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From surfing and snorkeling to volcano-trekking and hiking America’s most picturesque trails, the Aloha State packs plenty of water and land activities for all ages to enjoy. But with six major islands to choose from, how do you even know where to start? Have no fear, SheBuysTravel has you covered. Get ready to take notes, because we’re rounding up 21 of the best places to visit in Hawaii.
The Aloha State is one of the most visited states in the USA, and for good reason. It has just about everything one wants in a vacation: a tropical vibe, beautiful weather, pristine beaches, history and culture. And while Hawaii is also home to some of the most beautiful resorts and world-class golf courses, its natural beauties give each of its six major islands its own personality and feel.
However for someone visiting Hawaii for the first time, planning a trip can get a bit overwhelming. Where’s the best scuba diving and snorkeling? Where can you view some of Hawaii’s most iconic historical sites such as Pearl Harbor? Where can you see the best volcanoes and get the best views? What’s the best island for families?
If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out where to go and where to start once you arrive, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best islands and places to visit during your upcoming Hawaii vacation.
Best Hawaiian Islands to Visit
Also commonly known as “The Big Island,” Hawaii island is the best place to visit in Hawaii if you’re looking for action, fun and diverse outdoor adventures. With 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones, it is known for its active volcanoes, beaches, waterfalls, cultural sites, colored-sand beaches and world-class snorkeling.
There are two active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Mauna Loa — in Hilo. This unique park has hiking trails, steam vents, a rainforest and guided tours. The sunny Kona side is great for beach activities such as snorkeling and stand-up paddling. The nighttime manta ray snorkel tour is unique to the island. It’s a magical experience floating on top of the water in a calm bay, with bright lights drawing the rays who swirl below.
More island attractions include Mauna Kea (the tallest mountain in the world) and Akaka State Falls. A Hawaii helicopter tour is well worth the splurge.
The fourth largest island in Hawaii, Kauai is also known as “the Garden Island.” As its name suggests, it is the best place to visit in Hawaii for nature lovers and those who enjoy a relaxed and laid back atmosphere. The island’s mountains and valleys are lush and green, flowing with waterfalls and rivers.
Kauai is home to a number of outdoor activities including water and land sports. You can easily spend the day kayaking, snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding or hiking the trails of Kokee State Park. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can go ziplining above Kauai’s beautiful and lush valleys. Or, join a helicopter tour and see Jurassic Falls, the majestic setting where the 1993 Jurassic Park movie was filmed. The Manawaiopuna Falls (its official name) was the backdrop for the scene when the visitors first arrived on the island.
In the small town of Hanalei, you can spend some time on the beach, practice your surfing skills or do some sightseeing and bird watching.
The island of Maui is the best place to visit in Hawaii for families, especially if you enjoy driving and exploring.
Maui is popular for its Road to Hana (more on this must-do attraction later), as well as Haleakala, a dormant volcano. At 10,023 feet above sea level, the summit is an ideal place to catch a stunning sunrise or sunset. However, It can be chilly at the top, so you may want to bring a jacket or sweater!
Situated on Haleakala’s lower slopes in Kula are two unique farms worth visiting. At the Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, you can walk through lavender fields. A peaceful place, the farm offers tours and lavender products. Nearby, the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm produces award-winning cheeses. On the kid-friendly tours, you’ll feed goats and sample cheese.
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The town of Kahului is the place to go if you want to be with the locals and eat where they eat. It’s also a great place to go shopping for authentic Hawaiian trinkets and souvenirs. SheBuysTravel contributor Deb Steenhagen especially recommends the Ka’anapali Beach in Maui for families and beginners who are new to surfing and wanting to give it a try.
Oahu (North Shore)
Home to the state capital of Honolulu, Oahu has some of Hawaii’s best beaches for families as well as urban amenities. SheBuysTravel contributor Mimi Slawoff feels that Oahu is the best place to visit in Hawaii for first-time visitors since it is typically the easiest to reach and the most affordable for family travel. Plus it offers everything from urban adventures to laid-back island vibes.
Top things to do on Oahu include visiting the North Shore’s world-renowned surfing spots Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline and Sunset Beach. Haleiwa, a laid-back surf town, is a fun place to stop for shaved ice and local artwork. Oahu is also known for having some of the best farmers’ markets.
Learning to surf is one of the first things to do on Oahu. It’s a big part of Hawaiian culture. So you’ve got to try it at least once while in Hawaii. Group surf lessons by Surfer Girl Academy are available for those over the age of 12.
Nicknamed the “Pineapple Island”, Lana’i was once home to a plantation that produced 75% of the world’s pineapples. Today it is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii if you want a mix of serenity and adventure.
As one of the smallest inhabited Hawaii islands, Lana’i has incredible snorkeling opportunities as well as views of the Molokai and Maui islands. On the north side of the island sits Shipwreck Beach, popular for its offshore wreck of a WWII tanker. The secluded Polihua Beach is the best place to spot green turtles and the occasional humpback whale off of the coast.
If you’re into exploring the rugged back roads, a four-wheel drive vehicle will get you access to many off-the-beaten-path treasures. The Garden of the Gods can be found inland, presenting a lunar landscape of rock towers and boulders.
The most undeveloped accessible Hawaiian island, Molokai is a true getaway. Here, you’ll find empty beaches and 30 miles of reef with abundant marine life. The island is mostly populated by native Hawaiians. While they’re protective of their land, they welcome visitors.
There’s only one two-lane highway stretching across the small island, and Molokai doesn’t have a major resort, shopping centers or traffic lights. The small, rustic town of Kaunakakai has places to stock up for supplies.
SheBuysTravel contributor Mimi Slawoff visited with her family and believes that Molokai is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for couples seeking an intimate island experience as well as families who enjoy authentic excursions led by locals. Some of her favorite activities were snorkeling, taking a cultural hike in Halawa Valley and swimming in the pond beneath Mo`oula Falls.
On the northern tip of the island sits Kalaupapa National Historical Park, accessible only by mule ride, hiking or commuter plane. There you’ll find steep and sheer cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean – in fact, they’re some of the tallest sea cliffs in the world!
Best Attractions to Visit:
The capital of the state, Honolulu is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for historic landmarks, world-class shopping, nightlife and mouth watering dining options.
Honolulu is home to some of Oahu’s most historic places such as the Pearl Harbor site and USS Arizona Memorial. Honolulu is also where you’ll find the incredible Diamond Head volcanic crater and the world-famous Waikiki Beach. In the downtown district, you’ll also find important Hawaii landmarks such as the Iolani Palace, the King Kamehameha I statue, the Kawaiahao Church and the Aloha Tower. While you’re there, don’t pass up the opportunity to attend a traditional Polynesian luau!
If you’re into deep-sea fishing, white sand beaches, historic landmarks and coffee farms, the town of Kailua-Kona (also known as Kona) is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii to satisfy those interests. Kona is also where King Kamehameha spent his final years.
Located on the Big Island, Kona is famous for its 100% Kona coffee. Kona has several coffee farms, like Greenwell Farms and Mountain Thunder, where you can walk through a typical 1920s farmhouse, tour the grounds and learn about the coffee growing process. Costumed interpreters demonstrate several traditional crafts, agricultural activities and the everyday tasks of people from the past. If you happen to visit on a Thursday, it’s worth stopping by the nearby Greenwell Store Museum to watch the traditional art of baking Portuguese bread in a large wood-fired forno.
An underwater submarine adventure is a fun way to explore Kona’s beautiful marine life and snap some National Geographic-worthy pics!
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Located in Hilo, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the best places in Hawaii to visit for an up close and personal look at real, active volcanoes with glowing, oozing lava flows.
SheBuysTravel contributor Keri Baugh visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with her kids and says that it is a must-do trip on the Big Island of Hawaii. However, it is a full-day trip, so you will want to plan ahead. In her words, “It is not necessarily a splurge in terms of cost, but it is a splurge in terms of time.” There are several guided tours to the park that will take you to the area and also provide your meals.
At the Kīlauea Visitor Center you’ll learn more about what to see and where to go, as well as receive information about ranger-led tours, trails, and safety information. While at the park, you can walk through the Thurston lava tube, hike the Kilauea Iki Trail, check out the bottom of the Halemaumau crater and view breathtaking sunsets from the Jagger Museum with the crater’s flume glowing red from the lava lake beneath.
Na’Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
Located in Kauai, the Na’Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for adventurous visitors who love hiking, snorkeling and beautiful views. It is known for its towering sea cliffs, narrow valleys and cascading waterfalls.
The Na’Pali Coast is home to the Kalalau Trail, an approximately 11-mile long trail that has been named one of the most beautiful and dangerous hikes in the United States. Getting to the coast is very challenging and takes a full day. It is also a very popular area for backpacking and camping.
SheBuysTravel contributor Mimi Slawoff’s favorite activities on the Napali Coast are sailing and snorkeling amongst the sea caves. In her opinion, it’s the best way to see Hawaii’s cute spinner dolphins who jump out of the water vertically and spin like a top before diving back into the ocean.
If you’re staying in Honolulu and are in search of a beautifully yet accessible beach, Waikiki Beach is the place to be. Waikiki is a lively beachfront urban oasis with a range of hotels, shops, restaurants and entertainment. It’s also a great family-friendly beach area with typically gentle surf.
Waikiki Beach is calm, which makes it ideal for surfing and stand up paddling. It’s also a great place to do some whale-watching, take a sunset tour or catch an underwater submarine tour that dives 100 feet underwater to explore artificial reefs.
Waikiki also has several indoor attractions worth visiting such as the Waikiki Aquarium, Honolulu Zoo and Iolani Palace. The nearby Bishop Museum is a cool place to explore Hawaii’s history. Housing thousands of historical and cultural artifacts, the museum has shows and interactive activities sure to impress visitors of all ages.
Diamond Head State Monument
One of Hawaii’s most recognized landmarks, Diamond Head State Monument is a volcanic cone on the island of Oahu known for its historic hiking trail, stunning and panoramic coastal views and military history. It encompasses over 475 acres, including the interior and outer slopes of the crater.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can walk along a trail to the edge of a 300,000-year-old crater, but Diamond Head is one of them. However, if you go (whether alone or via a guided tour), you’ll want to allow up to two hours for the 1.6-mile round-trip hike. Although not difficult, the trail is uneven at times. Plus, you’ll walk through a tunnel and climb 99 steps at the end! However, the trek is worth the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Honolulu.
Haleakala National Park
Located on the island of Maui, Haleakala National Park is home to the dormant Haleakalā Volcano and endangered Hawaiian geese. Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, and legend has it that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as it stood on the volcano. From there he was able to slow its descent to make the day last even longer. The park sits 10,023 feet above sea level, providing breathtaking views from all angles.
If there’s one national park that you’ll want to get up early and take a guided sunrise tour for, this is it. In fact, it is known to be one of the best places in Hawaii for watching spectacular, unforgettable sunrises. After the sunrise, you can spend some time exploring the park, admiring the seven-mile-wide crater and watching for the nene goose, Hawaii’s state bird.
Located west of Honolulu, Pearl Harbor is the site of the WWII’s 1941 bombing attack. It’s home to the USS Arizona Memorial. The attack on Pearl Harbor is one of the defining moments in United States and world history. You can explore on your own or go with a travel guide via a guided tour. However, since it is a very popular attraction, you’ll want to reserve your tickets well in advance online. If taking the self-guided Pearl Harbor tour, plan to arrive by 7 a.m. with everyone in your group present.
Tickets for the 75-minute USS Arizona Memorial program are free. However, there’s a limited number available each day. The program includes a short video (with actual attack footage) and a round-trip boat ride to the USS Arizona Memorial. Dedicated to those who lost their lives there, the memorial is located above the remains of the sunken ship, the final resting place for more than 1,000 men.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, the Waimea Canyon State Park is a 10-mile long, 3,000 foot deep canyon on the western side of Kauai island. Although not as big or old as the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona, it is just as amazing and offers beautiful vistas of crested buttes and rugged red rocks.
The main Waimea Canyon Overlook offers dramatic views of Kauai’s interior, while the main road, Waimea Canyon drive, takes you into Kokee State Park. There are several hiking trails for all skill levels, however, a helicopter tour is also a popular way to view the canyon and its waterfalls.
Road to Hana
The Road to Hana is the crown-jewel of Hawaii driving tours and a must-do on the island of Maui. With lush rainforest, dramatic and rugged ocean vistas, countless waterfalls and pools, it makes for one of the most memorable and scenic drives while in Hawaii. Along the way, you’ll see waterfalls, black sand beaches and the charming town of Hana.
SheBuysTravel contributor Mimi Slawoff recommends getting up before dawn to get an early start. While the drive is just 52 miles long, its 620 curves and 59 narrow bridges, it can easily turn the trip into a few hours long. Instead of driving yourself, you may also opt to do a full-day guided tour.
Hanauma Bay National Preserve
Known for its snorkeling, Hanauma Bay National Preserve is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for exploring the island’s coral reef and diverse marine life. Nestled on the side of Koko Head, it’s roughly a 30-minute drive from Honolulu and offers a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
With lush, green hills and beautiful blue waters, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a great place to snorkel and see its 400 species of fish and abundance of green sea turtles (honus). Formed within a volcanic cone, Hanauma Bay is a protected marine life conservation area. Before snorkeling, you’re required to watch a short video about protecting marine life. If possible, aim to get there in the morning.
Located in the historic town of Lahaina, this family-friendly resort area on the west side of Maui is home to a variety of beachfront hotels, terrific family-friendly restaurants and amazing sunsets. With three miles of white sand and crystal clear water, it is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for a relaxing, yet fun beach getaway.
In addition to its beach itself, its daily sunset cliff diving ceremony from the Black Rock cliff, Puu Kekaa, is one of the beach’s most popular attractions. Ziplining is a popular activity for getting your adrenaline fix while soaring over the breathtaking coastline. Just in front of the beach is the open air shopping complex, Whaler’s Village. There you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants, entertainment and a renowned whaling museum.
Kauai Botanical Gardens
Kauai is known as “the Garden Isle” for a reason. There you can find three of the nation’s five National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai: Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden on the South Shore and Limahuli Garden in Haena. It is certainly one of the best places to visit in Hawaii if you love nature, greenery and gardens.
The largest collection of Hawaiian flora in the world can be found in McBryde Garden while beautiful landscaping and the Jurassic Park-famous Moreton Bay fig trees can be found in Allerton Garden. Limahuli Garden is home to endangered native plants, taro-filled agricultural terraces and striking views of the Kauai North Shore.
Other botanical gardens include the Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens, Smith’s Tropical Paradise Botanical Garden and the Kauai Coffee Plantation.
Wailea is a luxurious resort community in South Maui known for its beautiful, crescent-shaped beaches and world-class golf courses. It is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii if what you’re looking for is peace, privacy and relaxation.
One of the most popular and beautiful places to visit is Wailea Beach, once named “America’s Best Beach” in 1999. Polo Beach is great for swimming and snorkeling, while the Ulua Beach park is a great pace to get in your morning or evening walk or job. Wailea also has great trails for hiking and viewing lava fields. In town, there are plenty of opportunities for shopping and entertainment with world-class shops, spas, restaurants and popular area events.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii if you want to truly feel the aloha spirit. The park features six island villages representing Hawai‘i, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji and Aotearoa (New Zealand).
At this Polynesian-themed park and living museum, you’ll be fully immersed in each of the Pacific cultures as natives share their traditions through music, dance and activities. You’ll learn to throw a wooden spear, paddle a canoe and cook like a Polynesian. In the Umu Making Experience, you’ll learn how to cook the Samoan way. Besides cooking the food, you’ll also learn how to weave utensils, start a fire and heat rocks.
The center also has family-friendly luaus with a variety of mouthwatering, traditional food. For example, the luau features foods such as lomilomi salmon, chicken long rice and kalua pork.
Waipio Valley Lookout
Located on the Hamakua Coast, the Waipio Valley Lookout is one of the most popular places to visit on the Big Island and one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for striking views of its coastline. This beautiful valley is marked by cliffs of up to 2,000 feet high, waterfalls, taro fields and rivers.
Also named “The Valley of the Kings” Waipio Valley isn’t just about its incredible views. It is also an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, once the home of thousands of Native Hawaiians. Now, there are less than 100 residents who live there.
Note: Waipio Valley Road has been closed to visitors since February 25, 2022. halting all tourist and volunteer activities and prohibiting hiking access to the black sand beaches for non-residents. However, the lookout point can still be accessed.