Owned privately by billionaire Larry Ellison, Lanai is known as the “pineapple island” (because of its past pineapple growing industry).
It’s a small Hawaiian island off the coast of Maui – just 13 miles wide by 18 miles long.
But despite its postage-stamp size, there are a surprising number of things to do in Lanai. At the same time, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all.
So when planning your Hawaii trip, you may want to visit Lanai – either as a Lanai day trip from Maui or for a luxury escape (staying a few days or more).
We’ve visited the island of Lanai as day-trippers, and we’ve also stayed on Lanai a couple of times at the two lovely Four Seasons hotels. Here’s our guide on what to do in Lanai – covering beaches, hiking trails and other activities.
Is Lanai worth visiting?
Let’s start by answering this question first.
If the idea of skipping the touristy hot spots to immerse yourself in nature (with no crowds) sounds like paradise, then you’re looking for the Hawaiian island of Lanai.
The tranquil laid-back vibe, infused with the natural beauty and diverse culture of the island, makes for a soul-satisfying vacation.
Back in the 1900s, cattle ranching, sugar production and pineapple cultivation were its main industries.
At one time, the tiny apostrophe-shaped island of Lanai was responsible for 75% of the world’s pineapple production! It welcomed workers from the Philippines and around the globe – making for a rich cultural variety in the present-day population.
Today, the atmosphere of Lanai is calm and relaxing, with warm and friendly locals.
Here’s some cool Hawaii trivia for you: Lanai has no stop lights. How Zen is that!
So what kind of activities on Lanai are awaiting you?
Some 400 miles of four-wheel drive trails get you out into dramatic countryside.
Or how about nude sunbathing? The island has several secluded beaches where you may be the only person soaking up the sun.
Encountering eerie shipwrecks, diving in underwater lava caves and exploring legendary ghost towns are just some of the other adventures you can enjoy.
How to get to Lanai
Ferry to Lanai:
If you’re visiting Lanai from Maui, Expeditions runs a passenger ferry to Lanai and back.
The ride takes about 45 to 50 minutes.
The ferry dock on Lanai – Manele Harbor – is just a short walk from Hulopoe Beach (#1 below), one of the best beaches on Lanai.
If you go during the whale season (December to March), chances are really good you’ll spot migrating humpback whales on the boat ride.
While you can make a day trip to Lanai, you’ll probably end up wishing you could stay longer on Lanai.
Flying to Lanai:
Where to stay on Lanai
There aren’t a whole host of accommodations on Lanai. But the hotels that are there are good ones.
Two are in the luxury category and one is more boutique and less expensive.
We’ve stayed at both – and can highly recommend these luxury resorts! See our review of the two Four Seasons resorts on Lanai.
Another option is to bunk down at the funky and charming Hotel Lanai.
It was built in 1923 as lodging for Dole Plantation execs.
If you’d prefer to have your own private self-contained accommodation with a kitchen, there are some lovely Lanai plantation homes, cottages and condos available through Vrbo (Vacation Rental by Owner), an Expedia Group company.
Maui to Lanai day trip
Only have one day on Lanai? Don’t worry!
Here are some great day trips to Lanai to make the most of your limited time:
On Sail Maui’s 5-hour “Sail and Snorkel” tour, you sail on a luxury catamaran to exclusive snorkeling spots along Lanai’s coast to explore the pristine reefs, with no set destination.
After snorkeling, sit back, relax and enjoy cocktails and lunch.
Pacific Whale Foundation:
For a relaxing and eco-certified cruise to Lanai aboard a 65-foot (double-deck) power catamaran, check out this 5-hour, eco-certified tour by the Pacific Whale Foundation.
On your day of snorkeling and dolphin watching, a certified marine naturalist onboard can answer questions and help you spot dolphins, toothed whales, sea turtles and possibly even a Hawaiian monk seal!
Sail Trilogy is yet another great alternative.
They offer an awesome 8-hour excursion to Hulopoe Marine Preserve, where you can spend the day soaking up the sun, catching waves at Hulopoe Beach and chowing down on a BBQ lunch on the beach.
On the return sail, you enjoy refreshing drinks and ice cream sundaes.
And of course, for the do-it-yourselfers, you can skip the day tours altogether.
Catch the Expeditions ferry from Maui, grab a rental car in Lanai City (or not) and create your own adventure!
Things to do in Lanai, Hawaii
Okay, ready now to kick around Lanai?
1) Bask on Hulopoe Beach
Of course, you’re going to want to spend some time relaxing on beautiful Hulopoe Beach.
This is undoubtedly one of the best things to do on Lanai!
Hulopoe Beach is located on the south shore of Lanai at the foot (and to the side) of the Four Seasons Manele Bay.
It’s walking distance from the ferry dock. And like all beaches in Hawaii, it’s public.
The white sand beach is absolutely idyllic.
Back in 1997, “Dr. Beach” (actually Dr. Stephen Leatherman) called it “America’s best beach.” And it’s still a front-runner for that title. Think serene blue waters, perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
Keep your eyes peeled for spinner dolphins that frolic in the bay too!
There’s a beach park, Hulopoe Beach Park (toward the left side of the beach as you’re facing the water). It offers picnic tables, barbecue grills, restrooms and showers.
The snorkeling at this side of the beach is great too. Scores of tropical fish can be seen swimming in the colorful canyon-like reefs here.
Now if you’re a guest at either of the Four Seasons hotels on Lanai, you’ll probably want to relax on the right side of the beach and indulge in their beach club services.
Fancy being treated to Evian spritzes and chilled facecloths delivered to you as you’re lounging on your beach chair?
2) Hike the Koloiki Ridge Trail
We also love the hiking on Lanai.
A popular hike is up Koloiki Ridge.
This great 5-mile roundtrip hiking trail (easy to moderate) winds along a mountain ridge through pine forests high up in the hills (where the air is definitely cooler than down by the beach), before opening up to sweeping ocean views.
The official start of the trail is near the former Koele golf course by the Four Seasons Sensei Lanai.
Alternatively, you can start from the Munro Trail (park at the cemetery) – the hike would then be about 6 miles.
Give yourself 2 to 3 hours, which allows plenty of time for gawking at the views.
3) Walk to Sweetheart Rock (Puu Pehe)
One of the top Lanai attractions is Puu Pehe or “Sweetheart Rock.” It’s an easy walk from Hulopoe Beach.
The trail follows the coastline to an 80-foot-tall craggy rock formation shooting up out of the water.
Legend has it that Makakehau, a young warrior from Lanai, fell in love with Pehe, a Hawaiian beauty from Maui. He took her back to Lanai and hid her in a sea cave.
But a sudden storm flooded the cave, drowning her in the waves.
So he climbed to the top of this rocky outcropping, where he buried her, then leaped to his death in the surging waters below.
The legend is touching – adding to the mystical beauty of the dramatic red rock pinnacle.
This walk is about 15 to 20 minutes each way.
4) Explore Lanai City
The sleepy small town of Lanai City sits at 1,645 feet above sea level. That means it’s a pleasantly cool reprieve from the beach.
Stroll about the town’s square, and you’ll discover a few shops and several sweet cafés and restaurants.
Maybe pick up fish-and-chips or a mahi burger at Blue Ginger Café and have a quiet picnic in Dole Park, right in the middle of town?
Also check out the Lanai Art Center.
Its gallery and gift shop features the works of local artists. You might find that perfect Hawaiian souvenir!
5) Get cultured at the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center
In Lanai City, the Lanai Culture & Heritage Center is worth poking about for insights into the local Hawaiian culture.
Historic old photos, maps and artifacts (like poi pounders and pineapple plantation tools) celebrate the land, people and history of Lanai.
There are even a few pineapples growing outside in the garden.
6) Visit Shipwreck Beach
One of the most interesting Lanai tourist attractions is Shipwreck Beach (Kaiolohia).
More than a dozen wrecks lie along this 6-mile coastline.
Some were grounded accidentally.
Others were sunk intentionally. After inter-island steamships stopped servicing the plantations and ferrying passengers in the 19th century, their owners let them go to be wrecked on the reefs here.
One of the most visible wrecks you see is the YOGN-42, a concrete fuel barge built for the US Navy in 1942.
It was intentionally scuttled in 1954.
And now you see her, listing on her side, rusting away in the salty sea – making for a very compelling photo.
Yes, Shipwreck Beach is certainly one of the most interesting Lanai tourist attractions!
7) Golf on Lanai
Golfers (staying at one of the Four Seasons resorts on Lanai) can play the seaside Manele Golf Course.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this immaculately maintained course stretches over red lava fields and serves up ocean views from every hole.
Cool factoid: Bill Gates married his wife Melinda at the 12th hole tee box in 1994.
8) Walk along the Fisherman’s Trail
If you’re looking for other things to do in Lanai without a car, walking the Fisherman’s Trail is also on the list if you’re staying near Manele Bay.
The Fisherman’s Trail is an easy path to explore along the coastline. Take in the salty sea breeze as you walk the dirt and rock trail from Hulopoe Beach to the Manele Golf Course (see #7 above).
There’s minimal elevation change on the walk, though we do recommend wearing closed-toe shoes as the rocks can be jagged and sharp in spots. Ouch!
The relaxing pace of this trail – paired with the beautiful scenery of nearby cliffs, the neighboring island of Kaho’oawe and of course the ocean – make for a lovely outing at any time of day.
Bonus: Watch for blowholes!
9) Pet a kitty at the Lanai Cat Sanctuary
Oh, this is a feel-good Lanai activity!
Started by spirited cat lovers, the non-profit Lanai Cat Sanctuary is a top-notch cat haven that has taken in more that 600 cats in the last few years.
It also helps the Lanai eco-system by rescuing cats from protected areas where endangered ground-nesting birds (like the Hawaiian petrel) live.
So rent a jeep or car, and go play with the kitties!
The sanctuary survives on donations, so while there’s no admission fee, you might want to donate a little something to help support their efforts.
And if you end up falling in love with one of the cute fur balls and adopting him or her to take home – don’t say we didn’t warn you!
10) Explore Keahiakawelo
Known as the “Garden of the Gods,” Keahiakawelo is a vast otherworldly rock garden on the north end of the island.
The ultimate rock garden, this storied place looks the way you might imagine Mars, with the sun bouncing off red rock towers and spires, formed by thousands of years of erosion.
According to one Hawaiian legend, the boulders were dropped from the sky by gods tending to and clearing their heavenly gardens.
Another says this rocky landscape was created after a contest between two priests from Lanai and Molokai.
Each priest had to keep a fire burning on their island longer than the other. The Lanai priest won, using all the trees and bushes on this part of the island to fuel his fire.
Legends aside, Keahiakawelo is a remarkable site. You need a four-wheel drive to get to this wild and windswept area (about a 45-minute drive from Lanai City).
The Garden of the Gods is most alluring at dusk, when the setting sun bathes everything in a vivid orange glow.
Morning is another good time to soak up the scene, when the colors at this massive rock garden are rich.
11) Suntan in the buff at Polihua Beach
Yes, because Polihua Beach is so remote, you can strip off and sunbathe in the nude here!
But don’t tell too many people about this – we’d like to keep it one of those secret things to do in Lanai.
(Note that the water isn’t safe for swimming at Polihua Beach though.)
If you’re lucky, you may even spot a turtle! This 2-mile arc of pristine gold sand beach is sometimes used by sea turtles as a resting place.
Like Keahiakawalo (#10 above), Polihua Beach is also found on the northern part of Lanai, so you can combine visiting both in the same four-wheel drive outing.
12) Go scuba diving
What to do on Lanai underwater? Go scuba diving!
Underwater, Lanai is every bit as captivating as above.
In particular, it boasts two signature dive sites with light-filled caverns created from lava tubes – the First Cathedral and Second Cathedral.
Simply diving through these beautiful lava caves and archways is a wonder.
In addition, these sites are also rich in marine life. See green turtles, yellow butterfly fish, striped Moorish idols, eels – and perhaps even whitetip reef sharks if you’re lucky.
Lanai Ocean Sports operates out of Lanai, offering private 2-tank dives to the Lanai Cathedrals and other Lanai dive sites.
13) View Shark’s Bay
Known for having some of the most impressive views on the entire island, the red lava cliffs surrounding Shark’s Bay overlook a pocket-sized private cove, draped in white sand.
From atop the cliffs, you get unparalleled vistas of the roaring sea, as well as a front and center view of the legendary “Sweetheart Rock” (#3 above).
There’s no easy access to get down from the cliffs to the sandy beach. Nor should you swim at Shark’s Bay (the swift currents and rocky floor make it unsafe).
But the serene ambiance and majestic views from up top are enticing enough.
Take the short footpath from Hulopoe Bay to get to this isolated oasis.
14) See the Poaiwa Petroglyphs
Attention history lovers, this one’s for you!
These petroglyphs on the island’s northeast coast are believed to date back to the 15th century. They’re known locally as the “Bird Man of Lanai,” due to the frequent depiction of a bird-headed stick figure.
The primitive rock carvings illustrate various scenes of Hawaiian culture such as surfing, hunting and fishing.
To check out these cool ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs, take a four-wheel drive to Shipwreck Beach. Then follow the seaside trail next to the beach.
You’ll eventually drop down into a small valley called Poaiwa, where the protected petroglyph site lies. The whole trail (roundtrip) is short, only about a ½ mile.
15) Dine at Nobu Lanai
If you haven’t had the pleasure of dining at a Nobu restaurant, your tastebuds are in for a treat at Nobu Lanai.
Named after the famous Japanese Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, Nobu is a world-renowned culinary experience. Think delicious Japanese cuisine with a unique exotic twist that uses local ingredients.
We recommend the black cod with miso, Chef Matsuhisa’s signature dish. But you can’t go wrong with the “Teppanyaki Experience” either – it allows you to taste a little bit of everything (15 courses).
Don’t get distracted by the spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean as you dine!
Located in the Four Seasons down by Manele Bay, Nobu Lanai only serves dinner from 5:30 to 9:30 pm.
Be sure to book a reservation in advance as the restaurant tends to fill up pretty quickly.
16) Explore the tide pools at Hulopoe Bay
Grab your water shoes and head over to the east side of Hulopoe Beach, one of the best places to check out nature’s bite-sized aquariums.
Tide pools form when ocean water gets trapped in depressions along the shore as the tide recedes, leaving you with an up-close and personal encounter with some really interesting sea creatures.
In the tide pools of Hulopoe Bay, you can spot sea stars, hermit crabs, sea cucumbers, spaghetti worms, shrimp and more – all in their very own natural habitat.
Plan to explore at low tide. But remember to never turn your back to the ocean.
It’s also forbidden to remove any animals or shells from the tide pools.
17) Check out the ghost town of Keomuku
Got time to spare in your Lanai itinerary? Then check out the ghost town of Keomuku on the east coast of Lanai.
The journey to reach it is a bit off the beaten path. But once there, you’ll be transported back in time.
The sleepy fishing village of Keomuku evolved into a bustling sugar plantation town in the late 1800s. Nearly 2,000 residents called Keomuku home in its prime.
Local legend has it that during the construction of the sugar plantation’s railroad, sacred stones of a local heiau (temple) were damaged, which angered the gods. As a result, the sugar company failed and the town was plagued by water issues and plague.
The people ending up leaving, and by the early 1900s, the town was largely forgotten.
Today you can explore the remaining abandoned structures and the restored Malamalama Church, along with empty beaches.
18) Admire the art at the Mike Carroll Gallery
Want to capture your time on Lanai with a one-of-a-kind custom painting of your favorite beach or special vacation moment? Artist Mike Carroll is your man!
Mike is a nationally recognized artist, originally from Chicago, who fell in love with the tranquil island vibe of Lanai. He relocated to the island with his wife in 2001.
You can view (and buy) his masterpieces at his art gallery in Lanai City, or hire him for commission work to turn a treasured photo into a piece of art.
19) Watch the sunset from Kaumalapau Harbor
The last in our list of Lanai activities is simple. Watch the sunset at Kaumalapau Harbor!
It’s one of the best places on Lanai to savor unobstructed views of the sunset. And marveling at the sunset here is a great way to end your time on Lanai (or each day of your trip!).
Tip: The best time of year to see a magnificent sunset and spot whales swimming just beyond the harbor is December through May.
That wraps up our post on visiting Lanai, Hawaii!
Lanai is a secluded luxury vacation destination. As a bonus, some of the best things to do in Lanai are free.
A dream Hawaiian vacation is pretty well guaranteed on Lanai!
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Photo credits: 11, 13, 16 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase