21 Bucket List Things to do in Hawaii

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The Hawaiian archipelago is one of the most adventurous destinations to visit in the United States, being home to spectacular tropical coastlines, smoldering volcanic craters, and lush, green rainforests.

Each island is different though, and you’ll find that the four main islands each have their own vibes, their own different sights to see and their own unique cultural traits, which all add to the state’s immense diversity.  

You can see active volcanoes on the Big Island, snorkel with turtles on Maui, explore canyons on Kauai, or discover the city of Honolulu and the history of Pearl Harbor on Oahu.

There are a lot of things to do in Hawaii, so to help you to plan your trip, here are our favorites!

Don’t leave home without: Fodor’s Essential Hawaii (Full-color Travel Guide)

21 Things to do in Hawaii – Oahu

Things to do in Hawaii

1. Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is the most famous beach in the state, and it’s one of the best things to do in Hawaii, particularly if it’s your first time visiting the islands.

The beach is located along the shorefront of Honolulu, and the city quite literally melds into the coastal scenery, with the skyline contrasting perfectly with the white sands and blue ocean. The beach is lined with hotels, restaurants, and shops, and it’s the most bustling place on Oahu.

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Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Honolulu Waikiki & Oahu (Travel Guide)

Things to do in Hawaii

2. Climb Diamond Head Crater

If you look along the length of Waikiki Beach, you can’t miss the staggering sight of the Diamond Head Crater. The enormous crater is one of the largest on the island and the hike to the summit is one of the best things to do in Hawaii.

The hike from the base of the volcano is steep, but there are many steps built along the trail to help you out. The hike takes around 2 hours round trip, so start early to beat the heat, and take plenty of water to keep you hydrated.

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Things to do in Hawaii

3. Hanauma Bay

On the east side of Oahu, you can find the spectacular sight of Hanauma Bay, which forms a beautiful nature preserve on the coast. The bay formed around a semi-submerged volcanic crater, creating a unique, crescent-shaped bowl that’s teeming with marine life.

White sands line the shore, and dramatic cliffs rise high until they drop off into the clear, turquoise-blue water. It’s the perfect place for snorkeling, as the protected area is a haven for local species of fish and other marine wildlife which are found just off the beach.

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Things to do in Hawaii

4. Pearl Harbor

One of the most interesting things to do in Hawaii is to visit Pearl Harbor, site of the infamous Japanese attack that drew the United States into World War II in 1941.

Pearl Harbor is today home to many memorials commemorating the attack, including the USS Arizona Memorial and the USS Missouri Memorial, which both offer a somber look at the infamous day’s events. You can learn more about the attack that changed America forever, and the reasons behind it by spending the day exploring Pearl Harbor when you are in Oahu.

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Things to do in Maui

Things to do in Hawaii

5. Molokini Crater

Snorkeling or diving at the Molokini Crater is one of the best things to do in Hawaii. This semi-submerged volcanic crater is found off the island of Maui and is one of the most bio-diverse marine areas in the state.  

You can join tours from Maui that whisk you along the coast and out into the Pacific, before dropping you into the waters at the marine sanctuary within the crater. Dense,   and vibrant coral reefs are found sheltered within the cone, while the calm waters make it perfect for snorkeling.

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Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Maui (Travel Guide)

Things to do in Hawaii

6. Haleakala National Park

Maui’s most spectacular area of wilderness is found within the boundaries of the Haleakala National Park. The park is named for the massive Haleakala Crater, a volcanic crater that rises at its highest point to over 3000 meters in height.

The hike to the summit is one of the most arduous and challenging in Maui, but it’s one of the best things to do in Hawaii, as you’ll find yourself at high altitude and in otherworldly landscapes. If tackling the summit isn’t for you, then the national park is laced with different walking trails leading to smaller peaks, to valleys and to waterfalls.

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Things to do in Hawaii

7. Drive the Road to Hana

The Hana Highway is Maui’s eastern road that takes you from Kahului in the north to Hana in the east and then further south to Kipahulu. It’s one of the best road trips you can make in Hawaii, as the highway takes you past the best of Maui’s dramatic coastal scenery.

The east is nowhere near as built up like other parts of the island, and you’ll find yourself exploring isolated beaches and bays, discovering small coastal towns, villages and enjoying a quiet side of Maui that has been lost in the touristy areas.

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Things to do in Hawaii

8. Luau Feast

One of the most cultural things to do in Hawaii is to experience a Luau. This traditional, Hawaiian style feast is a dinner of epic proportions, and across Maui, you can find some of the best Luau.

A Luau involves eating an extraordinary amount of food, with the centerpiece being a pig that’s been slow-cooked in an earthen oven. These days, many of the Luau are aimed specifically at tourists, but that means that alongside the food you’ll be able to enjoy plenty of drinks as well as cultural performances from dancers and musicians.

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Things to do in Kauai

Things to do in Hawaii

9. Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon is one of the best things to do in Hawaii and this magnificent natural sight that’s located on the island of Kauai is absolutely beautiful to explore.

The canyon is formed by the Waimea River which cuts through the rock, and it’s vibrantly colored in different shades of red, orange and green. Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, you have all manner of adventure opportunities awaiting you at Waimea, from helicopter rides to hiking tours.

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Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Kauai (Travel Guide)

Things to do in Hawaii

10. Na Pali Coast State Park

The island of Kauai is all about the incredible scenery, and it’s home to some of the best parks in Hawaii. Na Pali Coast State Park is one of the most incredible places on the island, and few coastal scenes can match it for dramatic beauty.

The cliffs here are rugged and green, and the tallest rise to over 1000 meters in height. There are some excellent hiking trails through the valleys that lead to the cliffs, but one of the most exciting ways to experience Na Pali is by joining a thrilling helicopter ride along the coastline.

Things to do in Hawaii

11. Wailua River

Another adventurous spot to visit in Kauai is the Wailua River, which is the island’s longest and arguably, most scenic river.

Rolling green hills surround the wide waterway, and one of the best things to do in Hawaii is to join a canoe or kayaking tour or to take a boat cruise along the river. The river stretches for around 20 miles, and there are plenty of places to stop off along the route.

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Things to do in Hawaii

12. Hanalei Bay

Hanalei Bay is a huge crescent-shaped stretch of coastline that’s found on the north shore of Kauai. Here you can find 2 miles of gorgeous sands, and it’s often cited as being one of the best beaches in Hawaii.

The rustic coastline has yet to be taken over by mass tourism, but you’ll find plenty of surfing shacks and local businesses nearby catering to the intrepid travelers looking to explore and to enjoy the surroundings.

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Things to do on the Big Island

Things to do in Hawaii

13. Mauna Kea

On the Big Island, Mauna Kea is a volcanic peak that rises to over 4000 meters in height and has the privilege of being the highest point in Hawaii. Luckily the volcano is dormant, but it makes for one of the best things to do in Hawaii because you can actually drive on four by four trails to the summit.

The rough ride makes for incredible vistas, but be prepared for potential altitude sickness as you will be rising from sea level, rapidly to dizzy heights!

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Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Hawaii the Big Island (Travel Guide)

Things to do in Hawaii

14. Waipio Valley

The Waipio Valley is one of the Big Island’s most dramatic natural spots, and one of the greenest and most verdant places you can find in Hawaii. The wide valley is surrounded by tall forested hills, and it was once the realm of Hawaii’s early kings until they moved elsewhere.

Today, the valley is a wilderness, but it makes for great hiking and outdoor activities.

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Things to do in Hawaii

15. Volcanoes National Park

Big Island is one of the most volcanic places in the Pacific, and you can find an array of extinct, dormant and active volcanoes across the island. The Volcanoes National Park protects some of the most prominent, active volcanoes in Hawaii, and it’s one of the most dramatic, and somewhat terrifying places to visit!

Kilauea Volcano is the island’s most active, and you can watch it spurting lava from afar, while across the park you can find many more lava flows and other volcanic sights to see.

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Things to do in Hawaii

16. Kealakekua Bay

Kealakekua Bay is one of the best marine preserves on the Big Island, and it’s the perfect place to hit the water for a spot of snorkeling. The ocean along the coast is full of marine life and coral and you’ll see plenty of fish and aquatic wildlife close to shore.

The bay is also one of the most historic places in Hawaii, as this was one of the first areas to be settled by Polynesians, and it was also the spot where Captain James Cooke was killed in the 18th century.

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About David Stock

I have always been an outdoorsman so becoming an adventure traveler was just the next natural step. I love nature, I love to get off the beaten path and I like to explore. I enjoy scuba diving and cars. And yes, Lina and I have a naked dog.

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1 thought on “21 Bucket List Things to do in Hawaii”

  1. I really liked what you shared about the volcanoes national park and all the active volcanoes there! I’m hoping to plan a trip to Hawaii with my kids since they’ve never been there.


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