We are not going to lie, planning a trip to Aloha state is overwhelming. It takes time, patience and persistence. But it’s not impossible. And if you let us, we will help you find the most fascinating things to do in Hawaii on your next trip to the tropical islands.
With seven islands scattered in the magnificent Pacific Ocean, there’s so much to consider. Each of them hosts something incredible to see and do.
But fear not, we will share our top tips with you for getting the most out of your tropical holiday. And we’ll give you a full overview of the islands that, in our humble opinion, are the best islands to visit in Hawaii.
So here’s our full rundown on the extraordinary things to see and do in Hawaii for your next island-hopping vacation.
Kauai – Welcome to the Garden Island
If you ask us which Hawaiian island to choose for your tropical holiday, we’d say Kauai. It’s the lushest and greenest of all the seven islands.
However, this means that it rains here a lot more too. So choose your time wisely when visiting.
The best way to get the most out of your time in Kauai is to split the island into sections – the north, the south, and the east shore. This will make it easier for you to plan all these incredible things to see and do in Kauai. Here goes!
Cool Things to See and Do in Kauai (North Shore)
1. Trek the Emerald Green Na Pali Coast
Kauai is abundant with amazing sites to see, but if there is only one thing you have time to do on this island, head for the emerald-green hills of the Na Pali coast.
We can’t recommend enough the Kalalau Trail. Located literally at the end of the road near Tunnels beach, it stretches for around eleven miles along the tall hills.
The views from the rugged mountains are out of this world with the sparkling Pacific Ocean bobbing away at your feet. The Kauai coastline is magnificent and you’ll feel like you’re in the film Jurassic Park!
What an incredible place to explore, perfect for your next vacation in Hawaii.
To reach the Kalalau trek, drive as far north as you can from the scenic Hanalei Town, once the road ends, you’ll know you are at the right place. The Kalalau Trek starts at Ke’e beach, winding along the Na Pali Coast.
If you are short on time for a trek, include a helicopter ride over the spectacular Na Pali coast in your Hawaii itinerary. Starting from around $120 per ride, it is a costly but unforgettable experience.
2. Don’t Miss Hanalei Town and Beach
Hanalei is a true star of the north shore.
Used as a backdrop in several film productions such as “South Pacific” and “The Descendants” starring George Clooney, the town is known for stealing many visitors’ hearts.
When exploring Hanalei, take your time to visit Wai’oli Hui’ia Church perched in the heart of the town. You can’t miss it, it’s way too stunning not to be noticed.
And pay attention to the scenery surrounding the church, it’s magical!
3. Swim in Hanalei Bay
The greatest thing about exploring the north shore of Kauai is that you are never too far away from a great tropical beach.
If you are heading to Hanalei town, throw your swimwear into your bag. Here you will find one of the best beaches in Kauai.
The crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay with the lush green Na Pali hills sticking out in the distance is perfect for a cheeky swim.
4. Enjoy Haena Beach
If you are looking for a tad of privacy, try the Haena beach, located a few steps away from the Tunnels beach. It’s perfect for a secluded honeymoon spot in Hawaii!
Read more: The Best Beaches in Hawaii
5. Fall in Love with Tunnels Beach
It’s hard not to fall in love with such a view!
Tunnels beach is considered to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Kauai. Therefore it can get a little crowded. But if you are here in the winter months, you might be lucky to have it all to yourself.
The beach is also a popular wedding spot due to it being located in the shadow of the glorious Mount Makana. So don’t be surprised if you gatecrash a celebration.
More Fun Things to Do in Kauai (South Shore)
Once you’ve taken in the luxuries of the north shore, head to the south for even more exciting Kauai activities.
There’s the spectacular Waimea Canyon waiting to be explored, waterfalls to be seen and the famous Spouting Horn Blowhole to be photographed.
If you are looking for fun things to do at night in Kauai, we recommend checking out the Friday Night Festival in Hanapepe if you are nearby.
It’s a fantastic Art Night Walk event that brings everyone together for a fun night out in Kauai.
6. Explore Waimea Canyon State Park
To explore the glorious Waimea Canyon State Park, stay in Waimea town, where Captain Cook landed in 1778. Located at the bottom of the canyon, the town is small but has its own charm and a beach nearby.
The name Waimea stems from reddish-brown water and it refers to the river that picks up salt from the canyon and colours the ocean red. You will see it as you explore the area further.
Visiting the Grand Canyon of the Pacific is a must when visiting Kauai. And it will be one of the many highlights of your island hopping in Hawaii.
For the best experience, we recommend exploring at least one of the Waimea Canyon hiking trails.
You can start your trek by taking a relatively easy Cliff Trail (0.1 miles) and continue down the semi-steep, 1.8 mile Canyon Trail which promises rewarding views.
The hike is exhilarating! Make sure you grab a stick on your way, it will help you trek through the slippery bits.
But if hiking down into the canyon is too much trouble for your Hawaiian holiday, you can simply take the Canyon Drive. It passes the main lookout points.
Foodwise there is a cafe/restaurant Kokee Lodge at around 5,000 ft high. They serve good hearty food and have a massive fireplace for you to warm up a little. Good spot to fill up before or after explorations.
7. Join the Locals at the Hanapepe Art Night
Every given Friday Hanapepe hosts a fantastic Friday Night Festival. It’s an event you don’t want to miss.
Imagine dimly-lit streets glistening in hundreds of fairy lights, tasty street food, live music, a warm and welcoming atmosphere, and lots of Aloha in a very small place. Fascinating!
Read more: Hanapepe Friday Night Festival
8. Shoot the Spouting Horn Blowhole
According to the Lonely Planet, the Spouting Horn Beach Park is one of the most photographed spots in Kauai.
Watching the water blasting out of the hole in the shoreline is one of those great experiences in Hawaii that does not require much effort. Add it to your list of things to see and do on the island.
From December to May, during the whale-watching season, the Spouting Horn Beach Park is a great spot from which to watch beautiful humpback whales. Have fun!
9. Glass Beach in Kauai, Should You Visit?
If you follow a travel book, it will probably tell you to visit Glass Beach.
It sounds quirky, but we found the beach really hard to locate. When we finally did, we were standing on a factory-like site.
Yes, it is fascinating to walk on the smooth and incredibly colourful glass “pebbles” shimmering in the sunshine. But we wouldn’t recommend going out of your way just to see it. Unless you are nearby.
It has slowly eroded away over the years so now looks much less impressive. However, it could be a great place to catch a sunrise.
To find the glass beach, drive past some warehouses on Waialo Road, park your car on the dirt road and walk to the beach. You’ll find it here: Aka Ula St, Eleele HI 96705.
What to Do on the East Coast of Kauai
East coast of Kauai is quite chilled and maybe even a little hippyish, but very enjoyable with a number of lovely sights to see. Let’s have a look.
10. Get Active in Wailua
If you love jungle-like landscapes and rolling hills, you will be pleased will all the exciting things to see and do in Wailua.
For great outdoor activities in Kauai, have a go at kayaking through the rain forests.
For a great family day out, pop into the Smith Family Garden Luau and the Fern Grotto.
An authentic Kamokila Hawaiian Village is another great attraction in Kauai, especially if you are travelling with kids.
Ready for another beach day in Hawaii? Head to Fuji Beach. It’s great for swimming, picnicking or just relaxing after a long day of activities in Kauai. You will find it on the east side of Kapaa.
11. Spot the Two-Tiered Opeakaa and Wailua Falls
Conveniently located on the main road, both the 40 ft tall Opeakaa Fall and the double, 173 ft tall Wailua Falls are true showstoppers.
However, due to fatal accidents, the trails down to both waterfalls have been closed to prevent further hazards. But you can still enjoy the view from the road.
12. Drive Through or Stay in Kapaa Town
Kapaa town is an interesting place – it is the only walkable town on the east side.
One part of the town, with the main eateries and cafes, sits along the Kuhio Highway, making it very unusual, almost like a temporary movie set.
A slightly bizarre place, but we suggest adding it to your Hawaii itinerary mainly because of all the good food to be found here.
If we missed anything, you can always use the search engine below to find even more fascinating things to do in Kauai and beyond.
Where to Stay in Kauai
Kauai is packed with amazing places to stay, but for the best experience, we suggest checking Airbnb.
Alternatively, choose hotel stays, which are plenty in Kauai, if you are not keen on mixing with the locals.
The Big Island – Extraordinary Things to See and Do
If you are looking for unforgettable things to do on your Hawaii vacation, The Big Island has it all.
As the name suggests, it is big compared to the others in Hawaii. The first impressions of the island are startling. You’ll see.
Crystal-clear waters of the Pacific, black-sand beaches, villages covered in burning lava, steaming-sulfur banks on the rim of the Kilauea crater and the snowy-tops of the incredible Mauna Kea.
These are just a few sights we encourage you to see on the Big Island.
13. Watch the Soulful Sunset Atop Mauna Kea Volcano
Visiting the summit of Mauna Kea Volcano is one of the most incredible things do on The Big Island.
This unbelievable one-million-year-old volcano reaches over 13,000 ft in height! And you’ll have the chance to be right at the top. If you plan it well.
If you are up for it, we can help you plan your Mauna Kea trip independently. Take a look at our visiting Mauna Kea independently post if you are interested in finding out how we did on our own terms.
If you prefer taking an organised tour, you can start your day with a spectacular sunrise from the top of the tallest volcano on earth.
14. Pay a Visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Another extraordinary thing to do in Hawaii is to see the most active volcano on earth!
The Big Island is one of a few places in the world where you can come face-to-face with an active volcano.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24 hours a day all year round so spare a full day to explore it.
Be sure to arrive as early as possible, wear comfortable footwear and stay well protected from the sun. It’s going to be a long, but a blooming-brilliant day!
Start your day by stepping into the Kingdom of the Hawaiian mythological volcano goddess, Pele. Exploring the steaming sulfur banks on the rim of the crater and hike down to the Kilauea Iki Crater floor.
Then, drive all the way down to the seafront and visit the Sea Arch naturally carved out by the ocean – yet another beautiful thing to see on The Big Island.
As the sun sets, make your way back to face the youngest and the most active volcano on earth.
The grand finale to your day will be watching the hypnotising glowing lava bubbling in the dark. Priceless.
15. Walk Along the Lava Rocks
When visiting the Big Island, consider exploring the fascinating lava rock sites.
All three of them, located on the east coast of the biggest island in Hawaii, make it a nice and chilled day out.
The Isaac’s Beach Park located approx 7 miles from Pahoa is great for camping and surfing along Pohoiki Bay. You can try snorkelling here too, but the conditions aren’t that great most of the time, which is a real shame.
The MacKenzie State Recreational Park is a great place to watch the rough waves breaking into the lava cliffs.
The park is great for hiking, however, the volcanic cliffs are quite hazardous, so take caution.
Also, while fishing is allowed in designated areas, no pets, camping, alcohol or bikes are permitted in this park.
If you only have time to visit one lava rock site, make it Kaimu Beach. The colour of the deep-blue ocean here is amplified by the black sand. It’s gorgeous!
While exploring this black sand beach, take the Eco Path through the ancient Hawaiian village of Kalapana. The village and its beautiful beach were, sadly, buried under the hot lava back in 1990.
You can check out the photographs at the beginning of the “Eco Hike” showing what the area looked like before the eruption of the Kilauea volcano.
16. Feed Your Soul at the Tropical Botanical Garden
If you love plants, visiting the unique Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden should make it to your top things to do on Hawaii island list.
This botanical garden called “Garden in a Valley on the Ocean” by the locals is a gardener’s paradise.
Take your time to walk through this garden, adorned with refreshing waterfalls and framed with elegant palm trees reaching for the sky.
We recommend a couple of hours at least.
Dan J. Lutkenhouse purchased the property in 1977, developed this piece of land into a glorious botanical garden and opened it to the public in 1984.
Later, in 1995, the garden was donated to a non-profit trust. You can find out more about this beautiful project on the information boards inside the garden or take a look at their official website.
17. Spot the Stunning Akaka Falls
Fancy an easy and chilled walk in the jungle? Then head to the Akaka Falls State Park.
The circular trek is easy and the majestic 420 ft Akaka Falls, plunging down the lush green fern is a hidden gem on the island.
It’s located about eleven miles north of Hilo at the end of Akaka Falls Road (Hwy. 220), 3.6 miles Southwest of Homomu town. The park is easily accessible and costs $1 to walk in or $5 if you are driving.
18. Boogie-Board in Hapuna
Pack your swimwear, sunglasses, sunscreen, boogie board, and a hat – it’s time to hit the best beach on The Big Island!
After all the activities on The Big Island, you more than deserve a lazy day and the two-mile-long stunning Hapuna white-sand beach is perfect for that!
It’s a great swimming beach, ideal for boogie or paddle boarding, bodysurfing or just splashing about. It’s also a very safe practice ground if you are a surfing newbie.
Romance seeker? You will find it perfectly suited for picnicking too.
Like most places in Hawaii, Hapuna beach is hassle-free. There is a large car park right near the beach, complete with some food vans as well as a WC.
These are our top recommendations for the Big Island, but there’s lots more to experience here at any time of year. Use the search engine below to find the best activities for you:
Where to Stay on The Big Island
Like we mentioned earlier, staying with the locals in Hawaii can be one of the best experiences you will have on the islands, we sure did!
This is why we researched hard where to stay on The Big Island via Airbnb.
But you don’t have to do that. There are plenty of great hotels on offer for your perfect island-hopping holiday.
If you are planning a honeymoon in Hawaii, be sure to check out the fabulous Volcano Village Lodge.
Just a quick drive from the Hawaii Volcano National Park, Volcano Village Lodge is an unexpected oasis of relaxation and romance hidden away in the misty forests. A true Hawaiian paradise! Read a full review of this gorgeous Hawaiian Villa.
Maui – Incredible Things to See and Do
Your Hawaii trip will not be complete without a visit to Maui island. The largest dormant volcano on earth, Haleakala, must be explored and the Road to Hana trip must be taken.
And then there’s the Paia town brimming with the Aloha vibe. Beaches here are top-notch too.
Time in Maui flies by way too fast so plan it carefully. Be sure to see at least some of the below sights.
19. Catch the Spectacular Haleakalā Sunrise
Hawaiians say, “If you haven’t been to Haleakala, you haven’t been to Maui or at least looked into its soul.”
The East Maui Volcano is a magical place and the largest dormant volcano in the world.
It houses powerful telescopes that connect the volcano to outer space allowing the scientists to observe the sun. And that’s why Haleakala is also called the house of the sun
These white-domed observatories are built here because Maui offers the fourth best-viewing conditions on the planet. You simply must visit this place.
But there’s one more reason why you should drive up here.
The volcanic landscape of Haleakala resembles a lunar surface so much that astronauts practised mock lunar walks here before landing on the moon. Need we say more?
To avoid disappointment, arrive at least an hour before the sunrise to find a parking space or even earlier.
Make sure you have layers on and a warm blanket, if possible. Trust us, it will be freezing and windy.
Reservations are required as of 1st February 2017 and are only available at www.recreation.gov, so make sure you check the official page for more details.
Read more: Epic Sunrise at Haleakalā Volcano.
20. Drive The Jaw-Dropping Road to Hana
The Hana Highway will be one of the most memorable things you will do on Maui island.
It’s a jaw-dropping jungly road (aka Road to Hana) around the island. It’s packed with exciting things to see and do like bathe in waterfalls and roll on black sand beaches.
Drive extra carefully – you’ll be crossing fifty-four one-lane bridges. And don’t forget to honk at hairpin bends – you won’t be able to see the oncoming traffic most of the time.
It’s a long journey and will most likely take you all day to complete so remember to:
- Start your journey early.
- Have a hearty breakfast.
- Pack your car with essentials – water, snacks, swimwear, and towels.
- have some cash.
- Fill up your tank! The next petrol station is in Hana.
There are designated picnic areas along the way and clean toilets, so no worries there!
Read more: Useful Tips for the Road to Hana Trip.
21. Stay in Paia, the Windsurfing Capital of the World
North Shore Maui is home to Paia, the ultimate place to hang out on the island.
Paia, also known as the windsurfing capital of the world, has it all: the beach, the food, the sunshine, and the Aloha vibe.
You’ll be hard pushed to miss the white-sand Ho’okipa Beach Park – the fearless surfers’ and windsurfers’ paradise. It’s minutes away from the chilled town.
Further along the coast, away from the surfing bustle (to the right when facing the ocean), there is a beautiful beach. It’s fit for snorkelling, swimming, lovely picnics or romantic sunsets suited perfectly for your tropical vacation in Hawaii.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot giant turtles sunning on the beach, so keep those eyes peeled!
22. Catch the waves at the Big Beach in Maui
There is only so much you can do without hitting a beach in Hawaii.
Apart from Ho’okipa Beach in Paia, the Big Beach in Maui is a great alternative.
The great thing about it is that it’s still undeveloped. It’s also wide and over a half-mile long so never gets too crowded. Big bonus.
Want more recommendation for Maui island? You’ve got it! Search for more activities to find the one that suits you the most by using the simple search engine below:
Where to Stay in Maui
Airbnb is always a good option if you want to try something different. But Maui is well-known for its luxury resorts and hotels. Check out here if you can spot something you really like.
If you are a family travelling to Hawaii on a budget, check out the Whaler on Ka’anapali Beach.
The hotel is surrounded by five-star resorts directly on the Ka’anapali beachfront. You can go snorkelling right out front and can even get lucky to see turtles right there on the beach.
The resort itself is great for a budget hotel. It has one bedroom self-contained apartments with stunning views of the beach from every room as well as studios and two-bedroom apartments.
There is also a lovely pool right on the beach and right next door to the Whalers Village shopping mall. The budget travellers Thrifty Family Travels really loved it.
23. Take a Day Trip to Lanai Island from Maui
If you have a spare day, spend it on Lanai island.
It has a beautiful beach and is well-known for its adventurous red-dirt Munro trail.
You can either hike the trail, which gets a little steep and challenging in places or rent a Jeep for a more comfortable experience.
But if you ask us, we’d say – just chill on Hulopo’e beach, the island’s finest golden-sand beach. The public park here is peppered with picnic tables and provides a great shade from the sun.
But remember to pack some nice snacks with you and bring plenty of water. There might not be any food stalls available. Especially if visiting in the winter months.
But how to get to Lanai from Maui?
You’ll need to take a public ferry from Lahaina town in Maui.
The round journey takes around 90 minutes and can be spectacular. Imagine flying fish catching up with the boat, dolphins shimmering in the sunshine and beautiful humpback whales waving their tails in the distance.
For more information on prices and how to get to Lanai island from Maui, have a look at our helpful How to Get to Lanai by Ferry post.
Practical Tips for Island Hopping in Hawaii
Why Choose Hawaiian Airlines
If your time in Hawaii is limited, we highly recommend Hawaiian Airlines for flying between the Hawaiian islands.
While planning our Hawaii trip, we had considered using other local airlines for island hopping. But after reading endless dreadful reviews on delayed and cancelled flights, we eventually gave in and arranged all our flights with Hawaiian Airlines.
The service was wonderful and we will always remember our inter-island flights as a comfortable and luxurious experience.
Renting a Car in Hawaii
Throughout our three-week holiday in Hawaii, we rented cars from Thrifty Car Rental.
The whole process, from booking a car on all four islands to picking it up at the airport and dropping it back off, was easy and simple.
Bear in mind that on arrival, when picking up your car, you will additionally have to pay for a full tank of petrol, we paid around $50 for each rental.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday in Hawaii and look forward to hearing your experiences in the comments below.