Looking for an itinerary that showcases the highlights of the Aloha State over one week in Hawaii? We’ve got you covered. This curated, in-the-know plan of action will whisk you through two of the most stunning isles in the chain, to reveal tropical beaches, eye-watering mountain landscapes, shimmering Pacific waters, and intriguing Polynesian history sites alike.
We focus in on Oahu – the home of the buzzy capital in Honolulu – and then Big Island – a wild place of misty rainforests and magma-belching volcanos. The aim? Offer a good balance between exploration and relaxation, a taste of everything a holiday to Hawaii should be all without cramming too much in.
The assumption is that you’ll be flying into Honolulu. Most international arrivals go there. The hop to Big Island can be done on a short-haul flight, which should also leave from the major airport in Honolulu. You’ll need a private car rental to really make the most of your one week in Hawaii, especially as our plan involves lots of scenic driving on dramatic coast and mountain roads.
Day 1: Arrive in Honolulu and enjoy Waikiki
Welcoming to Honolulu: The thriving and cosmopolitan capital of Hawaii. This city makes a great place to start your vacation. First, fly into the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on the island of Oahu and make your way to your accommodation. We’d 100% recommend staying in the area of Waikiki. It’s very much the tourist hub of the city, strung out in a series of gorgeous high-rise hotels behind a run of white-sand beaches and surf breaks. Some of the hotels we especially love are:
- Sheraton Waikiki ($$$) – Designed with whiffs of Polynesian culture about it, this one has a stunning pool right by the Pacific Ocean.
- Moana Surfrider ($$-$$$) – A famous hotel that’s just steps off the beach, complete with a lovely Victorian-styled tearoom and restaurant.
- Halekulani ($$$) – Oceanfront living hardly gets as luxurious as this, a hotel with front-row seats overlooking the Pacific and stunning suites with marble bathrooms and sea-sprayed balconies.
After you’ve dropped the bags, it’s time to hit the promenades and explore Waikiki itself. The neighborhood is brimming with life and tourist buzz. It’s filled with great shops, excellent restaurants, and of course Waikiki Beach itself. As soon as you step onto that long stretch of golden sand with its incredibly blue waters, rolling surf, and sun-worshipping crowds, you’ll have no doubt that you’re in Hawaii!
Waikiki is a fantastic place to try out surfing for the first time. It’s got loads of surf rentals and surf schools, along with some of the more easy-going waves Hawaii can offer. Alternatively, you can bag a sun lounger and start your holiday with a bit of relaxation and sunbathing. Later on, be sure to stick around for sunset – they are epic here. There are also plenty of bars on the water’s edge offering happy-hour cocktail deals on Tiki Mai Tai cocktails. Don’t knock back too many, though, because you have an early start in the morning.
The other top thing to do in the evening on day 1 in Waikiki is a sunset cruise. You can pre-book them (in fact, it’s a good idea to do that) and then look forward to an romantic jaunt out from Honolulu to see the south shore of Oahu on board a classic catamaran. Drinks are usually included and the Pacific provides the perfect backdrop to a blazing sunset show.
Day 2: Exploring the Oahu interior, from Diamond Head to the North Shore
Spend your first full day in Hawaii exploring the island of Oahu! Get up early to beat the heat and the crowds to Diamond Head, where you can hike your way up a dormant volcano and explore its crater. It’s a steep but not too strenuous climb, and the views from the top are definitely worth it! You can start the walk up at the Diamond Head Visitor Center, going over rough grass mounds and narrow ridges to a lookout point that takes in Waikiki and the mountains of Oahu beyond.
Once back down at sea level, hit the road to explore the island. Although Oahu has a public transport system, if you want to make the most of your time, it’s best to hire a car or book onto an organized tour. Oahu’s dramatic interior has been the filming location for many movies and TV shows, like Jurassic Park and Lost. There’s a good road network – one of the best in the whole state – that you can take to all corners of Oahu. You’ll want to head in a general northerly direction on the H1 and then H2 highways, because you’re aiming to reach the iconic North Shore. However, there are some stops to make along the way if you have time:
- Hanauma Bay – A slight detour south and east of Diamond Head, this one’s considered one of the best beaches for snorkeling in Oahu.
- Dole Plantation – A family friendly stop that showcases an historic Dole pineapple plantation – there’s even a mini train ride on offer.
- Waimea Valley – A very beautiful corner of the North Shore where tropical flowers bloom around roaring waterfalls.
For the evening, hang around the North Shore area. You should try to arrive in time to enjoy the beaches here. They are some of the most stunning around. They are also one of the surf meccas of the Aloha State. From November to February, spots like the Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay host some of the biggest waves this side of Portugal – they are excellent for watching the pros do their thing.
Stay on the North Shore that night. We like the simple but cozy Beach Side Studio ($$) on the coast road just outside of Pupukea.
Day 3: Pearl Harbor and a taste of Hawaiian culture
The third day is your chance to explore some of this island’s rich history and culture. And, of course, no trip to Oahu is complete without a visit to Pearl Harbor and its monuments.
Allow plenty of time for your visit because there are several different sites to get through. They include the USS Missouri battleship and the USS Bowfin submarine and museum. However, the most visited of all is the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits above the remains of the Arizona battleship and displays the names of those who lost their lives on board during the tragic events of 1941.
After Pearl Harbor, take a trip to see the excellent collection of Polynesian artifacts at the Bishop Museum. Then head to the Honolulu Museum of Art, where you’ll be able to tour one of the largest collections of Asian and Pacific artistry on the planet, complete with Nepalese statues and Ming Dynasty carvings. Finish off with a trip to Iolani Palace, which was the official residence of the last monarchs of Hawaii.
It’s a good idea to wind up your cultural day by attending a luau in the evening. These traditional Hawaiian celebrations offer a chance to enjoy some delicious Hawaiian food alongside dancing and entertainment. There are many fantastic luaus to choose from around Honolulu, but one of the most authentic is at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore.
Day 4: Fly to The Big Island And The Kona Coast
The next stop is the largest of the Hawaiian islands, also named Hawaii. To avoid confusion, this island usually goes by the name Big Island. Flights from Oahu to The Big Island take just under an hour, but you’ll want to book it for as early in the day as you can manage to make the most of your time once you get there. You’ll land at the Kona International Airport, which sits on the west coast close to some of the best beaches around.
Cue the Kona Coast. This is the shoreline that runs north and south from the airport. The water there is renowned for being crystal clear and teeming with marine life, including manta rays and endangered Hawaiian green turtles. So, this is where you’ll want to book a snorkeling trip or scuba diving excursion. We especially love picturesque Kealakekua Bay and – for the families especially -Magic Sands Beach Park, provided that the waves are small.
Back on dry land, head to Kailua-Kona village. This was once the seaside holiday resort of the Hawaiian royal family. Here you can explore several historical sights, do a little shopping at the bazaars and marketplaces, and sample the world-famous Kona coffee (check out the highly rated 808 Grindz Cafe for that!). Later on, be sure to drop into the Kona Brewing Co. for some locally made beers!
There are a couple of great hotels in the town of Kailua-Kona. Some of our favorites are:
- Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel ($$$) – A Marriott hotel with some serious style, this one gets you right into the heart of the town.
- Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort ($$-$$$) – This condo hotel offers spacious rooms just south of Kailua-Kona village, which makes it perfect for anyone looking for better access to the snorkeling coves.
Day 5: Rainforests and mountains on Big Island
The Big Island is known for its dramatic landscapes and range of microclimates, which all give rise to incredible biodiversity and varied scenery. You can travel from palm tree-fringed beaches to lush rainforests to pasture land to snow-dusted mountain peaks all in one day. And, guess what, that’s precisely the plan for Day 5 of our one week in Hawaii!
Drive north from Kona to the Hamakua Coast to see black-sand beaches and tropical rainforests. Stop at the Waipio Valley lookout to gaze across acres of fertile land populated by taro farms and see waterfalls cascading from 2,000-foot-high cliffs. Then make your way to Mauna Kea. It’s a monster of a peak, and actually the tallest mountain in the world when measured from below sea level!
Scaling the peaks of Mauna Kea is one of the must-dos on The Big Island. However, those who only have one week in Hawaii might be better off driving. And you’re going to want to join a tour because you’ll need a 4×4 and an expert driver to reach the summit. Make sure you get there in time for sunset – it’s surely one of the most beautiful experiences in all of Hawaii! You can also stick around for when the stars come out. Some tours even offer telescopes and hot chocolate, as the skies here are said to be some of the clearest on planet Earth.
The local town of Hilo is a great place to stay in the evening. That’s located on the more rugged eastern shoreline of Big Island. It’s a chilled place with some relaxed local cafe-bistros and a farmer’s market, not to mention a few convenient hotels:
- SCP Hilo Hotel ($$$) – A very stylish hotel done in the Japandi (Japanese-Scandi) style, this one’s a top hotel in Hilo.
- Castle Hilo Hawaiian Hotel ($$) – A more local Hawaiian flavor is on offer at this hotel on the seafront of Hilo.
Day 6: Volcanos National Park
Day 6 is all about the piece de resistance of Big Island: The legendary Volcanoes National Park. This reserve is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Plan to spend the whole day at the park because it is huge. Yep, it covers a whopping 523 square miles, all crisscrossed with hiking trails and dotted with must-see sights. The park also remains open into the night, and you’ll definitely want to stay late to see the lava glowing under the twinkling stars after dark.
A good way to start the day is at the visitor’s center, where you can get an introduction to the park, join a free ranger-led hike, and find out about any current volcanic activity and safety guidelines (eruptions still happen all the time, you know?!). Then, head out and watch the steam rising from the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater and spot live lava within the Kilauea volcano. Hike across the Kilauea Iki Crater, walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, and take a scenic drive along the Chain Of Craters Road to witness places where the asphalt has been taken over by lava from past eruptions. It’s all pretty incredible.
An alternative to exploring the park by foot and car is to take a scenic flight or helicopter ride over the live volcanoes. This once-in-a-lifetime experience will give you a birds-eye view of the boulder fields and fiery lakes of lava, but it does cost a touch more than your average visit.
In the evening, return to your hotel in Hilo ready for explorations on the last day of your one week in Hawaii…
Day 7: Hilo and depart
Be sure to book your flight out of Hilo for late in the day so that you have time to explore this beautiful area. Hilo is one of the greenest places in Hawaii, and it’s home to several lush rainforest spaces, gardens, and parks.
If you can fit it in, take a drive out to the 400-foot-high Akaka Falls. They are easily one of the most dramatic waterfalls in the whole state, with a cascading stream of H2O dropping into a deep plunge pool that’s surrounded by emerald woodlands. Afterwards, keep going up the coast to the north to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. Or stay closer to town and explore Wailuku River State Park, home to the picturesque Rainbow Falls and the Boiling Pots, natural pools that seem to bubble up from their underwater source.
You can also do plenty if you don’t feel like leaving Hilo itself. Take a stroll through the downtown area to enjoy a final Hawaiian meal at one of the many excellent restaurants. You could also go for some last-minute souvenir shopping at the many interesting shops and traditional marketplace that make their home there.
There’s the serene Liliuokalani Park and Japanese-style gardens, too, along with the lovely Hawaiian beaches that await over the bridge to Coconut Island – a chance to sunbathe and swim at one last Hawaiian beach, perhaps? Or head east of town to the beautiful Keaukaha Beach Park. That one’s located conveniently close to the airport and is known as a hotspot for rare sea turtles.
Where to go after our one week in Hawaii?
If you’re lucky enough to have some extra time in this stunning corner of the USA and don’t have to jet off just yet, there are oodles of other spots that are totally worth considering for that next stop:
- Maui – The closest to Big Island, Maui is a famous retreat for good-time vibes. The most famous area is the northwest shoreline, around the golf courses of Kaanapali.
- Kauai – The fabled Garden Isle of Hawaii is a longer flight from Big Island but opens up some of the most dramatic scenery of all. This is the home of the Na Pali coast and the sheer-cut Waimea Canyon.
- Molokai – A more off the beaten track island that has a rich history and lots of Hawaiian heritage sites.
Getting from where you are on the Big Island to any of the above shouldn’t be a mega chore. The Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole is the main transport hub for inter-island flights here. It has a couple of international connections – from Japan and the mainland US – but also a smattering of links to Lihue Airport in Kauai (where you will get to see the famous Na Pali Coast!) and to Kahului Airport (one of the beach and surfing meccas of the state).
One week in Hawaii itinerary – our conclusion
Our Hawaii week-long itinerary plans out what we think you should do if you’ve got just seven days in the home of Aloha. That’s actually not LOADS of time to explore a part of the US that’s spread across an entire archipelago and hundreds of miles in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s probably just enough to fit in two islands, which is why we focus in on Oahu – the most populous island – and Big Island – the largest island. The other reason we do that is because we feel that these two isles offer a varied glimpse of the state. One, Oahu, is home to glimmering sands and cruisy surf breaks. The other, Big Island, is wilder and less trodden, with volcanic beaches and smoking volcanos in its vast interior national parks. Both
Is one week in Hawaii enough?
One week in Hawaii is definitely enough to have an incredible vacation. If you follow our itinerary you’ll find you have plenty of time to explore beautiful beaches, get out on the water, enjoy delicious food, see amazing sights, and experience some wonderful Hawaiian culture. Just don’t expect to be able to see everything across the Aloha State, as there are a whopping six islands in all that are open to visitors. We’d say a week is enough to see two maximum.
How much does it cost to go to Hawaii for a week?
One week in Hawaii for one person costs an average of $1900. Budget accommodation is relatively scarce in Hawaii, but you do have ways of controlling your spending depending on what you spend your time doing. For example, snorkeling off the beaches with your own equipment is much cheaper than booking a boat trip. And adding in bucket-list activities like a helicopter ride over the volcanoes will increase the cost.
How many islands are there to visit in Hawaii?
There are six islands open to tourists in the Aloha State. That’s way too many to see in one week in Hawaii, which is why we focus on two of the most incredible for our seven-day plan: Oahu and Big Island. We’ve also outlined how you can add in an extension to this one-week in Hawaii itinerary by hopping on a flight to Maui or Kauai when you’re finished, but that’s time dependant.