AAA Travel Tips / Find the Perfect Place to Stay in the Hawaiian Islands

Find the Perfect Place to Stay in the Hawaiian Islands

AAA/Inspector 16
By AAA Travel Editor Sherry Mims
November 08, 2022
A once-in-a-lifetime Hawai’i vacation means travel planning — which island in Hawai’i to visit, and crucially, where to stay? There’s a lot to delve into, but AAA can help find the best deals and make planning easy. From AAA Inspector 569 in Hawaii to your local AAA Travel Agent, these travel experts’ dedication and experience can help you find the perfect island vacation destination.
First, there’s the question of where to stay. O’ahu is by far the most visited island and encompasses the capital, Honolulu, as well as beautiful Waikiki Beach and the surftastic North Shore among other fun places to go. According to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, there were 26.8 million visitors to O'ahu, compared to 20 million for Maui in 2021. They’re followed in visitor count by Moloka'i, Lāna'i, Kaua'i, and Hawai'i Island, aka the Big Island. (We’ll get back to Ni’ihau and uninhabited Kaho’olawe later.) In this article, we’ll share your options on where to go in the Hawaiian Islands and why AAA Diamond hotels and resorts are your best bet for clean and comfortable accommodations. We’ll conclude with some ideas for when to go and how to be a respectful visitor if you decide to visit Hawai’i this year. Wiltschko

Island of Hawai'i

When most people think of Hawai’i, they picture sandy Pacific beaches, palm trees and Mai Tais. While the islands certainly offer all of that, there is so much more to enjoy. The Island of Hawaii, also known as the Big Island, is the largest island in the archipelago and home to an incredible amount of diversity. From the snow-capped peaks of Mauna Kea to the active volcano of Kilauea, the island offers something for everyone.
How about the best places to stay in the area? Hotels and condos on the Big Island's western side continue to attract the lion's share of tourism: Think sunbathing on a beautiful beach. The capital of the island, Hilo, is a relaxed but frequently rainy place; however, the precipitation leaves the landscape lush and tropical. With Kona International Airport, and the restaurants and stores surrounding the Kailua-Kona resort area, you've got fun places to go with plenty going around all day long.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)


Kaua‘i is the fourth biggest island in Hawaii, and its natural beauty, year-round sunshine, and variety of resorts make it a favorite vacation spot for visitors. Po‘ipū, Hānalei Pier, Hā‘ena and Kalapaki at Līhu‘e are some beaches you can look forward to visiting. "The Garden Isle," nickname is apt, acknowledging the profusion of farmland and vegetation.
Po‘ipū, on the south shore of the island, is a particularly popular resort area, with sandy beaches, championship golf course and luxury hotels. Kauai's north shore is also home to several places to go, including Princeville and Hanalei Town. These areas offer stunning views of the ocean and mountains, as well as easy access hiking trails, food places and shops. No matter what type of vacation you're looking for, Kauai places to stay that will suit your needs.
Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Lana'i


While the island of Lāna‘i may not be as well-known as some of the other Hawaiian Islands. It offers visitors a unique and unforgettable experience. Lāna‘i is home to two resort areas, Manele Bay and Hulopo'e Beach, both of which feature luxurious accommodations and outdoor activities. In addition to its beaches, Lāna‘i also offers a few hiking trails, which wind through pine forests and offer breathtaking views.
September through November is a good time to visit as the temperature is cooler, and there are fewer crowds. However, December through February is the rainy season, so be prepared for wet weather. Regardless of when you go, Lāna‘i is sure to be memorable. Whether you're looking for a relaxing beach vacation or an adventurous hike, Lāna‘i is an off-the-beaten path adventure. And with its small-town feel and friendly locals, you're sure to feel right at home.
AAA/Inspector 76


Residents of Maui often say, “Maui is the best,” or “Maui nō ka ‘oi,” which may resonate after views of Haleakalā Crater or a road trip on the rugged Hana Highway. The island is home to a number of resort areas, each with character and amenities. The most popular resort areas on Maui are Wailea and Kāʻanapali. Wailea is located on the southern coast of the island and is known for its beautiful beaches, luxury resorts and golf courses. Kāʻanapali is located on the western coast of the island and is home to a number of hotels, shops and eateries. (You may even glimpse the Island of Lāna'i from Kāʻanapali Beach.) Other fun areas on Maui include historic Lāhainā, Kama'ole Beach Park and Mākena Beach.
Kahului, which frequently comes up in relation to Maui, is a business hub and home to Kahului Airport, i.e. the main entry point for visitors to the island. The town of Kahului has a variety of stores and restaurants, as well as nearby hotels and resorts. There are also a number of stunning beaches a short ways away, including Kanahâ Beach Park, a popular spot for windsurfing. Kahului is located on the north shore of Maui, making it a good base for exploring Haleakalā National Park and the rest of the island.
Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)


This Hawaiian island is relatively isolated compared to the other islands, so while there, it's important to pick a place that's centrally located and convenient to everything. Accommodations typically range from condominium rentals to bed-and-breakfasts and other assorted places to stay. If you stay in Kaunakakai, Molokai's largest town, you’ll be within walking distance of many of the island's best restaurants and shops.
If you're looking for a more quiet and relaxing setting, Maunaloa is a great choice. This quaint town is located on the western end of the island, and its slower pace is perfect for those who want to unwind on their vacation. No matter what type of traveler you are, there's sure to be a place for you on Molokai. It is often called “The Friendly Isle” because of the Aloha spirit that residents extend to visitors. / Marcin_P_Jank

Niʻihau and Kahoʻolawe

Considered somewhat forbidden, these two islands still capture the imagination, if only from a distance. Niʻihau is only 18 miles west of the Island of Kaua‘i. Private investors, said to have pledged to preserve the island to honor the wishes of a former king of Hawai’i, have owned Niʻihau for over 150 years, and you can only go if you score an invitation. Besides the descendants of the Robinson family and their guests, select governmental officials and military personnel are allowed entry. As of 2022, there are very limited tours by helicopter and beach tours, with outside companies entering nearby waters with boat tours, but no lodgings or amenities exist for travelers.
Kahoʻolawe, at only 11 miles long by 6 miles wide, is the smallest of the Hawaiian Islands. It was frequently used for training and bombing by the U.S., but live-fire by the U.S. Navy ended in 1990, with Hawai’i taking jurisdiction in 1994. The Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve was established by the state legislature in order to protect and restore Kahoʻolawe. It is closed to outside visitors and does not have permanent residents. This helps to ensure that the island's ecosystems remain healthy while Native Hawaiians can continue to practice their cultural and spiritual way of life.
AAA/Inspector 13


O‘ahu, also known as "The Gathering Place," is the third largest island and home to nearly two-thirds of the state's population; Chinese, Japanese and European, and Polynesian and Native Hawaiian influences are represented in the culture and culinary offerings. Also featuring sandy beaches, warm weather and lush vegetation, it's no wonder that O’ahu is such a hot destination; to many, it is Hawai’i.
Consequently, tourism is one of the biggest industries on the island of O‘ahu, with millions of vacationers coming to enjoy the pristine beaches and warm weather each year. While there are many popular resort areas scattered across the island, some of the most recognizable are in Waikīkī, Honolulu and North Shore. Waikīkī is home to a wide range of hotels, restaurants and shops as well as a world-famous surf beach. Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii and offers a mix of historic sites, cultural attractions and modern amenities. North Shore is a surfing paradise, with some of the best waves in the world (and out-of-this world shave ice). No matter where you stay on O‘ahu, you're sure to find plenty of things to do and see.
Courtesy of Marriott International, Inc.

How to Choose a Place to Stay

There are no shortage of hotels and resorts in Hawai’i, so it helps to have an insider perspective on the properties. That’s where a AAA inspector comes in, taking in every detail.
“Each AAA listed property is checked for housekeeping and maintenance annually,” said AAA Inspector 569, who covers Hawai’i and conducts the rigorous inspections on-site.
She notes that inspectors like her encounter hundreds of properties within the territory each year. Such experience enables them to really get to know the destination and gives special perspective to compare and make recommendations ranging from excellent service and views to personal favorites.
“So not only can the member count on the property being satisfactory for cleanliness and condition, but they can also be “in the know” from a ‘professional visitor’s’ point of view,” she said.
AAA/Inspector 76

Conclusion: If You Go, Be A Responsible Traveler

Since COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, Hawai’i tourism has rebounded. O'ahu, for example, received more than 2.75 million arrivals in July 2022, representing a 55.1 percent increase year over year. To reduce crowding, Diamond Head, a popular hike on O'ahu, now requires advance reservations. On the Island of Hawai’i, meanwhile, a water shortage led to water restrictions in July 2022.
So does that mean to wait to visit Hawai'i? Not necessarily, but you should expect to be flexible and plan ahead. There are ways to be culturally sensitive while also booking sustainably. Monitor your dates and availability wisely, preferably in the autumn and spring; in the off-season, transportation, accommodations and activities are both easier and more affordable. Tourism Cares, a partner of AAA Travel, provides a Meaningful Map:, with vetted attractions and experiences. If you work with a AAA Travel Agent, speak up; they may be able to recommend locally owned shops, eco-friendly AAA Diamond hotels, and certified sustainable travel and tourism companies.
AAA inspector 569 shares some additional ways to be respectful on a Hawai'i trip:
1. Clean up after yourself.
2. Do not get close to or try to touch sea-life that shows up on a beach (sea turtles, seals, etc.).
3. Read and adhere to posted signage at the beaches, and listen to lifeguards.
4. Only bring reef-safe sunscreen to the state. (Learn about “Sunscreen Chemicals and Marine Life” with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s infographic.)
5. Be kind to the hospitality workers.
So no matter where or when you stay in Hawaii, you bring the spirit of “Aloha” on your vacation.

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