Hawaii is one of the most popular vacation hot spots in the Pacific, with over 8 million people flocking from all over the world to see its natural beauty and brimming culture annually. Although it’s easy to get sucked into the normal touristy destinations—like Waikīkī, luaus, and whale watching tours—adventure can be found around almost every corner if you are looking for it. From hiking, swimming, stargazing, getting involved in local events: here are the most non-touristy experiences to have in Hawaii.
Those who love hiking have to climb the Hāʻiku stairs, more commonly known as the Stairway to Heaven. Located on eastern Oʻahu in a town called Kāneʻohe, the hike starts at the footsteps of the majestic Koʻolau mountain range. It is quite easy to get to, approximately 30 minutes by car from Honolulu. Although this trail is currently illegal to climb and has a security guard located at the bottom of it, many hikers still head here (starting the trail before 3a.m. to avoid the guard) to watch the sunrise from the top. Pack water and bring a special friend—this experience will forever be engraved into memory.
Speaking of hiking, the Hanakapiʻai Falls, located along the Kalalau trail in Kauaʻi, are a must. It is two miles to get to Hanakapiʻai beach from the start of Kalalau trail to get to this 300-ft (91.44-m) waterfall, and it is worth every moment. The trail is not for the weak of heart, so make sure to pack plenty of water and good hiking shoes. Once there, don’t be afraid to take a refreshing swim in the water to cool off.
Whenever possible, take the highways in Hawaiʻi—the Hawaiʻi Belt Road literally circles the island—and be greeted by local stores, beautiful private beaches, lush jungle vegetation, and smiling faces while winding and curving with the highway coastline. It may take a little longer to get from A to B, but it is absolutely worth it.
Love wildlife and swimming? Snorkeling and free diving along the west side of Oʻahu is the perfect place. Numerous animals call this coastline their home, and it is fairly easy to swim alongside some of the oceans most lovable creatures straight from the beach. The western side is home to turtle cleaning stations, where turtles swim, feed, and sleep in just a few feet of water. Don’t ever harass them, though, since they are federally protected as endangered species.
Marine mammals, such as the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian spinner dolphin, also take advantage of the quiet west side. Find napping monk seals on the beach and playful dolphins splashing around at the surface. Feeling adventurous? Jump in the water to see the playful dolphins underwater, but please check the ocean currents and swell, and always swim with a buddy.
Food trucks are scattered all over the islands, each one is different and interesting. A local favorite are the shrimp trucks in Kahuku, where fresh shrimp and grown in local aquaculture ponds and served fresh daily.
See a different perspective with a birdʻs eye view of the beautiful islands from hundreds of feet above from a reputable helicopter tour operator. Get views of the untouched valleys, secret beaches, and waterfalls of cultural significance.
Take a nice, quiet walk along the beach or jump into the water to find colorful seashells that canʻt be found anywhere else in the world. Bring them home as souvenirs to give to friends or families, or decorate furniture with the new ocean treasures. Make sure to check if any critters are calling the shells home before taking them.
Not feeling up for lounging at the beach all day? Try cruising to the lush east side of any island to find a rainier, environment to take a nap, read a book, or just relax. Be sure to take advantage of the numerous botanical gardens in the Hawaiian Islands as well and and admire their beauty.
No, lei is not cheesy, and yes, even locals love to wear them. Not only because they smell good, but also because it symbolizes love and acceptance. String up a lei of any flowers that grab your attention. Plumeria flowers smell the best and bloom all year long, go find one and smell it, youʻll be glad you did.
Instead of wasting money at a restaurant, finish off a perfect day on the west side of any Hawaiian island with a sunset and a BBQ. It is quite magical here on the islands watching the sun set right in front of your eyes. It seems like the sun literally sinks into the water as the orange and pink hues light up the sky. Pack a cooler filled with your favorite drinks and foods, bring a stereo, some friends, and enjoy the moments. Pure magic.