25 Best Places to Visit in Hawaii: World Famous & Hidden Gems

Best places to visit in Hawaii blog cover image.  Text overlaying a silhouetted man standing at the edge overlooking Queens Bath on Kauai at sunset.

The best places to visit in Hawaii come in many varieties, from strangely-colored beaches to active volcanoes, and even a “forbidden island”.

For most visitors, a vacation to Hawaii is little more than cocktails and beach days. For the adventurous explorers, however, the Hawaiian islands provide a plethora of unbelievable landscapes unlike any you will find elsewhere in the world.

In this guide, you will find all the best places to go in Hawaii with descriptions, photos, and links to travel guides and tours when relevant.

Planning a trip to Hawaii? Find cheap flights, where to stay, and more:
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Best Places to Visit in Hawaii Overview

Each item on the list below will be briefly discussed with an accompanying photo in the next sections.

The top 25 best places to visit in Hawaii are:

  1. Na Pali Coast (Kauai)
  2. Lanikai Beach (Oahu)
  3. Red Sand Beach (Maui)
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)
  5. Waimea Canyon State Park (Kauai)
  6. Road to Hana (Maui)
  7. Hanalei Bay (Kauai)
  8. Oahu North Shore (Oahu)
  9. The Forbidden Island (Ni’ihau)
  10. Molokini Crater (Maui)
  11. Halawa Valley (Molokai)
  12. Papakolea Green Sand Beach (Big Island)
  13. Haleakala National Park (Maui)
  14. Captain Cook Monument (Big Island)
  15. Shark’s Bay (Lanai)
  16. Ka’anapali Beach (Maui)
  17. Queen’s Bath (Kauai)
  18. Waipi’o Valley (Big Island)
  19. Oahu Botanical Garden (Oahu)
  20. Waikiki Beach & Diamond Head (Oahu)
  21. Secret Beach (Maui)
  22. Kalaupapa National Historic Park
  23. Waianapanapa State Park & Honokalani Black Sand Beach (Maui)
  24. Pearl Harbor (Oahu)
  25. Kona Coffee Living History Museum (Big Island)

Best Places to Visit in Hawaii: The List & Photos

1. Na Pali Coast (Kauai)

A photo with low clouds over the rugged cliffs of the Na Pali coast.  The Na Pali coast is considered one of the essential best Hawaii places to visit.

The Na Pali coast of Kauai is one of the most incredible landscapes you will ever discover and is unanimously considered one of Hawaii’s best places to visit.

Sheer, jagged cliffs covered in lush tropical greenery surround unspoiled white sand beaches that are only accessible by boat. If Kauai is making an appearance on your Hawaii itinerary, you simply cannot miss a Na Pali coast boat tour and/or scenic flight.

Due to the verticality of the cliffs, nearly the entirety of region is inaccessible by foot. The only exception to this is the Kalalau Trail which is a challenging 22-mile out-and-back hike that requires a permit in advance.


2. Lanikai Beach (Oahu)

A postcard perfect palm tree over white sand and aqua water at Lanikai Beach on Oahu is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii

Most visitors come to the Hawaiian islands for the postcard-worthy beaches. In a state with as many tropical shorelines as Hawaii boasts, the absolute most beautiful of all is Lanikai Beach on the east shore of Oahu.

One of the best Instagram spots in Oahu, this white sand beach is met by impossibly clear water that looks like a painting of a Hawaiian daydream.

If beaches are your priority, put Lanikai Beach at the top of your Oahu itinerary and list of the best places to visit in Hawaii.

DISCOVER THE BEST BEACHES ON EACH HAWAIIAN ISLAND:
THE BEST BEACHES OF HAWAII COMPLETE GUIDE


3. Red Sand Beach (Maui)

Kaihalulu, colloquially known as “Red Sand Beach”, is a true hidden gem and one of the strangest beaches you will find anywhere in the world.

This clothing-optional cove is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, but may not be for much longer. Intense discussions continue surrounding the trail access to the cove and the dangers of it.

If you are planning a trip to Maui in the near future, traveling without children, and have full mobility, you should consider adding Red Sand Beach to your Hawaii bucket list while it is still an option.

Be sure to read this complete guide to Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach in its entirety to understand the safety risks involved, find directions, and more.


4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)

Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii to witness a bubbling lava lake at night.

Peering down into a glowing lava lake as it bubbles and pops with red fireworks is an experience that will become tattooed on your brain for the rest of your life. It is not only one of the best things to do on the Big Island, but in all of Hawaii.

Few places in the world allow you to witness in real time the awesome power of an active volcano, which is why Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is absolutely one of the best places to go in Hawaii.

If possible, try to time your visit for twilight or after dark. Though impressive anytime, night viewings provide the full effect of the lava radiating heat and power, illuminating the darkness like something out of Lord of the Rings.

For those that prefer not to drive back in the dark, we recommend either booking a night in Volcano Village or booking a tour.


5. Waimea Canyon State Park (Kauai)

A helicopter is seen amongst the colorful walls of Waimea Canyon in Kauai, one of the most impressive places to visit in Hawaii

Known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, the colorful walls of Waimea Canyon on Kauai look like they were painted by one of Hawaii’s many rainbows.

Not only is Waimea Canyon the largest in the Pacific, but it is considered one of the top 10 best canyons in the US.

Overlooks throughout Waimea Canyon State Park provide sweeping vistas of the impressive scenery, but those with the time to hike into its depths will discover one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.


6. Road to Hana (Maui)

The famous Road to Hana is one of the Top 5 most scenic drives in the USA. The journey winds through lush rainforest, past dozens of roadside waterfalls and spectacular beaches, and arrives in a quaint, historic part of east Maui.

While the entire drive is beautiful, some of the best Road to Hana stops include rainbow eucalyptus trees, black and red sand beaches, Haleakala National Park, and the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo, to name a few. All of these destinations are worthy contenders for a spot on the best places to visit in Hawaii list, with many appearing!

Want to drive the Road to Hana? Learn everything you need to know in
THE ULTIMATE ROAD TO HANA ITINERARY


7. Hanalei Bay (Kauai)

A view of the green mountains of the Kauai north shore from Hanalei Bay overlook, one of the best Hawaii places to visit.

Hanalei Bay on the Kauai north shore is one of those places in Hawaii that has earned an almost mythological reputation, yet somehow still impresses.

While the annual rainfall in Kauai, particularly on the north shore, is problematic for many visitors, it is this same precipitation that gives the Garden Isle its spectacular beauty.

No place is this more evident than in the Hanalei Valley where lush green mountains surround the white sand Hanalei Beach and the tropical blue waters of the Pacific Ocean.


8. Oahu North Shore (Oahu)

Because of Oahu’s immense popularity and tourist appeal, things can get a little crowded. When planning your Oahu itinerary, be sure to include at least a day trip to the North Shore.

The Oahu North Shore was once a sanctuary of sorts for surfers and visitors hoping to get away from the crowds, tourist traps, and high rises.

While it can hardly be defined as a hidden gem, the north shore still provides a unique experience to the rest of Oahu and is worth a spot on your Hawaii bucket list. The beaches are spectacular, especially for surfing, and the pace is a bit slower.


9. The Forbidden Island (Ni’ihau)

An aerial view of the entire island of Ni'ihau, known as the "Forbidden Island".

Ni’ihau is a private island in Hawaii owned by the Robinson family. Only members of the family or people directly invited are allowed to visit.

Prior to 2021, the only way to visit the 7th inhabited Hawaiian island, known as “The Forbidden Island” of Ni’ihau, was with a snorkel tour from Kauai that allowed participants to swim off the shores of the island. Even then, it was illegal to step foot onto land.

While that is still perhaps the best option for most, a half-day helicopter tour now allows visitors to spend 3 hours on one of Ni’ihau’s untouched beaches. When you are talking about the best places to visit in Hawaii, being able to experience an island that few people on this planet have ever been to has to be near the top.


10. Molokini Crater (Maui)

An aerial view of snorkeling boats at Molokini Crater, Maui

Rounding out the Top 10 best places to visit in Hawaii is the crescent-shaped Molokini Crater, famous for its unbelievable snorkeling. Many consider Maui to be the best Hawaiian island to snorkel, and Molokini Crater has the best snorkeling on Maui.

The only way to reach the crater is via a boat tour from Maui. Even if snorkeling is not your thing, the trip is still an amazing one where you are likely to see migrating whales (seasonal), dolphins, and no shortage of aquatic life.

As impressive as Molokini Crater is from underwater, perhaps the best view is from the sky. Consider taking a scenic flight over Molokini to take in its beauty from a bird-eye-view.


11. Halawa Valley (Molokai)

Halawa Bay Beach in Molokai

The sister islands of Hawaii are some of the best places to visit to find secluded tropical beaches without the noise and crowds. Among them, Molokai is the most populated and the most beautiful.

In a place of such natural beauty, the Halawa Valley stands apart as the most photogenic region on “The Friendly Isle” as it is known.

Whether your goal is to hike and explore or simply find a quiet Hawaiian beach free of tourists, Halawa will leave you delighted. For those short on time or not looking to plan a visit to Molokai, you may wish to consider a scenic flight over Molokai to take in its spectacular scenery from above.


12. Papakolea Green Sand Beach (Big Island)

Sophie Clapton strolls the green sand beach of Big Island, Hawaii.

A green sand beach?! That’s right, Hawaii is home to red, black, and even a green sand beach.

Papakolea Beach, also known as Hawaii Green Sand Beach, is located in a remote part of the Big Island. The sand is really more of an olive color, deriving its hue from the olivine mineral as a result of the island’s volcanic legacy.

Not only is this unusual beach stunning to look at, but it is home to the softest sand in all of the Big Island of Hawaii.


13. Haleakala National Park (Maui)

A prominent feature on any Maui itinerary is either a sunrise, sunset, or bicycle tour of Haleakala National Park.

Despite the difficulty in acquiring reservations, sunrise from the peak of Haleakala continues to be at the top of every Hawaii bucket list.

But Haleakala is more than just panoramic vistas over the island of Maui. In fact, it is also home to several waterfalls, a bamboo forest, and the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo.

*Be advised that the popular Maui bamboo forest within Haleakala National Park was closed to the public in 2021 and will remain closed indefinitely. *


14. Captain Cook Monument (Big Island)

Considered the best place to visit in Hawaii for snorkeling, no trip to the Big Island is complete without a boat tour of Captain Cook Monument.

Swimmers are all but guaranteed a visit from the resident dolphin pod, as well as plentiful turtle sightings.

What’s more, the coral gardens at the monument are world-class and teeming with tropical fish and other underwater wonders.


15. Shark’s Bay (Lanai)

Aqua water laps the white sand beach, surrounded by red lava rock cliffs at Puu Pehe Bay (Shark's Bay) on Lanai.

Shark’s Bay features red cliffs surrounding crystal clear water off the Lanai shoreline.

It is not the best place in Hawaii for swimming, but is one of the most photogenic destinations you will find anywhere in the state.

What’s more, Lanai is the smallest (public) sister island of Hawaii and is often missed as a result. Aside from a few other tour groups and day trippers, visitors can expect quiet beaches, particularly at Shark’s Bay.


16. Ka’anapali Beach (Maui)

Ka'anapali Beach consistently is ranked as one of the best beaches and Hawaii places to visit by TripAdvisor and other popular travel companies.

Considered the Waikiki of Maui, Ka’anapali Beach in West Maui has been named not only as the best beach in Hawaii, but the best in the world! In fact, it consistently finds its way to the Top 10 list for best global beaches.

This 3-mile stretch of white sand and crystal clear water is sheltered by the West Maui Mountains which also contribute to the incredible scenery.

In addition to the beach, the resorts and village at Ka’anapali create an attractive option as one of the best places to stay on Maui.


17. Queen’s Bath (Kauai)

Adventure seekers and those focused on photography in Hawaii will especially enjoy the hidden gem known as Queen’s Bath on Kauai.

An open lava rock shelf on the Kauai north shore receives the tides head-on, creating spectacular displays of oceanic activity.

The views to the west make it an exceptional place for watching sunset on Kauai, particularly at high tide.


18. Waipi’o Valley (Big Island)

The Waipio Valley is a truly remarkable nature wonder. The area features lush vegetation, an incredible black sand beach, and towering waterfalls spilling over sea cliffs into the ocean below.

Unfortunately, as of 2022, the valley became even more difficult to explore. Due to unsafe road conditions, the only way to drive into the Waipi’o Valley was closed off entirely to non-residents.

However, we have still included Big Island’s Waipi’o Valley on our list of best places to go in Hawaii as there are ongoing discussions about improving the road to allow access for tourists. Additionally, you are still able to discover the incredible natural beauty of the Big Island’s Waipio Valley from the scenic viewpoint.


19. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens (Oahu)

The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are one of the most Instagrammable places in Oahu. Thriving tropical jungle meets towering mountains in this east Oahu treasure.

While the entrance road may be the most popular place to visit and photograph, be sure to venture further into the gardens where a stunning scene reminiscent of Jurassic Park awaits.


20. Waikiki Beach & Diamond Head (Oahu)

View of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu and Diamond Head in the background as seen from a high rise hotel.

Despite our personal dislike for the crowds and high rises of Waikiki, it is impossible to ignore the vast appeal of this idyllic region of Oahu.

By the number of visitors, Waikiki Beach is the most popular place to visit in Hawaii. It provides over 90% of the tourist accommodation on the island of Oahu, built up right on the imported sand of the beach.

Nearby is the most popular hike in Hawaii up to the peak of Diamond Head. From here, hikers can enjoy expansive panoramic views over Waikiki and Honolulu.


21. Secret Beach (Maui)

Maui is actually famous for having a handful of incredible secret beaches to discover, but none is more beautiful or sought out than Makena Cove Beach, aka Maui Secret Beach or Secret Cove Beach.

Aside from the seclusion, what makes Maui Secret Beach so special is that it is hidden in plain sight and is possibly the most photogenic beach on the entire island.

FIND DIRECTIONS AND EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW IN OUR
COMPLETE GUIDE TO MAKENA COVE BEACH


22. Kalaupapa National Historic Park

The iconic, rugged north shore of Molokai as seen from Kalaupapa National Historic Park

Molokai is home to a dark and tragic history, but also one filled with bravery and resilience.

Visiting Kalaupapa National Historic Park is one of the best things you can do on a visit to Hawaii if you want to understand more about the culture and events that shaped the Hawaiian islands.

But a visit to Kalaupapa provides more than just a history lesson. Visitors can take a mule ride down to the base of the tallest sea cliffs in the entire world! This alone makes it worthy of including on your Hawaii bucket list.


23. Waianapanapa State Park & Honokalani Black Sand Beach (Maui)

The most popular spot on the Road to Hana in Maui is Honokalani Black Sand Beach. Jet black sand contrasts with vibrant green palm trees and deep blue ocean to create one of the most impressive places to visit in Hawaii.

Unfortunately, this popularity has come with a cost. Permits are now required to park at Waianapanapa State Park and an additional one is needed to actually go to the beach!

Despite the increased difficulty in preparation now required for visiting, the famous Black Sand Beach of Maui is still a must-see. For those that are unable to get a permit or prefer to have things taken care for them, consider booking a tour that includes Black Sand Beach.

LEARN EVERYTHING ABOUT THE NEW SYSTEM:
RESERVATIONS GUIDE FOR WAIANAPANAPA STATE PARK


24. Pearl Harbor (Oahu)

Aerial view of Pearl Harbor in Oahu Hawaii

With over 2 million visitors each year, Pearl Harbor is the most popular attraction to visit in Hawaii. At Pearl Harbor, you’ll discover five historic sites honoring the devastating events that occurred here during World War 2 and changed the course of history.

Managed by the National Park Service, visits to Pearl Harbor Visitor Center are free and no ticket is required for the museums. The USS Arizona Memorial program does require a ticket, however, the tickets are free.

There is no longer a walk-in first come first serve ticket system. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that advanced reservations are made online at recreation.gov. Half of the tickets are released 3 months ahead of time and the rest are made available at 3pm HST the day before.

Typically we would not recommend booking a tour to visit Pearl Harbor as tickets are free. However, if this is a must-see for you and you’re unable to reserve your free ticket, then a tour may be a good option. By booking a tour, not only is transport taken care of but you are guaranteed entry to Pearl Harbor National Monument and USS Arizona Memorial.


25. Kona Coffee Living History Museum (Big Island)

A person picking a coffee been at a Hawaii coffee farm

For those who love history, culture, and coffee, the award-winning Kona Coffee Living History Museum should definitely be included on your list of places to go in Hawaii. The production of coffee and the farmers it brought to Kona have helped to shape the town as much as the towering volcanoes that provide its backdrop.

The museum is the only living history coffee farm in the nation and provides an immersive way to experience Kona’s past. Strolling through the outdoor museum you will learn about Kona’s Japanese immigrants that became Kona’s coffee pioneers during the early 20th century and how Kona’s world-famous coffee came to be.

Best Hawaii Places to Visit: Honorable Mentions

  • Maui North Shore (Maui)
  • Olivine Pools (Maui)
  • Punalu’u Black Sand Beach (Big Island)
  • Polihale State Park (Kauai)
  • Tunnel Beach (Kauai)
  • Garden of the Gods (Lanai)
  • Shipwreck Beach (Lanai)
  • HulopoĘ»e Beach Park (Lanai)

FAQS about Hawaii’s Best Places to Visit

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the best places to visit in Hawaii by clicking the dropdown boxes below.

What are the best Hawaii places to visit?

The top 25 places to visit in Hawaii are:

  1. Na Pali Coast (Kauai)
  2. Lanikai Beach (Oahu)
  3. Red Sand Beach (Maui)
  4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)
  5. Waimea Canyon State Park (Kauai)
  6. Road to Hana (Maui)
  7. Hanalei Bay (Kauai)
  8. Oahu North Shore (Oahu)
  9. The Forbidden Island (Ni’ihau)
  10. Molokini Crater (Maui)
  11. Halawa Valley (Molokai)
  12. Papakolea Green Sand Beach (Big Island)
  13. Haleakala National Park (Maui)
  14. Captain Cook Monument (Big Island)
  15. Shark’s Bay (Lanai)
  16. Ka’anapali Beach (Maui)
  17. Queen’s Bath (Kauai)
  18. Waipi’o Valley (Big Island)
  19. Oahu Botanical Garden (Oahu)
  20. Waikiki Beach & Diamond Head (Oahu)
  21. Secret Beach (Maui)
  22. Kalaupapa National Historic Park
  23. Waianapanapa State Park & Honokalani Black Sand Beach (Maui)
  24. Pearl Harbor (Oahu)
  25. Kona Coffee Living History Museum (Big Island)

What are the best places to go in Hawaii?

This depends on which island or islands you are visiting.

The most famous and unique places to visit in Hawaii are the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon of Kauai, Red Sand Beach and the Road to Hana of Maui, Waikiki, North Shore, and Lanikai Beach of Oahu, and Captain Cook Monument and Volcanoes National Park of Big Island.

What is the most beautiful place to visit in Hawaii?

Lanikai Beach is the most beautiful place in all of Hawaii. This idyllic beach is impossibly beautiful and every photo looks like a brochure cover.

Landscape photo with a tall palm over vibrant turquoise water and white sand at Lanikai Beach, the best beach in Hawaii on the island of Oahu.

More Hawaii Travel Guides

Need some help planning your upcoming trip of a lifetime? Browse the titles below for help planning the most important elements of a Hawaii vacation. This includes what to pack, how to find cheap flights, where to stay, the best itineraries, and everything else you need to consider.

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