This is a somewhat fictional story about Twain's own life, as he journeys to California from the Nevada territory. He visits the Hawai'i, but back then, they call them the Sandwich Islands. The journey is a real life trip that Twain made, but the events and characters involve elements of fiction.
The protagonist decides to move to Nevada with his brother, claiming he has secured a new job as the secretary for the governor. The truth is he is going to look for gold. They make it to Carson, where the protagonist immediately acquaints himself with miners, who give him a few tools and take him on some preliminary claims, but they pan for gold and find nothing. When the days turn to weeks, and the weeks to months, and there's still no sign of gold, the man decides to take a job in Virginia. He cannot forget the West, though, and after a few more years, he moves to San Francisco, California.
There is no gold for the man in California. The protagonist (presumably Twain himself) decides that instead of wasting his life looking for gold, he will finally try to use his greatest skill in life, his ability to spin a clever tale, and his uncanny ability to write well.
He works for Sacramento Union who sends the protagonist to the Sandwich Islands (now Hawai'i) to report about the islands in a series of published letters. He has no problem finding fascinating stories to report, and he reports on the lavish wildlife of the islands, and about the island's unique and beautiful cultural heritage. Eventually, he gets homesick and returns from his epic stay on the island. He ends with a reminder that in order to make a responsible, well-adjusted adult out of one's self, one has to leave their home and make it somewhere they've never been before.