There are so many activities to do on the Hawaiian islands, and they attract people of all ages. Hawaii is a true paradise with its own unique culture. From its picturesque beaches to touring downtown Honolulu to seeing the only palace in the United States, here are Culture Trip’s 20 must-visit attractions in the Aloha State.
What could possibly get your heart pumping with adrenaline more than swimming and freediving with apex marine predators? Take a three-mile-long (4.8 kilometers) boat trip out to a natural shark aggregate site with One Ocean Diving for an experience of a lifetime. On your way out to the site, learn about the biology, physiology, culture, and role of sharks in their environment, and how to interact with them—all while looking for dolphins, whales, and turtles in the distance. You never know what you’ll encounter on this experience, whether that be swimming with 50 Galapagos and sandbar sharks or the beautiful lone tiger shark. Conservation, preservation, and changing the perception of sharks is One Ocean Diving’s main goal. Don’t believe everything you see in the media; humans and sharks can coexist with each other. Go and see for yourself.
Take a scenic boat ride to see the beautiful Nā Pali (many cliffs) Coast on the island of Kauai. Learn about the culture and the geographical landscapes that make the north shore of Kauai so special. On your tour, you will zoom through caves, drive through waterfalls, dolphin and whale watch, snorkel with turtles, and the list goes on. This adventure is mostly a summer activity as the north shore can get rough in the winter.
Take a short 45-minute bike ride starting in Kalapana to see the lava flowing into the water on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is the largest and youngest of all the islands in the Hawaiian Island chain and is currently growing every year. Kīlauea volcano has been erupting for over 30 years and is currently flowing into the ocean now, creating new land. You might be lucky and encounter surface flows on your adventure. Madame Pele (volcano goddess) is truly a magnificent thing to witness in your lifetime—she will take your breath away.
Get to know about the powerful Hawaiian monarchy by visiting the only palace in the United States, Iolani Palace, built in 1882 by King David Laʻamea Kamananakapu Mahinulani Naloiaehuokalani Lumialani Kalākaua (say that three times fast). It was also home to Queen Liliʻuokalani, the first reigning queen, and the last monarch, of the Kingdom of Hawaii (sister to King Kalākaua).
Ala Moana Center is the largest shopping mall in the Hawaiian Islands and attracts quite a lot of people. It is a beautiful mall with an outdoorsy feel as most of the center features an open roof. Listen to the tranquil sound of the wind blowing, the waves crashing, and birds singing, all while shopping at your favorite stores. From fancy shops and local clothing to restaurants and food courts to game centers, you’ll find it all at Ala Moana.
Take in panoramic views of Waikīkī on top of Diamond Head crater. This hike is short and maintained, so even the faint of heart can still enjoy this experience. At the top, you can see beautiful blue beaches to your left and bustling Waikīkī to your right.
Learn about different Polynesian and Pacific Island cultures at the Polynesian Cultural Center located in beautiful Laie, Oahu. There are many activities to engage in here as you journey through different villages, make leis and other floral headpieces, eat at a Hawaiian luau, and watch beautiful traditional hula shows.
Swim with all the beautiful reef fish, turtles, and other marine life in a protected cove on the southeast coast of Oahu. Hanauma Bay is picture-postcard beautiful, with turquoise blue waters and white sand. Marine life thrives here as it is a marine protected area, where fishing and taking of wildlife is strictly prohibited.
Visit the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, locally known as Waimea Canyon, for breathtaking views of the 10-mile-long (16 kilometers) natural phenomenon formed by millions of years of steady rainfall, which eroded the land.
Waimea Bay, located in Haleiwa, Oahu, might be one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. On the left side of the bay is iconic Waimea rock, where both locals and tourists love to jump into the crystal clear waters. It is an easy climb up the rock, and the jump is a short 30 feet (9.1 meters). Let the child in you jump for joy as you free fall in the refreshing ocean—this experience will leave you grinning from ear to ear.
Towards the end of the road to Hāna in Maui, there is a beautiful beach called Waianapanapa. The water is a deep blue color, and the sand is black. It is gorgeous with the mountains in the background and sea caves all over the beach. This area is steeped in legends, and you can feel the mana (energy) running throughout.
Learn about the culture of Kaʻaʻawa Valley and ahupuaʻa Kualoa on a guided horseback or ATV tour. During this tour, you can also visit several famous filming locations of Hollywood blockbusters, including Jurassic Park, King Kong, Godzilla, Lost, and many others.
See the island from a different perspective—in the sky. Get a bird’s-eye view of all the remote valleys, waterfalls, steep mountain cliffs, and secluded beaches on a guided helicopter tour with the trained professionals at Paradise Helicopters. If you’re a photographer, please pick a tour with the “doors off” option, as this will enhance your experience and the quality of your photos. Soar through the sky on the adventure of a lifetime!
Drive a little bit past Hilo to a town called Honomū, where you’ll find Akaka Falls State Park. Akaka Falls is an easily accessible, over 440-foot (134-meter) waterfall! It is quite a sight to see, and you can feel the sheer power of it from the viewing area. Here, you will be able to enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature, birds singing, the sweet smell of flowers, and the sound of rolling rivers.
The north shore of Oahu is a haven for sea turtles, and they make their home on almost every beach in the summer. These curious sea creatures are usually very friendly and approach people if you swim slowly and calmly around them. Some favorite destinations to see turtles are Haleʻiwa Beach Park, Laniakea Beach, Waimea Bay, Shark’s Cove, and Turtle Bay. Please respect Hawaiian laws and wildlife, as honu (green sea turtles) are federally protected.
Lanikai Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii. The water is a light bluish-green color, and the sand is white. Perhaps the most impressive attribute of this beach is the gorgeous “twin Islands” (the Mokes) in the background. Grab your board and paddle yourself over to Moku Nui, the larger of the two islands, and spend your day lounging on an island off an island. A true paradise.
There are numerous waterfalls located all along the road to Hāna. Waikani Falls are not only easily visible from the road, but they are easy to reach as well. Don’t be scared to swim under the falls in the refreshingly cool pool below. It can be hot and sticky on the east side of Maui, but this waterfall will definitely cool you down.
Enter back in old Hawaii and explore the beautiful coconut groves at Dillingham Ranch in Waialua. There are thousands of coconut trees, and even horses roam around in the landscape. The best time to go is around the golden hour, when the sun illuminates the coconut fronds.
Thousands of pieces of tiny sea glass makes up the “sand” at the glass sand beach in Eleele, Kauai. An old bottle factory used to operate on the beach, and they used to empty their bottles into the ocean, which, in turn, created this beautiful and unique shoreline.
See the waterfalls at Hoʻomaluhia Botanical Garden
There is no shortage of rain on the east side of Oahu, and when it rains, something magical happens. The mountains cry, as tiny waterfalls fill the crevices, creating a truly beautiful sight unique to Hawaii. There is a saying in Hawaiian, “Uē ka lani, ola ka honu,” meaning when the heavens cry, the earth grows. If there is no rain on your visit, don’t let that stop you from exploring this beautiful garden. It has thousands of Hawaiian flora and fruit trees.