Getting to know Hawaii was one of my biggest dreams. It was actually that destination that I always thought I wouldn’t be able to visit because it’s far and expensive. But as we must always pursue our dreams, with a little planning and research, I saw that Hawaii was much more possible than I imagined!
Hawaii is an archipelago formed by 19 islands. Of these, only 4 are more explored by tourism: Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Big Island. The islands are quite large and have many attractions. That’s why when setting up a trip there, it is important to think carefully about the itinerary to avoid starting out wanting to do everything and, in the end, not enjoying anything.
I spent two wonderful weeks in this American state (yes, despite having a very own culture and being “isolated” in the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii is part of the United States) and explored several of its attractions. In this post, I will highlight the 15 popular tourist attractions and things to do in Hawaii that I enjoyed. Read on!
Things to Do in Hawaii
1. Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach is one of the top Hawaii tourist attractions and one of the archipelago’s best-known spots.
I booked the first day to explore Hawaii’s hottest beach, Waikiki. I took the opportunity to stroll along the beach promenade and see the Duke statue, which symbolizes the father of surfing. Right in front of the statue, the free Hula show (dancing) takes place every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Waikiki isn’t one of the prettiest beaches in Hawaii, but it’s perfect if you’re looking to shop, not to mention the restaurants and bars. There you will find the Hard Rock Cafe, my darling Cheesecake Factory, etc. And for those who want to enjoy the beach, you have the option of surfing depending on the day (there are days when the waves are not so good for surfing). Another option for fun is a stand-up paddle.
If you want to secure a photo, it’s worth checking out the pink facade of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. To end the day with a golden key, watch the sunset.
2. USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
I planned to spend my second day at Pearl Harbor, another of the popular tourist attractions in Hawaii. As a reminder, for those who love history, it was at this military base where the Japanese attacked the United States in World War II.
They bombed the place where the USS Arizona was hit, causing the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. A very sad story, and of course, visiting Pearl Harbor will also be a very sad moment.
If you want to know the place, the attraction is paid, but you have the chance to get a free ticket, as they offer 2000 tickets for the first people. For this reason, try to arrive early to secure your ticket and save money. And there is also a scheduled time to get to the memorial, which is via a ferry crossing.
Due to rain and wind, I couldn’t go to the memorial as they ended up having to cancel this tour for safety reasons.
In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, there are other options for tours and attractions (which are paid), such as memorials, museums inside ships, submarines, and even planes. If you have plans to take the tours offered, it is possible to spend the whole day there. I did another tour on the USS Battleship Missouri.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
This is another that was of much interest to me. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a timeless place. The eruptions of the various craters followed one another to give way to a lunar landscape.
Established in 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the largest volcano national park in the world and was listed as a natural heritage site in 1987. Kilauea and Mauna Loa are the two most frequently active volcanoes in the area.
Among the most beautiful things, I admired the lava flow that flows directly into the ocean or another that descends from the still active crater. For this, a park was created where tourists can take boat trips through the sea and see up close (but not so close) the lava meeting the sea.
In addition, I visited the Hawaii Volcanic Observation Area, the Jaggar Museum, and the Halema’uma’u crater, which is a 500-year-old lava crater. Many people come here to learn how Hawaii came to be or simply to capture fantastic pictures on the camera. This should definitely be among the best places to visit in Hawaii for a breathtaking experience.
4. Diamond Head State Monument
The unmistakable silhouette of the Diamond Head is among the best tourist attractions in Hawaii for an unforgettable experience. This impressive crater, with a perfectly circular shape, stands behind the beach of Waikiki. It was formed about 300,000 years ago following a spectacular eruption. It has been extinct for centuries, but the lava, which is cemented with the tuff, creates truly suggestive effects.
To reach the edge of the crater, I had to follow a path through dark and underground tunnels that needed the aid of a flashlight to complete the crossing. The path was built by the military in 1910, and the journey takes around 30 minutes. And from the edge of the crater, I was able to admire the beautiful views of the coast, the mountains, and the ocean.
5. Kona Coffee Plantation
Are you a coffee enthusiast like me, or simply enjoying visiting new places? Kona coffee plantations are a must-visit when in Hawaii. There are many coffee plantations in Kona that offer complete tours with coffee tasting events that can satisfy your taste buds. I visited a coffee mill and learned about the coffee selection process, and of course, how coffee is made until it reaches you as a delicious drink.
Please note that Kona coffee is one of the most expensive and most valuable coffees in the world. If you happen to be visiting in November, don’t forget to attend the Kona Coffee Culture Festival in Kailua-Kona village to enjoy coffee and immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture. If you come in another month, you can still visit coffee plantations such as Kona Coffee, Greenwell, or The Hilo Coffee Mill. It is definitely one of the best tourist attractions in Hawaii to have an unforgettable experience.
6. Waimea Falls
The second stop of the day, Waimea Falls, which is a very beautiful waterfall that served as the setting for the series Lost. To get to it, you need to take a walk on a paved trail, something quick and super easy. But for that, it has a cost of approximately $14 for entry.
When you reach the waterfall, you can enter the water for a swim, and if you don’t know how to swim, there are lifeguards available for visitors. I loved the bath, but I’ll tell you that the water is very cold.
7. Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden
It didn’t take long for me to find an opportunity at one of the largest botanical gardens on the Island of Oahu: Ho’omaluhia (which means peaceful refuge) with 160 acres of plants and trees. One of the first things I learned was that through nature, it is possible to know the history of the place from colonization to the current time.
The enchanting position is in itself a reason to visit. With its long paths lined with greenery and a canvas backdrop, you can hike, picnic, and discover many endemic and exotic plant species. In addition, given the vastness of the park, it is possible to drive your car through breathtaking streets that rise with hairpin bends on the slopes of the mountains. This is one of the best tourist attractions in Hawaii that you must include in your itinerary.
8. Trip to Lana’i Island
Lana’i Island is also known as Pineapple Island because it has the most pineapple plantations and is also the largest pineapple producer in the world. The Island is privately owned and not by the government. I had to use air to reach the Island.
If you’re planning to visit this Island, I recommend renting your own vehicle to freely explore various interesting locations on the Island, such as Puu Pehe beach, Gardens of the Gods, or Sweetheart Rocks. Activities that you can do here include swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, horse riding, and playing golf.
9. Iolani Palace
The Iolani Palace is the former residence of the Hawaiian monarchs, the only official royal residence that has ever existed in the United States. It is one of the most important historical places and rated among the top tourist attractions in Hawaii.
This palace is a historic national landmark that was inhabited by the last two monarchs of the Kingdom of Hawaii from 1882 to 1889. The monarchs were King Kalakaua with his sister and his successor Queen Liliuokalani. I learned a lot about the Hawaiian culture and history here.
In addition, this palace was the first house in Hawaii to be equipped with electric lights, in-house telephones, and flush toilets. The interior is opulent, worthy of a king. Some of the rooms that I was able to admire were the throne room, the dining room, and the reception room. In earlier times, lavish festivals took place here.
Many a tragic story broke out in the private rooms of the royal family, which I also visited. The insignia of the Hawaiian kings can still be admired in the basement. Swords, jewels, and the two crowns of the king and queen are also on display.
10. Haleakala National Park
Discovering a volcano in Hawaii was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. In addition to having several beaches, the Hawaiian Islands still have volcanoes that are really spectacular.
Haleakala is a shield-shaped volcano that accounts for more than half of Maui. The attraction has been dormant for years, but the spectacle attracts many tourists from all over the world. This makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hawaii that you can’t miss.
The park promotes several excursions where you can discover its mountains, deserts with waterfalls, and incredible tourist peaks, in addition to the diverse local flora. Tourists can take the tours on horseback, on foot, and accompanied by a guide, according to their preference and desired experience.
Anyone on the island between December and March can watch the spectacle of whales through the mesmerizing waters of the place. Despite its name meaning “the house of the sun,” Haleakala is famous for its amazing and colorful moonscape.
11. Polynesian Cultural Center
My next trip was to the Polynesian Cultural Center. I wanted to know more about the high Polynesian culture, and this place was recommended to me. For my trips, it’s not always about pleasure, but a balance with history or knowledge.
While here, I was shown the culture of Polynesia. This Polynesian cultural presentation is presented with music, performances, and other entertainment with cultural elements. Even at night, the evening shows served here are quite entertaining.
12. Trip to Hana Highway
How about a road trip to Hana Highway? First of all, in a big fan of road trips. And when the idea of having a road trip came up, I couldn’t resist.
We chose Hana Highway because it was once selected as the “most beautiful highway in America” by National Geographic. And I can confirm that it is an excellent self-driving route to enjoy the beautiful natural scenery of the “Magic Island.”
Along the tortuous coastline, Hundreds of curves, bridges, and a lot of interesting points that you go through while you enter the wildest part of the Island.
Turning and driving on more than 600 bends from time to time may seem daunting to tourists, but every traveler who has visited the Hana Highway will never regret it.
13. Waimea Canyon State Park
Situated on the west side of Kauai, Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This wonder of nature offers breathtaking views of its valley. It extends for 10 miles long, reaches a depth of over 900 meters deep, and is a mile wide at some points.
I was able to view this amazing spectacle from the two main lookouts: Puu Hina Hina and Puu ka Pele. In addition, there is a small natural history museum that displays an incredible collection of fauna and flora.
I really wanted to meet Molokai. It is the most authentic, as most of its inhabitants are of Hawaiian origin and even lead a rural lifestyle. If you’re looking for a place to truly connect with this culture, I recommend inserting the Island into your itinerary.
Molokai is home to the highest sea cliffs in the world and the longest “fringing” coral reef (I didn’t know what that was, but I did research: they are the most common, which exist near islands or continents). Visit Kalaupapa National Historical Parl and Papohaku Beach, one of Hawaii’s longest white sand beaches.
Did you know that Hawaiian macadamia is very famous? It’s delicious??? In Molokai, be sure to visit a macadamia nut farm, Purdy’s All-Natural Macadamia Nut Farm. Another interesting visit is Coffees of Hawaii (Molokai coffee is served on all islands, they are very proud of the coffee they produce locally).
As you can see, Molokai Island is home to a number of tourist attractions in Hawaii that are good to visit.
15. Hanauma Bay
My last morning was dedicated to getting to know one of the most beautiful beaches on Oahu: Hanauma Bay, which is in the southern part of the Island. This beach is one of the best for diving, and a tip is to get there early, as the parking lot there is easily crowded, and you can run the risk of not getting your spot depending on the time. To park the car it costs $1.
Its water clarity and landscape beauty ranked first in the 2016 US Best Beach Survey. The waves are calm, and colorful tropical fish are swimming even in shallow water, so even small children can enjoy snorkeling with confidence. Although it is a beach that requires an admission fee, it is also recommended for families with children as there is an education center where you can learn a lot.
Of course, there are dozens of other important tourist attractions in Hawaii, perhaps even more beautiful than those listed here. However, these are certainly among the most famous Hawaii attractions.