Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Hawaii
When was the last time you had a snorkel adventure inside of a sunken Hawaiian volcano, or enjoyed a freshly cooked BBQ lunch on the deck of a sailing catamaran? Thanks to its calm, crystal clear waters, bright coral reef, and 250-plus species of tropical fish, Molokini Crater is the most popular spot for snorkeling tours on Maui. Spend a day on a snorkeling tour as you explore the protected marine preserve and come face to face with some of Hawaii's most colorful marine life.
With steep emerald cliffs, lush valleys, and remote cascading waterfalls, the Na Pali Coast is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful regions, and no visit to Kauai is complete without a visit to this magical coastline. There are only three ways to explore the Na Pali Coast—by air, by sea, and on foot—and each offers its own unique perspective.
Visiting the Mauna Kea Summit and Observatories gives you the feeling of being on top of the world for good reason: You’re actually pretty close. Standing at 13,796 feet (4,138 meters), the mountain is Hawaii's tallest and the highlight of many visitors' trips to the Big Island of Hawaii. The Mauna Kea Observatories (MKO) feature some of the world's largest telescopes, including equipment from Canada, France, and the University of Hawaii, due to its designation as an unparalleled destination for stargazing.
Made up of several historic sites and memorials, Pearl Harbor honors and educates the public about the Japanese attack on the United States on December 7, 1941 that propelled the country into World War II. It’s one of Hawaii’s most-visited attractions, and one of the country’s most significant WWII memorial sites.
Tropical foliage, black sand beaches, rushing waterfalls and incredible views are the calling cards of the legendary, winding Road to Hana. The famous roadway along Maui’s North Shore (also called the Hana Highway) includes 600 hairpin turns and more than 50 bridges and is known as one of the most beautiful roads in the world.
Arguably Hawaii's most well-known sight, Diamond Head Crater is more than just a famous Waikiki backdrop but also an entire attraction unto itself, featuring one of Oahu's best hikes for a panoramic view. From atop the 760-foot (231-meter) summit, visitors can gaze out from Koko Head Crater to the Honolulu skyline and down on Waikiki Beach, where surfers, paddlers, sailboats, and canoes all splash through the tropical waters.
The USSArizona Memorial floats above the watery site where the eponymous battleship was bombed and sunk, taking 1,177 lives with it, in Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The solemn, all-white memorial features a marble wall of names of those who served onboard and spans theArizona’s width, with openings to look down on the sunken hull.
For decades, Waikiki Beach has been Oahu’s tourist mecca thanks to its palm-fringed white-sand beaches and high-rise luxury hotels that stretch from downtown Honolulu east toward the towering Diamond Head. Here all the spoils of Hawaiian beach life—from sunbathing and swimming to snorkeling and fruity-cocktail sipping—are within steps of world-class shopping and dining.
The marine sanctuary of Kealakekua Bay ranks among Hawaii’s most scenic spots for snorkeling, swimming, and hiking. The beautiful bay, home to spinner dolphins and backed by green mountain slopes, was the site where Captain James Cook landed—and was later killed—on the Big Island in 1779, forever altering the history and culture of the archipelago.
When you stand in front of spouting lava at Kilauea volcano, or marvel at steam as it rises from vents in Halemaumau Crater, it's easy to see that Hawaii Volcanoes National Park isn't just a national park, but also a place to get a front-row seat to the beauty of Earth's creation. Located on the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers everything from lush rainforest to lava tubes and rolling black lava fields, where hot steam still rises from fissures and rifts that dot the rugged landscape.
More Things to Do in Hawaii
Steep drop-offs beckon just off Kona’s coast, the dominion of pelagic beasts—marlin and billfish some topping 1,000 lbs. Most journeys to catch one begin the 262-slip marina at Honokohau Harbor, just before the entrance to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. Nearly all of Kailua-Kona’s fishermen, independent sportfish tour operators as well as charter boats departing for scuba sites and popular manta and dolphin snorkeling adventures dock and depart from Honokohau Harbor.
The full-service marina also sports two noteworthy restaurants: Harbor House, a burger and beer joint with views of vessels from their open-air dining room, and Bite Me Fish Market Bar & Grill serving seafood delivered direct from the ocean to their door. ATMs, two full service restroom blocks with hot showers and a convenience store for snacks and sundries round out the facilities here.
Just behind the marina proper, a snaking road ends at a lava rock parking lot with a trail leading to a small beach with decent snorkeling and popular with area dog owners.
Circular Hanauma Bay is a particularly attractive, sheltered inlet of turquoise water, carved from a submerged volcanic crater east of Diamond Head.
The sandy beach park is popular with families, with its calm waters, lifeguards, and gentle diving and snorkeling. Picnic tables overlook the bay, and you can rent diving equipment.
The area is a Nature Preserve and Marine Life Conservation District, and when you visit there’s a short film to watch about the marine life before you head down to the beach.
While diving you should spot green turtles, parrotfish and coral.
What started out as a Wahiawa fruit stand in the middle of the pineapple fields in 1950 is now an extremely popular Hawaiian attraction. The sprawling Dole Plantation in central Oahu is a rural throwback to a time when the pineapple helped rule Oahu’s economy. Visitors can sample the sweet yellow fruit, ride on the famous Pineapple Express train and motor out through the fields, take a walk through a huge garden maze, learn how to find fresh pineapple when grocery shopping, and hear how pineapples are grown on plants—and not underground or on trees.
Kualoa Ranch is a one-stop adventure playground and a highlight for many travelers to Oahu. Stretching from the verdant folds of the Koolau Mountains to the tropical sea, the 4,000-acre (1,619-hectare) working cattle ranch is one of the largest tracts of accessible nature on Oahu and offers visitors a huge variety of ways to interact with Hawaii’s stunning landscapes, from ATV rides and zipline adventures to film site tours. The property is divided into two areas: the northerly Kaaawa Valley with its many movie locations, and Hakipuu Valley, fronted by an 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond and the site’s Secret Island Beach.
Forming a deep natural amphitheater that’s washed by the sea and waterfalls, the Waipio Valley, on the Big Island of Hawaii, is a natural wonderland marked by rain forests and hiking trails. Cliffs thousands of feet high plunge to the valley floor, where a curved black-sand beach meets the sea.
Hawaii’s volcanic activity creates a dynamic array of beaches ranging from soft white shores to the black pebbles of the Big Island’s Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach. But, travelers aren’t the only visitors to Punaluʻu; the area is known for the large green sea turtles (honu) that come out to bask along the black sand shoreline.
Wailua River (Attraction - Kauai, USA)
Protected by Wailua River State Park, the Wailua is the largest navigable river in the Hawaiian archipelago (a feature found only on the island of Kauai). As the 20-mile (32-kilometer) river meanders through a lush valley, it passes through jungle landscapes and past two notable waterfalls: Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls.
Dubbed “House of the Sun” by native Hawaiians, Haleakala Crater is the world’s largest dormant volcano and the highest peak in Maui. Set in Haleakala National Park, here you can see a lunar landscape, admire cinder cones and endangered silversword plants, and trek wild hiking trails.
Kailua Pier is the northern bookend to most of Kailua-Kona’s restaurants, shops and bars, a stretch of concrete wide enough to host four-lanes of traffic (if it wasn’t closed off to cars). The historic pier was first built as a downtown fishing dock in 1900 and utilized rocks from deconstructed Hawaiian palace and fort walls, but today few boats moor here. Instead, the pier is mostly used for large events and festivals including the annual Kona Ironman World Championships, which starts and finishes at the pier, and the Kona International Billfish Tournament whose daily catches of sometimes-massive fish species including Pacific blue marlin are weighed from pier-side scales for all to see.
On the pier’s northern side, a small beach fronting the King Kamehameha Marriott Hotel has public showers, restroom blocks and hosts community events such as the Kona International Surf Film Festival and the Kona Brewers’ Festival. Aside from the beach, the best vantage for
Ahu’ena Heiau, a still-revered thatch-roof temple dedicated to Lono and dating to the early 19th century, is from Kailua Pier. Some say the temple is just 1/3 of its original size when built by Island-uniting King Kamehameha I. Because it is believed the monarch also died here, the site and its tiny man-made island remain sacred and off-limits to the public, despite being on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
One of the most popular waterfalls on the Big Island of Hawaii, Rainbow Falls is loved for its easy access and the rainbows that frequent the falls on misty mornings. The Wailuku River varies dramatically based on rain, but this 80-foot (24.4-meter) cascade wows viewers whether it is a thundering torrent or delicate trickle.
Within Kaiwi State Scenic Shoreline on Oahu’s Windward Coast, the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a popular hike ending at the historical red-roofed Makapu’u Lighthouse, built in 1909. Though the lighthouse is not open to the public, the moderately challenging hike attracts travelers and locals alike for its stunning coastal views.
Planted firmly on the lawn of Aliiolani Hale, the State Supreme Court building, is the most visited of all the statues honoring King Kamehameha I in Hawaii. The 18-foot bronze icon with golden-colored detailing was erected in 1883 and depicts a spear-wielding and cloak-draped Kamehameha the Great, the first Hawaiian monarch and the ruler credited with uniting the Islands under single rule in 1810.
Each year on a date near the June 11 state holiday commemorating King Kamehameha, community groups build massive flower lei garlands and drape them over the Honolulu statue using the ladder from a fire truck. The popular lei draping ceremony commemorates the King’s significance and kicks off week-long celebrations of colorful parades and festivals throughout the Islands.
The story of the statue’s procurement also undoubtedly adds to its allure: Constructed in Europe, the sculpture took several years to make, and, when finally finished and rounding the horn of South America, (the Panama Canal wasn’t completed until 1914) the ship carrying it wrecked near the Falkland Islands. Using insurance money, a second statue was quickly built and arrived in Honolulu without incident; this is the statue that stands here today. Meanwhile, Falkland fishermen were able to retrieve the sunken original and sold it to back to the then-U.S. territory, where the strikingly similar sculpture still stands not far from the king’s birthplace on Hawaii Island. Another Kamehameha figure, made from molds of the Honolulu version, is one of two statues representing the state of Hawaii in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
A pleasant stop on the road to Hana, the Puaʻa Kaʻa State Wayside Park offers the chance to take a scenic break from the long drive. Stretch your legs on its dirt path to nearby waterfalls and natural pools. The farther you're willing to walk, the taller the waterfalls become and many people bring a picnic to enjoy as a part of this diversion.
Totaling five acres the area here is lush with tropical plants which, with the sound of the waterfalls, create a distinct rain forest feel. Picnic tables are set against scenic backdrops, and fish and tadpoles are visible in the shallower pools. Watch for wild birds and mongoose. The walking paths here are not rigorous, but a refreshing dip in one of the pools is a highlight for many on a hot day.
Most Maui visitors will spend some time at Maalaea Harbor, the launching point for many of the Island’s best sunset and dinner cruises, fishing charters, snorkeling adventures to the Molokini Crater—a submerged volcanic crater atoll—and more. The 89-slip harbor is the focal point of a quiet bay in the southern nook between the West Maui Mountains and towering Haleakala.
Between late November and early April, head to the scenic lookout between mile markers 8 and 9 to the west of the harbor for sweeping vistas of leaping humpback whales, or any time of the year to spot the dolphins that sometimes ride waves alongside harbor-departing cruises. The Pacific Whale Foundation, organizers of the annual World Whale Day celebrations, have their headquarters in Maalaea Harbor for a reason. Have some time to kill while waiting for your boating adventure? Set back from the sea is the popular Maui Ocean Center, an aquarium highlighting Hawaiian sea life from sharks to sea turtles, corals and more in over 60 indoor-outdoor exhibits. Or, grab some award-winning barbecue from the Beach Bum's Bar & Grill then explore the strips of adjacent Harbor Shops.
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