America’s 50th state, Hawaii is a collection of eight islands located in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. Known for white-sand beaches and hula dancing, Hawaii offers a wide range of attractions and cultural highlights. On Oahu, you can see warships from World War II or kick back on the iconic white shores of Waikiki Beach. On the Big Island, check out black or even green sand beaches. A complete trip to Hawaii involves at least two islands, and preferably more. Let this guide help you pick out some of the best places to visit in Hawaii.
Although the island of Oahu is the most visited of the Hawaiian Islands, most visitors head straight for the capital city of Honolulu. The island’s North Shore is a little less touristy, and it offers some truly fantastic beaches. If you’re into surfing, then you might already know that the North Shore boasts some of the best winter waves in the world. Head to Banzai Pipeline to watch world-class surfers and even championship contests. The vibe is very laid back, and it is a great contrast to the busier parts of the island.
Not all the Hawaiian Islands have been developed at the same pace. Molokai is one of the least developed, but most scenic, island in the state. Known as the Friendly Isle, Molokai has a unique history. The most famous attraction on the island is the Kalaupapa National Historical Park, which once served as a leper colony. Today, most visitors to Molokai come for the history as well as for the pristine, undeveloped beauty. You can go hiking in Pala’au State Park, or you can spend the day at Papohaku, a beach where there are rarely more than a few families at any given time.
The Big Island of Hawaii is home to a number of gorgeous beaches, but one of the very best is Hapuna Beach. The beach is part of a state park located on the Kohala Coast, putting it within a short driving distance of popular hotel destinations like Kona and Waikoloa. Hapuna Beach boasts a long stretch of fine, white sand, and it is easy to find a spot away from other beachgoers. Hapuna is a top choice for families, and you can make the most of a beach day by bodyboarding or swimming. Towards one side of the beach, there are some reefs where you can even try snorkeling.
On the western coast of Maui is Kaanapali Beach, which is found just outside of the tourist hub known as Lahaina. Kaanapali runs from Black Rock to Canoe Beach, fronted by several resorts and many fine shops & restaurants. One of the top things to see in Hawaii, the gorgeous, white sand beach boasts a number of rock monuments, many of which had historic or religious significance to local Hawaiians. Pu`u Keka`a, known as Black Rock, is the most famous of these. The beach also offers a stunning boardwalk just over two miles long where you can take a stroll and admire the views of the Pacific Ocean.
On the island of Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle, you can explore the famed Na Pali Coast. Along the coast, sheer cliffs covered in lush, green vegetation drop off rapidly, meeting the sands of private, secluded beaches. The scenery is unlike anything else on the planet. Many visitors recognize the landscape because the Na Pali Coast served as a primary filming location for Jurassic Park and several other movies. You can hike among the cliffs if you head for the trails in the Na Pali Coast State Park. If adventure calls, there are some cliffs where locals can show you how to safely jump into the water below.
If you’re searching for paradise on Earth, then head to Lanikai Beach. Located on the eastern coast of Oahu, Lanikai Beach is just a 30-minute drive from Downtown Honolulu. However, it feels like a completely different world. Lanikai is Hawaiian for Heavenly Sea, and that is the perfect way to describe this half-mile stretch of coastal beauty. White sand, blue water and shade from the occasional palm tree makes this a stunning place to explore. From this tropical setting, you can even view the Mokuluas, two offshore islands called Moku Nia and Moku Iki.
Haleakala is shield volcano that forms more than half of the island of Maui. Also known as the East Maui Volcano, this summit tops more than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) at its peak. The area surrounding the volcano is called Haleakala National Park. Much of the park revolves around the enormous crater, which is comparable to a lunar landscape. Hiking is the most popular way to explore the park, and the best views can be found along the trail leading to the Ka Luu o Ka Oo cinder cone. If you hike along the Pipiwai Trail, there are several pools where you can cool off with a refreshing swim. The 400 foot (120 meter) Waimoku Falls can be found at the end of the Pipiwai Trail.
Just a few miles inland of the Na Pali Coast of Kauai is Waimea Canyon. Also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is one of the most amazing places to visit in Hawaii. The staggering size draws definite parallels to the Grand Canyon, but Waimea Canyon may be even more beautiful thanks to plenty of greenery among the desert-like landscape. Clouds often roll in during the afternoon, so the clear mornings are the best time to explore the canyon with a hike through Koke’e State Park. Camping is also possible for the intrepid traveler, allowing you to be there for the glorious sunrise in the morning.
No trip to Hawaii would be complete without spending time in Honolulu. This is by far the largest city in the island chain, the state capital and a bustling, exciting place to explore. There is no shortage of things to do, but Waikiki is often a highlight. Waikiki Beach is actually a string of several connected beaches, with Duke Kahanamoku Beach being a popular choice for tourists and local surfers alike. For amazing views in Honolulu, climb up to the summit of the Diamond Head Crater, which overlooks Waikiki. Don’t forget to visit Pearl Harbor, where the USS Arizona Memorial is the poignant centerpiece.
One of the most important attractions on the Big Island is the Hawaii Volcanoes The park encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive shield volcano. As the home to the Goddess Pele, the site has a lot of historic significance to the Hawaiian people and the region has been settled for at least 700 years. Get to know the volcano with a visit to the Kilauea Visitor Center, where a viewing platform allows for spectacular pictures of a large crater. With some luck, you’ll witness the primal power of molten earth boiling into the sea. Hike or drive along Crater Rim Road for otherworldly views, and then explore the heart of the Thurston Lava Tube.