Official Hawaii Bucket List: Best Things to Do in Hawaii (All Islands)

Best things to do in Hawaii bucket list blog cover image.  Text overlaying a photo of a vibrant orange sky as the sun dips below the horizon of the ocean and creates a green flash.

From luaus to secret red sand beaches to green flashes and beyond, discover all of the best things to do in Hawaii to ensure a truly unforgettable vacation!

In this guide, you will find a printable version of the ultimate Hawaii bucket list, including all of the must-see and must-do activities, as well as the top 10 things to do on each island.

While the tan will fade, the photos and memories of some of these incredible adventures will last a lifetime.

Disclosure: In order to keep providing you with free content, this post likely contains affiliate links. If you make a booking or purchase through one of these links we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. So a HUGE thank you to you if you click one of these links 🙂

Printable Hawaii Bucket List

There is something so satisfying about being able to physically check off each item on the list of the best things to do in Hawaii.

For those of you who want an actual, tangible Hawaii bucket list and not just a hypothetical version, click the button below to have one emailed directly to you.


Best Things to Do in Hawaii Overview

Each item presented in this list will be discussed in detail below with images to help you visualize the adventure. This section will provide a quick reference of the ultimate Hawaii bucket list and the best things to do on each island.

The best things to do in Hawaii are:

  1. Visit all 7 inhabited islands
  2. Snorkel with sea turtles
  3. Go whale watching
  4. Attend a traditional Hawaiian luau
  5. See Hawaii by helicopter
  6. Enjoy dinner on a sunset sail
  7. Try to spot “the green flash”
  8. Go stargazing and look for the Milky Way
  9. Learn to surf
  10. Look for an endangered Hawaiian monk seal

In addition, the following are the top things to do in Hawaii on each individual island:

Big Island of Hawaii

  1. Manta Ray Night Snorkel
  2. Volcanoes NP Lava Lake
  3. Snorkel Captain Cook
  4. Green Sand Beach
  5. Stargazing at Mauna Kea
  6. Kona Coffee Tour
  7. Waipio Valley
  8. Black Sand Beaches
  9.  Pu’uhonua O Honaunau Royal Grounds
  10. Hilo Rainforest

Maui

  1. Road to Hana
  2. Red Sand Beach
  3. Haleakala Sunrise or Bike Tour
  4. Snorkel Molokini Crater
  5. Myths of Maui Luau
  6. Lanai Day Trip
  7. Maui Secret Beaches
  8. Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees
  9. Sunday Drum Circle
  10. Visit Turtle Town

Kauai

  1. Na Pali Coast Sail
  2. Na Pali Coast Flyover
  3. Drive Waimea Canyon State Park
  4. Kayak Wailua River
  5. Hike Kalalau Trail / Kalepa Ridge
  6. Soak in Queen’s Bath
  7. Visit Hanalei Bay
  8. Fireknife Ceremony
  9. Forbidden Island Tour
  10. Drive Polihale

Oahu

  1. Take a hike
  2. Sunrise at Lanikai Beach
  3. Visit Pearl Harbor
  4. Snorkel Hanauma Bay
  5. Tour Jurassic Park
  6. Visit the North Shore
  7. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens
  8. Explore Honolulu
  9. Swim with Sharks
  10. Swim at Waimea Falls

Molokai

  1. Kalaupapa National Park
  2. Halawa Valley
  3. Kaunakakai Historic Town
  4. Beach Hopping
  5. Sea Cliff Flyover

Lanai

  1. Snorkel & Landing Tour
  2. Garden of the Gods
  3. Shark’s Bay
  4. Shipwreck Beach
  5. Manele Golf Course

Best Things to Do in Hawaii
General (All Islands)

While most of the best things to do in Hawaii are specific to an individual location, there are a few things you should try to include on your Hawaii itinerary no matter which island you go to.

These include things such as sharing some aloha with a local honu (Hawaiian for sea turtle), or watching the sunset and trying to spot the famous “green flash”.

Below are the top 10 things to do in Hawaii that you can do on any island.


1. Visit all SEVEN Inhabited Hawaiian Islands (including The Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau!)

An aerial view of the entire island of Ni'ihau, known as the "Forbidden Island".  Visiting all 7 islands is a Hawaii bucket list essential.

Most people don’t realize that there are actually SEVEN inhabited Hawaiian islands.

To truly complete the ultimate Hawaii bucket list, the first and most important checkbox to tick is visiting all seven islands including the four major islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Big Island as well as the three sister islands of Lanai, Molokai, and Ni’ihau.

Find out how to visit all 7 in our 14-day Hawaii Island Hopping itinerary.


2. Snorkel with Sea Turtles (Honu)

Snorkeling with a sea turtle in the coral reef at Captain Cook Monument.

If you have never swam with a sea turtle, you are in for a far more spiritual and memorable experience than you are probably imagining.

Watching these peaceful creatures effortlessly glide through the crystal clear waters of Hawaii and coming up for air together is one of those lifetime memories you will always cherish.


3. Go Whale Watching

A whale tale slaps the water on a whale watching cruise.  This is one of the most popular things to do in Hawaii.

There are several channels through Hawaii that are like underwater freeways for migrating whales.

If you visit Hawaii during the migration season, typically Nov-Apr or thereabouts, be sure to spend plenty of time looking out at the horizon to spot the bouncing tales and spraying air of whales on the move.


4. Attend a Traditional Hawaiian Luau

This photo shows a traditional Hawaiian luau taking place at sunset and is one of the most recommended things to do in Hawaii.

Learn about Hawaiian heritage and ancient stories told through ceremonial dance and display while being served delicious Hawaiian cuisine… what could be better?

A feast for all the senses, attending a traditional luau is a must on your Hawaii bucket list.


5. See Hawaii from Above (helicopter tour)

An aerial view of the Napali Coast on a helicopter tour in Kauai.

If you have never been on a helicopter, it is hard to describe how much it changes your perspective.

It is one thing to drive around the Hawaiian islands observing it by land, but quite another to truly appreciate the dramatic landscape from the air.


6. Enjoy a Romantic Sunset Sail

Crossing a sunset sail off of the Hawaii bucket list.

Adventures aside, part of visiting Hawaii is enjoying a well-deserved vacation.

Take at least one night on your visit to slow down and enjoy the sunset while being treated to cocktails and finger foods.

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7. Try to Spot the “The Green Flash”

Photo of the green flash that occurs at sunset in Hawaii.

There is a split second as the sun crosses exactly halfway below the horizon where a green flash appears.

One of the favorite nightly traditions on Hawaii is to peer out on clear evenings and look for the legendary green flash.


8. Go stargazing and find the Milky Way

Stargazing and finding the Milky Way over Kilauea Caldera on Big Island of Hawaii.

If you live in a city, you have probably never seen stars as bright as you will in some places on Hawaii.

Take a night to enjoy the heavenly display of our night skies from some of Hawaii’s famous dark sky reserves.

You can do this by yourself or book a stargazing tour to reach even darker skies.


9. Learn to Surf

A surfer rides the waves at Pine Trees Beach during a magical sunset in Hawaii.

Considered the home of surfing, Hawaii is the best place in the world to learn to surf. Although more accurately, you’ll probably spend most of the day learning to fall off a surfboard!

Even if you never successfully ride a wave, there is something therapeutic about bobbing around the incredible Pacific Ocean under the warm tropical sun.


10. Find an Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

An endangered monk seal posing for the camera at sunset on Makalawena Beach on the Big Island.  This is one of the hardest animals to cross off a Hawaii bucket list for wildlife viewings.

Hawaii is the only place to find the appropriately named Hawaiian monk seal.

While this animal is endangered, it is still somewhat common to see one resting on the shore during a visit to Hawaii if you do a bit of beach hopping and exploring.


Best things to do in Hawaii
Big Island

The Big Island is the “youngest” Hawaiian island and is actually still being formed to this day! Few places in the entire world offer the ability to see new earth being created before your eyes, but the adventurous and fortunate will see exactly that at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

What’s more, did you know the Big Island has the best snorkeling in Hawaii? Beyond the endless coral gardens, there is also a high population of giant manta rays that you can snorkel with each night as they come belly to belly with visitors for their evening feast.

If you are visiting the Big Island of Hawaii and want the most complete guide available, queue up our BEST THINGS TO DO ON BIG ISLAND ULTIMATE GUIDE with 101 activities, tours, and more, to read next.

Below are the top 10 best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii.


1. Swim with Manta Rays on a Night Snorkel

Underwater photo of a manta ray at night.  The manta ray night snorkel is one of the best things to do in hawaii.

No experience is more magical than seeing one of these gentle giants come floating effortlessly toward you, then barrel-rolling at the last possible moment as it majestically skims the surface to feast on plankton that gathers by the light.

If you only book one tour on the Big Island, make it this one. No snorkel experience is required and it is a memory that will last a lifetime.


2. See the Lava Lake at Hawaii Volcanoes NP

A bubbling lava lake at night in Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of the few places you can actually gaze into an active volcano! Talk about something for the Hawaii bucket list!

If possible, try to time your visit for twilight or after dark to ensure the best possible viewing conditions.

While a tour isn’t necessary, you may wish to consider one to avoid driving back at night or just want all the plans taken care of.


3. Snorkel at Captain Cook Monument

Dolphins swim alongside a boat at Captain Cook Monument on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Considered the best spot on the best Hawaiian island for snorkeling, booking a snorkel tour to Captain Cook Monument is at the top of most first-time visitors’ lists of the best things to do in Hawaii on Big Island.

Expect to swim with schools of tropical fish in stunning coral gardens and to be visited by a resident dolphin pod!


4. See the only Green Sand Beach in the US

A view of Green Sand Beach from an upper viewpoint while visiting Big Island.

While it is really more olive than green at best, Papakolea Beach is nevertheless one of the most popular activities on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Not only is the olivine-tinted sand unusual in color, but it is the softest sand on the island.


5. Go Stargazing at Mauna Kea or Volcanoes NP

A couple holding hands with a camera photographing the milky way in Hawaii.  Stargazing is one of the best things to do in Hawaii due to its dark skies.

The night skies in Hawaii are truly special, but nowhere in the state are they darker than on the less-developed Big Island.

While there are plenty of places to observe the celestial beauty, Mauna Kea and Volcanoes NP are known for having the darkest skies and best stargazing in Hawaii.

You will find a number of tours that will take you to these dark sky areas and allow you to learn more about the night skies.


6. Taste Kona Coffee at the Source

The best place to have coffee is fresh from the source in Kona.

Kona Coffee is celebrated worldwide as one of the best source origins. The rich, volcanic soil and tropical climate provide ideal conditions for this sacred caffeinated nectar.

Learn about the journey from bean to cup and sample the freshest Kona coffee imaginable with a farm tour.


7. Discover the Waipi’o Valley

Aerial photo of the waipio valley, one of the best places to visit in Hawaii on the Big Island.

Many consider the Waipio Valley the most beautiful region on the Big Island and one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.

Lush greenery, towering falls, and tropical volcanic black sand beaches provide a unique beauty you won’t find in many places on this planet.

Update: Unfortunately, as of 2022, the access road to Waipio Valley has been closed to non-residents. However, it is hoped that it will be reopened following road repairs and, in the meantime, the viewpoint is still accessible.


8. Discover volcanic Black Sand Beaches

A turtle rests on the shore of one of the best beaches on Big Island at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach during a magical sunset.

One of the best things to do in Hawaii is to discover the unusual beauty that a volcanic legacy provides.

On no island is this more apparent than Big Island, which features a collection of otherworldly black sand beaches such as the turtle sanctuary of Punalu’u, featured here.


9. Visit the Royal Grounds at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area

A sunset visit to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area in South Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii.  This is one of the best things to do on Hawaii for learning about the culture of native hawaiians.

It is not just the beaches that are beautiful in Hawaii; the history, culture, and native people are worth appreciating as well.

Few places in Hawaii offer more insight into a time slowly being forgotten and paved over than the royal grounds at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Area.


10. Explore the Rainforest and Waterfalls of Hilo

Peepee Falls flowing through a beautiful valley in Hilo.

Most of your time will be spent on the dry side of the Big Island in Kona. However, the wet side of Hilo is certainly worth a visit.

The thriving jungle vegetation is a stark difference from the rest of the island and provides a unique beauty worth exploring.


Best things to do in Hawaii
Kauai

Kauai is the island best known for its incredible landscapes and natural beauty. That is, of course, not to suggest any of the other islands are lacking in either of these categories!

Outdoor lovers and adventure-seekers will find the best things to do in Hawaii on the Garden Isle of Kauai.

Below are the top 10 things to do in Kauai to include on your Hawaii bucket list. If you’re planning a trip to Kauai, you may also want to check out our detailed guide to the 35 best things to do in Kauai!


1. Sail the Na Pali Coast

Sailing the Na Pali coast on a boat tour is one of the best things to do in Hawaii for anyone visiting Kauai.

The one true MUST-do activity on Kauai is to explore the breathtaking cliffs of the Na Pali coast.

Due to its jagged, sheer landscape, the coastline can only be truly explored via sea or sky.

Both are worth doing, but the boat tour is the arguably better option as it allows you more hours and comes at a lower price point.

Some also explore sea caves, waterfalls, and provide snorkel stops!


2. Visit Jurassic Falls & Fly Over the Na Pali Coast

A helicopter tour to Jurassic Falls over the Na Pali coast of Kauai.

If you have never been on a helicopter before, there is no better place to do it than Kauai.

Even if you are considering a Na Pali coast boat tour, the experience of seeing this region by sky is entirely different.

One company even provides a Jurassic Falls landing along with their Na Pali sky tour, which is the only way to experience one of the best waterfalls in Kauai.


3. Explore Waimea Canyon State Park

A rainbow over Waipo'o Falls in the Waimea Canyon of Kauai in Hawaii.

The Waimea Canyon is one of the largest canyons in the US and is referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

Visiting the geological marvel of Waimea Canyon is one of the best things to do in Hawaii that can be done without a tour.

The scenery here demonstrates exactly what you get when you cross “the Rainbow State” with the Grand Canyon!


4. Kayak the Wailua River & Find “Secret Falls”

Kayaking the Wailua River in Wailua Valley in Kauai.  This has become one of the most popular things to do in Hawaii for visitors seeking Secret Falls.

Kayaking the idyllic Wailua River and Wailua Valley has always been a favorite activity for visitors.

Recently, it has become one of the most popular things to do in Hawaii after the internet brought some fame to the “Secret Falls” that savvy visitors can discover within the jungle therein.


5. Hike the Kalalau Trail and/or Kalepa Ridge Trail

A short hike along the Kalepa Ridge Trail reveals one of the most impressive land views of the Na Pali coast of Kauai.

There are only two ways to gaze upon the incredible Na Pali cliffs by land. The first is with the immensely popular Kalalau Trail, which requires permits, reservations, and a lengthy hike.

The second is with a short, secret hike along the Kalepa Ridge. If possible, try to arrange your hike to coincide with an epic Kauai sunset.

READ OUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO THE KALEPA RIDGE TRAIL


6. Float in Queen’s Bath

A sunset photo from Queens Bath in Kauai.

It should be noted first and foremost that entering the water of Queen’s Bath is dependent on tides and can be dangerous when the tide is coming in!

If caution is observed, the scenery here is incredible and worth a place on your Hawaii bucket list even if you aren’t able to enter the water at the time of your visit.


7. Visit World Famous Hanalei Bay

A view of the green valley and blue water of Hanalei Bay near Princeville in Kauai.

The home of “Puff the Magic Dragon”, Hanalei Bay is a postcard-perfect scene on the Kauai north shore.

Many Princeville in Hanalei as the best place to stay on Kauai, but even those located elsewhere on the island absolutely have to make a day trip to admire the natural beauty of the Hanalei Valley.


8. Take Part in a Fireknife Ceremony

Fire surrounds a man at a traditional Samoan fireknife experience in Kauai

Learn about the history, culture, and art form of traditional Samoan Fireknife Dancing for an unforgettable interactive experience.

Not only will participants be able to watch live performances, but afterward they have the chance to showcase their own skills with an authentic fireknife!

This often overlooked opportunity is one of the best things to do in Hawaii for anyone with an interest in the rich heritage of the native islanders.


9. Visit the Forbidden Island of Ni’ihau

A rare view of the sea cliffs on the Forbidden Island of Hawaii in Niihau, only accessible to the public via Kauai.

Known as “The Forbidden Island”, visitors have not been allowed to step foot on the island until very recently.

Once upon a time, the only way to get to the private Hawaiian island of Ni’ihau was with a personal invitation from the Robinson family who own it.

Now, it is possible to snorkel off the pristine, untouched shores of the island, or even touch land with a half-day helicopter tour from Kauai!


10. Drive on the Beach at Polihale State Park

Green water meets golden sand and the sea cliffs of Na Pali in this photo from Polihale State Park on the southwest shore of Kauai.

The most remote region of South Kauai is a long expanse of pristine white sand beach known as Polihale.

Vehicles with 4WD can even drive on the sand!

This beautiful coastline is a favorite for locals, campers, and stargazing.


Top 10 Best things to do in Hawaii
Maui

Maui has the most diverse range of incredible things to see and do of all the Hawaiian islands. It boasts a little bit of everything.

Whether you are into honeymoon hotels, romantic cruises, scenic drives, idyllic beaches, snorkeling, diving, or want to get off the beaten path, Maui has it all.

Below are the top 10 things to do on Maui.


1. Drive the Scenic Road to Hana

A white car crosses over a bridge in front of one of the many waterfalls on the famous Road to Hana, considered one of the best things to do in Hawaii and on every Hawaii bucket list.

The most famous thing to do in Maui and on the top 5 most famous roads in the US is the Road to Hana. Driving this scenic route is a requirement on any Hawaii bucket list.

Whether by self-drive or tours, prepare to have your nose glued to the window as you drive past rainbow eucalyptus, waterfalls, and lush rainforest scenery.

RELATED GUIDES
Road to Hana Itinerary
Top 25 Road to Hana Stops


2. Discover the only Red Sand Beach in the US

A young female walks the shores of Red Sand Beach on Maui.

Maui is home to one of the only red sand beaches in the world. Unsurprisingly, finding this hidden gem is one of the best things to do in Hawaii and at the top of every Hawaii bucket list.

Kaihalulu Beach, also known as Red Sand Beach, is located near the town of Hana. Be aware, however, that locals will not be quick to help you find it!

The trail continues to degrade and should not be attempted by anyone with mobility issues or children.

If you are hoping to visit, be sure to first read our complete guide to Red Sand Beach for safety information, directions, and more.

LEARN MORE ABOUT
Red Sand Beach Maui


3. Explore Haleakala by Bike and/or at Sunrise

A photo from the peak of Haleakala.  Visiting this national park is on every Hawaii bucket list that includes a visit to Maui.

Haleakala is the highest point on Maui and a favorite destination for sunrise, though it is great for sunset as well.

Be aware that sunrise visits require special reservations or tours.

The volcanic legacy of the caldera near the peak has created a colorful, charred landscape that feels like another planet.

Cycling down the mountain has become the most popular way to visit Haleakala National Park as it allows you to stop and take in the sights frequently while letting gravity do most of the hard work.


4. Snorkel Molokini Crater

An aerial view of snorkeling boats at Molokini Crater, Maui

The crescent-shaped Molokini Crater is considered the best place to snorkel on Maui and one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.

Molokini Crater is accessible only by boat. The protected reef features sheltered, crystal-clear water that is ideal for snorkeling.

Be aware that this is one of the most popular things to do on Hawaii. Subsequently, tours fill up weeks to months in advance!


5. Attend Hawaii’s Oldest Luau

Performers at a luau in Maui

The Myths of Maui at the Royal Lahaina Resort is the longest running luau in Hawaii and is considered among the best.

It began in the early 1970s and owes its success to a deep appreciation for Hawaiian and Polynesian culture.

As attending a luau is near the top of every Hawaii bucket list, the historic Myths of Maui should be carefully considered as the ideal option for ticking off this cultural and culinary celebration.

However, due to its popularity, it is often fully booked. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other great luaus in Maui, including one of our favorites, Feast at Mokapu (pictured).


6. Take a Day Trip to Lanai

A long exposure of the ocean dragging on the shore of white sand surrounded by red lava cliffs at Puu Pehe Bay (Shark's Bay) Lanai

Throughout much of your time exploring the west coast of Maui, you will notice one of two small islands in the distance; the closer of them is the sister island of Lanai.

Lanai is the least-inhabited of the public Hawaiian islands. While it may be less developed, it is home to a few amazing sights, special beaches, and unusual landscapes.

It is also the only island you can travel to in Hawaii via ferry!


7. Search for Maui’s Many Secret Beaches

An incredible sunset photo from Maui Secret Beach near Makena.

There are not many secrets left in the digital age, but Maui is home to about a dozen “secret beaches.”

For those of you who prefer seclusion to the crowds that come with access and amenities, taking a day to locate the best Maui secret beaches can be a fun and enjoyable way to discover the island.

Learn how and where to find the best secret beaches of Maui with our complete guide using the button below.

DISCOVER MORE:
Secret Beaches of Maui


8. Find the Rainbow State’s Rainbow Eucalyptus Trees

The rainbow eucalyptus trees are one of the best roadside stops on the Road to Hana in Maui.

It should come as no surprise that “the Rainbow State” would also be home to the non-native, colorfully banded rainbow eucalyptus trees.

While the trees may not be from Hawaii originally, they are thriving in the tropical climate of east Maui and can be found along the scenic Road to Hana.

RELATED GUIDES
Road to Hana Itinerary
Top 25 Road to Hana Stops


9. Attend the “Sunday Drum Circle”

Lava rock lines the shoreline of Changs Beach in Maui during the Sunday drum circle.

Every Sunday, free-spirited locals get together for a clothing-optional drum circle and general celebration of life.

This event previously occurred at Little Beach but has since been moved to Chang’s Beach in the Wailea-Makena region.

Be prepared for nudity and recreational substance consumption.


10. Swim with Honu in “Turtle Town”

Swimming with turtles in turtle town.

Turtle Town is a nickname given to a stretch of the Maui south shore where turtle sightings are basically guaranteed. It is one of the best Maui snorkeling spots.

There is some off-shore snorkeling available, but most people take a tour out to the distant coral gardens where boat captains are confident in providing the best experience and highest likelihood of honu encounters.

Be sure to give these beautiful creatures their space and never, ever touch them. Interactions with our brand of germs can have devastating consequences for our gentle ocean friends.


Top 10 Best things to do in Hawaii
Oahu

1. Explore Oahu’s natural wonders on foot

View over Waikiki and Honolulu from Diamond Head hike, one of the best things to do on Oahu

For energetic travelers, one of the best things to do in Hawaii is to go hiking, and Oahu provides plenty of options!

As the second oldest island, Oahu has had 2-3 million years to age to perfection.

Of the 250+ hiking trails available, the best hikes on Oahu include Diamond Head, Koko Head, Lanikai Pillbox, and Makapuu Lighthouse Trail.


2. Watch the sunrise at Lanikai Beach

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.

With postcard-perfect scenes including overhanging palm trees, pristine white sand, and azure waters, Lanikai Beach is the best beach on Hawaii.

While it is spectacular at any time of day, it is worth considering adding a sunrise here to your Hawaii bucket list. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun make its appearance from this paradisical setting.


3. Visit the Pearl Harbor National Historic Site & Museums

Aerial view of Pearl Harbor in Oahu Hawaii

Visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial is one of the most popular things to do in Hawaii, with over 2 million visitors each year.

Managed by the NPS, it includes five historic sites honoring the devastating events that occurred here during World War 2 and changed the course of history.

While visits are free, the USS Arizona Memorial program does require a ticket in advance which can be hard to get. If you’re unable to reserve your free ticket, then booking a tour may be a good option.


4. Snorkel amongst tropical fish at Hanauma Bay

View over Hanauma Bay, the best snorkeling spot on Oahu

Discover an underwater rainbow as you swim amongst a myriad of brightly colored tropical fish and coral reef at Hanauma Bay Marine Life Conservation Area.

The park is closed Mondays and Tuesdays to allow the marine life to rest undisturbed.

Be sure to make reservations in advance or book a tour as only 1000 visitors are permitted each day!

Pro tip: Bring your own snorkel gear to avoid $20+ rental charges.

BOOK YOUR HANAUMA BAY SNORKEL TOUR

5. Tour the original Jurassic Park at Kualoa Ranch

A visit to Kualoa Ranch aka Jurassic Park is a must on any list of the best things to do in Hawaii.

A visit to Kualoa Ranch is a must for your Hawaii bucket list. The lush 4000-acre private nature reserve and cattle ranch served as the backdrop for Jurassic Park and it’s hard not to imagine dinosaurs roaming here!

There are a number of highly-rated tours offered each day to Kaʻaʻawa Valley on which you can learn more, about the stories, legends, and past uses of the area as you become immersed in the striking verdant folds of the valley. Some options include movie, ATV, e-bike, horseback, sailing, and farm tours.


6. Visit the World Famous North Shore

A honu sleeps on the shore of Laniakea Beach on the Oahu north shore in Hawaii.

With its laidback beach vibes, an abundance of food trucks, impressive surf, and picturesque beaches, experiencing the North Shore of Oahu is a must on any list of best things to do in Hawaii.

During the winter months, huge waves crash on the shore making it a mecca for big wave surfers.

In addition to big waves, you’ll find popular snorkel spots, resident sea turtles relaxing on the beach, and tropical aloha vibes.


7. Admire the tropical landscapes at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens

A girl in a red dress walking up the road at the entrance to Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden in Oahu.

Take a break from the resorts and high rises of Honolulu and become immersed in 400 acres of lush tropical landscapes at Ho’omaluhia Botanical Gardens.

Here you’ll discover a seamless blend of native flora and tropical plants from around the globe.

It is easy to see how it has become one of the most popular Instagram photo spots on Oahu!


8. Soak in the city life in Honolulu

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

Honolulu is the largest city in Hawaii and offers a diverse range of things to do from museums and fine dining to hiking and watersports .

The famous Waikiki neighborhood is the heart of the city, known for incredible dining, nightlife, high-rise hotels, and shopping, as well as its white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters.


9. Come face to face with sharks

A sandbar shark seen on a shark swim from Oahu's North Shore, one of the best things to do in Hawaii

From the North Shore, you can head out to the deep blue to come face to face with the ocean’s apex predators.

You can choose to observe wild sharks from inside an underwater shark cage or brave swimming cage-free.

Either way, witnessing these majestic ocean creatures in the wild is certainly one of the best things to do in Hawaii.


10. Swim at Waimea Falls

Waimea Falls in Waimea Valley on the North Shore of Oahu, surrounded by lush green vegetation

Exploring Waimea Valley and swimming at Waimea Falls is one of the best things to do in Hawaii, particularly for those with families.

You can choose to take a gentle stroll meandering through botanical gardens, lush rainforest, and historical sites. Or alternatively, opt for the shuttle service. Either way, you’re rewarded with a refreshing swim at Waimea Falls, with a lifeguard on duty.

The park also offers a range of educational presentations and workshops on Hawaiian culture and history, as well as a daily luau.


Top 5 Best things to do in Hawaii
Molokai

Not many people will visit Molokai at all, but those who do are in for a treat. “The Friendly Island”, as it’s known, has a tragically dark but fascinating history to learn about.

Beyond its origins, visits to Molokai mean seeing a part of the world few ever do. The sea cliffs of Molokai are the highest in North America and the beaches are amongst the quietest in Hawaii.

If you are looking for things to do in Hawaii that most never experience, consider island hopping to Molokai.

The top 5 things to do on Molokai are:


1. Kalaupapa National Historic Park Mule Ride

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

Riding a mule through Kalaupapa National Historic Park is a fun but humbling experience.

This former fishing village became a leper colony during an outbreak in the 1880s. Like much of the island, the history of the Kalaupapa region is marked by exile and illness. It is also marked by love and courage.

To reach the peninsula, your mule will help you along a 3-mile trail descending 1700ft down the tallest sea cliffs in the world. Enjoy the incredibly views as you go, ending at sea level to a tranquil scene.

Permits and tours are required to visit Kalaupapa National Historic Park. You can find out more information on the NPS website.


2. Halawa Valley

View overlooking Halawa Bay in Molokai and the lush greenery surrounding it.

Halawa Valley is where you will find some of the most breathtaking landscapes in all of Hawaii.

While it does not have the prestige of the famous Road to Hana, the scenic drive to the Halawa Valley is an exhilarating experience with awesome coastal views over the Molokai shoreline.

If you have an interest in the culture and history of Hawaii, one of the best things to do in Hawaii on Molokai is to take the Guided Halawa Valley Cultural Hike. Throughout the tour, you will hear stories of the valley from the men who were born and raised here.

The tour ends at Mo’oula Falls where participants will enjoy lunch with an optional dip in its refreshing waters.


3. Explore Kaunakakai

St Sophia Church in downtown Kaunakakai Molokai

The historic town of Kaunakakai can be explored on foot or by bike.

In the town, travelers will discover local shops and restaurants, as well as historic sites such as Kapuaiwa Coconut Grove, Church Row, and the Alii Fishpond.

This peaceful town has barely changed at all in over a century, making for an interesting glimpse into the Hawaii of the past.


4. Go Beach Hopping on Hawaii’s Quietest Beaches

Halawa Bay Beach in Molokai is one of the best beaches on the island.

Most people looking for the best things to do in Hawaii are really trying to find the best beaches. However, few ever discover the quiet, beautiful beaches of Molokai.

As the Friendly Isle requires a bit more planning than the major islands, those who make the effort are rewarded with miles of unspoiled beauty and no crowds.

In fact, it is not uncommon to have an entire beach to yourself!

Some of the best beaches on Molokai include Halawa Bay, Papohaku Beach, Kapukahehu Beach, and One Ali’i Beach Park.


5. Discover Molokai by Air

View of Molokai coastline from a scenic flight over the Hawaiian Island.

One of the best ways to see Molokai is by air.

Boasting the tallest sea cliffs in the world, travel by car or foot is very limited on the island, but helicopter tours provide unlimited vistas and a perspective that is hard to imagine without seeing it for yourself.


Top 5 Best things to do in Hawaii
Lanai

The final, least-populated of the public Hawaiian islands is the Maui sister island of Lanai.

For most, a visit to this small isle will consist of little more than a few hours snorkeling off its shores and a moment to soak in the sunshine on one of its pristine beaches. For the explorers, however, there are several incredible places worth visiting.

Below are the top 5 best places to go and things to do on Lanai.


1. Half-Day Beach & Snorkel Adventure from Maui

The beautiful, tropical Hulopoʻe Beach Park in Sharks Bay is the best beach on the Hawaiian Island of Lanai.

There are a few different ways to get to Lanai, but the best way is with a half-day snorkel and landing tour.

The recommended Lanai landing tour is one of the best things to do in Hawaii for people visiting Maui. It includes a boat ride to the island; an adventure on its own wherein guests will typically encounter dolphins and, seasonally, migrating whales.

Upon arrival, participants have three hours to explore some of Lanai, and/or relax on one of the best and quietest beaches of Hawaii at Hulopo’e Bay.


2. Walk in the Garden of the Gods at Keahiakawelo

Rainbow earth is seen in this photo from Garden of the Gods on the island of Lanai in hawaii.

The Garden of the Gods is the most unusual thing to do on Lanai, but also one of the most difficult.

Keahiakawelo, as “The Garden of the Gods” is known locally, features rainbow-colored earth. At a glance, it appears as if one of the many rainbows for which the state is known has melted into the soil.


3. Photograph the red cliff beach at Shark’s Bay

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

The red cliffs of Shark’s Bay on Lanai is one of the most visually stunning beaches on Hawaii.

Puu Pehe as it is known locally is located beside the beautiful Hulopo’e Bay.

A white sand beach is surrounded by red lava cliffs that come together to create a magical landscape that will please anyone looking for things to do in Hawaii with an interest in photography.


4. Look for the wreckage at Shipwreck Beach

The rusted wreckage of a ship can be seen in this aerial photo from Shipwreck Beach on a Hawaii bucket list visit to Lanai.

Those with ample time on the small island of Lanai can rent a car and access one of the true hidden gems on Hawaii.

Shipwreck Beach, named for the decaying remains of a crashed boat, is a quiet and stunning beach on the far side of the island that few tourists will ever see.


5. Golf a Jack Nicklaus-Signature Course at Manele

Manele Golf Course is a Jack Nicklaus signature course and is considered one of the best places to golf in the United States. If hitting the links is one of your priorities on a trip to Hawaii, you do not want to miss this remote gem.


Things NOT to Do in Hawaii

Below is a short list of popular things to do in Hawaii that we do NOT recommend. Some are illegal, some dangerous, and some have cultural considerations that the native Hawaiian people are vehemently against.

With so many amazing things to do in Hawaii, here are some you may hear about that you should avoid.

  • Stairway to Heaven
    The famous Haiku stairs on Oahu, aka Stairway to Heaven, actually closed in the 1980s. However, tourists have continued to hike them illegally and the local government unanimously decided to have them removed altogether in 2022.

  • Swim with Dolphins
    While dolphin tours were once big business in Hawaii, research has shown that interacting with dolphins during sleep cycles can have a damaging impact on the health and wellbeing of the animals. State law prohibits swimming with, approaching, or remaining within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin.

  • Ride a Turtle
    We were shocked this had to be included at all, but many people mentioned taking a turtle for a ride as an old pastime. Please never touch wildlife, especially turtles and manta rays, as it stresses them out and can even affect their immune systems. Additionally, sea turtles are protected by federal and state law.

  • Visit the Dole Plantation
    The Dole Plantation profited from the destruction of the Hawaiian monarchy, which was largely tied to the Dole family. The tour today does little to acknowledge the displacement of Native Hawaiians and the darker history of the plantation.

  • Polynesian Cultural Center
    Despite touting the preservation of Polynesian culture, it is owned by the Mormon Church and we feel uncomfortable recommending it when there are clear missionary overtones.

  • Sea Life Park Hawaii (Ka Moana Luau)
    Due to the Park offering hands-on animal tourism and continued captive dolphin encounters, we cannot ethically recommend visiting.

Hawaiian Food to Try

Close up food photography of the Hawaiian dish of poke.

There is a lot to creating an unforgettable Hawaiian vacation beyond the beautiful sights and sounds. In fact, much of the native culture can be found in the food and drink and Polynesian cooking techniques.

For those who want to engage their taste buds in their island exploration, be sure to include sampling the following traditional Hawaiian foods on your island bucket list.

  • Mai-Tai
  • Loco Moco
  • Shaved Ice
  • Poke
  • Spam Musubi
  • Fresh Coconut
  • Kalua Pig
  • Poi

For the foodies out there, you may also want to consider taking a Hawaiian food tour to learn more about the Hawaiian cuisine while feasting on delights at some of the best eateries.


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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