HOW TO SPEND 10 DAYS IN HAWAII – AN EPIC ITINERARY
Are you planning your Hawaii itinerary and wondering about how to spend 10 days in Hawaii? Then read on to find out about the best things to do and along with many more travel tips.
The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. Visitors flock from all over the world to this picturesque archipelago known for its year-round good weather, outdoor activities, and warm hospitality.
And Hawaii is like heaven!
This post was written by Rebecca – a regular Hawaii visitor (find out more about her below)
TRAVEL TIPS FOR YOUR 10-DAY HAWAII ITINERARY
Before discussing how to spend 10 days in Hawaii, here are some quick travel tips for your itinerary.
Hawaii has always had a unique culture in comparison to the other US states. Given statehood in 1959, it is the last state to enter the union and hold onto its culture and traditions. Over 2,400 miles away from the western shores of California, Hawaii’s daily life is unlike many other places – which is one of the reasons it is such a favorite among tourists.
How many islands are in Hawaii?
- Hawaii is made up of eight major islands: Hawaii (aka the Big Island), Oahu, Maui, Kauai, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, and Niihau.
- Some islands are uninhabited or not open for tourism, but the major islands that you should visit when coming to Hawaii are Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai.
- Lanai is another possibility, but there is not much to do outside of the resort you stay in.
So, for this 10-day itinerary for Hawaii, we will focus on these four islands – what to do, where to go, and what to see!
- Big Island
- and Kauai
Are 10 Days in Hawaii Enough?
Hawaii is a beautiful island paradise. If you have to put a time limit on your trip, I would advise 10-14 days for all four major islands. If you can stay longer than 10 days, even better!
Weather in Hawaii
- The weather in Hawaii is pretty consistent year-round.
- The lows tend to be between 68ºF and 75ºF, and the highs between 78ºF and 85ºF. The only real variation is if you are closer to sea level (warmer) or higher elevations in the mountains (cooler).
- There is sometimes snow at the summits of the islands’ three tallest volcanoes.
- Hawaii also has a rainy season, which is from November to March.
- Some areas can be very humid during the summer months, like Honolulu and the touristy Waikiki on Oahu. But higher elevation areas will be less hot and humid, even in the summer.
Best Time to Visit Hawaii
- Generally, the best months to visit Hawaii are April and May, and September and October. These months are known for having the best weather and travel rates, and the least amount of tourists (i.e. fewer crowds).
- Winters in Hawaii are nice, especially if you are escaping from a cold climate, but they are also very busy, and you’ll be dealing with crowds, expensive flights, and hotel prices. Hawaii is one of the best places to visit in the US in the winter months.
- The downside of summer is that the islands can get pretty humid, especially close to sea level.
How to Get to Hawaii
Unless you’re in the market for a long cruise (about 2 weeks), the only way to get to Hawaii is by plane.
- Each island has at least one major airport.
- Most flights land at Oahu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.
- From there, you can take a small inter-island flight to your final destination.
- Many airlines fly to Hawaii, but my personal favorite is Hawaiian Airlines.
How to Get Around Hawaii in 10 Days
Once you arrive in Hawaii, I would advise renting a car. You can find the best deals here.
You may be tempted to get a convertible in this island paradise (I did once), but just be aware that it will peg you as a tourist. Locals rarely drive these, but they can be a lot of fun on a visit.
I advise renting a car because while public transportation isn’t bad, it will not allow you the freedom to really explore the nooks and crannies of the islands.
However, since you have to catch a few flights, you would have to rent a car on each island.
Although taxis and Uber are options, they can get pretty expensive (and they are not that plentiful in some areas). Having your own transportation will make your trip that much more enjoyable.
You can take a shuttle from the airport to the car rental pick-up location.
What to Pack for a 10-Day Hawaii Trip
Hawaii is easy to pack because the weather is consistent and not cold enough to need bulky outerwear.
The Hawaiian people are very casual, so bring shorts and t-shirts, flip-flops (or slippers, as they are known here), and a bathing suit.
Maybe pack an umbrella for the rainy days and a sweater for the cooler nights if you head to higher elevations.
Since there are plenty of outdoorsy things to do, bring socks and good sneakers or hiking boots. I explored a volcano in slippers, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea!
Check out this post to find out what to pack for a beach vacation.
Where to Stay in Hawaii
Depending on your budget, there are multiple options for travelers looking for a luxury resort, mid-range hotel, and budget-friendly option.
Tourism is Hawaii’s main source of income. So there are a lot of accommodations around, especially on Oahu and Maui.
I recommend the Ocean Tower by Hilton Grand Vacations on the Big Island
and Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa.
More Travel Tips for Your Hawaii Itinerary
Local people in Hawaii speak a mix of English and Hawaiian, known as pidgin. It can be a little confusing if you’re not used to it, but this is mostly toned down when speaking with non-natives.
Water in Hawaii is actually rainwater that has been caught. In times of drought, water can be in short supply, so be courteous and (even in non-drought times) do not waste water.
Do not take rocks or pieces of the volcano home with you. This is frowned upon by the locals. They sell souvenirs everywhere, so just buy them.
Drive slower in Hawaii than you normally would on the mainland of the US or in Europe. Speed limits are lower, and locals tend not to speed over them.
Relax and have fun. The island life is at a slower pace than in other places, so sit back and enjoy. This is a vacation, right?
HOW TO SPEND 10 DAYS IN HAWAII – ITINERARY
A word about this 10-day Hawaii itinerary: Many of the places I have included are not just tourist destinations but recommendations from local Hawaiians. My husband is from the Big Island and has family throughout Hawaii, so their experiences played heavily into my own Hawaii itinerary-making.
I hope these suggestions give you a taste of real Hawaii beyond the tour guide favorites.
Day 1: Oahu (Honolulu)
Since you will be flying into Honolulu, Oahu. you should consider staying for a few days and seeing some of the sights. Just a quick clarification: Waikiki is a district in Honolulu and Honolulu is a city on Oahu.
In Honolulu, I advise dropping your bags off at the hotel and taking a walk through Waikiki.
This is the main tourist drag in the city, and it reminds me of the Las Vegas Strip (but with much less neon).
There are great restaurants, plenty of shopping opportunities, and fun people-watching here.
For dinner, you’ll find some casual eateries as well as fine dining in this area. Or, pick up some food and take it to the beach. You might be tired from the flight, so this should probably be the end of Day 1.
Day 2: Oahu (North Shore)
Today would be a good day for the beach. You have two options.
If your hotel has private beach access and you feel like just relaxing today, you can stay at the hotel beach and enjoy the hotel’s amenities.
Or, you could drive to the north side of the island, which is known for its surfing and snorkeling. The drive is about 45 minutes.
Depending on when you are visiting, you may see a world-famous surf competition here on the North Shore, or if it’s summer, the snorkeling is prominent as the water is calm.
Consider taking a snorkeling tour as it is one of the best ways to explore local marine life. Check the tours below and choose the best one.
Either way, you’ll find that this is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike.
Stop in the town of Haleiwa for some supplies. There are a few plate-lunch places where you can get delicious Hawaiian fare to go for a beach picnic. There are also lots of small shops and galleries, which would be perfect for souvenirs.
Enjoy a day at one of Hawaii’s most famous beaches before heading over to the Dole Plantation. Pineapples are grown here, and there are tours offered throughout the day. It’s pretty cool and worth a look while you’re on this side of the island.
Finish your day off with dinner at Hali’ewa Beach House, which has a great terrace with views.
Day 3 Morning: Oahu
Today will be about taking an inter-island flight to Kauai, the next major island just northwest of Oahu. But before heading to the airport, you need to fuel up on something delicious that all the locals love.
Malasadas: These Portuguese donuts are absolutely delicious, and the best place on Oahu to get them is at Leonard’s on Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu. Don’t let its small storefront fool you. This place makes amazing malasadas, and they sell out fast. So, head there early for your morning meal.
Day 3 Afternoon: Kauai
Depending on what time you fly out of Oahu and check in to your hotel in Kauai, you may or may not have much time for sightseeing. But assuming you have at least a few hours, I advise a sunset helicopter tour, followed by some of Kauai’s nightlife.
Helicopter Tour: Much of Kauai is not accessible by car, so it makes sense to explore it by air.
Book a helicopter tour to see the natural beauty of Kauai from above. You’ll be able to see the winding rivers, rushing waterfalls, forests, and dramatic sea cliffs from a whole new perspective. The dramatic light of the setting sun makes it even more memorable.
Kauai Nightlife: If you’re traveling with kids, stop for dinner at Hukilau Lanai Restaurant in Kapa’a, where you can enjoy a delicious meal on the lanai (patio) and hear traditional Hawaiian live music (performing Wed – Fri nights).
For a more adults-only vibe, check out Stevenson’s Library in Poipu, named after author Robert Louis Stevenson. This place has a great ambiance and drinks and has nightly jazz performances.
For couples, I recommend Duke’s Barefoot Bar on Kalapaki Beach for a casual dinner on the open-air terrace, and if it’s the weekend, music and dancing, too. This bar also serves a good variety of non-alcoholic cocktails for those who don’t drink.
Afterward, take a walk on the beach together.
Day 4: Kauai
Kauai is a mecca for outdoor activities. And you don’t have to be especially sporty to enjoy them. This island will look like what many people imagine when they think of “Hawaii.” And that’s no accident. Many movies are shot on Kauai since it feels and looks like “real Hawaii.”
So, today will be the day we explore “the Garden Isle.” The order you do the following things in is up to you. You can skip some or take longer on others, it is up to you.
Hanalei River: This is a great place to kayak and paddleboard. Most people usually start in Hanalei Bay and work their way down the palm-lined river. It’s beautiful and also a great workout! Best to start early to avoid crowds and take in the early morning scenery.
Napali Coast: Take a boat tour to see the Napali Coast. This rugged and gorgeous area includes sea cliffs, waterfalls, turquoise water, and sandy beaches. A boat tour is a must and will give you a chance to take in a lot of this beautiful and vibrant stretch of coastline. Some tours include snorkeling and sailing, and more.
Kapaa Beach Park: Rent bikes in Kapaa and ride the trail at Kapaa Beach Park. You don’t have to be an expert cyclist to enjoy this scenic trail. This is fun for families as well as couples.
Princeville: If you’d rather stick closer to town, then check out Princeville. This area boasts the lovely Princeville Botanical Gardens, which offers a 3-hour walking tour that lets you see everything, as well as enjoy fruit and honey samples – and a chocolate tasting! A great stop for couples.
Poipu: For families, Poipu is a great area to stay and play. Some beaches and activities are fun for kids here – such as ATV tours and sailing charters. There is also a lot to do if you are staying at the Grand Hyatt Poipu. I suggest a luau experience where you can enjoy traditional Hawaiian food, a great ambiance, and lots of hula dancing for dinner.
The Kalalau Trail: This is a bonus suggestion for the adventurous and advanced hiker: Located within the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, the Kalalau Trail is a steep, 11-mile footpath that runs between He’e Beach and Kalalau Beach. This trail is renowned for its challenges, but it is also a way to see the Napali Coast up close, including five valleys that you will cross. Bring your hiking boots, a walking stick, supplies, and some determination for this trail.
Depending on what you choose to do, 2-3 of these activities should fill up Day 4.
Day 5 Morning: Kauai/Maui
For Day 5 of this Hawaiian 10-day itinerary, I suggest doing a few more things in Kauai for the first half of the day and then flying on to Maui.
If you spent yesterday hiking, go sailing today in Poipu.
If you want to relax, go for the chocolate tasting at the Botanical Gardens in Princeville.
Or enjoy the pool and amenities at your resort.
When you’re ready to see your next Hawaiian island, then take an inter-island flight from Lihue Airport to Kahului Airport on Maui.
Day 5 Afternoon: Maui
Maui is famous for its beaches and its volcano. The island has 30 miles of coastline beaches that feature red, white, and black sand and the world’s largest dormant volcano – Haleakala.
If you’re visiting in winter, you can also whale watch from this island, either in Lahaina or Ma’alaea Harbor. But Maui is great for shopping, eating, snorkeling, hiking, and windsurfing.
Once you are in Maui and check into your hotel (not to mention rent your car), it may be nearing the end of the day. So, now would be a good time to enjoy the sunset.
I suggest heading to the beach. Ka’anapali is a sandy beach on the northwest side of the island that is popular with the locals and features a lava promontory. “Black Rock,” as it is called, is good for snorkeling and cliff jumping.
Or you could head over to Kamaole 1, 2, or 3, located on the southwest side, which are very family-friendly beaches that have lifeguards on duty and sea turtles. Check out the family-friendly activities in Maui for more info.
You can pick up dinner to eat at the beach or have a sit-down meal. Try Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina – amazing views with great local food.
This brings us to the end of Day 5.
Day 6: Maui
If you’re an early riser, I suggest heading over to Mount Haleakala to watch the sunrise. This dormant volcano gives you the perfect vantage point to enjoy the sun rising over the ocean. Sunrise Tours are available for booking.
If you didn’t have breakfast, then I suggest stopping at Kula Lodge for great food and views. After that, you have a few options.
Black Rock: If you were intrigued by the idea of cliff jumping, then head (back) to Black Rock in Ka’anapali. The cliff is about 20-30 feet up and is a real adrenaline rush for adventure lovers.
Ho’okipa Beach: Maui is known as one of the world’s best windsurfing islands. So, head over to Ho’okipa Beach to enjoy this fun outdoor activity. If you’re just a beginner, then I’d suggest Kanaha Beach Park for calmer surf.
Hana hikes: On the Hana side of the island, there are multiple hiking options. The best as far as ease would be the Pools of Oheo Trail, which has a 200-foot waterfall at the top of the trail. Another option is Black Sand Beach and Blowhole, which is good for all skill levels and is a relaxing hike – good for families.
Aquarium at Ma’alaea Harbor: If you’re traveling with kids, you could take them to the Aquarium at the Maui Ocean Center. Sitting on 3 acres, this is the largest tropical reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere.
Grab dinner or a drink at one of the local eateries (try Leilani’s on the Beach in Ka’anapali) before getting some much-deserved rest.
These activities should give you more than enough to do on Day 6.
Day 7 Morning: Maui
Today, we say goodbye to Maui. My suggestion is to stop at Kihei Caffe for an authentic Hawaiian breakfast and coffee that will start your day right. Then, head out for one last Maui adventure.
Day 7 Afternoon: Big Island
When you’re ready, grab a flight to the next island, landing on the Big Island of Hawaii at Kona International Airport.
The Big Island of Hawaii is known for its dormant volcano, Mauna Kea, whose summit is so high that it gets snow. There are also two active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. The island has everything from colored sand beaches to rainforests and offers great spots for snorkeling and hiking. This is actually my favorite Hawaiian island.
Since this is (obviously) the biggest of the Hawaiian Islands, we will split our time between the western Kona side and the eastern Hilo side.
So, spend the rest of the day exploring the Kona side of the island. Take a walk through Holualoa, where you’ll find many boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries.
The cute Holuakoa restaurant is a great choice when you’re ready to sit down and eat. This area is really nice and not overly touristy either.
Just north of Holualoa is Kailua-Kona. There are some enjoyable, laid-back things to do here. The main street is called Ali’i Drive, and there’s plenty of shopping, food, music, and more.
If you’d like to explore some of Hawaii’s history, stop at the Hulihee Palace to see where Hawaiian royalty once vacationed. Or check out Mokuaikaua Church from the 1800s, the oldest Christian church in Hawaii.
End your night with dinner, drinks, or, best yet, some Hawaiian shaved ice. These ice cones come in dozens of flavors – and are best served with some ice cream in the middle. Yum.
Day 8: Big Island (Kona)
Start Day 8 of this itinerary at The Coffee Shack in Captain Cook. You’ll overlook the views of Kealakekua Bay while enjoying a tasty breakfast.
Captain Cook/Kealakekua Bay: After eating, head over to the bay for some snorkeling. Some great boat tours will take you out toward the Captain Cook Monument. I actually saw whales while doing one of these – amazing!
Captain Cook Monument Trail: If you prefer to hike, then try the Captain Cook Monument Trail. You can drive to the parking area at the top of the trail. It’s just under 2 miles, but just so you know – the downhill part is easy, but the trek back to your car is less so!
Kayaking at Kealakekua Bay: Another favorite activity is kayaking, which you can do in Kealakekua Bay by starting at Napoopoo Road. This will also take you to the Captain Cook Monument.
Best parks for the kids: In Kona, there are a few great parks for the kids to play in and explore. If you want to take a break from activities and just relax, either head down to the beach (Hapuna Beach is a favorite) or try one of these:
Higashihara Park in Kona – This one is older but still good.
Waimea Park in Waimea – This one was just redone and lots of fun.
Mauna Kea Recreation Area – Located on Saddle Road, this one connects Kona side to Hilo side, so this will work for either Day 8 or 9.
That should do it for Day 8. Get some rest because we’re heading to Hilo tomorrow.
Day 9: Big Island (Hilo)
Before we head to Hilo, we will make a stop because on the Big Island, you have to see a volcano.
On the south side of the island, you can stop at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This takes about 2 hours to reach from Kona. You’ll notice black sand beaches, so pull over for some pictures. They’re gorgeous.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: At the volcano park, you can go exploring on your own (though you risk getting lost as I did), or you can take a Ranger-led tour. If you’ve never seen a volcano up close, this is really interesting and worth a short visit.
From the volcanoes, it will take about 45 minutes to get to Hilo. This side of the island feels a little more urban than Kona (though nothing like Honolulu). There’s even a mall. But whether you want to hit the beaches, shop, or play outdoors, Hilo has lots of options.
Narnia Falls: If you enjoy hiking, I suggest visiting Narnia Falls. This “secret” area can be found by parking by the Boiling Pots Lake, hiking up to the overlook, climbing over the rail, and heading down a trail to the left. This will take you to four waterfalls that empty in one pool. You can swim here (though it may not be advisable).
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo: This cute zoo covers 12 acres and is a fun stop if you’re traveling as a family. It’s free and offers a nice playground for the kids to play on.
Ziplining: This is a fun activity on the Big Island. Rushing over the beautiful rainforest and waterfalls is unforgettable. Check in at the Grand Naniloa Resort and then drive up the Hamakua Coast to Zipline Through Paradise, a company specializing in these zipline tours. This activity is great for couples, solo travelers, and families. It takes about 4 hours.
Day 10: Big Island/Oahu
Well, today is the last day for this itinerary. And while you can stay longer (or may have had to leave sooner), we will be ending this trip by driving back around Kona to the north, so you have circumnavigated the whole island.
As you’re heading from Hilo back to Kona, stop at Tex Drive-in for some of the best malasadas on the island- Can you tell I love these little balls of fried dough? It’s located on the north shore of the Big Island, in Honokaa.
Drop off your rental car and grab a flight back to the Daniel K. Inouye Airport in Honolulu.
Day 10 Afternoon: Honolulu
Once you’ve arrived, if there’s time before your flight home, I suggest getting in one more taste of the islands. (Luggage storage is available in Terminal 2 of the airport, so you can move around without lugging your bags!)
Pearl Harbor: Not far from the airport is Pearl Harbor. For free, you can see the USS Arizona Memorial there and learn a little bit of the history that led up to the US’s entrance into WWII.
Diamond Head: Or, if you want to get one last good look at Oahu, then head to Diamond Head for a quick hike and panoramic views as it is a must-see activity in Hawaii. This is beautiful and will probably take about 2 hours.
If you didn’t see enough of Waikiki on Day 1, you could take a cab or Uber there for more sightseeing and souvenir shopping.
If you have the time, you could also explore Ala Moana Center for more shopping, eating, and beach time. It’s about 11 minutes away by car.
Since this is Day 10 of our Hawaii itinerary, we will say aloha to the beautiful Hawaiian Islands.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON YOUR 10-DAY HAWAII TRIP
If you plan to stay longer, you can definitely take your time going through these activities and just wander around the towns and cities, checking out the small hidden charms that each has. If you couldn’t stay the full 10 days, then pick and choose your favorite activities and remember: you can always come back again!
I hope this 10-day Hawaii itinerary makes your vacation an exciting and fun one, full of local flavor. Whether you are traveling alone, coming as part of a couple, or taking the family – the islands have something for everyone.
About the Author:
This post was written by Rebecca, who runs her own blog The Journey at Home – where she writes about her life as a mother of 5 with everything that comes along with it. She lived in New York for a long time before she moved to Las Vegas. She also works as a freelancer for Arzo Travels.