The 10 best places to visit in Hawaii

  • Post last modified:May 21, 2022
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The best places to visit in Hawaii include one Aloha treasure after another. From the tiki-lighted Waikiki Beach to the dramatic Kauai coastline Hawaii is full of gorgeous sights. As you explore the best Hawaii places to visit, the word paradise inevitably comes to your mind.

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The best places to visit in Hawaii: Oahu

As the most populated and visited Hawaiian island, Oahu is known as the Gathering Place. The best places to visit in Hawaii of course include the famous Waikiki Beach, but if you don’t venture further you’re definitely missing out.

1. Waikiki Beach – A place in Hawaii to hula

Waikiki Beach is included on most Hawaii bucket lists, and how could it not be?

Once the Waikiki area was a vacation spot for Hawaiian royalty. The high and mighty came to the Hawaiian slice of paradise to surf and recharge their batteries.

Nowadays Waikiki is a place in Hawaii that everyone can enjoy. Visitors from all over the world lounge on the paradise beach and surf the blue waves every day of the year.

Along the beachfront strip in Waikiki Beach one shiny resort after another towers up. Further from the shoreline you find smaller and more humble places to stay.

Even though Waikiki Beach is a modern beach destination, it’s still a place in Hawaii that embraces the local tradition. You don’t have to fear that Waikiki Beach will forget its origin.

After sunset tiki torches light up the Waikiki district. Backed by ukulele tones the hula dancers remind you of why Waikiki Beach is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.

Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, Hawaii
Welcome to Waikiki Beach.

2. Diamond Head – A place in Hawaii for a hike

At the eastern edge of Waikiki Beach the prominent Diamond Head peacefully sits. The volcanic formation soars high above the Waikiki beachgoers.

In Diamond Head State Monument, a stone’s throw from the Waikiki buzz, the extinct crater is a place in Hawaii that shows a different side of Oahu.

Although Diamond Head is a pretty view from the beach, a hike lets you fully appreciate the magnificence of the Hawaii sight. Easily accessible, Diamond Head is a great sample of the rich selection of hikes in Hawaii.

From the trailhead to the summit it’s 0.8 miles (1.3 km) of dramatic views to enjoy. The journey to the top of the towering Hawaii attraction offers stunning scenery.

Just have in mind that the trail from the crater floor up to the volcano rim is steep and strenuous. Even though you occasionally spot hikers in beach sandals, it’s strongly advised to wear good walking shoes.

At the summit of Diamond Head you’re greeted by breathtaking views of the Oahu coastline and Honolulu’s skyline. In addition the Pacific breeze at the summit is nice to enjoy before you return towards the streets of Honolulu.

If you want to take a scenic hike, Diamond Head is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. Just a stone’s throw from the lively Waikiki Beach it’s one of the most recognized Hawaiian landmarks.

Diamond Head towers up behind Waikiki Beach
The eye-catching Diamond Head.

3. Pearl Harbor – A place in Hawaii to remember

Most of Hawaii is like an untroubled tropical dream, but Oahu also has a tragic story to tell its visitors.

The morning of December 7 in 1941 hundreds of Japanese planes made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a devastating attack that changed the course of World War II.

At the Pearl Harbor National Memorial you can learn about the historic events and commemorate the many service members who lost their lives that day.

It’s an extensive memorial with several historic sites and opportunities to indulge in crucial moments in the US history.

A centerpiece, at the bottom of Pearl Harbor, is the sunken battleship USS Arizona. Offshore and only reachable by boat the USS Arizona Memorial has been built to mark out and remember.

After all this time Pearl Harbor is still a moving place to visit in Hawaii.

At Pearl Harbor people come together, learn and honor the great sacrifices of the past. And with its historic importance it’s easy to see why Pearl Harbor is one of the most visited places in Hawaii.

Waving American flag at Pearl Harbor, HI
Remembrance at Pearl Harbor.

The best places to visit in Hawaii: Kauai

Kauai, also called the Garden Island, is a place in Hawaii that takes the color green to the next level. On the lush island you find Hawaii’s most renowned coastline, and many more wonderful Hawaii places to fall in love with.

4. Napali Coast – A place in Hawaii for an adventure

The Napali Coast spans 16 miles (26 km) along Kauai’s northwestern shore. With its otherworldly cliffs, white sand beaches and even crashing waterfalls it’s a place in Hawaii that’s unparalleled.

Hollywood of course found the Napali Coast long time ago. Famous movies with shots of the Napali Coast include Jurassic Park, King Kong, Six Days Seven Nights, Pirates of the Caribbean and many more.

As the unique place in Hawaii has figurated in several blockbusters, first-time visitors often recognize Napali’s dramatic scenery.

But on top of its natural beauty, part of the Napali Coast’s charm is that it still is an untamed destination in Hawaii. Napali Coast State Wilderness Park protects and keeps the area in its untouched condition.

In addition there are no roads along the coastline to travel on. Instead visitors go by boat, helicopter or foot to explore the unique stretch of coastline.

Hikers get ready at Keʻe Beach before they continue west on the legendary Kalalau Trail. It totals 11 miles (17.7 km) one way, but many choose to take a shorter hike to Hanakapiai Falls.

The hike from Keʻe Beach to Hanakapiai Falls is roughly 4 miles (6.4 km) one way and perfect for day hikers. It showcases why the Napali Coast is such a unique Hawaii attraction and even includes a stunning waterfall.

Narrow trail along the Napali coastline
A Napali Coast adventure.

5. Hanalei Bay – A place in Hawaii to get away

On Kauai’s northern shore, with the dramatic Napali Coast to its west, how could Hanalei Bay be anything else than a stunning Hawaii destination?

Surrounded by green mountains Hanalei Bay is home to roughly 2 miles (3.2 km) of pristine beaches. With the mountain scenery, soft sand and blue water it’s a breathtaking Hawaii location to enjoy.

In summer Hanalei Bay usually is calm and perfect for activities such as swimming and stand up paddle boarding, while during the winter season the bay shows a more temperamental side as it becomes a surfer’s paradise.

Regardless of season the Hanalei Pier quietly extends into the scenic bay. It’s a humble pier, but thanks to the green mountain backdrop it’s one of the most popular Instagram spots on the island.

A stone’s throw from the shoreline the cozy town of Hanalei is home to surf shops and island grills. When you walk the peaceful Hanalei streets, it’s exactly how you would imagine a small town in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Above all Hanalei Bay is the perfect Hawaii destination for relaxation. If you just want to get away from it all, there’s no better place in Hawaii to visit.

Just don’t expect to find anything near a Waikiki liveliness at Hanalei Bay. What makes Hanalei Bay one of the best places to visit in Hawaii is that it really feels like the end of the world.

A quiet Hanalei Bay in Hawaii
The secluded Hanalei Bay.

6. Poipu Beach – A place in Hawaii to soak up the sun

Poipu Beach is the most famous beach on Kauai’s south shore. It’s an excellent place in Hawaii for lazy time in the sun.

As the beach is split into two small bays, including a protected area for kids, it’s a place for swimmers of all levels. Around the year beach visitors have access to both calm and more lively waters.

The southernmost part of Kauai is also known as its sunniest region. Often when it’s cloudy just slightly further north, the sun at the same time shines intensely on Poipu Beach.

Seals and turtles just love the sunny conditions on Poipu Beach. They frequently come ashore and nap on the golden dunes side by side with the beach’s human visitors.

With the sun on your back and a marine beachgoer next to you it’s hard not to enjoy yourself. But if you still feel like you miss something, you can get an Hawaiian shave ice or cool drink of your choice just across the street.

Although less dramatic than the island’s north shore, many regard Poipu Beach as the very best place in Hawaii to visit. It’s a convenient beach that still hasn’t lost any of its appreciated exotic touch.

A seal on the beach in Poipu
A seal enjoys the Poipu sun.

7. Waimea Canyon – A place in Hawaii like the Grand Canyon

It’s not hard to see why Waimea Canyon on the western side of Kauai is called the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The awe-inspiring Hawaii attraction is a geologic masterpiece that certainly reminds about its Arizona cousin.

Even though shorter, thinner and not as deep, Waimea Canyon enchants visitors with its reddish color, lush vegetation and pounding waterfalls.

To explore the breathtaking canyon you just need to follow the winding Highway 550 through Waimea Canyon State Park. Along the road lookouts and hiking trails offer breathtaking perspectives of the unique Hawaii sight.

As you work your way north you soon enter the neighboring Kokee State Park. The as impressive park extends the Waimea experience with even more scenic overlooks and trails for the hiker to discover.

On its own the red and orange Waimea Canyon is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. However, the adventure doesn’t stop there.

After a last glimpse of the canyon, Highway 550 continues for another 5 miles (8 km) towards the northwestern coast of Kauai. At the end of the road two lookouts, Kalalau Lookout and Puu O Kila Lookout, offer amazing views of the Napali Coast.

Reddish rock formation, green vegetation and a waterfall in Waimea Canyon in Hawaii
The reddish Waimea Canyon.

The best places to visit in Hawaii: Maui

No matter if you’re after cool volcanoes, tumbling waterfalls or secluded beaches, Maui is a place for you. It’s an island that represents all the things you love about Hawaii.

8. Haleakala National Park – A place in Hawaii to rise early

From almost any point on Maui you can sight the towering Haleakala volcano. The prominent volcano’s tallest peak is at 10,023 feet (3055 m) above sea level the highest point on the island.

Preserved within Haleakala National Park the landscape of the dormant Haleakala Crater is otherworldly. Some describe it as moonlike, while others call it the Mars on earth.

Although the park offers both easy and more advanced hikes, you certainly don’t need to take many steps in the volcanic world to be amazed.

Still the park’s biggest selling point is its sunrise. As the first light of the day peeks over the horizon, the colors of Haleakala really start to dance

The writer Mark Twain once referred to the Haleakala sunrise as: “The most sublime spectacle I have ever witnessed”.

As a chock for travelers who like to sleep in, the Haleakala sunrise is so very popular that it requires an advance reservation. Without the reservation system the Haleakala summit would get too crowded each morning.

With or without the sunrise experience Haleakala National Park is one of the best places to visit in Hawaii. However, to start the day off with the famous spectacle is the icing on the Haleakala cake.

Where to stay

The rural Upcountry Maui is home to a limited selection of lodging near Haleakala National Park. Further from the park in South Maui you find much more to choose from, including beachfront hotels.

  • Days Inn – Low-key on Keawakapu Beach.
Sunrise in Haleakala Hawaii
A new day begins on Maui.

9. Road to Hana – A place in Hawaii about the journey

It’s a common saying that it’s about the journey, not the destination. Arguably no place to visit in Hawaii shows that better than the Road to Hana.

On Maui’s eastern coastline the spectacular Hana Highway is a remarkable Hawaii attraction. Along the 52 miles (84 km) long drive from Kahului to the town of Hana you surrounded by tropical vegetation find sight after sight to explore.

With valleys to admire, waterfalls to swim, rainforests to hike and banana bread to eat the road is a never ending story of fun things to do.

But it’s not by any means an easy Hawaii drive to take as the Road to Hana is so narrow and winding. In total the road has a staggering amount of 600 curves.

When you after many tight turns finally reach the town of Hana, the road trip is far from over. Past Hana the iconic road continues with more highlights such as Hamoa Beach, Waioka Pond and the Seven Sacred Pools.

Because the Hana Highway is both beautiful and challenging, it’s a good idea to take the drive over multiple days. If you stay a few nights in Hana, you get to experience Maui’s eastern coast in a light that daytrippers miss.

Road surrounded by green vegetation.
The curvy Road to Hana.

The best places to visit in Hawaii: The Big Island

The Big Island is a paradise for the traveler who wants space. Almost twice the size of all the other Hawaiian islands together it’s truly a majestic island to uncover.

10. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – A place in Hawaii to see lava

Hawaii is a powerful destination and the Big Island shows that to the fullest.

Its jaw-dropping Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses two of the island’s in total five volcanoes. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are not only some of the most unique places to visit in Hawaii, but even in the world.

Mauna Loa stands out as the largest active volcano on the planet. If you measure its size from the bottom of the sea, Mauna Loa reaches a mind-blowing 30,000 feet (9,144 m).

In comparison Kilauea is a much younger and smaller Hawaii attraction. Still Kilauea gets more attention as it’s the most active volcanoe in Hawaii and one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

With such frequent activity in the park visitors flock to see lava flows. Lava viewing is as spectacular during the day, as at night when the volcanic activity turns the sky orange.

But even during quieter periods the unique environment in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park makes it one of the best Hawaii places to visit.

Most notably the Hawaii park also is home to fascinating trails. How about to walk across a solidified lava lake? Or to hike through a gigantic lava tube?

Where to stay

The Volcano House provides rustic lodging inside the Big Island park. However, just outside the park you find many more places to stay at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in the cute town Volcano Village.

  • Kilauea Lodge – Hawaii lodging in peaceful rainforest environment.
Lava flowing from rocks into the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Lava viewing on the Big Island.

Find a hotel for your Hawaii trip

Use the booking tool below to find the best places to stay for your Hawaii vacation. Browse the map for options in various areas, or click on the search button to get all Oahu options listed.

Booking.com

The best places to visit in Hawaii FAQ

Here you find the answers to some frequently asked questions about the best places to visit in Hawaii.

Where should I go in Hawaii for the first time?

For a first-time visitor it’s a great idea to start off with Hawaii’s main island, Oahu. In the heart of Hawaii you find places to visit for every type of traveler. From the vibrating Waikiki Beach to the quiet North Shore it’s a destination that offers the whole package.

Which is the best place to visit in Hawaii for seclusion?

Hanalei Bay is a fantastic place to visit in Hawaii to get away from it all. On Kauai’s secluded northern shore, next to the legendary Napali Coast, you’re literally at the end of the road.

Which is the best place to visit in Hawaii for nightlife?

All over Hawaii you find laid-back bars with live music and mai tais. But when it comes to liveliness Honolulu, including Waikiki Beach, plays in its own league. The biggest city in Hawaii is home to its by far busiest nightlife scene.

Which is the best place to visit in Hawaii to see volcanoes?

If you want to see an active volcano, the best place to visit is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Home to Kilauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, it’s an unparalleled Hawaii attraction for volcano enthusiasts.

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