For many people, Hawaii is a ‘must visit’ destination, that has sat near the top of their bucket list for quite some time.
Featuring a captivating landscape of sensational beaches, broiling volcanoes, pristine rainforests and craggy mountains, the state showcases some of Mother Nature’s finest work.
It also boasts brilliant surf, fantastic nightlife, world class luxury hotels and a plethora of notable landmarks. As well as beautiful people, and a vibe that is uniquely its own.
So, it is easy to see what the attractions are!
Although there are eight separate Hawaiian Islands in the archipelago, tourists tend to visit four of them – Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island.
While most travellers usually head to Oahu, which is famous of course for Honolulu, Waikiki Beach and its surf culture, Maui and Kauai both offer terrific beaches too. As well as hiking and a more laid-back ambiance.
The Big Island, some 200 miles away, is also renowned for its diverse landscapes, which include active, fiery volcanoes.
If you are planning a trip to one of these islands, you’ll probably be aware that there are so many different things to do in Hawaii.
Well, to help you decide, we have put together this list of 25 amazing experiences you can enjoy, whilst on your dream vacation there.
For your convenience, we’ve even grouped them by island for you too. So all you need to do is choose which ones you most like the sound of!
Things to Do in Oahu
Popularly known as ‘The Gathering Place’, Oahu, at 44 miles long and 30 miles wide, is the third largest of the Hawaii islands.
It is famous around the world for Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, Hanauma, Diamond Head, North Shore, Kailua Bay, Kāneʻohe Bay and the glitzy resort destination of Ko Olina.
However, there are plenty of other things you can do there including:
Learn to Surf like the Pros
Oahu is considered the birthplace of surfing as this was where the legendary Duke Kahanamoku brought the sport to the attention of the rest of the world.
If you want to follow in his footsteps, you can learn to surf on the calmer waters of Waikiki Beach, as there are plenty of instructors who teach classes to both beginners and pros.
You should also find other surf schools at the North Shore, Ala Moana and several other spots where there are gentler breaks around the island. Typically, lessons run for up to two hours and are provided by more seasoned surfers.
Longboards are used, and provided, to make it even easier for beginners.
Fill up Your Belly on a Food Tour
Whilst in Oahu you’ll need to eat. Sure, you will have all your regular favourite chain haunts to fall back on, but why not take the opportunity to introduce yourself to some of the delicious local cuisine.
One of the best ways to do this is via a food tour of which there are several.
Run by foodies who have an in-depth knowledge of the municipal gastronomy, you’ll be taken to all the best cafes, restaurants and bars in town. From there you’ll be able to try a range of popular and exotic eats including poke, Kalua Pua’a, Manapua and of course the legendary, Loco Moco.
Experience Polynesian Culture
Want to find out more about Polynesian culture? Well, that is exactly what you can do at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
Situated on the Kamehameha Hwy, for over 50 years the centre has proudly showcased the lifestyle and culture of Polynesian islanders, not just in Hawaii, but also around the world. This includes those in Tahiti, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, the Marquesas Islands and the New Zealand Maoris.
They do this through dance, music, games, and craft demonstrations, which takes place in different sections within the centre. Each of which represents a different location.
Visitors can tour the facility during the day, or see a show in the evening, including a luau.
Many of the performers here actually were born in the countries and territories that they represent. Which gives a strong degree of authenticity to the productions.
Kayak around the Mokulua Islands
One of the best ways to take in the spectacular views of the Mokulua Islands is by kayak, on the water.
There are several tours that will enable you to do this, which not only provides you with plenty of fresh air, but also gives you a unique opportunity to discover different parts of it, like hidden coves and beaches.
Once launched from Oahu, it should take you between 45 minutes and two hours to complete the two-and-a-half-mile paddle which is an experience you will never forget.
Hike to see the Stairway to Heaven (the Legal Way)
The Stairway to Heaven has been one of Oahu’s major attractions since it was first built by the US Army in 1942.
Unfortunately, you can’t climb them anymore, as it is no longer open to the public. Many people have been injured on them over the years, and you face a hefty fine if you are caught doing so.
However, the 3,922 steps are still a magnificent and historical sight to behold which is something you can do from a safer location by walking the Moanalua Valley trail instead.
Check Out the Exhibits at the Bishop Museum
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum is a fabulous museum of science and history.
Situated in the Kalihi district of Honolulu, it has been regarded as one of the top-rated attractions for tourists on Oahu for many years now.
Founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop, in honour of his wife, it stands as the largest museum in Hawaii and possesses the biggest collection of Polynesian cultural artifacts in the world. It also has an interesting range of natural history specimens too.
For the visitor, it is a terrific way to learn about the traditions, history and culture of the local people and the island. It also has a live lava demonstration which is a fantastic site to behold!
See the Friday night fireworks at Waikīkī Beach
Looking for a family-friendly event that everyone will enjoy? Then be sure to check out the Friday night fireworks at Waikīkī Beach.
A regular event put on by the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, this incredible firework display starts at 7.45 pm and dazzles the sky over Waikiki Beach.
Originally planned as a celebration of the hotel’s $100 million renovation back in 1988, the event was so popular, they just kept on doing it!
It is free to watch. All you have to do is find a suitable spot on the sand. Alternatively, you can pay $20 per person – which includes a Mai Tai or non-alcoholic punch – to secure a prime seat by the Super Pool.
If you opt for the latter, you can even combine it with dinner and a show.
Things to Do in Maui
Known as ‘The Valley Isle’, Maui is the second biggest of the Hawaii Islands.
For more than 20 years it has been voted as the ‘Best Island in the USA’ by readers of Condé Nast Traveler, which is not surprising when you consider its landscape of fantastic beaches and the sacred Lao Valley.
Throw in delicious farm-to-table gastronomy, the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets you see from Haleakala and the spectacular view in the winter months of migrating humpback whales, and it really translates into a little slice of paradise.
Visit the spectacular shaped Molokini Crater
Over on the west coast of the island resides the spectacular Molokini Crater.
Partially submerged in a moon shape, this volcanic crater, according to Hawaiian mythology, was once a gorgeous woman who was locked in combat with an indomitable goddess called Pele, for the affections of the same man.
Far too powerful for Molokini, it is said that Pele cut her rival in two and cast her into a stone statue.
The small islet is uninhabited, but it serves as a fantastic spot for diving, snorkelling and jet boating. Both half and full-day tours are regularly available, many of which depart from Maalaea Harbor.
If you can, try and book a morning tour — I recommend this one — as opposed to the afternoon one, as the sea is generally clearer and calmer then.
It will take about an hour for the boat to ride out to Molokini, but once you get into the water, you will feel like you are swimming in an aquarium.
Ride on a Hawaiian Outrigger Canoe
For many people, their first exposure to Hawaii was the TV show Hawaii Five-0 and in particular the iconic theme tune, and the sight of locals riding an outrigger canoe in the credits.
If you ever watched it and thought, ‘I would love to do that!’ well now you can.
Outrigger canoes are an integral part of Hawaii’s culture and history, and whilst on Maui you can choose to take this class which will enable you to experience it for yourself.
As well as learning about Polynesian traditions, you will be able to venture out into the ocean, where you may even see turtles swimming around if you are lucky!
Experience the Paniolo Vibe on a Horseriding Adventure
As Maui, and Hawaii overall, is covered in dense vegetation, woodland and volcanoes, only a small portion of it can be seen via car or a tour bus.
So to really experience it why not channel your inner paniolo and go off the beaten track on horseback? Just like they did back in the day.
In Hawaiian culture a paniolo is a cowboy who herds cattle, whilst on horseback. There are several miles of horseback trails on the island that will provide you with an insight on how locals used to traverse the area.
All of these trails showcase paniolo ranches, as well as stunning parts of the landscape most other tourists won’t see. Some of them even lead you to the oceanfront, which will provide you with a unique rural-to-coast exploration.
Go on a Whale Watching Adventure
Hawaii is a renowned spot for whale watching and Maui is a particularly good destination for seeing them.
The months of November and April are the best times of year overall, as that is when upwards of 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska, where they feed in the summer, to Hawaii.
During this time, several tours will take you off the coast of Maui, to the Auau channel, which is just to the south of Lahaina, where they are especially prevalent.
The sight of the whales in their natural habitat, shooting from the water into the sky, will break you out into goosebumps.
If you can try and book a half day tour with a not-for-profit organization such as Pac Whale Eco Adventures. They donate all the profits they make to support the Pacific Whale Foundation, to assist them with their efforts of education, research and conservation.
Visit Haleakala National Park
The Haleakala National Park is one of Maui’s major highlights. So, it is well worth visiting during your time there.
Rising to 10,000 feet, the dormant Haleakala Volcano is perhaps its main drawcard. Somewhat exposed, it has a lunar-like landscape, which contrasts spectacularly with other parts of the park, that are covered in subtropical rain forests.
If you hike to the top of the crater, you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the whole island which will take your breath awake. It is especially beautiful if you do this at sunrise.
Adrenaline junkies will also enjoy the park for its biking riding and ziplining opportunities. The latter of which is a thrilling bolt through the treetops.
Travel First Class on a Maui Airplane Tour
For those who want a total overview of Maui’s magnificent landscape there is no better way of doing this than on an airplane tour.
There are plenty of experienced pilots who will take you on a private tour – some of which may even temporarily let you take control of the plane!
These tours cover all parts of the island, including the Haleakala Crater, Molokai Sea Cliffs and the Hana Rainforest. They run throughout the day and some even involve champagne!
Not only will you take in all the island’s outstanding natural beauty from this elevated position, but the pilot will also drop some interesting titbits of information about the local culture and geology during the flight.
Things to Do On the Big Island
While it might not have the most imaginative of names, there is no arguing that the Big Island is indeed big. Officially named Hawaii, it is both the youngest and largest island in the Hawaiian archipelago.
Boasting a diverse topography that includes green and black beaches, as well as two active volcanoes and some of the best snorkelling in the world, this is an ideal destination for nature lovers who want to escape the tourist throngs.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
If there is only one activity to do on this list, then – and we can’t stress this enough – you should make it a visit to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The chance to take an up close and personal look at an active volcano that features steam vents, lava fields, fumaroles and lava-formed arches is not to be missed.
A true, once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will get to explore one of Hawaii’s last remaining active volcanoes, where you will hike through lava tubes, and be able to see orange molten lava at night spewing from the Halemaumau Crater.
As well as the volcanoes, this World Heritage Site also showcases gorgeous scenery like waterfalls and grand cliffs too.
Try Your Hand at Deep-Sea Fishing
For those into deep-sea fishing, the Big Island offers some world class opportunities to reel in a whopper.
The area around the Kona Coast has a massive ocean drop off that plummets thousands of feet. Nicknamed ‘Grander Alley’, these deep waters are the home of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament and are known to accommodate large marlins that exceed 1,000 pounds!
You’ll find several varieties of big game fish in this zone, including the likes of sailfish, black marlin, blue marlin and striped marlin. The likes of wahoo, yellowfin tuna, skipjack ono and mahimahi are also frequently caught on a daily basis too.
At any given time, there is a huge selection of fishing charters and tours to choose from, which cater to all experience levels and group sizes.
Most of these leave from Honokohau Harbor, which is tucked away between the town of Kona and its airport. As each fish species has its own particular season, it is worth checking with your tour provider to establish what is likely to be in the water.
Some guides will even fillet and bag up your catch for you to cook up later. So, it’s worth checking if yours will do that for you prior to making a booking.
Go Turtle-Watching on a Black Sand Beach
If the attraction of going to see a volcanic black sand beach isn’t enough of a pull, how about checking out the magnificent giant sea turtles that reside on it?
Framed by palm trees and lush green foliage, the black sand of Punalu’u Beach, on the Kohala Coast, is an incredible sight.
Full of lava rocks, the beach is a pleasant one to walk or sunbathe on and is also lifeguarded in part. However, one of its main attractions is the hundreds of giant sea turtles who frequent these shores.
Throughout the beach they are prevalent – either on the shore or in the water – and they don’t mind having their photo taken.
Just remember to give the turtles their space and to never touch or feed them – you are in their home after all.
The beach is within easy driving distance of the main town centre. Should you drive there, you will find parking lots at either end of it.
When you are not checking out the turtles, you will be able to take in the impressive sight of several, exclusive, multi-million-dollar mansions as well.
Marvel at the stunning Papakolea Green Sand Beach
If you pay a visit to the black sand beach, then why not check out the fantastic Papakolea Green Sand Beach too?
One of only two green sand beaches in the entire USA, the beach is nestled within a 49,000 year old cinder cone that is part of the Mauna Loa volcano, and possesses the olivines (green crystals), from which the beach is named.
Getting to this incredible beach near South Point on the big island, requires a short hike. However, once you are there you will be able to swim, sunbathe and just marvel at the unique landscape you are in.
View the cosmos on a Mauna Kea stargazing tour
With light pollution on the Big Island being next to zero, this renders it one of the best places in the world to watch the sky at night.
One of the best ways to do this is on a Mauna Kea stargazing tour.
Lead by a guide, you will be taken to the summit of the tallest volcano in Hawaii, some 9,200 feet above sea level, as well as other prime vantage spots.
From there you will be able to enjoy all the wonders of the cosmos, as well as learn all about the beautiful constellations you see above.
It is a mesmerizing experience, which will stay with you forever.
Go spelunking in the Kula Kai Caverns
If you need to get your adrenaline juices flowing the opportunity to go spelunking in the Kula Kai Caverns should do the trick.
Featuring deep caverns, unique formations and cave experiences unlike anywhere else on earth, the Kula Kai Caverns are located on the island’s southern end.
Taking the form of a massive underground lava tube which is situated along the lower slopes of Mauna Loa, there are several tour options available to explore this 1,000-year-old system.
Led by very knowledgeable guides, who have an extensive appreciation of the formation and history of the caves, they range from a basic 30-minute tour that takes places in a lighted area, to tours that take place over several hours and involve crawling through passages that include lava formations and tunnels.
Check out the Lava Tree State Monument
Lava Tree State Monument is a fascinating public park which is situated less than three miles from the town of Pāhoa in the Puna District of the big island.
A place where stately trees once towered above the ground below, the site now showcases the captivating remnants of a lava flow eruption that swept through the woodland in 1790.
What is left of the tree trunks is now petrified in lava, which in themselves is an ethereal site. But when observed against a backdrop of orchids, bright blossoms and colourful birds that now flourish in the area, it takes on magical properties.
The walk through the park is less than a mile long, and free to complete. It is also easily managed by people of all levels of physical fitness.
Things to Do in Kauai
Sometimes called the ‘Garden Island’, Kauai is both the oldest, fourth largest and most northerly island in the Hawaiian archipelago.
Characterized by its emerald valleys, rugged cliffs and jagged mountainous spires, the island boasts a plethora of cascading waterfalls, flowing rivers and acres of tropical rainforest. Parts of it can only be accessed by sea or air, which only adds to its sense of isolation and remoteness.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Located on the western side of Kauai, it’s not hard to see why Waimea Canyon State Park is often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’.
Stretching for more than ten miles in length and up to a mile wide in some parts, and reaching depths of 3,600 feet, this canyon has a real ‘pinch me’ quality about it.
Featuring rock strata that takes on varying colours and accommodates stunning waterfalls, the canyon is best seen from the Puu hinahina and Puu ka Pele lookouts. Be sure to take your camera as you’ll take heaps of snaps for your Instagram.
While at the park you can also choose to go on a guided tour along one of the many hiking trails, or a kayak tour in the river below.
You can even take the opportunity to have a dip in one of the many swimming holes dotted throughout it.
Marvel at the Botanical Gardens
Did you know Kauai’s nickname is the ‘Garden Isle’?
This is thanks in part to its beautiful wilderness of variegated flora and verdant greenery. But also, because it has a collection of outstanding botanical gardens.
Whilst on the island, you should make the effort to visit at least one of them, as they house a terrific collection of spectacular and rare plants.
Allerton Garden is a good place to visit on account of its wonderful flowers and an impressive selection of fig and palm trees. Although the Princeville Botanical Gardens, which is a family-run facility, also showcases some splendid exotic flowers, as well as food-bearing and medicinal plants.
Other great options include the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the 260-acre Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens & Sculpture Park and the Limahuli Garden & Preserve.
Take a dip in the Queen’s Bath swimming hole
Hawaii can get very hot, especially during the summer months. So, what better way to cool off than to take a dip in the iconic Queen’s Bath swimming hole?
Situated on Kauai’s northern shore in Princeville, this natural saltwater tide pool was once used by royalty for bathing.
Surrounded by solidified igneous rock, the sinkhole is home to an array of marine life including angelfish, sea urchins and ‘ghost fish’.
Despite its comely appearance, more than 25 people have died here over the years, due to drowning in the ocean, after being knocked into it by unexpected large waves. So it is worth checking the surf report before you come.
As a general rule of thumb, if the biggest waves predicted are less than four feet tall, you should be ok.
Get your caffeine fix at Kauai Coffee Company
Love good coffee? Then you’ll want to head on over to the Kauai Coffee Company.
Offering the chance to ‘taste paradise, one cup at a time’, they pride themselves on producing unique coffee beans that are ‘grown in rich volcanic soil, touched by abundant mountain rain, warmed by the Pacific sun and cooled by the gentle Hawaiian trade winds’. Something they have done exquisitely well since 1899.
The largest coffee farm in America, you can take a free walking tour of the Kauai Coffee Estate. During which time, as you stroll through their orchard, you will learn all about how the coffee is grown, harvested and roasted on their premises.
Once completed, you will be able to sample some of their exclusive brands of estate grown coffee and also buy some souvenirs at their gift shop.
Visit Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park
In a state blessed with so many different dramatic landscapes, the fact that Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park manages to stand out as a highlight, gives you some indication of why you should go there.
Made famous by the Hollywood Blockbuster Jurassic Park, this incredible coastline features verdant cliffs that appear to ripple. It is also notable for the ‘wall of tears’ on Mount Waialeale, which is so called because of the way hundreds of cascades seem to weep from the craggy slopes.
If you are an accomplished hiker, you can tackle the magnificent Kalalau Trail, which is an eleven-mile trek, that traverses five valleys and will take you one day, each way to complete.
Alternatively, one of the best ways to take in this wonderful scenery is via a helicopter tour, which will give you an incredible bird’s eye view of it.
Other activities to do in the park include snorkelling, sailing and enjoying the golden sands of Ke’e Beach and Kalalau Beach.