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With its postcard-perfect beaches, lush rainforests, and towering volcanoes, Hawaii looks like paradise. If you’ve ever wondered what Hawaii’s islands look like, you’re not alone. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about Hawaii’s breathtaking scenery and landscapes.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii is made up of eight main islands, each with its own unique terrain ranging from sandy beaches and resorts to tropical rainforests, waterfalls, valleys, and volcanoes. The islands have a tropical climate and are known for their natural beauty.

Oahu and the Most Populated Islands

Waikiki and Honolulu

Waikiki Beach on the southern shore of Oahu is one of Hawaii’s most famous and lively beaches. The neighborhood of Waikiki in Honolulu offers high-rise hotels, beach bars, surf lessons, hula shows, and more.

Just 10 minutes away is Honolulu, the capital and largest city in Hawaii, home to iconic landmarks like Diamond Head State Monument, Iolani Palace, and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

North Shore’s Famous Beaches

The North Shore on the island of Oahu boasts world-famous surfing beaches like Pipeline, Sunset Beach, and Waimea Bay. Between November and February, large swells bring champion surfers hoping to ride epic waves up to 30 feet high.

In summer, the ocean is calmer making these beaches ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Must-see stops along the scenic Kamehameha Highway include the Polynesian Cultural Center and Dole Plantation.

Lush Interiors and Mountains

Beyond Honolulu and Waikiki, Oahu has rainforests, waterfalls, hiking trails, and the Ko’olau mountain range. Outdoor lovers can traverse the lush Manoa Falls Trail or trek to the nearly 4,000-foot summit of Mount Ka’ala, Oahu’s tallest peak, for panoramic views.

The island’s agricultural heartland in central Oahu offers fruit stands, coffee and cacao farms, and the famous Dole Pineapple Plantation. Though not as populated as Honolulu, central and northern Oahu still have small towns and scenic lookouts worth stopping at.

In addition to Oahu, the islands of Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii are also fairly populated. Maui draws over 3 million visitors per year to its stunning coastlines, Haleakala volcano, and the old whaling town of Lahaina (Maui visitor stats).

Kauai’s tropical rainforests, waterfalls, and the famous Na Pali Coast make it a haven for nature lovers. Hawaii Island has active volcanoes in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park as well as black sand beaches, high mountain peaks, and coffee farms in the Kona region.

Maui, Kauai, and the Garden Isle

Maui’s Upcountry and Haleakala Volcano

Maui’s Upcountry is a vibrant region filled with farms, ranches, and small towns located on the slopes of the dormant Haleakala Volcano. This area provides jaw-dropping views of the island and the world’s largest dormant volcano, which tops out at 10,023 feet.

The unique terrain and climate here allow for everything from cowboys working cattle ranches to lavender farms and wineries producing fine wines. Adventures abound with horseback riding, zip lining, and off-roading.

For an iconic Hawaiian experience, wake up early and drive up to the summit of Haleakala to watch a spectacular sunrise unfold above the clouds.

Road to Hana and Waterfalls

The famous Road to Hana is a winding 64-mile coastal route with over 600 curves and dozens of bridges crossing waterfalls and streams. This epic drive takes you through lush rainforests, past black sand beaches, and to incredible waterfalls only accessible from the road.

Top waterfalls like Twin Falls and the Seven Sacred Pools cascade into sparkling natural pools that are ideal for swimming and cliff jumping. With an average annual rainfall of about 300 inches per year, the eastern region of Maui has no shortage of roaring waterfalls.

Be sure to get out and take short hikes to see some of the best falls, like 400-foot Waimoku Falls.

Kauai’s Napali Coast and Waimea Canyon

Towering sea cliffs line Kauai’s Napali Coast, creating a stunning 17-mile coastal playground. Boat and kayak tours cruise along this rugged stretch of cliffs, sea caves, and secluded beaches only accessible by water.

For the ultimate adventure, conquer the challenging 11-mile Kalalau trail for views of iconic Hanakapi’ai Beach and waterfall. On the opposite side of the island lies Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Over 10 miles long and 3,600 feet deep, the canyon dazzles with ever-changing hues of red, green, and brown. Lookouts afford panoramic views of crested buttes, carved cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. With over 50 miles of hiking trails, Waimea Canyon is a spectacular place to witness the beauty and drama of Kauai.

Hawaii, the Big Island

Black Sand Beaches and Kona

The Kona coast along the western side of the Big Island is known for its black sand beaches, formed by lava flowing into the ocean and breaking down into fragments over time. Popular beaches include Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, with sea turtles basking on the shores, and Kaimū Beach, with its epic volcanic backdrop.

The charming beach town of Kailua-Kona offers small-town aloha spirit, restaurants serving up local fare like poke bowls, and boutique shops selling Hawaiian souvenirs. It’s also a great base for ocean activities like paddleboarding, snorkeling, kayaking and sport fishing adventures seeking prized catches like mahi-mahi.

Volcanoes National Park

No trip to the Big Island is complete without exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and seeing the incredible lava landscapes firsthand. Here you can take in the sulphur billows from Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, walk through a giant lava tube cave, and gaze upon flowing rivers of molten lava on guided night tours.

😲 The Kīlauea volcano has been erupting almost non-stop since 1983, creating new land and coastal plains before your eyes. On clear nights, the fiery glow atop Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes is an unforgettable sight.

The park also has lovely rainforests and drives with scenic lookouts along the way. An adventure not to be missed!

Hilo and the Tropical East Side

On the eastern side of Hawaii lies Hilo, the island’s largest population center. With frequent rain nurturing vegetation growth, this area has an almost jungle-like landscape in places, with lush botanical gardens and picturesque waterfalls dotting the scenery.

🏞 Popular Hilo attractions include the Pacific Tsunami Museum documenting a devastating 1946 tidal wave, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center offering sweet samplings, and the lively Hilo Farmers Market with tropical produce and handmade products.

Just south along the coast, relax amid tide pools at Kapoho Tide Pools or walk across the lava fields to thermal springs at Ahalanui Beach Park.

Molokai, Lanai, and the Smaller Islands

In addition to the main Hawaiian islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, Hawaii also encompasses several smaller islands that each have their own unique charms.


Molokai is often called the “friendly isle” due to its relaxing pace and welcoming residents. This island is home to some spectacular yet secluded beaches, making it an ideal destination for those looking to get away from the tourist crowds.

One of Molokai’s top attractions is Kalaupapa National Historical Park, which tells the tragic yet inspirational story of the island’s former leper colony. Visitors can take a mule ride down the steep sea cliffs to tour the site.


Once owned primarily by pineapple plantations, Lanai is now home to two luxurious resorts catering to upscale travelers. This sparsely populated island offers scenic attractions like the Garden of the Gods rock formations as well as world-class golf courses.

With few roads and even fewer cars, Lanai lets visitors get back to basics and enjoy activities like off-road adventures, horseback riding, and dolphin watching cruises.

The Smaller Islands

In addition to Molokai and Lanai, Hawaii has a number of other smaller landmasses that divers, snorkelers, and nature lovers enjoy exploring.

These include:

  • Kahoolawe – Uninhabited due to former military use, now being restored
  • Niihau – Privately owned Hawaiian island with about 170 residents
  • Lehua – Small volcanic island popular for its seaside caves and nature preserves

So while the main islands certainly attract the majority of Hawaii’s visitors, venturing out to these lesser-known gems often makes for the most unique and memorable vacation experiences.


With its volcanic peaks, velvet-green mountains, lush valleys, towering waterfalls and golden beaches, Hawaii offers incredible natural beauty. Each island has its own unique landscape and terrain to explore.

We hope this guide gives you a glimpse into Hawaii’s postcard-perfect scenery from the popular beaches of Oahu to Maui’s Road to Hana to the volcanoes of the Big Island.

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