The best places to visit in Hawaii will wow you with their extraordinary beauty.
From lush green misty valleys to rugged cliffs and canyons, and from picture-postcard beaches to powerful waterfalls, the landscapes of Hawaii are jaw-dropping.
If you are planning a trip to this tropical paradise, we’ve rounded up the very best places to visit in Hawaii, organized by island.
So whether you want to spend your entire Hawaiian vacation on one island or mix it up by hopping between islands, your itinerary will not want for amazing places to visit!
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Be awed by the legendary raw beauty of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. Enjoy sunset at Maui’s Kapalua Bay. Peek into the past at Pearl Harbor National Historic Site on Oahu. Catch a lava flow at Kilauea, part of the Big Island’s Volcanoes National Park.
While the Aloha State is a mecca for adventure-loving travelers, many of the best places to visit in Hawaii are easily accessed by most travelers: by road, easy to moderate walks, boat, or air. And visiting can be as simple as just savoring the beauty on offer.
Ready to discover the most stunning, must-visit places in Hawaii? Here then, are our suggestions for the top destinations in Kauai, Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island.
Best Places to Visit in Hawaii — Kauai
1. Poipu Beach
You’ll find Poipu Beach on the south side of Kauai. It’s the sunniest spot on the island and is home to one of the best beaches too.
In fact, Poipu is exactly what you think of when imagining a stereotypical island paradise!
While you’re lounging on the palm tree-dotted beach you may be lucky enough to see sea turtles swimming in for an afternoon nap on the sand.
Sea turtle spotting is the most unique part of Poipu Beach. You may see them lounging in the sand or swimming in the bay. But, you could also find turtles laying in the sun in the grass; they look like rocks, so be on the lookout!
When you’re not turtle-spotting the cove is a perfect place to snorkel. The area is protected so the water is much calmer than trying to snorkel in the open ocean. It’s a great beginning location.
Plus, there are lifeguards on duty to make it feel even safer.
There are sea urchins on the rocks, so wear flippers or water shoes for protection.
Poipu is an excellent location to watch the sunset. As the sun goes down, watch for sea turtles and monk seals coming into the beach.
Poipu is set up for you to spend the whole day. You’ll find picnic tables, showers, and even a playground nearby.
There is a free public parking lot across the street from the beach. It fills up quickly so plan to arrive early in the day to secure a spot.
There are restaurants within walking distance, or you could pack your own lunch.
Bring reef-safe sunscreen; especially if you’re planning to spend the whole day.
Suggested by Jami of Celiac Travel Pack
2. Na Pali Coast
With its stunning rugged cliffs and lush valleys, the Na Pali Coast is the most iconic landscape on the island of Kauai, and without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.
You can enjoy this amazing place by land, sea, or air. But note: there is no road access to this incredible place.
If you like hiking, the Kalalau Trail runs along the Na Pali coastline for 11 miles, offering incredible views. It’s a challenging trail even for experienced hikers in great shape, and you have to get overnight camping permits in advance.
Many visitors choose to do part of the trail on a day hike instead, hiking 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach and back.
Hanakapiai Falls lies deep in the Hanakapiai Valley and requires a 4-mile hike in, but you are rewarded with a stunning 410-foot waterfall at the end, which makes the hike (beautiful in itself!) well worth it.
For beach options, you can enjoy a day in the sand and sun on Ke’e Beach, at the north end of the Na Pali Coast.
If you want something more off the beaten track, check out Polihale Beach, a gorgeous 12-mile stretch of sand that needs a 4WD vehicle to access.
By sea, you can marvel at the sheer cliffs as you cruise along the coastline in a catamaran. The more adventurous can opt for a zodiac raft tour, which allows you to explore caves and get close to waterfalls.
But one of, if not the best way, to see the Na Pali Coast is by air on a helicopter tour. You will have a chance to take in this amazing landscape — the golden sands, the green cliffs and valleys, and the sparkling blue sea — from above.
It’s a great way to get a full picture of this gorgeous area.
Although the Na Pali Coast is accessible at any time of the year, it is recommended to go in the dry season (April-October) for your best chance of good weather.
Suggested by Megan of Next is Hawaii
If you’re looking for one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, then look no further than Hanalei Bay. Located on the island of Kauai, it’s an icon on the island and one worth visiting!
Hanalei Bay is a crescent shaped cove on the north shore of Kauai, surrounded by picturesque mountains. It’s a great place for swimming, with a large beach area and many spots for picnics and relaxing. It’s by far one of the best Kauai beaches!
Perhaps even more famous than the swimming is the Hanalei Pier. It’s one of the most photographed spots on the island. Walk to the end of the pier for sweeping views of the surrounding beach.
Hanalei Town is charming! There are many things to do in Hanalei from browsing the small boutiques and many art galleries, to visiting the Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church and Mission House, which dates back to 1837.
While you’re in the area, be sure to have lunch or dinner at Kalypso Island Bar and Grill or grab a shave ice at JoJo’s Shave Ice, two of the best places to eat in Kauai.
Just to the east is the town of Princeville, where the many resorts make it a great place to stay on the north shore of the island.
And be sure to stop at the Hanalei Valley Lookout for an epic photo of the quilt of taro fields!
The best time of year to visit Hanalei Beach for swimming is spring, summer or fall. During winter, the north shore traditionally gets large waves, which could be hazardous for swimming.
If you intend just to sight-see or watch the boogie boarders, any time of year is amazing in Hanalei!
Suggested by Nikki of She Saves She Travels
4. Waimea Canyon State Park
When looking for places to visit while on your Hawaii vacation, you must not fail to consider Waimea Canyon State Park, located on the spectacular island of Kauai.
Known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this location features a canyon that is 14 miles wide and over 3,600 ft deep. The views are truly spectacular!
Exploring Waimea Canyon is one of the top things to do in Kauai.
However, seeing this unbelievable natural attraction isn’t all that the state park has to offer, making it a must-see even on a brief visit to Kauai.
There are several hiking trails to explore the surrounding areas and discover stunning waterfalls and panoramic views.
Plus, you’ll enjoy opportunities to camp under the stars, visit one of the nearby lodging sites, fish, or simply take a picnic and watch the sunset.
Most day visitors combine a visit to Waimea Canyon State Park with Kokee State Park, which also features gorgeous overlooks over the Na Pali Coast.
The best time to visit Waimea Canyon State Park is during the rainy season, as the surrounding area will be greener, and the climate will be less dry and hot. During the rainy season, the waterfalls will also be flowing more.
That being said, if you are hoping to camp here, you may want to choose a month where there is a limited amount of rain. September will likely be your best option to camp, and is a great time to visit Kauai in general.
The park is open all year round, and there is an admission fee of $5.00 per person for non-residents of Hawaii, also valid for Kokee State Park. There is also a parking fee of $10.00 per vehicle, valid for both parks.
Insider Tip: There are no gas stations along the drive to Waimea Canyon State Park, so make sure to fill up your car before setting off on the drive.
Suggested by Sam of Find Love and Travel
5. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
If you enjoy birding, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge is known for being a top location in Hawaii for nesting seabirds.
At the refuge, you may see some rare birds such as the red-footed booby, the Laysan albatross, the great frigatebird, and the Hawaiian goose (the state bird).
Plus, the views from the bluff, 180 feet above sea level, are sensational.
In addition, the Kilauea Point Lighthouse in the refuge is the northernmost point on Kauai! Built in 1913, the lighthouse served to facilitate trade between Hawaii and Asia.
Other than birds, the refuge is also a great place to look for marine life in the water, from spinner dolphins and green sea turtles to Hawaiian monk seals, and in season, humpback whales as well.
You’ll also find a variety of native plants: look for Indian mulberry, devil’s pepper, broadleaf plantain, Ganges primrose and more.
At the time of writing, admission costs $10.00 per person 16 and over. America the Beautiful National Park Passes are accepted so remember to bring yours, or get one online at REI.
There is parking at the refuge, but it is limited. If you did not bring binoculars, the refuge may have some to borrow: they are very helpful to view the nesting birds on the cliffs.
Insider Tip: Timed reservations are mandatory and can be made up to two months in advance.
Suggested by us
6. Tunnels Beach
There’s no shortage of beautiful beaches in Hawaii, but Tunnels Beach on Kauai’s north shore is especially scenic. Locals call the beach Makua. It is located a few miles out of Hanalei.
Tunnels Beach gets its name from the many lava tubes in the expansive reef here.
With beautiful Mount Makana rising up to the west, and the aqua-colored water, Tunnels Beach is a photographer’s dream. The beach served as a filming location for South Pacific.
Tunnels Beach used to be one of the best snorkeling spots anywhere on the planet, but a large portion of the Makua Lagoon is now closed to snorkeling, in order to protect the fish nursery there.
There is an area that is still open, where you can see fish and some small coral. Stay close to the reef if you choose to snorkel here. Also, snorkeling at Tunnels is seasonal: the waves in winter are too big to safely swim or snorkel here.
Tunnels Beach is known as a great surfing spot in the winter, and the long and soft golden sand beach itself is great for walking, sand play, and getting some sun.
You can also swim at Tunnels Beach in the summer, when the waters are relatively calm.
Note that there are no amenities (but you’ll find them at nearby Ha’ena Beach Park) and no lifeguards on duty. Bring a picnic if you want to spend several hours here.
Insider Tip: Parking is very limited so plan on arriving early to snag one of the legal parking spots. If parking here is full, park at the Ha’ena Beach Park and walk to Tunnels.
Suggested by us
7. Wailua Waterfalls
Wailua Falls is not only one of the most gorgeous waterfalls on Kauai, it is also easily accessed!
If you’ve seen the Disney show Fantasy Island, Wailua Falls features in the opening credits.
Located a little north of Līhuʻe, at the southern end of the Wailua River, the twin cascades tumble 80 feet down, creating a stunning sight, especially when the water flow is powerful (after rains).
Very occasionally, after torrential rains, the cascades may merge into one giant waterfall, but usually you will see two distinct cascades.
The cascades are surrounded by lush green vegetation, and you can view them from the parking area: no hiking required.
Hiking to the bottom is not advised (there have been fatalities here), so respect the signs and plan on just viewing the waterfalls from the viewing area.
When the light is right, usually in the mornings, you may even see a rainbow in the mist from the falls, for that perfect photo.
The parking area is very tight, so arrive early. It’s a quick stop for photos, so even if there aren’t any spots when you arrive, you should be able to get one with a short wait.
Suggested by us
Top Places to Visit on the Big Island of Hawaii
8. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, located on the Big Island, is an absolute must-visit destination in Hawaii that offers a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t find on the other islands.
If you are lucky enough to visit when Kilauea is erupting, you can take an easy 2-mile roundtrip hike on a flat paved path that leads to an overlook where you can see the molten lava bubbling up and filling the caldera, creating a lava lake.
The best time to view the glowing lava is after dark. Better yet, arrive right before sunrise to avoid crowds.
However, the park is not just about the lava. There are other amazing natural phenomena to be found as well, like steam vents, sulphur banks, lava tree molds, a sea arch, and volcanic craters of all sizes.
Hike down into Thurston Lava Tube, a quick 0.5-mile paved loop that brings you through a dimly lit cave. It’s a fascinating hike, walking through what was once a highway for flowing lava.
Another easy 1.5-mile roundtrip hike will bring you to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyph Field, where you’ll see thousands of mysterious rock carvings made by ancient Hawaiians. It’s an intriguing insight into the cultural history of Hawaii.
At the time of writing, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park costs $30 per vehicle, good for 7 days of entering and re-entering, and the park can be visited all year round.
America the Beautiful National Parks passes are accepted at Volcanoes National Park, so if you have one, bring it with you!
If not, get your annual pass online at REI before your trip!
Be sure to bring a light sweater as it can get chilly in the park, especially in the evenings.
Suggested by Tabitha of Travel Compositions
9. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Located on the southern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is one of the most unique places to visit in Hawaii.
True to its name, Punalu’u is a natural black sand beach, created by volcanic activity in the area. The weather is consistently pleasant with a humid climate and occasional tropical showers in winter.
There are several underground springs in the area that release cold water into the bay, so sometimes you may be swimming in both cool and warm water layers!
You can explore the cultural history of Punalu’u by following the National Historic Trail that leads to several temples (heiaus) or visiting the petroglyphs, ancient rock carvings.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is most famous for being one of the best places to see sea turtles on Big Island. Green and hawksbill turtles can often be found lounging on the sand here.
While it is possible to get in the water to swim or snorkel with turtles at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, the currents can be quite strong so it’s best to be careful.
Swimming with turtles is a bucket list activity in Hawaii but it’s important to keep the recommended 10-foot distance and never touch them.
Other wildlife that can sometimes be seen near Punalu’u Black Sand Beach include the Indian mongoose, Hawaiian monk seal, and the nēnē (Hawaiian goose).
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach has basic facilities including a picnic area, outdoor shower, and restrooms. Lifeguards are present during the day and there is a parking lot if you arrive by car.
The journey takes just over an hour from Hilo on the east coast and an hour and a half from Kona on the west coast. Alternatively, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach can be visited on a day trip, which often includes other iconic locations on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Suggested by Lucy & Dan of Thoroughly Travel
10. Kealakekua Bay
Located on the Kona Coast a few miles south of Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua Bay is both incredibly beautiful and historic. It is without question one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, so make sure to put it on your Big Island itinerary.
Home to a rich coral reef and lots of colorful tropical fish, Kealakekua Bay is one of the top snorkeling spots in Hawaii, and you may see spinner dolphins here as well.
The rocky Napo’opo’o Beach, in the beach park of the same name, is a good place to go swimming or snorkeling, but note that there are no lifeguards.
If you are interested in local history and culture, you’ll also find the Hikiau Heiau, a sacred temple, in this beach park.
Kealakekua Bay is historically significant because it’s the spot where Captain Cook first landed on the Big Island. It is also the spot where he was killed by the Hawaiians on a subsequent visit when he tried to abduct their ruler.
A 27-foot-tall obelisk monument to Captain Cook can be viewed at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park.
The only two ways to access the monument are by hiking or by boat. The hike is challenging and not particularly scenic, so we suggest arriving by boat.
The waters around the monument are fabulous for snorkeling and scuba diving, so be sure to take a boat tour, kayak out with a company authorized to do guided tours to the monument, or rent a kayak from an authorized vendor.
Suggested by us
11. Akaka Falls State Park
Located along the Hilo Coast, Akaka Falls State park features two lovely waterfalls.
The scenic (and paved!) loop hike to view the falls is just 0.4 mile, with a gradual incline doable for most visitors. There are multiple steps, though, so it’s not wheelchair accessible.
The walk through the rainforest to the falls is worthwhile in itself, featuring lush tropical vegetation: a variety of ferns, bamboo, colorful orchids, and more. Keep an eye out for the pretty green geckos!
You’ll first see Kahuna Falls, with a plunge of 100 feet. Continue on the loop trail to see ʻAkaka Falls, with its stunning free fall of 442 feet into the gorge at the bottom.
We’ve seen the falls both in rainy weather and on a sunny day and we enjoyed both visits!
You’ll find the trailhead for the walk just off the parking lot. If you just want to see Akaka Falls, go left at the first junction. We suggest doing the full loop though!
The state park is open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and there is a $10.00 per vehicle parking fee ad a $5.00 entrance fee per person for non-residents. You can pay the fees online prior to your visit or you can pay at the unmanned station using a credit card.
The parking lot is very small so come early!
Suggested by us
12. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Protected by Lono, the Hawaiian God of Life, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau was a place of refuge.
If you broke the kapu, or sacred laws, the punishment was usually death, and you could only escape that fate by eluding your pursuers and making it to a place of refuge.
Located at Hōnaunau Bay, south of Kona, today the place is a national historic site and a great place to learn about Hawaiian culture and history.
Explore the grounds of the 180-acre park, where you can view the Great Wall and admire the kiʻi, wooden figures of gods. Here you’ll also find the Hale o Keawe Heiau, a sacred temple that used to house the bones of many chiefs.
The park also houses the Royal Grounds, where you will find a thatched hut, a heiau, fish ponds and more. You can play a game of kōnane (Hawaiian checkers) on the stone playing “board.”
The self-guided tour through the park is about a 0.5-mile stroll. Be sure to get a map that offers information about the numbered markers along the trail. Be sure to also watch the park film at the Visitor Center!
Aside from the historical and cultural significance, the park has a beautiful setting by the ocean, with lots of coconut trees.
The park is open from 8.15 a.m. until sunset daily other than on Federal holidays. Entry costs $20.00 per vehicle at the time of writing, and national park passes are accepted.
13. Mauna Kea
Mauna Kea on The Big Island is a million-year-old dormant volcano and there are two very good reasons why it’s a must-visit in Hawaii.
Head here in the early evening and you’ll be treated to a stunning fiery sunset above the clouds (at over 13,000 feet above sea level). And once the sun dips below the clouds, you’ll be able to enjoy an unforgettable stargazing experience at the Visitor Center (found at 9,200 feet up the mountain).
On a clear night, you’ll be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye, as well as thousands of stars. There are telescopes next to the Visitor Center you can use, but you’ll likely face long queues. Thankfully, you have plenty to see in the night sky while you wait.
As Mauna Kea is a natural landmark, you don’t need to make reservations to visit.
However, you’ll be asked to leave the 13,000-foot summit 30 minutes after sunset as this is when work begins at the Mauna Kea Observatory, which is currently home to 13 industrial telescopes.
You’ll enjoy the stargazing part of your trip near the Visitor Center instead.
To make the most of your sunset and stargazing experience at Mauna Kea, there are three things you should know:
You’ll need a 4×4 vehicle to reach the 13,000-foot summit. You can either rent a vehicle or book a tour in advance.
You should aim to stop off at the Visitor Center for at least an hour to help get acclimatized to the high altitudes.
The Mauna Kea Observatory (where you’ll watch the sunset) is not on the official mountain summit as the summit is sacred to the Hawaiian people. Please respect the sanctity of the place and don’t be tempted to hike the extra couple hundred feet to the summit!
Suggested by Justine of Wanderers of the World
Hilo is a charming town located on the eastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii.
Hilo is often overlooked in comparison to Kona in the popular western region of the Big Island, but if you are wondering whether to choose Hilo or Kona, Hilo has that more lush green rainforest look for which Hawaii is famous.
Hilo receives a lot of rainfall, but it is beautiful, with rainforests and scenic valleys, so it is definitely worth visiting if you want to experience the more lush part of the island.
Hilo has several waterfalls to explore, with Akaka Falls being the best one, with a nice hiking trail to it. Rainbow Falls, within Hilo, is another popular waterfall.
If you enjoy gardens, check out the Liliuokalani Park and Gardens, a Japanese garden located on Banyan Drive. Also be sure to visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and the Nani Mau Gardens.
Visiting Hilo on a Wednesday or a Saturday? Check out the “big” Hilo farmers’ market, where you will find Hawaiian fruits and produce, local arts and crafts, and food trucks. On other days, there is a smaller market to visit.
And if you like farm tours, look for coffee, tea, vanilla, or chocolate farm tours where you can enjoy tastings as well!
North of Hilo, the Waipio Valley is a must see! Drive the Hamakua Coast to experience the amazing views of the coast line and valleys.
There are some black sand beaches near Hilo that are very unique and a must visit in Hawaii.
Hilo can be visited year round and is around a 2-hour drive from the Kona International Airport. You can find accommodation along Banyan Drive. The street is lined with huge Banyan trees!
Hilo Hawaiian Hotel is a nice place to stay, with oceanfront views.
Suggested by Anu of Destination Check-Off
Best Places to Visit in Maui, Hawaii
15. Hana + The Road to Hana
The town of Hana is on the windward (or wet) side of Maui: the lush side with lots of waterfalls and a variety of exotic green plants.
While the town is charming, getting here is an epic adventure in its own right. Driving the road to Hana is one of the best things to do in Hawaii!
The 64-mile drive between Kahului and Hana Town is narrow and winding, with many one lane bridges and hundreds of curves. But it is a spectacularly scenic drive, with many must-stop spots along the way.
In town, the Hana Cultural Center & Museum showcases local history and is a quick browse to admire the Hawaiian items on display. There are also small shops and art galleries to browse.
Look for the many fruit stands in and around town. Many little stands in front of homes work on the honor system: pick up some fruit and drop in the payment. There are also farmers’ markets on Friday afternoons if you want to pick up local fruit.
Hana Bay features a large black sand beach. You can usually swim or snorkel in the shallow waters here. Bring a picnic meal to enjoy on the beach!
Also be sure to walk out onto the Hana pier for a look back at the coastline and the town.
If you enjoy gardens, the Kahanu Garden along the Hana coast is a must-visit, not only for its exotic plants and flowers but also for the picturesque backdrop of mountains. Look for the many breadfruit plants!
Suggested by us
16. Haleakala National Park
Exploring Haleakala National Park is one of the best things to do in Maui. The park has two distinct districts: the Summit District and the Kipahulu District.
Both sunrise and sunset atop the summit of the Haleakala crater are spectacular. You can drive to the top, or visit on a guided tour if you’d rather not drive up the mountain.
If you want to experience a Haleakala sunrise, plan on going early in your trip when waking up in the wee hours will be less of a hassle because you’re still transitioning from mainland time.
At the time of writing, reservations are required to enter Haleakala for sunrise but not for sunset.
And if you visit for sunset, stay a little longer to stargaze before you head back down.
At the summit, look for the rare Hawaiian silversword. You may also see the nene, the Hawaiian goose!
There are many miles of hiking trails at the summit. The Pa Kaoao Trail, a short trail, leads to the top of a little cinder cone for great views over Haleakala. The trailhead is at the House of the Sun Visitor Center.
The Sliding Sands Trail is super challenging, as it involves heading down into the crater and back out. You can also go part way, to the Ka Lu’u o ka O’o cinder cone and back.
The Kipahulu District is accessed via the Road to Hana. You’ll find the signed entrance near the Mile 42 marker.
Here the highlight is the Pipiwai Trail, which is on the bucket list of many visitors to Maui.
The trail offers many beautiful sights, from the 200-foot Makahiku Falls to an enormous banyan tree and a bamboo forest. The hike culminates at the dramatic 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Suggested by us
17. Big Beach
Officially Makena Beach, Big Beach is one of the most spectacular beaches on Maui.
Located in Wailea in South Maui, the beach is undeveloped, and backed by green hills, making it even more attractive.
The long and very wide swathe of sand offers plenty of room to sunbathe or stroll, and even though it’s a very popular beach, it’s large enough that it does not feel uncomfortably packed.
Note that there is a big shore break, and while people swim and snorkel here when conditions are good, this is definitely not a beach for young kids or inexperienced swimmers. Pay attention to the signs.
There are usually lifeguards on duty at Big Beach, so talk to one if you do decide you want to get into the water.
When the surf is up, you can visit to watch the boogie boarders, but stay back from the water line and observe from a safe distance.
There are a few food trucks at Big Beach if you want to spend a few hours here. Or bring a picnic!
Big Beach also affords access to Little Beach, which is clothing optional.
Suggested by us
18. Waianapanapa State Park
Waiʻānapanapa State Park is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, which also makes it one of the most popular.
Located on the famous Hana Highway, aka the Road to Hana on the island of Maui, this park offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, lush forested areas, and an iconic black sand beach.
The park boasts numerous activities for the outdoor enthusiast, including swimming and hiking along the coastline trails.
There are also camping facilities, and the Waianapanapa Cabins, available for rent, are some of the best places to stay in Hana.
The renowned black sand beach is one of the highlights of a visit to Waianapanapa State Park. The beach is made up of shiny, smooth pebbles created from the powerful surf pounding the shore.
As you stroll along the coastline, you’ll get to see a spouting blowhole and witness the sheer power of the ocean crashing into the rugged lava rock cliffs. The path meanders along the coastline and the farther you go, the more small black sand beach coves you’ll discover.
There is never a bad time to visit Waianapanapa State Park as it is Hawaii after all, but winter brings more rain to this part of the island.
Reservations are now required to enter the park, which helps alleviate crowds and issues with parking.
Make sure you carve out at least an hour to visit this stunning state park. The majestic views of the ocean and surrounding landscape will surely take your breath away!
Suggested by Jess of I’m Jess Traveling
A little islet shaped exactly like a crescent, the Molokini crater is one of the most iconic snorkeling and scuba diving destinations on the island of Maui.
Lying in the ocean just off the south coast of Maui, Molokini is said to have been created by a volcanic eruption that occurred many thousands of years ago. Over time, the cinder cone has eroded into the volcanic atoll you see today.
The waters around Molokini are rich in coral, marine life, and the atoll is also home to many birds.
Snorkelers often have visibility up to over 100 feet, and you’ll see numerous species of colorful fish, from parrot fish and yellow tang to black triggerfish and bluefin trevally. You may also see moray eels and manta rays if you are lucky!
Experienced scuba divers love that the back side of Molokini drops almost straight down to 360 feet. You can also go scuba diving inside the crater, where you will see lots of fish, moray eels, and sharks.
Note that you have to be certified to go scuba diving at Molokini. Adventure-loving non-certified visitors can try snuba diving!
You can only visit Molokini by boat. Boat tours generally depart from Maalaea Harbor (or from Lahaina), and a variety of experiences are available.
Early in the day is the ideal time to visit Molokini.
Suggested by us
A historic town on Maui’s popular west coast, Lahaina was a whaling village in the mid 1800s and the capital of the kingdom of Hawaii in the early 1800s. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today Lahaina is a bustling tourist hotspot, with lots of boutique shops, art galleries, and eateries. I got a pair of pretty pearl earrings here on our very first visit to Maui!
History enthusiasts will want to take the Lahaina Historic Trail self-guided walking tour, which includes many historic buildings along Front Street, such as the Lahaina Prison and the Pioneer Inn.
And of course, you’ll want to gawk at the Lahaina Banyan Tree, located in front of the courthouse. One of the largest banyan trees in the USA, the tree is the size of a city block and features a dozen sturdy trunks!
The Old Lahaina Luau is considered one of the most authentic Hawaiian luaus. You’ll also find many quality restaurants in Lahaina, many featuring fresh seafood.
Also be sure to stop at Ululani’s for Hawaiian shave ice when you are in Lahaina!
Lahaina Harbor is picturesque, and in the winter, you’ll definitely want to book a whale-watching tour to see humpback whales.
Suggested by us
21. Iao Valley State Monument
The Iao Needle is one of the most striking natural landmarks on Maui, and you can get a picture-perfect view of it if you visit the Iao Valley State Monument.
The Iao Valley also holds historical significance: it’s the spot where the battle of Kepaniwai occurred in the year 1790. In this battle, the army of Kamehameha I, who wanted to unite the islands, won against the Maui forces.
The Central Maui state park is worth visiting also for the dense rainforest landscape. The vegetation is unbelievably lush, and the gentle mist that sometimes hangs around the park makes the ambience even more exotic.
Walk the paved 0.6-mile trail to the viewpoint from where you can get great views of Kuka‘emoku, the needle formation that rises up into the sky.
Then stroll the landscaped botanical garden, which features Hawaiian plants like taro and banana.
The trail is considered easy, but there are over 100 steps to climb, for a small elevation gain of about 200 feet.
The Iao Valley State Park is open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily, and there is a parking fee of $10.00 per vehicle and an entrance fee of $5.00 per person for non-residents of Hawaii.
Reservations are now required for out-of-state visitors.
Insider Tip: If you want to see the Iao Needle relatively unobscured by clouds, your best chance is early in the day!
Suggested by us
22. Paia town
If you love to shop and eat local food you must check out Paia Town, on the north shore of Maui.
Most visitors come to Paia to eat at the renowned Mama’s Fish House or as a stop en route to Hana, but the little surf town is worth visiting in its own right as well.
In Paia, you will find many cool boutiques to browse, as well as several locally-owned Maui restaurants. It’s also the last major stop to fuel up if you’re taking the long and winding road to Hana on the east side of Maui.
Grab coffee and breakfast at Paia Bay Coffee Bar or a smoothie from Island Fresh Cafe, located in an old train station. Shop for a new bathing suit at Acacia Swimwear’s flagship boutique or Maui Girl Swimwear.
Look for unique souvenirs at Maui Hands Gallery, Nuage Bleu Boutique, or Wings Hawaii.
Grab lunch at Mediterranean Cafe de Amis or wood-fired pizza topped with local ingredients at Flatbread Pizza Company.
After lunch, relax at the beach at Baldwin State Park or cruise up to Hookipa Beach Park and watch the windsurfers and surfers.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a reservation at Mama’s Fish House, it is worth the hype and price. The menu is hyper-local, featuring fish caught that day by local fishermen.
Suggested by Emily of Ems on the Road
Best Places to Visit in Oahu, Hawaii
23. Hanauma Bay
Stunning Hanauma Bay, on the southeast coast of Oahu, is one of the most popular destinations in Hawaii.
Set within a volcanic cone, the horseshoe-shaped bay is home to an incredibly rich marine ecosystem. It also has a rich history as the recreational ground
Now protected as a nature preserve, Hanauma Bay is a must-visit if you enjoy swimming and snorkeling, or even just to savor the beauty.
Here you can snorkel with several hundred species of fish, including the Hawaiian state fish with the long name: the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a. You’ll also likely see turtles, and other marine life.
The preserve limits the daily count of visitors, and you should reserve a timed entry slot online in advance of your visit.
Reservations for Hanauma Bay sell out as soon as they open, so they can be very tricky to obtain. There are a limited number of standby tickets available, so if you didn’t get yours online, arrive early and see if you can get one on the day of your visit.
At the time of writing, the preserve is open Wednesday through Sunday from 6.45 a.m. to 1.30 p.m. The beach closes at 3.30 p.m. and the preserve at 4 p.m. General admission costs $25.00 per person. Parking is $3.00 for non-residents if you stay more than 15 minutes.
Insider Tip: If you plan to snorkel, check tide times for the date of your visit and avoid low tide if possible. At low tide the coral is too close to the surface.
Suggested by us
24. Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor National Memorial is a must-visit historic site in Hawaii. It’s the place where the USA was drawn into World War II, and also the place where Japan surrendered, bringing WWII to an end.
Visiting Pearl Harbor is one of the top things to do in Oahu!
There are several sights to visit here, so allow the better part of a day if you are a history buff.
The USS Arizona, a US Navy battleship, was hit and sank when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The wreck still lies at the bottom, beneath the USS Arizona Memorial.
You can pay your respects at the memorial by booking ahead for the 45-minute program, which includes the shuttle boat to and from the memorial and time at the memorial.
The national site also includes a visitor center, two exhibition galleries that speak more to the war and the attack, and a theater where you can watch a film on the 1941 attack.
The national site is free to enter and no reservations are required at this time other than for the USS Arizona Memorial program.
Also at Pearl Harbor you can visit the USS Battleship Memorial, managed separately from the federal site. It was on the deck of this battleship that Japan formally surrendered on September 2, 1945.
This memorial does have an entrance fee and is open everyday from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Suggested by us
25. Diamond Head State Monument
Arguably the most distinctive landmark in Hawaii, Diamond Head, or Lē‘ahi, is located on the eastern edge of the Waikiki coast. The state monument is without a doubt one of the top places to visit in Hawaii!
The Diamond Head Summit Trail is considered one of Oahu’s best hikes, and is extremely popular. Be sure to arrive early to beat the crowds!
The moderately difficult trail has an elevation gain of about 560 feet and the round trip is about 1.6 miles. While much of the trail is volcanic tuff, there are some 200 steep steps at the top.
The view of the coastline from the top of Diamond Head is spectacular on a clear bright day. You can see from Koko Head to Wai‘anae. In winter, look for passing humpback whales in the water!
The park is also known for its military history, and you will see bunkers and a navigational lighthouse at the summit.
Diamond Head State Monument is open from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. everyday except Christmas and New Year’s Day. At the time of writing, parking is $10.00 per vehicle and entry is $5.00 per person for visitors that are not residents of Hawaii.
Insider Tip: Entry and parking reservations are required for non-residents, and slots fill up fast so reserve yours early.
Suggested by us
26. Polynesian Cultural Center
One of the most popular places to visit in Hawaii, the Polynesian Cultural Center is located on Oahu’s North Shore and offers an immersion into island culture for the entire family.
Spread over 42 acres, the center features six Polynesian island villages representing the cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand), Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga. There’s also an exhibit dedicated to Easter Island.
Stroll the center and watch art and craft demonstrations and music and dance performances, and enjoy other hands-on activities. Shop for unique island-themed souvenirs at the Hukilau Marketplace. Enjoy canoe rides in the lagoon.
Stay on in the evening to watch Ha: Breath of Life, a wonderful multicultural Polynesian show that combines traditional music and dance and fire knife displays. The special effects and sound are amazing!
The luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center is very highly rated as well.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 12.45 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.
Suggested by us
27. Kualoa Ranch
A private nature reserve in northeastern Oahu, Kualoa Ranch is just a 45-minute drive from Waikiki. The reserve was established in 1850.
A sacred spot on Oahu, Kualoa Ranch features stunning landscapes — verdant valleys, rugged mountains, and gorgeous beaches — and has served as a filming location for numerous movies and TV shows, including Jurassic World and Jurassic Park. Hence its other name, Jurassic Valley.
The ranch is run by descendants of Dr. Gerritt P. Judd, who was sold 622 acres of land here by King Kamehameha III in 1850.
Guided tours are the only way to experience Kualoa Ranch (other than the gift shop and cafe), and there are a variety of tours from which to pick. You can also opt for a half-day or full-day package, which includes lunch.
While many visitors opt for the popular movie sites tour, adventure-loving travelers can also choose to go ziplining, or take a UTV tour. The Ocean Voyage Adventure includes a catamaran cruise of scenic Kaneohe Bay.
Our verdict: the unspoiled natural landscapes at Kualoa Ranch are well worth paying for a guided tour or a package. The UTV tours, in particular, take you deep into the reserve.
Aunty Pat’s Cafe offers burgers made with grass-fed beef from the ranch and outside tables offer stunning views. Be sure to try the banana-taro bread pudding for dessert!
Suggested by us
28. Byodo-In Temple
The Byodo-In Temple is a must-visit destination in Hawaii.
Located in Oahu’s Valley of the Temples, this awe-inspiring site offers an unforgettable experience to visitors.
Built in 1968 and modeled after a 950-year-old temple situated at the base of Japan’s Mount Hiei, this non-denominational temple is a replica of the original, but with a few modern updates.
The Byodo-In Temple is the perfect spot for travelers who want to immerse themselves in Hawaiian culture and history, and for those seeking a tranquil, picturesque setting.
The site includes a unique bell tower, two pagodas, a serene pond filled with colorful fish, and a meditation hall.
Visitors can wander around the grounds, participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, feed the fish and birds, or simply unwind while admiring this stunning location’s beauty.
The best time to visit Byodo-In Temple is from April through October when the temperatures are milder and the air is less humid. It’s a great way to beat the summer heat in Hawaii.
Before their temple visit, guests should contact the temple to ensure no reservations are required as there may occasionally be special events scheduled.
Other tips for first-time visitors include wearing appropriate clothing and avoiding loud conversations while on the grounds.
It is also important to respect the local customs and environment during your visit. As a sign of respect, visitors should remove their shoes before entering the main hall.
Suggested by Melodie of Travel Must-Dos
29. Waikiki Beach
When you think of Hawaii, you probably immediately think of Waikiki, whether you know it or not!
This legendary area is definitely a must-see for any visitor and is one of the best things to do in Honolulu.
Waikiki Beach boasts soft golden sand and warm water, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or taking your first surfing lesson!
If you want to get out on the water, there are opportunities to kayak, go stand-up paddleboarding, or take a cruise on a catamaran.
Waikiki’s beach is lined with hotels, including the iconic pink Royal Hawaiian hotel, that offer guests sun loungers, swimming pools, and immediate access to the beach so you’re never far from a relaxing day in the sun.
If you’re looking to enjoy the sand and surf in a quieter area that’s not right in front of the hotels, head to the far east end of Waikiki to Queen’s Beach.
The beach itself isn’t the only great thing about Waikiki: all along Kalakaua Avenue, the street running parallel to the beach, you can enjoy vibrant shops and restaurants.
Don’t miss checking out the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, the famous Olympian hailed as the “Father of International Surfing.”
The busiest seasons to visit Waikiki are December-March and June-August. If you go in the low seasons (spring or fall) you will find it less crowded.
While the temperatures stay warm all year round, there is a wet and dry season. Head to Waikiki sometime between May and October if you want to avoid the rainy season.
Suggested by Megan of Megan Starr
30. Lanikai Beach
Lanikai Beach, located on the eastern side of Oahu, has routinely been voted as one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet, thanks to its soft white sand, turquoise waters, and the picturesque Mokulua islands, jutting out of the ocean in the distance.
Even more attractive, the beach is tucked behind a residential neighborhood, away from the chaotic hubbub of Honolulu, and thus, usually has a quiet and secluded atmosphere.
If waking up to see sunrise is on your Oahu itinerary, Lanikai should absolutely be at the top of your list.
On a good day, the clouds turn punchy shades of orange and pink and, between the reflective water and the sun peeking out above the Mokulua islands, sunrise here is nothing short of fantastic.
Once the sun has risen, Lanikai Beach is a popular spot for canoeing or kayaking.
The Lanikai Canoe Club is located here, and they promote competitive and recreational outrigger canoe paddling, so even if you’re not feeling up to paddling yourself, there’s usually something interesting to watch out on the water.
If you come in the morning, Lanikai can offer some of the best snorkeling in Oahu, with clear, calm water and a colorful reef, teeming with fish. Just be sure to bring your own gear, because there are no snorkel rentals here.
The best time to enjoy the beach is early in the morning, thanks to the spectacular morning light, calm water, and minimal crowds.
That being said, there’s no bad time to visit Lanikai—after all, when would it ever be a bad time to visit the most beautiful beach on the planet?
Suggested by Jessica of Uprooted Traveler
31. Iolani Palace (Downtown Honolulu)
The only royal palace in the United States, Iolani Palace was completed in 1882 and served as the residence for King Kalakaua, the ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii, and his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.
When the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, the palace served as a the headquarters for the provisional government that followed. Many of the original furnishings were auctioned off.
Today, the first and second floors of the palace have been painstakingly restored and are open for guided tours.
On the first floor, you’ll find the reception rooms — the Grand Hall, the Throne Room, the Blue Room (a smaller reception room), and the State Dining Room.
On the second floor are the King’s and Queen’s private suites, the library, and the Imprisonment Room, where Queen Liliuokalani was held under house arrest for several months after the monarchy was overthrown.
The grounds of the palace are worth strolling as well. Here you will find the Coronation Pavilion and the Sacred Mound, the resting place of the kings and queens of Hawaii.
Iolani Palace is located in downtown Honolulu. It is closed Sunday and Monday and on various holidays. Tours vary based on day of the week, so check the palace website for details.
Suggested by us
32. Banzai Pipeline (North Shore)
The Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of the island of Oahu is a must-visit spot for surfers and fans of surfing.
As one of the most famous breaks in the world for barrel waves, the large winter swells and sharp reef below the water make it a pretty dangerous place to surf, so it’s best for experienced surfers only.
But watching from shore as surfers sneak into the “pipe” of the wave will not disappoint!
Throughout the winter months (between November and March) the beach is usually packed with spectators and the waters full of surfers from around the world hoping to come out as the champion of one of the many tournaments during the season.
But watching a surf competition isn’t the only thing to do at the Banzai Pipeline!
On the North Shore, you can also sample shellfish from some of the famous North Shore Shrimp Trucks or get in the water and snorkel with the marine life in the cove of Turtle Bay just up the coast.
The Banzai Pipeline is beautiful to see any time of year, but the best time to visit is during the winter months.
The best time of day to go out and watch surfers catch the best waves is typically in the morning (before 11:00 a.m.) although it can get quite crowded, but the best part is that it is completely free to watch.
Although you may be able to get a ride-share ride up to the North Shore, this area is more remote so you may have trouble getting one back into the city.
The better way to get to the Banzai Pipeline would be renting a car to drive yourself or there is public transportation available.
We hope you enjoyed our round-up of the very best places to visit in Hawaii. Which of these amazing Hawaii sights and attractions will you pick for your next trip?
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