Things to Do in Hawaii
With steep emerald cliffs, lush valleys, and remote cascading waterfalls, the Na Pali Coast is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful regions, and no visit to Kauai is complete without a visit to this magical coastline. There are only three ways to explore the Na Pali Coast—by air, by sea, and on foot—and each offers its own unique perspective.
When was the last time you had a snorkel adventure inside of a sunken Hawaiian volcano, or enjoyed a freshly cooked BBQ lunch on the deck of a sailing catamaran? Thanks to its calm, crystal clear waters, bright coral reef, and 250-plus species of tropical fish, Molokini Crater is the most popular spot for snorkeling tours on Maui. Spend a day on a snorkeling tour as you explore the protected marine preserve and come face to face with some of Hawaii's most colorful marine life.
Visiting the Mauna Kea Summit and Observatories gives you the feeling of being on top of the world for good reason: You’re actually pretty close. Standing at 13,796 feet (4,138 meters), the mountain is Hawaii's tallest and the highlight of many visitors' trips to the Big Island of Hawaii. The Mauna Kea Observatories (MKO) feature some of the world's largest telescopes, including equipment from Canada, France, and the University of Hawaii, due to its designation as an unparalleled destination for stargazing.
Tropical foliage, black sand beaches, rushing waterfalls and incredible views are the calling cards of the legendary, winding Road to Hana. The famous roadway along Maui’s North Shore (also called the Hana Highway) includes 600 hairpin turns and more than 50 bridges and is known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
Made up of several historic sites and memorials, Pearl Harbor honors and educates the public about the Japanese attack on the United States on December 7, 1941 that propelled the country into World War II. It’s one of Hawaii’s most-visited attractions, and one of the country’s most significant WWII memorial sites.
The marine sanctuary of Kealakekua Bay ranks among Hawaii’s most scenic spots for snorkeling, swimming, and hiking. The beautiful bay, home to spinner dolphins and backed by green mountain slopes, was the site where Captain James Cook landed—and was later killed—on the Big Island in 1779, forever altering the history and culture of the archipelago.
Honolulu is so much more than just the sunny resort area of Waikiki, where white sands stretch all the way to iconic Diamond Head. The capital city is Hawaii’s commercial and urban heart, with first-class museums, shopping, dining, clubs, and bars. And every year millions of visitors from around the globe find aloha in Honolulu, where surfboards, sunsets, swimming, and taking it slow are simply a way of life.
When you stand in front of spouting lava at Kilauea volcano, or marvel at steam as it rises from vents in Halemaumau Crater, it's easy to see that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park isn't just a national park, but also a place to get a front-row seat to the beauty of Earth's creation. Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers everything from lush rainforest to lava tubes and rolling black lava fields, where hot steam still rises from fissures and rifts that dot the rugged landscape.
The USSArizona Memorial floats above the watery site where the eponymous battleship was bombed and sunk, taking 1,177 lives with it, in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The solemn, all-white memorial features a marble wall of names of those who served onboard and spans theArizona’s width, with openings to look down on the sunken hull.
Dubbed “House of the Sun” by native Hawaiians, Haleakala Crater is the world’s largest dormant volcano and the highest peak in Maui. Set in Haleakala National Park, here you can see a lunar landscape, admire cinder cones and endangered silversword plants, and trek wild hiking trails.
More Things to Do in Hawaii
For decades, Waikiki Beach has been Oahu’s tourist mecca thanks to its palm-fringed white-sand beaches and high-rise luxury hotels that stretch from downtown Honolulu east toward the towering Diamond Head. Here all the spoils of Hawaiian beach life—from sunbathing and swimming to snorkeling and fruity-cocktail sipping—are within steps of world-class shopping and dining.
Arguably Hawaii's most well-known sight, Diamond Head Crater is more than just a famous Waikiki backdrop but also an entire attraction unto itself, featuring one of Oahu's best hikes for a panoramic view. From atop the 760-foot (231-meter) summit, visitors can gaze out from Koko Head Crater to the Honolulu skyline and down on Waikiki Beach, where surfers, paddlers, sailboats, and canoes all splash through the tropical waters.
Kailua Pier is the northern bookend to most of Kailua-Kona’s restaurants, shops and bars, a stretch of concrete wide enough to host four-lanes of traffic (if it wasn’t closed off to cars). The historic pier was first built as a downtown fishing dock in 1900 and utilized rocks from deconstructed Hawaiian palace and fort walls, but today few boats moor here. Instead, the pier is mostly used for large events and festivals including the annual Kona Ironman World Championships, which starts and finishes at the pier, and the Kona International Billfish Tournament whose daily catches of sometimes-massive fish species including Pacific blue marlin are weighed from pier-side scales for all to see.
On the pier’s northern side, a small beach fronting the King Kamehameha Marriott Hotel has public showers, restroom blocks and hosts community events such as the Kona International Surf Film Festival and the Kona Brewers’ Festival. Aside from the beach, the best vantage for
Ahu’ena Heiau, a still-revered thatch-roof temple dedicated to Lono and dating to the early 19th century, is from Kailua Pier. Some say the temple is just 1/3 of its original size when built by Island-uniting King Kamehameha I. Because it is believed the monarch also died here, the site and its tiny man-made island remain sacred and off-limits to the public, despite being on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
Hawaii’s volcanic activity creates a dynamic array of beaches ranging from soft white shores to the black pebbles of the Big Island’s Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach. But, travelers aren’t the only visitors to Punaluʻu; the area is known for the large green sea turtles (honu) that come out to bask along the black sand shoreline.
A pleasant stop on the road to Hana, the Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park offers the chance to take a scenic break from the long drive. Stretch your legs on its dirt path to nearby waterfalls and natural pools. The farther you're willing to walk, the taller the waterfalls become and many people bring a picnic to enjoy as a part of this diversion.
Totaling five acres the area here is lush with tropical plants which, with the sound of the waterfalls, create a distinct rain forest feel. Picnic tables are set against scenic backdrops, and fish and tadpoles are visible in the shallower pools. Watch for wild birds and mongoose. The walking paths here are not rigorous, but a refreshing dip in one of the pools is a highlight for many on a hot day.
One of the most popular waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii, Rainbow Falls is loved for its easy access and the rainbows that frequent the falls on misty mornings. The Wailuku River varies dramatically based on rain, but this 80-foot (24.4-meter) cascade wows viewers whether it is a thundering torrent or delicate trickle.
Forming a deep natural amphitheater that’s washed by the sea and waterfalls, the Waipio Valley, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a natural wonderland marked by rain forests and hiking trails. Cliffs thousands of feet high plunge to the valley floor, where a curved black-sand beach meets the sea.
British explorer Captain James Cook met his death at Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779, after a skirmish with the king of Hawaii in a local village. Today, a white obelisk in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park stands sentinel over the lush coast and its crystal clear waters, commemorating his death.
A geological kaleidoscope of reds and browns, Kauai’s impressive Waimea Canyon—at 14 miles (22.5 kilometers) long, one mile (1.6 kilometers) wide, and 3,600 feet (1,097 meters) deep—is Hawaii’s version of the Grand Canyon. In fact, some say Mark Twain was the first to lend it its nickname: the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Stop on its winding rim road for views of a far-below river, sheer drop-offs, spectacular views, excellent hiking, and waterfall-lined crevasses, all just a short way away from the Garden Isle’s legendary Na Pali Coast.
What started out as a Wahiawa fruit stand in the middle of the pineapple fields in 1950 is now an extremely popular Hawaiian attraction. The sprawling Dole Plantation in central Oahu is a rural throwback to a time when the pineapple helped rule Oahu’s economy. Visitors can sample the sweet yellow fruit, ride on the famous Pineapple Express train and motor out through the fields, take a walk through a huge garden maze, learn how to find fresh pineapple when grocery shopping, and hear how pineapples are grown on plants—and not underground or on trees.
Steep drop-offs beckon just off Kona’s coast, the dominion of pelagic beasts—marlin and billfish some topping 1,000 lbs. Most journeys to catch one begin the 262-slip marina at Honokohau Harbor, just before the entrance to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. Nearly all of Kailua-Kona’s fishermen, independent sportfish tour operators as well as charter boats departing for scuba sites and popular manta and dolphin snorkeling adventures dock and depart from Honokohau Harbor.
The full-service marina also sports two noteworthy restaurants: Harbor House, a burger and beer joint with views of vessels from their open-air dining room, and Bite Me Fish Market Bar & Grill serving seafood delivered direct from the ocean to their door. ATMs, two full service restroom blocks with hot showers and a convenience store for snacks and sundries round out the facilities here.
Just behind the marina proper, a snaking road ends at a lava rock parking lot with a trail leading to a small beach with decent snorkeling and popular with area dog owners.
Nicknamed the “Mighty Mo,” the USS Missouri—now known as the Battleship Missouri Memorial—is the site where the Japanese signed the surrender documents that ended World War II, on September 2, 1945. The ship is now a museum and a memorial to the war’s conclusion.
Planted firmly on the lawn of Aliiolani Hale, the State Supreme Court building, is the most visited of all the statues honoring King Kamehameha I in Hawaii. The 18-foot bronze icon with golden-colored detailing was erected in 1883 and depicts a spear-wielding and cloak-draped Kamehameha the Great, the first Hawaiian monarch and the ruler credited with uniting the Islands under single rule in 1810.
Each year on a date near the June 11 state holiday commemorating King Kamehameha, community groups build massive flower lei garlands and drape them over the Honolulu statue using the ladder from a fire truck. The popular lei draping ceremony commemorates the King’s significance and kicks off week-long celebrations of colorful parades and festivals throughout the Islands.
The story of the statue’s procurement also undoubtedly adds to its allure: Constructed in Europe, the sculpture took several years to make, and, when finally finished and rounding the horn of South America, (the Panama Canal wasn’t completed until 1914) the ship carrying it wrecked near the Falkland Islands. Using insurance money, a second statue was quickly built and arrived in Honolulu without incident; this is the statue that stands here today. Meanwhile, Falkland fishermen were able to retrieve the sunken original and sold it to back to the then-U.S. territory, where the strikingly similar sculpture still stands not far from the king’s birthplace on Hawaii Island. Another Kamehameha figure, made from molds of the Honolulu version, is one of two statues representing the state of Hawaii in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
The legendary “Road to Hana” drive seems to indicate that the town of Hana itself is the goal, but you'd be crazy to miss a visit to Wai'anapanapa State Park.
Spending some time in Wai'anapanapa State Park is reason enough to stay overnight in Hana. It's a lush and gorgeous park just outside of Hana, and one of its most well-known features is the small black sand beach of Pa'iloa. It's a beautiful beach, to be sure, lovely for swimming or simply sunbathing, but there's more to this park than just a beach.
Wai'anapanapa has two underwater caves you can visit that are filled with a combination of fresh and salt water. You can go swimming in these pools, too. This area also has historical significance, too, as you'll see when you visit the ancient burial sites. There is also a trail that winds three miles along the coast, from the park all the way into Hana Town itself.
- Things to do in Maui
- Things to do in Oahu
- Things to do in Kauai
- Things to do in Big Island of Hawaii
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