Are you planning a trip to Hawaii soon – or even just dreaming of the day when you can? If so, it’s time to explore the top 26 things to do in the Hawaiian Islands with help from this guide. With that info in mind, you can get ready to enjoy all the best island experiences around and ensure the trip is one for the memory books. Ready to get started? Here’s what you need to know.
Diamond Head State Monument
For a glimpse into the exceptional power of the Earth, a trip to the Diamond Head State Monument is a must. Set along the eastern coastline of Waikiki, this 300,000-year-old volcanic crater serves as a true sight to behold, rewarding you for the steep hike up to its summit.
Once you reach the top, you’ll also get to marvel at the beauty of the 1917 lighthouse before gazing upon the view of the ocean and cityscape beyond. If you visit during the winter, watch the water for humpback whales as they majestically pass by the island.
Also born from volcanic activity, Hanauma Bay lets you get a close-up view of marine life and their breathtaking habitat. Although it’s plenty enough fun to stay right on the beach, you’ll want to rent snorkeling gear to get the full experience.
Once you arrive, watch the mandatory marine life conservation and safety video at the education center, rent your gear, and then enter the water to enjoy the ocean wonders. As home to over 400 species of colorful fish plus green sea turtles galore, the bay offers seemingly endless sights to enjoy. If you’re lucky, you might even see reef sharks.
If you want to see turtles, turtles, and even more turtles, then you absolutely must go to Turtle Canyon. To get there, you must hop on a boat near the Marriott Waikiki, and then head out to the reef set amongst the lava rocks beyond the shore.
As you snorkel down 25 to 40 feet, you’ll spot porcupine pufferfish and eels hiding between the rocks. Dolphin and reef sharks make their appearance as well along with plenty of green sea turtles, of course. Since you’re out in the open ocean, don’t be surprised to see a tiger shark cruise by, but don’t worry, they don’t usually bother snorkelers.
Out of all the breathtaking beaches in Oahu, Waikiki Beach gets the most visitors, and for good reason. Pristine golden sands, exceptional surfing conditions, and views of the stunning Diamond Head State Monument all make it a wonderful spot to visit.
Plus, as you enjoy all that fun in the sun, you can stop by the many restaurants and bars to fuel up for more fun. Then, you can head back out to try bodyboarding, surfing, or even outrigger canoeing to your heart’s content. Swimming is always a fun time, too, of course, as is building stunning sandcastles.
With a trip to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you can go on an in-depth exploration of American history while paying your respects to the fallen soldiers. Although National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day brings in the biggest crowds each December, it’s possible to visit the memorial year-round.
During your visit, plan to go to the USS Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma memorials plus stop by the visitor center. For the full experience, download the National Park Service app for interactive tours and other info that aids in learning about the history of Hawaii and World War II.
Road to Hana
If you’ve ever wanted to cruise through paradise, the Road to Hana is a great way to do it. On this picturesque roadway, you’ll come across some of the greatest sights on the island, including Twin Falls, Honomanu Bay, and the Laulima Farm.
Although it’s tempting to try to stop at the dozens of landmarks along the way, it’s better to pick a few and spend time exploring your selections. Then, each time you travel the Road to Hana, pick different locations to explore until you’ve experienced them all. Don’t forget to make the Kaupo General Store one of your regular stops, so you can get all the refreshments you need.
Haleakala National Park
You truly haven’t experienced a magical sunrise until you’ve started the day at Haleakala National Park. To get there, you’ll need to make reservations and then go 10,000 feet up to the summit of Maui’s highest mountain, Haleakala, well before sunrise.
After that, it’s just a matter of waiting for the sun to peek over the ridge and display its brilliant array of hues. While you’re welcome to snap photos of the spectacular view, it’s best enjoyed in the moment, giving you a phenomenal scene to remember always.
Located right along the western shores of Maui, Kaanapali Beach promises to satisfy your need for waterside adventures of all kinds. Whether you want to go swimming or prefer to play games on the sand, it’s easy to fill your day with fun and adventure with a trip to this popular beach.
No matter how you plan to spend your time, be sure to stick around until sunset. With that move, you can not only see the sky light up in all the colors of the rainbow but also watch the daily Black Rock cliff diving ceremony.
Well-known as the Seven Sacred Pools, the Oheo Gulch allows you to experience the natural landscape of Maui in all its glory. As you walk through the bamboo forest, you’ll get to gaze in wonder at the multi-step waterfall.
Despite its name, the pools number in the dozens, although it’s best to skip the swim since gray sharks and falling rocks make it rather dangerous. Instead, simply enjoy the view and try to name all the tropical plants growing wild along the trail. If you let your nose lead the way, you’ll even come across fantastically fragrant guava plants.
Waianapanapa State Park
When you’d like to take a trip far from the sprawling cityscape, head out to the wholly remote Waianapanapa State Park set along the East Maui coastline. A native Hala forest, stunning geological formations, and wild seabird colonies abound, giving you plenty to explore on your travels. With its beautiful sea stacks and active blowholes, the black sand beach is the star of the show, however.
Since there’s so much to see, trips to this park usually take up the better part of the day. If you cannot pull yourself away from its beauty, then get a permit and stay overnight in your campervan.
Napali Coast State Wilderness Park
If you want to truly get away from it all, plan a trip through the trails in the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. All along the remote coastline, you’ll get to take in amazing views of waterfalls cutting their way down the rugged cliffs. On top of that, the remote beaches let you soak in the sound of the waves hitting the shoreline while you gaze upon the ocean.
Since it requires more than a day out on the trails, only experienced hikers should tackle the whole trip. If you want to cut straight to the chase, join a guided kayak tour to the Milolii campsite. Either way, you’ll need a camping permit if you want to stay out overnight.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Whether you want to go on a long hike or gaze upon the landscape from the scenic overlook, the Waimea Canyon State Park is a great place to land. If you go to the overlook early in the morning and late in the evening, the sunrise and sunset promise to leave you feeling close to nature.
Want to get even closer? Hike down into the canyon for a chance to see wildlife in their natural habitats. If you go during the fishing season, you can even try your luck at catching tasty trout, which you’re welcome to grill up at the nearby parks. Just remember to get your fishing license before heading out.
For a look at the sheer power of the ocean waves, head on over to Glass Beach in South Shore Kauai. The stunning array of glass pebbles underfoot began as huge pieces of glass debris, only to get taken down to size by the waves.
To see the magic up close, pick up a handful of the smooth pebbles and see how their edges have smoothed over in the past 30 years. Be sure to put the fragments back down again though, so the beach retains its unique aesthetic for years to come.
If you want to see a breathtaking waterfall without a long hike, Wailua Falls is where it’s at. You can reach this stunning double waterfall by traveling to the end of Maalo Road.
Once you arrive, you’ll see the double cascade of water dropping over 80 feet to the pool below. On rainy days, the drama increases considerably, making it even easier to see why everyone swears that it’s at least a 200-foot drop. To see a rainbow in the mist of the falls, go in the morning to see the rising sunlight vividly reflect off the droplets.
Set along the far northern tip of Kauai, Kee Beach is a wonderful place to spend the day swimming, building sandcastles, and simply enjoying the view. Plus, with the reef acting as a barrier against the waves, the water typically remains calm enough for chill snorkeling excursions.
In the winter, the waves become much more powerful, however, putting even the most experienced surfers to the test. Although it’s best not to go swimming in the rough surf, you can still come by to watch all the action on the water and enjoy a picnic lunch while looking at the breathtaking views.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, you get to stand in awe while surrounded by two phenomenal volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. You’ll want to enter the park from Hawaii Belt Road, which puts you near many of the trailheads for the 150 miles of pathways through the park.
To cruise through the wonderful sights, take the Chain of Craters Road instead. On that 19-mile stretch, you’ll get to see much of the eastern part of the park before ending up along the coast. Once you hit the end of the road, get out to see the Holei Sea Arch in all its glory before going back through the park.
When you want to enjoy the view of the volcanoes that formed the Big Island, all it takes is a trip over to the Kilauea Overlook. From there, you can see the Halemaumau crater that recently collapsed in the 2018 eruption. Plus, you’ll get to take in the view of the enormous Kalueapele caldera before hitting the trails.
If you walk along the Crater Rim Trail, you can go travel along the summit caldera and look down into its huge expanse. Although it’s an easy hike, you’ll want to bring along plenty of food, water, and other supplies for your trip.
For an awe-inspiring view of beautiful black sands as far as the eye can see, get on over to Punaluu Beach. Although the water is often too rough for swimming – and snorkeling is definitely a no-go – the beach is the perfect spot for picnics, sandcastles, and lounging in the sun.
During your visit, make sure to take selfies with the palm trees behind you, which always look phenomenal with the blue skies and black sands all around. Since it’s disrespectful to take any of the sand with you when you leave, the photos will act as a wonderful memento of your time on this gorgeous beach.
Akaka Falls State Park
If you adore the sight and sound of huge waterfalls, plan a trip to Akaka Falls State Park. With one short hike through the Big Island landscape, you get to see two waterfalls set amongst the bamboo, ferns, and orchids all around.
The first waterfall you’ll encounter is Kahuna Falls, which sends water cascading 100 feet down to the pool below. If you keep going down the path, Akaka Falls will come into view, treating you to a look at the water flowing 442 feet down into the impressive gorge.
Known as “The Valley of the Kings,” Waipio Valley once served as King Kamehameha I’s home, making it an important place to honor Hawaiian culture. Beyond that, the sheer beauty of the tropical landscape promises to sweep you off your feet at first glance.
You’re welcome to enjoy it all from the Waipio Valley Overlook or you can go deep into the valley on a guided tour. There are even horseback ride excursions if you’d like to mosey through the landscape without breaking a sweat. Don’t try to drive down the roads on your own since they’re only accessible with a 4×4 and often cut through private land.
For a trip into the past, visit Halawa Valley where ancient Polynesians first settled way back in 650 AD. As you travel down the trails, you’ll see historic places of worship, called heiau, plus waterfalls galore. The biggest waterfall of them all is Mooula Falls, which sends water flowing 250 feet down two tiers of rocks.
In order to get a glimpse of the landscape, you will need to take a guided tour. Much of the landscape is privately-owned, after all, making it impossible to explore otherwise without trespassing. You can visit the two swimming beaches along the way without a guide, although you need to stay vigilant in watching for rough surf.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
The Kalaupapa National Historical Park takes you through the land’s history as an isolated settlement for people suffering from leprosy. Although it’s no longer a community in isolation, it’s well worth exploring how the people lived and survived while battling serious illnesses.
To visit this remote settlement, you must either travel by mule or hike a long trail into town. Either way, you’ll see why residents claim the landscape has the power to heal. From its beautiful sandy shores to breathtaking eucalyptus forests, the amazing views at every turn promise to leave you feeling rejuvenated.
Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove
The Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove began during the 1860s when the owners planted hundreds of coconut palms across the landscape. The grove has grown strong since that time, supplying the island with more than enough coconuts for all to enjoy.
In recent years, the owners have fenced off the grove, likely due to the danger of coconuts falling on visitors. You can still drive around the perimeter for an incredible view of the palm trees. Since the palms grow coconuts year-round, you’ll always get the best view of trees hard at work.
Located just 30-minutes by ATV from Lanai City, Shipwreck Beach is an ideal getaway when you want to relax in pure seclusion. Plus, you’ll get a chance to see all the shipwrecks still left along the shores, like the 1940s oil tanker stuck in the coral reef.
As evidenced by the shipwrecks, the surf is rather unpredictable, so keep swimming off the itinerary. Instead, go beachcombing and explore the trails to see all the natural wonders all around. As you go down the trails, look for the petroglyphs on the boulders for a glimpse into the past.
Garden of the Gods
A stunning rock garden through and through, the Garden of the Gods features tons of awe-inspiring geological formations across its expanse. The most notable of all the formations are all the rock spires and towers that dominate the landscape.
To get a glimpse of the magnificent rocks, you’ll need to travel into the area in a capable four-wheel-drive vehicle. Once you arrive, look all you want, but don’t rearrange the rocks. And definitely don’t take any away from the garden when you leave.
If you want to go to the highest point in Lanai, you’ll need to hike along several trails to reach the summit of Mount Lanaihale. You’ll start by traveling along the Koloiki Trail, and then continue onto the Munro Trail to reach the top of the volcano. All along the way, watch for big mud pits and other hazards.
Once you reach the top, you’ll get to see the island from almost 3,500 feet up, giving you a birds-eye view of the stunning island landscape. On clear days, you can even see humpback whales breaching the surface of the ocean and sending water spraying into the air.
As you explore any, or all, of these 26 things to do in the Hawaiian Islands, you’ll undoubtedly make memories to last a lifetime. Just remember to bring your camera along for the ride, so you can capture awesome photos of your island adventures. Then, before you know it, you’ll have enough photos to fill your scrapbooks, giving you a fun and easy way to share the memories with generations to come.