to say that you shouldn't be careful. It's best to educate yourself first about potential risks to your health and safety. This advice becomes even more important when you're engaged in outdoor activities in a new and unfamiliar natural environment, whether that's an island snorkeling spot, a jungle waterfall, a high-altitude mountain or an active (and thus unpredictable) volcanic eruption zone.
Wherever you choose to explore on the islands, remember to mind your manners and watch your step. Hawaii has strict laws about trespassing on both private land and government land not intended for public use. Trespassing is always illegal, no matter how many other people you see doing it. As a visitor to the islands, it's important to respect all 'Kapu' or 'No Trespassing' signs. Always seek explicit permission from the land owner or local officials before venturing onto private or government-owned land that is closed to the public, regardless of whether it is fenced or signposted as such. Doing so not only respects the kuleana (rights) of residents and the sacredness of the land, but also helps ensure your own safety.
No matter how dry a streambed looks or how sunny the sky above is, a sudden rainstorm miles away can cause a flash flood in minutes, sending down a huge surge of debris-filled water that sweeps away everything in its path. Always check the weather report before setting out on a hike; this is crucial if you're planning on hiking through any narrow canyons or swimming in waterfalls or natural pools. Swimming underneath waterfalls is always risky due to the danger of falling rocks.
Tell-tale signs of an impending flash flood include sudden changes in water clarity (eg the stream turns muddy), rising water levels and/or floating debris, and a rush of wind, the sound of thunder or a low, rumbling roar. If you notice any of these signs, immediately get to higher ground (even a few feet could save your life). Don't run downstream or down-canyon – you can't beat a flash flood.
The main scams directed toward visitors in Hawaii involve fake activity-operator booths and timeshare booths. Salespeople at the latter will offer you all sorts of deals, from free luaus to sunset cruises, if you'll just come to hear their 'no obligation' pitch. Caveat emptor.
The islands are notorious for thefts from parked cars, especially rental vehicles (which are obviously tagged with bar-code stickers). Thieves can pop a trunk or pull out a door-lock assembly within seconds. They strike not only at trailheads when you've gone for a hike, but also at crowded beach and hotel parking lots where you'd expect safety in numbers.
As much as possible, do not leave anything valuable in your parked car, ever. If you must do so, then pack all valuables out of sight before arriving at your destination; thieves may be hanging out just waiting to see what you put in the trunk. Some locals leave their car doors unlocked with the windows rolled down to discourage break-ins and avoid costly damages (eg broken windows).
On average, tsunami (incorrectly called tidal waves – the Japanese term tsunami means 'harbor wave') occur only about once a decade in Hawaii, but they have killed more people statewide than all other natural disasters combined. Hawaii's tsunami warning system is tested on the first working day of each month at 11:45am for one minute using the yellow speakers mounted on telephone poles around the islands. If you hear tsunami warning sirens at any other time, head for higher ground immediately; telephone books have maps of evacuation zones. Turn on the radio or TV for news bulletins. For more information, visit the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and the Pacific Disaster Center online.
Children, students, seniors, active and retired military personnel, and Hawaii residents usually receive discounts at museums and other sights; all but children need to present valid photo ID proving their status.
Embassies & Consulates
Emergency & Important Numbers
Hawaii's area code (808) is not dialed for local calls, but must be used when calling between islands. Dial 1 before any toll-free or long-distance call, including to Canada (for which international rates apply).
|USA's country code||1|
|International access code||011|
|Emergency (ambulance, fire & police)||911|
Entry & Exit Formalities
- Double-check current visa and passport requirements before coming to the USA.
- For current information about entry requirements and eligibility, check the visas section of the US Department of State website and the travel section of the US Customs and Border Protection website.
- Upon arrival in the USA, most foreign citizens (excluding for now, many Canadians, some Mexicans, all children under age 14 and seniors over age 79) must register with the Department of Homeland Security, which entails having electronic (inkless) fingerprints and a digital photo taken.
Currently, each international visitor is allowed to bring into the USA duty-free:
- 1L of liquor (if you're over 21 years old)
- 200 cigarettes (1 carton) or 100 cigars (if you're over 18 years old)
Amounts higher than $10,000 in cash, traveler's checks, money orders and other cash equivalents must be declared. For more detailed, up-to-date information, check with US Customs and Border Protection.
Most fresh fruits and plants are restricted from entry into Hawaii (to prevent the spread of invasive species), and customs officials strictly enforce these regulations. Because Hawaii is a rabies-free state, the pet quarantine laws are draconian. Questions? Contact the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.
All checked and carry-on bags leaving Hawaii for the US mainland, Alaska or Guam must be checked by an agricultural inspector at the airport using an X-ray machine. Make sure that any fresh food, produce or flowers in your baggage has been commercially packaged and approved for travel, or else you'll be forced to surrender those pineapples and orchids at the airport. For more information, contact the US Department of Agriculture.
- A machine-readable passport (MRP) is required for all foreign citizens to enter the USA.
- Your passport must be valid for six months beyond your expected dates of stay in the USA.
- If your passport was issued/renewed after October 26, 2006, you need an 'e-passport' with a digital photo and an integrated chip containing biometric data.
- Currently, under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), visas are not required for citizens of 38 countries for stays up to 90 days (no extensions).
- Under the VWP program you must have a return ticket (or onward ticket to any foreign destination) that's nonrefundable in the USA.
- All VWP travelers must register online at least 72 hours before arrival with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which currently costs $14. Once approved, registration is valid for two years (or until your passport expires, whichever comes first).
- Canadian citizens are generally admitted visa-free for stays up to 182 days total during a 12-month period; they do not need to register with the ESTA.
- All other foreign visitors who don't qualify for the VWP and aren't Canadian citizens must apply for a tourist visa. The process costs a nonrefundable fee (minimum $160), involves a personal interview and can take several weeks, so apply early.
- www.usembassy.gov has links for all US embassies and consulates abroad. You're better off applying for a visa in your home country rather than while on the road.
Island residents are mostly casual and informal in their everyday life, but there are some (unspoken) rules of etiquette you should follow:
- Take off your shoes when entering someone's home. Most residents wear 'rubbah slippah' (flip-flops) partly for this reason – easy to slip on and off, no socks required.
- Ask permission before you pick fruit or flowers or otherwise trespass private property.
- Drive slowly. Unless you're about to hit someone, don't honk your car horn.
- Try to correctly pronounce Hawaiian place names and words. Even if you fail, the attempt is appreciated.
- Don't collect (or even move) stones at sacred sites. If you're not sure whether something's sacred, consider that in Hawaiian thinking, everything is sacred, especially in nature.
- Don't stack rocks or wrap them in ti leaves at waterfalls, heiau (temples) etc. This bastardization of the ancient Hawaiian practice of leaving hoʻokupu (offerings) at sacred sites is littering.
Gay & Lesbian Travelers
The state of Hawaii has strong minority protections and a constitutional guarantee of privacy that extends to sexual behavior between consenting adults. Same-sex couples have the right to marry.
Locals tend to be private about their personal lives, so you will not see much public hand-holding or open displays of affection, either same-sex or opposite-sex. Everyday LGBTQ life is low-key – it's more about picnics and potlucks, not nightclubs. Even in Waikiki, the laid-back gay scene comprises just a half dozen or so bars, clubs and restaurants.
That said, Hawaii is a popular destination for LGBTQ travelers, who are served by a small network of gay-owned and gay-friendly B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels. For more information on recommended places to stay, beaches, events and more, check out the following resources:
Out Traveler (www.outtraveler.com/hawaii) LGBTQ-oriented Hawaii travel articles free online.
Pride Guide Hawaii (www.gogayhawaii.com) Free island visitor guides for gay-friendly activities, accommodations, dining, nightlife, shopping, festivals, weddings and more.
Hawaiʻi LGBT Legacy Foundation (http://hawaiilgbtlegacyfoundation.com) News, resources and a community calendar of LGBTQ events, mostly on Oʻahu.
Gay Hawaii (http://gayhawaii.com) Short listings of LGBTQ-friendly businesses, beaches and community resources on Oʻahu, Maui, Kauaʻi and Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com) Online directory of gay-owned and gay-friendly B&Bs, vacation rentals, guesthouses and hotels.
Getting travel insurance to cover theft, loss and medical problems is highly recommended. Some insurance policies do not cover 'risky' activities such as scuba diving, trekking and motorcycling, so read the fine print. Make sure your policy at least covers hospital stays and an emergency flight home.
Some insurance policies require you to get preauthorization before receiving medical treatment – contact the call center. Keep your medical receipts and documentation for claims reimbursement later.
Paying for your airline ticket or rental car with a credit card may provide limited travel accident insurance. If you already have private US health insurance or a homeowners or renters policy, find out what those policies cover and only get supplemental insurance. If you have prepaid a large portion of your vacation, trip cancellation insurance may be a worthwhile expense.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you're already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Most accommodations, many coffee shops and a few bars, restaurants and other businesses offer public wi-fi hot spots (sometimes free only for paying customers). In-room internet access at Hawaii's hotels is increasingly wireless, not wired.
- Cities and larger towns may have cybercafes or business centers like FedEx Office offering pay-as-you-go internet terminals (typically $12 to $20 per hour) and sometimes wi-fi (free or fee-based).
- Hawaii's public libraries provide free internet access via computer terminals if you get a temporary nonresident library card ($10). A few library branches also offer free wi-fi (library card and PIN required).
If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney; if you can't afford one, a public defender will be provided for free. The Hawaii State Bar Association makes attorney referrals. International visitors may want to call their nearest consulate or embassy for advice; police will provide the telephone number upon request.
Alcohol & Drugs
- Bars, clubs and liquor stores may require photo ID to prove you're of legal age (21 years) to buy alcohol.
- Drinking alcohol anywhere other than at a private residence or licensed premises (eg bar, restaurant) is illegal, which puts parks and beaches off-limits.
- The possession of marijuana and nonprescription narcotics is illegal. Foreigners convicted of a drug offense face immediate deportation.
- If you are stopped by the police while driving, be courteous. Don't get out of the car unless asked. Keep your hands where the officer can see them at all times.
- Anyone driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.08% or higher is guilty of driving 'under the influence' (DUI), a serious offense that may incur heavy fines, a suspended driver's license, jail time and other penalties.
- Police can give roadside sobriety checks to assess if you've been drinking or using drugs. Refusing to be tested is considered legally the same as if you had taken and failed the test.
- It's illegal to carry open containers of alcohol inside a motor vehicle, even if they're empty. Unless containers are still sealed and have never been opened, store them inside the trunk.
- Public nudity (as at beaches) and hitchhiking are both illegal in Hawaii, but sometimes are ignored by police. Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travelers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk.
- Due to security concerns about terrorism, never leave your bags unattended, especially at airports.
Franko's Maps (www.frankosmaps.com) publishes a series of colorful, laminated and waterproof ocean sports and island sightseeing maps, including Obama's Oʻahu and Pearl Harbor: Then and Now Guide. These maps are sold at many bookstores and outdoor outfitters.
Map geeks and backcountry hikers can buy topographical maps from bigger bookstores and national park visitor centers. Alternatively, download printable US Geological Survey (www.usgs.gov) maps for free online, or order printed maps for a fee. Pay attention to Hawaiian Island topo map dates, since some were drawn decades ago.
GPS navigation devices are handy, but cannot be relied upon 100% of the time, especially in remote and rural areas.
- Newspapers Honolulu Star-Advertiser (www.staradvertiser.com) is Hawaii's major daily.
- Radio Hawaii has about 50 radio stations; National Public Radio (NPR) is at the lower end of the FM dial.
- TV & DVDs All major US TV networks and cable channels, plus 24-hour tourist information; DVDs coded region 1 (US and Canada only).
ATMs are available in cities and larger towns. Credit cards are widely accepted (except at some lodgings) and are often required for reservations. Tipping is customary.
- ATMs are available 24/7 at banks, shopping malls, airports and grocery and convenience stores.
- Expect a minimum surcharge of around $3 per transaction, in addition to any fees charged by your home bank.
- Most ATMs are connected to international networks (Plus and Cirrus are common) and offer decent exchange rates.
- Credit cards are widely accepted and often required for car rentals, hotel reservations etc. Some B&Bs and vacation rentals refuse them (pay in US dollar traveler's checks, personal checks or cash instead) or else add a 3% surcharge.
- Visa, MasterCard and American Express are most commonly accepted, followed by Discover and JTB.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com
Tipping is not optional; only withhold tips in cases of outrageously bad service.
Airport and hotel porters $2 per bag, minimum $5 per cart
Bartenders 15% to 20% per round, minimum $1 per drink
Concierges Nothing for simple information, up to $20 for securing last-minute restaurant reservations etc
Housekeeping staff $2 to $4 per night, left under the card provided; more if you're messy
Parking valets At least $2 when your keys are returned
Restaurant servers and room service 18% to 20%, unless a gratuity is already charged (common for groups of six or more)
Taxi drivers 10 to 15% of metered fare, rounded up to the next dollar
Traveler's checks have pretty much fallen out of use. That said, traveler's checks in US dollars are still accepted like cash at many tourist-oriented businesses in Hawaii, such as vacation rentals, B&Bs, hotels, resorts and higher-end restaurants. Smaller businesses like grocery stores and fast-food chains usually refuse them.
Standard opening hours year-round are as follows:
|Banks||8:30am–4pm Mon–Fri; some open to 6pm Fri and 9am–noon or 1pm Sat|
|Bars & clubs||noon–midnight daily; some open to 2am Thu–Sat|
|Businesses (general) & government offices||8:30am–4:30pm Mon–Fri; some post offices open 9am–noon Sat|
|Restaurants||breakfast 6:30–10am, lunch 11:30am–2pm, dinner 5–9:30pm|
|Shops||9am–5pm Mon–Sat, some also open noon–5pm Sun; shopping malls keep extended hours|
On the following national holidays, banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) close, and museums, transportation and other services operate on a Sunday schedule. Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year's Day January 1
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents' Day Third Monday in February
Prince Kuhio Day March 26
Good Friday Friday before Easter Sunday in March/April
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
King Kamehameha Day June 11
Independence Day July 4
Statehood Day Third Friday in August
Labor Day First Monday in September
Veterans Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking is prohibited statewide inside all public buildings, including airports, restaurants, bars and nightclubs, as well as fully or semi-enclosed shopping malls and hotel and resort common areas.
- Smoking is not allowed at restaurants, even on outdoor patios or at sidewalk tables.
- Smoking is allowed at some hotels in specially requested smoking rooms only. Note that some properties are entirely nonsmoking by law, with high penalty fees for noncompliance.
- Smoking is banned at all state parks and beaches in Hawaii, as well as at all county beaches and parks on Oʻahu, Maui and the Big Island.
Taxes & Refunds
Hawaii has a General Excise Tax (GET) of up to 4.71% tacked onto virtually everything, including meals, groceries and car rentals (which also entail additional state and local tax surcharges). Accommodations taxes total just under 14%.
International travelers need a multiband GSM phone in order to make calls in the USA. With an unlocked multiband phone, popping in a US prepaid rechargeable SIM card is usually cheaper than using your own network. SIM cards are available at any telecommunications or electronics store. If your phone doesn't work in the USA, these stores also sell inexpensive prepaid phones, including some airtime.
Otherwise, check with your service provider about using your mobile phone in Hawaii. Among US providers, Verizon has the most extensive network. Cellular coverage is best on Oʻahu, but sometimes spotty outside major towns (especially on Neighbor Islands) and nonexistent in many rural areas, including on hiking trails and at remote beaches.
Payphones & Phonecards
- Payphones are a dying breed, usually found at shopping centers, hotels and public places (eg beaches, parks).
- Some payphones are coin-operated (local calls usually cost 50¢), while others only accept credit cards or phonecards.
- Private prepaid phone cards are available from convenience stores, newsstands, supermarkets and pharmacies.
- All Hawaii phone numbers consist of a three-digit area code (808) followed by a seven-digit local number.
- To call long-distance from one Hawaiian Island to another, dial 1 + 808 + local number.
- Always dial 1 before toll-free numbers (800, 888 etc). Some toll-free numbers only work within Hawaii or from the US mainland (and possibly Canada).
- To call Canada from Hawaii, dial 1 + area code + local number (international rates still apply).
- For all other international calls from Hawaii, dial 011 + country code + area code + local number.
- To call Hawaii from abroad, the international country code for the USA is 1.
- Emergency (police, fire, ambulance) 911
- Local directory assistance 411
- Long-distance directory assistance 1-808-555-1212
- Toll-free directory assistance 1-800-555-1212
- Operator 0
- Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time (HAST) is GMT minus 10 hours.
- Hawaii doesn't observe Daylight Saving Time (DST).
There are staffed tourist-information desks in the airport arrivals areas. While you're waiting for your bags to appear on the carousel, you can peruse racks of free tourist brochures and magazines, which contain discount coupons for activities, tours, restaurants etc.
For pre-trip planning in several languages, browse the information-packed website of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.
Travel With Children
With its phenomenal natural beauty, Hawaii appeals to families. Instead of hanging out in shopping malls, kids can play on sandy beaches galore, snorkel amid colorful tropical fish and even watch lava flow. Then get them out of the sun for a spell by visiting museums, aquariums and historical attractions.
Best Islands for Kids
Waikiki Beach is stuffed full of family-friendly accommodations. Everything else on the island is less than a half-day's drive away, from hiking Diamond Head to snorkeling at Hanauma Bay to Matsumoto's shave ice on the North Shore.
Rent a family-sized condo and chill on Maui's sunny leeward shores. Kids' eyes will pop on a winter whale-watching cruise or when your family catches the sunrise high atop Haleakalā volcano.
Baby beaches allow the pint-sized to get wet, and older kids can learn to surf. Be sure to peer into the 'Grand Canyon of the Pacific' and at the stunning sea cliffs of the Na Pali Coast before you leave.
- Hawaiʻi, the Big Island
Horseback riding like a paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy), ziplining through forests and maybe even seeing red-hot lava flow are just a few of Hawaiʻi's unforgettable experiences for kids.
Hawaii for Kids
There's not too much to worry about when visiting Hawaii with kids, as long as you keep them covered in sunblock. Here, coastal temperatures rarely drop below 65°F and driving distances are relatively short. Just don't try to do or see too much, especially not if it's your first trip to Hawaii. Slow down and hang loose!
Eating Out & Entertainment
Hawaii is a family-oriented and unfussy place, so most restaurants welcome children; notable exceptions are some high-end dining rooms. Children's menus, booster seats and high chairs are usually available everywhere – but if it's a necessity at every meal, bring a collapsible seat.
If restaurant dining is inconvenient, no problem. Eating outdoors at a beach park is among the simplest and best island pleasures. Pack finger foods for a picnic, pick up fruit from farmers markets, stop for smoothies at roadside stands and order plate lunches at drive-in counters.
Grocery and convenience stores stock national brands. A kid who eats nothing but Cheerios will not go hungry here. But the local diet, with its variety of cuisines, brightly colored fruit and plethora of sweet treats, may tempt kids away from mainland habits.
Commercial luau might seem like cheesy Vegas dinner shows to adults, but many kids love the flashy dances and fire tricks. Children typically get discounted tickets (and sometimes free admission when accompanied by a paying adult).
If parents need a night out to themselves, the easiest and most reliable way to find a babysitter is to ask a hotel concierge, or else contact Nannies Hawaii.
Feature: Is Your Child Old Enough?
Parents will find plenty of outdoor family fun for all ages on the bigger islands. However, some activities require that children be of a certain age, height or weight to participate. Always ask about restrictions when making reservations to avoid disappointment – and tears.
To learn to surf Kids who can swim comfortably in the ocean are candidates for lessons. Teens can usually join group lessons; younger kids may be required to take private lessons.
To take a snorkel cruise Depending on the outfit and type of boat (eg catamaran, raft), tours sometimes set minimum ages, usually from five to eight years. Larger boats might allow tots as young as two to ride along.
To go ziplining Minimum age requirements range from five to 12 years, depending on the company. Participants must also meet weight minimums (usually 50lb to 80lb).
To ride a horse For trail rides the minimum age ranges from seven to 10 years, depending on the outfitter. It helps if your child already has some riding experience. Short pony rides may be offered to younger kids.
To ride in a helicopter Most tour companies set minimum ages (eg two to 12 years) and some also set minimum body weights (eg 35lb). Toddlers must be strapped into their own seat and pay the full fare.
Restaurants, hotels and attractions that especially welcome children and have good facilities for families are marked with the family-friendly icon.
Kuhio Beach Sand, surf and outrigger canoe rides at Waikiki.
Ko Olina Lagoons Artificial pools for splashing around on Oʻahu.
ʻAnaehoʻomalu Beach Sunsets on the Big Island's Kohala coast.
Wailea Beach South Maui's gentlest crescent-shaped strand.
Baby Beach Kauaʻi's shallow South Shore waters beckon.
Hanauma Bay Snorkel in a giant outdoor fishbowl on Oʻahu.
Maʻalaea Bay Winter whale-watching cruises with Maui's Pacific Whale Foundation.
Hulopoʻe Beach Snorkeling and sailing in Lanaʻi's Manele Bay.
Na Pali Coast Ride a catamaran sailboat to see Kauaʻi's tallest sea cliffs.
Kailua-Kona Take older kids snorkeling at night with manta rays on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Manoa Falls Oʻahu's family-favorite forest hike climbs above downtown Honolulu.
Diamond Head Summit an extinct volcanic tuff cone outside Waikiki, on Oʻahu.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Trek the Big Island's active volcanic moonscape or crawl through a lava tube.
Haleakalā National Park Step onto Maui's biggest volcano above the clouds and through a bamboo forest by waterfall pools.
Kualoa Ranch Movie and TV set tours and horseback trail rides on Oʻahu's Windward Coast.
Piʻiholo Ranch Maui's longest zipline adventure on the slopes of Haleakalā volcano.
Dahana Ranch Genuine paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) trail rides on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Silver Falls Ranch Ride horseback to a hidden valley waterfall on Kauaʻi.
Waimea Valley Botanical gardens, archeological sites and waterfall swimming on Oʻahu's North shore, with poi-pounding, lei-making and hula-dancing lessons too.
Old Lahaina Luau Hawaii's most authentic, aloha-filled luau comes with music, dancing and an imu-cooked whole roasted pig, on Maui.
Pearl Harbor Squeeze inside a WWII-era submarine; pace a battleship's decks; or become a virtual-reality pilot, on Oʻahu.
Kamokila Hawaiian Village Outrigger canoe rides, traditional craft demonstrations and replicas of ancient Hawaiian houses, on Kauaʻi.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park Hike to petroglyph fields or watch traditional hula kahiko dancing and chanting on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Bishop Museum Polynesian war clubs, feathered masks, an exploding faux-volcano and eye-opening planetarium sky shows in Honolulu, on Oʻahu
ʻImiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaiʻi Hands-on multimedia astronomy museum and 3D planetarium in Hilo, on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Whalers Village Museum Let kids imagine themselves aboard a 19th-century whaling ship, complete with harpoons and scrimshaw carvings, in West Maui.
Hawaii Children's Discovery Center Best rainy-day indoor playground for tots and schoolchildren, not far from Waikiki Beach on Oʻahu.
Aquariums & Zoos
Maui Ocean Center USA's largest tropical aquarium has special kid-sized viewing ports.
Waikiki Aquarium University-run aquarium sits beside Oʻahu's most popular beach.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm Unique family-friendly tour spot on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Panaʻewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens Free kiddie zoo with walking trails, outside Hilo on Hawaiʻi, the Big Island.
Surfing Goat Dairy Take a tour and pet the goats, or join in evening chores and milking duties, on Maui.
When choosing the time of year to visit, keep in mind that the windward sides of the islands get more rain and much higher waves during winter, which may nix swimming for kids.
Useful Websites & Books
- Travel with Children (Lonely Planet) Loaded with valuable tips and amusing tales, especially for first-time parents.
- Lonelyplanet.com Ask questions and get advice from other travelers in the Thorn Tree's online 'Kids to Go' and 'USA' forums.
- Go Hawaii (www.gohawaii.com) The state's official tourism site lists family-friendly activities, special events and more – easily search the site using terms such as ʻkids' or ʻfamily.'
Where to Stay
When setting up a home base, choose your accommodations carefully based on your family's favorite activities and sightseeing priorities. Resorts offer spectacular swimming pools and other distractions, along with kids' activity day camps and on-call babysitting services. But parents might prefer the convenience and cost savings of having a full kitchen and washer-dryer, which many condominiums and vacation rentals offer.
Always ask about policies and bedding before booking any accommodations. Children often stay free when sharing a hotel or resort room with their parents, but only if they use existing bedding. Cots and roll-away beds may be available (usually for an additional fee). At condos, kids above a certain age might count as extra guests and receive an additional nightly surcharge; at a few condos, children are not allowed. Kids and even babies are welcome at many island B&Bs and vacation rentals, but not all.
What to Pack
Hawaii's small-town vibe means that few places – apart from top-chef's restaurants and five-star resorts – are formal, whether in attitude or attire. There's no need to pack your kids' designer jeans or collector-worthy kicks. Let 'em wear T-shirts, shorts and 'rubbah slippah' (flip-flops) just about everywhere you go. On the rainy windward sides of the islands or when visiting higher mountain elevations, rain gear, a warm hat and a sweater or fleece jacket will come in handy. Bring sun hats for everyone.
Hawaii's main islands have tourist convenience shops, such as the ubiquitous ABC Store, and beachfront stands where you can buy or rent inexpensive water-sports equipment (eg floaties, snorkel sets, boogie boards), so there's no need to lug them from home, unless your kids have superspecialized gear. Baby supplies, such as disposable diapers and infant formula, are sold everywhere, but for the best selection and prices, shop in bigger island towns and cities.
If you do forget some critical item, Baby's Away, Paradise Baby Co and Baby Aboard rent cribs, strollers, car seats, backpacks, beach toys and more. Major car-rental companies are required to provide infant and child-safety seats, but you must reserve them in advance (typically for $10 per day).
Travelers with Disabilities
- Bigger, newer hotels and resorts in Hawaii have elevators, wheelchair-accessible rooms (reserve these well in advance) and TDD-capable phones.
- Telephone companies provide relay operators (TTY/TDD dial 711) for the hearing-impaired.
- Many banks provide ATM instructions in Braille.
- Traffic intersections in cities and some towns have dropped curbs and audible crossing signals.
- Guide and service dogs are not subject to the same quarantine requirements as other pets, but must enter the state at Honolulu International Airport. Contact the Department of Agriculture's Animal Quarantine Station before arrival.
- Search the Disability & Communication Access Board website for free, downloadable 'Traveler Tips' brochure guides to all islands except Lanaʻi.
- Access Aloha Travel, an Oahu-based travel agency, can help book wheelchair-accessible accommodations, rental vans, cruises and tours.
- Where available on the islands, public transportation is wheelchair-accessible. Buses will usually 'kneel' if you're unable to use the steps – let the driver know you need the lift or ramp.
- Some major car-rental agencies offer hand-controlled vehicles and vans with wheelchair lifts; reserve these well in advance. Wheelchair Getaways rents wheelchair-accessible vans on Hawaiʻi (Big Island), Maui and Kauaʻi, while Wheelers Van Rentals operates on those three islands plus Oʻahu.
- If you have a disability parking placard from home, bring it with you and hang it from your rental vehicle's rearview mirror when using designated disabled-parking spaces.
In Hawaii, there's almost always some kind of volunteer project for visitors to get involved in – for instance, cleaning up public beaches, restoring forest and mountain trails, or pulling invasive exotic plants – even if it's just for an afternoon. To find volunteer opportunities, ask your hotel concierge, check alternative local newspapers and websites like Craigslist (http://honolulu.craigslist.org), or contact nonprofit organizations working on the islands directly, including:
Conservation Connections Browse eco-conscious volunteer gigs and internships on the main islands.
Friends of Haleakalā National Park Sign up for a monthly three-day environmental service trip in Maui's national park.
Habitat for Humanity Help build affordable housing in some of Hawaii's low-income communities.
Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Apply for long-term vounteer opportunities on Maui, Kauaʻi and Oʻahu; annual 'Sanctuary Ocean Count' days are open to all (pre-registration required).
Hawaii State Parks Partners Short- and long-term volunteer opportunities restoring native habitat, trails and historical and cultural sites on all the main islands.
Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund Day projects and week-long volunteer vacations support turtles and monk seals and marine conservation on Maui.
Kokeʻe Resource Conservation Program Short- and long-term volunteers help eradicate invasive exotic plants ('weed busting') in Kauaʻi's upland forests.
Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station (MKVIS) Volunteer Program Long-term volunteers staff the visitor center and bookstore and assist with public stargazing programs.
Pacific Whale Foundation Organizes land and ocean-based volunteer excursions on Maui, mostly day outings.
Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi Educational volunteer service trips on Maui, Kauaʻi, Molokaʻi and the Big Island are all-inclusive, week-long working vacations for club members. Local island chapters organize half-day and day-long volunteer outings.
Surfrider Foundation Island chapters of this nonprofit organization sponsor family-friendly volunteer days doing coastal cleanup and habitat restoration.
USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory Full-time volunteers help monitor the Big Island's volcanoes; minimum three-month commitment, apply in advance.
WWOOF Hawaii World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms lists short- and long-term opportunities at 300 farms on five islands.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Imperial (except 1 US gallon = 0.83 gallon)
US citizens can pursue work in Hawaii as they would in any other state – the problem is finding a job. International visitors in the USA on tourist visas are strictly prohibited from taking employment. To work legally, foreigners must secure sponsorship from an employer or international work-exchange program and apply for a visa before leaving home.
Joining the waitstaff of tourist restaurants and bars is the most likely short-term employment opportunity. If you have foreign-language, guiding or outdoor activity (eg scuba diving) skills, seek employment with outdoor outfitters. Most entry-level service jobs, such as housekeeping at hotels and resorts, go to locals.
In addition to notice boards at hostels, coffee shops and natural-foods stores, check the classified ads online at Craigslist (http://honolulu.craigslist.org).