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With its beautiful island beaches, lush rainforests, and colorful marine life, Hawaii is the ultimate tropical paradise getaway. If you’re planning a trip to the Hawaiian islands, there are endless worthwhile locations to see and explore.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer for the top spots to hit: Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach, the Road to Hana in Maui, Volcanoes National Park, and Waimea Canyon.

In this comprehensive Hawaii travel guide, we’ve rounded up the must-see destinations and attractions you simply can’t miss when visiting the Aloha State. From natural wonders to historical landmarks, intriguing trails to relaxing beaches, there are iconic places for every type of Hawaii vacation.

Read on for an in-depth guide to the ultimate places to include on your Hawaii bucket list.

Relive History at Pearl Harbor in Oahu

Pearl Harbor is a lagoon harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii that is known for one of the most pivotal moments in United States history. On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy carried out a surprise military strike on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, marking the entry of the United States into World War II.

Today, Pearl Harbor continues to be an active military base but also serves as a historical site and memorial for those who lost their lives on that infamous day.

When visiting Pearl Harbor, most people begin at the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This includes the USS Arizona Memorial, which sits directly over the sunken battleship USS Arizona and commemorates the 1,177 sailors and Marines who died during the attack.

The memorial structure is an iconic white concrete building with openings on either side representing where the ship’s smokestacks once stood. Visitors can walk out over the sunken hull of the battleship and view the names of those killed in the attack, with droplets of oil still slowly rising from the wreckage underneath.

This powerful memorial provides an immersive historical experience for visitors.

Adjacent to the USS Arizona Memorial is the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. The USS Bowfin is a Balao-class submarine launched one year to the day after the Pearl Harbor attack that served in the Pacific during World War II, nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”.

Visitors can walk through the historic submarine for a glimpse at the lives of submariners during wartime. The park also features various exhibitions about submarine warfare in the Pacific, memorials to lost submarines and crews, as well as scenic views overlooking Pearl Harbor.

The Battleship Missouri Memorial is located a short ferry ride away from the Arizona Memorial on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Visitors can explore the mighty USS Missouri battleship, the site of Japan’s WWII surrender, on a self-guided audio tour showcasing the vehicle’s immense firepower and technological marvels.

Exhibits provide information on the critical Pacific island amphibious assaults she provided artillery support for leading up to the end of the war. Guests can stand on the Surrender Deck to view where the Instrument of Surrender was signed.

This combination of history and technology makes the “Mighty Mo” a can’t miss attraction.

For visitors looking to enhance their understanding of the political situation leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack, the free-to-enter Pearl Harbor Historic Sites Visitor Center is a must. Well-curated artifacts and multimedia exhibits detail rising tensions between Japan and the U.S., Japanese battle plans, personal stories from December 7 survivors, wartime life for locals, and more.

The center showcases a 20-minute documentary film recounting first-hand experiences from the fateful attack. A 250-seat theater provides even more enriching video opportunities. This main information portal allows travelers to gain well-rounded insight on Pearl Harbor.

A visit to stunning Oahu would not be complete without stopping at the historic Pearl Harbor to relive the dramatic events of WWII and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice on December 7. While a sobering and reflective experience, the ability to personally connect with living history on the still active military base provides an incredibly rewarding and moving opportunity.

Pearl Harbor remains an eternal symbol of resilience, unity, reconciliation and hope emerging from tragedy – reminders even more poignant in the complex world we inhabit today.

Soak up the Sun at Iconic Waikiki Beach

Known around the world, Waikiki Beach is the quintessential Hawaiian beach destination. With its stunning views of Diamond Head, warm tropical waters, and iconic hotels and high-rises, Waikiki lives up to its reputation as a paradise by the sea.

Waikiki stretches around 2 miles of coastline on the southern shore of O’ahu. Its fine white sand slopes gently into the ocean, creating pleasant conditions for swimming, surfing, stand up paddleboarding, and other water sports throughout the year.

The average year-round temperature hovers between a perfect 75-85°F.

The beach can get quite crowded, especially in the main stretch fronting the large resort hotels. But it’s easy to find a less packed spot by walking a little ways to the west or east ends. For great views of surfers riding waves, head to Queens and Canoes surf breaks.

And be sure to catch an unforgettable sunset over the ocean in the evenings.

Top Things to Do

With so much to see and do, Waikiki offers enough activities and attractions to keep anyone happily occupied for days. Top things to experience include:

  • Learning how to surf or stand up paddleboard with lessons from one of the many surf schools
  • Hitting the boutique shops and luxury stores of Kalakaua Avenue
  • Exploring historic hotels like the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, known as the legendary “Pink Palace of the Pacific”
  • Visiting Kuhio Beach Park for the iconic Duke Kahanamoku statue honoring Hawaii’s famous Olympic swimmer and surfer
  • Snorkeling and swimming at Queen’s Surf Beach, a more secluded section great for families
  • Watching cultural shows like Hawaiian music, dance, and festivals at Waikiki’s beachfront resorts and public outdoor amphitheaters
Annual Visitors Over 5 million people
Prime Visiting Hours Early mornings and late afternoons to avoid largest crowds
Peak Season Mid-December to mid-April

For more on great sites to experience in Waikiki, check out Go Hawaii’s official Waikiki travel guide.

With its world-famous crescent beach, top hotels and resorts, spectacular sunsets, and range of activities, Waikiki Beach is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Hawaii. Spend at least a few days enjoying this iconic tropical paradise!

Journey along the Road to Hana in Maui

The Road to Hana in Maui is an iconic drive along the eastern coast of the island. Spanning over 60 miles with 59 bridges, 620 curves, and breathtaking views, this journey showcases some of Hawaii’s most jaw-dropping scenery. From lush rainforests to picturesque waterfalls, prepare to be wowed.

What to Expect

The drive takes at minimum 2-3 hours one way without stopping. However, to truly experience all that Hana Highway has to offer, it’s best to devote a full day. That way, you can pause to soak in sights, swim under waterfalls, and hike to glorious viewpoints along the way.

Some highlights include the Twin Falls where you can take a refreshing dip, the Garden of Eden Arboretum with exotic plants and flowers, the Seven Sacred Pools at Oheo Gulch, and the famous black sand beach at Waiʻānapanapa State Park.

You’ll traverse over 50 one-lane bridges, some built in the early 1900s, winding past plunging coastlines, towering palms, and quaint Hawaiian villages.

Tips for an Epic Road Trip

To make the most of your journey, keep these tips in mind:

  • Get an early start to avoid crowds
  • Pack snacks, water, towels, bathing suits, bug spray, sunscreen, and binoculars
  • Fill up your gas tank and use restrooms before leaving
  • Drive slowly and cautiously along narrow, winding stretches
  • Stay alert for one-lane bridges
  • Allow plenty of time for sightseeing stops and short hikes
  • Respect private property and kapu (forbidden) areas

Though the Road to Hana seems daunting to navigate, the unparalleled beauty and adventure makes it a quintessential Maui experience. Follow these tips for a smooth, enjoyable ride. And get ready to be wowed by some of Hawaii’s most dramatic landscapes along the way!

Marvel at Volcanoes National Park’s Lava Landscapes

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kilauea and Mauna Loa. This incredible park offers visitors the rare opportunity to witness Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes and fire, at work shaping the landscape.

Dramatic lava flows

One of the top attractions at the park are the dramatic lava flows. Kilauea volcano has been continuously erupting since 1983, creating a stunning display of molten lava streaming down the volcano and pouring into the ocean.

This phenomena creates new land right before your eyes as the lava cools and hardens into rock.

There are several great vantage points to safely watch the lava flows, including the Jaggar Museum overlook, Volcano Garden of Sulphur Banks, and the end of Chain of Craters Road, where lava is entering the sea.

Witnessing the bright orange molten rock slowly creep across the landscape is a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.

Exploring volcanic craters

In addition to lava flows, the park has many volcanic craters and calderas that visitors can explore. Kilauea Caldera is a massive two-mile wide crater at the summit of Kilauea formed by historic collapses.

This area offers great views of the volatile Halema‘uma‘u Crater containing a hot molten lava lake.

There are also many craters and pit craters to see along the Crater Rim Drive. These inactive craters display the devastating power of past eruptions that shaped this volcanic landscape. The crimson colors of the crater walls in Halema‘uma‘u and Makaopuhi craters are quite a spectacular sight!

Hiking through volcanic wilderness

Over 150 miles of hiking trails wind through volcanic features across Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’s 333,000 acres. Most trails start from the Kilauea Visitor Center off Crater Rim Drive. From short easy walks to long overnight treks, there’s a trail suited for every ability level.

Some notable hikes include the summit crater hike to see steaming vents and epic views, the walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a tree mold forest trail showcasing lava molds of trees that were flash burned from lava flow, and the hike across Kilauea Iki crater past inviting steam vents and cinder cones.

Exploring the park by foot gives you an appreciation of the raw, changing power of Hawaiian volcanoes.

With volcanic activity creating new land, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park remains an adventure in the making. Visitors who make the journey are rewarded with a rare glimpse of Pele’s dramatic lava show and a walk through the evolving lava landscapes of this volcanic paradise.

Take in Panoramic Views at Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” offers some of the most spectacular vistas on the Hawaiian Islands. Over 10 miles long, 1 mile wide, and more than 3,600 feet deep, the canyon displays a patchwork of burnt red, orange, green, and brown hues from erosion and exposed volcanic rock.

There are several lookout points along Waimea Canyon Drive to stop and take in the sweeping views of crevices, cliffs, and waterfalls. Two of the best are Waimea Canyon Lookout and Puu Hina Hina Lookout.

Waimea Canyon Lookout

The main Waimea Canyon Lookout provides excellent views down into the canyon. The lookout has a large parking area, interpretive signs explaining the geology of the canyon, and clean restrooms. Hiking trails also branch out from the lookout providing more bird’s eye perspectives on foot.

Puu Hina Hina Lookout

Further down the road, the Puu Hina Hina Lookout treats visitors to a breathtaking head-on view of Waimea Canyon. The vista showcases deep red and orange cliff sides and the ribbon-like Waipoo Falls plunging over a 1,200-foot cliff in the distance.

Nearby, the Iliau Nature Loop trail loops through watershed forest with native plants.

In addition, the Kukui Trail leads 2.5 miles down into the canyon itself for those wanting to immerse themselves in Waimea’s grand landscape surrounded by canyon walls. No matter where you view it from, Waimea Canyon presents dynamic scenery not matched elsewhere in Hawaii or the U.S.


From the moment you step off the plane and get your first whiff of tropical breeze, Hawaii makes an unforgettable impression. With countless adventures across its islands, it can be challenging to narrow down what to see and do.

By including all or some of the iconic attractions on this list, you’re guaranteed to have an incredible trip discovering Hawaii’s natural wonders, intriguing culture and vibrant island life.

The Aloha State has something special to offer every type of traveler – don’t miss creating your own mix of lasting Hawaiian memories exploring everything from beaches to rainforests, cities to small towns.

Let us help you map out the ultimate itinerary taking in Hawaii’s many treasures for an island-hopping vacation filled with discovery and delight.

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