10 Best Things to Do in Hawaii (2023)

Writer Paul Theroux famously said that Hawaii is not a state of mind but a state of grace. I’m inclined to agree. From its natural wonders immense in size to its sheer breadth of things to do, there’s a reason that the Aloha State is often the trip of a lifetime, a destination that tops bucket lists and inspires exhaustive research. I’ve done some of the heavy lifting. Here is my list of the 10 best things to do in Hawaii.

Sail the Napali Coast, Kauai

10 Best Things to Do in Hawaii (1)

Native islanders say the Napali Coast nourishes the soul. This 17-mile stretch of rain-carved cliffs and emerald valleys is punctuated by thin, ribbonlike waterfalls, secret beaches, and sea caves teeming with aquatic life. Hike the spectacular Kalalau Trail or access the cliffs by sea. Imagine standing on the deck of a catamaran beneath 4,000-foot cliffs to soak in mana, or spiritual power, before sliding into the water for snorkeling among green sea turtles and schools of eel and angelfish. When the trade winds are smooth, expect your catamaran to cruise around or even through the sea caves, its sails flapping the mast and spinner dolphins leaping at its stern.

How to Do It:Take a five-hour sailing and snorkeling cruise, or get up even earlier for a full-day adventure.


10 Best Things to Do in Kauai

Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Big Island

The mutable Big Island is still molding itself: Its coastlines continually expand and erode, its mountains come alive, and its topography undergoes perpetual sculpture in a medium of fire and lava. Witness firsthand the birth of a new landscape at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where volcanoes Kilauea (one of the world’s most active) and Mauna Loa (one of the world’s most massive) alter the world in which we live. Eruptions and earthquakes closed the park for several months in 2018, but select hiking trails and scenic are now open again for visitors to learn about this fascinating ecosystem.

How to Do It: Before your arrival, visit the park’s website to find the latest information on safety, educational programs, closures, and trail options.

Visit Pearl Harbor, Oahu

Each year, nearly 2 million people visit this memorial, officially part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This solemn, gently sloping structure, accessible only by boat, straddles the sunken USS Arizona and memorializes those who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attacks on December 7, 1941. According to Alfred Preis, the memorial’s architect, “The structure sags in the center but stands strong and vigorous at the ends, express[ing] initial defeat and ultimate victory.” Each rising end is a testament to the optimism during times of peace. Eerily—but beautifully—the sunken ship’s oil can still be seen bubbling up from the wreckage and pooling in concentric rainbows on the water’s surface.

How to Do It: Visiting the memorial is free, though a timed entry ticket is required. Many travelers choose to visit Pearl Harbor as part of a half-day tour from Honolulu.

Land a Helicopter at Jurassic Falls, Kauai

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Imagine sitting in a helicopter that is swooping and darting through the green-velvet valleys of Kauai. Just below you, a flock of plump jewel-toned birds descends to the trees. The seemingly impenetrable jungle parts suddenly like stage curtains to reveal the falls from Jurassic Park, 400 feet high and spraying the windshield of the helicopter like rain. Now imagine the epic John Williams score playing in your headset. You land in the thick of the jungle, and your pilot guides you along a misty path to the remarkable and completely remote falls, the rushing water making the only sound in a humanless world.

How to Do It: Only one tour provider is cleared to land a copter here: Island Helicopters. During its 75- to 80-minute aerial tour, you’ll land at Manawaiopuna (the falls’ official name) before lifting off on a full circuit of Kauai, including Waimea Canyon and the center of Mt. Waialeale. Dinosaur sightings not guaranteed.


The 10 Best Kauai Hotels for Every Budget

Drive the Road to Hana, Maui

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There’s road tripping, and then there’s road tripping on this 50-mile highway that unfurls like ribbon through the taro patches and coastlines of Maui. A two-hour journey (or three or four, depending on how many times you pull over to admire the view) brings you to the peaceful, tiny town of Hana, which offers a taste of a historical Hawaiian settlement—complete with its original general store and courthouse—alongside the natural wonders for which Maui is famous. Step into the water at gray-sand, half-moon-shaped Hamoa Beach, and then stay the night in one of the 1940s cottages at luxe Travaasa Hana.

How to Do It: If you want to travel independently, buy an audio guide and navigate the Road to Hana at your own pace. (Pro tip: Gas is expensive in starting-point Paia, so fill up elsewhere before beginning the journey.) If you’d rather have someone else behind the wheel, consider a full-day tour that hits all the gorgeous highlights.

Try New Flavors, Oahu

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Oahu is the very belly of the on-the-rise food-and-wine culture in Hawaii, a place where outsiders’ experiences of “local eats” were once limited to Spam and imported pineapple. These days, Honolulu plays host to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival—where local chefs highlight the state’s bounty of produce, beef, and seafood—as well as a slate of Zagat-approved eateries.

Of course, visitors can’t step foot on this island without sinking their teeth into one of Oahu’s sweetest imports, a fluffy malasada. The yeasty Portuguese donuts rolled in sugar were traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday but are now available year-round (somewhat misleadingly masquerading as breakfast food). Leonard’s Bakery has been churning out malasadas under its hot-pink awnings since 1952, stuffing the deep-fried confections with haupia, Hawaiian coconut custard. Grab a few to go and follow up with a brisk calorie-killing walk along the beach. Other homegrown favorites include poke, lau lau pork, and, to cool off, shave ice with azuki beans and sweetened condensed milk.

How to Do It: Discover our 10 favorite places to try Hawaiian food in Honolulu, or take a Honolulu food tour on foot or by bike.


10 Best Restaurants in Honolulu

Attend an Old Lahaina Luau, Maui

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A Hawaiian vacation is hardly complete without a luau, and the Old Lahaina Luau on Maui is oft considered the most authentic of the bunch. Since 1986, the Old Lahaina, with its backdrop of flickering torches, coconut palms, and crashing waves, has presented its luau to an adoring public of visitors and kama’aina (Hawaiian residents) alike. An aloha greeting with a cocktail and a colorful lei kicks off the evening, followed by craft-making workshops and the unearthing of the kalua pig from its imu, or underground oven. At sunset, the evening’s entertainment begins: a lineup of traditional Hawaiian music and expressive hula dancing that outlines the islands’ history, from the earliest Polynesian settlers through the arrival of the missionaries.

How to Do It: Make reservations on the Old Lahaina Luau website or through SmarterTravel’s sister site, Viator. You can choose either table-and-chair seating or a spot on a cushion around a low table.

Have an Adventure at Kualoa Ranch, Oahu

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Away from the heavily trafficked resorts and shopping malls of Waikiki, the 4,000-some acres of Kualoa Ranch spread from mountain to valley to ocean, with Mokoli’i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) resting on a shelf of distant horizon. The working cattle ranch is a sort of all-inclusive Hawaiian experience, but with few touristy trappings. Knowledgeable guides lead a series of tours—by boat, on horseback, and in various vehicles—focusing on different aspects of this former sugar plantation’s history. Explore the lush Hakipu’u and Ka’a’awa valleys and the latter’s famous filming sites (Jurassic Park, Lost, and Hawaii Five-O all were shot here) and set sail on an ancient Hawaiian fishpond. Then trek to a secret beach with wide-angle views of sacred Mokoli’i to see how Hawaii’s landscape has evolved through innumerable eras, ancient and modern.

How to Do It: Book tours on Kualoa Ranch’s website or try a package of adventures with transport from Honolulu.


The 8 Best Things to Do in Oahu Beyond Honolulu

Stargaze on Mauna Kea, Big Island

Amateur astronomers, rejoice. Fourteen thousand feet up the dormant volcano of Mauna Kea, beneath a bowl-shaped ceiling of sky, sits one of the best places on Earth for inspecting the heavens: the massive Mauna Kea Observatory. Here, high altitude, low humidity, and dark skies create perfect stargazing conditions. Acclimatize at the informative Mauna Kea visitors’ center at 9,200 feet before taking a four-wheel-drive vehicle to the summit, where freezing temperatures and high winds cool sunburnt skin. Then scan the night sky: Guides will help you identify clusters of major constellations and other celestial bodies. While you likely won’t be able to peer inside the Observatory itself, tour providers can furnish you with equipment of your own.

How to Do It: Mauna Kea Summit Adventures leads the way, providing trekkers with portable telescopes, Arctic-style parkas, a full meal, and hot cocoa. You can book a similar experience on Viator.


12 Things You Should Never Do in Hawaii

Hike to Kaihalulu (Red Sand Beach), Maui

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Kaihalulu means “roaring sea” in Hawaiian, but the wild, rolling waves are just one feature of this magical crescent-shaped beach. Almost Martian in appearance, the sand is rich in iron, while the sheer cliffs that abut the beach are uniquely striated with red and russet strokes (the result of an eroding cinder-cone volcano). The red sand leads to relatively choppy waters, so visitors are cautioned against swimming or diving. However, a thrilling hike and the otherworldly setting more than make up for the lack of aquatic activities, and the peace and quiet of a people-free spot can be stunning. (If you should stumble upon another soul, don’t be surprised to find your fellow suntanner in the buff; clothing is decidedly optional at this secret beach.)

How to Do It: A short trek is required to reach Kaihalulu. Find directions and tips on MauiGuidebook.com. The hike can be slippery and slow-going, but sights along the way (the trail passes an ancient Japanese cemetery) are worth it.

So that’s my list, readers. But tell me—what are your favorite things to do in Hawaii?

More from SmarterTravel:

  • The 9 Best Cheap Hotels in Hawaii
  • What’s the Best Island in Hawaii for You?
  • The Essential Hawaii Packing List

[viator_tour destination=”278″ type=”3-mod”]

Editor’s Note: This story was first written in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.


What is the most common thing to do in Hawaii? ›

Updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides
  • Haleakala Crater. Maui's Haleakala National Park deserves top billing. ...
  • Pearl Harbor/USS Arizona Memorial. ...
  • Waimea Canyon. ...
  • NaPali Coast. ...
  • Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. ...
  • Kaanapali Beach. ...
  • Mauna Kea Summit. ...
  • Diamond Head.

What is the number 1 attraction in Hawaii? ›

Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head State Monument, Oahu

Waikiki, with its beautiful stretch of oceanfront beach, is Hawaii's biggest tourist attraction.

What are 3 things Hawaii is famous for? ›

Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches, its laid-back lifestyle, and its delicious food. From traditional Hawaiian dishes like poi and laulau to modern favorites like poke and Kalua pig, you are in for a treat after exploring the mountains or surfing the waves.

What is the number 2 attraction in Hawaii? ›

2: Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve

Located in Oahu near Honolulu, it's one of the best Hawaiian destinations to enjoy swimming with some of the most colorful fishes, gorgeous coral reefs, and exotic marine life in the bay's pristine blue waters.

What should you not forget in Hawaii? ›

10 Items You Can't Forget to Pack on Your Next Trip to Hawaii
  • Towels. ...
  • Slippers. ...
  • Slippers you don't mind losing. ...
  • Beach bags. ...
  • Jackets. ...
  • (Reef-safe) Sunscreen. ...
  • Hiking boots. ...
  • Formal attire.
Jan 28, 2019

Where should I go for my first time in Hawaii? ›

If it's your first trip to Hawaii

Chances are, the Big Island of Hawaii has everything you're looking for. But depending on what you want to do, one of the other islands accessible from the mainland — Maui, Oahu or Kauai — could be a better fit.

What is the most interesting thing in Hawaii? ›

While Hawaii is home to many amazing volcanoes, the most famous is Kilauea because it's the best place to see lava in Hawaii. It erupted continuously from 1983 to 2018 and most recently erupted in October 2021. You can experience the glory of Kilauea with a trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

What is fun about Hawaii? ›

Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches—some of them with unusual colors. Many beaches are filled with white sand, but other Hawaiian shores are covered with green, red, pink, and even black sand. Whether you like hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing, swimming, or just sitting on the beach, Hawaii is the state for you.

What is the best thing about Hawaii? ›

World-class beaches, pristine rainforests, and sizzling volcanoes are just a few things that make Hawaii a happening hotspot for tourists. Every Hawaiian Island has its own draw, making this state one that is filled with adventure and luxury no matter which way you turn.

Do and don'ts in Hawaii? ›

Do remove your shoes when entering a person's home as a sign of respect. Don't remove or disturb any artefacts in heiau (Hawaiian temples) or any tourist site. Do wear aloha shirts and get into the spirit! Don't wear swimwear or bikinis anywhere else but the beach.

What is the most used word in Hawaii? ›

This is one of the most often used Hawaiian word, even by those who do not fully understand its exact meaning. Aloha can be used to say “Hello” or “Goodbye.” and it has a deeper meaning to the Hawaiian people. Aloha also means kindness, love and affection.

Why you should go to Hawaii? ›

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Hawaii
  • Stunning Beaches. Hawaii's beaches are some of the most spectacular in the world. ...
  • Marine Life. ...
  • Endless Adventure Activities. ...
  • World-Class Surf. ...
  • Hawaiian Cuisine. ...
  • Breathtaking Views. ...
  • Volcanoes. ...
  • Vibrant Shopping.
Nov 2, 2020

What is the funnest part of Hawaii to visit? ›

Oahu is truly a hot spot for Hawaii activities, tours, shopping, surfing, nightlife, and dining. The island is the most developed of the major islands, and it'll feel like it - it's busy here, and unlike some areas of Hawaii, there's more hustle and bustle around the clock.

What is the number 1 beach in Hawaii? ›

Waikiki Beach

Waikīkī Beach is not only the most famous beach in Hawaii but it is also one of the most well-known beaches on the planet! The 2-mile stretch of golden sand is comprised of 8 sections, each offering unique vibes and activities in Honolulu.

What is the Hawaiian Island no one can visit? ›

Niihau, about 18 miles northwest of Kauai, is the "Forbidden Island." It has been privately owned by the same family since 1864, when Elizabeth Sinclair purchased it from King Kamehameha V for $10,000.

How do you spend a day in Hawaii? ›

Here are 10 ways to spend a day in Honolulu.
  1. Visit Pearl Harbor. ...
  2. Discover Diamond Head. ...
  3. Relax at Waikiki Beach. ...
  4. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. ...
  5. Explore Oahu's North Shore. ...
  6. Explore the Ocean Depths by Submarine. ...
  7. Take a Bus Tour of the City. ...
  8. Visit Sea Life Park.

What food can you only get in Hawaii? ›

Food combinations only found in Hawaii
  • Mango slices and li hing mui.
  • Meat and steamed bun.
  • Spam, seaweed and rice.
  • Hamburger steak, egg, rice and steak.
  • Pork and taro leaf.
  • Chicken katsu, rice and macaroni salad.
  • Kalua pork and cabbage.
Sep 19, 2022

What are taboos in Hawaii? ›

Kapu! Things to NOT Do in Hawaii
  • 3.1 Don't remove sand from the beach.
  • 3.2 Don't take any lava rocks from Volcanoes National Park.
  • 3.3 Don't take any pork over the Pali.
  • 3.4 Don't bring bananas on a boat.

What is the cheapest part of Hawaii to visit? ›

Oahu is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit, with a total cost of $2,625. A Ko Olina Resort lagoon on Oahu. Maui is the most expensive island to visit, coming in nearly $1,000 more expensive, with a total cost of $3,600. The Grand Wailea in Maui, a luxury resort.

What month is best to visit Hawaii? ›

The Fewest Crowds in Hawaii

To avoid the crowds, these months are the best time to visit Hawaii. September and October are the least crowded as visitor counts drop to the islands after Labor Day. 2019 monthly visitor data to Hawaii. 2019 had no travel restrictions so the data reflects expected 2023 visitor trends.

How many days in Hawaii is enough? ›

If you wish to discover the island as a whole, we recommend that you stay at least 5 days so that you have time to enjoy its various attractions and go on a few hikes. If you prefer to make only a quick stop to get an idea of life in Honolulu and do only the essentials, 3 days may be enough.

What makes Hawaii so special? ›

Part of what makes the islands of Hawaii so special is the culture, a big drawcard to this South Pacific holiday destination. Much more than spectacular sunsets, beautiful beaches and wordclass surfing, the Hawaiian culture influences everything from language and religion to fashion and cuisine.

Why do I like Hawaii so much? ›

There's something about the culture and the beautiful landscape that always leaves us wanting more. It's hard to describe how Hawaii makes you feel. You can get lost in the natural beauty of the place, even in developed areas like Waikiki, but it's something more. Hawaii's vibe instantly calms the mind.

What do people do in Hawaii? ›

Maui is the most popular Hawaiian Island for snorkeling adventures, whale watching tours, golf, water sports, and sightseeing. The County of Maui also houses the islands of Lana'i (The Pineapple Isle) and Moloka'i (The Friendly Isle).

Do you need cash in Hawaii? ›

Take cash. While we mostly operate in a cashless society, you'll need cash in Waikiki.

What should I worry about in Hawaii? ›

15 Terrifying Things In Hawaii That Can (And Just Might) Kill You
  • 1) Huge Waves, Hurricanes & Tsunamis. Steven Worster/Flickr. ...
  • 2) Sun Poisoning. daveynin/Flickr. ...
  • 3) Centipedes. Steve/Flickr. ...
  • 4) Honolulu Traffic. ...
  • 5) Hiking Trails. ...
  • 6) Grocery Shopping. ...
  • 7) Sharks. ...
  • 8) Jellyfish, eels, and other dangerous sea creatures.
May 8, 2022

Should you wear jeans to Hawaii? ›

Can you wear jeans in Hawaii? Sure, you can wear jeans in Hawaii. But unless you're going up to the summit of Haleakala you'll probably be more comfortable in almost anything else due to the balmy temperatures and humidity.

What do you call a girl in Hawaii? ›

wahine • \wah-HEE-nee\ • noun. 1 : a Polynesian woman 2 : a female surfer.

How do I respond to Mahalo? ›

3. 'A' ole pilikia – You're welcome/ No problem. If someone says 'Mahalo' to you, this is the phrase to respond with.

How do you respect Hawaii when visiting? ›

Here are 12 ways to be a respectful traveler to Hawaii.
  1. Relax - You're on Vacation. You may be used to hustle and bustle, but in Hawaii, rushing is considered pushy and rude. ...
  2. Don't Act Entitled. ...
  3. Protect Natural Resources. ...
  4. Do Your Research. ...
  5. Never Trespass. ...
  6. Pack Sustainably. ...
  7. Don't Litter. ...
  8. Appreciate the Culture.
Aug 26, 2021

Is Hawaii the most beautiful place on earth? ›

The warm water, the plentiful reefs, fish, turtles, whales, and barracuda make the beautiful Hawaii islands a great place to spend a lot of time in the water. With all the different things Hawaii has to offer, it surely ranks as the most beautiful place on Earth.

Why is Hawaii a dream vacation? ›

A Hawaii vacation is so much more than just weather and beaches, although the weather and beaches can be amazing. There is everything from big-city attractions and shopping in Honolulu, to the most varied, diverse, and breathtaking natural environments you could find anywhere.

What is the friendliest Hawaiian island? ›

Among the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is known as the Friendly Isle, and those who live there would consider it the best island to live on by far. With many longtime families and few visitors living on remote Molokai, it is one of the most secluded Hawaiian Islands.

What is the most liked island in Hawaii? ›

Oahu is the most visited of all the Hawaiian islands, at nearly 4.7 million visitors annually. Oahu is primarily defined by the state capital of Honolulu, as well as Pearl Harbor and the famous beach known as Waikiki.

Who owns 98% of a Hawaiian island? ›

This is Lanai, Hawaii's sixth-largest island. Larry Ellison owns 98% of it—everything except what's shown here in black. This is Lanai, Hawaii's sixth-largest island.

What part of Hawaii is best for first time visitors? ›

For most travelers visiting Hawaii for the first time, the Big Island of Hawaii should be the winner because it offers the most diverse experiences.
Maui drawbacks
  • Resort areas can feel like one big, manicured golf course.
  • Activities are fewer and farther between.
  • Beach resorts can be pricey, especially in Wailea.
Nov 14, 2022

How should I go to Hawaii for the first time? ›

First Time to Hawaii Planning Timeline
  1. Decide when you'll go. ...
  2. Decide how long to go for. ...
  3. Choose your island(s) ...
  4. Book your flights. ...
  5. Pick a place to stay. ...
  6. Figure out whether you want to rent a car. ...
  7. Choose some of your can't-miss activities. ...
  8. Make some fun dinner reservations.
Jan 6, 2023

Which part of Hawaii is cheapest? ›

Oahu is the cheapest Hawaiian island to visit, with a total cost of $2,625. A Ko Olina Resort lagoon on Oahu. Maui is the most expensive island to visit, coming in nearly $1,000 more expensive, with a total cost of $3,600. The Grand Wailea in Maui, a luxury resort.

What is best month to visit Hawaii? ›

While Hawaii is a great destination year-round, the best opportunity for good weather exists during April, May, September, and October. As the tradewinds pick up over the winter months, so do the showers, and surf swells, particularly on the north/northeast (windward) shores of each island.

How much money do you need to go to Hawaii for a week? ›

The average per-person cost for a Hawaii vacation is about $4000 for a one-week trip. This includes $1000 for flights, $2000 for accommodation, $550 for meals, $250 for a rental car, and $300 for tours and activities.

How much money should I bring to Hawaii? ›

Budget-Friendly Travel Planning. How much money will you need for your trip to Hawaii? You should plan to spend around $274 per day on your vacation in Hawaii, which is the average daily price based on the expenses of other visitors.

Should you tip in Hawaii? ›

It's especially important to tip in Hawaii because the cost of living is really high. How much should you tip in Hawaii? The standard tipping amount for adequate service is 15% and you can tip 20-25% for outstanding service. It can come across as insulting to tip less than 15% for service.

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