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)
Things to do in Hawaii – Oahu
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.
Our top recommended tours including Waikiki Beach:
- Waikiki and Diamond Head Segway Tour
- Waikiki Trolley Hop-On Hop-Off Tour of Honolulu
- Surfing Lessons On Waikiki Beach
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Honolulu Waikiki & Oahu (Travel Guide)
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.
Our top recommended tours including Diamond Head Crater:
- Waikiki to Diamond Head Bike and Hike with Hidden Beach and Local Guide
- Complete Island Eco Helicopter Small-Group Tour from Oahu
- Oahu Koko Head Hike
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.
Our top recommended tours including Hanauma Bay:
- Open-Door Helicopter Tour over Oahu
- Ultimate Circle Island Adventure with Waimea Waterfall
- Tour of North Shore and Hanauma Bay
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.
Our top recommended tours including Pearl Harbor:
- Ultimate Pearl Harbor Circle Island
- Day at Pearl Harbor Tour
- Half-Day Pearl Harbor City Tour from Waikiki
Things to do in Maui
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.
Our top recommended tours including Molokini Crater:
- Molokini Sail and Snorkel Adventure
- Molokini Crater and South Maui Coast Adventure
- Molokini and Turtle Arches Snorkeling Trip
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Maui (Travel Guide)
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.
Our top recommended tours including Haleakala National Park:
- Maui’s Best Adventure – Haleakala Bike & Zipline Tour
- Haleakala Sunset Tour and Dinner on Maui
- East Maui 45-minute Helicopter Tour over Haleakala Crater
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 as 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.
We use Discover Car Hire for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.
Our top recommended tours including Hana Highway:
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.
Our top recommended tours including a Luau Feast:
Things to do in Kauai
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.
Our top recommended tours including Waimea Canyon:
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Kauai (Travel Guide)
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.
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 at along the route.
Our top recommended tours including Wailua River:
- Wailua River and Secret Falls Kayak and Hiking Tour
- Wailua River Kayak and Hike Adventure
- Private Kauai North Shore Tour
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.
Our top recommended tours including Hanalei Bay:
Things to do on the Big Island
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!
Our top recommended tours including Mauna Kea:
- Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour
- Mauna Kea Sunrise Experience
- Private Tour of Mauna Kea Summit Sunrise
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Hawaii the Big Island (Travel Guide)
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 on 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.
Our top recommended tours including Waipio Valley:
- Small-Group Big Island in A Day: Volcanoes, Waterfalls, Sightseeing, History
- Experience Hawai’i Big Island Helicopter Flight from Kona
- Small Group Waipio Valley and Waterfalls Adventure
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.
Our top recommended tours including Volcanoes National Park:
- Small Group Tour: Deluxe Volcano Experience with Restaurant Dinner
- Small-Group Big Island Tour: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Kona Coffee Farm
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Big Island Highlights Small Group Tour
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.
Our top recommended tours including Kealakekua Bay:
- Historical Dinner Cruise to Kealakekua Bay
- Dolphin Encounter and Kealakekua Bay Reef Snorkel
- Kealakekua Bay Deluxe Snorkel Cruise
|HIGHLIGHTS OF HAWAII – MAUI & BIG ISLAND|
Kahului to Kailua-Kona
|HAWAII MULTI-ISLAND ADVENTURE|
Waikiki to Kailua-Kona
|HAWAII ADVENTURE – OAHU & KAUAI|
Waikiki to Kapa‘a
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More on Hawaii:
- 13 Epic Things to do in Honolulu (Plus travel tips!)
- 50 Incredible Things to Do in Maui
- 10 Best Maui Hikes for Insane Views
- 20 Best Beaches in Maui: Ultimate Maui Beach Guide
- Where to Stay in Maui – Our Top Recommendations
- Ultimate Road to Hana Guide – Maui, Hawaii
- Maui Jeep Rental- Should I or Shouldn’t I?
- Extreme Doors Off Helicopter Tour in Maui, Hawaii
- Maui Whale Watching in Hawaii
- Old Lahaina Luau: Best Luau in Hawaii
- Molokini Crater Underwater Adventure in Maui
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