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19 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hawaii

Written by Lana Law and Lura Seavey Updated May 11, 2023

Author Meagan Drillinger traveled throughout Hawaii in January of 2023 while on assignment for PlanetWare.

Hawaii's tropical climate and laid-back Pacific Island atmosphere are just part of what makes the state so special. Occupying the tops of massive volcanic mountaintops jutting from the sea, these islands have a diverse and beautiful landscape that varies from the stark lunar surface of the Kilauea volcano to lush green forests filled with exotic flowers.

Waimoku Waterfall, Maui

Waterfalls stream down the mountainsides like tears on the dramatic Na Pali coast, while ancient rivers have carved deep into the rock of Kauai to create the Waimea Canyon. The Big Island is home to an active volcano, and Oahu is home to Pearl Harbor and its rich history.

Surrounding them all, the mighty Pacific is home to a plethora of ocean life, providing endless opportunities to snorkel, scuba dive, surf, or simply go for a swim after sunbathing. Perhaps the most special part of the islands, however, are its people, whose welcoming attitude makes you truly feel like you are in paradise.

Discover the islands and the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Hawaii.

1. Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial, Oahu

2. na pali coast state wilderness park, kauai, 3. volcanoes national park, hawaii, 4. haleakala national park, maui, 5. waikiki beach and diamond head state monument, oahu, 6. halawa valley, molokai, 7. waipio valley lookout, hawaii, 8. polynesian cultural center, oahu, 9. mauna kea, hawaii, 10. kauai's botanical gardens, 11. waimea canyon state park, kauai, 12. hana road, maui, 13. papohaku beach park, molokai, 14. maui ocean center, maui, 15. kona coffee living history farm, hawaii, 16. wailua falls, kauai, 17. hanauma bay nature preserve, oahu, 18. iao valley state monument, maui, 19. hamakua heritage corridor, hawaii, map of tourist attractions in hawaii, best time to visit hawaii.

Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial

Highlights : One of the most historically significant landmarks in America, and one of the top visited war memorials in the world

Pearl Harbor is a National Historic Landmark and active military base that earned its place in history for the 1941 attack, which killed 1,177 servicemen on the USS Arizona. The site is now home to several attractions that are part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific Monument , including the USS Arizona Memorial , which floats above the remains of the sunken ship — parts of which can be seen protruding from the water. There is no cost for a tour of the memorial; however, reservations are recommended due to its popularity.

The Pearl Harbor Visitor Center has free admission and is the meeting place for tours, including transportation to the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island , where visitors can see WWII aircraft and artifacts, as well as experience landing an airplane on an aircraft carrier in a flight simulator.

Other attractions at the Pearl Harbor National Memorial include the USS Oklahoma , USS Utah , and the Battleship USS Missouri whose deck can be toured by visitors .

Read More: Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Honolulu

Aerial view of the iconic Na Pali coast on Kauai island

Highlights : The most awe-inspiring landscape on the island of Kauai, complete with lush valleys, hiking trails, and waterfalls

The Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park on the island of Kauai contains some of the world's most dramatic landscapes. These were made famous in the film Jurassic Park, which shows a dramatic coastline with cliffs that seem to ripple, and the "Wall of Tears" on Mount Waialeale, named for the way in which hundreds of waterfalls weep from the slopes of the mountain.

Some of the best ways to take in the scene are to approach by water or to take a helicopter tour to view the simply breathtaking sight from above. Expert hikers can try the Kalalau Trail , an eleven-mile trek, which traverses five valleys and takes a full day each way.

Volcanoes National Park

Highlights : Still-active, bubbling volcanoes; steaming calderas; and millennia-old lava tubes

Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, Volcanoes National Park offers a unique, close-up look at an active volcano system where lava seeps from fissures in the earth. The surrounding landscape is shaped by cooled lava rock, both old and new, which has flowed over roads in a display of its unstoppable force.

The park's centerpiece, Kilauea , has been active in recent years, including an eruption in January 2021 that formed a lava lake. Visitors should be aware that portions of the park are closed during periods of seismic activity that might pose a threat.

Kilauea Iki Overlook, Volcanoes National Park

The park has many things to see and do, including the Thurston Lava Tube , Devastation Trail, and the steaming Halema'uma'u crater. During the area's most active periods, tourists have the chance of experiencing the thrill of feeling seismic activity, hearing the boom of gas emissions, or even seeing a pillar of ash escaping into the air.

Address: 1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii National Park, Hawaii

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts on the Big Island of Hawaii

  • Read More: Exploring the Top Attractions of Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park

Haleakala National Park

Highlights : A magnificent drive up 10,000 feet leads to sweeping Maui views and a spectacular bird's-eye look at the ancient crater

Located on Maui, Haleakala National Park offers access to the inactive Haleakala Volcano, which stands at over 10,000 feet. Views from the summit stretch across the entire island and are particularly beautiful at sunrise.

The dormant crater is exposed, showing a lunar-like landscape, while other areas of the park are covered in subtropical rainforests, which are home to endangered species. Visitors can explore the many hiking trails freely or sign up for guided ranger-led tours, and the more adventurous can spend the night in the park, surrounded by one of Hawaii's most impressive landscapes.

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head State Monument

Highlights : Fabulous resorts and restaurants, and some of the most famous beachfront in the Hawaiian islands

Waikiki, with its beautiful stretch of oceanfront beach, is Hawaii's biggest tourist attraction. A suburb of Honolulu, Waikiki is popular for its big resorts, dining, entertainment, and shopping.

The Waikiki Historic Trail includes historic markers made of surfboards, inspired by Waikiki's own Duke Kahanamoku, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer and avid surfer.

The boardwalk, known as the Waikiki Beach Walk , is lined with cafes and entertainment venues, while Kuhio and Kalakaua Avenues are where the bulk of the area's restaurants and boutiques can be found.

Waikiki Beach

Diamond Head State Monument sits at the end of the crescent-shaped beach, creating a distinctive profile on the coastline. It was once an important vantage point for the island's coastal defense, and a steep hike to the top brings you to the old bunkers and artillery control station and rewards your efforts with panoramic views.

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts in Honolulu

  • Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in Waikiki
  • Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Honolulu

Ierusalema Hou Church in Halawa Valley, Molokai Island

Highlights : Lush tropical rainforest, waterfalls, hiking trails, and very little human influence

The island of Molokai's Halawa Valley is widely considered the oldest settlement in Hawaii, with a small population still inhabiting the area despite widespread damage to the village from a tsunami in the 1940s. The valley is full of lush tropical rainforests punctuated by a dramatic landscape and cascading waterfalls, virtually untouched by humans.

The best way to see the valley is on a tour led by father-and-son team Philip and Greg Solatorio, one of the few families that still call the Halawa Valley home. In addition to a guided hike to Mo'oula Falls , visitors will learn about the region's unique history and traditional Hawaiian culture.

Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do on Molokai, Hawaii

Waipio Valley Lookout

Highlights : Spectacular views over a historic valley, veined with hiking and horseback riding trails

One of the most scenic spots on the Big Island of Hawaii is the lookout over Waipio Valley. Surrounded by lush cliff walls, the fertile valley opens out to the ocean, where the black-sand beach is met with white waves and blue water.

Hiking in Waipio Valley is considered some of the best in the state, and many of the trails are suitable for beginners. For an extra special experience, local guides provide horseback riding tours of the valley, allowing you to enjoy the sights from a different perspective.

Polynesian Cultural Center

Highlights : Music, dance, and demonstrations that shed light on Polynesian history and culture across the islands

Located on Oahu, less than an hour's drive from Honolulu, is the Polynesian Cultural Center. Through music, dance, craft demonstrations, and games, the center portrays the culture and daily life of the Polynesian islanders in Hawaii, Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands, Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji, as well as that of the Maoris in New Zealand.

The center is divided into sections representing each of these locations. Many of the performers come from the islands that they represent, providing a high degree of authenticity. Visitors can tour the facility during the day or see a show in the evening.

Address: 55-370 Kamehameha Hwy, Oahu, Hawaii

Accommodation: Top-Rated Resorts on Oahu

Mauna Kea

Highlights : Epic views, hiking trails, and astronomy lessons from the top of the highest mountain in Hawaii

The highest mountain in Hawaii, Mauna Kea, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a world away from the tropical paradise below. The summit, which can only be reached in a 4WD vehicle, is often very cold, with snow in the winter months.

The Mauna Kea Observatory is an active research facility, which welcomes tourists during daylight hours. Only expert hikers should attempt a climb to the summit on the six-mile trail, which rises to an altitude of 13,800 feet from the Visitor Information Station .

Evening stargazing programs, held at the visitor center, which sits at around 9,200 feet, are popular with tourists and locals alike.

Princeville Botanical Gardens

Highlights : Fruit trees, palm groves, exotic flowers, and medicinal plants

Kauai's nickname of the "Garden Isle" is well-deserved thanks to its natural abundance of lush greenery and diverse flora. In addition to the acres of wilderness, Kauai is home to many excellent botanic gardens that showcase the island's long history as a haven for rare and stunning plants.

The most dramatic of Kauai's botanic areas is Allerton Garden , known not only for its stunning flowers but also its wide variety of palm and fruit trees. Its most recognizable areas are the fig trees, whose partially exposed roots create dramatic scenes that have been featured in films like Jurassic Park . Visitors can also book a tour that includes nearby McBryde Garden ; allow at least three hours to fully explore.

The Princeville Botanical Gardens is a family-operated facility, which grows a wide variety of exotic flowers, medicinal plants, and food-bearing plants. Enjoy the gardens via guided tours and learn about the plants while seeing cacao trees, stunning flora, and working beehives. Tours also include a sampling of both raw and processed cacao, as well as honey made from the nectar of tropical flowers.

Nearby in Kilauea, the Na 'Aina Kai Botanical Gardens & Sculpture Park features 260 acres filled with vibrant flowers, lush greenery, and an open-air sculpture gallery. Also on the north shore, near Hanalei, Limahuli Garden & Preserve has 17 of its 1,000-acre preserve open to the public. The gardens feature hundreds of endangered plant and bird species, and visitors can learn about the ancient techniques that staff use to maintain the delicate ecosystem.

Waimea Canyon State Park

Highlights : "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" has miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, rivers, and dramatic views

Waimea Canyon, located on the west side of the island of Kauai, is often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." The canyon stretches over ten miles long, reaches depths of 3,600 feet, and is a mile wide at some points. This dramatic spectacle can be viewed best from the two main lookouts, Puu ka Pele and Puu Hinahina.

Waimea Canyon State Park

The canyon's landscape features rock strata in varying colors and several stunning waterfalls. Guided tours along the many challenging hiking trails and rafting tours that explore the river below are available, and there are additional trails for all skill levels at the nearby Kokee State Park.

Address: Waimea Canyon Drive, Uninc Kauai County, Hawaii

Lush vegetation on the Hana Road

Highlights : Fifty-two miles of jungle switchbacks, beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and waterfalls

The dramatic Hana Road, officially named Hana Highway, is a scenic 52-mile stretch of highway on the island of Maui that winds from Pāʻia through lush forests and along the coast to the remote town of Hana. This trip is worthwhile for the sightseeing along the stunning drive, the things to do along the way, and the visit to the town itself. Attractions along the route include numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and beaches.

Hana Road

Hana's location, relatively cut off from the rest of the island, has allowed it to maintain more of a traditional Hawaiian culture than other towns.

Wide-open sands at Papohaku Beach Park, Molokai

Highlights : Three miles of white-sand beach and few other people

On Hawaii's main islands, it can be nearly impossible to find a stretch of sandy beach that doesn't have other sunbathers, swimmers, and water sports aficionados. But on Molokai, seclusion-seekers can have it all to themselves at Papohaku Beach: a three-mile swath of white sand 100 yards wide that rarely has more than a handful of people on the entire beach.

The beach covers over 10 acres on the western end of the island, and visitors can find facilities at Papohaku Beach Park on the northern end of the beach. There are no lifeguards, but visitors will find restrooms, showers, and picnic sites for public use.

Those who will be swimming or playing in the water should be cautious and pay attention to signage and current conditions. Also, avoid the water in the winter months when it can be dangerous.

Baby turtles at the Maui Ocean Center

Highlights : A 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit, an underwater tunnel, and 40 species of Pacific coral

The Maui Ocean Center allows visitors a chance to see close up what lies beneath the ocean's surface and learn about the unique marine life and ecosystems that surround Hawaii.

The aquarium's centerpiece is the massive Living Reef, which is home to more than 40 Pacific coral species and thousands of fish. The 750,000-gallon Open Ocean exhibit gives visitors the chance to walk through an underwater tunnel, surrounded by ocean life including sharks, stingrays, and other marine animals.

The center's Turtle Lagoon is another popular spot, and behind-the-scenes turtle-feeding encounters can be booked.

Address: 192 Ma'alaea Road, Wailuku, Hawaii

Coffee beans in Kona

Highlights : An immersive experience on the history of coffee, with tastings, traditional performances, and tours

The Kona Coffee Living History Farm is the only living history farm in the nation that is dedicated to the history and traditions of coffee farming. Costumed interpreters can be found throughout the grounds, going about daily tasks, from food preparation to farming chores, always happy to answer questions.

You are free to explore the plantation, which still produces coffee, where you might even spot a Kona Nightingale. You can also find tours of modern Kona coffee producers, including plantation tours at Hula Daddy and roasting facility tours at Mountain Thunder Plantation.

Location: Captain Cook, Hawaii

Wailua Falls, Kauai

Highlights : A double waterfall plunging 80 feet down the rock face into a pool below

This stunning waterfall is Kauai's most famous, once featured in the opening scenes of the TV show Fantasy Island . Located on the eastern side of the island, this section of the Wailua River plunges dramatically in twin cascades down an 80-foot cliff before pooling and then running to the sea. Morning is the best time to visit the falls, often rewarding early risers with rainbows in the mist from the sun's fresh rays.

Another thing that makes Wailua Falls such a popular tourist attraction is that it can be seen easily from the side of the road, so even tourists with mobility limitations can fully enjoy its beauty.

Visitors can also choose to take a short hike to the base of the falls to admire it from below. The viewing spot is located at the end of Road 583 (Maalo Road), which is reached via Road 560 from Lihue or Hanamaulu.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Highlights : A protected marine area with a gorgeous beach and the best snorkeling near Honolulu

Formed within the crater of a volcano on the island of Oahu, Hanauma Bay is a unique protected bay, which has been popular with snorkelers for a long time. After overuse caused pollution and damage to the delicate reef ecosystem, restoration efforts have restored the bay to its original splendor, and it is again open to visitors.

The Hanauma Bay Education Center is a great place to visit to learn about the bay, and there are several snorkeling rental shops that offer lessons so that visitors can see the breathtaking reef system and its inhabitants up close.

At one time, feeding the tropical fish frozen peas was a touristy thing to do; this practice is no longer allowed. Also, to safeguard the area for future generations, all first-time visitors are required to watch a nine-minute video on marine life, safety rules, and preservation.

Equipment rentals, including life jackets and snorkeling gear, are available at the kiosk in the park. Securing a spot in the pay parking lot can be tricky sometimes, as the 300-car lot fills up quickly in the winter. A per-person fee is charged to enter the park for those 12 years and older, although Hawaii residents get in for free.

Iao Needle in the Iao Valley

Highlights : A sacred valley with lush jungle hikes and mountains shrouded in mist

The centerpiece of this well-known pilgrimage site on Maui is a 2,215-foot-tall rock named the Iao Needle . Visitors will find well-kept paths that make it easy to view the needle and the foreboding black cliff, Pali'ele'ele, that is nearby.

In addition to its unique shape and geological features, the site is steeped in cultural and spiritual significance. The legend says that the needle was formed when the demi-God Maui turned his daughter, Iao's suitor, into stone. Legend also warns that the Iao Valley is home to manas, the ghosts of gods.

Due to its location in the valley, pathways may be inaccessible after rain, so check local conditions before heading to the monument.

Umauma Falls

Highlights : A stunning drive with some of the top natural attractions on Hawaii's Big Island

This scenic drive along the Hamakua Coast stretches from Hilo to the Waipio Valley Lookout on the Big Island of Hawaii. In addition to spectacular views of the coast and the region's lush landscape, several top Big Island attractions reside along the way, making this an ideal sightseeing excursion.

From Hilo, tourists take the Onomea Scenic Drive past Onomea Bay and the renowned Hawaii Tropical Garden , which houses more than 2,000 species of tropical plants. As the route heads north, it continues past the 442-foot Akaka Falls and its sibling Kahuna Falls , and then the World Botanical Gardens , where you can view a triple waterfall named Umauma Falls , as well as Mauna Kea .

Other attractions along the way include a Pacific lookout at Laupahoehoe Point , hiking at the Kalopa State Recreation Area , and the quaint town of Honokaa . The drive ends at the legendary Waipio Valley Lookout , once home to King Kamehameha.

The weather in Hawaii is fairly consistent, with just a few subtle changes throughout the year. Generally speaking, Hawaii has two seasons: summer and winter.

Summer is from May through October, while winter is from November to April. While the islands are a year-round destination, the best time to visit Hawaii is April, May, September, and October . May is the best overall month thanks to the weather and reasonable rates. But September and October are also fantastic for weather, as well as a large selection of events and festivals.

It's important to note that the Hawaiian islands are made up of dozens of microclimates, so while it may be sunny and warm on one side of the island, the other side of the island could be quite windy, and it could be raining up in the mountains. Typically the wettest months are November, December, January, February, and March.

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The 59 Best Things to Do in Hawaii: Your Ultimate Bucket List (2023)

Best things to do in Hawaii

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You’re ready for a trip to Hawaii and I can’t blame you! As you start piecing together your plan, you’re probably wondering exactly what there is to do in Hawaii. Lucky for you, there is so much to choose from! Hawaii is more than just amazing beaches (though it does have plenty of those).

Here we give you our top Hawaii bucket list items, broken down by island, so you can make sure you see it all.

Things to do in Hawaii: an overview

Hawaii is an archipelago of islands that stretch over 1,500 miles. There are eight main Hawaiian islands, but five that are most visited: Oahu, Maui, Hawai’i (the Big Island), Kauai, and Lana’i. We’ll cover the most popular things to do on each of these islands, but there are some themes for the most popular things to do in Hawaii:

The most popular attractions and things to do in Hawaii:

Visit the beaches.

Each island has spectacular beaches and you can find a range of beachgoing options. Shallow, protected beaches, black sand beaches, famous surfing beaches, Hawaii has it all. Check out the best beaches in Hawaii by island:

  • Best Beaches Oahu
  • Best Beaches Maui
  • Best Beaches Big Island
  • Best Beaches Kauai

Take in the waterfalls

In almost every advertisement for Hawaii, you’ll find picturesque waterfalls (and often, someone swimming in them). You can find accessible waterfalls on each island, though be sure to heed warning signs and only swim in them if you can determine they are safe. A number of waterfalls make this list below, our favorite being Twin Falls on Maui. 

best place to visit in hawaii

See the sea life

The tropical fish, spinner dolphins, humpback whales, and manta rays offer a diverse range of sealife to discover and explore while on the island. Make sure to bring reef safe sunscreen to keep the coral reefs vibrant and safe. We have a number of amazing snorkeling tours listed below, including a tour to Molokini Crater , off the coast of Maui. 

Marvel at a volcano

The Hawaiian islands are volcanic islands, so one of the very unique things to do in Hawaii is to visit a volcano. Whether you are heading up for sunrise atop Haleakala Volcano, seeing the eruption at Kilauea on the Big Island, or star gazing from Mauna Kea, visiting a volcano will probably top your Hawaii bucket list. We have island-specific recommendations in the list below. 

Before you plan a trip to Hawaii, make sure you check out our Hawaii Trip Planning Tips . We keep this updated and it will give you the best, need to know information from people who have lived on both Oahu and Maui. We love Hawaii and we hope that we can help you love it as well. 

Things to do on Oahu

The Gathering Place. Oahu is not the largest island geographically, but it is home to the majority of the state’s population. While the skyscraper and traffic may not initially scream vacation mode, there is a reason most people choose to visit Oahu. From famous Waikiki Beach to the country living on the North Shore, Oahu has much to discover .  

Things to do in Hawaii surf Waikiki Beach

1. Surf Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is well known for its surf break. The long, slow rolling waves are perfect to learn how to surf. You can take surf lessons ( check out our lesson video here! ) or grab a board for $20 for three hours from guys on the beach.

The surf breaks, starting on the Diamond Head side, are Publics, Queen’s, Canoes, Populars, Threes, Fours, Kaisers, and Rockpiles. You will easily see where everyone is surfing once you are on Waikiki Beach. 

If you have never surfed before then a surf lesson ( our favorite surf school is at Publics ) is highly recommended to get you started safely.

A good surfboard rental location is between the banyan tree and the Kuhio Beach Hula Mound and the Duke Kahanamoku statue. You will find local vendors renting out surfboards. Bring cash and look for the surf racks. 

Directions: Kuhio Beach Hula Mound, Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu, HI

Grab our favorite reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreens before you head into the water for surfing and swimming at the beaches below.

2. Hike Diamond Head Crater

Diamond Head Crater Hike starts inside a 300,00-year-old volcano, about a 15-minute drive from Waikiki. A reservation for the Diamond Head hike is now required. The moderate 0.8-mile hike rises up 560 feet to an observation deck overlooking Waikiki and the east coast of Oahu.

Explore an old military bunker inside the volcano and take amazing photos of Waikiki. Rainbow views are possible with a morning hike. The gates open at 6:00 AM so come on over for those jetlagged travelers. We strongly prefer a morning reservation slot as you get fewer crowds and you beat the heat of the day.

Directions: Diamond Head Crater Trailhead

Diamond Head Crater Hike made our list of the 7 best easy hikes on Oahu .

things to do in Hawaii Diamond Head

3. Visit ‘Iolani Palace

The ‘Iolani Palace was the royal residence of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The palace had electricity and running water before the White House. Come to learn about the royal family, the forced overthrow of the kingdom, and Hawaiian history in this well-preserved, stately palace in the heart of Honolulu.

‘Iolani Palace is located in Historic Downtown Honolulu. Across from the palace, you will find Ali’iolani Hale, home to the state supreme court and the famous King Kamehameha The Great Statue. You can take a historical bike tour of this area or our favorite Pearl Harbor guided tour includes a tour of historic Honolulu.

Historic Downtown Honolulu gets bedazzled for Christmas. From parades to Christmas craft festivals, you will love Honolulu in December. See our Things to Do in Hawaii During Christmas . 

If you’re thinking of visiting Hawaii for a Christmas vacation, then you gotta read our 19 Tips to Plan Your Hawaii Christmas Vacation .

Directions: 364 S King St, Honolulu, HI 96813

Things to do Hawaii Iolani Palace

4. Enjoy the beautiful sunsets

Tantalus Look is the place to come for the sunset and amazing views of Waikiki and Diamond Head. Located 25 minutes (6 miles) from Waikiki, drive up a windy road to Pu’u Ualakaa State Park. Bring a picnic and a picnic blanket to sit on the lawn overlooking the grandeur of Honolulu and the Pacific Ocean. 

The sunset view is best during the winter but even during the summer, this is worth visiting.

Directions: Nutridge St, Honolulu, HI 96822

5. Learn more about Hawai’i at the Bishop Museum

The Bishop Museum showcases exhibits on Polynesian culture and natural history. This is our favorite museum in Hawaii. Our kids love the science center where they can go inside a volcano and get hands-on with science. I enjoy the Polynesian voyaging exhibits and then heading to Highway Inn Cafe for a Hawaii plate lunch.

The Hawaii Hall alone is worth checking out with three wood floors featuring Hawaiian history. It reminds me of the great museums in London.

Directions: 1525 Bernice St, Honolulu, HI 96817

Things to do Hawaii Bishop Museum

6. Pay your respects at Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Welcome to one of the most popular sites on Oahu ( this is the other one ). Pearl Harbor National Memorial brings thousands of visitors a day to pay their respects, learn about the air raid, and visit the historical sites. 

Pearl Harbor is 25-minutes away from Waikiki so it isn’t in Honolulu but I’ll keep it simple for this list. 

Hop in an Uber, Taxi, Lyft, or drive yourself to the visitor center. But, before you arrive make sure you make a reservation for t he USS Arizona Memorial. Reservations can be tough to get, especially during the busy holiday season and summer.

Pearl Harbor National Memorial is also handicap accessible. See our Handicap Accessible Hawaii Guide for more Oahu things to do!

You can skip the hassle of driving and getting a reservation by booking a guided Pearl Harbor and Historic Honolulu City Tour with our favorite local tour group. They will pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.

You can see a list of all of the best Pearl Harbor tours .

Bags are not allowed in the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Also, make sure to hop on the free shuttle to take you to Ford Island. Home of the Battleship Missouri Memorial and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum .

Directions: 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818

Things to do in Hawaii Pearl Harbor

7. Snorkel on the Waianae Coast

Head into the water and snorkel off the Waianae Coast. Leaving from Ko Olina, the Ko Olina Ocean Adventures team offers snorkeling tours two times per day and one sunset sail. We did the morning snorkeling adventure and it was great! We left from Ko Olina harbor first thing in the morning (it was an early wakeup for us since we were staying in Waikiki) and enjoyed the ride as we cruised up the coast. The water was calm and it was a great experience — even our four year old jumped in and snorkeled with us!

Check out their morning or mid-day snorkeling tours or their sunset sail .

If you happen to come during whale season , check out this s mall group whale watching tour up the Waianae Coast.

best oahu snorkel tour

8. Visit charming Haleiwa Town

Haleiwa Town is the unofficial home base for the North Shore. We love this town for the food trucks, shave ice, and coffee shops. The art galleries and kayak and SUP in the river are also worth checking out.

Leave Waikiki in the morning so you can stop in Haleiwa for coffee at Haleiwa Cafe, Coffee Gallery, or Island Vintage Coffee (a chain but they have Kona coffee and good food). Then continue up the coast to do the things below. Come back to Haleiwa for lunch or dinner at a shrimp truck or food truck.

Stop at Kaimana Shave Ice and say, “ The Hawaii Vacation Guide brought you here .” You will save 10% on the freshest shave ice in Haleiwa. See our full list of coupon codes here .

Directions: Haleiwa, Oahu

Things to do Hawaii Haleiwa, Oahu

9. Spend the day at Waimea Bay

Waimea Bay is hard to miss as you drive up the North Shore on Kamehameha Highway. The road turns to present the beautiful bay with the bell tower in the background. 

Waimea Bay is probably the best beach on the North Shore. The bay has two drawbacks. Parking is limited in the public parking lot and along the road. Waimea Valley and the church charge for parking which I’ve found very helpful. The other drawback is the bay is calm from May to September but should be avoided during the winter. Big waves and strong currents make it a dangerous place to swim.

Pack a lunch and enjoy a day of swimming and relaxing on the beach at Waimea Bay. You will find lifeguards on duty, showers, and restroom facilities.

If you’re looking for a waterfall swim while you’re on Oahu’s North Shore, go across the road from Waimea Bay to Waimea Valley for a waterfall swim in a botanical garden.

Directions: Waimea Bay Beach, North Shore, HI 96712

10. Go off-road at Kualoa Ranch

When we lived in Oahu, the Polynesian Cultural Center and Kualoa Ranch felt too touristy to be worth my time. I regret that decision because they offer such great tours. They are both good places to learn the history of the islands. 

Kualoa Ranch is known as the Jurassic Valley as Jurassic Park and Lost World movies were filmed in part here, plus dozens of other movies. The ranch is a working cattle ranch and farm full of wonderful employees who like to share their stories. 

Visitors to Hawaii make the drive to Kualoa Ranch for the popular tours below, but they have so many more to offer.

  • Kualoa Ranch ATV tours
  • Kualoa Ranch Zipline
  • Malama Aina Tour
  • Explore all Kuoloa Ranch Tours here

Directions: 49-560 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744

Things to do on Oahu, Kualoa Ranch

11. Hike Mokapu’u Beach and Lighthouse

Located on the far eastern tip of Oahu, Makapuu Beach and Lighthouse make for a nice morning out with the family. 

Makapuu Point Lighthouse Trail is a paved walking path that takes you up to the top of the point, with views of Makapuu Beach, Manana Island Seabird Sanctuary, and coastal views of Oahu. 

If you have time, head down to Makapuu Beach. It is a tucked-in beach that is nice for relaxing. It is known for bodysurfing so be careful of the surf break.

Directions: Makapuʻu Point Lighthouse Trail, Waimanalo, HI 96795

Want more? Check out all of our Oahu Things to Do articles: 

  • 40 Things to do on Oahu (we will surprise you!)
  • 23 of the Best Things to do on Oahu with Kids (from the Hawaii Vacation Guide Mom and Dad)
  • Free Things to do on the North Shore of Oahu

Our 21 Things to do on Oahu Video

While we love writing about our experiences, some things are just better in video. Watch the video to see the best things to do on Oahu.

Planning an Oahu Trip?

Don’t waste your time — get our itinerary. 

We are going to Oahu, Maui, and Big Island over the course of 21 days, so I have loved your itineraries–seriously they are a must-have lifeline for planning a trip to Hawaii! I’m thankful for the opportunity to give a little back to your family through the itineraries and tour suggestions. Kim S.

best place to visit in hawaii

Oahu Wayfinder Itinerary

Get the oahu itinerary.

The step-by-step itinerary takes you to all the best beaches, snorkeling spots, restaurants, and sights. You’ll get six carefully planned excursion days to help you see the can’t miss stops no matter how limited your time is.

Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Oahu.

Things to do on Maui

Maui is a special place, and is my favorite island to recommend visiting. With the most swimmable beaches, great snorkeling, and the epicenter of whale watching in the winter, Maui is truly a special place to discover . 

12. Stroll through historic Lahaina

Lahaina is our favorite town on Maui. Some say it feels touristy but we see the historic town and the community that makes it thrive. 

Well known for the largest banyan tree in America at about 2 acres in size with 16 trunks, Lahaina also has shopping, restaurants, and a historic walking tour. 

Our full Lahaina Guide will show you where to eat, what to do, Lahaina’s best beaches , and where to stay .

Things to do in Hawaii Historic Lahaina

13. Take a day trip to Lana’i

One of the great things about visiting Maui is its proximity to Lanai. After a quick 45-minute ferry ride, you can find yourself landing on a different island. A private island owned by a billionaire.

Explore Hulopoe Beach (one of the best in Hawaii), head to Lanai City for galleries and lunch, or hop in a Jeep to get to Shipwreck Beach. Lanai is worth a day trip . Our favorite 21 things to do Lanai will show you how to explore the island.

The ferry to Lanai currently leaves from Maalaea Harbor ( click for directions ). Get a round-trip ticket and off you go!

Currently, the ferry to Lanai is the only operating ferry between Hawaiian islands. See our Hawaii Island-Hopping Guide for tips on exploring more islands during your trip.

14. Go whale watching

Each winter, upwards of 10,000 humpback whales migrate from the waters of Alaska to Hawaii to mate, birth, and nurture their young. And the best island to visit for whale watching? Maui! The whales love the warm, shallow waters of the ‘Au ‘au channel, which is between Maui and Lana’i. 

If you’re visiting Maui between December and April, you’re in luck! This is the perfect time to see whales . While you can see them from the shore, it’s a special experience to be out on the water and enjoy seeing them from a boat. 

There are so many whale watching tours to choose from: a power raft, a catamaran, a big boat, or a kayak. We prefer the smaller boats. When it’s just Jordan and I, we head out on a power raft ( this is our favorite raft whale watching tour ), and when we take the kids, we choose a catamaran ( this is our favorite catamaran whale watching tour! ). 

Check our our full list of our favorite whale watching tours on Maui to find the best one for you. 

And don’t forget to read our full Maui whale watching guide before you go. 

things to do in Hawaii whale watching

15. Snorkel Molokini

Molokini Crater is a 200,000 year old, crescent shaped, p artially submerged volcanic crater that is located just 3 miles off the coast of Maui. It is a premier destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. The visibility in this crater is outstanding and it is one of our favorite places to snorkel on Maui. 

While you’re visiting Maui, there are a number of excellent snorkeling trips you can take. But one that is always at the top of our list is a snorkeling trip to Molokini. We have two favorite trips, depending on your boat preference. 

Our favorite trip to do as a family is a catamaran boat trip to Molokini with Kai Kanani . Their boat leaves directly from Maluaka Beach just south of Wailea. And their early morning trip gets you out there before any other boats, so you beat the crowds!

When it’s just Jordan and I out snorkeling, we love going out with Redline Rafting. This tour leaves from the Kihei Small Boat Harbor and they offer a 2 hour or 5 hour tour. Their 5 hour tour also does the back wall of Molokini, which is pretty special. Check out our full write up and video on our Molokini snorkeling trip with Redline Rafting . 

things to do in Hawaii Molokini

16. Watch the sunset at Makena Cove

Secret Cove is the place to go for sunset, engagements, and wedding vow renewal in South Maui. This picture-perfect cove can be found through a narrow opening in a lava rock wall. 

We like to visit for sunset, family pictures, and whale watching in the winter. Find a reason to go to Makena Cove during your Maui vacation.

Directions: Makena Cove off Makena Road

Things to do in Hawaii sunset at Makena Cove

17. Visit one of the best beaches in America

Kapalua Beach at Kapalua Bay is our favorite beach on Maui. The small, crescent-shaped bay has excellent snorkeling, standup paddleboard rentals at the beach, and a coastal walking trail. And we’re not the only people who think it’s amazing. Dr Beach named Kapalua Bay Beach the best beach in America in 2018.

Kapalua Bay is a good spot to see Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles from shore or when snorkeling around the edges of the bay. The bay has gotten more popular in recent years so the public parking lot fills up fast. There is some street parking and paid parking at the tennis club.

Want more Maui snorkel spots with turtles? See our 11 Best Snorkel Spots on Maui .

Get everything you need to know about Kapalua Bay, including directions and parking . 

Things to do in Hawaii Kapalua Bay

18. Eat at the food trucks

All of the islands have a good food truck scene, but the food truck options on Maui are by far the best. The variety is outstanding: local cuisine, seafood, thai food, gourmet food, it’s all here. While there are excellent restaurants on the island that are worth the work to get into (looking at you Mama’s), make sure you eat at least a couple of meals at a food truck. 

A few favorites you should prioritize going to: 

  • Baya Bowl in Lahaina
  • Kitoko in Kihei (South Maui Gardens)
  • Kaeli’s Lunchbox

Check out our favorite food trucks on Maui.  

things to do Hawaii food trucks

19. Visit ‘Iao Valley State Monument

‘Iao Valley State Monument is home to the ‘Iao Needle, a 1,200-foot erosion feature in a magnificent valley. Come to walk the 0.6 miles to the observation deck, see waterfalls, explore the botanical garden, and learn the history of the decisive Hawaiian battle that made the river turn red. Confirm their opening hours and entrance fees here .

‘Iao Valley made our list of the best easy hikes on Maui .

20. Hike the Waihe’e Ridge Trail

Waihe’e Ridge Trail is one of our favorite moderate hikes on Maui. The 4 mile out and back hike takes you up a steep ridgeline to 1,600 feet. The trail can get muddy and slippery as you are now on the wet side of the island.

Enjoy the impressive views of the West Maui Mountains and the ocean as you make the climb. 

After your hike, take a break at ‘Ula ‘ula cafe. 

21. See the sea turtles and windsurfers at Ho’okipa Beach Park

Famous for sea turtles and windsurfing, Ho’okipa Beach Park makes for a nice day at the beach or come at sunset to see the sea turtles. After a long day on the Road to Hana, this is the place to unwind at sunset.

There is also Ho’okipa Lookout at the park. The lookout has sweeping views of the North Shore coastline, surfers down below, and windsurfers out on the deeper break.

where to see sea turtles on Maui

22. Enjoy at waterfall swim

Twin Falls at Wailele Farms is a private waterfall hike along a stream. The stream has three major waterfalls that are all great swimming holes. The famous Twin Falls is the last one on the short hike. 

Wailele Farms manages and maintains the property. They also host a fruit stand with the best banana bread on Maui. To care for the ‘aina (land), they charge $10 for parking. The parking gets full quickly, so plan to either visit early in the morning or later in the afternoon. This is a special spot, so make sure to treat it and it’s carers with respect. 

Things to do in Hawaii Twin Falls

23. Tour a local farm

Possibly our favorite activity on Maui (or in Hawaii in general) is going on a farm tour. The agricultural diversity that you find here is amazing and there are so many small farms that are doing wonderful things with regenerative farming and taking care of the ‘aina (land). This might not be the first thing you think of when planning a trip to Hawaii, but make sure to put a farm tour somewhere on your list. 

Whether you want to see how coffee is grown and produced or you want to see a pineapple farm (one of two left in the US!), we have a list of our favorite farm tours on Maui . 

24. Visit Haleakala National Park

Maui erupted out of the sea from two volcanoes over a million years ago. Today, no trip to Maui is complete without seeing the summit of the dormant volcano Haleakala (House of the Sun). 

Haleakala National Park is best known for its sunrise tour (which lives up to the hype) but the National Park is also worth a day trip to see the endangered state bird the Nene, stand on the 10,023-foot summit, or hike into the crater for the adventurous travelers. 

We’ve enjoyed Haleakala at sunrise, sunset, and during the day and no matter when we go, we always have a wonderful time. You can see our sunrise experience in the video below and decide if a 2:30 am wakeup time is worth it for you! (and yes, we have a 10% discount code you can use on this same exact sunrise tour .)

Haleakala Sunrise or Sunset: When Should I Go?

25. Sip Maui Wine

MauiWine started making wine on the Ulupalakua Ranch in 1974. As the vines were ripening, they started making sparkling pineapple wine. It was a hit and today you can taste a selection of wines from The King’s Cottage tasting room.

Located at the end of Upcountry, we like to pair MauiWine with the farm-to-table cafe at the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. After a long day of exploring Upcountry Maui , grab a burger or sandwich from the ranch store and then head across the street for wine tasting.

Things to do Hawaii Maui Wine

26. Drive the Road to Hana

I hope I haven’t kept you waiting. The Road to Hana is one of the most popular things to do on Maui. We share our perfect day for exploring the Road to Hana in our Maui itineraries . But, we can’t help but share some of our favorite stops below. 

You can do the Road to Hana in one day with our tips , stay the night in Hana , drive straight to Hana and then do the stops on the way back, or drive the backway to Hana (video) . 

The only wrong way to do the Road to Hana is to park illegally, swim on private property, and not let locals pass. Yes, there is a Road to Hana etiquette as the road gets busy. We want this beautiful drive to stay open for years to come so stay safe out there.

Here is another one of our Road to Hana videos, this one showcases eight stops.

We have driven the Road to Hana numerous times but my favorite time was when someone else did the driving for me. 

A guided tour will secure the reservations at the black sand beach, take you for a waterfall swim, and stop at the best stops based on the time of year. Save 10% on our recommended, local Road to Hana tour guide .

27. Hike the Pipiwai Trail (with a bamboo forest)

The Pipiwai Trail is famous on social media for the pictures of the boardwalk through the bamboo forest. The trail is part of the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park. 

Located 10 miles (35 minutes) past Hana, the park is home to the Pipiwai Trail, Waimoku Falls, ‘Ohe’o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools), and camping. Plan about 2 hours to hike the easy to moderate Pipiwai Trail. The waterfall views and the walks through the bamboo forest are out of this world.

If you visited Haleakala National Park then keep your receipt as you can visit the Kipahulu District within three days without purchasing another ticket. 

Want more? Check out all of our Maui Things to Do articles: 

  • 33 Things to do on Maui — leave the crowds behind
  • 15 Amazing things to do in Upcountry Maui
  • 68 Things to do on Maui with Kids
  • Things to do on Maui on a budget

Our 21 Things to do on Maui Video

While we love writing about our experiences, some things are just better in video. Watch the video to see the best things to do on Maui. It’s our most popular video to date!

Planning a Maui Trip?

Our itinerary is all you need for a great trip. 

Our family thanks you and Erica for your itineraries and videos that we used on our recent trip to Maui and Kauai. They were most helpful for deciding what to see and how to schedule our time. Keep up the good work! Jeff and Debby M.

best place to visit in hawaii

Maui Wayfinder Itinerary

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Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Maui.

Things to do on the Island of Hawai’i (the Big Island)

The largest, and youngest, of the Hawaiian islands, the Big Island offers some truly unique experiences. Whether you want to see an erupting volcano or sip coffee in Kona, there is something for everyone here. 

28. Visit Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

If you are looking for a unique experience that you’re only able to enjoy on the Big Island, a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is it. Encompassing two of the world’s most active volcanoes — Kilauea and Mauna Loa — the park is a UNESCO world heritage site with hiking trails, crater views, lava tubes, and sometimes, lava viewing. You could spend days exploring the park with scenic drives, wilderness adventures, and learning from the robust education at the visitors center. 

If you’re staying on the Kona side, it is possible to visit the park on a day trip, but for an even more immersive experience, consider staying overnight at Volcano House . Waking up to a view of Halema’uma’u Crater is an experience you won’t soon forget. 

Visiting an active volcano and the next item made our 12 Things You Can Only Do in Hawaii (intrigued?).

best place to visit in hawaii

29. Night snorkel or dive with Manta Rays

If you’re looking for a thrilling adventure that you can’t get on any other island, head out for a night snorkel or dive with Manta Rays. Imagine jumping into the ocean when it’s pitch black and then having a “gentle giant” with a wingspan of up to 16 feet roll past you, inches from your face. It’s one of our favorite activities and something we do each time we head to the Big Island. 

Read our full Manta Ray Night Snorkeling guide and also check out our favorite Big Island tour operators , like Sea Paradise . 

things to do in Hawaii Manta Ray night snorkel

30. Sample Kona Coffee

Coffee enthusiasts will love exploring the famous Kona coffee country. There are hundreds of coffee farms located around the island, and many of them offer public tours. Head into the hills above Kailua-Kona to take a farm tour, watch beans get roasted, and sample a fresh cup of coffee straight from the farm. Tours are usually free (and come with free samples) and you can take back a bag of your favorite roast to enjoy. 

Check out a full list of our favorite coffee farm tours on the Big Island . We’ve done so many, and these really stand out above the rest!

Not sure how to fit a coffee farm tour into your day? Our Big Island itinerary has an excursion day that combines a day of snorkeling with a trip to Kona Coffee Country. It leads you step-by-step through six carefully planned excursion days around the island — all you have to do is download and go! 

Things to do in Hawaii Kona Coffee tasting

31. Go to Punalu’u black sand beach

The best black sand beach in Hawaii (in our opinion) is Punaluu Black Sand Beach . Located in the Puna District, it’s a great place to stop on the way to or from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. 

While this isn’t a great beach for swimming, the black sand is absolutely stunning, and you can often find Hawaiian green sea turtles hanging out on the sand. Enjoy the beach with food that you’ve picked up from Punalu’u Bake Shop . 

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32. Snorkel Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument

The Big Island has some spectacular snorkeling, but the best spot, in our opinion, is snorkeling near the Captain Cook Monument at Kealakekua Bay. There’s no sandy beach to relax on here, which adds to the great visibility (no sand means higher visibility). But this spectacular snorkeling spot isn’t easy to reach. To get there you need to take a boat tour, kayak, or hike. It’s well worth the journey, in our opinion.

Yes, Kealakekua Bay made our #1 spot in our top 5 snorkel spots on the Big Island . See the full list if you plan to snorkel during your visit.

Here are some of our favorite tours to help you reach this special snorkeling spot: 

  • Catamaran snorkel in Kealakekua Bay
  • Power Raft snorkel tour to Kealakekua Bay
  • Guided kayaking and snorkeling to Kealakekua Bay

When you visit the bay, consider reading up on the historical significance of the bay and the resulting Captain Cook Monument. We share our favorite Hawaii history books in our 9 Ways to Have an Authentic Hawaii Experience .

things to do in Hawaii snorkel Kealakekua Bay

33. See ‘Akaka Falls

Just 11 miles north of Hilo is the famous ‘Akaka Falls . The waterfall plunges 442 feet and is viewable from an easy to navigate 0.4 mile walking trail. The trail itself is beautiful as well, winding you through lush scenery and you make your way to the main event.  ‘Akaka Falls draws the crowds — it’s one of the most visited sites on the windward side of the island. But there’s a good reason for it: it’s a stunning sight that is easy to get to and view. 

things to do in Hawaii Akaka Falls

34. Learn About the History at Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Located on the south Kona coast, Pu’uhonua O Honauanau is a spiritual sanctuary and was a place of refuge for Hawaiian lawbreakers. Until the 19th century, Hawaiians who broke the law (kapu) would be punished by death. The only way to avoid this fate was to make their way to Pu’uhonua, where their actions would be absolved by a priest. 

Learn about Hawaiian history at this 180 acre park that has been beautifully restored. Walk the self-guided trail (0.5 miles) or watch a cultural demonstration. You can also snorkel at the popular snorkeling spot “Two Steps” located just outside of the park. Plan your visit with the park’s website. 

35. Visit Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden

While you’re enjoying the beauty of the Hamakua Coast, soak in a little more nature and visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden. With over 1800 species of tropical plants, this is a wonderful spot for nature lovers. Take a walk through the gardens and enjoy waterfalls, ocean views, and the lovely sound of birds chirping. It’s pretty much a tropical paradise. 

Learn more about Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden . 

36. Go Ziplining at Umauma Falls

If you’re looking for a fun day out, get a view from above of waterfalls, suspension bridges, and a river while you zipline at Umauma Falls. While the zipline is incredibly fun (9 lines!), the scenery makes this spot so enjoyable. Stroll the gardens, kayak the river, or grab a coffee and just take in your surroundings. 

If you want to see more of the beautiful spot, check out a full review and video of the Umauma Zipline experience . 

37. Enjoy a hike and waterfall swim

When Jordan and I had a day to ourselves (thank, grandparents!), we headed straight for this tour. A guided tour to North Kohala, we were able to head onto private land for a hike and waterfall swim. It was stunning. Not only was it so nice to be legally off the beaten path, but we also learned so much from our guide. 

And the day ended with a beautiful, private, scenic lunch spot overlooking Pololu Valley. It was an experience for the memory book. 

See our full review of this waterfall swim and hike on the Big Island . 

Want more? Check out all of our Big Island Things to Do articles: 

  • 21 Incredible Things to Do on the Big Island
  • Thing to do in Kona with kids

Our 21 Things to do on the Big Island Video

While we love writing about our experiences, some things are just better in video. Watch the video to see the best things to do on the Big Island

Planning a trip to the Big Island?

I can’t tell you how much we have appreciated your effort with the guidebook.  We saw things this past week we would never have known to look for.  These hidden gems were amazing Chris P

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Big Island Wayfinder Itinerary

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Get all the details on our itinerary and download it for a memorable and easily planned trip to Hawai’i (Big Island).

Things to do on Kauai

As the Garden Isle, Kauai gets the most rain. But with that rain comes rainbows, and some of the most lush rainforest landscapes you could ever dream of. When you step off the plane, and look up at those mountains, it’s hard to not feel as though you’ve been truly transported. Kauai is truly a tropical paradise . 

38. See the Napali Coast Wilderness Area

When you see pictures of Hawaii, they’re usually showing the Napali Coast. Napali Coast State Wilderness Park covers the northwest coast of Kauai. The cathedral cliffs along the ocean are remote, rugged, and romantic for honeymooners to hikers.

The coast is full of sea caves, waterfalls, and ancient Hawaiian villages. While most people explore this area via boat (see our favorite tours here ), you can hike into the wilderness area with a permit .

Directions: Napali Coast State Wilderness Park

I was fortunate to hike the Kalalau Trail (11 miles), swim to the Honopu Arch, and sleep on Kalalau Beach with friends years ago. It was one of my most memorable Kauai vacations. But exhausting. 

best place to visit in hawaii

39. Visit Ha’ena State Park

Ke’e Beach is our favorite beach on Kauai. Located at the end of the Kuhio Highway, Ha’ena State Park is home to working lo’i kalo (taro patches), heiau (temple), trailheads for the Kalalau Trail and Hanakapi’ai Beach and waterfall, and the popular Ke’e Beach.

Ke’e Beach is a small bay tucked under towering cliffs. With a lifeguard on duty, showers, and restrooms, the beach is great for kids. The reef makes for a natural lagoon for snorkeling and swimming. But, during the winter the high surf makes this beach a no-go. 

Due to the popularity of Ke’e Beach, entry and parking reservations are required for access to the state park. Shuttle reservations are available.

You can hike a portion of the Kalalau Trail with your Ha’ena State Park entry fee. Hiking from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach is 2-miles. You will be rewarded with amazing views of the coast and a sandy beach during the summer (not a good swimming beach due to strong currents). The waterfall hike is 8-miles roundtrip. 

things to do in Hawaii Ke'e Beach

40. Enjoy Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay has nearly two miles of beach and in the summer the water is as calm as can be. 

To swim at Hanalei Beach, we prefer to park on the east side of Hanalei Bay, near the Hanalei Pier and Black Pot Beach. From here you can get a great view of the bay and play on the pier. Directions below are to the public parking lot.

Beware in the winter, waves here get rough. There may be some days that the beach is closed and swimming here (especially with kids) is really only ideal in the summer. 

Hanalei Bay made our 7 Best Kid-Friendly Beaches on Kauai and 9 Best Beaches on Kauai for Swimming .

best place to visit in hawaii

41. Take in the view from Hanalei Lookout

A quick stop when passing through Princeville on the way to Hanalei is Hanalei Valley Lookout. Pullover across the street from the Foodland grocery store to take in the grandeur of Kauai. 

The lookout is a panoramic view of the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge and Kawaikini mountain range. The taro field patchwork with the mountains in the background is my favorite view on Kauai.

things to do on Hawaii

42. Visit the Kilauea Point Lighthouse

Located past the village of Kilauea is the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. Many come for the short walk to the historic Kilauea Point Lighthouse built in 1913. As you are perched on 180-foot high cliffs, the views of the coast are wonderful but this place is really about the wildlife. 

Watch blue-footed boobies. The birds soar along the cliffs for a stunning experience. Hopefully get to see Hawaii’s state bird, the nene. Reservations are required to enter the refuge.

Directions: 3580 Kilauea Rd, Kilauea, HI 96754

43. Bike the Kapa’a Beach Bike Trail

Don’t miss the multi-use path that follows the coast along Kapa’a Town. Explore the beaches, enjoy views of the coast, and just take in the sun. You can rent beach cruisers and e-bikes in Kapa’a for a few hours to enjoy a relaxing ride.

We rented our bikes from Hele on Kauai in central Kapa’a. They are located 30-seconds off the beach path.

things to in Hawaii

44. Kayak to Secret Falls

Perhaps no longer a secret waterfall, Uluwehi Falls (Secret Falls) is only accessible via a kayak tour down the Wailua River. First, enjoy a leisurely kayak down the class 0 Wailua River. Then land the kayaks to go on a 3 mile round trip hike to the large waterfall. The hike was slippery and slightly challenging at times, but it was well worth it when we made it to the falls. We took our four year old with us on the long day trip (6 hour tour!) and he loved it. Our proud parents’ moment was he did almost the entire hike on his own. 

Learn more about the Wailua kayak and waterfall hike tour .

This easy kayak and hike tour is a great way to explore the Wailua River. Perhaps stay the evening to see the Fern Grotto and one of the best luaus on Kauai – Smith’s Family Luau .

things to do in Hawaii kayak tour

45. Visit kid-friendly Lydgate Beach and Pond

This is one of our favorite beaches on Kauai for swimming . Lydgate Beach Park is a long beach that can have rough surf for swimming, especially during the winter, but there is the Lydgate Pond, which is a great option for everyone, including kids. 

The pond on the north end of the beach are protected from the waves by a large stone wall. The water is calm, there are large fish inside the pools for easy snorkeling, and the beach is sandy. There are lifeguards on duty, picnic tables, and lots of parking.

There is also a large, community playground called Kamalani Playground across from the pools. 

46. View Wailua Falls

Another Kauai waterfall that is easily accessible by car, Wailua Falls is located off the road on the south end of the Wailua River. The falls cascade into two streams that drop over 80 feet into a pool.

The best viewing is along the road, just before the parking lot for the falls. The size of the stream is dictated by the rainfall uphill. During our last visit, Kauai was hit by a tropical storm so the waterfall was roaring. 

Wailua Falls is known in pop culture as the opening scene in the television show Fantasy Island. Kauai is famous for most of the filming of Jurassic Park and other movies. You can go on a guided tour of Kauai’s famous movie and TV scenes, pickup is available at your hotel.

Directions: Wailua Falls Hawaii 96746

47. Go on a mountain tubing adventure

After a 4WD ride through a jungle, hop on a tube to float down a 100-year-old, hand-dug plantation canal system that will take you through caves and small waterfalls. This was an easy, leisurely tour that takes you into backcountry. You get to enjoy the nature in Kauai off the beaten path, legally. We really enjoyed this laid back tour. Get wet and have a blast!

This tour is Kauai’s only tubing adventure through irrigation canals. Read more about the Mountain Tubing Adventure here .

things to do in Hawaii mountain tubing

48. Stroll through historic Koloa Town

Established in 1835, the old plantation town is a walk down memory lane. Visit the Old Koloa Town Shops in plantation-era style, see the Old Sugar Mill Memorial, and have a local plate lunch.

We visit Koloa Town to grab food before hitting Poipu Beach to the south. Grab a plate lunch at Koloa Fish Market or one of the many food trucks. There are two food truck parks with award-winning food trucks in Koloa, see our Kauai Food Truck Guide for details.

Shave ice! South Shore Kauai is full of the best shave ice on Kauai. Visit The Fresh Shave or explore our other favorite shave ice on Kauai .

49. Hike the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

The Maha’ulepu Heritage Trailhead starts at Shipwreck Beach. The easy-to-moderate hiking trail follows the coast along dunes, under kiawe trees (wear closed-toed shoes), and cliffs.

The trail is significant for being one of the last undeveloped spots along the South Shore. Also, this is a sacred place so leave only footprints behind.

things to do Hawaii Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

50. Spend the day at Poipu Beach

If you’re looking for a thing to do on Kauai, this is more than a beach. 

Not only does the beach have calm waters (heavier surf during the summer) and is beautiful with two crescent-shaped bays, it has a playground that kept our son entertained when he was done playing in the sand. 

There are lifeguards on duty, picnic tables, limited shade, showers, and restrooms at the beach.

Plus, there’s a deli right across the street so whatever food or drink you need is easily accessible.

Poipu Beach does get busy so don’t expect a secluded beach day. Walk over to Brenneck’s Beach as that is less busy and known for bodyboarding. 

Quick Tip: Never turn your back on the Pacific. While the waters may look calm, don’t let your guard down. Keep your body facing the waves so one doesn’t sneak up on you.

If you stay for sunset, expect serious crowds. Not only is this a great place to take in the sunset, you’ll also find monk seals and sea turtles coming ashore during this time. Remember that these are both federally protected animals, so giving them space on the beach or in the water is important. 

51. Take a Napali Coast Boat Tour

Finally, let’s talk about Napali Coast tours. The most popular thing to do on Kauai and for good reason. We included this in our 3-can’t-miss Kauai activities video . 

Best viewed from a boat, the Napali Coast is a stretch of sea cliffs full of waterfalls, ancient Hawaiian fishing villages, sea arches, sea caves, and stories told by captains and crews. 

Go on a snorkel tour , power raft and snorkel tour , helicopter tour , or a sunset dinner cruise . Just make sure you get out there to see the coast. 

Most tours leave from Port Allen in Eleele on the West Side. Only a select few, like this power raft and snorkel tour , leave from Hanalei Bay during the summer (when the waves aren’t quite as big and strong).

things to do Hawaii Napali Coast snorkel

52. Waimea Canyon State Park

Another popular thing to do on Kauai is Waimea Canyon State Park . Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain, the stunning canyon is full of waterfalls, lookouts, hiking trails, views of Ni’ihau island, a scenic drive. 

Parking and entrance fees are now required, and paid on site. Enjoy half a day to a full day here to explore the area.

We like to drive up the canyon to stop at Red Dirt Waterfall, lookouts, and finally to the top which turns into Koke’e State Park with Kalalau Valley Lookout. 

Want more? Check out all of our things to do on Kauai articles: 

  • 35 of the best things to do on Kauai
  • 24 things to do on Kauai with kids

Our 21 Things to do on the Kauai Video

While we love writing about our experiences, some things are just better in video. Watch the video to see the best things to do on the Kauai

Planning a trip to the Kauai?

We returned home from our family vacation to Kauai on Monday, and wanted you to know how helpful your Wayfinder Itinerary was.  We used it throughout the trip and it never failed us – thank you for providing such a thorough and thoughtful guide.   We are certain to return – hopefully to other islands – and will once again rely upon your insights and advice. Mary B.

best place to visit in hawaii

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Things to do on Lana’i

Famous for its billionaire owner , Lana’i is quiet, yet far from boring. 

53. Snorkel Hulopoe Beach

Located on the Manele-Hulopoe Marine Life Conservation Area, you will find one of the best beaches in America, as ranked by Dr. Beach . We love this beach for the lack of crowds, amazing and large marine life, and things to do around the beach itself.

Hulopoe Beach is well known for snorkeling. The pristine reef and protected bay make for great visibility. Always check ocean conditions before you venture out as there can be strong currents and high surf. 

We find Lanai to be better than Molokai for secluded snorkeling.

The gold sand beach is excellent for walking or just relaxing under the sun. 

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins rest in the bay so encounters are common. Per NOAA law, you can’t swim or approach the dolphins within 50 yards. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy watching their acrobatic spins. 

  • Restroom facilities
  • Picnic tables and BBQ grills
  • No lifeguard on duty

54. Walk to Sweetheart Rock

​​A short 10-minute walk past the Keiki Tide Pool is Sweet Heart Rock. The landmark is a beautiful addition to the coast. It is named Sweet Heart Rock as it is in the shape of a heart and legend says a heartbroken warrior jumped from this 80-foot summit, rising from the sea, overcome with grief after his princess wife’s passing. 

things to do in Hawaii Lana'i

55. Visit Lana’i City

No trip to Lanai is complete without exploring the historic plantation town of Lanai City. Located 17-minutes from Manele Small Boat Harbor, the planned community is home to Lanai’s 3,000 residents. 

While a shuttle is required to get to Lanai City, once you arrive you will find a walkable town village. The quaint town has the large Dole Park with a playground at its center.

While the bowling alley has been converted into a community center, you will find restaurants, cafes, and art galleries surrounding the park.

Lanai City is a small town so check operating hours if you’re set on having lunch or dinner. Many places close in the afternoon.

We like to go to Lanai City for the local restaurants, coffee, and a little shopping. Below are our favorite places.

Lanai City Restaurants

  • Blue Ginger Cafe: a great no-frills breakfast and lunch spot for local eats and fresh baked goods.
  • Pele’s Other Garden Deli: Italian fare set in a retro diner, this mom and pop deli is open for lunch and gets more lively at night.
  • Coffee Works: located a block from Dole Park, enjoy excellent coffee and pastries in this bohemian cafe.
  • Ganotisi’s Pacific Rim: Opened in 2022, they offer plate lunches, burgers, fish and chips, and sandwiches. This is the new, popular place to eat in town.
  • Richard’s Market: one of two grocery stores in town, you can find picnic supplies here, fresh poke, and drinks for wherever you plan to explore.

Lanai City Shops

  • The Local Gentry: full of cute Lanai souvenirs, clothing, and artwork.
  • Mike Carroll Gallery: the local art gallery and artist is known for its art and hospitality
  • Lanai Hula Hut: a little blue shop featuring Lanai clothing and souvenirs

Lanai City Attractions

  • Lanai Culture & Heritage Center (temporarily closed): at the top of Dole Park, explore Lanai displays and find events that showcase the local community.
  • Lanai Theater: derelict since the 70s, Larry Ellison transformed this movie theater into a state-of-the-art venue with luxury seating. He planned to start a film festival but local residents now get to enjoy it!

Explore the Town! Sit in Dole Park, walk amongst the historical churches, check out the old courthouse and jail, and walk the neighborhoods to appreciate the plantation architecture. Lanai City is a little city lost in time.

56. Drive to Shipwreck Beach

Located over 30-minutes (9 miles) northeast of Lanai City is one of Lanai’s most interesting things to do. Travel time varies based on road conditions. 

The scenic and windy drive down the side of Lanai’s extinct volcano will land you on the edge of Shipwreck Beach. Park the car and walk the 8-mile beach and rocky coastline to explore more shipwrecks. 

At least a dozen vessels have been intentionally stranded or accidentally sunk on along the hazardous north shore coast of Lanai. 

The prominent rusting hulk of a YOGN-42 navy fuel barge can be seen beached on the reef. It isn’t a Liberty Ship, but a fuel tanker made of concrete and steel. The concrete hull is why it is still there today.

I wouldn’t recommend swimming here as strong currents and high surf make this a dangerous place to enter the water. You will feel the remoteness of Lanai when you visit this beach.

things to do Hawaii shipwreck beach

57. Visit the Lana’i Cat Sanctuary

Some would say this is the most popular attraction on Lanai. The Lanai Cat Sanctuary is a well-designed and well-run cat sanctuary built to shelter the large homeless cat population that was on Lanai. 

Since opening in 2006, they have saved over 3,000 cats. By sheltering feral cats, they have saved countless native and endangered ground-nesting sea birds on the island. 

Open daily, come over to frolic and play with some of the 600+ cats. Admission is free but donations are welcomed!

They are located 5 minutes from Lanai Airport. 

58. See a Volcanic Rock Garden

Take a rough ride 45-minutes from Lanai City to see a volcanic rock garden. 

As the Hawaiian Tourism Authority explains the legend of this area:

“According to Hawaiian lore, this windswept landscape is the result of a contest between two kahuna (priests) from Lanai and Molokai. Each was challenged to keep a fire burning on their respective island longer than the other, and the winner’s island would be rewarded with great abundance. The Lanai kahuna, Kawelo, used every piece of vegetation in Keahiakawelo to keep his fire burning. The landscape is the way it is due to the introduction of ungulates and subsequent erosion.” – Hawaii Tourism Authority

Located on the top of a hill, you can see Oahu and Molokai on a clear day.

59. Take a snorkeling trip to Lana’i

If you’re not up for a full Lana’i trip, head to the island on a snorkeling trip. We have loved our snorkeling tours out to the island. While these tours don’t let you explore the island, you still get to experience the marine life out there. We’ve seen a pod of spinner dolphins on our way out, and have enjoyed a few different snorkeling spots off the coast. 

Watch our experience on our Lana’i snorkeling trip: 

Don’t Leave Home Without These

Coming to Hawaii is an expensive trip — don’t leave it to chance. We’ve done all the hard research for you and compiled it all into a concise itinerary . For less than the cost of a round of Mai Tai’s, you’ll get your trip planning done for you. 

best place to visit in hawaii

Cruising Hawaii Guide

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I'm the co-founder, with my husband Jordan, of The Hawaii Vacation Guide. We have lived on Maui and Oahu and continue to travel, experience, and learn about the Hawaiian Islands. We travel with our kids, Henry and Edith. I am a planner! I love to plan trips from the mainland and island-hopping adventures, excursion days, and everything in-between. I spend a lot of my time in Hawai'i on a SUP and my favorite time of year in Hawai'i is whale season!

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These are the best islands in Hawaii, according to frequent visitors

Leslie Harvey

No matter where you go in America's 50th state, Hawaii's islands offer a wide variety of topographies, accommodations, activities and experiences.

Related: The best ways to get to Hawaii using points and miles

Hawaii is an incredibly unique place to visit, and each island has its own distinctive vibe. How do you choose between so many different versions of paradise? Here's a guide to finding the right Hawaiian island to visit on your next vacation.

  • First-time visitors to Hawaii.
  • Single travelers.
  • Large groups.
  • Budget travelers.

Oahu is Hawaii's most bustling and urban island. It's home to the state's largest city and commercial center, Honolulu, which is known for an epic rush hour that sometimes rivals the one in Los Angeles. Within city limits, Waikiki Beach is the place to see and be seen — shop, dine and enjoy the amenities of huge high-rise resorts.

Related: The best time to visit Hawaii this year

best place to visit in hawaii

But Oahu's offerings are more diverse than just Honolulu. The growing resort area of Ko Olina is not as built up but still has several upscale accommodations, including Disney's Aulani Resort and the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina . On the way to Ko Olina from Honolulu is Pearl Harbor , one of the most visited historic sites anywhere on the islands.

best place to visit in hawaii

Oahu's North Shore provides another vibe that's downright chill with its beach-hopping, food-truck-loving, small-town surfer scene. Hikers will find plenty of trails all over Oahu, from the peaks of Diamond Head to less-traveled spots like Makiki Valley and Waimea Valley. Some popular spots do require advance reservations.

best place to visit in hawaii

Oahu's gateway for travelers, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) has the most air service of any location on the islands, making it the cheapest destination for travelers from the mainland. It also offers the most nonstop flights.

Related: Best ways to redeem points and miles on Hawaiian Airlines

  • Travelers with kids.
  • Multigenerational travel.
  • Anyone looking for resort-based condo properties.

The second-most-visited island in the state and also its second largest, Maui is home to the famed Road to Hana , Haleakala National Park and the best whale watching anywhere in Hawaii during the winter months.

best place to visit in hawaii

For many travelers, a vacation on Maui is the best of both worlds. The island offers some of the same infrastructure, conveniences and activities of Oahu without the traffic and urban sprawl. It's possible to have an active vacation here and visit a lot of attractions, or you can just enjoy some island rest and relaxation at a resort.

Maui is a great pick for families with kids of school age because of its many activities. It works well for multigenerational groups because it has experiences that grandparents and grandkids can enjoy, such as the Maui Ocean Center or catching a sunrise at Haleakala National Park.

The island of Maui also has many amazing hotels and resorts at a wide variety of price points. Most are clustered in two major areas: on the Lahaina/Ka'anapali/Kapalua corridor on the northwest side of the island and in Kihei/Wailea farther south.

Related: 29 hotels in Maui, Hawaii, you can book with points

For its size, Maui offers an impressive variety of hotels for travelers to book a hotel stay with points. Most major chains are represented, and many properties offer condo accommodations that work for families or larger groups. The Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa ; The Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas; The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, Ka'anapali; the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort ; and the Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort have all scored well with TPG contributors and readers.

best place to visit in hawaii

Hawaii (the Big Island)

  • Romantic couples getaways.
  • Luxury travelers.
  • Adventure seekers.

best place to visit in hawaii

The island of Hawaii, called the Big Island , is the largest and newest island in the chain. Because it's so big, seeing everything requires close to a week, but it offers many different travel experiences from day to day.

The vast majority of Big Island visitors stick to the western side of the island near the city of Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast, where the large resorts are located. Luxury seekers can enjoy high-end properties like the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai ; the Mauna Lani , an Auberge Resort; and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Autograph Collection.

Families on a moderate budget can find ample hotel offerings, too. In particular, the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and the Hilton Waikoloa Village cater to travelers with kids. Pool complexes are a big draw.

Related: Top hotels on the Big Island, Hawaii, for your next vacation

best place to visit in hawaii

Although it's entirely possible to spend a week on the Big Island relaxing on the beach of a resort, the island can also be an adventure traveler's paradise. On the northern part of the island, travelers can zip line, take all-terrain-vehicle tours, jump into waterfalls, scuba dive or snorkel with giant manta rays, or flume down historic sugar cane irrigation channels.

On the southern part of the island, you can visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, although some areas remain closed for safety precautions. The town of Hilo on the eastern side of the island has its own local vibe that can be a great getaway for travelers looking for an authentic Hawaiian experience.

  • Romantic couples getaways and babymoons.
  • Adventure junkies.
  • Relaxation seekers.

Kauai's lush greenery makes it, in my opinion, the most beautiful of all the Hawaiian islands. It is home to waterfalls, hiking trails and a variety of eco-adventures. Most travelers seek out Kauai to avoid the hustle and bustle of Oahu and Maui and have a more unplugged vacation experience.

best place to visit in hawaii

Unfortunately, Kauai's natural beauty also makes it less reliable as a vacation destination. The island's greenery comes from the substantial rainfall it gets, which makes it possible that your vacation in paradise is a damp one. For that reason, it's probably best to plan for a longer trip just in case the weather doesn't cooperate all the time.

Hotel offerings on Kauai are ample. For families, the hands-down winner is the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa in Poipu, known for having one of the best waterslides and pools anywhere on the island. The Grand Club lounge is quite special, too, with easy access to breakfast, drinks, snacks and more.

Poipu to the south is home to quite a few other major resorts, including the Sheraton Kauai Resort . Princeville to the north has many others, such as The Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas .

Related: True aloha spirit at the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort

Smaller islands: Lanai and Molokai

  • Returning Hawaii visitors looking for new experiences.

best place to visit in hawaii

Although the vast majority of travelers to Hawaii visit Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Kauai, there are two smaller islands that tourists can visit as well. Getting to both of them requires a little extra effort, as neither has air service from the mainland.

Lanai, the island owned by Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison, is accessible by boat from Maui. It has two Four Seasons resorts on the island (one is adults-only), so it's also luxurious and pricey.

Related: Off the beaten path: Tips on visiting and exploring Lanai, Hawaii

Molokai, by contrast, has no name-brand accommodations, making it a place of refuge for local residents and travelers looking for authentic Hawaii travel experiences. Molokai has commuter air service from HNL and Maui's two airports: Kahului Airport (OGG) and Kapalua Airport (JHM).

Related: Off the beaten path: Tips on visiting and exploring Molokai, Hawaii

I wouldn't recommend that travelers head to either of these places until they've visited several of the larger Hawaiian islands first. You'll likely get more out of them (and know which one is the right fit for you) once you have more context to appreciate them.

Most Beautiful places

Choosing the Right Island for Your Trip

All-Inclusive Resorts

Family-Friendly Hotels

Top Things to Do

Best Beaches

Surfing in Hawaii

Scenic Road Trips

Annual Events and Festivals

Food to Try

Best Hawaii Breweries

Chocolate Tours in Hawaii

Best Time to Visit

Weather & Climate

Getting Around the Islands

Airports in Hawaii

One-Week Itinerary

Top Destinations

The Top 15 Destinations in Hawaii

best place to visit in hawaii

Putting the finishing touches on a trip to Hawaii is a dream come true for most travelers, and crossing that destination off your bucket list wouldn’t be complete without catching some of the best destinations the state has to offer.

History buffs won’t want to miss the iconic Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, as well as the Polynesian Cultural Center, Bishop Museum, and Kalaupapa National Historical Park on Molokai. Hike through jungles and botanical gardens to view the waterfalls at Manoa Falls, or book a thrilling zip line tour at Kualoa Ranch, also on Oahu. The famous Road to Hana road trip on Maui attracts visitors from all over the world, and the majestic Volcanoes National Park and Mauna Kea on Hawaii Island are unlike anywhere else on earth. For nature-lovers, head to Haleakala National Park on Maui to witness a unique blend of different climates ranging from tropical to arid. Check out the scene on the popular Waikiki Beach and Kaanapali Beach, or hike to the top of Diamond Head to catch unrestricted views of the Pacific Ocean. On Kauai, the sea cliffs along the Na Pali Coast are unparalleled, and on Maui, the views from the top of Waimea Canyon will take your breath away.

When it comes to choosing which island to stay on, there are no bad choices. Each island brings its own unique flavor to the table, whether you’re into shopping, the outdoors or a fun foodie scene.

Pearl Harbor

 Sean Davey / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

One of the most defining moments in United States and world history took place right on the island of Oahu at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Japan’s military airstrike sunk four of the eight battleships present in Pearl Harbor at the time and destroyed more than 180 aircrafts that were on the ground, killing more than 2,000 American sailors, soldiers, and marines. Pearl Harbor remains a military base to this day, and visitors are welcome to come pay their respects. There are four main attractions at Pearl Harbor: the USS Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine, the USS Missouri Battleship, and the Pacific Aviation Museum, and you’ll need to secure tickets for each either online or on-site. Tourists short on time can visit walk-through museums at the visitors center, which is free to enter. Not staying on Oahu? Since Pearl Harbor is arguably the most popular activity in the entire state, multiple tour agencies offer one-day tours from Big Island, Maui, and Kauai that include airfare and transportation.

Na Pali Coast

 jimkruger / Getty Images

Along the coastline of Kauai’s northwestern shore, the giant cliffs of the Na Pali State Wilderness Park absolutely stun everyone who sees them. The famous Kalalau Trail is one of the most famous hikes in all of Hawaii, and the five valleys that make up the area are full of dense vegetation, lush jungles, and hidden waterfalls. Experience the Na Pali Coast by land, air, or sea and see for yourself why this majestic corner of Kauai island holds a special place in Hawaii.

 JTSorrell / Getty Images

Mauna Kea on the Big Island is considered a very sacred place for the Native Hawaiians and should be treated as such. Additionally, it is the home for a variety of rare plant and animal species, some of which can only be found on the unique climate of the mountain. In addition to regular star-gazing programs, the Visitors Center hosts local community speakers to lead discussions and speeches about Mauna Kea from a cultural perspective on the fourth Saturday of each month. The Visitor Station is located at 9,200 feet above sea level and the summit is 13,796 feet, so altitude sickness may be a cause for concern for visitors with health issues.

Waikiki Beach

 Glowimages / Getty Images

You’d be hard-pressed to find an Oahu tourist who hasn’t set foot on Waikiki Beach ; it is hands-down the most popular and famous beach in the Hawaiian islands. A majority of visitors to the state stay within this 2-mile stretch of coastline on Oahu’s south shore. It is a shopping destination for both international and domestic travelers, a foodie destination for restaurant enthusiasts, and overall the most happening spot in Hawaii. Stay at the legendary pink-colored Royal Hawaiian Hotel or the oldest resort in Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider. There are also more budget-friendly options further inland because let’s face it, you won’t be spending too much time in the room with a beautiful beach just steps away.

Diamond Head

 NNehring / Getty Images

The most iconic landmark on the island of Oahu is hard to miss when flying into Honolulu. Diamond Head was formed by a volcanic eruption more than 300,000 years ago and was historically used by the American military as a lookout to defend the island. Hike the Diamond Head Summit Trail to view the beach below and the surrounding Pacific Ocean from the edge of the crater—it is one of the most trafficked hikes on Oahu.

 Kelly Headrick / Getty Images

Driving the Road to Hana along Maui’s famed Hana Highway is a rite of passage for any Hawaii tourist. The narrow, winding road contains one-lane-bridges, numerous switchbacks, and sheer cliffs, so caution is key. The reward, however, is a once-in-a-lifetime road trip with pull-outs to adventurous hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, stands of locally grown fruit, and more. The town of Hana (where most drivers choose to make their final destination) doesn’t have a lot to see, but this drive is about the journey, not the destination.

Bishop Museum

 LanaCanada / Getty Images

With a sharp focus on history, science and Hawaiian culture, The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is a great choice for those who only have time for one museum in Hawaii. It has become the official (and largest) state museum of natural and cultural history since opening in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop (late husband of Bernice Bishop, a descendant of the royal Kamehameha family). Visit their signature galleries, special exhibits and planetarium daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Kualoa Ranch

 maximkabb / Getty Images

If you’ve ever seen photos of visitors horseback riding, ziplining, or ATVing with the most epic backgrounds behind them, chances are they were at Kualoa Ranch on the northeast side of Oahu. The privately owned nature reserve is home to a working cattle ranch, fishery, and garden producing some of the finest ingredients that the island has to offer, but the 4,000-acre space doesn’t stop there. There are a number of exciting and unique expeditions offered by Kualoa Ranch, from jungle expeditions to ultra-terrain vehicles to electric bike-riding.

Haleakala National Park

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Perhaps one of the most scenic areas in the state, and spanning more than 30,000 acres of Maui land, Haleakala National Park encompasses a famous dormant volcano rising more than 10,000 feet above sea level. You’ll find important cultural sites all throughout the park in both the summit and Kīpahulu district of the park. Haleakala translates into “house of the sun” in the Hawaiian language, and it is easy to see why. Most visitors experience the park through sunrise by waking up early to drive all the way up the mountain to the Haleakala Visitors Center, undoubtedly a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t worry if you’re not a morning person, Haleakala can be experienced any time of the day through its various hiking trails—some people even drive up to the Visitors Center in the evening to catch the sunset and do some stargazing.

Polynesian Cultural Center

 Radius Images / Getty Images

Get a feel for the history of the Pacific Islands at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie, Oahu. The 42 acres cover simulated villages representing six different islands: Tonga, Tahiti, Samoa, Aotearoa, Fiji, and Hawaii. Their evening luau has been rated one of the best in the state, and it is certainly one of the most popular.

Volcanoes National Park

 Kevin Thrash / Getty Images

Ever wanted to witness new Hawaiian land being created right in front of your eyes? Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii Island celebrates everything that makes Hawaii what it is, literally. All of the islands were formed from volcanic activity, and the Big Island is still growing. Schedule an unforgettable helicopter tour to fly over the active lava flowing into the ocean, explore the park on foot through lava tubes and volcanic lava rocks, or complete a scenic drive around the grounds. Make your first stop the Kīlauea Visitor Center to get information and plan your visit.

Manoa Falls

 segawa7 / Getty Images

One of the most beautiful hikes on Oahu is located just beyond the outskirts of Honolulu. Hiking Manoa Falls Trail is like stepping straight into the past; you’ll almost expect to see a dinosaur trekking through the distance. At the end of this journey through a lush tropical rainforest you are rewarded with a beautiful 150-foot waterfall surrounded by streams and rocks. Along the way, look out for bamboo forests, native plants, birds, and hau trees. As with any hike in Hawaii, be sure to be respectful of the land, bring out what you brought in, and do your best to keep this beautiful, sacred area in great condition.

Waimea Canyon

 NIntellectual / Getty Images

Also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon provides breathtaking views on the island of Kauai. Choose to experience the canyon through short scenic trails or longer day hikes that take you into the bottom of the vibrant gorge. The red-colored soil and Hawaiian flora here makes for some unparalleled and unforgettable views. The waterfall flowing into the canyon, which is 3,000 feet deep in some spots, can be seen from numerous lookout points throughout the area.

Kaanapali Beach

While Waikiki offers a more robust, party-like atmosphere, Kaanapali Beach is known for a more laid-back vibe—it was even named “America’s Best Beach” by Dr. Beach. Water sports such as surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are available along the shore and snorkeling is very good as well. Head to the north side of the beach towards Black Rock for the best snorkeling, and you might even spot a turtle or two munching on algae or seagrass.

Kalaupapa National Historical Park

 GeoStock / Getty Images

Hidden away on the smaller island of Molokai, Kalaupapa National Historical Park holds a lot of history within its borders. Hawaii’s King Kamehameha V made the decision to turn the Kalaupapa region of Molokai into confinement for those suffering from leprosy after the disease was introduced to the Hawaiian islands. Since the year 1866, more than 8,000 patients have died there, and there are still fewer than a dozen living inside Kalaupapa in isolation. Tours are available through select companies only.

Which Hawaiian Island Should I Visit?

The Top 10 Reasons to Visit Hawaii

The Top 17 Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii

How to Get Around and Explore Hawaii

The Best Road Trips to Take in Hawaii

The 20 Best Things to Do in Hawaii

Hawaii Guide: Planning Your Trip

Honeymoon in Hawaii

Off the Beaten Path on Oahu

18 Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

Your Trip to Maui: The Complete Guide

A Guide to Airports in Hawaii

Your Trip to Oahu: The Complete Guide

Best Hawaii All-Inclusive Hotels

Honolulu, Waikiki, and Oahu Gay Guide and Photo Gallery

Top 14 Things to Do on the Island of Kauai

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The Best Islands in Hawaii

Note: If you’re looking for our most recent recommendations, check out the 2023 list of our favorite islands in Hawaii.

This year's World's Best Awards survey was open for voting January 11 through May 10, 2021, as destinations around the world were lifting COVID-19 restrictions. Survey rules have always allowed readers to reflect on their travel experiences over a three-year period. We hope that this year's honorees will inspire your own travels as you get back out into the world.

There's no shortage of natural splendor , exciting adventure activities , and high-caliber resorts on the best islands of Hawaii. They're consistently among T+L readers' favorite destinations; three of them appear not only here but also on this year's list of best islands in the world .

Every year for our World's Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated islands according to their activities and sights, natural attractions and beaches, food, friendliness, and overall value.

While readers have stayed enthusiastically true to the region for decades, this year their sights have wandered: for the first time in nine years, Maui has been displaced from the No. 1 spot (though it still made the world's best islands list). Now No. 3, Maui is beloved for its something-for-everyone attractions, from rain forests to national parks and 30 miles of beaches, as well as its five-star lodgings and what one reader deemed "amazing food."

Kauai (No. 2), which is also voted among the world's best islands, received glowing reviews for its pristine beaches and nature trails that wind through jungles to waterfalls. "It is stunning," wrote one reader. "This is what you think of when you dream of Hawaii." (This may explain why another reader said this destination is so beautiful that he honeymooned there twice — with two different wives.)

So which island could outdo these beloved options? Read on to find out why readers voted for the Island of Hawaii, as well as the other top Hawaiian islands.

1. Island of Hawaii

Spend enough time on this oasis, and you could get through most of your bucket list. Learn to surf with world-class athletes, hike through lava fields to volcanoes, and zipline in rain forests; go snorkeling with dolphins by day and manta rays at night. As one reader noted, "So much to see and do. Get out and see the sites!" But there are also plenty of impressive hotels for those who prefer to maximize their resort time. Consider the beachside Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, which was voted the best hotel on the island (and No. 7 in all of Hawaii) by T+L readers. The 243-room property has seven swimming pools, a full service spa, and a 1.8 million gallon swimmable aquarium with marine biologists at the ready to teach you about the 90 kinds of tropical fish that live in it.

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 90.06

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 89.88

WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 89.76

Score: 86.66

Score: 84.55

See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2021 .

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