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Heavenly Hawaii: Your Guide To Five Days In Island Paradise

Source:sfist.com

If it seems like every day is shorter, colder, and rainier than the day before, well...you’re living in San Francisco. So if you’ve got some unused vacation days, climb out from under the fog and use three of them to spend five exhilarating days in Hawaii. The islands offer relaxation and adventure in equal measure: Sunbathe all day or hike through the jungle, luxuriate at the spa or snorkel with sea turtles. And once night falls, Oahu’s bustling bar and restaurant scene puts a tropical twist on your typical night out.

As part of our Fall 2012 Getaway Planning Guide with American Express, we’re sharing some of our top picks for a perfect five days in Hawaii, including exclusive tips from American Express Travel Insiders. Insiders are travel agents that have extensive knowledge in a specific destination or special interest area. These Insiders not only have insight into the best hotels, dining and attractions, but also the hard-to-find hidden gems of any destination. So set that vacation responder on your email, and catch the next flight to paradise.

WHERE TO STAY

If you’re looking for an action-packed beach scene, there’s no better than Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. The Aston Waikiki Beach Tower’s deluxe two-bedroom suites overlook Waikiki Beach and the horizon beyond, and most include balconies—ideal for an impromptu group trip. On the more secluded Big Island, the Fairmont Orchid is a world unto itself on the Kona side of the island, with two championship golf courses, an elite tennis center, a private beach, and several restaurants.

Through the Fine Hotels & Resorts Program, American Express Platinum Card members get room upgrades upon availability, special check-in and check-out times, and breakfast options at hotels such as Four Seasons (Lana’i at Manele Bay, Lana’i The Lodge at Keyhole, Maui at Wailea and Hualalai), Grand Hyatt Kauai, Grand Wailiea, and The Fairmont (Kea Lan’i, Maui and Orchid, Hawaii)—which total a $450 value per stay.

If you're looking to be closer to the sights on Kauai, you might want to check out the Sheraton Kauai Resort or the St. Regis Princeville Resort . Both offer activities like golf, canoe-building classes, and world-class spas.

Back in Honolulu, the Aqua Lotus Hotel is a proud boutique in the land of big resorts, and is located at the mouth of the popular Diamond Head Crater Park. Hike to the top for a breathtaking view of the Honolulu skyline set against the mountains and ocean, and then return to the hotel for cocktails on your balcony. These properties and many more can be booked through Amextravel.com.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

Hawaiian food is a versatile fusion of Polynesian, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and American cuisines, and there are plenty of places doing new takes on old classics, or trying their best to establish the next great Hawaiian dish.

One traditional item getting a second look is poke, raw fish in soy sauce and chili pepper. Poke Stop, owned by classically trained chef Elmer Guzman, has mastered poke and turns out dozens of variations to locals and tourists alike. There are two locations on Oahu and they’ve also got a delicious oyster po boy.

Two islands over on Maui, head to Monkeypod Kitchen, where Chef Peter Merriman serves no-fuss bistro dishes infused with big Hawaiian flavors. Monkeypod’s 36 draft beer lines include several offerings from local producers, including Kona Brewing Company’s standout Big Wave Golden Ale, and make it a great place to sample the islands’ growing brew culture.

Some casual favorites on Kauai are Island Taco (try the Mahi-Mahi or Kalua Pork) and Hanalei Gourmet. For a more formal meal, try The Beach House, which has a beautiful oceanfront room.

If you want to spend a night out in Honolulu, catch the sunset at Kaka’Ako Park before walking over to Thirtynine Hotel, a nightclub whose well-traveled DJs spin everything from deep soul cuts to Brazilian bossa nova. Bartender Christian Self infuses classic cocktails with Hawaiian flavors, to island-wide acclaim. Try the Rose Collins, finished with rose essence and fresh sweet and sour mix.

One dish that locals love is loco moco—rice (white or fried) topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy! It's a messy and filling meal that can be found all over Hawaii.

WHAT TO DO

The different islands offer various pleasures. If all you want to do is lounge on the beach, with a book (or tablet) in hand, we understand. Some of the most stunning beaches are on Kauai—Poipu Beach is a beautiful one, but it can get crowded. Polihale Beach, the western-most public beach in the United States, is usually quieter, partly because you need to drive across a rough road to get there. Hanalei Beach is considered a "perfect" beach with two miles of "golden sand."

However, we also recommend taking a day off to frolic sans waves. The Big Island features Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where Kilauea volcano sits. It's one of the most active volcanos in the world, and you can walk across the hardened lava—you can see the active lava flowing through the fissures, or you can see lots more lava flow by taking a helicopter ride for an aerial view.

The island of Kauai, with its rocky cliffs and remote feel, is a favorite of ours. Play a round or two at the Kiahuna Golf Club, a remarkable Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course built around four archaeological sites, including an ancient Hawaiian temple and a Portuguese immigrant’s home from the early 1800s.

Afterward, hike the nearby Mahaulepu Trail, which runs for two miles along Kauai’s coastline, past breathtaking limestone formations. On the island North Shore, there are equally beautiful trails.

Also make sure to spend a little time underwater. Scuba Shack on Maui offers half-day “adventure snorkeling” trips, meals and equipment included ($95). The itinerary includes Turtle Town, a series of underwater lava formations teeming with the endangered Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.

Also on Maui is Haleakala National Park, where you should arrive early to watch the sunrise, then bike down the hill with a rental from Mountain Riders.

Back on Oahu, the Honolulu Museum of Art is enjoying a moment in the spotlight, having merged last year with the city’s Contemporary Museum. The new, combined institution is currently exhibiting a major overview of Hawaiian abstract art from the Contemporary Museum’s permanent collection.

Whether you're relaxing or exploring, five days in Hawaii will give you a lifetime of memories.

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