Top things to do in Hawaii
Hawaii is a Pacific paradise, a chain of tropical islands with countless amazing attractions. Here are our picks for the top things to do in Hawaii.
Top things to do in Hawaii
Hawaii is a dream destination for many, with miles upon miles of breathtaking beaches, a warm tropical climate, and staggering landscapes. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a fun-filled family vacation, or an adventurous trip with friends, Hawaii ticks all the boxes. With 6 main islands to explore, each with a unique vibe and attractions, there’s something to fulfill every traveler’s wishlist. From hiking to surfing, cultural experiences to wildlife wonders, there are countless things to do in Hawaii, and in this article, we’ll explore some of the very best ways to fill your time on this amazing archipelago.
Things to do in Maui, Hawaii
Maui is one of the most well-known and popular islands in Hawaii. It is a great place to explore whether you’re looking for adventure or something a little more relaxed, with scores of incredible beaches, picturesque towns, and natural attractions.
The Road to Hana
The Road To Hana is one of the most scenic drives in America if not the world entire. The road winds for 52 miles along the northeast coast of Maui, taking in lush rainforests, thundering waterfalls, and breathtaking coastal views. It is impossible not to be impressed by the sheer scale of vision and the skills of the engineers who built the Road to Hana, which caresses the cliffs of Maui like a great serpent, winding around over 600 turns and over 50 bridges. Along the Road to Hana, you’ll be able to stop and explore some of the hidden beauties of Maui, including the Twin Falls, and the Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside Park.
Molokini Crater is an amazing natural wonder just off the coast of Maui. It is a crescent-shaped volcanic crater that is also one of the best dive and snorkel spots in all of Hawaii. Boasting crystal clear water and a plethora of marine life, it is one the best places for getting acquainted with Aloha State’s technicolor underwater wonderland. More than 250 species of fish call the crater home, along with coral reefs and a huge range of invertebrate species. Visibility in Molokai Crater can reach up to 150 feet, making it one of the clearest dive spots in the world. To explore the crater, you can take a guided tour with experienced local dive operators, who will provide guidance and safety equipment on this once-in-a-lifetime underwater adventure.
Maui is an outstanding place for whale watching. Every year from December through April, Hawaii sees the annual migration of thousands of humpback whales, which leave the cold waters of Alaska in search of warmer climes for breeding and birthing. There are numerous whale watching tours available in Maui, from which visitors can see these beautiful animals spout, breach, and dive, and with the waters off of Maui being protected by law, you can rest assured that tours will be eco-conscious, holding the whales’ well-being in the highest regard.
Also known as ‘the House of the Sun’, Mount Haleakala is one of Hawaii’s most famous attractions. It is an enormous shield volcano, with a summit standing at over 10,000 feet above sea level, soaring like a sentinel over the landscape. It attracts thousands of visitors every year and is a must-see while in Maui. The volcano’s summit is accessible by a winding road, passing through a medley of distinctive microclimates, including verdant rainforests and desolate lava fields. One of the mains for Mount Haleakana’s enduring popularity is the incredible sunrise, lighting up the skies in a burst of fire and illuminating the Hawaiian islands and the Pacific Ocean.
The Seven Sacred Pools
Hawaii’s Seven Sacred Pools is a beautiful series of cascading waterfalls and pools in the Haleakala National Park. The reason that pools are sacred is that locally, they are renowned as the bathing places of ancient Hawaiian royalty. Follow in their regal footsteps by taking a dip in these beautiful pools, making sure to keep a careful eye on the speed of the water flow to ensure safety. If the water conditions are unfavorable, you can still enjoy the landscape around the pools by going on a hike along the river’s edge, soaking in the incredible natural beauty and admiring the diverse flora and fauna of the area.
Imagine a postcard of a Hawaiian beach. If you’re picturing swaying coconut trees shading swathes of golden sand, gentle rolling Pacific waves pods of dolphins frolicking in the surf, then you’re picturing Maluaka Beach. A beautifully secluded beach in the south of Maui, Maluaka Beach is renowned for its clear water, sparkling golden sand, and incredible panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. It is also calm and peaceful when compared to Hawaii’s more popular beaches. The relative calmness of the water at Maluaka Beach makes it a great spot for swimming and snorkeling. Equipment can be rented from dive shops on the beach, and you can also find picnic areas, showers, and restrooms.
Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii
Oahu is the third largest island in Hawaii and the most popular stop for visitors. Home to Honolulu, Waiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and countless other world-class attractions, this diverse and beautiful island is a place you simply must include on any Hawaii vacation itinerary.
This historic landmark in Honolulu once served as the official residence of Hawaiian monarchs. It was built in 1882 and is notable for its unique architectural style blending traditional Hawaiian elements with Western design. You can take tours of the palace and gardens, with access to restored furnishings and artifacts offering a glimpse into the building’s ornate past. Iolani Palace also hosts events and exhibits throughout the year celebrating Hawaii’s rich history and culture.
Diamond Head hike
Diamond Head is an imposing volcanic cone towering over the island of Oahu. You can hike to the summit on the Diamond Head hike, a 0.8-mile trek traversing steep steps, tunnels, and rugged terrain. It’s a challenging adventure, but upon reaching the summit, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of Oahu, and even as far as Molokai on clear days. The Diamond Head hike suits most fitness levels, but the terrain is uneven, and the heat and humidity during some months can make it tricky.
The Polynesian Cultural Center
Voted the number one attraction on Oahu, The Polynesian Cultural Center is the place to go to immerse yourself in the rich culture and history of the Polynesian islands. A great option for families visiting Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center offers experiences such as hands-on activities, cultural presentations, traditional lūʻau and dinner, and an unmissable evening show. Bear in mind that the Polynesian Cultural Center is closed on Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving, and tickets often sell out, so secure your entry in advance on the company website.
A protected marine bay and nature preserve, Hanauma Bay is a breathtaking place formed in the cone of a volcano. Having been previously voted as the beach in the USA, Hanauma Bay is an incredible place to experience the famously incredible reefs and marine life that lives off of the Hawaiin Coast and is a popular place for snorkeling and diving. There is an education center on-site and tours are available, or you can simply enjoy the white sand and tranquil waters. There is an entry fee of $25, the proceeds of which go into the conservation of the bay. There is also a $3 parking fee, and reservations, which can be made online, are required to control visitor numbers.
One for the adrenaline junkies, skydiving in Oahu is a hair-raising, pulse-thumping way to get a bird’s eye view of some of the most spellbinding views on Earth. Tandem skydiving is big business in Hawaii, and there are plenty of top-rated companies offering daredevil travelers the chance to experience free fall over the Pacific. With jumps of different heights available, from 12,000 feet all the way up to a breathtaking 20,000 feet, skydiving in Hawaii is certainly a test of anybody’s nerve and verve for adventure but is guaranteed to be an exhilarating, unforgettable experience. Reputable local companies for skydiving in Oahu include Skydive Hawaii and the Pacific Skydive Center.
Pearl Harbor Memorial
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial commemorates the attack on Oahu on December 7, 1941. The deadly bombing changed the course of the Second World War, claiming 2390 lives, most of whom were young men stationed aboard the USS Arizona. Today, you can visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial to reflect on and remember the lives lost on that fateful day. Entry to the memorial is free, although attendance at the USS Arizona Memorial Program does require a reservation due to the limited capacity at the site.
Lanikai Beach is often referred to as the most beautiful beach on Oahu - which is quite the accolade when you consider just how stunning the island’s beaches are. The praise goes even further, however, with Lanikai also being touted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the entire world. The waters at Lanikai Beach are generally still and calm, ideal for swimming, and the sand is soft, making it a popular spot for families wanting to enjoy a Pacific paradise beach day. Lanikai Beach does not have a lifeguard on duty.
Things to do on Big Island Hawaii
Hawaii’s Big Island is a unique destination that offers unique and diverse attractions. From exploring dramatic volcanic landscapes to kicking back and relaxing on postcard-perfect beaches, there is something for every type of traveler on Big Island.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
A spectacular national park home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park covers over 500 miles of Big Island’s landscape. The vast area stretches from sea level to over 13000 feet and 6 climate zones, including lava fields, rainforests, and coastal tundra. The biggest attraction is, of course, the two enormous volcanoes, Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Maunaloa, the world’s largest active subaerial volcano. Halema‘uma‘u Crater, which doubled in size after 2018 seismic activity, is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the USA, while the Devastation Trail is a popular hike through the craggy, alien landscape. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open year-round and is a remarkable place to visit, but be mindful of safety at all times. The volcanoes are active, and the land is at the mercy of uncontrollable natural forces, so stick to clearly marked paths and stay away from cracks and fissures.
Manta ray dives of Hawaii
Diving with manta rays in Hawaii is a unique and special experience for any nature lover. The waters around Big Island are home to one the largest populations of manta rays on the planet, making it a prime place for divers and snorkelers. Ethereal and beautiful, these gentle giants can have a wingspan as wide as 20 feet and weigh over 3000 pounds, making them the largest species of ray. A manta ray dive gives you the opportunity to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures. Many dive operators also offer night dive excursions, where you can observe the rays looping and tumbling through the inky black water under the glow of specially developed lights, marveling as they filter plankton and glide through the water with the grace of underwater ballet dancers.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens
A haven of over 2000 species of tropical plants from rainforests around the world, the sprawling Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens is a beautiful attraction on the Hamakua Coast of Big Island. Follow the winding pathways through the gardens and find all of your senses enveloped in bright colors, heavenly scents, and the sounds of gently rustling leaves and trickling waterfalls. The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens are home to a multitude of ecosystems, including dense bamboo groves and mysterious fern forests, towering coconut trees, and delicately fragrant orchids. With incredible ocean views, art pieces, and sculptures dotted throughout the space, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens is a must-visit, whether you’re a keen botanist or are just looking for somewhere serene and peaceful to spend a day.
Mauna Kea is a wondrous destination on Big Island. Rising to a dizzying 13000 feet above sea level, the views from the top will quite literally take your breath away. Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii, offering up sublime views of the islands, once-in-a-lifetime sunsets, and some of the best stargazing conditions in the world. The mountain is home to an array of the world’s most powerful telescopes, so astronomy is big business here, and there is nowhere better to take a trip to the stars than from the observatory on this incredible mountain. Mauna Kea also holds great cultural and spiritual significance to native Hawaiians, and the visitor center gives you the opportunity to learn about the history and legacy of this beautiful landscape.
Big Island is a tropical paradise, this much we know. But it is also a paradise for golfers. Home to dozens of world-class golf courses, to play a round or two here is to play on some of the best courses you’ll ever find, with mesmerizing views to cap it all off. Courses range from challenging and scenic at Mauna Lani and Mauna Kea golf courses, to luxuriously appointed at Hualalai Golf Course. Hawaii’s warm temperatures and sunny skies offer the perfect golfing conditions, and golfers can test their metal on greens designed by top professionals with tricky fairways and greens, set to challenge even the most seasoned players.
Big Island helicopter tours
Looking for a fresh perspective of the undeniably stunning Big Island landscape? Then look no further than Big Island helicopter tours, where you can take to the skies above Hawaii and appreciate the dramatically undulating coastline from the air. Expect to be awed by incredible panoramic views of the island’s verdant rainforests, tumbling waterfalls, and tumultuous lava fields. Helicopter tours on Big Island typically last for 30 minutes to an hour, and can often be customized to suit your interests, with some even landing for a time on remote parts of the Big Island so that you can explore these untouched wildernesses. Helicopter tours are led by experienced and knowledgeable pilots, who are highly trained to guide you safely through your tour.
Things to do in Kauai Hawaii
Kauai is known locally as the Garden Isle, and one look at the lush green landscapes will tell you why. This beautiful island is full of things to do, many of them breathtaking natural wonders and unforgettable outdoor activities.
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is an astonishing landscape on the northwest of Kauai. The park stretches over 6000 acres and features a medley of incredible natural wonders including lush rainforests, deep valleys, and soaring cliffs that rise up from the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Wildlife watchers will find plenty to delight in Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, with dolphins, turtles, and humpback whales all living in the reefs and waters on the coast. For those that prefer to keep their feet firmly on dry land, you can tackle the magnificent Kalalau Trail, which passes through breathtaking landscapes, passed waterfalls, crevices, and valleys. Access to Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is limited and requires a permit.
Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’, Waimea Canyon is a must-see natural wonder on Kauai. The vast canyon carves a path through the Hawaiian landscape for around 10 miles, plunging to 3000 feet in places. As the sides of the canyon rise above the ground, visitors have the rare chance to see the layers of the Earth, formed over millions of years and presenting as russet and orange-colored bands stretching as far as the eye can see. Waimea Canyon is hugely popular for hiking, with trails ranging in difficulty from easy strolls to challenging treks. There are several easily reachable lookout points along the road, from which you might spot some of the canyon’s local wildlife, including goats and tropical birds.
Surf lessons Kauai
The island of Kauai is a haven for surfers, with some of the biggest and best waves in all of Hawaii. The island has a wide variety of surf breaks for every ability, from beginner-friendly to expert-level. Hanalei Bay and Poipu Beach are particularly popular amongst the surfing community, and there are consistent waves throughout the year, although winter brings the largest swells. There are surf schools and rentals across the island, so if you have the hankering to learn, it won’t be hard to find surf lessons in Kauai.
Monk seals in Kauai
One of the most endangered marine mammals on Earth calls Kauai home. Hawaiian monk seals bask their days away on the beaches of the island, occasionally rousing themselves to swim languidly through the clear waters. These cute critters are protected by law but still threatened by habitat loss, disease, and human interaction. Support the effort to save these beautiful animals by maintaining a safe distance and avoiding interactions with them. Some of the best spots to see Hawaiian monk seals are the Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park and around Poipu Beach. To discover more about them, you can visit the Kauai Monk Seal Watch Program, which offers education talks and expert-led guided tours.
Spouting Horn Blowhole
Legend tells of a giant lizard that lived on Kauai, tormenting and terrorizing villagers, until one day it was tricked into a blowhole, where it got stuck, and, to this day, spouts jets of water into the sky in anger. With or without a giant lizard resident, the Spouting Horn Blowhole is a magnificent sight on Kauai’s southern coast. The blowhole is in a naturally beautiful area, home to a park with pathways, picnic tables, and ocean views. The sight of ocean water shooting up 50 feet into the air is certainly fascinating, and although there are safety measures in place to keep visitors at a distance, you can still admire and appreciate the beauty of it from afar.