The best places to visit in Hawaii — from the summit of the Haleakala crater in Maui to Tunnels Beach in Kauai and the turquoise waters of Hanauma Bay in Oahu — will have you wanting to return again and again to this magical group of islands.
Hawaii’s beauty is breathtaking…and marvelously diverse.
Golden sand beaches fringed with swaying palms. Black sand beaches with glistening pebbles. Turquoise waters with colorful tropical fish and lots of other marine life.
Verdant green valleys with water dripping from lush vegetation. Weeping waterfalls. Mars-like volcanic craters.
You’ll find all these — and more — in Hawaii.
Whether you are a nature lover, a landscape photographer, a beach bum, or adventure seeker, Hawaii is your dream destination.
But it’s also the perfect place to just escape a harsh winter back home, or go with your family on a fun vacation.
In this article, we’ve rounded up the best places to visit in Hawaii. No matter if you are planning to visit just one of the four large islands — Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island — or you plan to enjoy an island hopping vacation, you’ll find some places here to add to your itinerary.
Ready? Let’s discover the most beautiful places to visit in Hawaii!
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1. Waikiki, Oahu
Sun, surf and fun in Hawaii? You’re probably thinking of Waikiki Beach!
World-famous for its stunning beaches, beautiful turquoise waters, and fun-filled activities, Waikiki Beach is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii!
No wonder Waikiki was a popular retreat for Hawaiian royalty!
Not just one beach, but really a multitude of smaller adjoining beaches, Waikiki Beach extends along a narrow, 2-mile long stretch from the Duke Kahanamoku Beach in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort to the Queen’s Beach and Sans Souci Beach at the eastern-end.
For the adventure tourist and thrill seeker, Waikiki Beach offers many forms of adrenaline rushes: extreme parasailing, underwater submarine scooter rides, and scuba diving.
If you want more laid back water activities, you can try canoeing, standup paddleboarding and learning to surf.
Nature lover yearning to discover Hawaii’s underwater seascape and tropical fish? Most parts of Waikiki Beach have rich coral reefs with excellent snorkeling conditions.
For those seeking Hawaii’s three iconic marine life: Hawaiian green sea turtles (honu), spinner dolphins and humpback whales (winter season), you have so many options from Waikiki.
Really not inclined to get wet? How about a stroll along the beach to take in the action, admire spectacular beachside sunsets or sip a mai-tai from a beachfront bar lounge?
On our first vacation to Hawaii, Waikiki was our main destination! We just wanted to chill, and these were the three best experiences for us:
- Sunset cocktail cruise on a catamaran on Friday night where we enjoyed a spectacular ocean sunset, beautiful views of Waikiki and Honolulu nighttime skyline, and an amazing fireworks display from the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort.
>> Check pricing and availability on this 5-star rated, popular Waikiki Sunset Cocktail Cruise now!
- Romantic dinner at La Mer, a beautiful beachfront fine-dining restaurant in the Halekulani resort (you need to make reservations really early for this).
- Window shopping along Kalakaua Avenue and the Royal Hawaiian Center mall.
Waikiki has something to offer you, whatever your interests!
>> Visiting Waikiki? Check our tips and the best things to do in Waikiki!
2. Hana, Maui
Hana is a charming little town on Maui’s windward side.
But it’s the journey to get to Hana, rather than the destination itself, that is one of the top things to do in Maui.
The famous Road to Hana twists and turns its way through 64 miles of some of the most spectacular scenery in all of Hawaii.
Think waterfalls with pretty plunge pools, tropical vegetation in infinite shades of green, turquoise waters edged with pristine coves, and, if you are lucky, rainbows in the mist.
There are many wonderful stops on the Road to Hana you do not want to miss, from viewpoints and waterfalls to beaches and banana bread stands.
The Road to Hana is remote, it’s totally unlike the west shore, and driving it is an all-day adventure. If you like to take things a little slower, you can even stay in Hana overnight and make it a two-day trip.
Driving the Hana Highway is exhilarating, but it does require careful planning.
One of its nicknames is “The Divorce Highway” and its more than 600 hairpin curves and 59 narrow one-lane bridges can be harrowing.
Be sure to start early and manage your time, only stopping at a few chosen places en route.
If you’d rather just sit back and enjoy the scenery, consider a guided tour.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island
Exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the top things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park contains the summits of Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the most active volcanoes on the planet. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
With Kilauea’s frequent eruptions, you have a good likelihood of seeing lava flow on your visit to the park!
Hiking enthusiasts will find a variety to trails in the park, from easy to challenging. Kilauea Iki is a popular choice for exploring a solidified lava lake.
You can also walk through Nahuku, a centuries-old lava tube! The tube is illuminated during the day.
Do the scenic Crater Rim Drive, and the Chain of Craters Road, which extends all the way to the coast. Both drives offer overlooks and sights along the way.
Another scenic auto tour in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the drive up to the lookout area on Mauna Loa, more than 6,600 feet above sea level. The views are expansive!
Stay at Volcano House, a lodge within the national park. The park also offers campgrounds.
Volcano Village, just outside the national park in the midst of lush rainforest, also makes for an excellent base.
If you just have a day to explore the park, join a small-group guided tour!
4. Na Pali Coast, Kauai
One of the most beautiful coastlines in the world, Kauai’s Na Pali Coast should definitely be on your Hawaii bucket list!
Na Pali translates to “Many Cliffs,” referring to the rugged cliffs that rise above the coast here. Their emerald color, with red streaks, offers the perfect contrast to the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.
The coast is lined with pristine beaches and coves, and many waterfalls tumble down to the bottom, to create that perfect tropical picture postcard.
The Na Pali coast stretches for just 17 miles along the northwest shore of Kauai.
It’s remote, and the landscape here remains much the same as it did centuries ago when ancient Hawaiians lived in the narrow valleys between the cliffs, growing taro and other food crops and catching fish.
There is no auto road into the valley, so most people visit by air or by boat.
Take a helicopter tour to soar over the Na Pali Coast for incredible photo ops. From the air, you can take in features of the coast that lie inland, like the Manawaiopuna Falls.
The Kalalau Trail offers access to the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, one of Kauai’s best state parks, but it’s strenuous and only for the most experienced hikers.
5. Haleakala National Park, Maui
The Haleakala Crater is the most prominent landmark in Maui, and Haleakala National Park, named after the crater, is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.
The park is made up of two distinct districts, with no connecting road, such that you have to visit each district individually.
Access the Summit District via the winding road to the top, where you can hike the epic Sliding Sands Trail to the floor of the massive crater.
A Haleakala sunrise is on the bucket list of many visitors to Maui. So popular is the experience that you now require a parking reservation for the Summit District between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.
If you don’t have a reservation, or you prefer not to drive up the crater, join a guided tour.
Sunset and stargazing at the summit are also popular, and you don’t need to wake up early!
To access the Kipahulu District, you can drive the Road to Hana a few miles beyond the town of Hana, or you can drive up from the bottom of the island.
The Pipiwai Trail is the top attraction in the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park.
Sights along this popular hike include a massive banyan tree, a lush bamboo forest, and the 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Given all that it offers, Haleakala National Park is a must on any Maui itinerary!
6. Pearl Harbor, Oahu
One of the most visited places in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor should definitely be on your Oahu itinerary if you are a history buff, a WWII buff, or, like many Americans, you simply want to pay your respects.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor without warning on the morning of December 7, 1941, the event triggered US entry into World War II.
The loss of life that occurred that day was the most devastating in Hawaii’s history.
Although Pearl Harbor is still an active military base, there are four sites of interest you can visit here.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial, run by the National Park Service, is home to the USS Arizona Memorial.
The USS Arizona was bombed and sank in the December 1941 attack, and 1,177 personnel were killed. Today a memorial stands over the spot where the battleship lies in the ocean.
Each year, several thousand visitors arrive at the USS Arizona Memorial by boat to offer their respects. Make an advance reservation to participate in the USS Arizona Memorial Program.
At the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, you can view exhibits in the two galleries, and take in the film that depicts the attack on Pearl Harbor.
If you also want to visit the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials on Ford Island, also part of the park, you can reserve a spot on a bus tour.
The other major site of interest in Pearl Harbor is the Battleship Missouri Memorial, not managed by the park. The deck of this battleship was where WWII ended, when the Japanese surrendered. There is a fee to visit.
You can also visit the Pacific Fleet Submarine Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum, both in Pearl Harbor. These sites are managed independently, and each museum has an entrance fee.
Prefer the structure of a guided tour? This very popular tour includes the USS Arizona Memorial and includes transport from Honolulu and back for a hassle-free half-day visit.
Or consider this highly-rated tour that includes both “book ends” of World War II: the USS Arizona and the USS Missouri. The tour lasts 7 hours and includes transport from Honolulu and back.
7. Molokai Island
Hawaii’s second smallest populated island, Molokai is less than 40 miles long and only about 10 miles at its widest. It lies between Maui and Oahu.
It’s also not as developed as the larger islands, everyone knows everyone, and tourism isn’t big business here, making a visit to Molokai a unique experience.
Papohaku Beach, on the west side of the island, offers a 3-mile stretch of golden sand. It’s a great spot for sunset!
Halawa Valley, on the lush east side of Molokai, features lots of waterfalls and is spectacularly scenic. The drive to get here, from Kaunakakai is super scenic as well. Halawa Valley Beach Park is stunning.
The north coast of the island features inaccessible towering cliffs, much like the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, but the Kalaupapa National Historic Park is a must visit. The trail is currently closed but you can fly in.
The Kalaupapa Peninsula is where leprosy patients were banished during an outbreak in the mid-1800s.
There is one small hotel on the island, and you can spend a night or two here while you visit the major attractions on Molokai, and eat some of the famous Kanemitsu Bakery hot bread.
Or opt for a more immersive experience and stay longer. You’ll find some vacation rentals and some work-stay opportunities at local farms. Farm tours and stays are a great way to experience Molokai.
8. North Shore, Oahu
Experienced surfer looking for thrills? You’re probably in Hawaii to ride the towering waves on Ehukai Beach on the North Shore of Oahu, more popularly known as the Banzai Pipeline!
While the pace is definitely slower and the crowds much less than what you might find in Waikiki, the North Shore of Oahu is remarkable for the some of the exciting activities it offers, found nowhere else on Oahu!
In winter, the waves on the Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu are at their most majestic, and experienced or professional surfers head there for international competitions and just the plain joy and thrill of riding enormous 40+ feet waves.
Not a professional surfer? No problem, just watching surfers gracefully navigate the massive waves from the safety of the beach is almost as much fun!
Surfing not your cup of tea? How about swimming with sharks or cage diving with sharks?
The majority of shark diving tours leave from Haleiwa Harbor on Oahu’s North Shore, and head to the open ocean waters, where you can find larger sharks, pelagic sharks (deep ocean sharks).
If the thought of being in the water with a shark gives you the shivers, no problem. Try cage diving with sharks!
We took this cage diving with sharks tour and our kids loved it! We were lowered into the water (with breathing tubes) in a steel, polyglass cage, from which we could safely watch the sharks, some of which were at an arm’s length.
Our kids rated this their best experience in Hawaii on that vacation!
If you are a vacationing family with smaller kids, you’ll love Waimea Valley. Waimea Valley Falls is a beautiful 40-foot waterfall with a natural swimming pool at its base, with lifeguards, life vests and changing rooms.
The setting for the falls is Waimea Valley Botanical Garden, a gorgeous garden with many sections of trees and plants from different regions of the world, and well-paved paths. You will also find some archeological sites with ancient Hawaiian structures!
You can top this off with the Toa Luau, one of the best luaus on Oahu.
>> Check pricing and availability on this highly popular, 5-star rated tour Toa Luau at Waimea Valley that includes the admission fee!
>> Intrigued and want to visit? Read our tips on the best things to do on the North Shore of Oahu to plan!
9. Waimea Canyon, Kauai
Driving up the west shore of Kauai to gawk at the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” is one of the best things to do in Kauai!
One of Hawaii’s most renowned landmarks, Waimea Canyon is impressive, at ten miles long, one mile wide, and over 3,500 feet deep.
With its hues of red and rust rock and green vegetation, the canyon makes for a fantastic photo op. You may even be able to see the 800-foot Waipoo Falls in the distance!
The main lookout is at mile marker 10, and it offers expansive views of the gorge. The Puʻu Hinahina Lookout, at mile marker 13.5, offers another perspective, and you can see the Waimea River as it flows through the canyon.
Most visitors combine a visit Waimea Canyon State Park with Koke’e State Park, just north. Koke’e State park offers views of the dramatic Na Pali Coast.
While admiring Waimea Canyon from the lookouts should definitely be on your Kauai itinerary, adventurous visitors can also opt for a helicopter tour of Kauai that offers breathtaking views into Waimea Canyon.
10. Molokini Crater, Maui
For the longest time, snorkeling at the world-famous Molokini Crater languished on my Hawaii bucket list!
I was under the misguided impression that, given depths of 20-50 feet near the crater, I would have to be a good swimmer to snorkel there.
Boy, was I wrong! Apparently, with the flotation devices and vests now available on most Molokini Crater tours, snorkeling is a breeze even for non-swimmers, you just can’t sink!
Molokini Crater is THE BEST snorkeling site in Maui, if not all of the Hawaiian islands!
The remnants of an ancient volcanic eruption, Molokini Crater is a crescent-shaped island with the two arms yielding a sheltered, protected crater basin with ideal snorkeling conditions.
The water is crystal clear and calm, and underwater visibility is upto 150 feet, so snorkeling from the surface, you can see a lot!
And by a lot, I mean 250+ species of colorful tropical fish, picturesque coral reefs, and deeper sea marine animals like Hawaiian green sea turtles, octopus, eels, dolphins, and much more!
For the adrenaline seekers and adventure tourists, Molokini Crater’s outer wall, with thrilling depths of over 300 feet, offers exciting underwater seascapes to explore, with scuba or SNUBA.
Given Molokini Crater will be likely be one of the highlights of your Hawaiian vacation, check out our detailed tips on how to plan a visit to Molokini Crater.
The crater is roughly 3 miles off the shore of the south coast of Maui, so you will have to take a boat tour to get there. Many tours combine Molokini Crater with Turtle Town snorkeling, where you can see many Hawaiian green sea turtles.
Here are some popular, 5-star rated Molokini Crater tours:
And if you are a bird lover, you are in luck: Molokini Crater is a protected Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary, and you can see wedge-tailed shearwaters, Bulwer’s Petrels, yellow-billed Tropicbirds, great frigate birds, brown boobies and others.
11. Kailua (+ East Side), Oahu
Tired of Waikiki Beach, and searching for more peaceful, less crowded beaches? The East Side of Oahu (also called the windward side of Oahu, since it faces the powerful trade winds) has stunning beaches, and is much less crowded.
Lanikai Beach is the most famous of the East Shore beaches, but the adjacent Kailua Beach in spectacular Kailua Bay is equally beautiful with much better facilities for families with kids (restrooms, showers, and lifeguards).
We used our first trip to Kailua Beach Park to learn standup paddleboarding – a far better conducive environment for learning than crowded Waikiki Beach!
One of the more popular activities on these beaches is to kayak out to the Mokes (Mokulua Islets Seabird Sanctuary) or the Flat Island (Popoia Island), and enjoy stunning island views from the water.
>> Check pricing and availability on this 5-star rated, popular Kayaking Tour of Kailua Bay with Lunch!
With its lush, green vegetation and fabulous scenery, the majority of the best hiking trails on Oahu are on the windward east side of the island.
Apart from snorkeling at the world-famous Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, three other best things to do on the windward side of Oahu are:
Enjoy water activities at the Kaneohe Sandbar
Kaneohe Sandbar in the spectacular Kaneohe Bay is the largest saltwater sandbar in the world, a natural formation that appears and disappears with the tides.
While an interesting natural phenomenon, Kaneohe Sandbar is also a fabulous place in the middle of the ocean to enjoy snorkeling, water volleyball, jet skiing and even picnics!
>> Check pricing and availability on this 5-star rated, popular Kaneohe Sandbar Snorkeling Tour / Afternoon!
Visit Kualoa Ranch
A place where many scenes from popular movies like the Jurassic Park series were shot, Kualoa Ranch is a stunning ranch where you can enjoy many adventure activities.
Find Peace at the Byodo-In Temple
The Byodo-In Temple in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, a beautiful replica of a Japanese Buddhist temple, is the perfect spot for some quiet downtime and meditation.
12. Lanai Island
The smallest populated Hawaiian island, Lanai is the place to go if you are looking for that luxurious Hawaiian vacation that feels like you’ve escaped to your very own private island paradise.
The island is mostly owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison, and is home to three resorts, along with some vacation rentals.
The Four Seasons Resort Lanai features the most expensive accommodations in all of Hawaii!
Lanai City is the largest “town” on the island, but it’s tiny: just a few businesses. Roads on the island are rocky and rugged, and a four-wheel drive is the way to go if you plan to explore on your own.
On Lanai, explore the wrecks of old vessels at Shipwreck Beach, take in sunset at the Garden of the Gods, and enjoy the beautiful views on the Munro Trail (you can drive, bike, or hike this 13-mile trail).
For quality beach time on Lanai, you can’t beat Hulopoe Bay. You can swim and sunbathe here, or snorkel in the calm pools on the east side of the bay. Keep your eyes open for spinner dolphins! Swimming isn’t safe here in the winter though.
You’ll find other beaches on Lanai for sunbathing and strolling, but swimming isn’t safe at most of them.
You can fly into Lanai from one of the larger islands, or you can take the ferry from Maui. The ferry is also a great option if you want to visit Lanai just for the day.
13. Hanauma Bay, Oahu
Searching for the perfect snorkeling place on Oahu? Hanauma Bay Natural Preserve, a marine sanctuary on the southeast side of Oahu, is one of the best in all of Hawaii.
A beautiful, horseshoe-shaped bay on an ancient, sunken volcanic crater basin, Hanauma Bay is protected by the crater walls and a peripheral coral reef, providing an excellent, sheltered location for snorkeling, even for beginners and families with small kids.
Families with kids will love the facilities provided at Hanauma Bay: visitor center, education center, snack bar, gift shop, showers, restrooms lockers, lifeguards and a picnic area!
The waters within the bay are calm and crystal clear, with excellent underwater visibility!
The inner reef, closer to the shore, has shallow waters and is perfect for beginners and smaller kids.
The outer reef, further off shore, is more appropriate for experienced snorkelers, and has a much richer marine life for exploration!
Irrespective of where you snorkel, expect to see hundreds of species of tropical fish like tangs, parrotfish, butterflyfish, and triggerfish, and even an occasional Hawaiian green sea turtle.
One of the intriguing side effects of the Covid-19 lockdown was the impact of human withdrawal on nature everywhere, and Hanauma Bay was no exception!
With the absence of tourists, marine life in Hanauma Bay flourished, water clarity improved, and endangered fish population grew.
To continue the conservation efforts, Hanauma Bay now is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and on other days, the hours are now restricted to 6:45 am – 4:00 pm.
Hanauma Bay has also instituted a reservation system limiting visitors to 1400 guests / day, admission fee of $25/adult and first time visitors are required to view a mandatory 9-minute video on marine life preservation.
Nowadays, I find it much more convenient to take a shuttle or a tour to Hanauma Bay.
>> Check pricing and availability of this highly popular, well-rated Hanauma Bay Snorkeling tour!
14. Honokalani Black Sand Beach, Maui
The black sand beach at Wai’anapanapa State Park along the Road to Hana is a must-visit when you are in Maui.
Officially Honokalani Beach or Pa’ilua Beach, Maui’s black sand beach is dramatically beautiful, with a backdrop of black lava cliffs and lush tropical plants and trees.
While the beach is great for relaxing and for photography, it’s not great for swimming or wading, because of possible dangerous currents that could sweep you out to sea.
The beach is pebbly, so wear water shoes to protect your feet as you explore. Letting the black sand dribble through your fingers is awesome!
There’s also a sea cave to explore, on the right side of the beach as you face the ocean.
Above the beach, there are lookout areas from where you can view beautiful Pa’iloa Bay, and walking trails that lead to the left and right if you have the time to hike.
There’s a blowhole a short walk from the viewing area that can be explosive when active!
Wai’anapanapa State Park within which the black sand beach is located, requires parking and entry reservations for non-residents.
Don’t want to drive? Consider a guided Road to Hana tour that includes a stop at the black sand beach!
15. Mauna Kea, Big Island
At 13,803 feet above sea level, Mauna Kea towers over the Big Island. It’s the highest point in Hawaii!
From base to peak, Mauna Kea is actually the tallest mountain on the planet. But because a larger part of Mauna Kea is below the ocean floor, Mount Everest gets the title.
Mauna Kea translates to “White Mountain” because of the snow that caps its peak for a part of the year. The summit of the volcano is sacred to Hawaiians: it’s the home of Poli‘ahu, the goddess of snow.
Going up to the top of Mauna Kea is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.
If you are up for the challenge, you can hike to the top of Mauna Kea. Drive up to the visitor center at 9,200 feet, where you can take in the spectacular views before making the trek up.
Or you can arrive in a 4WD, or on a guided sunset and stargazing tour.
Because of its elevation, there is little to no light pollution at the top of Mauna Kea, so it makes for sensational stargazing. That’s why you see so many observatories here!
Sunset at the top is awesome as well. From your perch at the top of Hawaii, you’ll see the sun sink into a sea of clouds below.
16. Lanikai Beach, Oahu
If you’re vacationing in Hawaii, there definitely is no dearth of gorgeous beaches.
But Lanikai Beach on the east side of Oahu is spectacular, even among Hawaiian beaches. Lanikai means “heavenly sea” in Hawaiian, and that about sums it up!
Lanikai Beach is small and secluded, much less crowded than Waikiki Beach or the other touristy beaches, but equally beautiful with fine golden sand and crystal clear ocean water.
And you still have all the popular water activities: swimming, snorkeling, surfing, kayaking and paddle boarding!
Lanikai Beach is on the windward side of Oahu, and that means its windy – perfect for kitesurfing and parasailing!
Off the shore are two quant, little islands called Mokulua Islands or, more commonly, Mokes.
These islands are part of the Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary, you can see seabirds like wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, brown noddies and white terns.
Kayaking or standup paddle boarding to the Mokes is a very popular activity from Lanikai Beach (or neighboring Kailua Beach)!
>> Check pricing and availability on this 5-star rated, popular Kailua Twin Islands Guided Kayak Tour, Oahu to the Mokes now!
See if you can get in early to watch the sunrise from Lanikai Beach or stay back late to watch the sunset, both are colorful and spectacular.
The Lanikai Pillbox Hike offers fabulous views of Lanikai Beach and Kailua Bay.
17. Hanalei Bay, Kauai
Hanalei Bay is not only the largest bay along Kauai’s north shore, it is also drop-dead gorgeous.
The sandy beach stretches for about two miles, with a backdrop of mountains and lush tropical vegetation. One of the best things to do in Hanalei is just stroll the beach!
In the middle of the bay, Hanalei Town makes for a charming browse, with its many small shops and galleries, as well as food trucks and fine eateries.
Nearby Princeville is a resort area, and the perfect place to base as you explore the many Hanalei Bay activities, from paddling to surfing.
Hanalei River empties into the bay, and you can join a guided kayaking excursion that traverses the river before you paddle in the open bay!
While sections of the beach are good Kauai swimming beaches in the summer (there are lifeguards on duty), the surf is too rough in the winter. However, winter is a great time to see expert surfers ride the waves here.
The Hanalei Pier is a tranquil spot for sunrise photography. It’s a pleasant place to visit for sunset as well.
18. Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, Big Island
One of the most well known black sand beaches in Hawaii, Punalu’u Beach is located on the southeastern Kaʻū coast of the Big Island, between the towns of Pahala and Naalehu.
The beach is very picturesque, with the jet black sand, palms fringing the back, and the turquoise ocean in front.
The geology of the area is quite unique, with underground fresh water springs that mingles with the sea water in the bay.
Look for honu, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and, if you are very lucky, honu’ea, hawksbill turtles: they can sometimes be seen resting on the sand. Remember to watch from a safe distance, for the safety of these endangered creatures.
You may occasionally see a Hawaiian monk seal on the beach.
At the south end of the beach is an elevated covered area that offers an overlook to the beach if you’d like to snap some photos before going down to the beach itself.
The surf is rough here most of the time, so it’s not a swimming or snorkeling beach as such, but visit to admire the scenery and stroll on the magical black sand.
The beach offers a parking lot, restrooms, showers, and picnic pavilions, if you plan to enjoy a picnic meal here.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is about 67 miles from Kailua-Kona, about 1 hour and 40 minutes by car and makes a great stop en route to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
19. Poipu Beach, Kauai
Located on Kauai’s sunnier south shore, Poipu Beach is a gorgeous golden sand beach that’s routinely listed among the top beaches in the USA.
Fringed with palms, the sandy beach features turquoise waters and picturesque lava rocks at either side.
Without a doubt, Poipu Beach is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii!
Made up of a couple of crescent shaped bays, Poipu Beach has a shallow portion that is protected by a reef of lava rocks, making it suitable for swimming and snorkeling.
In fact, Poipu Beach is one of the most popular swimming beaches in Kauai. It’s lifeguarded, and the eastern portion is a popular playing spot for families with kids.
Beginning bodyboarders enjoy the western side of Poipu Beach, where the waves are more powerful.
Wildlife watchers will be excited to know that endangered Hawaiian monk seals can often be found resting on the beach here.
View seals, turtles, and other wildlife from a safe distance.
Poipu Beach Park offers amenities like restrooms, showers, and picnic tables, if you plan to spend a few hours enjoying the beauty of Poipu Beach.
Check out our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Poipu!
20. Diamond Head State Monument, Oahu
The Diamond Head Crater is one of the most famous landmarks in Oahu, and doing the Diamond Head hike is on the wish-list of many visitors to the island.
One of the relatively easy hikes on Oahu, the Diamond Head trail takes you from the floor of the crater and up along its interior wall to the top for amazing views.
You’ll drive through a tunnel in the crater to park inside the crater and head to the trailhead. It’s a very cool feeling to be inside a volcanic crater!
The trail makes its way to the summit of Diamond Head along a series of switchbacks. It’s an exposed trail, best done early or late in the day. There are stairs to navigate as well.
In fact, the Diamond Head trail is one of the best sunrise hikes in Oahu if you are up for an early wake-up call on vacation and you visit when sunrise occurs later: Diamond Head State Monument, which houses the trail, opens at 6 a.m.
No matter when you go, the views from the top are sensational on a clear day. In fact, you’ve probably seen those iconic shots of the Waikiki coastline snapped from the Diamond Head summit online.
Views extend from Koko Head in southeastern Oahu all the way to Wai‘anae, on Oahu’s west coast.
Like in many other places in Hawaii, there are military installations at the top of Daimond Head as well.
21. Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, Big Island
If you enjoy local history, the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park on the Big Island is a must visit. As a bonus, it is a very scenic spot as well!
The Puʻuhonua was a place of refuge. A person that had broken the kapu or sacred laws in ancient Hawaii could only escape death, which was the usual punishment for breaking the kapu, by fleeing to a place of refuge.
In times of war, the Puʻuhonua also protected families of the warriors and other civilians, as well as defeated warriors that sought refuge.
There were several places of refuge in Hawaii, but Pu’uhonua o Honaunau is the best known and best preserved.
Here an L-shaped wall, known as the Great Wall, stretches along two sides of the site, with the ocean bounding the other two sides. Inside, there are many sacred sites, including the Hale o Keawe and other heiaus.
On a visit to the site, managed by the National Park Service, you can stroll the grounds to view the sites, and admire the ki’i (carved statues).
If you enjoy hiking, walk the trail to Kiʻilae village and back (two miles round trip). The walk takes you along the scenic coastal cliffs and you’ll see many sacred sites along the way. This trail is a part of the 175-mile Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.
There’s a picnic area where you can relax after you are done exploring!
The Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park is about 23.5 miles from Kailua-Kona, on the west coast of the Big Island.
22. Tunnels Beach, Kauai
Want to visit an extremely picturesque beach in Kauai?
Tunnels Beach, also known as Makua Beach, arguably the prettiest beach along Kauai’s scenic north shore.
Located toward the western end of the island’s north shore, Tunnels Beach featured as a filming location for the movie South Pacific.
The golden sand crescent beach is backed by green mountains and lush tropical vegetation. The waters are a beautiful turquoise, making it the perfect picture postcard.
Tunnels Beach used to be a bucket-list snorkeling destination, but now the best area, the large inner reef known as the Makua Lagoon, is closed off, to protect the fish nursery here.
When surf conditions are calm, you can swim here, or snorkel outside of the closed-off area. Note that the beach is susceptible to strong currents.
Tunnels Beach is known as a surf spot in the winter, when the waves are big.
Even if you do not venture into the water, Tunnels Beach is worth visiting for its spectacular beauty. Stroll the beach and snap lots of photos, or spread a towel and relax!
There are no facilities at Tunnels Beach, but you’ll find restrooms and showers (and more parking) at adjoining Haena Beach Park. You can walk along the sand between Tunnels Beach and Haena Beach.
23. Iao Valley State Monument, Maui
Located in Central Maui, Iao Valley State Monument is a tranquil park that’s a must-visit for nature lovers and history buffs alike.
The most striking feature in the park is the 1,200-foot-tall Iao Needle, a natural lava rock formation that rises steeply into the sky.
Surrounded by lush green peaks, the green needle makes for a stunning photo op.
A short paved trail with steps leads to a viewing area, from where you can look upon the needle. The trail is one of the most popular family-friendly hikes in Maui.
The park also includes an ethnobotanical area, where you’ll find Hawaiian crop plants and fruit trees like taro and banana.
The Iao Stream flows through the area.
The lush Iao Valley is not only scenic, it is also historically significant to Hawaiians. It was here that in 1790, the Battle of Kepaniwai was fought.
In the historic clash, the forces of King Kamehameha I, who wanted to unite the islands, defeated Maui’s army.
Good to know: Entry and parking reservations are now required for visitors to Iao Valley State Monument that are not residents of Hawaii. Make reservations here.
24. Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu
Want to learn about the spirit and beauty of Polynesia, and the indigenous people of Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island, Samoa, Tonga and the other Pacific islands? No better place than the Polynesian Cultural Center!
The Polynesian Cultural Center on the North Shore of Oahu is a theme-park-like center with six villages: Hawaii, Aotearoa – New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, Tahiti and Tonga, that give you a glimpse of how the people from these islands live, and the threads connecting how they dress, cook, dance and play!
Throughout the afternoon, these villages present music, dance and interactive shows that pull you into the daily life of a native.
Don’t miss the agile bare-feet Samoan warrior scaling a 40-foot coconut tree, the Maori Haka war dance (Aotearoa New Zealand), the pounding of the Fijian derua (bamboo stick) and the amazing Tongan drummers!
Kids will love the interactive nature of these villages including a Fijian tattoo (temporary), Hawaiian hula lessons, dancing Tongan-style sitting down and Tahitian pole fishing and spear throwing!
With so much time spent in the waters, it is only fitting that one of the highlights is the water show, Huki: A canoe celebration, on the beautiful lagoon.
Dancers and singers perform on double-hulled canoes, a magnificent musical show that must not be missed!
The Ali’i luau, Polynesian Cultural Center’s offering of the traditional Hawaiian feast, is a buffet extravaganza centered around a delicious kalua pig (slow roasted in an imu, an earthen oven).
The buffet gives you an opportunity to sample much more of the native Hawaiian cuisine compared to a typical, table-served meal.
Make sure you stay for Ha: Breath of life, an incredible, action-packed performance with 100+ talented artists in stunning costumes and with blazing fireknives, narrating the story of a young native who grows into a warrior leader!
A fitting finale to an incredible visit!
25. Kilauea Point Lighthouse, Kauai
If you enjoy birding, the Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge on the northeastern shore of Kauai is one of the best places in Hawaii to visit!
Here you can try to spot the red-footed booby, the great frigatebird, the Laysan albatross, the white-tailed tropicbird, the wedge-tailed shearwater, and other Hawaiian seabirds, for whom the refuge is a nesting spot.
The Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge is also home to the Daniel K. Inouye Kīlauea Point Lighthouse, a popular photo spot in Kauai.
The lighthouse, which dates back to 1913, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It used to house the largest hand-blown clamshell lens in the world, until it was replaced by an automatic beacon in the 1970s.
It is 52 feet tall and perched 180 feet above the ocean at the northernmost point of Kauai…and in fact the northernmost point of the main Hawaiian islands.
You need a reservation to visit Kilauea Point Wildlife Refuge, and there is an entrance fee.
Even if you do not visit the refuge, plan to drive to the overlook at the end of Kilauea Road for stunning views of the ocean and the lighthouse.
26. Kealakekua Bay, Big Island
Located just a few miles south of Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua Bay was settled over 1,000 years ago!
It is a place of great historical importance. The Kealakekua Bay State Historic Park contains archaeological sites as well as heiaus (sacred temples).
The bay is also the place where Captain Cook, the first known European to arrive in Hawaii, landed.
Captain Cook and his crew were treated with honor and returned to sea after many weeks, only to return shortly when they suffered some damage in a storm.
This time things went sour and Cook was killed in an altercation with the Hawaiians after trying to abduct their chief. There’s a monument to Captain Cook that can be visited by hiking or via a boat snorkeling tour or kayaking.
Kealakekua Bay is home to an offshore coral reef, and is one of the top snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii. A pod of spinner dolphins also calls the bay home.
Stop by the pebbly Napoʻopoʻo Beach Park, where you can snorkel when conditions are safe. Here you will also find the Hikiau Heiau, dedicated to the Hawaiian god Lono.
A dinner cruise of Kealakekua Bay is a wonderful way to visit! The tour includes insightful commentary into the history of the bay, and the sunset is spectacular.
27. Iolani Palace, Oahu
Want to visit the only royal palace in the United States?
In downtown Honolulu, you’ll find Iolani Palace, once the residence of Hawaiian royalty. It’s a must-visit for visitors that enjoy local history and culture!
Completed in 1882, Iolani Palace became the residence of King Kalakaua and later his sister and successor, Queen Liliuokalani.
It was sumptuously furnished, and used for state receptions and other glittering events.
The queen’s attempts to strengthen the monarchy in Hawaii caused conflict, and eventually the monarchy was overthrown and the queen was imprisoned in the palace.
The structure then served as the headquarters for the provisional government and later the state capitol. Many of the furnishings in the palace were sold.
Today the palace has been meticulously restored and is a National Historic Landmark open for public tours.
The palace offers a variety of guided tours and you can also do a self-guided audio tour. A docent-led tour of the interior is a great option to learn as you explore.
28. Wailua River State Park, Kauai
Enjoy river kayaking? Put Kauai’s Wailua River State Park on your itinerary!
One of the most popular state parks in Kauai, the Wailua River State Park is a must-visit on the east shore of the island.
The park contains two easily-accessed Kauai waterfalls: Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls. Both falls can be seen from viewing areas by the parking lot, so no hiking required!
Wailua Falls featured in the opening credits of the TV show Fantasy Island. Consisting of two side-by-side falls, Wailua Falls are an impressive sight when in full flow.
You get a more distant view of Opaekaa Falls from the viewpoint, but it’s worth the stop!
Wailua River is the only river in Hawaii where you can cruise in a boat. The boat cruise offered by the park takes you to a very lush and green fern grotto and back.
If you’d rather embark on a more active exploration, the Wailua River is also a great river to explore via kayak or canoe. You can rent kayaks at the park.
Or, for a fun adventure, consider the Wailua River kayaking plus hiking to Secret Falls tour!
This very popular Kauai excursion involves paddling up the Wailua River and then hiking into the rainforest to Uluwehi Falls, otherwise known as Secret Falls.
If you like, you can swim under the falls before you head back to the starting point.
29. Akaka Falls State Park, Big Island
One of the most popular places to visit on the Big Island, Akaka Falls State Park is home to the beautiful namesake waterfall that’s also easy to access.
The park is located along the Hilo Coast, in the northeastern part of the island.
Akaka Falls plunges an astounding 442 feet into a gorge. Surrounded by lush vegetation, the waterfall makes for a great photo.
The Akaka Fall Loop Trail is just 0.4 mile long, and winds its way through a variety of tropical plants and flowers to an overlook for the falls.
Along the way, there’s also a view of Kahuna Falls, which has a drop of about 100 feet.
Plus, you can enjoy a variety of plants and flowers along the trail, from bamboo to ferns and orchids.
Although the trail is easy, and paved, there are several steps. You can do the entire loop or take a direct path to Akaka Falls and back.
Akaka Falls State Park has entry and parking fees for visitors that are not residents of Hawaii: $5.00 entrance per person and $10.00 parking per vehicle.
30. Koko Head Trail, Oahu
Stairmaster not working in your hotel? Why not try hiking the Koko Head Trail, a natural stairmaster with a 1000+ steep steps, but with a payoff you don’t expect in your gym: stunning 360 degree views of the island of Oahu and the Pacific Ocean!
Reminiscent of the Incline in Manitou Springs (Colorado), the Koko Head Trail is a difficult hike along the remnants of the Koko Crater Tramway tracks to the top of the Koko Head Crater (1207 feet above sea level).
Koko Head Hike is relatively short (1.6 miles round trip, 1 – 2 hours average), but challenging because of the steep climb, with an elevation gain of about 900 feet.
The trailhead marked Koko Crater Tramway is located in the Koko Head District Park, about a 25 minute drive east of Waikiki. The large parking lot near the baseball field is free, and restrooms are nearby.
The Koko Head Hike is one of the best Oahu hikes, and is very popular. It starts off with a steady incline of steps that rapidly becomes steep up the side of the crater.
There is a short section in the middle where the tracks become aerial, ground drops below to 10-15 feet. If you prefer, there is a bypass that detours this section.
At the top, you can expect stunning views of the east Honolulu shoreline, Hanauma Bay, Sandy Beach, Makapu’u Lighthouse, and even parts of Molokai on a clear day.
If climbing an extinct volcano crater was on your Hawaii vacation bucket list, the Koko Head Hike is an exhilarating way to cross it off!
31. Hāʻena State Park, Kauai
Haena State Park is without a doubt one of the must-visit places in Hawaii.
The jewel of Kauai’s north shore, the park is home to lovely Ke’e Beach and is also the starting point for the famous Kalalau Trail.
Ke’e Beach is a sandy beach with a protective reef that allows for swimming in the summer. Sunsets here are stunning.
Ke’e Beach is not only beautiful in its own right, it also offers superb views of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai, with its towering cliffs.
There is a lifeguard on duty, and the beach has amenities such as showers and restrooms.
Haena State Park also has a restored taro field you can view. There are historical sites here, some related to the traditional dance form of hula.
If you are an avid hiker and want to hike the grueling Kalalau Trail into the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, the trailhead is right at Ke’e Beach.
The epic trail is 11 miles each way and requires an overnight camping permit.
But you can also hike a part of the trail as a day hike, whether you go just half a mile to the viewpoint that offers great aerial views over Ke’e Beach, or further in.
Note that reservations are required to enter Haena State Park if you are not a resident of Hawaii. We have a detailed guide with the full scoop on how to visit Haena State Park.
And that’s a wrap on our round-up of the best destinations in Hawaii. Which of these spectacular places in Hawaii will you pick for your next visit?
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