Like so many others, Hawaii had been towards the top of our travel bucket lists for years. Back in 2016, we decided we would embark on our first long-haul trip together, and it definitely wasn’t difficult for us to decide on Hawaii and start researching our trip.
We’d decided that we wanted to spend 7 days in Hawaii, with a stopover in Los Angeles on the way there, and another stopover on the way back in San Francisco. For us, this was the perfect West Coast USA itinerary! (But more on that later…)
For now, we’ll be focusing on Hawaii. This perfect 7 days in Hawaii itinerary will allow you to see the main highlights and attractions of two beautiful Hawaiian islands: O’ahu and The Big Island. Are you ready to get hit with a dose of wanderlust inspiration? Here we go…
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Your Perfect 7 Days in Hawaii Itinerary
Days 1-4: O’ahu
Day 1: Honolulu
When travelling somewhere new, we always recommend spending the first day getting settled into your hotel or apartment, getting your bearings in the local neighbourhood and taking it easy. This allows your body to adapt to your new surroundings, while ensuring you don’t feel rushed to start sightseeing immediately.
That’s why we’re recommending this first day of your 7 days in Hawaii itinerary is spent getting to know Honolulu, Hawaii’s state capital.
Take your time to unpack and then walk along Waikiki Beach… despite the skyscrapers and general city hustle and bustle, it’s a very relaxing walk. This will also give you a chance to follow your nose to some delicious street food! During our visit, we instantly smelled garlic, and found the tastiest garlic shrimp and honey coated chicken wings platter.
Once you’ve gotten your bearings and eaten, round off your first day with a rest on Waikiki Beach itself. The beach is sandy, comfortable and provides the most perfect conditions for swimming in… especially when greeted with a sunset at the end.
Day 2: Day Trip Around O’ahu
When visiting O’ahu, make sure you venture away from the capital as this will give you a real flavour of what the island has to offer. While Honolulu is certainly more touristy and busy, the rest of the island is a tropical paradise and oh so beautiful!
If you’re driving, then I’d recommend spending a full day exploring the island. This will be a long 9-10 hour day, but you’ll see a lot during that time.
For non-drivers, I’d highly recommend finding a company that will take you on a full day tour of the island. As we’re huge fans of the TV show, Lost, we chose a package that was tailored around the various filming locations, but this was also a great way to see the island itself.
Check out these great tour options via Get Your Guide:
Read More: Finding Lost Filming Locations in Hawaii
Day 3: Pearl Harbor
No first-time visit to O’ahu is complete without seeing Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. It’s super easy to catch a local bus service to take you from downtown Honolulu to Pearl Harbor (and back again) costing just a couple of dollars. Or you can join a day trip tour if you’d prefer.
You’ll easily spend 3-4 hours visiting each of the exhibits and war ships at Pearl Harbor, while learning more about this devastating piece of history.
To visit the main attractions of the Pearl Harbor site itself, it’s recommended to book your tickets in advance online. This will allow you to skip quite a lot of queues, especially as this is such a popular attraction!
If you’re also interested in seeing the USS Arizona Memorial while you’re here (also highly recommended), then you have a couple of options. You can book tickets in advance online…
But for those of you who are on a budget and willing to take a little risk, the staff do also offer 1300 free walk up tickets on the day on a first come, first serve basis. Most people recommend you arrive as soon as the complex opens (at 7am), but I am just going to include my mini-story, which is:
“We visited Pearl Harbor on a Wednesday in the middle of September at 11am and were able to get tickets for both of us for free.” True story.
So the risk may be worth it, but obviously it’s not guaranteed that you’ll have the same luck as us!
Where to eat in Honolulu
For some amazing street food, head to Sam’s Kitchen for some seriously tasty garlic shrimp and honey coated chicken wings.
And for a delicious sit-down dinner, I can highly recommend the Waikiki Hula Grill. It’s a little on the pricier side, but it’s got great seaside views, good service and delicious food.
Day 4: Travel to The Big Island
It’s time to say goodbye to O’ahu and start making your way to The Big Island for another few days of paradise and stunning spots in nature!
The only way to get to The Big Island from O’ahu is by catching a domestic flight, which takes about an hour and can be booked on a budget. Although it’s fairly easy to fly between the islands, the majority of flights connect at Honolulu, which is why this 7 day itinerary is so simple!
This fourth day will be all about getting to The Big Island from O’ahu, and then settling in on the other side and exploring your new neighbourhood.
Days 5-7: The Big Island
Day 5: Volcano National Park
One of Hawaii’s biggest draws is that it’s an island built out of volcanic rock and still home to active volcanoes you can watch bubble and boil away. So you should waste no time in getting out and exploring the best of Volcano National Park.
In just one day, you can visit the Volcano National Park Visitor Center to learn more about volcanoes, hike through an active crater at Kīlauea Iki, walk through a lava tunnel at Thurston and marvel at the glow of lava from Kilauea at night (a volcano that has been continuously erupting since 1983).
Whether you decide to drive yourself around each of these locations, or embark on a tour, you can easily see all of this (without rushing) in about 6-8 hours.
Here are a couple of great tour options from Get Your Guide:
Day 6: Rainbow Falls & Mauna Kea
Sticking with the volcano theme, your next day should be spent admiring the views from the top of the Mauna Kea mountain, which is roughly in the centre of The Big Island.
Although Mauna Kea hasn’t erupted for over 4,500 years, it’s still considered to be a dormant volcano. But what’s most interesting about it is that it provides stargazers with one of the best night sky views in the world, which is why the world’s largest astronomical observatory has set up camp near the summit.
As an ordinary visitor, you have the chance to see an incredible sunset from 13,000ft up the mountain…
And stargaze for as long as you want from 9000ft up.
You’ll need a 4×4 in order to reach 13,000ft, but there are also plenty of tour options available. Many of which will also include a visit to Rainbow Falls, a very pretty waterfall and another top attraction near Hilo, on the way to Mauna Kea.
Here are some example tours from Get Your Guide:
We were able to get discounted tours to both the Volcano National Park and Mauna Kea mountain when booking direct to stay at Arnott’s Lodge in Hilo. It was a great saving, so I’d highly recommend doing the same if you can.
Day 7: Hilo
Your final day on The Big Island (and the final day of this Hawaii itinerary) will sadly be spent packing your bags and saying goodbye to a beautiful place.
However, if your flight isn’t until the afternoon or evening, then you should definitely spend the day in and around Hilo.
Here are a few places you must visit if you have time:
- Keaukaha Beach Park – a stunning beach park that looks like it’s made up of lots of mini tropical islands
- Liliuokalani Park and Gardens – a Japanese-inspired zen garden and very relaxing place to visit
- Hilo Bay Cafe – offering pretty views of the bay, delicious food and home to some of the best desserts in Hawaii
Read More: A Mini Travel Guide to Hilo
Where to eat in (and near) Hilo
If you’re after traditional Hawaiian food (and you have a healthy appetite), then take a trip out to Verna’s III Drive Inn to either eat there or takeaway. There are lots of options available — we shared the Hawaiian Platter between us for $11, which included seaweed wrapped pork, specialty rice and loads more.
I hope this 7 days in Hawaii itinerary helps with some inspiration ahead of your trip. I’d love to know what you’re planning on seeing and where you’re planning on going, so leave me a few comments below…
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