🏝 25 Best Places to Visit in Hawaii for Epic Photos (2024)

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.

Most people just think of Hawaii as a place to visit for beach vacations, but it is actually one of the most incredible destinations for landscape photography that we have ever been to!

Nowhere else in all of our travels have we discovered such strangely-colored beaches, and there is so much more.

Hawaii is home to dark night skies, dramatic seascapes, a thriving underwater world, and even an active volcano.

In this guide, I will provide a list and information on all the best places to go in Hawaii. Each featured destination will include descriptions, as well as advice on how to get there and capture the best possible photos.

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β˜€οΈ Best Places to Visit in Hawaii: Overview

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)

🌴 25 Best Places to Visit in Hawaii

β›° 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.
A view of the Na Pali coast, as seen on our boat tour in 2019.

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The Na Pali coast of Kauai is one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever encountered. The first time I saw them, I thought the jagged cliffs looked like they had been carved by the claws of dragons!

The Na Pali coastline features sheer, vertical cliffs covered in lush tropical greenery and a small collection of unspoiled white sand beaches accessible only by boat.

Due to the verticality of the Na Pali cliffs, nearly the entirety of the region is inaccessible by foot. Accordingly, the best way to experience them is with a boat tour and/or scenic flight.

The Kalalau Trail provides the only real hiking opportunity for seeing part of Na Pali on foot. It is a 22-mile out-and-back trek that requires a permit in advance.

🏝 2. Lanikai Beach (Oahu)

Sophie Marland plays on Lanikai Beach under a palm tree.
Sophie at Lanikai Beach.

Most visitors come to the Hawaiian islands for the postcard-worthy beaches, and Lanikai Beach on the East Coast of Oahu is the most beautiful of all!

One of the best Instagram spots in Oahu, this white sand beach is met by impossibly clear water and towering palm trees. It looks like something you would expect to see on the travel brochure cover for Hawaii.

Our favorite thing about Lanikai Beach was how few people were there! It seems like all the tourists flock to Waikiki Beach and the Oahu North Shore, ignoring this hidden gem altogether.

If beaches are your priority, put Lanikai Beach at the top of your Oahu itinerary.


🌊 3. Red Sand Beach (Maui)

Kaihalulu, colloquially known as “Red Sand Beach”, is a true hidden gem and one of the strangest beaches I have ever encountered.

As a landscape photographer, I always get excited by rare and unusual scenery. Red Sand Beach is one of my favorite places to photograph in Hawaii, as there are few places like it anywhere in the world!

In fact, the only other place I have ever seen a red sand beach in over a decade of travel is in the Galapagos Islands.

This clothing-optional cove is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii, but may not be accessible for long. Intense discussions continue regarding the dangers presented by the trail to the cove.

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 our complete guide to Kaihalulu Red Sand Beach to understand the safety risks, find directions, and learn more.

πŸŒ‹ 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.
A lava lake bubbles at night, captured on our 2022 visit to Big Island.

Peering down into a glowing lava lake as it bubbles and pops with red fireworks is an experience that will be tattooed in my mind for the rest of my life.

It is not only one of the best things to do on the Big Island, but in all of Hawaii!

There are few places in the world where you can witness the awesome power of a volcano, which is why Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is absolutely one of the best places to go in Hawaii.

If possible, I recommend trying to time your visit for twilight or after dark. Against the black of night, the lava can be seen radiating heat and power, illuminating the darkness like something out of Lord of the Rings.

For those who wish to follow my advice for a night visit but do not want to drive in the dark, I recommend either booking overnight accommodation in Volcano Village or booking a guided night 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 swallowed a rainbow.

This is especially fitting as Hawaii is known as “the Rainbow State”!

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

πŸ’¦ 6. Road to Hana (Maui)

The famous Road to Hana is on the list of the Top 5 best scenic drives in the USA.

The narrow road winds through the lush Maui rainforest. On the way to Hana, we drove past dozens of roadside waterfalls, spectacular beaches, and quaint towns.

While the entire drive is beautiful, some of the best Road to Hana stops include the Mile 8 Rainbow Eucalyptus trees, black sand beach, red sand beach, Haleakala National Park, and the Seven Sacred Pools of Oheo.

If you are visiting Maui and considering the Road to Hana, I strongly recommend you have a look at our ROAD TO HANA ITINERARY first! There is a lot to consider in planning for this epic drive.

πŸŒ… 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.
This view from Hanalei Lookout was captured on our visit to Kauai in 2019.

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

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.

If you are like us, you will want to spend at least some of your Hawaii vacation away from the crowds. The North Shore is the best place to do this on Oahu!

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, this region still provides a unique experience to the rest of Oahu. The beaches are spectacular, especially for surfing, and the pace of life is a lot slower.

I get anxious in traffic and crowds, which is why we usually stay in Turtle Bay whenever we visit Oahu.

🚁 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. This tour allowed participants to swim off the shores of the island, but it was illegal to step foot onto land.

As of 2021, a half-day helicopter tour now allows visitors to spend 3 hours on one of Ni’ihau’s untouched beaches.

Should you decide to book the helicopter tour to Ni’ihau, you will be one of the only people on this planet to ever touch the land.

🀿 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.

In my opinion, Maui is the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling. There are several marine reserves that host a vibrant underwater world, but Molokini Crater is perhaps the best spot to snorkel on Maui of all.

The only way to reach the crater is via a boat tour. Even if snorkeling is not your thing, the trip is still an amazing one. You are likely to see migrating whales (seasonal), dolphins, and lots of aquatic wildlife right from the boat.

As impressive as Molokini Crater is from underwater, perhaps the best view is from the sky. I recommend that passionate photographers like myself consider a scenic flight over Molokini to capture the scene from a bird’s-eye view.

✈️ 11. Halawa Valley (Molokai)

Halawa Bay Beach in Molokai on a sunny day.

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.

πŸ– 12. Papakolea Green Sand Beach (Big Island)

Sophie Clapton strolls the green sand beach of Big Island, Hawaii.
Sophie strutting the shore of Green Sand Beach on the Big Island.

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.

Before you get your hopes too high, just know that the sand is really more of an olive color. Do not be fooled by many of the photos you will see on Google and other websites that have saturated the color or even changed the hue.

The sand derives its color from the olivine mineral, which is part 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)

One of the must-see places on every Maui itinerary is Haleakala National Park.

The park is divided into three regions, but the best are the Summit Region and the O’heo Gulch Region.

The Summit Region is considered the best place to watch sunrise on Maui. Alternatively, many people like to partake in a bicycle tour of Haleakala National Park.

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. Most of these are seen while driving the Road to Hana.

⚠️ Pro Tip: Dress warm for the summit and prepare tours or permits in advance!

🐠 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.

Visitors of the Captain Cook Monument are almost guaranteed to be visited by the resident pod of dolphins and to encounter at least one Hawaiian green sea turtle while snorkeling.

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

We have snorkeled here three separate times and have had dolphins swim up to our boat on each occasion!

πŸ“Έ 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.

Lanai is Hawaii’s least populated sister island (excluding the Forbidden Island).

Renting a car and exploring Lanai was one of the highlights of our first trip to Maui. This is not something most tourists do, but we feel it is well worth it for anyone interested in photography!

On our visit to Lanai in 2022, we discovered an amazing island full of impressive landscapes that are unique to other Hawaiian islands.

Shark’s Bay was our favorite spot to visit on Lanai. This incredible inlet features red cliffs that surround crystal-clear water.

Shark’s Bay is not a great place for swimming or snorkeling but it is one of Hawaii’s most photogenic destinations.

🍹 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.
A busy day at Ka’anapali Beach.

Considered the “Waikiki of Maui”, Ka’anapali Beach was once considered the best beach in the world!

While I would argue it is not even the best beach in Hawaii, it consistently finds its way to the official Top 10 Best Beach list globally.

This 3-mile stretch of white sand and crystal clear water is sheltered by the West Maui Mountains, which provide a stunning backdrop to this tropical paradise.

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

Queen’s Bath is one of my favorite places for photographing seascapes. I used a tripod and CPL to create the breathtaking long-exposure images seen above.


πŸ–€ 18. Waipi’o Valley (Big Island)

The Waipio Valley is a remarkable natural wonder that most tourists visiting the Big Island unfortunately ignore.

This region features lush vegetation, an incredible black sand beach, and towering waterfalls that over sea cliffs into the ocean far below.

While traveling to the Waipio Valley has become more complicated in recent years, it remains one of the best places to visit in Hawaii for those who are able.

*Waipio Valley Road Closures & Updates*

The Waipio Valley Road was closed to non-residents in 2022. However, as of 2023 it is possible to visit the area by booking a tour that includes a stop here.

The Waipio Lookout is still open to the public and offers spectacular views of the valley.

Additionally, scenic helicopter tours are also available. This is one of the most enjoyable things to do on the Big Island and offers a unique perspective of Hawaii’s diverse landscapes.

🌺 19. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens (Oahu)

Sophie Clapton poses in a red dress while walking up the road at the entrance to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Oahu.
Sophie posing on the entry road to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens.

The Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens are one of the most Instagrammable places in Oahu. A 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.

If you hope to capture something similar to what we have in the photo above, be aware that you must arrive before opening hours!

πŸ™ 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.

πŸŒ… 21. Secret Beach (Maui)

A stunning sunset photograph by Adam Marland from Secret Beach in Maui.

Maui is famous for having a handful of incredible secret beaches.

Among them, Makena Cove Beach, also known as Maui Secret Beach or Secret Cove Beach, is the most photogenic.

What makes Maui Secret Beach so special is that it is hidden in plain sight. Because there are no entry signs, however, this paradisiacal cove remains quiet at all times of day.

You can find directions and more information in our COMPLETE GUIDE TO MAKENA COVE BEACH.

πŸ’š 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.

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

What I love most about the scenery here is how the jet-black sand contrasts with vibrant green palm trees and the deep blue ocean. This comes together to create one of the most impressive scenes from Maui.

Despite the increased difficulty in preparation now required for visiting, the famous Black Sand Beach of Maui is still a must-see.

For those who are unable to get a permit or prefer to have things taken care of for them, consider booking a tour that includes Black Sand Beach.


🚒 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.

The National Park Service manages the Pearl Harbor historic monument. You can visit the site for free, but require a ticket for the USS Arizona Memorial.

There is no longer a walk-in ticket system! Therefore, I strongly recommend you make reservations online in advance at recreation.gov. Half of the tickets are released three months ahead of time, and the rest are made available at 3pm HST the day prior.

If Pearl Harbor is a must-see for you and you’re unable to reserve your free ticket, you can still get there by booking a tour. Tours will include transport and guaranteed entry to Pearl Harbor National Monument as well as the USS Arizona Memorial.

β˜•οΈ 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 who became Kona’s coffee pioneers during the early 20th century and how Kona’s world-famous coffee came to be.

🍍 Honorable Mentions: Best Places to Visit in Hawaii

As you can likely tell, we have discovered a lot of incredible places to visit in Hawaii throughout our numerous trips to the islands.

Below are some of my personal favorite places to explore that did not make the top 25 list. You can see some of my photos from each location in the gallery above.

  • 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)
  • HulopoΚ»e Beach Park (Lanai)

πŸ™‹β€β™€οΈ 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?

The most famous and beautiful places to visit in Hawaii, broken down by island, include:

  • Kauai: Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon
  • Maui: Red Sand Beach, Haleakala, and the Road to Hana
  • Oahu: Waikiki, North Shore, and Lanikai Beach
  • Big Island: Captain Cook Monument, Waipio Valley, and Volcanoes NP.

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 something you expect to see on travel 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.

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Written by
Adam Marland is a professional travel blogger and landscape photographer from Oregon. After over a decade of experience as a freelance travel photographer, Adam found national acclaim when he became the National Park Foundation's β€œChief Exploration Officer” in 2021.

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