Hawaii is a dream destination for many. The allure of tropical islands fringed with white sand beaches and coral reefs paired with lush jungle landscape, waterfalls, and volcanoes creates a picture of an island paradise that is hard to resist.
Hawaii is actually made up of a number of islands, atolls, and islets, though there are eight main islands that are perfect for exploring and vacationing. These islands are: Hawaii (The Big Island), Maui, Oahu, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Kauai, and Niihau. Each of which offers something unique and is worth a visit.
So if you are planning your trip to Hawaii and looking for inspiration on how to get the most out of these islands, we’re here to provide you with some inspiration.
1. Drive The Road to Hana
A world-famous drive, the Road to Hana is not to be missed. Incredible views of the surrounding forests, ocean, and waterfalls. Not to mention some small stops along the way where you can meet the friendly locals. This iconic route is a definite must in Hawaii.
2. Visit Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor really is a must see when in Hawaii. It’s one of the top sites in Honolulu, and for good reason. The historical importance alone makes it worth a stop but there are also some pretty impressive ships and submarines worth looking at as well.
3. Be Awed by the Volcanoes
The Big Island of Hawaii is known for its impressive Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It’s fascinating to see and explore but one of the biggest highlights is seeing the molten hot lava pouring into the ocean. It’s pretty mesmerizing.
4. Swim with Manta Rays
Ocean lovers will love the world-famous manta night dive that takes place on the Big Island. Every night groups go out into the pitch black ocean with flashlights. The light attracts plankton which in turn attracts the majestic manta rays which will swim around you as they feed.
5. Go Whale Watching
Maui is famous for the humpback whales that frequent the warm waters around the island every year between the months of November and April. This is where the whales give birth so you will likely see some calves as well. You can take a whale watching tour or just keep an eye out for them from the beach.
6. Spot the Sea Turtles
Sea turtles are loved across Hawaii, and one of the best places to see them is on Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Sea turtles can frequently be found napping on the beach or swimming offshore. Remember- look but don’t touch!
7. Discover the Napali Coast
The Napali Coastline is postcard-worthy with its towering cliffs and lush forests. Travelers can see it from the water by boat, from the air by a helicopter tour, or by foot along the hiking paths.
8. Drive along Hamakua Coast
Another great pick for a scenic drive is the Hamakia Coast. This stretch connects Kohala and Hila and offers spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean.
9. Drive down Hawaii 560
This short stretch of road is only ten miles, but its unique because its listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The road follows that is said to be an ancient Hawaiian walking trail and includes 13 historic bridges and culverts.
10. Waimea Canyon
Nicknamed as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ this 14-mile-long Canyon offers some incredible panoramic views of the rugged, rocky crags and deep valleys. There are a number of different trails suitable for hikers of all levels.
11. Hike Through Haleakala National Park
This dormant volcano is a popular trekking destination thanks to its moon-like landscape. While it looks incredibly barren and desolate, this area is actually home to some of the rarest plant, bird, and insect species in the world.
12. Take a Surf Lesson
Surfing is pretty synonymous with Hawaii, especially the North Shore on the island of Oahu which is home to some of the top surf competitions in the world. Don’t worry though, Waikiki Beach has gentle little waves and plenty of surf schools to get you started.
13. Experience Honolulu’s Nightlife
Hawaii is known as a tropical escape, but it’s capital, Honolulu, is a vibrant and modern city. When it comes to nightlife, you have a number of choices ranging from clubs to cool rooftop bars and even karaoke venues.
14. Partake in a Luau
If a traditional Hawaiian Luau is on your list of things to do in Hawaii, then you have quite a few places to choose from. There are a number of options that offer delicious traditional Hawaiian food and cultural performances well into the evening. Many Luaus require reservations so book well in advance.
15. Play Jurassic Park
Any movie fans who love Jurassic Park probably know that these movies were filmed in Oahu and yes, you can take tours. Join an ATV tour to see the stunning scenery in the films. Dinosaurs not included.
Hawaii’s islands are filled with scenic hiking trails to hidden waterfalls or panoramic viewpoints. There are a number of trails varying in degrees of difficulty so make sure to do a bit of research ahead and choose what is best for you personally. Keep in mind that one of Hawaii’s famous climbs, The Ha’iku Stairs also known as the Stairway to Heaven, is actually illegal and trespassing here comes with a $1000 USD fine.
17. Snorkel or Scuba Dive
While the Hawaiian Islands are beautiful from above, they are pretty impressive under the waves as well. The waters surrounding these islands are home to some incredible marine life that makes it the perfect destination for scuba diving and/or snorkeling.
18. Swim with Sharks
Hawaii is home to a number of species of sharks, some of which you may even come across while scuba diving. Or, for a guaranteed thrill, you can also consider cage diving.
19. Be a Beach Bum
Hawaii’s Beaches are top notch and while some of the bigger and well-known ones can get crowded, there are a few hidden gems as well. Sunset views from some of these beaches are pretty spectacular as well.
20. Marvel at the Night Sky at Mauna Kea (Hawaii)
Mauna Kea is known for its clear conditions and pristine views of the starry night skies. It’s known by astronomers around the world frequently who come to visit, but tourists can as well. Come early to see the sunset- it’s a perfect vantage point.
21. Get Your Fresh Fruit Fix
Love mangos? How about guava or papaya? Have you ever tried fresh lychee? Hawaii’s fresh fruit will have you drooling. Plus, it’s easy to find fresh at local food markets and even road-side stalls. Just make sure to ask if it’s local!
22. Explore Waipio Valley (Hawaii)
There’s something almost mystical about beautiful Waipio Valley which is named after the river that runs through it. It was once a royal area but today is popular with outdoor enthusiasts looking to experience some of the best of Hawaii’s nature. You can explore Waipio Valley by foot, horseback, or by vehicle.
23. Chase Hawaii’s Many Waterfalls
Hawaii’s lush jungles are filled with waterfalls. Some big, some small. Some are easy to get to while others require a bit more time and effort. They are stunning to see. However, before you consider jumping in the pools at the base check with locals and make sure it’s safe to swim; some contain not so nice bacteria.
24. Learn about Kona Coffee
If you love coffee, you have no doubt come across Kona coffee. Here, on the Big Island, you can actually visit one of the Kona coffee farms for a tour. See the fields, learn about the roasting process, and then grab a cup of smooth coffee before you go.
25. Kayak The Rivers, Kauai
Most people who come to Hawaii spend their time sitting by the beach and enjoying the surrounding ocean, however, Kauai has some pretty great rivers in the interior as well that are definitely worth exploring. There are no rapids, so it’s a pretty easy and relaxing way to explore.
26. Mountain Tubing (Kauai)
River kayaking sound like a bit too much work? How about mountain tubing through the canals and tunnels of Kauai? Guests are given a headlamp and a tube to float down old irrigation systems dating back to the late 19th century.
27. Check out Chinatown (Oahu)
This fun neighbourhood in Honolulu is a great place to explore, grab a bite to end, or spend a night out. It’s become a very trendy district as is home to several boutiques, galleries, and bars. If you are in town the first Friday of the month, be sure to head here for the block party.
28. Explore Little Japan (Oahu)
As well as a Chinatown, Oahu also has a Japanese community that foodies will love to visit. There are a few izakaya, which is a Japanese-style tavern/bar, that services up grilled, fried, and raw dishes. You can also get beer, sake, or sochu here.
29. Spend a Day with Wild Dolphins
We don’t support captive dolphin programs, but the waters around the Hawaiian Islands are full of wild dolphins who can be quite curious. There are a number of responsible tours that will take you out to see them in their natural habitat, either by motorized boat, sailboat, or kayak. Just made sure to do your research ahead of time and make sure you are going with a good company.
30. Take a Catamaran Trip
Is there anything more relaxing than spending your day sailing through the pristine blue waters off the shores of the Hawaiian Islands? Stop for a swim, have lunch on board, and keep your eye out for some of Hawaii’s incredible marine life.
31. Cool Down with Shave Ice (Oahu)
Shave Ice is a popular treat in Hawaii and one of the best spots to get it is Matsumoto Shave Ice in Haleiwa on Oahu.
32. Watch a Real Hula Show
There is no shortage of hula dancers across the resorts and upscale hotels in Hawaii, however, while these professionals may be fantastic to watch, you can have a more local experience within the communities themselves. Check with the locals, or even reception at the front desk, to see if there are any local festivals or even hula fundraisers on during your visit.
33. Listen to Hawaiian Music (Maui)
For a fun night out check a live Hawaiian music show. One of the best places to do this is at the Maui Arts and Cultural Centre in Kahului which regularly features the top Hawaiian musicians.
34. Play a Round of Golf (Maui)
Hawaii is a perfect playground for adventurous activities and sports, but you can also take part in the classics here as well. Golf is a popular past-time here, and Maui is home to some of the top courses. Bonus: You can take advantage of ‘twilight fees’ so save some cash.
35. Take a doors-off Helicopter Tour
Helicopter tours are popular across all of the Hawaiian Islands, but the best place to do one is in Kauai where about 70% of the islands is inaccessible by land. So take to the air to get those gorgeous views. After all, flying with the doors off means nothing is in the way to ruin those pristine views.
36. Take a Submarine Ride (Maui)
Ever wondered what it would be like to see the ocean from a submarine? This is your chance. Hope aboard Atlantis Submarine Maui which will take you more than 100 feet underwater to search the reefs and even a shipwreck for tropical fish, sharks, and dolphins.
37. Take a Nighttime Paddle (Oahu)
Every Friday night there are guided tours out off of Waikiki Beach that include paddleboard fixed with flashlights so paddlers can look below in search of the nocturnal marine life. Don’t forget to look up as well though, as you also get great views of the weekly fireworks displays.
38. Visit Hawaii’s Breweries (Hawaii)
Craft beer has taken over the world and Hawaii is no exception. The Big Island is home to a few great breweries that are perfect for visiting and tasting. Try the Kona Brewing Company or Mehana Brewing Company.
39. Try Some Hawaiian Mead (Kauai)
Mead sounds like a strange thing to drink in the islands of Hawaii, but the island of Kauai actually has its own Meadery. Nani Moon Meadery uses local fruits and spices to create their mead which is more crisp than sweet.
40. Sip some Hawaiian Rum (Kauai)
If craft beer and mead aren’t your thing, then how about the local rum? Koloa Rum Company in Lihue creates small batch rum from the local sugarcane. They have the traditional white and dark rums as well as flavored varieties such as coffee and coconut.
41. Visit Ahu’ena Heiau (Hawaii)
Ahu’ena Heiau is considered to be one of the most historically significant places in the state of Hawaii. This building was a sacred, religious temple used by King Kamehameha the Great; the man who united all of the Hawaiian Islands. The Heiau was the site of his political power and the place of his death.
42. Pay Homage to the Father of Modern Surfing (Oahu)
Duke Kahanamoku; Olympic swimmer, Hollywood actor, sheriff of Honolulu, father of modern surfing, and Hawaiian ambassador has been memorialized in the form of a 9-foot-tall bronze statue on Waikiki Beach. It’s one of the most photographed sites in the state.
43. Try Your Hand at Windsurfing
At one point, windsurfing was more popular in Hawaii than surfing. This sport still remains popular today and for those interested in giving it a shot, you can take lessons. It’s possible to windsurf on all of the Hawaiian Islands but Maui and Oahu tend to be the most popular spots for it.
44. Explore the Islands by Horseback
Horseback riding is very popular in Hawaii and is one of the preferred methods of sight-seeing. Visitors can join group tours or arrange a private tour. Or, for those unfamiliar with horseback riding, you can even arrange some lessons.
45. Indulge in a Luxury Spa Package
The Hawaiian Islands are tropical paradises, so it makes sense to add a bit of luxury to your visit. Each of Hawaii’s islands offers a large selection of traditional and local massage treatments to help rejuvenate and relax. Check out Hawaii’s best spas and choose a treatment or package that best suits you.
46. Tour a Pineapple Plantation
Dole Plantation, which is a 60-acre pineapple plantation located on Oahu’s North Shore, is a fun way to spend half a day. Take a train tour to explore the grounds, watch a pineapple cutting demonstration, and try not to get lost in the Pineapple Garden maze which is also the largest maze in the world.
47. Visit the Local Cats (Lanai)
Cat lovers rejoice because Lanai has visitor friendly cat sanctuary. This sanctuary is home to about 500 cats who are affectionately nicknamed “Hawaiian Lions”. Each of the cats here is also available for adoption.
48. Zipline Through the Trees
Zip lining has become a popular tourist activity on the Hawaiian Islands. It’s fun and adventurous way to explore the lush jungles of the islands and suitable for the whole family.
49. Get a Hand Tap Tattoo (Oahu)
If you loved your time in Hawaii and are looking for the ultimate souvenir, then get a local tattoo. Soul Signature Tattoo in Honolulu offers traditional Polynesian style tattoo using a number of blades which are tapped with a stick to form tiny cuts. It’s the oldest form of tattooing in the world.
50. Get up Early for a Hawaiian Sunrise
We know, it’s your vacation and super early mornings are probably not what you had in mind. But at least once during your visit get up before dawn and head to a sunrise spot to take in the start of the day. Hawaiian sunrises are quieter and more private than the sunsets, but just as spectacular.
From scuba diving to hiking, local farmer’s markets to nightclubs, and a number of cultural and historical activities, the islands of Hawaii have no shortage of things to do in Hawaii to keep you busy and entertained. Meaning the hardest decision that you will have will be deciding which islands(s) to visit for your next vacation.