Many visitors beeline right for two pampering playgrounds: Waikiki (with around 30,000 rooms) and Ko Olina (2,000-ish) to the west. That's good news for independent travelers, who can get off the beaten path quickly. Start by dining at one of Honolulu's hip, innovative restaurants, then venture further afield. You'll be in the groove by the time you hit the North Shore, a legendary surf zone where 36 breaks string into "The Seven-Mile Miracle." Save time to explore mellow boho towns like Hale‘iwa there. Then drive down the lusher windward (east) coast, stopping at beautiful Lanikai Beach and snorkeling Hanauma Bay.

But don't turn your back on the big city entirely. It has much to offer from the Bishop Museum to Diamond Head, Pearl Harbor and Iolani, America's only royal palace.