The best places in Hawaii to visit in 2018

The new year brings new Hawaii adventures to some of the best towns in the Islands worth visiting right now.
Red Road in Puna, Hawaii Island

Every year, certain towns catch our attention—there’s either something new, such as a hotel opening where there normally aren’t hotels, or it’s suddenly trending. Often passed up for its more popular neighbors, these towns should be on your radar for 2018, and are worth a longer stop or even a stay.

1. North Kohala, Big Island

The view of Pololu Valley from the trail.
Photo: Thinkstock

Highway 270 dead-ends in North Kohala, so most people bypass this charming little corner of the Big Island, but that would be a mistake. Hawi and Kapaau are two of the cutest towns—full of quaint cafes and trendy boutiques. This part of the island is steeped in history, being where King Kamehameha the Great was born and raised, and a festival takes place in his honor every June near his roadside statue in Kapaau. Where the road ends, Pololu Valley can be found, with its black sands and green mountains, stunning every visitor who stops at its lookout. The hike to its beach is roughly 20 minutes per way, where you can picnic amongst unspoiled nature.

2. Pahoa, Big Island

The colorful, small town of Pahoa.
Photo: Megan Spelman

Pahoa is unlike any other town you’re going to find in Hawaii, partly due to the number of hippies who have moved in and due to its remote nature, secluded by acres of rain forest and lava flows. The best location to stay if you’re visiting the volcano is Pahoa’s district of Puna, which has a number of Airbnbs such as cabins, treehouses and yurts that are as unique as the people who live here. The town’s popular Tin Shack Bakery and healthy Island Naturals Market and Deli will satiate your hunger, and the coastal Red Road route will put a smile on your face as it takes you under rain forest canopies to the town of Kalapana, where the lava ocean entry last occurred. Swing by on Wednesday nights for Uncle Robert’s night market, and you’ll fall in love with the community.

3. Napili, Maui

The white-sand beach of Napili Bay.
Photo: Thinkstock

With bustling Kaanapali to the south and ritzy Kapalua to the north, Napili has the best features of both towns, making it one of our West Maui favorites. It has the beautiful, large and swimmable bay, hidden from the road, so it won’t be as packed as Kaanapali Beach. There are also abundant oceanfront vacation rentals to choose from, and the luxurious Napili Kai Resort is a regular destination for families who return year after year. Don’t miss the farmers market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and Gazebo Restaurant for breakfast at Napili Shores. The beach, bay and prime location will keep you from wanting to go anywhere else.

4. Kakaako, Oahu

Salt in Kakaako houses cafes, shops and restaurants.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Right outside of Waikiki, Kakaako is the new cool-kid hangout in urban Honolulu, with Instagram-friendly and eye-catching murals, neighboring coffee shops, popular restaurants and trendy bars. You really can’t go wrong with any of the places brimming with locals here, but a few of our favorites include Highway Inn and Moku Kitchen for lunch or dinner, Bevy for after-dinner handcrafted cocktails, Honolulu Beerworks for craft beer in its outdoor beer garden (watch it come to life on weekends), and the Brewseum to view its World War II memorabilia collection and to order its Pilot Pale Ale. 

5. Kapolei, Oahu

Surfers enter the water at White Plains Beach.
Photo: Emily Bragg

Embassy Suites and Hampton Inn & Suites opened in Kapolei near the city’s mall along with dozens of new restaurants and shops, giving budget travelers a reason to stay on the west side of Oahu. Best for visitors who are trying to avoid Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, Kapolei has a water park and three public beaches: White Plains, Nimitz Beach and Ko Olina Lagoons (we recommend Lagoon 4, and go early or prepare to wait for parking). All of them are family-friendly, and White Plains’ gentle waves are fun for kids wanting to play in the shorebreak and for beginner surfers who want to fine-tune their skills. If you’re looking for more challenging surf, the 30-minute drive to the North Shore is a piece of cake from here.

6. Lanai City, Lanai

Hotel Lanai lit up at night.
Photo: Grant Kaye

It’s one of the smaller Islands in the chain, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked, because you’ll be missing out on fun off-roading activities to sights rarely seen (read about them in our January/February 2018 issue). Most times you’ll even have them all to yourself. There are two hotels on the island, the Four Seasons Resort Lanai and the more affordable Hotel Lanai, but budget travelers should also consider camping at Hulopoe Beach. Walking around Lanai City’s town square—a simple loop up one street and down another—reminds anyone who visits this small town, where everyone knows everyone, that less really is more. Looking for breakfast? Go to local favorite Ginger Cafe. Coffee? There’s no Starbucks, so try Coffee Works. Need to pick up essentials? Richard’s Market should have anything you’re looking for. The simplification of choices will have you leaving Lanai feeling de-stressed and refreshed.

7. Moloaa, Kauai

Moloaa’s hidden beach.
Photo: Thinkstock

Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but, in the case of Moloaa, you’re really missing out if you don’t take this detour. There’s not much to see from Kuhio Highway, except lots of green shrubbery and trees, typical of the drive toward Hanalei on the north shore of Kauai, but turn right onto Koolau Road, past Anahola and you’ll find a couple other treats. Moloaa is home to The Palmwood, a chic bed-and-breakfast guesthouse located on a 5-acre estate, and Moloaa Bay at the end of the road, which was one of the locations used by “Gilligan’s Island.” Its rolling hills and green ridges envelop you as you travel down its road, giving you the sense that you’re escaping to an untouched tropical paradise. It is why, after all, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg chose a location nearby as his Hawaii retreat.

Categories: Travel Tips