The 20 best things to do in Hawaii

4 Explore Kauais Napali CoastFodors/MNStudioEscape to Kauai’s Napali Coast

From gorgeous beaches to hikes with breathtaking views, Hawaii offers terrific experiences that should be on every traveller’s list.

Here are our top picks for a memorable trip.

Hit the Road to Hana

Fodors/Lee Prince

Spectacular views of waterfalls, lush forests, and the sparkling ocean are part of the pleasure of the twisting drive along the North Shore to tiny, timeless Hana in East Maui. The journey is the destination, but once you arrive, kick back and enjoy. Wave to pedestrians, 'talk story' with locals in line at the Hasegawa store, and explore the multicolor beaches. An overnight stay here allows for the most relaxed experience, though; a day trip is a big push. You may decide to drive just part of the way as an alternative.

Visit Pearl Harbour

Fodors/Tor Johnson

This top Honolulu site is not to be missed. Spend the better part of a day touring the Missouri, the Arizona Memorial, and, if you have time, the Bowfin.

Explore Kauai's Napali Coast


Experiencing Kauai's emerald green Napali Coast is a must-do. You can see these awesome cliffs on the northwest side of the island by boat, helicopter, or by hiking the Kalalau Trail. Whichever you pick, you won't be disappointed.

Hike Haleakala

Fodors/Tor Johnson

Take time to trek down one of the trails into Haleakala National Park's massive bowl and see proof, at this dormant volcano, of how powerful the earth's exhalations can be. The cinder cones have beautiful swirls of subtle colours that can sparkle in the sunlight. You won't see a landscape like this anywhere, outside of visiting the moon. The barren terrain is deceptive, however -- many of the world's rarest plants, birds, and insects live here.

Catch the Views at Waimea Canyon


From its start in the west Kauai town of Waimea to the road's end some twenty uphill miles later at Puu o Kila Lookout, you'll pass through several microclimates -- from hot, desert-like conditions at sea level to the cool, deciduous forest of Kokee -- and navigate through the traditional Hawaiian system of land division called ahupuaa.

Green Sands Beach

Fodors/Kushch Dmitry

It's a bit off the beaten track, but this is one of the few places in the world to see green sand, which gets its unusual colour from the mineral olivine. And it happens to be surrounded by turquoise waters and dramatic cliffs.

Exploring Waipio Valley

Fodors/Radoslaw Lecyk

Whichever way you choose to get there -- on horseback, in a four-wheel drive, or on foot -- you'll discover that the Valley of the Kings, on the Hamakua Coast, is full of sky-high waterfalls, lush green cliffs, and a mystical quality that can't quite be described or rivaled.

Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Fodors/Mauna Kea

Teams of astronomers from all over the world come to Mauna Kea for the clearest skies and some of the best conditions anywhere. Head up the mountain in the late afternoon for the prettiest sunset on this island and the best stargazing on this planet.

Stunning Waterfalls on the Hamukua Coast

Fodors/Marisa Estivill

Watch rainbows forming in the mist; then take a refreshing dip in cold, deep pools fed by powerful waterfalls spilling over the dramatic cliffs of the Hamakua Coast.

Go on a Kona Coffee Farm Tour

Fodors/Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

Spend an afternoon discovering why Kona coffee commands those high prices. Visit a working estate and watch as 'cherries' become beans, enjoy the smoky aromas of the roasting process, and then indulge in the smoothest cup of coffee you'll ever taste. Did we mention that it's all free? Our favourite: Lions Gate Farms in the heart of Honaunau's coffee belt. The annual ten-dayKona Coffee Cultural Festival in November celebrates coffee with tours, cupping contests, tastings, and special events.

Swim Through Coral Gardens on the Kona Coast

Fodors/Kawika Singson

Diving or snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters off the Kona Coast is like being let loose in your very own ocean-size aquarium. Bright yellow, purple, and rose-coloured coral creates surreal kingdoms ruled by octopi, turtles, rays, dolphins, and fish in every colour of the rainbow.

Highway 560

Fodors/Brian Snelson

This ten-mile stretch of road starting at the Hanalei Scenic Overlook in Princeville rivals all in Hawaii and in 2003 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of only about 100 roads nationwide to meet the criteria. Indeed, the road itself is said to follow an ancient Hawaiian walking trail that skirts the ocean. Today, Route 560 includes thirteen historic bridges and culverts, most of which are one lane wide. Be patient.

River Kayaking

Fodors/Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Japan

The best part about kayaking Kauai's rivers is that you don't have to be experienced. There are no rapids to run, no waterfalls to jump and, therefore, no excuses for not enjoying the scenic sights from the water. On the East Side, try the Wailua River; if you're on the North Shore, don't miss the Hanalei River. But if you have some experience and are in reasonably good shape, you may choose to create a few lifetime memories and kayak Napali Coast.

Kailua Beach


Kailua is the beach you came to Hawaii for -- and the reason why many have never left. This popular stretch of white sandy beach on Oahu's windward side is wide and inviting, with several small offshore islands perfect for exploring on kayaks. The waves are gentle and forgiving, and the beach is within walking distance of small convenience stores and friendly eateries.

Hiking to Kaena Point


On the westernmost point of the island, magical Kaena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands and is home to a growing population of wedge-tailed shearwaters and other rare and endangered seabirds. Hawaiian green sea turtles and monk seals often rest along the shore, and in winter you can often see migrating humpback whales offshore. While you can't access all 850 acres of this culturally significant place -- this area has long been known as the leaping place of souls -- you can walk or bike along the coastline. A trek through this protected area may change your mind about Oahu being 'too crowded.'

Buy Tropical Fruit at a Roadside Stand

Fodors/Dana Edmunds

Your first taste of ripe guava or mango is something to remember. Delicious lychee, mangoes, star fruit, bananas, passion fruit, pineapple, and papaya can be bought on the side of the road with the change in your pocket. Go on, let the juice run down your chin. Farmers' markets are another place to seek out taste treats -- just be sure to ask if what you crave is, indeed, local.

Trip to Japan

Fodors/Nigiri Special

Little known outside Oahu's growing community of Japanese nationals is a class of small restaurant-bars called izakaya, or Japanese taverns. Grilled, fried, and raw dishes are perfect with beer, sake, or shochu (a liquor distilled from barley, sweet potato, or rice). Even newer on the scene are okonomi, hip spots that specialize in Osaka-style grilled omelets and potent Japanese spirits. Both are like a visit to Japan, minus the long plane ride. They are a must-notch in any foodie's belt.

Explore Chinatown

Fodors/ takaokun

Over the past few years, Chinatown has been transformed into the center of Oahu's arts scene. This vibrant neighbourhood,which pours into downtown Honolulu, boasts art galleries, eclectic restaurants, hip bars, trendy boutiques, and the historic Hawaii Theatre. There are a few guided tours of the cultural attractions, but you can easily wander the area on your own. Every first Friday of the month there's a block party of sorts, when art galleries and restaurants stay open late and bars feature live music. It's well worth the cab fare.

Tour Upcountry

Fodors/iofoto / Shutterstock

Beach lovers might need some arm-twisting to head up the mountain for a day, but the views and the fresh-smelling countryside are ample reward. On the roads winding through ranchlands, crisp, high-altitude air is scented with eucalyptus and the fragrances of the forest. Stop for an agricultural tour and learn about where the island's bounty comes from; you can sample it, too.

Hawaiian Music

Fodors/Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Japan

Before his untimely death in 1997, Israel Kamakawiwoole, or 'IZ,' woke the world to the sound of modern Hawaiian music. Don't leave without hearing it live. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului has top Hawaiian entertainers regularly and so do many island bars and restaurants. The Wednesday-night George Kahumoku Jr.'s Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music concert series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort in West Maui is excellent. The Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival features guest performers who play Hawaii's signature style.

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