Spring break is fast approaching (or, in some cases, already here). Whether you’re planning a last-minute getaway for your week off school, dreaming of when you’ll take your grown-up spring break off work, or planning for your kids’ school vacation, it’s hard to find a more quintessential spot to unwind and relax than Hawaii.
You could do the traditional trip: there’s nothing wrong with spending a week chilling out on the shores of Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach, sipping mai tais and listening to the waves. Between beach naps, punch up your days with some off-the-beaten-path Hawaiian destinations. Here are four ways to see Hawaii that will take your break to the next level.
1. Go to Honolulu…but stray from it too.
Honolulu’s white-sand beaches are as picture perfect as they sound. Catch some rays at Waikiki Beach, the South Shore’s most famous beach. Lunch in Kaimuki, just 2.5 miles away, where chef Ed Kenney (who we profiled in our May/June 2016 issue) has set up not one but three locally focused restaurants (Town, Kaimuki Superette, and Mud Hen Water). Burn off the calories with an afternoon hike on Lanipo Trail.
The entire island of Oahu is so small that a few hours in the car will take you all the way around the perimeter, so there’s no excuse for not taking a day trip. The North Shore of the island is known for its pristine surf conditions, with waves suitable for beginners to veterans. Turtle Bay Resort offers a spin on the usual surf lesson—your instructor duo is surfer Rocky and his dog, Hina—as well as horseback rides along oceanfront trails and mountain bike rentals so you can spend the afternoon tearing through the jungle.
2. Live the dream on Kauai.
This less-frequented Hawaiian island is known for its intense greenery and slowed-down pace (even more so than usual island life). The jungle is expansive and unbelievably beautiful, the beaches tucked away from sight. Hike along the Na Poli Coast for stunning views of the ocean from Kauai’s cliffs, and drive to Kauai’s west side to see the deep reds and greens of the 14-mile-long Waimea Canyon. You can also kayak the Wailua River to Uluwehi Falls, watch the sunset at Hanalei Bay, and see rare birds like the red-footed boobie at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The Anahata Sanctuary on the North Shore offers an affordable place to rest your head in the middle of nature.
3. See the locals’ Hawaii on the island of Molokai.
If Kauai is unfrequented, Molokai is unvisited. This little Hawaiian island is hyper-local—the restaurants you visit cater to residents, not tourists; cruise ships have nowhere to port; your dinner could’ve been hunted down that morning; there’s only one real hotel (called, simply, Hotel Molokai), and the Wi-Fi is hit-or-miss. We’re not throwing the word around when we say that Molokai is authentic. To get a sense of what it’s really like to be a native Hawaiian, you’ll do no better than coming here.
4. Get adventurous on the Big Island.
Think of an adventure you want to take, and Hawaii’s namesake island can probably deliver. Out of the 13 world climate zones, the island of Hawaii has 11—which means you could spent one morning hanging out by the beach and that afternoon zip-lining through the jungle and swimming in a waterfall or hiking volcanic rock to views of distant snowcapped peaks. The Hilton Waikoloa Village, on the Kailua-Kona side of the island, plays on that has-it-all theme, with rooms that cater to your choice of views: ocean, mountain, or lagoon. Spend a few nights on the Hilo side to get ample time to visit Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park (one of the 58 parks celebrating 100 years as part of the National Park Service this year) and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden’s otherworldly plants.
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Sarah Purkrabek Sarah Purkrabek is a Los Angeles-based travel writer.