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With its world-famous beaches, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture, Hawaii is on almost every traveler’s bucket list. If you’re wondering what to do in Hawaii, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve compiled the ultimate guide on the top things to see and experience across the Hawaiian islands.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Visit Waikiki Beach, drive the Road to Hana, see an erupting volcano at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, go on a snorkeling tour, attend a luau, and explore the history and culture at places like Pearl Harbor and Iolani Palace.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide an in-depth look at the very best attractions, activities, sights, and destinations that the Hawaiian islands have to offer. Read on to start planning your Hawaiian dream vacation!

Oahu: The Gathering Place

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is one of the most famous beaches in the world, located on the south shore of Oahu. This iconic beach stretches for about 2 miles along the coast, with sparkling turquoise waters and soft white sand that is perfect for sunbathing, swimming, surfing and people watching.

The beach walk is lined with hotels, shops, restaurants and bars, making it a hub of activity day and night. No trip to Oahu is complete without some time spent soaking up the sun and views on the “Gold Coast” of Waikiki.

Pearl Harbor and USS Arizona Memorial

Pearl Harbor is a historical site and memorial on Oahu that is a must-see. On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese forces, prompting the entrance of the United States into World War II.

Today visitors can visit the USS Arizona Memorial which sits atop the sunken remains of the USS Arizona battleship which sank during the attacks. A visit here is a somber and reflective experience as you view the names of those killed in the attacks and gaze upon the peaceful harbor that became the site of such turmoil on that infamous day.

Diamond Head State Monument

Diamond Head is one of Hawaii’s most recognizable landmarks – a 760 foot tall volcanic crater rising dramatically above the coastline. Visitors can hike to the summit for sweeping 360 degree views over Waikiki and the turquoise ocean.

The moderately strenuous 0.8 mile hike takes about an hour round trip and includes climbing up steep staircases and through tunnels. The panoramic views make the challenging hike well worth the effort. Go early to beat the crowds and heat.

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is one of Oahu’s most spectacular snorkeling spots with an abundance of tropical fish and sea turtles swimming close to shore in the protected waters. This curved bay with a sandy beach was formed inside a volcanic crater thousands of years ago.

To help preserve the marine environment, visitors must view an educational video at the park’s visitor center before accessing the beach and bay area. Once you hit the turquoise waters though, you’ll be amazed by the underwater world below.

Iolani Palace

Iolani Palace offers a unique history lesson in Hawaii as the only official royal residence in the United States. This impressive palace was home to King Kalakaua and Queen Lili`uokalani, the last reigning monarchs of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Guided tours take you back in time as you walk through the elegant halls, throne room, grand dining room and private living quarters. Special exhibits give insight into royal life and the role the palace played in Hawaii’s cultural history.

Dole Plantation

The Dole Plantation offers families an entertaining and educational glimpse into Oahu’s pineapple past at this working plantation. Take a narrated train tour through the fields, walk through the colorful Pineapple Garden maze, sample pineapple treats from the cafe or create your own pineapple candy creation.

Kids will love the maze and sweet treats! The gift shops sell locally made products and every kind of pineapple themed souvenir imaginable, perfect for some Hawaii mementos.

Maui: The Valley Isle

Road to Hana

The winding Road to Hana is one of Maui’s most popular attractions. This scenic drive takes you along the northeast coast of the island, with opportunities to see lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls like Twin Falls and Pua’a Ka’a State Wayside, and pristine black sand beaches.

Be prepared for a full day adventure with 620 curves and 59 bridges! There are also plenty of fruit stands and food trucks along the way when you need a quick bite. According to the official Go Hawaii Maui Hana guide, over 1 million visitors take the legendary drive each year.

Haleakala National Park

One of Maui’s natural wonders is Haleakala National Park and the volcanic Haleakala Crater found within it. Watching the sunrise here is a popular bucket list item, as the views from 10,023 feet are simply breathtaking on a clear morning.

The park also has 30 miles of hiking trails through otherworldly landscapes, as well as two campgrounds if you want to wake up at sunrise from inside the park itself. According to the National Park Service, Haleakala National Park hosts over 1.5 million visitors per year, with sunrise gatherings at the summit one of the most sought after excursions.

Whale Watching (Seasonal)

Each winter between November and May, thousands of North Pacific humpback whales make the journey to Maui’s warm and protected waters to mate, give birth, and nurse their young. Take a whale watching cruise for front row seats to these magnificent marine mammals breaching, tail slapping, and showing off just a few hundred feet from your boat!

Some of the most popular and responsible companies include Pacific Whale Foundation, Ultimate Whale Watch, and Gemini Charters. Over 10,000 whales are spotted in Hawaiian waters each season, making it one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching.

Black Rock at Kaanapali

Black Rock, also known by its Hawaiian name of Kekaʻa, is a famous lava rock formation and cliff jumping spot found at the northernmost end of Kaanapali Beach on West Maui. Not only is Kaanapali consistently ranked as one of the top beaches in America, but Black Rock also offers some incredible snorkeling and sights of sea turtles in the water below.

Brave cliff divers leap from the rocky ledges here daily around sunset time to the cheers of crowds gathered below. After your visit, enjoy dining and shopping at the nearby Whalers Village complex which houses ocean view restaurants and high end stores.

Old Lahaina Luau

For a truly authentic Hawaiian luau experience on Maui, look no further than the Old Lahaina Luau located oceanfront on the west side of the island. Guests can enjoy cocktails and exploring cultural displays before an imu ceremony where a whole roasted pig is unearthed from an underground oven.

After the feast there is top notch hula and music celebrating the storied history of these islands. With over 85,000 annual attendees, the Old Lahaina Luau is considered one of Hawaii’s best luaus for good reason according to Frommer’s and has been operating since 1990.

Snorkeling at Molokini Crater

Molokini crater is a crescent moon-shaped islet off the southern shores of Maui that offers some of Hawaii’s best snorkeling and scuba diving thanks to its protected waters teeming with tropical fish and sea turtles. Its unique shape creates a natural sheltered cove from waves and wind.

Trips here allow you to snorkel the back wall where the reef plunges dramatically down into the deep blue. Some operators even have options to visit Molokini Crater as well as other stellar snorkel spots like Turtle Town or Coral Gardens for the ultimate ocean adventure.

Maui has over 30 snorkel and dive tour operators to choose from to customize your perfect day on the water.

Hawaii (The Big Island): Land of Adventure

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most unique geological features on Earth. Two active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa – make up the park. According to the National Park Service(1), around 2.6 million visitors flock here each year to witness lava flows, volcanic craters, fissures, and lava tubes firsthand.

One of the highlights is seeing the glow of the Halema’uma’u Crater at night, truly an unforgettable sight!

Mauna Kea Summit

At nearly 14,000 feet elevation, the summit of Mauna Kea offers breathtaking views above the clouds. Adventurous souls make the bumpy drive up (4-wheel drive recommended!) to stargaze from one of the best viewing spots in the world. Did you know that Mauna Kea has the world’s largest observatories(2)?

They use cutting-edge telescopes like the twin Keck Observatory to study the farthest reaches of space. Definitely try one of the free public star tours if your schedule allows!

Akaka Falls

Over 100 feet tall, Akaka Falls is one of Hawaii’s most stunning waterfalls located inside Akaka Falls State Park. The easy 0.4 mile loop hike takes you through lush rainforest filled with exotic plants and flowers to two dramatic waterfalls. We recommend going early, as the parking lot fills up.

Bring your camera – the viewpoint allows fabulous photos of Akaka Falls plunging down into the gorge below that will wow your Instagram followers.

Puuhonua O Honaunau National Park

History buffs will appreciate Puuhonua O Honaunau National Park just south of Kailua-Kona. This sacred site served as a refuge (puuhonua) for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers. According to the National Park Service(3), the royal grounds also honor generations of powerful Hawaiian chiefs.

Walk the Great Wall bordering the refuge, see remains of temple structures, and imagine what life was like here 500 years ago. Definitely a can’t miss experience to immerse yourself in ancient Hawaiian culture.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach

Believe it or not, there is a green sand beach on the Big Island! Papakolea (also called Mahana Beach) gets its distinctive color from olivine crystals eroded out of the enclosing cinder cone. The beach is a bit off the beaten track, located down a 2.5 mile dirt road past South Point.

Adventurous types make the bumpy drive in a high clearance vehicle to see the green sand beach in person. Be prepared for limited facilities and watch out for the strong waves and currents if you plan to swim. Pack a picnic lunch and plenty of water to fully enjoy this scenic slice of paradise!

Kona Coffee Farms

No trip to Hawaii’s Big Island is complete without sampling its famous Kona coffee! The region’s sun-drenched slopes produce what Conde Nast Traveler calls “one of the most flavorful and coveted coffees on Earth. “(4) Many farms welcome visitors to learn about cultivation, roasting, and brewing.

Be sure to try samples of different blends to experience the full depth of flavor that makes Kona coffee so prized. Bringing home unique beans directly from the source also makes an awesome Hawaiian souvenir!

Kauai: The Garden Isle

Na Pali Coast State Park

Stretching for 17 miles along Kauai’s northwestern shore, the staggeringly beautiful Na Pali Coast State Park is a place of primal wildness and jaw-dropping scenery. The park is accessible only by hiking the challenging 11-mile Kalalau Trail, by kayak, or by boat.

Towering green cliffs plunge into the blue Pacific waters, waterfalls tumble from dizzying heights, and secluded beaches appear around every bend. This area epitomizes the word “paradise.”

Waimea Canyon

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a must-see on any trip to Kauai. Carved over the eons by the Waimea River, the canyon stretches 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than 3,500 feet deep.

The colors constantly change with the light, shifting from red and brown to green and blue. Many lookout points along Waimea Canyon Drive provide jaw-dropping views, and trails lead down into the canyon for backcountry adventures.

Wailua Falls

Plunging an astonishing 173 feet into a sparkling pool below, the double-tiered Wailua Falls is an impressive sight along Kauai’s Wailua River. The lookout point lies just steps from the parking area, making this a quick and easy stop.

According to legend, ancient Hawaiian royalty used to jump from the top of the falls into the pool below to prove their mana, or spiritual power. Please don’t try to replicate that today!

Princeville Botanical Gardens

On a sweeping parcel of land overlooking Hanalei Bay and the distant peaks of Bali Hai, the lovely Princeville Botanical Gardens showcases a diversity of tropical plants. Themed areas include a palm garden, a vanilla garden, an orchid garden with over 500 orchid plants, a bamboo grove with an Asian influence, and a colorful riot of bromeliads.

Wander the trails through lush rainforest and around a waterfall and lily pond teeming with koi. It’s a garden-lover’s dream.

Hanalei Bay

Famed for its sweeping crescent-shaped beach backdropped by emerald mountains, beautiful Hanalei Bay captures the essence of the Hawaiian tropics. Locals and visitors come here to surf, swim, sunbathe, enjoy a beach picnic under swaying palms, and take in the arresting views of waterfalls cascading down cliffsides.

In the winter, waters churn with massive waves. The historic town of Hanalei exudes relaxation and beachside charm.

Kilauea Lighthouse

Soaring 156 feet above the Pacific on Kauai’s North Shore, the red-roofed Kilauea Lighthouse looks like something plucked from a New England coast. You can explore the grounds, visit the gift shop, and climb to the top of the lighthouse for far-reaching island and ocean views.

Between November and March, this is one of Hawaii’s best land-based spots for spotting migratory humpback whales.


The Hawaiian islands offer incredible diversity – from world-famous beaches on Oahu, to the legendary Road to Hana drive on Maui, to volcanic landscapes on the Big Island, to the unparalleled beauty of Kauai. Each island has its own unique adventures, sights, activities and culture to discover.

Use this guide to help plan your ultimate Hawaiian vacation filled with must-see attractions, memorable activities, stunning scenery, and moments that will last a lifetime. The islands welcome you with warm aloha!

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