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50 Amazing Things to Do in Hawaii — From a Hawaii Local!

Are you looking for the ultimate list of things to do in Hawaii? This Hawaii bucket list is written by a Hawaii local!

Beautiful waterfall surrounded by bright greenery at the Garden of Eden Arboretum on the Road to Hana on Maui. Chasing waterfalls is one of the best things to do in Hawaii!

There are so many things to do in Hawaii – from visiting canyons to swimming with dolphins to even seeing snow! Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all of the activities on the eight Hawaiian Islands that are worth your time. To help you out, I’ve created a Hawaii bucket list of sorts with 50 amazing things to do in Hawaii.

The Best Things to Do on Oahu, Hawaii

Home to places like Honolulu, Waikiki, and the North Shore, Oahu is the most visited out of all of the Hawaiian Islands. There’s a whole lot to see and do on this island’s sunny shores! Diamond Head, the Pearl Harbor, and the Polynesian Cultural Center are just the beginning.

golden sunrise from the Lanikai Pillbox Hikes on Oahu. The sun slowly lights up two little islands and the Pacific Ocean.

Power through the Lanikai Pillbox Hike

The Lanikai Pillbox Hike might be my favorite hike on Oahu. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do in Hawaii, for many reasons.

First of all, It’s not an absurd amount of effort. Within just 25 minutes, you can be done. But to make it even better, you reach the best view I’ve ever gotten on a hike with that short trek.

Once you reach the end, the views will absolutely take your breath away. Imagine the Pacific Ocean, changing from a light teal color to a dark blue the farther you look from shore. Then add two green island dots to make a picture-perfect view.

*Note: If you’d like to make the hike longer than 25 minutes, you can absolutely do that and continue on. But if you’re just going for the views, the 25 minutes to the first pillbox is perfect.

bright purple, red, and yellow sunset with palm tree silhouettes at the Ko Olina Lagoons. Catching this jaw-dropping sunset is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Hawaii.

Watch the Sunset at the Ko Olina Lagoons

The Ko Olina lagoons are a beautiful slice of paradise on the West side of Oahu, the less explored part of the island. During the day, these lagoons are great for swimming, suntanning, and even turtle-spotting!

That said, if you plan to visit Ko Olina, be sure to stick around until sunset. After all, it’s the best place to watch the sunset in Hawaii — at least in my option. From the angle to the colors, it’s got it all.

*Pro Tip: If you need a meal to tide you over until sunset, there are many fantastic Ko Olina restaurants that you can visit.

greenery-framed steps of the Stairway to Heaven hike, one of the most popular hikes in Hawaii

Tackle the Stairway to Heaven

One of the most iconic things to do on Oahu is to tackle the Stairway to Heaven, also known as Haiku Stairs. But in case you didn’t catch my warning in the title, it is illegal! This 4,000-step hike obviously isn’t the easiest, so it’s best to stay safe rather than sorry.

If you’re committed to doing this hike, here is a post to help you figure out the details.

*Note: The Hawaii government stated plans to remove the Stairway to Heaven by summer 2022. That said, as of August 2023, the Stairway to Heaven still exists.

Surfer riding through the tunnel of a massive wave at a Pipeline surf competition. If you get the chance to watch a surf competition, it's one of the best things to do in Hawaii!

Watch a Surf Competition at Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu is the place to go to watch surfers. Throughout the fall and winter months when waves reach 20 feet (or 40 feet for anyone who’s not local – we measure wave size differently), there’s probably going to be a surf competition happening. And you should definitely watch one, because that’s one of the best things to do on the North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii.

The two most famous surf competitions at Pipeline are the Da Hui Backdoor Shootout and Billabong Pipe Masters. If you plan on watching either of these surf competitions, be sure to get to the North Shore EARLY. Trying to snag a parking spot on the North Shore is already tricky on the average day. To get one on a surf competition day, you’ll want to head out before sunrise.

*Note: Not all of the surf competitions on Oahu’s North Shore take place at Pipeline. Waimea Bay is a common venue venue as well. This North Shore beach actually hosts the famed Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational.

A pair of islands, known as the Mokulua Islands, in the distance from Lanikai Beach.

Spend a Morning at Lanikai Beach

No list of the best things to do in Hawaii would be complete without its fair share of beaches. And while there are many incredible beaches on Oahu including the famed Waikiki Beach, Lanikai Beach is the one that consistently tops the list.

Lanikai Beach (and its neighboring Kailua Beach) are often voted the best beaches in the world. And all you have to do to enjoy them is relax on the soft white sand or swim in the picturesque turquoise waters!

*Note: If you’re planning to visit Lanikai Beach, there is no parking lot. Everything is street parking. Please respect the Kailua locals and avoid blocking any driveways.

Take a Drive on Oahu’s H-3 When It’s Raining

One of the most stunning sights in the world can only be seen from one of Oahu’s highways. Any time you drive on H-3 (yes, that’s the name of the highway), you drive through the plant-laden Koolau Mountain Range, which is already one of the most scenic drives on Oahu. There are even views of the lovely Kaneohe Bay and it’s beautiful sandbars!

But somehow, things get even better when it rains hard enough. Each and every crevice in the mountains (and there are many) becomes a waterfall. That means that, as you drive, you can see dozens — if not hundreds — of Oahu waterfalls! How amazing is that!

one yellow kayak and one green kayak in the foreground, with the little island known as Chinaman's Hat in the background

Paddle Out to Chinaman’s Hat and Then Hike to the Top

Chinaman’s Hat, also known as Mokolii, is a little island in Kaneohe Bay. Most people just admire this little hat-shaped island from afar, but you can actually venture on over.

Rent a paddle board or kayak and make your way to Chinaman’s Hat, the little island just off of the east coast of Oahu. It should only take you about 30-minutes or so of paddling through the pale turquoise waters.

Then, after that upper body workout, it’s time for a hike. While this hike is short at just 20-minutes long, it’s STEEP. If you do manage to make it to the top, you’ll be rewarded with some breathtaking views of the Koolau Mountain Range and the Pacific Ocean.

group taking an ATV Tour amongst the green mountains at Kualoa Ranch, one of the best things to do in Hawaii

Take an ATV Tour at Kualoa Ranch

Not far from Chinaman’s Hat, you’ll find Kualoa Ranch. Nestled within the luscious green Koolau Mountain Range on Oahu, Kualoa Ranch is probably one of the most stunning places on the planet. As a matter of fact, it’s been featured in a variety of popular movies and TV shows, including Jurassic Park, Jumanji – Welcome to the Jungle, and Fifty First Dates.

Zoom around on an ATV to see as much of this stunning landscape as possible, while also munching on mountain apples and macadamia nuts and learning about Hawaiian myths. It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

aerial shot of Pearl Harbor things to do in Hawaii

Visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial

On December 7, 1941, the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Navy Air Service, which prompted the United States’ involvement in World War II. Hundreds of Americans gave their lives that day. Over 1,000 passed away on the USS Arizona alone.

A visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial on Oahu will allow you to learn about and remember December 7, 1941. Check out the Battleship Missouri Memorial, stop by the USS Arizona Memorial, and even meet a veteran.

Book Here: Official USS Arizona Memorial Audio Tour

Dole Whip with li hing mui, a sweet and sour powder, on top

Visit the Dole Plantation

Everyone knows the Dole Plantation for their pineapples and Dole Whips. Not long ago, because of the Dole Plantation, the Hawaiian Islands were covered in pineapple fields. If you want to get a glimpse of that today, head to the Dole Plantation on Oahu.

While you’re there, try an authentic Dole Whip, wander through the world’s largest maze, take a train tour, and learn about different varieties of pineapple.

*Local Tip: I’m not sure if this is intentional or not, but the Dole Plantation has some secret menu items. My favorites are the smoothies, which come in pineapple, li hing mui (a sweet and sour red powder), and mocha flavors.

The Best Things to Do on Maui, Hawaii

Maui is a popular island for all sorts of visitors — from big families to honeymooners to sorority sisters. Basically, no matter who’s in your group, Maui has activities that everyone can enjoy.

greenery-framed Waikamoi Falls on Maui, Hawaii

Drive the Winding Road to Hana

The winding road to Hana is one of the most well-known things to do in Hawaii. And it’s definitely one of the best things to do on Maui. However, one thing needs to be made clear: Hana is not the goal. The best part of the road to Hana is the journey, not the destination.

On the way to the tiny, sleepy city of Hana, you’ll come across several Maui waterfalls, an arboretum filled with plants native to Hawaii, a beach peninsula, a lava tunnel, a black sand beach, and a fantastic banana bread joint. What more could you ask for?

*Note: Before you head out on the road to Hana, be sure to fill up gas in the town of Paia! It’s the last gas station before you start your exciting adventure!

Book Here: Road to Hana Tour

red, yellow, and green shave ice from Ululani's Shave Ice on Maui

Enjoy Hawaii’s Best Shave Ice at Ululani’s

Shave ice is a classic Hawaii dessert. This frozen treat topped with fruity syrups is a must-try during your visit to the islands.

I’ve been asked before, “what makes one shave ice better than another shave ice?” The answer is simple: fresh, real flavors and a smooth ice texture. Which shave ice encapsulates that? Ululani’s on Maui.

*Note: As of 2023, Ululani’s now also has locations on the Big Island, Oahu, and even California, but it originated on Maui and has the majority of its locations on Maui.

Sunrise at Haleakala, the tallest peak on Maui

Catch the Sunrise at Haleakala National Park

The sunrise from Maui’s highest peak is absolutely stunning. Pinks, oranges, yellows, and even blues and purples paint the morning sky. But getting to the summit on time can be a bit difficult if you don’t plan it right. Here’s everything you need to know to catch the Haleakala sunrise.

Book Here: Haleakala Sunrise Tour

Visit a Red Sand Beach

I know you’ve probably heard about Hawaii’s black sand beaches. Maybe you’ve even heard about the green sand beach on the Big Island. But Kaihalulu Beach on Maui is a RED sand beach.

Just as a warning, getting to the Kaihalulu Beach is quite difficult, and, consequently, many visitors end up injuring themselves. For this reason, visiting Kaihalulu Beach is sometimes illegal (the law changes rather frequently), so be sure to do your research before trying to get to the elusive red sand beach.

crescent island of Molokini dotted with snorkeling boats

Snorkel at Molokini Crater

While there are quite a few amazing places to snorkel across the Hawaiian Islands, Molokini is one of the most unique. This crescent-shaped island just off the coast of Maui safely harbors many species of fish within its curve, meaning that there will be a lot for you to see!

Book Here: Molokini Snorkel Tour

Hang Out in Lahaina

Lahaina is the most popular town to visit in Lahaina, and that’s because it’s filled with things to do! From visiting dragon fruit farms to searching for ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, there’s an adventure around every corner!

If there’s just one activity you’ll want to do in Lahaina, it’s watch the lighting of the Lahaina banyan tree. Every December, this 150-year-old tree in the center of town is lit up in the most dazzling light display! You won’t be able to help feeling like you’re in the holiday spirit.

The Best Things to Do on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you associate Hawaii with volcanoes, you’re thinking of the Big Island, which is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And while the volcanoes are often the most popular attraction, the Big Island has so much more explore. Between the two sides of the island, Hilo and Kona, you’ll also find cascading waterfalls, jaw-dropping beaches, and delicious restaurants galore.

best things to do in Hawaii see lava at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Get a Glimpse of Some Lava at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Currently, across all of the Hawaiian Islands, there is only one active volcano: Kilauea in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. That means, if you’re going to have any chance of getting a glimpse of lava, you’ll have to go there.

While some risky adventurers attempt to hike to see the lava, that sounds like a lot of work with a questionable amount of reward. I mean, what if the lava is flowing two miles away from where you expected it to be? That’s a lot more extra walking.

Instead, there are both boat tours and helicopter tours that can get you to safely get a glimpse of this glowing hot lava from Kilauea.

Book Here: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Tour

Book Here: Helicopter Tour Over Hawaii Volcano

*Note: The Kilauea Volcano was consistently active for about 20 years, up until 2018. Now, the volcano is only active sporadically, so catching a glimpse of lava requires a lot of luck. Keep your fingers crossed!

Visit a Green Sand Beach

You know that Hawaii has black sand beaches. And we’ve already talked about Maui’s red sand beach. But did you know that the Big Island has a green sand beach — and it’s one of the best things to do in Hawaii.

Papakolea Green Sand Beach, located on the southern tip of Big Island of Hawaii, boasts a unique green sand. As a matter of fact, there are only four beaches in the entire world with green sand! Made of green olivine crystals (which come from lava), this beach is certainly a sight to see.

greenery-framed Akaka Falls things to do in Hawaii

Take in Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls is a 442-foot waterfall! It’s definitely one of the best waterfalls in Hilo. Can you even imagine that?! And before you even get there, you can get a glimpse of the 100-foot Kahuna Falls. So two stunning waterfalls in one trip. I highly recommend.

And Akaka Falls definitely isn’t the only noteworthy Hawaii waterfall. There are so many more to see!

Yes, there is snow in Hawaii. Found on the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island, seeing snow is one of the best things to do in Hawaii!

Drive to the Top of Mauna Kea to See Snow in Hawaii

SNOW IN HAWAII? Yes, it’s a real thing! Drive up to the top of Hawaii’s tallest mountain (fun fact: it’s a dormant volcano!) to see it. Talk about one of the most unique things to do in Hawaii!

If you would like to reach the summit of Mauna Kea, it is recommended that you have a four-wheel drive (due to the lack of paved road) and that everyone in the car should be over 13 years old (due to the quick and extreme change in altitude).

Since practically none of the rental car companies on the Big Island of Hawaii allow you to drive to the summit (except one, and they charge some HEFTY fines for the smallest scratches or dents), I highly recommend taking a tour.

*Pro Tip: If you go around sunset and stay into the evening, Mauna Kea is an AMAZING place to stargaze.

Book Here: Mauna Kea Sunrise Tour

Book Here: Mauna Kea Sunset and Stargazing Tour

spoonful of uncracked macadamia nuts

Stop by the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory

The most popular macadamia nut company in Hawaii (and maybe even the world) is Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts. Take a couple of hours to visit their factory in Hilo on the Big Island, and you won’t be disappointed!

You can drive through three miles of macadamia nut trees, learn about the macadamia harvesting process, munch on some free samples, and even buy some to take home with you!

On top of all that, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts are a great snack to have with you on your Hawaii vacation. After all, with all of the beach hopping and hiking, you’ll probably need extra boosts of energy throughout the day.

Warm Up at the Kilauea’s Steam Vents

The Kilauea Volcano is constantly emitting heat – although not necessarily through lava. This volcano also emits heat through steam vents! And you can actually access these steam vents and warm your hands up, because it can be quite chilly at such a high altitude.

*Note: The volcano’s stem vents smell like rotten eggs because of the sulfur that is being released.

The Best Things to Do on Kauai, Hawaii

Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle, is a hiker’s paradise. Explore everything from mountains to canyons to beaches during your visit.

The beautiful Na Pali Coast and Pacific Ocean. To explore the Na Pali Coast, you can only do so on foot, by boat, or by air, but it's one of the best things to do in Hawaii!

Head to the Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast is a stunning oceanfront mountain range on the northeast coast of Kauai and is, without a doubt, one of the best things to do in Hawaii. It’s covered and bright greenery and deep ridges, which are great for coralling waterfalls on the rainiest of days. It’s absolutely magical.

That said, getting to the Na Pali Coast isn’t the easiest thing in thew world. You have three options: boat, helicopter, or an 11-mile hike called the Kalalau Trail. If you are a very active person, the Kalalau trail might be the option for you. If not, a Na Pali Coast snorkeling tour or helicopter tour might be better suited for you.

Despite the fact that the Na Pali Coast is quite difficult to get to, it’s still one of the best things to do on Kauai. That’s just how amazing it is.

Book Here: Na Pali Coast Snorkeling Tour

Book Here: Na Pali Coast Helicopter Tour

Kayak to Sacred Falls

Can you imagine kayaking on a river for five hours to end up at a waterfall that is only accessible by kayak? That’s what it’d be like to kayak to Sacred Falls (also known as Secret Falls) on Kauai.

To get there, you’ll get to kayak on the beautiful Wailua River, which is considered to be one of the most sacred places in Hawaii. Add the wonderful weather and beautiful plants lining the river to the mix, and you’ll feel right at home in nature.

And all of that doesn’t even touch on the gorgeous 120-foot Sacred Falls that you’ll see at the end. Sounds like a pretty awesome experience, right?

Book Here: Sacred Falls Kayaking Tour

double-cascade Waipoo Falls in Waimea Canyon Things to Do in Hawaii

Visit Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon on Kauai, officially known as Waimea Canyon State Park, is often compared to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Most people go in expecting to see the same thing – I mean, how different can a canyon be?

Waimea Canyon boasts a contrast of the red canyon rock to the bright green Hawaii plants that the Grand Canyon simply cannot compete with. Plus, there’s also the beautiful Waipoo Falls, which just makes everything even more picture-perfect.

Book Here: Half-Day Waimea Canyon Tour

Float Around in the Queen’s Bath

The Queen’s Bath is a unique tidepool located in Princeville, Kauai. This rather large, picturesque tidepool is perfect for floating around in, looking for fish, and even spotting a sea urchin or two!

*Note: Do not go to the Queen’s Bath during high tide, as this is VERY dangerous! The waves here have been known to sweep unsuspecting visitors off the rocks. So before you go, make sure that the tide is very low!

Go Mountain Tubing on Kauai

We all love riding in a pool floatie down a lazy river. Now, imagine doing that on rivers, canals, and tunnels in the middle of a greenery-filled forest on the island of Kauai. Where else can you do something like that?

best things to do in Hawaii Wailua Falls, Kauai

Stare at the Jaw-Dropping Wailua Falls

The entire island of Kauai is known for its amazing waterfalls. As a matter of fact, if you go to Kauai, I think you should just spend your entire trip just waterfall hunting, because there are so many gorgeous Kauai waterfalls!

One of the best waterfalls on Kauai is undoubtedly Wailua Falls. This waterfall is sometimes 200 feet tall! And if you visit in the morning, it might have a wonderful rainbow glow around it.

closeup of glass sand at Kauai's glass beach. Includes clear, brown, and green glass flecks, intermixed with white, beige, and black sand

Watch the Sand Sparkle at Kauai’s Glass Beach

First, I have to preface this recommendation by saying that this is not like the El Dorado of sea glass. You won’t come here and find the largest, most colorful pieces of perfect sea glass that you’ve ever seen. However, you WILL find a beach with tons of small sea glass pieces that seem to make the sand glitter, especially at sunset.

Relax at Polihale State Park

This remote beach on the west side of Kauai is slowly becoming known as one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches. With stunning white sand and a backdrop of the famed Na Pali coast, it’s no wonder that Polihale State Park is so gorgeous.

The Best Things to Do on Molokai, Hawaii

The little island of Molokai is one of the lesser known Hawaiian Islands. With pretty much no tourism infrastructure, Molokai gives its (rare) visitors a glimpse into Hawaii without its reputation as a tourist destination.

airplane flying over Molokai, Hawaii

Ride a Mule on the Kalaupapa Trail

Hop on your mule for a ride down from the world’s highest sea cliffs on the Kalaupapa Trail! This spectacular view begins at 1,700, and you and your mule will get a stunning view of the Molokai coastline the whole time!

The Best Things to Do on Lanai, Hawaii

About 20 miles from Molokai lies the even smaller island of Lanai. With empty beaches, a cat sanctuary, and two fancy Four Seasons hotels, Lanai is a great place to get off the grid.

foggy, rocky landscape of the Garden of the Gods on Lanai, Hawaii

Visit the Garden of the Gods

The Garden of the Gods — also known as Keahiakawelo — on Lanai is one of the most magical places that I have ever been to. Since it’s on such a small island, this attraction rarely makes it onto lists of the best things to do in Hawaii, but it definitely deserves a spot.

With no sound except the whistling wind and the fog cutting off our visibility, it was as if we had been transported to another planet! It was just us, the red dirt, and the mysterious boulders.

See a bright orange shipwreck rising from the blue Pacific Ocean from Shipwreck beach on Lanai. It's one of the best things to do in Hawaii.

Check Out Shipwreck Beach

The Garden of the Gods isn’t the only interesting landscape on the little island of Lanai. There’s also Shipwreck Beach.

Shipwreck Beach is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a beautiful beach, where a rusty old shipwreck rises out of the blue ocean. You can actually see the vast majority of the massive boat above the waves!

That said, getting to Shipwreck Beach isn’t the easiest thing. You have drive to the end of the paved road, then a large chunk of paved road. THEN, you have to walk another 30 minutes on the beach. And finally, you’ll see the large shipwreck rising out of the water.

Thinking about spending more time on this small, secluded island? Here is the Ultimate Guide to Lanai!

The Best Things to Do on Kahoolawe, Hawaii

Odds are, you haven’t heart of Kahoolawe. At 45-square miles, Kahoolawe is the smallest of the eight main Hawaiian Islands and it has no permanent residents (or really any visitors either).

Help Clean Up Kahoolawe

You might be wondering why you’ve never heard of Kahoolawe, or why it has no permanent residents. It is a Hawaiian Island, after all!

The answer is simple. In the 1940s, the U.S. military used Kahoolawe as a training ground and bombing range. Unfortunately, this period of bombing was very harmful to the island. To this day, there are still bomb fragments that can be found. That means, there is really no plant, animal, or human life found on this island.

That said, you still can visit Kahoolawe, surprisingly, but only to help clean up the island and restore it to its natural beauty. And it’s pretty easy to volunteer do so! It would definitely be one of the most interesting and impactful things to do in Hawaii.

The Best Things to Do on Niihau, Hawaii

Also known as the Forbidden Island, Niihau is Hawaii’s only (fully) privately owned island. While it’s nearly impossible to visit, it is still possible with the right set of circumstances.

Spend a Morning on “The Forbidden Island” of Niihau

Most people have never heard of the Hawaiian Island of Niihau, as it is actually privately owned by one native family. However, they do offer one way for tourists to visit the island. From Kauai, you can book a half a day helicopter tour

I have never been there, and I haven’t been able to find much information about the tour itself. But I mean, you’d be going to an island that the vast majority of people haven’t even heard of!

Things to Do on Multiple Hawaiian Islands

There’s a lot of overlap between the Hawaiian Islands, so there are quite a few amazing things to do in Hawaii that you can do on any island!

group of hula dancers in green traditional dress things to do in Hawaii

Watch a Hula Competition

To the native Hawaiians, hula serves as a way to remember their history, tell their stories, and keep their culture blossoming. When English missionaries came to Hawaii, they actually tried to suppress hula. But this valuable, culturally-rich tradition managed to pull through and is still practiced today. As a matter of fact, there are many hula competitions across the Hawaiian Islands.

Easily the most famous hula festival is the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival held annually in Hilo on the Big Island. Only the most esteemed hula halau (groups) are invited to compete at this festival.

However, there are also other hula festivals, including the Prince Lot Hula Festival and Na Hula Festival on Oahu, the Hula Arts at Kilauea Series in Kona on the Big Island, and the Molokai Ka Hula Piko Festival on Molokai.

Swim with Dolphins in the Wild

Hawaii is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with dolphins in the wild. They can enjoy their beautiful natural home, and you can watch them enjoy it!

Dolphins love hanging out on the west side of Oahu, and their favorite spots on Kauai are the Na Pali Coast and Kauapea Beach. On the Big Island, they enjoy the Makako Bay, Kealakekua Bay, and Honaunau Bay.

If you’re on Maui, Molokai, or Lanai, the dolphins like to hang out in the Auau Channel, which is the body of water in between the three islands. (I actually saw a pod of dolphins on a normal ferry ride from Lanai to Maui once.) On Lanai specifically, dolphins are commonly spotted at Hulopoe Bay.

If you do choose to swim with dolphins in the wild, please give them their space. When you see them, it’ll most likely be during daylight hours, when they’re resting. If you disturb them when they’re resting, they might act in more aggressive ways then they usually would, because their brains are actually half shut off when they rest! (It’s kind of like humans in the morning – we need a little time to wake up too!)

Book Here: Dolphin Snorkeling Tour in West Oahu

Book Here: Kayaking and Dolphin Snorkeling Tour in Kealakekua Bay, Big Island

Book Here: Maui to Lanai Dolphin Snorkeling Tour

aerial view of black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park on Maui

Visit a Black Sand Beach

Across the Hawaiian Islands, there are quite a few black sand beaches. Basically, these black sand beaches come to be when the black lava rock is eroded down to become tiny black rock pieces (a.k.a. black sand).

If you’re hoping to see a black sand beach, your best bet is on the Big Island. Check out the popular Punaluu Beach, the beautiful Kaimu Beach Park, or the newly created (you know, by the recent eruptions) Pohoiki Beach. (There are also quite a few more on the Big Island, but that’s just too many to list.) On Maui, there is Honokalani Beach in Waianapanapa State Park. Lastly, on Kauai, there is Waimea Beach.

turtle laying on the sand on a Hawaii beach

Spot Some Turtles

I’ve already written extensively on where to find turtles on Oahu, including Laniakea Beach, Makaha Beach, and the secret lagoon at Ko Olina. On Maui, these majestic sea creatures can be found at Keawakapu Beach, Ulua Beach, and Maluaka Beach. On the Big Island, Honaunau Bay and Punaluu Black Sand Beach are both pretty solid options.

As for Kauai, Brennecke’s Beach and Lawai Beach are you best bets. On Molokai, between 9 and 10 a.m., turtles reportedly flock to Kalokoeli Fishpond for breakfast. Lastly, on the little island of Lanai, your best bet is Shipwreck Beach, but make sure you do not go into the water here, as the current is very strong!

Wander through a Lava Tube

A lava tube is pretty much what it sounds like: a tube (usually made out of hardened lava rock) that lava from a volcano once flowed through. Pretty cool, right? And guess what?! You can visit one (or two or three)!

By far, the most popular and well-known lava tube is the Thurston Lava Tube on the Big Island. This is one of the only lava tubes that you can easily walk through. There is also a lava tube on Maui in Waianapanapa State Park at the black sand beach.

On Kauai, there are several on the Na Pali Coast and quite a few underwater at Tunnels Beach. On Oahu, there is a hidden one at Cockroach Bay. Finally, rumor has it that just off the coast of Lanai, there are lava tubes underwater – which is a perfect adventure for some scuba divers.

fire dancer at Hawaii luau things to do in Hawaii
Photo Courtesy of Paradise Cove Luau

Take Part in a Luau

Luaus first came about in 1819, when King Kamehameha II decided to abolish the practice of men and women eating separately. In celebration of this declaration, King Kamehameha II planned a huge feast with both men and women.

Many locals today host luaus of their own with all the traditional dishes, including kalua pig, poi, and poke. While it may be difficult to get an invite to a luau hosted by locals, there are many other luau options, including ones that are hosted by hotels.

A couple of the best luaus on Oahu are the Paradise Cove Luau and Germaine’s Luau. Maui is famous for the Old Lahaina Luau. On the Big Island, the Legends of Hawaii Luau at the Hilton Waikoloa Village and the Mauna Kea Luau at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel go head to head. Kauai’s Luau Kalamaku and Smith Family Garden Luau are also too close to call.

Go on a Petroglyph Walk

Petroglyphs were the Native Hawaiians’ pictorial form of writing. Think of them as like the hieroglyphics of the Native Hawaiian people.

The best place to see petroglyphs is on the Big Island of Hawaii, as many of these images have been carved into lava rock. Check out the Waikoloa Petroglyph Preserve, Puako Petroglyph Park, or the Puuloa Petroglyphs. On Oahu, there is only one consistent place to see petroglyphs, which is in the Nuuanu Memorial Park & Mortuary on the way to Kaena Falls.

On Kauai, they can be found on the Mahaulepu Trail and in the Heiau of Lydgate Park. Maui has Petroglyph Hill at Olowalu Valley. Lastly, Lanai has a Petroglyph Field near Shipwreck Beach that is quite difficult to find.

hand holding a spam musubi on a Waikiki street

Eat a Spam Musubi

Eating a spam musubi should definitely be on your list of things to do in Hawaii. After all, it was the inspiration behind the Hawaii Food Bucket List. This rectangle of rice topped with a slice of spam and wrapped in seaweed is a local treat that is surprisingly delicious!

See a Shipwreck While Scuba Diving

Many boats that have been too old to continue have been purposely sunk to create a new reef for the Pacific Ocean’s sea creatures. That means that there are quite a few places to dive and see a shipwreck across the Hawaiian Islands.

There is the Mahi Shipwreck on the west side of Oahu, the St. Anthony Shipwreck off Keawakapu Beach on Maui, the Lukemback Shipwreck on the east side of Kauai, two steamboats and one Hawaiian sampan at Mahukona Harbor on the Big Island, and a boat called the Naked Lady at the Big Island’s Kailua Harbor.

*Note: While there are several shipwrecks on the north side of Lanai, this is due to the very strong currents and dangerous conditions. Therefore, it is not recommended that anyone scuba dive there, regardless of experience.

sugar-dusted malasada from Pipeline Bakeshop & Creamery on Oahu

Munch on a Malasada

Malasadas are Hawaii’s replacement for the typical American donut. For a long time, Hawaii was severely lacking on donut joints. But we always had the puffy, fried, sugar-coated rounds of deliciousness.

The place to get malasadas on Oahu is either Leonard’s Bakery or Pipeline Bakeshop and Creamery. (See the pros and cons here.) On Maui, head to Sugar Beach Bake Shop. As for the Big Island, rumor has it the place to go is Tex Drive In.

Take a Helicopter Tour

The Hawaiian Islands are a visually stunning set of islands, so why not see them from a bird’s eye view? From up above in a helicopter, you’ll be able to see the stunning blue ocean crash onto the golden sand before it turns into bold green mountains. If you’re on the Big Island, you could even catch glimpses of lava rock, desert, volcanoes, and lava!

Book Here: Oahu Helicopter Tour

Book Here: Maui Helicopter Tour

Book Here: Big Island Helicopter Tour

Book Here: Kauai Helicopter Tour (and here are a few other Kauai helicopter tour recommendations for you!)

the best souvenirs to get from Hawaii, including leis, dried mangos, an ukulele, macadamia nuts, and Honolulu cookie company cookies

Make a Lei

Leis, which are fresh flower necklaces, were used in native Hawaiian culture to indicate sacredness, status, and peace. Today, many hotels will offer leis to guests upon arrival. Women will usually receive ones made of orchids, and men will receive ones made of kukui nuts.

On top of that, many hotels also offer lei-making classes. This is one of the best and easiest things to do in Hawaii to learn about Hawaiian culture. The lei-making process is actually quite simple, as it only requires some flowers, string, and a long needle. Within a few minutes, you’ll have yourself a beautiful lei!

Spend Some Time at a Farmers’ Market

Hawaii has some pretty cool farmers’ markets. Not only do we have exotic fruits like rambutan, yellow dragon fruit, lilikoi (passion fruit), guava, and so much more readily available, but there are also locally grown treats like honey, meat, and flowers available for purchase at some of the largest farmers’ markets.

On Oahu, the must-visit farmers market is the Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market. On the Big Island, it’s the Hilo Farmers’ Market. If you’re on Kauai, check out the Kauai Community College Farmers Market. On Maui, there’s the Upcountry Farmers’ Market. Or if you’re on the small island of Molokai, check out their ONLY farmers’ market on Ala Malama Street.

coffee cup surrounded by coffee beans

Tour a Coffee Farm

Besides its beaches, everyone knows Hawaii for one thing: coffee. That’s why one thing you must do in Hawaii is tour a coffee farm.

Kona coffee is the most popular out of all of the islands. As a matter of fact, visiting a Kona coffee farm is one of the best things to do in Kona.

That said, my personal favorite coffee visitor center is actually at the Kauai Coffee Company. With half of dozen different coffee flavors hot and ready to try, a stacked gift shop, and a peaceful walk around the coffee bean trees, there’s something for everyone (even non-coffee lovers!) to do here.

If you’re looking for more options, here are a few of the best Hawaiian coffee companies.

Do a Hike or Beach Clean-Up

I’ve started to add a hike or beach clean-up to every list of things to do in Hawaii that I have on this website. Why? Not only do I think that this has the potential to be a fun, fulfilling experience, but I also think that if you spend so much time on your vacation enjoying this beautiful trash-free environment, why not help the islands stay that way?

Just grab a trash bag (and perhaps some gloves) and pick up anything that doesn’t belong. Thank you for your help in advance!

 

I’ve mentioned many things to do in Hawaii on all eight of the major Hawaiian Islands. Trying to figure out how to island hop between as many as possible? This island hopping guide should help you out!

What else do you think should make it into this list of things to do in Hawaii? Tell me about it in the comments!

Planning a trip to Hawaii any time soon? Or maybe just dreaming about a future vacation to the islands? Pin this post for later!

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LOOKING FOR MORE THINGS TO DO IN HAWAII? HERE ARE OUR FAVORITE HAWAII TRAVEL GUIDEBOOKS!

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36 Comments

  1. Hawaii is at the top of my bucket list!! This is such a great list – will be sure to do a few of these things (like visiting the farmers market) when I get there soon 🙂

  2. Fanstastic list! Thank tigger sharing & always better coming from a local! Need to get back to experience more of Hawaii, clearly!

    1. So glad you are enjoying my local tips! I hope you get to put them into action with another trip over :).

  3. Great list! We lived on the Big Island for 4 years with the awesome opportunity to hike around Maui, Molokai, Oahu, and Kauai for a month on each island. We never made it to Lanai though! Inspiration for the future. A friend just went to Kauai last month and heard there is zero talk about opening the Kalalau Trail (happy we hiked it, though it was terrifying!). And yes, Tex Drive In did have the best malasadas when we lived there! Great post!

    1. Wow that sounds like such an amazing experience! I’d love to spend a month just hiking around all of the different islands! And what a bummer about the Kalalau Trail!! Hopefully talks will start happening soon!

  4. I’ve been researching and day-dreaming trips to Hawaii all day today – so glad I came across your post! I’ve seen the Stairway to Heaven all over the place and had no idea it was illegal, interesting! These ideas are so unique and ones I hadn’t considered, I’d love to make my own lei, what’s a better souvenir than that?!

    1. Haha so glad you enjoyed the post! There’s actually a ton of local Hawaii info on this blog, so, if you would like, you should do a little perusin’ :). And yeah, the Stairway to Heaven is illegal! I’m pretty sure that most tourists who attempt it have no clue that it is!

  5. Hawaii has so many interesting things to do. You have compiled such a fantastic list of the top ones. Hawaiian shaved ice is awesome and seeing the volcanoes is so unique! Akala Falls Wallis falls sounds like something I would love to see.

  6. So many things to do in hawaii..good compilation.I would like to visit big island ,maui in hawaii.Thanks for sharing so detailed guide here and bookmarking it for reference.

  7. I’m so ready to visit Hawaii after reading this! It’s really a dream destination for me, and I’m longing to visit. Akaka Falls is stunning, and I want to see a turtle too on the red sand beach. I truly hope to see this wonderful island one day soon.

  8. I’m a geology junkie so I love the diverse that Hawaii has to offer. From volcanoes, beaches, to even canyons — which I had no idea about, honestly! — there is so much to explore. I would definitely take some time to explore all these wonders. I’ve never seen a green sand beach either, so I would really enjoy that.

    1. Haha yeah, Hawaii’s got it all! If you love different types of landscapes, the Big Island should definitely be your first stop, because they have rainforests to volcanoes to snow-covered mountain tops to deserts to beaches. It’s literally almost every type of landscape you could imagine! And then Kauai should be second on the list for Waimea Canyon :).

  9. Hawaii is so surreal, I feel like this list could go on forever! I’ve done a few of the things on it, but some others are so high on my bucket list– the road to Hana, the sunrise at Haleakala, and about 12 more things now! Ha, thanks for the trip inspiration 😉

    1. Haha always glad to share Hawaii trip inspiration! It was honestly so hard to narrow it down to the best of the best! I’m thinking about doing a list of things to do on all of the islands! So far, I only have Oahu done, but here’s the post if you want to check it out!

    1. Yeah! It’s actually always quite warm at sea level, but Mauna Kea is nearly 14,000 feet high!!

  10. Hawaii is so amazing and i did not know there was so much to do other than chilling at beach. I would love to explore atleast half of those things whenever I get there. Lovely guide.

    1. Haha yeah there is WAY more than just going to the beach! You just have to do a tad more research to find out about them :).

  11. I have only been on a cruise to Hawaii and explored different islands. While I enjoyed my cruise this reminds that I should fly over to Hawaii and explore the different islands. I would def go to the dole plantation for yummy treats. I also will be looking for the mermaid cave.

    1. For sure! There is so much more to do on each island than you can cover in just one day!

  12. I was just in Hawaii (on Oahu) for the first time and I wish I had found your blog sooner! We did some very cool stuff (heli ride, saw turtles at Laniakea, visited Haleiwa, ate at Giovanni’s), but there is plenty to do on a future trip! I will definitely check this site before I go again!

    1. Thank you so much for the lovely comment, Mimi! It sounds like you had such a fun time on Oahu, even without my tips :). I can’t wait for you to come back again and try out some of the other awesome things to do in Hawaii that are on this list!

  13. And I’m glad studying your article. Hawaii is on my list and I really hope to get there someday. By the way, you made a fantastic list. great reading

  14. Amazing post! Grateful to have found your site. We’re homeschoolers based in Texas. Making our way to Oahu to visit military familia at the end of this month! Would love to chat kid friendly adventures on your beautiful island.xo

    1. Hi Erica! I’m so excited for you to come visit Oahu! I actually have post on kid-friendly activities on Oahu that sounds perfect for you :). I’ll also be posting some exciting Oahu posts within the next couple of weeks, so if you’re interested, plug your email into that little wiggling bar at the top of the page :).

      If you would like any more tips, feel free to contact me using the information on this contact page :). I hope you have an amazing Oahu trip!

  15. I am proud to say I have checked a bunch of the Maui items off the list! I was supposed to go to Kauai this year and do more but of course it got cancelled 🙁 Hopefully I can try again soon!

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