Planning a tropical Hawaiian vacation and looking for the best Hawaii things to do? You’ve come to the right place!
I was born and raised in Hawaii, and though I’ve been all over the world, the Hawaiian islands are still some of my favorite places to explore. Each island has its own unique landmarks and charm that deserve to be explored and experienced.
Hawaii residents love to do “staycations” on different islands because they really make you feel like you’re in a completely different place!
Whether you’re looking for ocean adventures, lush tropical rainforests, or just a completely relaxing vacation, I’m confident you’ll find what you’re looking for in Hawaii.
The Hawaiian islands are great getaway options whether you’re a luxury traveler, backpacker, or just looking for a quick escape to a tropical paradise.
We’ve compiled a list of the best things to do in Hawaii so that you won’t run out of things to do and places to see. To make it easier, we’ve sorted the best activities in Hawaii by island, so no matter which of the Hawaiian islands you plan to visit, this list will give you the top activities on each one.
Kauai: Luau Kalamaku with Open Bar and Buffet Dinner - Don't miss this extravaganza and Kauai's most popular luau with graceful Hula dancers, fire poi ball twirlers, traditional fire knife dancing, a buffet of local dishes and vivid storytelling. Enjoy a Luau buffet dinner with local favorites Be mesmerized by fire dancing Watch traditional Hawaiian hula dancing and entertainment Stroll through the craft fair featuring local artisans.
Haleiwa Queen is a vessel that provides the best glass bottom boat experience in Waikiki. Traveling aboard a 38-foot catamaran, guests will enjoy a captivating view of the Pacific Ocean floor as they cruise over live tropical reefs and one of Hawaii’s shipwrecks on a glass-bottom boat tour.
Take the helm for a whale-watching adventure that is sure to amaze you. Swimming with these majestic creatures is an incredible experience, and it easy for you to join in on the fun. 2 Hour Whale Watching Experience! offers a variety of trips, from Maui Harbor excursions to Molokini snorkeling cruises.
TL;DR – Top Things to do in Hawaii
- Most significant landmark is – USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
- Best park – Volcanoes National Park
- Best free activity – Hanalei Bay
- Best activity for kids – Maui Ocean Center
- Best activity for adults – Doors-Off Circle Island Helicopter Tour
- Best food – Mama’s Fish House
- Best nightlife – RumFire at the Sheraton Waikiki
- Best all-around accommodation – Four Seasons Resort Lanai
Best Things to do in Oahu & Places to Visit
Oahu is the main island of Hawaii and home to the state capital, Honolulu. It’s one of the best places to visit in Hawaii if you’re a first-time visitor or just looking to pack in a lot of activities in a short amount of time.
From bustling city life to scenic hikes to world-class beaches, you can certainly find something for everyone to enjoy on Oahu.
1. Take Surf Lessons at Waikiki Beach
Did you know surfing originated in the Hawaiian islands? Why not take a surf lesson at the birthplace of surfing; the iconic Waikiki Beach? The beach is known for its golden sands, swaying palm trees, and calm, turquoise waters. The baby waves that roll into the bay are perfect for first-timers to learn how to surf.
This Surfing Lesson on Waikiki Beach will provide you with all the tools necessary to successfully catch a wave at the world-famous Waikiki Beach. You might even discover a new hobby!
My favorite place to stay on Waikiki Beach is the Sheraton Waikiki. It’s located right on the beach and has a gorgeous infinity pool with stunning views. It is the perfect hotel for the entire family.
If you’re looking for a posh setting to wind down at the end of the day, check out Sheraton’s RumFire bar. I recommend a classic Mai Tai and the delicious Hapa Poke Nachos.
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2. Explore the Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the best places in Hawaii to learn about Hawaiian culture and to try out native Hawaii activities. Hawaiian history is rich and told mostly through dance, chant, and crafts.
Hands-on activities at the Polynesian Cultural Center include lei making, quilting, pareo dying, canoe paddling, and spear throwing. In addition to Hawaiian culture, visitors will also learn about Polynesian culture from around the Pacific, including Samoan, Tongan, Tahitian, Maori, and Fijian.
If you have time to spend the entire day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, I also recommend checking out the Hukilau Market for great souvenirs and the amazing buffet luau.
See Related: Best & Fun Things to do in Oahu, Hawaii
3. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
Probably the most notable landmark in Hawaii for any American is the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor – part of the Valor in the Pacific National Monument.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7th, 1941, the USS Arizona sank along with most of her crew. Many of these brave souls remain there today.
The USS Arizona Memorial sits just above the battleship and lists the names of all those who perished on that day. It is a truly sobering experience to see the USS Arizona in real life and learn about that fateful day’s history.
If you have time after your visit, I recommend checking out the nearby USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park and the Battleship Missouri Memorial. Both are just a few minutes from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
Explore the memorial and see the beauty of Oahu on a USS Arizona Memorial and City Highlights Tour.
See Related: Most Famous Historical Landmarks in the USA
4. Check out the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum
The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, formerly the Pacific Aviation Museum, is a wonderful stop for aviation geeks. It’s very close to Pearl Harbor, and a free shuttle is available between the two Hawaii attractions.
The museum houses over 50 different World War II-era aircraft and even the wicked Fighter Ace 360 flight simulator, in which you can take the controls of a fighter jet!
This Pearl Harbor Ultimate Passport includes admission to the USS Arizona memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, the Battleship Missouri Memorial, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum.
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5. Snorkel at Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay is one of the top tourist attractions in Hawaii for a good reason. It is the best place on Oahu for snorkeling; the coral reef here is just teeming with tropical fish and other marine life. Some visitors are even lucky enough to spot a few Hawaiian Sea Turtles in Hanauma Bay every now and again.
It’s only 20 minutes away from Waikiki, so it’s a convenient place to visit if you’re staying there. To preserve the bay’s natural beauty, the number of daily visitors is limited, and reservations must be made in advance through the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
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See Related: Best Snorkeling Spots in Hawaii
6. Hike up the Iconic Diamond Head
The iconic Diamond Head crater is one of the most well-known vistas when Hawaii comes to mind. The crater got its name when early western explorers mistook its calcite crystals for glittering diamonds.
But did you know you can actually hike along the crater?
The Diamond Head Summit Trail is one of the easiest hikes on the island while also boasting some impressive views. It takes about one hour each way to complete the hike, which starts on a slow incline trail and then ends with a few flights of stairs and a tunnel up to the viewpoint.
Much of the trail is paved, but some parts are rocky and uneven, so don’t forget to wear good shoes. Like Hanauma Bay, reservations for non-residents are required. They can be made on the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources website.
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7. Stroll through Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
We’ve all seen those dreamy photos on Instagram of a seemingly endless road leading into the lush Ko’olau Mountains. These photos were taken at the entrance of Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden.
The botanical garden can be found on the island’s east coast in the sleepy town of Kaneohe. Admission is free, making it a great option for the whole family.
It’s a lovely spot to have a relaxing lunch picnic with your family. Besides the picturesque entrance, the garden full of tropical plants spans over 400 acres. It even includes a little lake where the little ones can try fishing with a traditional bamboo pole.
See Related: 25 Best Things to do in Waikiki, Hawaii
8. Spend a Day on the North Shore
The iconic North Shore of Oahu should be on everyone’s things to do on Hawaii’s bucket list. Good eats, gigantic waves, beautiful beaches, and a laid-back vibe are just some of the things this part of Oahu is known for.
Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach are two of my favorite beaches on the entire island. You can often find Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles and Hawaiian Monk Seals lounging on the warm sands of the North Shore. Right next to Sunset Beach, Pipeline is famous worldwide for its ginormous waves in the winter.
If you get hungry, I recommend stopping at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck next to the adorable Haleiwa Town Center. For a lighter option, go with Matsumoto’s Shave Ice or Island Vintage Coffee for a caffeinated pick-me-up.
Feeling like a daredevil?
Then don’t miss this Oahu Shark Dive Tour right off the coast of Haleiwa. In my opinion, there’s nothing more thrilling than getting up close and personal to these terrifying but beautiful creatures, and it is definitely a must-do if you have the gall.
Staying on the North Shore is a great option to get away from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu. I recommend the beautiful Turtle Bay Resort. Make it a romantic getaway and join one of the few sunset horseback riding tours like this one right on the beautiful North Shore.
You can also enjoy a North Shore snorkeling tour.
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9. Visit Dole Plantation
The pineapple may be known as an iconic symbol of Hawaii today, but did you know the pineapple is not native to Hawaii?
It was first brought to Hawaii by Spanish settlers in the early 1800s but didn’t become a symbol of Hawaii until James Dole commercialized the crop in the islands.
Take a Dole Plantation tour! As soon as you get to the plantation, you are greeted with the sweet smell of pineapples wafting through the warm island air.
Don’t miss the Pineapple Express, a mini train that takes visitors around the plantation while you learn about the history of Pineapples in Hawaii.
After that, try the Pineapple Garden Maze, one of the largest mazes in the world. Once you’re a bit tired out from the maze, I highly suggest grabbing some lunch or at least the iconic Dole Whip at the Pineapple Grille restaurant.
If you’ve never heard of dole whip before, it’s a delicious soft-serve dessert made of pineapples that is to die for!
You can also find it at both Disney parks in the United States.
10. Have an Adventure at Kualoa Ranch
Though you may not have heard of Kualoa Ranch by name, you’ve most likely seen it on the big screen. Many iconic movies like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, and 50 First Dates have been filmed on the property of Kualoa Ranch.
I highly recommend this Hollywood Movie Sites Tour to get the most bang for your buck at Kualoa Ranch. You’ll get to see sites from famous movies and learn the history of Kualoa Ranch and how it came to be known as “the back lot of Hawaii.”
It’s also a lovely spot if you’re looking for somewhere to get married in Hawaii; the property offers several secluded spots for a perfect island wedding ceremony.
11. Watch the Sunrise at Lanikai Beach
Whenever I’m home on Oahu, my favorite thing to do is to get up early and drive over to Lanikai Beach to watch the sunrise with my husband. The colors are always breathtaking and remind me of how lucky I am that I grew up in such a beautiful place.
I recommend getting to Lanikai extra early, as it’s a super popular spot to watch the sunrise on Oahu and parking is very limited. Another option is to hike to the Lanikai Pillboxes to watch the sunrise from above the sea or venture to nearby Kailua Beach, where parking is much easier to find.
Lanikai is a lovely, quiet area to stay in while visiting Oahu. Check out this gorgeous ocean view house in the heart of Lanikai. Nothing would be better than enjoying a warm cup of coffee on your balcony while watching the sunrise over the Mokulua islands.
12. Check Out the Halona Blowhole
Just a quick jaunt away from Hanauma Bay, you’ll find the spectacular Halona Blowhole. The Halona Blowhole was created hundreds of years ago when a hollow lava tube eroded and connected to the ocean. Ocean water sprays up like a geyser out of the blowhole and can reach heights of up to 30 feet.
This is a great stop between Waikiki and the east side of the island if you are planning to do a circle island tour of Oahu. On a clear day, you can even see as far out as Lanai and Molokai!
Just make sure not to stand too close to the blowhole, as sudden swells have been known to cause large geysers and make the rocks slippery and dangerous.
Halona Blowhole is a beautiful sight to see on an Oahu Circle Island small group tour.
13. Hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is my favorite easy hike on the island. It’s a great hike for people of all ages because the trail is wide and paved all the way up.
The entire trail goes on a gradual incline until you get to the end, but there are so many beautiful places to stop for a water break.
My favorite time of day to do this hike is just as the sun is rising, so you have some light, but the air is still a bit cool. Once you get to the top, you’ll just be seeing the sun hover over the horizon, and on clear days, you can see all the way out to Lanai and Molokai.
To explore the trail, you can join a Makapu’u Point Trail tour.
14. Take a Helicopter Tour of the Island
Looking for a new perspective of Oahu? Try a helicopter tour of the island! Helicopter tours are great for seeing famous landmarks like Diamond Head, Hanauma Bay, and Waikiki Beach. You’ll also get to see spots that are off-limits on land, like Sacred Falls, from the helicopter.
I recommend this 60-minute Helicopter Tour operated by Rainbow Helicopters. They’ll let you choose if you want to keep the doors on or turn up the adrenaline a notch with a doors-off experience. I’ve tried both, and they’re both great, in my learned opinion.
15. Visit the Honolulu Museum of Art
The Honolulu Museum of Art is my favorite museum on the island and a perfect activity for a rainy day, or even when the skies are blue.
The museum houses over 5,000 wonderful works of art and has the most robust art collection of any art museum in Hawaii. Works range from early America to Asian Art to local art that captures daily life in the islands.
My favorite part of the Honolulu Museum is honestly not the art but actually the beautiful courtyard that sits right in the heart of the museum. It was inspired by Morrocan riads and is a lovely spot to sit and take in the lovely weather in the middle of visiting the museum.
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16. Check out the KCC Farmers’ Market
One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new place is to check out the local farmers’ market to get a great sampling of local foods, especially delicious fresh produce.
You can find many farmers’ markets throughout Hawaii, but the best one is the one at Kapiolani Community College (KCC), that’s held every Saturday morning.
This farmers’ market is huge and hosts almost 100 vendors every weekend. You can find so many things like fresh produce, smoothie bowls, local honey, beauty products, coffee, local snacks, and so much more.
The KCC Farmers’ Market is just 15 minutes away from Waikiki, so it’s super convenient if you’re staying in the area. If you’re not planning to rent a car, there is a bus that goes through Waikiki and stops directly in front of KCC.
If you’re planning to do a morning hike at Diamond Head, it’s a close place to stop after for some lovely breakfast, like açai bowls from Blended Hawaii.
17. Go on an “Urban Hike” through Downtown Honolulu
Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches and palm trees, but did you know the capital of Honolulu is quite robust?
Growing up in Hawaii, I definitely considered Honolulu to be “the big city.” While it’s not quite as big as Los Angeles or New York, it’s still a bustling city with great neighborhoods to check out, like Chinatown and Kakaako.
Chinatown is known for its amazing restaurant scene and small grocery stores with unique finds. I recommend checking out Maunakea Marketplace to find an array of unique souvenirs to bring back with you.
If you’re looking for delicious food options, check out Lucky Belly or The Pig and The Lady. Lucky Belly has some amazing ramen, and The Pig and The Lady has the most delicious Vietnamese food.
Kakaako is my favorite neighborhood in Downtown Honolulu. In the last decade or so it has been completely revitalized and is now a place for young professionals to live and work. It’s easily walkable and has some amazing street art to admire.
Check out the SALT at Our Kaka’ako area if you’re looking for a bite to eat. Highway Inn is my favorite place for traditional Hawaiian food, and ARVO has some tasty, quick bites like avocado toast with a perfectly curated aesthetic.
18. Visit Bishop Museum
Bishop Museum has a vast collection of Hawaii’s cultural and natural history. It has the distinction of being Hawaii’s premier natural and cultural history museum.
The museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, the husband of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who was one of the last monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Hawaiian Hall encompasses everything Hawaiian history, including materials for clothing and housing from ancient Hawaii.
I recommend visiting Kahili Hall while you’re there, which is a collection of feather standards that were used to salute Hawaiian royalty. It’s amazing to see how intricate these pieces are, and crazy to think that they were made hundreds of years ago.
The planetarium is a personal favorite of mine. It does a wonderful job of explaining how astronomy was used by ancient Hawaiians and other Polynesians to navigate throughout the Pacific Ocean.
The museum is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm and is the perfect activity for the whole family, rain or shine! You can get your admission ticket here.
Best Things to do in Maui & Places to Visit
The island of Maui has the perfect balance of natural wonders and urban luxury. The island makes for a lovely getaway for nature lovers, families, and travelers looking for a tropical island to unplug and unwind.
See Related: Fun & Best Things to do in Maui, Hawaii
19. Check Out The Maui Ocean Center
The Maui Ocean Center is the largest aquarium in the Hawaiian islands. It’s also home to the largest living tropical reef in an aquarium in the Western United States.
If you’re trying to think of what to do in Hawaii when the weather isn’t ideal, check out the Maui Ocean Center. It is the most fabulous aquarium and also a great activity in Hawaii if you’re traveling with kids.
The Open Ocean Tunnel really immerses visitors under the sea where you can see sharks, stingrays, and various tropical fish up close and personal. Nursery Bay is a personal favorite of mine; it’s where you can see juvenile marine life, including adorable shark pups!
Get your Maui Ocean Center admission ticket now.
20. Watch the Sunrise at Haleakala National Park
When visiting Maui, one thing you shouldn’t miss is going up to Haleakala National Park. Haleakala, meaning “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, is just one of the volcanoes that formed the island over a million years ago. Today, the volcano is dormant and is the perfect spot to watch the sunrise.
The summit is 10,023 feet above sea level, and once you get there, you are high above the clouds. It is truly a magical experience to see Maui and the vast Pacific Ocean from this perspective.
If you don’t plan on renting a car while on Maui, I recommend joining this Sunrise & Breakfast Tour to Haleakala National Park and a Crater and Summit Hike. Don’t forget to pack some warm clothes as temperatures can be chilly on the summit in the early morning.
Alternatively, stay on the slopes of Haleakala at this lovely Upcountry Kula Private House, where you can wake up to the beautiful sunrise every morning.
21. Go on a Whale Watching Tour
Maui has a rich history connected to the whaling industry dating back many centuries ago. Today, Humpback Whales can still be found in the warm waters of the Hawaiian islands during wintertime to breed and raise their young.
Conservation efforts have been a top priority in recent decades to ensure that these beautiful creatures are around for future generations to admire.
Out of all the Hawaiian islands, Maui is the best place to view these whales during the winter season, so whale-watching tours are popular at this time of year. I highly recommend this 2-Hour Whale Watch Cruise on a high-speed catamaran. Don’t forget your camera!
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22. Take a Tour of the Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery
Trying local libations is always a fun thing to do when you’re in a new place. Seeing where the product is made makes the experience even better!
Ocean Organic Vodka is made from locally-sourced ingredients, including organic sugarcane and desalinated deep ocean mineral water.
I highly recommend checking out the Ocean Vodka Organic Farm, located on the slopes of Haleakala. They offer guided tours of the sugarcane farm and the distillery. Of course, no distillery tour is complete without a tasting.
There is also a lovely cafe on the property where you can sample some of their products without doing a full tour.
23. Experience a Traditional Hawaiian Luau
A traditional Hawaiian luau is something everyone must experience when visiting the islands. A luau is basically a party or gathering with family and friends that includes lots of food, entertainment, and aloha spirit.
Wherever I travel, I love to try the traditional food of the place I’m visiting. A luau is a great way to sample various Hawaiian foods like pork cooked in an underground oven and haupia, a traditional dessert made from coconut with a custard-like consistency.
I highly recommend the Te Au Moana Luau located at the Wailea Beach Resort Marriott. The entertainment and food are top-notch and the Marriott is a beautiful property. It’s a great place to base yourself while on the island. Guests can also participate in Hawaiian activities like lei-making, hula lessons, and crafts.
24. Drive the Iconic Road to Hana
If you’ve done a bit of research already on visiting Maui, you’ve probably come across lots of info about driving the Road to Hana. This is for a good reason because the road to Hana is one of the most scenic drives on the Hawaiian islands.
In the case of the Road to Hana, the journey is more important than the destination. Breathtaking waterfalls, tropical hiking trails, and even a black sand beach can be found along this zig-zagging 64.4-mile drive.
If the meandering drive seems a bit daunting, I recommend joining this Small Group Road to Hana Adventure Tour that will pick you up right from your hotel and take all the stress out of this spectacular drive.
If you’re driving, you might want to consider staying overnight in Hana before trekking back to the other side of the island. This Hana Town Cottage is just a few steps away from the beach and boasts breathtaking ocean views.
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25. Snorkel at Molokini Crater
The stunning crescent-shaped lip of the crater of Molokini is located just off the coast of south Maui. It’s a magnificent place to scuba dive and snorkel. The area surrounding the crater are just teeming with marine life due to the pristine waters and lively coral reefs.
The only way to get to Molokini Crater is via a short boat ride, so going on a tour is your best bet. I recommend this highly-rated Molokini and Turtle Town Snorkel Tour with Lunch.
With this tour, you’ll get to visit two lovely snorkel spots that are known for lots of marine life, including Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles.
26. Visit Iao Valley State Park
Located in the heart of the West Maui Mountains, Iao Valley State Park is home to one of the most notable landmarks in Maui, the Iao Needle. The Iao Needle is a towering rock formation that stands 1,200 feet tall.
There is a short and easy trail that will take you straight from the parking lot to the Iao Valley lookout. Along the way, you will pass through lots of lush vegetation, a tranquil stream, and a multitude of places to set up a picnic.
I recommend visiting early in the morning because this is a very rainy area, and clouds can sometimes cover the top of the Iao Needle in the afternoon.
Add the Best of Maui Haleakala and Iao Valley to your Hawaii itinerary.
27. Have Dinner at Mama’s Fish House
Mama’s Fish House is one of the most notable restaurants in Hawaii. It’s certainly one of the best Hawaii seafood restaurants and should not be missed if you’re planning a trip to Maui.
The restaurant was started by a couple who fell in love with the islands in the 1950s and were determined to make Maui their home. Mama’s Fish House became one of the very first seafood restaurants in Maui when it opened its doors in 1973.
Beyond the glorious fresh seafood, Mama’s Fish House is known for its mouthwatering desserts (I would die for the Passion Fruit Crème Brulée) and stunning ocean views from the restaurant.
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28. Spend the Day at Big Beach
The aptly named Big Beach, also known as Makena Beach, gets its name from being the largest beach on Maui. The soft white sand spans over 3,000 feet of coastline in south Maui, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a great spot to lounge out all day under the Hawaiian sun.
Big Beach is a popular spot for several ocean adventures like swimming, joining a snorkeling tour, bodyboarding, and paddle boarding. Make it a whole day affair and pack your family a picnic lunch to enjoy on the beach.
29. Shop for Unique Souvenirs on Front Street
Front Street is the liveliest part of Lahaina and one of my favorite places to hang out at when I’m on Maui. The waterfront street is lined with art galleries, boutiques, restaurants, and beautiful century-old Banyan trees.
Whalers General Store is a great spot to find great items to bring home to your family at affordable prices. I also recommend Hilo Hattie if you’re looking for some authentic Hawaiian T-shirts and matching ensembles for the whole family.
Front Street is a lovely spot to watch the sunset over the horizon, so plan to visit around dinner time. Lahaina Fish Co. has a lovely two-story balcony where you can enjoy your meal al fresco.
After dinner, stop by Banyan Treats in the Lahaina Banyan Court to try my favorite local ice cream brand, Roselani. I highly recommend the Kona Mud Pie flavor if you’re a coffee lover like me!
30. Visit Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm
Did you know you can find a slice of Provence, France tucked right into the foothills of Haleakala?
Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is home to over 20 varieties of lavender and is the only lavender farm in the Hawaiian islands. It’s also visually breathtaking.
With an admission of $3, you can do a self-guided tour of the spectacular lavender fields to find the perfect Instagram-worthy spot. The farm also hosts several workshops throughout the year and sells locally-made health and beauty products.
Because Hawaii’s average temperature doesn’t change much, you can find lavender in bloom here at all times of the year. However, the best time to see the most blooms is between July and August.
The farm is one of the best sights to see on a Hawaii Upcountry Farm tour.
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Best Things to do in Hawaii Island & Places to Visit
The island of Hawaii, more commonly referred to as the Big Island, is the largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago and also the youngest. The Big Island has eight different climate zones, so you can literally be hitting the snowy slopes of Mauna Kea and snorkeling the Kona Coast all on the same day.
Most visitors tend to stay in either Kona, the dry side with beautiful beaches, or Hilo, the wetter side with lush rainforests and stunning waterfalls.
31. Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
If there’s one attraction you should not miss on the Big Island, it’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park encompasses Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes on the entire planet. The volcano has been erupting continuously since 1983 and is just 45 minutes away from Hilo.
The best places to view the lava flowing are the various overlooks above Halema’uma’u Crater. I recommend starting your visit off at the Kilauea Visitors Center and consulting with a park ranger on where to go.
Conditions for viewing depend on different factors, including weather, so the best viewing spot can change daily.
Join a Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kona Coffee Farm small group tour to explore the national park.
The SCP Hilo Hotel is a lovely accommodation that is just a short distance away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Hilo International Airport.
32. Go on a Kona Coffee Farm Tour
Kona Coffee is known around the world as one of the best-tasting coffees on the planet. The unique flavor of the coffee is due to the rich volcanic soil that the plants are grown in and the even, consistent climate throughout the year.
Hala Tree Organic Kona Coffee Farm grows conventional Kona Coffee, organic Kona Coffee, and various organic teas. Even as a coffee lover, I recommend trying their mamaki tea if you have a chance. Mamaki is an herb native to Hawaii that is thought to have a lot of health benefits.
The Hala Tree Organic Kona Coffee Farm offers free farm tours and coffee tastings. I highly recommend going even further and booking a Private Coffee Roasting Class and a VIP Organic Kona Coffee Farm Mill and Roastery Tour at the farm, where you can learn how to roast your very own coffee beans.
33. Stroll through the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The non-profit Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is located just north of Hilo and is home to over 2,500 species of beautiful tropical and subtropical plants. There are several accessible paths throughout the garden so everyone can enjoy the lush flora.
This botanical garden is certainly a photographer’s dream. Bright tropical flowers, banana trees, and small waterfalls line the paths of the gardens, so frequent stops are absolutely necessary to take in the beauty of the area.
Because this area sees a lot of rain and humidity, mosquitos are prevalent, so I recommend bringing some mosquito repellent with you to ward off these tiny pests!
Throughout the gardens, you will find benches and picnic areas, so don’t forget to pack some snacks or a light lunch to enjoy in these beautiful surroundings. I recommend visiting earlier in the day to beat the crowds and the high afternoon temperatures.
If you love to visit gardens, you must check out Hawaii’s Botanical Garden Tour.
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34. Do a Night Dive With Manta Rays in Kailua-Kona
Swimming along stunning giant manta rays is one of the most unique experiences one can have when visiting Hawaii’s Big Island – or anywhere now I think about it!
Night time is the best time to see manta rays because this is when they are feeding on plankton, which come out of the reef and deep ocean at night.
The tour boat will take you out to the best snorkel spot to view the manta rays. Once you get there, the tour operator will put out a floatation device into the water to hold on to as you observe these gentle giants of the sea from the surface.
I highly recommend this Night Manta Ray Adventure Tour, which lasts about 2.5 hours. All equipment and snacks will be provided, and in the unlikely event that you don’t see manta rays on your first go, you can book the tour for a different night completely free of charge.
Kailua-Kona is one of the most beautiful parts of the Big Island to stay in. I recommend the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. It’s on a lovely lagoon-style beach and also has a great pool and amazing views from the rooms.
35. Visit Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Punalu’u Beach is the most well-known black sand beach throughout the entirety of the Hawaiian islands. The gorgeous black sand beach was created over several centuries as black lava rocks became eroded by the ocean, creating the black sand we see today.
Green palm fronds contrast with the deep black sand and dark blue waters, making for a stunning display of the island’s natural beauty.
Hawaiian green sea turtles are frequent visitors to the beach, so make sure to look out for them! Sometimes their shells blend in on the beach and may look like large lava rocks if you don’t look closely.
The beach is located on the south side of the island, so it will take just over one hour to visit by car whether you are staying in Kailua-Kona or Hilo.
If you love Big Island Twilight Volcano and Stargazing Tour, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is the best sight to visit.
36. See the Gorgeous Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls State Park is located just north of Hilo and inland from the scenic Hamakua Coast. The east side of the Big Island sees a lot of rain throughout the year, which makes this part of the island full of luscious greenery and breathtaking waterfalls.
It is just a short hike until you are facing the stunning Akaka Falls. This waterfall towers over visitors at 442 feet tall. The end destination of the trail is not the only scenic part of your journey. The trail to the falls is lined with wild orchids, beautiful green draping ferns, and bamboo groves.
It is one of the best waterfalls to see on a Waipio Valley and Waterfalls Adventure.
You’ll definitely want to spend some time here, so I recommend bringing some snacks and water with you. Also, remember to wear non-slip shoes or sandals because the path can get muddy and slippery if it rains just before your visit.
See Related: Best Island to Visit in Hawaii: What’s Best for You?
37. Visit South Point, The Southernmost Tip of the United States
Not only is the Big Island the southernmost island in the Hawaiian island chain, but the southern tip of the island is also the southernmost part of the United States.
The perfectly named South Point, or Ka Lae (the cape) in Hawaiian, is believed to be the first place that the ancient Hawaiians came ashore in 750 AD. Today, you can still see holes carved into the rock that are believed to be old moorings for canoes.
The entire South Point area is designated as a National Historic Landmark due to the high amount of ruins dating back to prehistoric times. You can find many heiau (sacred temples), as well as fishing shrines and other smaller structures.
On the way to South Point, don’t forget to stop at Punalu’u Bake Shop, which proudly boasts the title “Southernmost Bakery in the US,” right on their welcome sign.
As well as being America’s most southerly bakers, they are known for their mouthwatering sweet bread – but don’t pass up their amazing fruit-filled malasadas (similar to a beignet) and my favorite, their heavenly lilikoi (passion fruit) cheesecake!
Best Things to do in Kauai & Places to Visit
Kauai island, fondly nicknamed the Garden Isle, is the best island to visit if you’re an adventurous soul looking to be out in nature all day. It’s just a quick 20-minute flight from Honolulu and is much less developed than the rest of the larger islands.
You won’t find high-rises or busy highways on Kauai. Instead, you’ll find towering sea cliffs, endless palm trees, and long peaceful hiking trails.
38. Visit Tranquil Hanalei Bay
I love making Hanalei Bay my first stop when visiting The Garden Isle. The vibes here really are immaculate – it’s just good for the soul. It’s the largest bay on the north shore of Kauai and holds on to its old Hawaii charm while being next to the resort town of Princeville.
The waves in the bay are usually small during the summer, making it the perfect place to relax on the sand or learn how to surf on the baby waves that roll in.
The Hanalei Pier is a popular spot for kids and kids at heart to jump into the cool ocean water. Stop by Wishing Well Shave Ice for a refreshing treat after a long day under the sun.
I recommend staying at the nearby Hanalei Bay Resort when on Kauai; it really feels like a home away from home. The units are beautifully decorated in a Hawaiian plantation style, and it’s only 15 minutes from Hanalei Pier.
39. Admire Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea Canyon has long been dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” for its stunningly deep canyon and burnt orange soil. The canyon is 10 miles long, and the deepest parts of the canyon reach down over 3,000 feet deep.
The magnificent canyon is the only thing like it in the entire state. I recommend visiting the Waimea Canyon Overlook to view the large canyon in all its glory. For more seasoned hikers and outdoors people, there are several trails within the canyon for visitors to enjoy.
Admission to Waimea Canyon State Park is free and is open every day from sun up to sun down.
See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November
40. See Na Pali Coast by Sea
Na Pali Coast is located on the north shore of Kauai and is one of the most stunning coastlines in the entire state. Towering sea cliffs and deep valleys make the coast difficult to get to by foot and mostly impossible by car, so the best way to see the Na Pali Coast is by boat.
There are several tours to the Na Pali Coast, ranging from full-day, half-day, and sunset cruises. I recommend a full or half-day tour that includes time for snorkeling or swimming.
One of the most magical things about the Na Pali Coast is that you can almost always see cute pods of dolphins enjoying the Pacific Ocean right alongside you. You’ll also see stunning waterfalls, hidden coves and beaches, and lots of palm trees.
I recommend this Express Na Pali Snorkel Tour. This boat is a catamaran, which is much more comfortable and stable than a traditional mono-haul sailboat. This tour is 5 hours long, which will give you the perfect amount of time to see the Na Pali Coast and snorkel amongst dozens of tropical fish.
41. Visit Koke’e State Park
Koke’e State Park is home to my favorite view of the entire island of Kauai. The state park is at the furthest north point of Waimea Canyon and covers over 4,345 acres.
Some of the most beautiful hiking trails in Hawaii are found in Koke’e State Park, with over 45 miles of tropical plant-lined trails for visitors to discover.
I highly recommend walking over to the Kalalau Lookout, which is easily accessible and just a short distance away from the parking lot.
From the lookout, you will see down 4,000 feet into Kalalau Valley, one of the most stunning valleys on the entire island. The lush green valley dips dramatically in a v-shape right down to the ocean.
Just below the Kalalau Lookout, you’ll see some of the stunning Na Pali Coast. In the winter, you might get lucky enough to see a few humpback whales breaching in the waters just off the coast.
42. Spend the Day at Ke’e Beach
Ke’e Beach is one of two beaches on the Na Pali Coast that is accessible by car. It is the furthest north that you can drive on the island. It’s a wonderful spot for swimming, snorkeling, and watching the sunset.
The beach is protected by a reef, which makes it a great place to swim safely because the reef will break up any large waves that may try to roll in. Also, because of the reef, you will find so many tropical fish swimming around.
Summer is the best time to visit because that’s when the waves are at their calmest, making the water at this lovely beach crystal clear and warm, almost like a giant swimming pool.
If you have time, I also recommend checking out the nearby Polihale Beach. It’s a huge stretch of sand and much less crowded than Ke’e Beach.
See Related: Best Beaches in the US to Visit
43. Snorkel at Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is one of my favorite spots on Kauai, and I’m not alone in this. It has been named America’s Best Beach by The Travel Channel and often ranks within the top ten annually.
The beach is a lagoon shape, and the shallows extend quite far out, so it’s the perfect place to swim with the whole family. You can often find Hawaiian Monk Seals sunbathing on the golden sands of this lovely beach.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure to spice up your day at Poipu Beach, I recommend checking out this Eco-Friendly 8-Line Zipline Adventure right in Poipu! You can zipline over 3 different valleys, and proceeds from your ticket will go to local environmental non-profits.
Poipu is one of the most popular places for visitors to stay on Kauai. Check out the Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, an Autograph Collection right in the heart of Poipu. My favorite features of this property are the spacious rooms and the two gorgeous resort-style pools.
44. Kayak Along the Wailua River
One of the fun things to do in Hawaii with the whole family is kayaking along one of the state’s tranquil rivers. It’s fun, easy, not very risky, and lets you gaze at some of Hawaii’s stunning natural landscapes.
The Wailua River is a calm river located on the east side of the island, just 10 minutes north of Lihue. It’s the only river large enough to be navigated in all of the Hawaiian islands.
The Wailua River feeds two beautiful waterfalls nearby, Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua Falls. Both waterfalls are easily accessible, so I highly recommend visiting them as well while you are in the area. When on the river, you will also see the Sleeping Giant, a large rock formation that resembles a giant lying on his back.
I recommend this Guided Kayak Adventure on the Wailua River. The tour lasts about 5 hours and takes about 2 hours to kayak up and back down the river. All kayak equipment and a yummy lunch are provided on this highly-rated tour.
The Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort is a lovely place to base yourself on Kauai and is less than one mile from the beautiful Wailua River. This hotel is in a great central location right on the beach and has beautifully updated rooms and a lovely pool.
Best Things to do in Molokai & Places to Visit
Molokai is nicknamed The Friendly Isle for a good reason. The people you meet here will be some of the nicest people you’ve ever met in your life. There is no such thing as a stranger on this island.
Molokai is one of the lesser visited inhabited Hawaiian islands, so a lot of its natural beauty remains untouched. It makes me think that Molokai is what the rest of the islands looked like 100 years ago. I highly recommend visiting if you are also planning to visit Maui.
45. Snorkel Hawaii’s Longest Fringing Reef
The 28-mile-long fringing reef that spans most of the south coast of Molokai is the longest continuous reef in the state. It’s the perfect protected spot for tropical fish and other marine life to thrive and live.
This reef is very popular for snorkeling and even scuba diving. Make it a whole day’s adventure by finding a shady spot under a palm tree at One Ali’i Beach Park to lay down a blanket and have a picnic.
I highly recommend staying at the Hotel Molokai, located right on the south shore of the island and near the main town of Kaunakakai. The super charming hotel is very quiet and peaceful.
I loved hanging out by the pool and eating at the poolside restaurant, Hiro’s Ohana Grill. The hotel also rents out scuba and snorkel gear, so you don’t have to worry about packing your own.
See Related: Best Beautiful Islands to Vit Around the World
46. Stroll Through Quaint Kaunakakai Town
Kaunakakai is one of the most charming small towns in all of Hawaii. It’s the largest town on Molokai, with a population of just over 3,000 people. It’s also home to Molokai’s largest port and the longest pier in the state. If you stroll down the entire pier, you’ll be out on the water much further than the reef extends.
Take a walk down Ala Malama Avenue, where you’ll find most of the town’s eateries and boutiques. I highly, HIGHLY recommend making a stop at the locally-famous Kanemitsu’s Bakery.
You must try their mouthwatering sweet bread that is baked fresh every day. Locals and visitors will stand in long lines to be one of the first to get the fresh sweet bread.
Don’t miss Church Row, a row of seven missionary churches dating back to the late 1800s. Not far from the town and right across from Church Row, you’ll find the Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove. This coconut grove was planted in the 1860s, during the reign of King Kamehameha V.
Hundreds of coconut palm trees can be found in the grove, but I don’t recommend walking through it as falling coconuts is actually a danger. The best picture spot of the coconut grove is right across the road from it, so you can really get the vast grove in the frame.
47. Take a Dip at Papohaku Beach
Papohaku Beach is a long stretch of fine, golden sand located on Molokai’s northwestern shore. It’s also known as Three Mile Beach, as the beautiful sand and sea just seem to go on forever and ever.
Since Molokai has just a small population and very few visitors, you can most certainly find a large space for you to have all to yourself.
This beach is a personal favorite of mine for shell gathering. The North Shore of almost every Hawaiian island is known to have “sunrise shells,” beautiful shells known for their stunning yellow, orange, and pink hues that seem to blend together perfectly, just like a sunrise.
I’ve been lucky enough to find a few sunrise shells here, along with other varieties of shells still intact. Just make sure you’re not taking any “friends” that live in these shells home with you! Always look for the empty ones.
Another cool thing about this beach is that you can often see out all the way to Oahu, especially on a clear day.
Fun fact: Waikiki was originally marshland, and when it first began getting built up for tourism, sand was actually brought over from Papohaku Beach to build up Waikiki Beach to what it looks like today.
Fine use of sand, if you ask me!
48. Kalaupapa National Historic Landmark
Kalaupapa National Historical Park is as rich in history as it is in stunning scenery. The settlement was once where residents of Hawaii diagnosed with Hansens Disease were treated and lived out the rest of their lives.
Father Damien, a Roman Catholic priest from Belgium, decided to “leave the outside world” to care for those living in Kalaupapa in 1873. Eventually, Father Damien was canonized as a saint in 2009 for his selfless devotion to the people of Kalaupapa.
Today, the preserved community is only accessible if you join an organized tour as the trail passes through private property. You can reach this side of the island either by hiking or by riding a mule down the valley.
The trail is 2.9 miles down to the Kalaupapa Peninsula. It is super scenic, and just to the side of the community, you will see the largest sea cliffs in the world. These sea cliffs tower over the ocean at 3,900 feet.
See Related: Best National Parks in the Midwest (+NPS Sites)
49. Halawa Bay
Halawa Valley is considered to be one of the most sacred places in the islands to the Native Hawaiian people.
It’s believed Halawa Valley was first settled in 650 AD, as there is evidence of heiau (sacred temples) and other rock structures from long ago. Just next to Halawa Valley, you will find the beautiful Halawa Bay.
The best time of year to visit Halawa Bay is in the summer when the water is calmer and a little warmer. The bay is protected from the open water and is a great spot for swimming and fishing.
The sand color is a unique mix of white and black, so it almost looks like salt and pepper! Keep an eye out for your little ones, as there are no lifeguards on this beach.
Best Things to do in Lanai & Places to Visit
The island of Lanai is renowned as the most luxurious of the Hawaiian islands. 98 percent of the island is owned by billionaire Larry Ellison and is home to not one but two Four Seasons Resorts.
I certainly think Lanai should be added to your Hawaii bucket list because it’s really not somewhere a lot of people can say they’ve been. Outside of the luxury resorts, you’ll find a species of deer only found on Lanai and a ton of untouched natural beauty.
50. Snorkel at Hulopoe Bay
Whether you’re visiting the island just for the day via the ferry from Maui or staying at the luxurious Four Seasons Resort Lanai, you won’t want to miss snorkeling and swimming at Hulopoe Bay. The large bay is a lovely stretch of fine, white sand and clear blue water.
The coral reef here is expansive, and visitors will be greeted by multitudes of colorful fish and other wondrous marine life. You can often spot a few passing dolphin pods just off the coast of the bay playing in the small waves.
On the left side of the bay, furthest from the resort, you will find several small tide pools accessible by wooden stairs. When you get to the tide pools, it’s like being in a whole new world.
You’ll be able to see so many baby fish and other baby sea life, and not to mention, the tide pool makes for a very aesthetic Instagram shot.
See Related: Best Beaches in St. Thomas for Snorkeling
51. Visit Lanai Cat Sanctuary
I can’t lie; the Lanai Cat Sanctuary is hands down my favorite attraction on the island. And if you’re an animal lover, I’m sure it will be yours, too.
The sanctuary is home to over 300 felines of various ages. You can really tell how well taken care of they are by all their good temperaments.
There are several spots outside of the main sanctuary building where you can sit and basically be surrounded by cats within seconds. You’ll get a handful of snacks when walking in, but there are also food bowls scattered all around the property.
The Lanai Cat Sanctuary is a perfect place to take kids who love furry critters as well. If you enjoyed your experience, I recommend buying some merch from the shop to directly support the kitties that call this place home.
52. Off-Road Driving to Keahiakawelo
Keahiakawelo, also known as Garden of the Gods, is a spectacular display of natural wonder. Large boulders and rock formations have been formed into unique, organic shapes due to natural erosion from the wind, sea, and animals. The rust-orange terrain is just an absolutely magical place to explore.
According to ancient Hawaiian legend, the landscape became the way it is because of a rivalry between a priest from Lanai and a priest from Molokai.
They each tried to keep a fire burning longer than the other, and the Lanai priest would do anything to make sure he would win, including scorching the land. This is how the area gets its name; “Ke ahi,” meaning “the fire,” and “a Kawelo,” meaning “of Kawelo,” the name of the priest of Lanai.
The only two ways to get to Keahiakawelo are by mountain bike or 4×4 vehicle. If you’re staying at the Four Seasons, you can rent a Jeep from the resort directly.
Driving will take you about 45 minutes from Lanai City to the entrance of Keahiakawelo. On a clear day, you can see out to Oahu and Molokai from this amazing vantage point.
If you plan to explore Keahiakawelo, join a Private Lana’i Circle Island Experience.
See Related: Best Tropical Vacations
53. Play a Round of Golf at Manele Golf Course
The Manele Golf Course is a stunning course designed by world-renowned professional golfer Jack Nicklaus. The golf course is reserved exclusively for guests of the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. Several holes on this beautiful golf course are perched right on the sea cliffs of Manele, giving you breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Club rentals are complimentary for all guests that play 9-hole or 18-hole rounds. The course also hosts several free events throughout the year, so make sure to ask the concierge about the golf course calendar!
See Related: Best Golf Bachelor Party Destinations to Visit
54. Have a Picnic Lunch at Shipwreck Beach
Shipwreck Beach is another great spot you can visit on Lanai while off-roading.
Located just 30 minutes away from Lanai City, it can be a little tough to get to because the roads aren’t clearly marked, so make sure you have the directions downloaded on your GPS app before you start your adventure!
The beach gets its name from the multiple shipwrecks that have happened in the shallow, rocky waters. In fact, you can still see a giant, rusty shipwreck of a 1940s oil tanker.
The water is clear and shallow, but due to the waves, swimming and snorkeling are not great activities to do here. The sand stretches for as far as the eye can see, so it’s also a wonderful spot to set up a blanket and have a nice picnic lunch.
55. Take a Private Circle Island Helicopter Tour of Lanai
Soar into the skies to get the best view of the island of Lanai with a helicopter tour! A short and sweet 30-minute ride is all you need to see all the parts of this magnificent island.
If you’re not up to doing some off-roading, going on a helicopter tour is the perfect way to explore the island. You’ll be able to take in the crystal clear waters of Manele Bay, the magnificence of the Kanepu’u Dryland Preserve, and see the bright rusty red terrain of Keahiakawelo all in less than an hour.
I recommend this Private Lanai Circle Island Experience operated by Paradise Helicopters. This scenic activity is perfect for everyone in the family, including children!
See Related: Best Spring Break Destinations for Families
When is the best time to visit the Hawaiian Islands?
The weather in Hawaii is amazing year-round, but April to October will have the least chance of rain.
How can I island hop between the Hawaiian Islands?
The best way to venture between islands is by flight. There are only two ferries: one between Maui and Lanai and one between Maui and Molokai.
Should I purchase travel insurance before my Hawaii vacation?
It’s always a good idea to purchase travel insurance when voyaging far from home. Our favorite provider is World Nomads; they offer various plans so you can find the perfect one to fit your needs.
How can I find cheap flights to Hawaii?
We love checking out Scott’s Cheap Flights to find the best deals on destinations around the world. All you have to do is select your favorite nearby airports, and flight deals will be sent directly to your inbox.