Hawaii is paradise on Earth. From Kauai’s tropical rainforests to Big Island’s volcanic landscapes, the Aloha State has it all. Think sacred historical sites…coral fringe reefs…bucket list drives…and secret coves with turquoise water and pristine beaches. The best places to visit in Hawaii are must-see attractions that showcase the natural beauty and cultural richness of this unique and beautiful state.
- Best Places to Visit in Hawaii
- Best Places to Visit on Maui
- Best Places to Visit on Oahu
- Best Places to Visit on Kauai
- Best Places to Visit on Big Island
- These are the best places to go in Hawaii.
Best Places to Visit in Hawaii
Highlights below are organized by each Hawaii island: Maui, Kauai, Oahu, and Big Island. So pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable Hawaiian adventure.
Best Places to Visit on Maui
1. Road to Hana
One of the world’s most scenic drives and top things to do in Hawaii, the Road to Hana on the east side of Maui features 64 miles of stunning rainforest, waterfalls, and hidden beaches.
Wind your way over 59 bridges and around 620 curves in this epic drive on the island of Maui, The best places to stop on the Road to Hana?
You’ll find unique trails, rainbow trees (yes, really!), and roadside stands with smoothies and banana bread here.
Hike the bamboo forest or swim in a natural pool.
Just remember that you’ll need to get an early start if you’d like to avoid the bumper-to-bumper traffic that can be a problem mid-day on this popular day trip.
The best way to skip the crowds? Plan an overnight in Hana and explore after the day trippers have all gone home.
If you’d like to skip the driving on a day trip, however, and leave it to a local, you can also book a small group tour that includes a swim at the black sand beach and lunch.
Check price and availability on the small group Road to Hana tour here.
2. Haleakalā National Park
Maui’s Haleakalā National Park is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano.
Arriving early to see the sunrise is one of the most popular activities on Maui. Just be sure to bring your puffy coat as it’s freezing up here at the summit at dawn!
You’ll also need an advance reservation as this is such a popular activity.
Or, if you’d rather skip the reservation hassle and also leave the very early morning driving to someone else, consider booking a guided sunrise day tour. (They’ll pick you up from your hotel.)
Be aware, it may also be foggy. But sunsets can be delightful here too!
But there’s more to Halekala National Park than sunrise or sunset!
You can explore more than 33,000 acres of wilderness here on some truly epic hikes on this otherworldly moonscape of a landscape.
You’ll see colorful cinder cones, vegetation that looks like it’s been painted spray-painted white, and so much more.
Bring lots of water! Temperatures can vary dramatically here.
3. Molokini Crater
A small crescent-shaped island off the coast of Maui, Molokini Crater is a favorite for travelers when it comes to excellent snorkeling and diving.
Even if you’re only spending three days on Maui, I’d recommend you snorkel Molokini Crater.
This extinct volcanic crater creates a protected reef favored by sea turtles and no end of colorful tropical fish.
The best way to visit Molokini is on a catamaran small group guided tour. Forgo the huge boats for a more intimate snorkeling experience.
Just be sure to book early because this is a popular tour that sells out fast.
Insider tip: Choose an early morning tour for the best visibility. The wind tends to kick up in the afternoons which churns up the water for poorer conditions.
4. Wai’anapanapa State Park
Waianapanapa State Park is a beautiful park on the famous Road to Hana on the east coast of Maui that offers stunning views of the ocean, black sand beaches, and lava cliffs. You’ll find it at mile marker 26.
However, the State of Hawaii now requires an advance reservation to visit it. There’s no parking outside the park so plan ahead.
Hiking trails at the park are epic. You’ll find scenic ocean walks, sea caves, and lava tubes in addition to the famous black sand beach.
It’s also a popular spot for camping, picnicking, and swimming.
This is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch, in fact. Grab one at one of the food trucks or fruit stands en route on the Road to Hana.
How to Rent a Car in Hawaii
My top two recs are:
1. Discover Cars has no hidden fees, 24/7 customer service, and free cancellation. They search all the major rental car companies so you don’t have to.
Check price and availability on rental cars here.
2. Turo is like Airbnb for cars. It saved us $$$ during the pandemic on our Hawaii rentals when rental car prices were sky high.
A quaint and historic town on the west coast of Maui, Lahaina is known for its beautiful beaches, art galleries, restaurants, and great food trucks.
Whale-watching tours leave from the harbor here. It’s also a great spot for a sunset or dinner cruise or a luau.
There are lots of condo rentals in Lahaina so it also makes a great base on Maui.
Lahaina is also a shopper’s paradise with plenty of local boutiques for souvenir shoppers.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to admire the famous Banyan Tree at the corner of Front and Canal Streets.
It’s absolutely massive and is the oldest living Banyan Tree on Maui. It makes a great photo spot.
6. Makena Beach
Maui’s Makena Beach—also known as “Big Beach”—is a secluded beach with beautiful golden sand and crystal-clear water.
This area—south and west Maui—are some of the best places to stay in Maui.
It’s one of the best spots on the island for swimming, snorkeling, and other water sports…the perfect place for soaking up the sun and admiring the green mountain views. There’s even some shade which is an extra bonus.
While you won’t find restaurants or facilities here, you can rent snorkel gear in nearby Kihei and grab lunch at one of the nearby food trucks.
Just remember that ocean conditions can change quickly. One day when we visited, Makena Beach was like bathwater. The next day offered only pounding surf.
So do as the Hawaiians do and never turn your back to the ocean. Anything could happen and usually does!
7. Iao Valley State Park
Iao Valley State Park on Maui is a picturesque park with a stunning natural rock formation—the Iao Needle—lush greenery, and hiking trails.
Conveniently located inland between Maui’s south and west coast beaches and east coast Road to Hana sites, it makes the perfect spot to spend an hour.
Visitors can learn about Hawaiian history and culture at the park’s visitor center, take a guided tour through the valley, or hike the trails and enjoy the scenic views.
The park is also home to many endemic plant and bird species.
Bring sturdy shoes and a jacket, as the valley can be cool and damp. We got caught in a surprise spring shower here once!
8. ‘Ohe‘o Gulch (Seven Sacred Pools)
Ohe’o Gulch, also known as the “Seven Sacred Pools,” is a beautiful area just past Hana that offers picturesque waterfalls, swimming holes, and hiking trails.
Visitors can hike through the bamboo forests, take a dip in the pools, or enjoy stunning views of the coastline. The area is also home to many endemic species of plants and animals.
A couple of tips for visiting: Always check the weather before visiting. Heavy rains can cause flash floods and closures.
Also, if you’re planning to visit, you’ll need to overnight in Hana versus trying to see this on a day trip to Road to Hana.
In my opinion, It’s just too far if you’re planning many stops along the way…which you definitely should do!
Best Places to Visit on Oahu
9. Hanauma Bay
A protected marine sanctuary located on the island of Oahu, Hanauma Bay is everybody’s favorite spot for snorkeling and swimming.
With even just 4 days on Oahu, be sure to make it to Hanauma Bay!
This is a stunningly beautiful bay formed within a volcanic cone. It’s known worldwide for its crystal-clear waters, vibrant coral reefs, and abundant marine life, including colorful fish, sea turtles, and rays.
Hanauma Bay has also been designated as a nature preserve and marine life conservation area.
You’ll need to make an advance reservation to secure your spot and can only do so 48 hours in advance of your visit.
If you’d rather skip the hassle of finding parking and securing a reservation, you can also book your own round-trip transportation on a day tour that includes a hotel pick-up and snorkel gear.
You’ll also be required to watch a short educational video about the bay’s fragile ecosystem and how to protect it before entering the park.
10. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
A visit to the Pearl Harbor Memorial is a moving experience.
Pearl Harbor is home to several monuments and museums commemorating the December 7, 1941 attack in which more than 2,400 Americans lost their lives.
Visitors can tour the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and the Pacific Aviation Museum.
Personally, I found the self-guided audio tour at the museum a bit underwhelming. It’s also a little difficult to see the Battleship Missouri Memorial on your own as it requires an eight-minute drive.
This is one place I really recommend a guided tour to fully appreciate the historic events that happened here. You can check price and availability on the Pearl Harbor tour here.
Otherwise, if you’re visiting on your own, be sure to book in advance to skip the line and ensure you get in.
11. Diamond Head State Monument
Diamond Head State Monument is an iconic landmark on Oahu, with panoramic views of Honolulu and the vast Pacific Ocean.
It’s one of the most popular hikes on Oahu for a reason!
Visitors can hike to the summit and explore the historic military bunkers, tunnels, and observation platforms.
Just be aware the trail is a bit challenging—even though All Trails calls it easy lol— but it’s worth the effort for the stunning views.
Because it’s so popular, you’re going to want to arrive before 8 am. Otherwise, the small parking lot will likely be full…meaning you’ll need to add a mile or so to the beginning of your hike up a long, steep hill.
Also, you’ll need an advance reservation, which you can make 30 days in advance.
12. North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu feels wild and a bit more deserted than other stretches of well-traveled Hawaii.
This scenic area is known for its beautiful beaches, world-class surfing, and laid-back atmosphere. In fact, there are many famous big wave competitions held here in winter.
Oahu’s north shore is for you if you’re less about resorts and five-star dining and more about experiencing nature without the crowds.
Shark’s Cove here was some of the best snorkeling we found on Oahu (and no, there are no sharks here; the name is based on the shape of the cove!)
Honolulu is the capital city of Hawaii and the state’s largest city.
It’s a bustling hub of activity with NYC-style shops and resorts, plenty of oceanfront and lots of historic landmarks, including the famous Waikiki Beach.
This is where to go for cultural experiences, too, such as the Polynesian Cultural Center and Iolani Palace (see more below), and the Honolulu Museum of Art.
It’s also a great spot for Asian food if you take a stroll through vibrant Chinatown.
Hike nearby Diamond Head or visit the Ala Moana Center, Hawaii’s largest shopping mall. Finish your day with a sunset cruise.
14. Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is a living museum offering an immersive experience of the cultures and traditions of the Pacific Islands.
The Center is dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich and diverse cultures of the Pacific Islands.
You’ll learn about the customs, traditions, music, dance, and art of the Polynesian people through interactive exhibits, cultural demonstrations, and performances.
Enjoy a canoe ride. Take a hula lesson. See fire knife dancing here!
Plus, you can try dishes from different Pacific Islands, like Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji…while sampling Mai Tais and Pina Coladas.
Best of all, you’ll be supporting a non-profit organization that supports students…all while taking in lush tropical gardens, waterfalls, and lagoons!
15. Iolani Palace
Located in the heart of Honolulu, Iolani Palace is a historic landmark and the only royal palace in the United States.
You’ll take in the rich history here at this former residence of the Hawaiian monarchs from the late 19th century as you explore the palace’s ornate rooms and grounds.
Interactive tours offer visitors a firsthand experience of this unique place as well as hands-on activities to bring Hawaiian experiences and culture up close and personal.
The architecture is stunning here as it blends both Western and Hawaiian design elements with its intricate woodwork, ornate furnishings, and impressive gardens.
Plan to spend at least an hour at the palace, and wear comfortable shoes for walking.
16. Kualoa Ranch
A working cattle ranch on the island of Oahu, Kualoa Ranch is also a traveler favorite.
It’s actually on the US Department of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places.
This private 4,000-acre nature reserve on Oahu’s east coast is managed by sixth-generation locals.
Jurassic Park was famously filmed here. You can visit Jurassic Valley yourself with a guided tour by e-bike or ATV of the movie sites, go horseback riding, or zipline through the rainforest.
Seeing Kualoa Ranch on a two-hour horseback tour is particularly fun. It’s a relaxed walk into the valley for an authentic ranch experience as you learn all about Hawaii’s rich history via a local guide.
And unfortunately, there is no way to access the ranch beyond the visitor parking lot here unless you book a guided tour.
It’s a fun day out!
17. Lanikai Beach (instead of Waikiki Beach)
Lanikai Beach, on the east side of the island, is known for its soft white sand and clear turquoise water; it’s a great swimming beach.
Plus, you’ve got great views of the Mokulua Islands.
Also nearby: Plenty of opportunities to rent kayaks, paddleboards or hike. (Tip: Do the Lanaikai Pillbox hike!)
While the vast majority of visitors to Oahu head to famous Waikiki Beach instead, consider checking out Lanaikai Beach. It’s a far more beautiful beach.
You won’t be towel to towel with all the tourist hoards like on Waikiki which is so much nicer.
It’s true it can be windier on Oahu’s windward side but the water quality and peaceful vibe here are worth it!
Just be sure to arrive early if you’re hoping for street parking. It can be challenging mid-afternoon!
18. Koko Head Crater Trail
If you love a good workout, Koko Head Crater Trail is for you!
It’s a steep climb up 1,048 steps to the top of the crater but worth every step. It’s just 1.6 miles up and back but it’s a very strenuous trail, with 885 feet in elevation gain.
You’ll climb 1,000 steps over long railroad ties left over from military transport days during WWII.
But it’s all worth it when you take in the panoramic views of the island and see the military bunkers here.
This is another spot where it pays to get an early start. It’s an exposed hike so go when temps are cooler to beat the heat. Bring plenty of water!
Byodo-in-Temple, on Oahu’s windward side, is incredibly unique and photogenic.
It’s a replica of a 900-year-old Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan. In fact, the temple was built to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.
It’s designed as a tribute to the strong cultural heritage of the Japanese community in Hawaii, and visitors can learn about the traditions and practices of Buddhism here.
You’ll find beautiful gardens, koi ponds, and a stunning mountain backdrop here. Don’t miss it!
Best Places to Visit on Kauai
20. Na Pali Coast
As Kauai’s most distinctive feature, the absolutely stunning Na Pali Coast on the north shore is home to rugged cliffs, hidden beaches, and cascading waterfalls.
And there are quite a few ways to see it since it’s one of the best activities in Kauai. You can tour it by helicopter, snorkel tour, or sunset drinks and dinner sail on a guided tour.
However, I’m not going to sugarcoat it: this can be a tough hike.
Hardcore adventurers reserve an overnight camping permit to hike 11 miles in. But day-trippers can do just the first half mile to the panoramic lookout point.
Or, if you’re somewhere in between a lazy hiker and a hardcore adventurer, consider spending three or four hours hiking to Hanakapi’ai Beach.
Either way, you’ll need a shuttle reservation to access this area even for a day trip.
They fill up fast so plan on reserving at least two weeks ahead to grab a spot.
21. Waimea Canyon
Located on the island of Kauai, Waimea Canyon is nicknamed “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” for its red and green cliffs and deep valleys. It definitely deserves your time if you’re spending a week in Kauai.
This natural wonder is over 10 miles long, one mile wide, and over 3,500 feet deep, offering a breathtaking vista of colorful rock formations, lush green vegetation, and cascading waterfalls.
Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner, you’ll find a trail that suits your abilities, and the trails will take you through some of the most stunning landscapes on the island.
It’s also a super fun place for a downhill bike ride!
This canyon is also home to ancient Hawaiian temples, burial grounds, and other sacred sites that offer a glimpse into the rich history of Kauai’s indigenous people.
You’ll use them hiking the Kalalau Trail and north shore beaches, too!
22. Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is one of Kauai’s most popular places for family-friendly swimming. Because it’s a protected bay, it’s also a great spot for kayaking and paddleboarding, too.
In ancient times, the bay was an important center of Hawaiian culture and commerce and home to communities that thrived on fishing, taro farming, and other traditional places.
It’s considered a sacred place in Hawaiian culture as it’s believed to be the birthplace of the demigod Maui, a central figure in Hawaiian mythology.
Framed by Kauai’s lush green mountains, Hanalei Bay is incredibly photogenic!
Hanalei is also a great place for a walking food tour. You can check price and availability here.
23. Wailua Falls
Don’t miss Kauai’s fantastic waterfalls while you’re here!
Wailua Falls, near Lihue, is a great place to visit if you’ve got an afternoon flight home from the island.
These falls came to fame when they were featured on the old TV show Fantasy Island!
They’re easily accessible by car, too, as you can just park at the lookout point and enjoy the stunning views of the waterfall from there.
While the falls are beautiful any time of day, the best time to visit is early morning when the sun is at a lower angle, which creates a rainbow effect.
With more time, head over to nearby Opaeka’a Falls.
24. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
On Kauai’s wild north shore, you’ll find Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a photogenic coastal spot that’s home to a wide variety of Hawaiian seabirds, including red-footed boobies and Laysan albatross.
It’s easy to take a self-guided tour of the area, but be aware you’ll need an advance reservation.
Swing by the visitor center to learn about Hawaiian culture and history or hike the trails to enjoy the panoramic views of the scenic coastline.
Don’t forget to bring your binoculars for birdwatching!
25. Queen’s Bath
Queen’s Bath is a natural tide pool known for its crystal-clear water and lava shelf.
This is a very unique and beautiful spot but will likely involve a very slippery, muddy hike down the cliffside to arrive here so bring appropriate footwear.
Then, you’ll walk along the lava shelf next to the ocean until you come to the tide pool.
You’ll likely see many, many people swimming in the tidepool here but it’s actually extremely dangerous.
Random rough surf and high tides sweep people away all the time. Hence, the hard-to-miss sign at the trailhead with the hatch marks for deaths here.
My view? Take the hike. Enjoy the sunset. Don’t go in.
26. Limahuli Garden & Preserve
Limahuli Garden & Preserve is one of Kauai’s most fabulous botanical gardens and is located on the north shore.
Located near Tunnels Beach, it makes a great stop post-beach or after visiting Haena State Park to hike a bit of the Kalalau Trail.
These gardens are home to many endemic plant species. Visitors can explore the garden’s trails, learn about traditional Hawaiian farming practices as well as Hawaiian history, culture, and plants.
Docents are knowledgeable and enjoy “talking story” with a passion for this living landscape.
Best Places to Visit on Big Island
27. Volcanos National Park
Kīlauea is one of the most active volcanoes in the world here at Volcanos National Park. You may or may not see lava flowing so be sure to check the volcano status before you go and adjust your plans accordingly.
On our 2018 visit, it was incredible to cycle with headlamps at night and watch the red-hot lava plunging into the ocean!
Visitors can hike through the lush rainforest, tour lava tubes, and see steam vents all over.
Like many of the national parks in the USA, you can drive a central loop with easy access points for views and key attractions or spend your days hiking remote, challenging trails.
It’s totally up to you! Don’t miss the visitor centers to learn about the area’s geology and history.
If you don’t want to drive all the way to Volcanos from Kailua-Kona, consider taking the Big Island in a Day tour instead. This full day tour includes a visit to a Kona coffee farm, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (which is otherwise kind of a pain to access), and Hawaii Volcanos National Park
28. Kealakekua Bay
Kealakekua Bay is one of Hawaii’s most impressive snorkeling destinations. Definitely plan on visiting if you have 7 days on the Big Island.
Located on the west coast of Big Island, it’s an important site in Hawaiian history. It was here that Captain James Cook, the British explorer, first arrived in Hawaii in 1778.
The bay was also the site of Cook’s death a year later, which makes it a significant historical site for both Hawaii and the wider world.
You can see the Captain Cook Monument commemorating these events right in the bay.
Important to know: Kealakekua Bay cannot be accessed by car.
Allegedly, you can get to the north end of the bay by a challenging hike but the best way to do it is by booking a guided snorkeling tour. You can check price and availability on a Kealakekua Bay snorkel tour here.
It’s an important way to show respect for this fragile marine environment where visitors are limited on purpose.
29. Mauna Kea Summit
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that is also home to one of the world’s premier astronomical observatories. Visitors can hike to the summit, take a guided tour, or stargaze at night.
But dress warmly!
The summit of Mauna Kea stands at an elevation of 13,803 feet (4,207 meters) above sea level, making it the highest point in Hawaii and one of the tallest mountains in the world when measured from its base on the seafloor. It gets cold up here at night!
The summit’s high altitude, clear skies, and lack of light pollution make it an ideal location for stargazing and scientific research.
30. Waipio Valley
Waipio Valley is a lush, tropical paradise known for its black sand beach, towering waterfalls, and sweeping views.
Once home to Hawaiian royalty, it’s still considered a sacred place. Visitors can learn about the valley’s history and cultural significance by taking a guided tour or visiting the nearby Waipio Valley Lookout.
Be aware that the road to the valley is steep! There is currently no access unless you’re visiting as part of a tour.
You can either hike down to the beach or take a horseback ride. It’s a great spot for a picnic!
While many visitors to Big Island stay in Kialua-Kona for the beaches, Hilo feels more like Old Hawaii. It’s where plenty of locals live.
Hilo’s known for its lush rainforests, generous waterfalls, and rich history.
The best way to spend a few days here?
Wander the town’s museums, galleries, and shops, and then take a scenic drive along the Hamakua Coast to appreciate the unique beauty here. See Akaka Falls (more below).
Hilso is also home to the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, a week-long celebration of Hawaiian hula dance and culture in April.
While you’re here, be sure to check out the Hilo Farmers Market, a popular spot for local produce, crafts, and food. It’s open seven days a week!
32. Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, on Big Island’s scenic Hamakua Coast, is a must-visit destination for nature lovers, botany enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a serene and scenic place to explore.
There’s unparalleled beauty here, with over 2,000 species of plants, including exotic flowers, trees, and shrubs.
Plus, the garden is situated in a lush tropical rainforest with breathtaking ocean views.
You’ll find 40 acres of gardens here to wander, with trails that wind through the rainforest, along the coastline, and past waterfalls.
Don’t forget your swimming suit! The garden also has a natural swimming hole that is open to visitors.
33. Akaka Falls State Park
Akaka Falls State Park is home to several waterfalls, including the towering 442-foot Akaka Falls. It’s majestic!
Take a guided tour to learn about the role that waterfalls have played in Hawaiian culture (or read up at the Visitor Center.)
This falls is easily accessible with a short, easy trail through the lush rainforest. It’s a great spot for hiking and birdwatching.
34. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is a sacred place that served as a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiians.
If you broke a sacred law, the punishment was death. However, if you were successful eluding your pursuers by arriving at Pu’uhonua, you were safe. No harm could come to kapu breakers here.
Today, you can see the temples, ceremonial platforms, and learn about the traditions and customs of the Hawaiian people.
35. Punalu’u Beach (Black Sand Beach)
Punalu’u Beach is a black sand beach on the south coast of the Big Island, appreciated for its unique color and abundant sea turtles.
In fact, this was a vacation spot for Hawaiian royalty in ancient times. (Punaluu means “spring water.” in Hawaiian.)
You’ll find restrooms, lifeguards, outdoor showers, and other amenities here as it’s a popular spot to visit.
And it’s easily combined with a visit to or from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just off Highway 11 between Volcano Village and Naalehu.
However, as noted earlier in this post, it can be kind of a pain to access so to skip the hassle, consider that Big Island in a Day tour I mentioned earlier.
Remember to respect the sea turtles! They’re endangered. Observe them from a safe distance as it’s illegal to disturb them.
These are the best places to go in Hawaii.
From sugary, sandy beaches and unique, natural wonders to rich cultural experiences and historical landmarks, Hawaii always offers an unforgettable tropical adventure.
Whether you’re looking to relax or rejuvenate, Hawaii’s the perfect place to do it. Your Hawaiian adventure awaits!