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Hawaii Bucket List! 75 Epic Things to Do in the Aloha State

Visiting Hawaii? Lucky you!

The only thing is that, when planning your trip, you’ll come across so many amazing attractions, it can be hard to choose what to do in Hawaii!

The good news is that once you decide where to go in Hawaii – whether that’s Maui or Kaui, Oahu, the Big Island, Lanai, Molokai (or all of them) – you can’t go wrong.

Each island has its own vibe and personality, though, so we’ve organized our favorite must-do Hawaii activities and must-see places by island to help you get started.

Here it is – our ultimate list of 75 epic things to do in Hawaii!

Whether you’re visiting Hawaii for the first time or your 10th, the following adventures and experiences make for a memorable trip.

Surfers in Hawaii hanging out on their boards.
Surfers in Hawaii hanging out on their boards

Top 10 things to do in Hawaii: Don’t miss these!

Keep reading below for the complete list of 75 things to do in the Hawaiian Islands.

But if you want the short list of the 10 best things to do in Hawaii – the most iconic attractions, our absolute favorite experiences – here it is!

  • Waikiki Beach: (See #5) Enjoy people-watching on Oahu’s famed beach and savor the Diamond Head view.
  • Volcanoes National Park: (See #39) Witness Kilauea and Mauna Loa’s grandeur on the Big Island.
  • Pearl Harbor: (See #1) Pay respects at the USS Arizona Memorial on Oahu and learn about the events of December 7, 1941.
  • Road to Hana: (See #24) Drive this scenic route on Maui, stopping at waterfalls and beaches along the way.
  • Polynesian Cultural Center: (See #2) Experience the rich culture of the Pacific Islands through interactive exhibits, shows and feasts on Oahu.
  • Hanauma Bay: (See #3) Snorkel with colorful underwater critters in Oahu’s conservation bay.
  • Waimea Canyon: (See #55) Behold Kauai’s stunning “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
  • Luau experience: (See #22) Attend a traditional Hawaiian feast with hula dancing and local Hawaiian food.
  • Molokini Crater: (See #23) Dive into an underwater adventure off Maui’s volcanic crater.
  • Manta ray snorkel: (See #37) Experience the magic of swimming with manta rays on a nighttime snorkel in Kona on the Big Island.

75 Best things to do in Hawaii

Best things to do in Oahu

People swimming and lazing about under blue umbrellas on Waikiki Beach
On the south shore of Oahu in Honolulu, Waikiki Beach is famous for its white sand, surfing and views of Diamond Head in the distance

Oahu is Hawaii’s most populated island and the heart of the educational, business and finance system in the Aloha State. It’s also home to the main airport and the capital city, Honolulu.

There are tons of cool Honolulu activities and off-the-beaten-track adventures waiting for you on Oahu.

1) Visit Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
The USS Arizona Memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor

A National Historic Landmark, the famous WWII site – Pearl Harbor – is one of the main tourist attractions in Hawaii, seeing about two million visitors a year.

The USS Arizona Memorial commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, marking the final resting place of 1,102 marines and soldiers killed that day.

It’s a Hawaii must-see of tremendous historical significance.

Take a guided tour (with transfers from Waikiki) to hear poignant stories from your guide and discover Pearl Harbor’s history in depth.

The tour includes riding the navy launch to the Arizona Memorial.

2) Polynesian Cultural Center

A Hawaiian climbs up a tree to demonstrate how to cut coconuts at the Polynesian Cultural Center, Oahu.
Demonstrating how to climb up a coconut tree

Also on the list of top attractions in Hawaii is the Polynesian Cultural Center, located on the North Shore of Oahu.

If you want to experience all of the Pacific island cultures in one great place, this is it!

Explore six recreated villages representing the cultures of Hawaii, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Tahiti on 42 acres.

Browse markets, watch island dances and shows, enjoy a canoe ride, listen to Tahitian drumming and feast at a luau.

3) Snorkel at Hanauma Bay

For some of the best snorkeling on Oahu, you’ll want to take the plunge at Hanauma Bay. This isn’t a secret among tourists, so you should expect to have plenty of company on the beach and in the water.

Even so, the place is gorgeous. And there’s plenty of sea life – turtles, rainbow-colored tropical fish, eels and more – for everyone to see.

Snorkeling here is one of our favorite Hawaiian island activities!

Reservations are needed to visit the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, and there’s a fee ($25) for visitors aged 13 or older.

4) Tour Iolani Palace in Honolulu

Stone pillars mark the entrance to the opulent Iolani Palace
Back in the 1800s, the Iolani Palace was modern for its time – it had electric lights, indoor plumbing and even a telephone

Honolulu is home to the Iolani Palace, the only official royal palace in the United States.

It’s where King Kamehameha III made his official residence. Queen Lili’uokalani (Hawaii’s first and last queen) lived here too, until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893.

Today, you can see historical palace artifacts like gilt furniture, photos, silver, a beautiful rosewood piano, swords and military accessories on a self-guided (audio) or guided tour.

5) Enjoy people-watching at Waikiki Beach

Two women float on pink air mattresses in the sea in front of The Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki Beach.
Why, your air mattress has to be the same pink color as The Royal Hawaiian hotel on Waikiki Beach!

One thing’s for sure – you’ll never be alone at Waikiki Beach, which admittedly is one of the best things about it.

You don’t have to do anything in particular to have a great time. Simply watching all the people as you stroll around (or stay put on your towel) is sufficient.

They’re surfing, swimming, boogie boarding, suntanning, eating ice-cream, wearing funny shirts, sporting strange-looking hairdos, showing off crazy tattoos… You get the idea!

This is by far one of the best Honolulu activities – and it requires no planning or effort at all.

6) Swim at Kailua Beach

For an alternative to the crowded beaches of Waikiki, check out Kailua Beach on the east side of Oahu.

The beach hugs Kailua Bay for 2½ miles.

You’ll find some of the clearest turquoise-blue water in all of the island here – you can practically hear the ocean beckoning you to have a swim! You may even see a sea turtle underwater.  

The sand is soft, the beach is clean, the water is warm and the view is stunning. Well, you can see why visiting Kailua Beach is one of the top things to do in Oahu!

7) Learn about Polynesian culture and history at the Bishop Museum

For a local in-depth look at Polynesian history, the Bishop Museum in Honolulu is one of the places to visit in Hawaii.

It’s the state’s largest museum and displays millions of artifacts and photos about the Pacific islands’ natural and cultural history.

The 55-foot sperm whale model in the Hawaiian Hall is the signature exhibit. The complete whale skeleton, covered in papier-mache to look like a real whale, has been hanging in the hall for over 100 years.

If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love the children’s center, where they’ll have fun with hands-on activities and exploring special exhibits, like a faux volcanic eruption demonstration.

Giant Hawaiian Dragonfly
See this Giant Hawaiian Dragonfly in the museum’s natural sciences section – it has a 5-inch wingspan and is the largest dragonfly in the U.S. (Credit: Bishop Museum)

8) Go horseback riding at Kualoa Ranch

The 4,000-acre Kualoa Ranch (aka “the Jurassic Valley”) offers lots of cool things to do in Hawaii – their horseback riding tour is one of the coolest.

Can you think of a better way to explore the idyllic setting for major blockbuster movies like Jurassic Park and Pearl Harbor than on horseback?

9) Hike the Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail

There’s nothing like a quick scenic hike to get your blood pumping on a beautiful Hawaii morning!

The Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail is a paved 2-mile (roundtrip) trail that’s just the perfect mix of short, not-too-steep and rewarding. The hike winds its way up to the top of a rocky hill, rising above where the red-roofed lighthouse stands.

In the winter months, the trail is a great place to view migrating humpback whales.

You can also scramble down to the water’s edge and linger for some tide pool exploration. At low tide, you can swim too (but wear good water shoes as the rocks are sharp and slippery).

10) See the beautiful Byodo-In Temple

The intricate red Buddhist Byodo-In Temple in Oahu overlooks a lily-filled lagoon.
The Buddhist Byodo-In Temple is about a 30-minute drive from Honolulu (Credit: Byodo-In Temple)

This striking red Buddhist temple is set against a lush green backdrop in the heart of Oahu’s Valley of the Temples – and it makes for a magnificent sight.

It was built in 1968 to mark the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii.

It’s a small-scale replica of the original Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan. But while the original was built of wood, the Hawaiian version is constructed mostly of concrete.

Hundreds of Japanese koi fish swim in the pond surrounding the Byodo-In Temple and wild peacocks roam the grounds. At the entrance, you may want to ring the three-ton sacred bell.

It’s an ideal place to find a meditation corner, soak in the beauty and just relax, perhaps by a reflecting pool.

11) Hike up Diamond Head

Woman taking cell phone picture of Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head
You get panoramic views of Honolulu from the top of Diamond Head

Every time you look at Honolulu’s skyline, you see it – Diamond Head.

It’s not only the most iconic volcanic formation in the state, but hiking to the summit is one of the most popular activities on Hawaii. It’s something we love to do on Oahu for some exercise.

The Diamond Head Summit Trail is just over 1½ miles (roundtrip) and climbs up 560 vertical feet.

You hike along a paved switchback path to begin with, then continue up a set of stairs and through a lit 225-foot tunnel.  

The last set of stairs before you reach the top of Diamond Head
The last set of stairs before you reach the top of Diamond Head

The hike is doable for almost everyone. Benches and lookouts along the way offer opportunities to catch your breath.

And at the top, you’re rewarded with one of the most gorgeous 360-degree views you’ll get in Oahu. It’s a popular hike for a reason!

You can combine a sunrise hike up Diamond Head with visiting the Halona Blowhole (#16) and exploring Oahu’s North Shore on this 5-star-rated, small-group Diamond Head hiking and North Shore tour.

12) Snorkel with green sea turtles at Turtle Canyons

If you’re like us, snorkeling with sea turtles is high up on your list of must-do things in Hawaii!

On Oahu, Turtle Canyon is the place to cross this off. A turtle “cleaning station,” it’s well-known for the many Hawaiian green sea turtles that swim above the reef, while reef fish swim around them and clean their shells.

Your best bet to swim with these Oahu sea turtles is to book a Turtle Canyon snorkeling tour, where you hop on a boat from Waikiki to snorkel and swim with them.

13) Learn to surf

A woman in a pink swimsuit sitting on her surf board in Waikiki, Hawaii
Catching waves in Waikiki

Surfing is by far one of the best things to do in Hawaii.

If you’ve always wanted to learn to surf, Oahu is the perfect place!

There are plenty of beaches throughout the island known for their mellow surf breaks, making them ideal for beginners – like Kamaina Beach (for the Old Man’s surf spot), Canoes (in front of the Moana Surfrider hotel in Waikiki) and Haleiwa Beach Park (on Oahu’s North Shore).

Want to learn where the action is? Check out these Waikiki surfing lessons with a private instructor.

14) Kayak to Chinaman’s Hat

Off Kualoa Point on East Oahu, you’ll see a small cone-shaped mass of land known as Chinaman’s Hat. It’s become a popular spot to kayak to because it’s quite accessible.

At the secluded beach cove there, you can relax, snorkel and admire some beautiful marine life.

15) Taste poke

A woman eats poke in Hawaii
Mmmm! Hawaiian poke is delicious – and healthy too

No Hawaiian dish is more traditional than poke.

This local food consists of cubed pieces of raw fish (usually ahi tuna), seasoned with soy sauce, green onions, seaweed and sometimes other tasty ingredients like macadamia nuts.

Poke is delicious. It’s definitely worth tasting, and you’ll want to explore all the local flavor varieties!

Try Ono Seafood for some of the best poke in Honolulu.

16) Visit Halona Blowhole

A very popular site on Oahu, this dramatic blowhole really puts on a show! The water propulsion gets quite forceful, so be prepared to get wet if you get up close to the Halona Blowhole.

17) Watch the sunrise from Lanakai Pillbox

To witness the most spectacular sunrise, make your way up to Lanakai Pillbox.

You can reach the lookout via a short hiking trail (just under 2 miles roundtrip). Also called the Kawai Ridge Trail, it overlooks the Ko’olau Mountains and Kailua Bay.

The terrain is easy, but it’s a moderately steep hike uphill.

18) Stay at Halekulani Hotel

Halekulani Hotel swimming pool

We have nothing but praise for this 5-star hotel – we wrote a whole review on the Halekulani Hotel! Nestled at the quiet end of Waikiki Beach, it has the beach at its doorstep and is within dangerously easy reach of luxury shops.

The top-notch service you receive there can’t be beat.

With its amazing pool (featuring a massive orchid mosaic made from 1.25 million glass tiles), immaculate grounds and serene setting, a stay at the Halekulani is a vacation in itself.

Best things to do on Maui

There are a million reasons to love Maui.

It’s not only one of the most beautiful places on earth, but there are so many wonderful things to do and see on Hawaii’s second largest island that we think it’s just about perfect.

If you’re wondering about accommodations and the best area to stay – Wailea vs. Kapalua? – see our comprehensive post on where to stay in Maui.

From romantic to adventurous, the following are some of the best things to do on Maui.

Maui travel update (2024)

Maui is completely open, except for Lahaina, which remains closed due to the August, 2023, wildfire.

The island welcomes you! And there’s lots to do! Buy local, book tours and enjoy your Maui visit!

For more info, see here on the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s website.

19) Catch the sunrise at Haleakala National Park

A woman watches the orange sky as the sun rises above the clouds at Haleakala.
Watching the sun rise above the clouds at Haleakala

Reaching the top of Haleakala volcano to catch the sunrise requires getting up at 3:00 am – pretty brutal.

Does it help if we told you it’s the most breathtaking sunrise you’ve ever seen and is totally worth it? Because it is!

Reservations are needed to enter the park between 3:00 am and 7:00 am.

Be aware that the narrow road up to Haleakala is switchback and can be dangerous, with no guard railings in some places.

If you’d like to leave the driving to someone else (and continue snoozing on the way there), here’s a great Haleakala sunrise and breakfast tour.

Haleakala is one of those remarkable places you must see in Hawaii. And if you’re there for the sunrise, you get one of the best Hawaii experiences ever.

20) Hike at Haleakala

Woman takes photos of Haleakala Crater on her cell phone
Haleakala National Park is very different from Maui’s beaches 10,000 feet below!

Okay, you’d really rather not wake up early. Then at least go to Haleakala National Park and spend the day enjoying some short hikes.

If you want to stretch your legs surrounded by spectacular scenery, it’s another Hawaii must-do activity!

The park’s summit starts at about 7,000 feet and the peak is just over 10,000 feet high. It’s like another world up there!

When we hiked in the park recently, the weather was beautiful and we drove up above the clouds.

Our favorite short Haleakala hikes?

The Keonehe’ehe’e (Sliding Sands) trail starts near the Haleakala visitor center and takes you downhill into the red-dirt crater. It feels like you’re walking on Mars on this desert-like hike.

The Halemau’u hike (just over 1 mile) takes you along a rocky volcanic path down to another crater viewpoint.

You hike though sub-alpine shrubland, and the elevation change is only 400 feet, so it’s not challenging on the way back up.

21) Have coffee at Grandma’s Coffee House

Pineapple, coconut and macadamia nut muffins from Grandma's Coffee House, Maui
Oh, what sweet temptations await at this darling Maui café (Credit: Grandma’s Coffee House)

On the way to or from Haleakala, stop at Grandma’s Coffee House in Kula for breakfast, lunch or coffee.

The ramshackle cottagey café is family-owned, and four generations later, it’s still in the same family.

It’s a local institution, where locals like to go and “talk story” – so you might have to wait in line a bit before getting inside.

But the wait is worth it for the organic coffee made from hand-picked beans, roasted right at Grandma’s.

And we dare you to resist Grandma’s creamy lilikoi pie, pineapple-coconut-and-mac-nut muffins, famous crab Eggs Benedict or other goodies!

22) Feast at a traditional luau

You can find luaus all across the Hawaiian islands.

One that’s consistently reigned over the years as champion in the “best of Hawaii” luau category is Old Lahaina Luau on Maui.

From the ultra-traditional food buffet to the unbeatable sunset scenery, this is one feast and experience you don’t want to miss.

(They suffered damage during the August, 2023, wildfire, but hope to be up and running again in 2024.)

Another top luau is the Feast at Mokapu in Wailea.

This is more a luxury luau experience at the beachfront Andaz Maui hotel. It includes hand-crafted cocktails and a multi-course Pacific-island feast – along with an amazing sunset, of course!

23) Go snorkeling at Molokini Crater

Molokini Crater, Maui, surrounded by blue ocean
Molokini Crater is a top snorkeling spot in Maui

For diving and snorkeling, Molokini Crater is one of the best places to go in Hawaii.

This crescent-shaped volcanic caldera is the Hawaiian islands’ only marine sanctuary. You’ll find crystal blue waters and consistently high visibility that can reach up to 150 feet.

As for its diverse marine life, we spied an octopus crawling along the reef and a spotted eagle ray – along with clouds of yellow tangs and other tropical fish.

We’ve written all about snorkeling trips to Molokini – they typically add a snorkeling stop at Turtle Town too (see #27).

Sea turtle at Turtle Town, Maui
Molokini Crater snorkeling trips are usually combined with Turtle Town, where you can snorkel with sea turtles

We went with Alii Nui Maui, which offers the most deluxe experience – bubbly included!

But there are several other Molokini-and-turtle snorkeling boat trips – from catamarans with waterslides to thrilling super-rafts – so you can choose what’s best for you.

24) Chase waterfalls on the Road to Hana

Finding the most fabulous Maui waterfalls is easy – just set out on the 64-mile scenic Road to Hana, where most of them are!

You don’t have to go far to find your first cascading gem, the Twin Falls, conveniently located at Mile Marker No. 2. They’re a great spot for a refreshing swim.

With its 620 curves and 50+ one-lane and hairpin turns, the Hana Road drive is itself one of the most adventurous things to do in Hawaii.

Many sights along the way beg you to stop. And the road is popular and slow-going. So it’s a long day. But you’ll enjoy every waterfall-after-waterfall inch of it!

25) Go whale watching

Whale tail in Maui
Whale watching is a popular activity in Maui in winter

If you’re in Maui between November and May, you’ve hit the whale watching jackpot!

Maui is one of the best places on earth to spot humpback whales. In winter, they take refuge in the warm shallow waters off the island, before migrating back up to Alaska.

26) Stay at a luxuriously romantic resort

Woman looking over the balcony at a garden lagoon at Hotel Wailea, Maui
For adults only, the Hotel Wailea is one of the most romantic hotels in Maui (Credit: Hotel Wailea).

The island of Maui is famous for a lot of things, and being a romantic lovers’ paradise is one of them.

Nothing sets the scene more than staying at a luxuriously romantic resort in Maui, of which there are many.

Hotels like the Four Seasons Wailea and the adults-only Hotel Wailea (among the top places to stay in Wailea) and the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa (one of the best Ka’anapali hotels) bring the best of Maui to within feet of your hotel door.

27) Snorkel with sea turtles at Turtle Town or Black Rock

Hawaiian sea turtle swimming underwater at Maluaka Beach (Turtle Town), Maui
You’re pretty well guaranteed to see Hawaiian sea turtles at Turtle Town! (Credit: David Parias)

Maluaka Beach, aka Turtle Town, is a short 10-minute drive from Wailea in South Maui.

Lots of protected green sea turtles like to hang out at the abundant coral reefs here, so it’s a great spot to grab a snorkel and get an up-close look!

Another top spot is Black Rock at Ka’anapali Beach.

Turtles even swam around us as we stood waist deep in the water. You’re pretty well guaranteed to see turtles here!

28) Pamper yourself with a spa day

Whether you’re staying at a luxury resort or not, indulging in a spa treatment is one of the top things to do in Hawaii.

There are exceptional spas all over the islands, but the posh Wailea area of Maui is where you’ll find some of the best. Try the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont Kea Lani or the spa at the Four Seasons Resort Maui.

Enjoying sybaritic side-by-side massages is high on the list of romantic Maui activities for couples.

29) Brave a helicopter tour

Just when you think Maui couldn’t get any more beautiful, there’s actually a whole side of the island that’s totally untouched – and possibly even more beautiful. It can only be seen by helicopter.

To get a bird’s eye view of some of Maui’s hidden waterfalls and beaches, several local companies offer a variety of helicopter tours.

This top-rated scenic helicopter flight over Maui and Molokai (with Maverick Helicopters) gets rave reviews.

Or crank up the thrill factor and choose a “doors-off” helicopter tour!

We guarantee your chopper flight will be one of the Hawaii highlights you’ll remember long after you’ve returned home.

30) Go wine tasting

A woman sips on sparkling rose wine at MauiWine.
Tasting sparkling rosé wine (Credit: MauiWine)

Wine tasting probably isn’t one of the first things that comes to mind when you think of typical excursions in Hawaii, but MauiWine in Maui’s upcountry Ulupalakua Ranch is a real treat.

The scenery is marvelous.

And you can savor it while sipping on their locally produced pineapple wine or any of their signature wine cocktails, like the exotic Lehua Royale (made with sparkling rosé and lehua raspberry wine).

31) Explore Waianapanapa State Park

Known for its lava tubes and network of caves, this is a cool spot to explore. You get some amazing coastal views at Waianapanapa State Park too.

32) Hike to see the Iao Valley State Monument

The emerald-green Iao Needle, Maui
Home to the Iao Needle mountain, the lush Iao Valley is a great place to visit in Maui for nature lovers

Hopefully you added hiking shoes to your list of what to pack for Maui, because you’ll want to take in the views of the Iao Needle, a unique 1,200-foot mountain peak on West Maui.

It’s a short hike (a little over half a mile) on the paved Iao Needle Lookout Trail – and totally worth it.

33) Scuba dive

If you like scuba diving, Maui offers some great diving. Besides Molokini Crater (#23 above), other popular dive sites include Makena Landing, Honolulu Bay and Airport Beach.

34) Walk the Wailea Beach Path

Pink bougainvillea bloom by a beach on the Wailea Beach Path, Maui.
Beaches and bougainvillea – part of the beautiful scenery on the Wailea Beach Path!

Wailea offers an incredibly scenic walking and jogging trail that runs along the coast from the Andaz Maui Hotel at the north end to the Polo Beach Club in the south. See this route map.

The roughly 1½-mile path is paved, with a short wooden boardwalk section at the north end.

It takes you past five lovely beach coves. We spotted sea turtles close to shore at the south end, and in winter, chances are excellent you’ll see whales offshore too.

35) Snorkel at Ahihi Kinau Reserve

One of the best places to snorkel in Maui is the Ahihi Kinau Natural Area Reserve in the southwest corner of the island.

It’s a no-frills site, with few facilities.

Park your car in the paved lot (there’s a $5 non-resident fee per vehicle) and, wearing your bathing suit, carry your snorkeling gear and towel with you to the designated place where you can enter the water.

From the parking lot, it’s a 5-minute walk on a trail across a lava rock field to the snorkeling site entry (christened the “Dumps” by surfers long ago for the old dump once located near the parking lot). Flip-flops are okay for the short walk.

The snorkeling itself is excellent. We saw a ton of tropical fish, from needle fish and rainbow-colored parrotfish to yellow butterfly fish and reef triggerfish.

Go early before the parking lot fills up. There’s no beach to hang out on afterward, so once finished snorkeling, you’ll likely want to leave.

36) Watch the kite-surfers at Hookipa Beach Park

The windsurfers, surfers and kite-surfers perform some devilish tricks on the large rolling waves.

Also see the turtles sunning on the sand at the right side of the beach (as you’re facing it).

We saw at least 20 or so large turtles crawling about, scratching their noses with their flippers and just hanging out, getting photographed by turtle admirers.

Best things to do on Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii is famous for its active volcanoes.
The Big Island of Hawaii is famous for its active volcanoes

As indicated by its name, the Big Island is Hawaii’s largest island in terms of land mass.

(It’s officially just “Hawaii” but that gets confusing. So people still refer to it as the Big Island to differentiate it from the state of Hawaii.)

Anyway, it’s also the most volcanically active and diverse island, with four of the world’s five major climate zones.

A combination of its biodiversity, rugged terrain and scarce population make Big Island a hot spot for adventurers and nature lovers.

Check out the following list of fun things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii!

37) Snorkel with manta rays at night

Manta ray in Hawaii
Bucket list Hawaii experiences? Snorkeling with manta rays!

Snorkeling with manta rays is definitely one for your Hawaii bucket list!

This manta ray night adventure is one of those totally unique things to do in Hawaii you’ll remember for a lifetime!

You go snorkeling with the giant manta rays in Kona at night.

As you float on the water’s surface at a particular spot on the Kona Coast, lights are used to attract plankton. This in turn attracts hungry rays, allowing you to get an up-close look at these gentle giants as they feed.

It’s a sight you won’t forget.

38) Hang out in Hilo

When figuring out what to do on the island of Hawaii, make sure hanging out in the island’s charming main town of Hilo is on the list.

Spend some time strolling through the town’s shops and art galleries.

You’ll also find some great restaurants to enjoy a yummy local lunch, or hit up a local farmers’ market to stock your condo or hotel room with some fresh Hawaiian fruit.

39) Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Red-hot lava glow from Hawaii volcano
Seeing the lava up close is an unforgettable experience

Two of Hawaii’s most famous volcanoes are neighbors in the same place, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Mauna Loa is Hawaii’s largest volcano, and Kilauea is Hawaii’s most active volcano.

Visiting the park is a must-do on the Big Island of Hawaii – and one park entry lets you see both active volcanoes.

40) Go hiking in Waipi’o Valley

Waipi'o Valley, Big Island of Hawaii
The Waipi’o Valley on Hawaii’s Big Island

Waipi’o Valley is one of the best places in Hawaii to go for a secluded scenic hike.

Both the view from the lookout and the hike down into the valley are spectacular.

The main hike is less than 5 miles roundtrip – and it will take you down to an isolated black sand beach (Waipi’o Beach).

The trail along a dirt road isn’t super long. But it’s quite steep and strenuous at times. And it’s obviously more challenging on the way back up.

41) Gaze at the stars at Mauna Kea

White observatories on the top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii
Stargazing at Mauna Kea is one of the best things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii

If you’re asking yourself “What is there to do in Hawaii at night?” – and you’ve already snorkeled with the manta rays (see #37) – how about a good stargazing session?

Simply being anywhere above 9,000 feet above sea level (the summit is at 14,000 feet) – and enjoying an unobscured view of the stars – is a marvel.

For a closer look at the starry night sky, the telescopes at the summit can take your star gazing experience to the next level.

Getting up to the top of Mauna Kea takes some driving prowess with a 4WD vehicle – book a Mauna Kea tour if you’d like to leave the driving to someone else.

42) Cliff-jump at South Point

Hey adrenaline-rush seekers! Get your thrills at South Point, a popular spot for cliff jumping and free diving.

These sea cliffs are about 40 to 50 feet high, and you’re basically jumping waaaay down into the frothy ocean below. Caution advised!

43) Buy Kona coffee

A cup of Big Island coffee
Coffee from the Big Island of Hawaii is some of the best coffee in the world

If you’re a coffee lover (like we are), going on a Kona coffee farm tour is one of the best things in Hawaii to do.

Big Island coffee is superb, with hints of milk chocolate, honey, brown sugar and fruit in the flavor. Visiting a farm gives you a true appreciation for the island’s deep-rooted coffee culture.

You’ll want to buy coffee to take back with you.

While you’re at it, throw in a few extra bags for friends and family at home – they’re sure to appreciate getting authentic Kona coffee as a Hawaiian souvenir.

44) Swim with spinner dolphins

Spinner dolphins in Hawaii
Hands up if you want to swim with wild dolphins!

The Big Island is one of the best places to travel in Hawaii to have a personal encounter swimming with spinner dolphins in the wild!

Kamaina Ocean Safari takes guests out into the open sea on small safari-style boat tours. You cruise along the Kona coast, where spinner dolphins hang out in their natural habitat.

When it looks promising, you slide into the water to swim with them. They swim fast, though, so your sightings could be brief.

It’s not just about the dolphins. There are other critters you get to swim with in the wild on this tour.

As we’re water lovers (which you’ll quickly gather reading this!), spending time in the ocean and viewing marine life is one of our favorite Hawaii experiences – so naturally we think you’ll love it too!

But if you’d rather not get in the water with the dolphins (and would prefer a larger boat), you can still see them on a sailing-and-snorkeling adventure to the Captain Cook Monument (in Kealakekua Bay) on a comfortable catamaran.

Chances are excellent you’ll spy dolphins while sailing (they sometimes even like to race with the boat) – and the trip includes snorkeling at a sheltered anchorage.

45) View Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls, Hawaii
On one short hike near Hilo, you see two gorgeous waterfalls, including the Akaka Falls

The 440-foot-high Akaka Falls are set in the middle of lush rainforest in Akaka Falls State Park. It’s a ½-mile loop walk to view them.

The path is paved with stairs, so it’s doable for most people.

Bonus: The trail actually offers views of two waterfalls, Akaka Falls and the 100-foot Kahuna Falls.

46) Chill at Hapuna Beach

The Big Island is known for its dramatic black sand beaches. But it still has white sand ones too (cooler on the tootsies).

Hapuna is Hawaii’s largest white sand beach, and spending a day here is one of the best things to do on the Big Island.

While a bit of a drive, it was our favorite spot for beaching when we stayed down in Kona. The beach is clean and expansive, and it’s easy to claim a spot and just chill. Bring your own umbrella for shade.

Hapuna is excellent year-round for swimming, snorkeling and bodyboarding. It’s great for solo travelers, couples and families.

47) Walk on the green sand of Papakolea Beach

Green sand on Papakolea Beach, Hawaii
Meet Papakolea Beach, aka Green Sand Beach!

Yes, Papakolea Beach really does have green sand!

It’s one of only four beaches in the world that has green sand – making it one of the must-see places in Hawaii if you have a yen for unique beaches.

The green hue comes from the abundance of tiny olivine crystals. Gemstone-quality olivine is known as peridot (the August birthstone) – locals call peridot the “Hawaiian diamond.”

Oh, we should mention that it’s rather a long, dusty and hot hike down from the parking lot to the beach (about 2½ miles long). So go in the morning before the sun gets too strong.

48) Admire turtles lounging on Punalu’u Beach

Green sea turtles love hanging out on the black sands of Punalu’u Beach. You can’t get up close, as the areas where they relax are roped off, but it’s fun to share the black sands with them and just watch them chill.

49) Experience Kehena Beach

Kehena Beach is a remote, narrow black sand beach in the Puna district, best known for its hippie crowd, laid-back vibe and drum circles.

Heads up: Clothing is optional on this beach.

50) Go for a scenic drive

Talk about Hawaii sightseeing! Pepeekeo is arguably the most beautiful drive on the Big Island.

It’s a scenic loop that includes driving along one-lane bridges and through enchanting tree tunnels. Jungle, waterfalls and jaw-dropping beach mansions are some of the sights along the way.

Take your time because you’ll want to make many stops along the way!

Best things to do on Kauai

Monk seal on sands of Poipu Beach, Kauai
Kauai is one of our favorite Hawaiian islands!

Known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is blanketed with lush green rainforest, waterfalls, gardens and some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ve ever seen.

There’s so much to do on Kauai, all while being surrounded by stunning nature! In fact, we’ve written a whole post about the top experiences in Kauai.

If you like lots of outdoor adventures, you’ll probably consider it the best spot in Hawaii to vacation.

51) Explore the Allerton and McBryde botanical gardens

Allerton and McBryde Gardens, Kauai
The Allerton and McBryde gardens make for a great break from the beach

Exploring garden “rooms” within 280 acres of green wonderland? Taking pictures of iconic “Jurassic Park trees”? Say hello to the side-by-side Allerton and McBryde botanical gardens!

If you love gardens (who doesn’t?), they’re one of the best places to visit in Hawaii.

Informative guided tours explain the gardens’ interesting history – which includes serving as the location for major films like Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean.

See, for example, this 2½-hour small group tour by the National Tropical Botanical Garden (the Hawaii-based non-profit organization that manages the gardens). 

52) Sail up the Na Pali Coast

Spectacular red, ochre and green cliffs of Na Pali Coast
The spectacular Na Pali Coast spans 17 miles on the northwest of Kauai

With steep emerald cliffs, lush valleys and remote cascading waterfalls, the Na Pali Coast is one of Hawaii’s most beautiful regions. No visit to Kauai is complete without a visit to this magical coastline!

Boat tours along the majestic Na Pali coastline are the best way to experience this natural wonder.

Try Kauai Sea Tours for a thrilling high-speed raft adventure that includes snorkeling. One of the original Na Pali Coast boat tour operators, they’ve been taking guests out for over 30 years.

Or if the idea of sailing on a 50-foot catamaran – complete with breakfast, lunch and a side of beer and wine – floats your boat instead, Holo Holo Charters is calling your name.

A Na Pali Coast boat trip is something you must do in Hawaii – but only in the summer. The winter months are too rough for comfortable sailing.

53) Hike the Kalalau Trail

A couple watch the sunset from the Kalalau Trail, Kauai
Aren’t these ocean views stunning?

For one of the best adventures in Hawaii, hike all or part of the Kalalau Trail.

If you’re up for it physically and mentally, put yourself to the test and tackle the whole (and intense!) 22-mile roundtrip trail.

You’ll be rewarded along the way with remote beaches and some exceptional waterfalls.

For just a taste, you can hike the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail from Ke’e Beach (and back).

With OMG jaw-dropping views, the beginning section is a doable and popular Kauai day hike. We’ve done it several times!

54) Go stand-up paddle boarding

Stand-up paddle boarding is now a super popular water sport.

Did you know that SUP originated in Hawaii? It’s true. And there are some awesome places to do stand-up paddle boarding in Kauai!

Whether you’re a pro at it or have never tried it before, the Garden Isle is the perfect place to give it a go. It’s one of our favorite Hawaii activities!

55) Gawk at the views at Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon, Kauai
The views of Waimea Canyon are stunning!

Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is not only a must-see on Kauai, it’s tops on the list of best things to see in Hawaii overall!

There are several picture-perfect overlooks along the way on Waimea Canyon Road before you reach the grand finale, the Canyon Overlook.

Yes, the dramatic views of the reddish-orange canyon and the 800-foot Waipo’o Falls are truly something special. Talk about Mother Nature at her finest!

56) Swim at Hanalei Bay

Nothing is more refreshing than a leisurely swim in clear Hawaiian waters, right?

Well, in the summer, Hanalei Bay is one of the best swimming beaches in Kauai. (In winter, the waves can be too rough for swimming.)

You can’t ask for a more gorgeous backdrop either. Soak in the view of 4,000-ft-high emerald mountains against the bay’s 2 miles of white powdery sand.

57) Get the best views on Kauai

At the end of the main road in Koke’e State Park, you’ll get to the Pu’u O Kila Lookout.

It’s said to offer the best view on Kauai, even the best in all of Hawaii!

When the clouds part, you can see all the way over the Kalalau Valley, flanked on either side by emerald cliffs, with the deep turquoise Pacific Ocean beyond.

You don’t want to miss that, do you?

58) Hide away at Hideaway Beach

Grab a snorkel and find your own piece of paradise at this small hidden cove in Princeville on Kauai’s North Shore.

It’s a bit of a scramble to get there, but that’s the price for hanging out at this dream beach (typically a great little beach in summer).

59) Wade in Queen’s Bath

A woman swims in the Queen's Bath, Kauai.
Going for a dip in the Queen’s Bath

You’ll also find the heavenly Queen’s Bath in Princeville.

About the size of a large swimming pool, the Queen’s Bath is a natural lava stone tide pool, with water spilling over it as waves wash up. There are also several smaller tidepools you can dip in too.

Feel free to stay and relax all afternoon!

The Queen’s Bath is a popular attraction in summer, when water conditions are usually calm on the North Shore. Check the surf report before you go, however, and play it safe, as people have drowned here.

60) Live it up at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort

Lazy river pool at Grand Hyatt Kauai
Who wants to chill in a cabana by this meandering lazy river pool? (Credit: Grand Hyatt Kauai)

We’ve stayed at many places throughout the Garden Isle, and the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is by far one of the best hotels in Kauai.

In Poipu, it’s located on the South Shore – our favorite part of Kauai to stay – which tends to be more reliably sunny than other parts of the island.

There’s something for everyone at this sprawling 602-room oceanfront resort. We’re talking luxurious grounds with waterfalls, tropical gardens, koi ponds, three freshwater pools and a lazy winding river and waterslide.

The trailhead for the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail also starts at the resort’s doorstep (at Shipwreck Beach). The 2-mile trail (one way) is a beautiful coastal hike along sand-dune cliffs with jaw-dropping ocean views.

61) Admire kite surfers at Tunnels Beach

Known for its strong winds, Tunnels Beach is a cool place to watch some seriously skilled kite surfing. If you’re a kite surfer yourself, this is where you want to go.

Tunnels Beach is also a favorite snorkeling spot when conditions are right. Underwater lava tubes and caverns make it a fascinating underwater world.

62) Hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls

Getting to these majestic 300-foot falls involves a difficult, muddy 8-mile hike that begins at Ke’e Beach. Stream crossing and boulder jumping is required!

However, if you’re up for it, the undertaking is worth it. And cooling off in the crystal clear waters of the pool at the base of the waterfall is a treat.

Best things to do on Lanai

Beach chairs under a sun umbrella in Lanai, Hawaii
The private island of Lanai is a Hawaiian paradise (Credit: Four Seasons Resorts Lanai)

One of Hawaii’s least-visited islands, Lanai offers its own version of Hawaii adventures.

The private island (98% owned by billionaire Larry Ellison) caters to luxury resort and golf-loving travelers. But its diverse terrain means there’s more to do than just golf.

63) Hike Lanai’s Koloiki Ridge

We love this hike. In fact, it’s one of our favorite Lanai activities!

Koloiki Ridge is a scenic 5-mile hiking trail that winds its way along a mountain ridge through majestic pine forests.

The grand finale? Sweeping ocean views that will have you whipping out your phone for a postcard-perfect pic.

64) Golf on Lanai

Lanai boasts one of the most prestigious golf courses on the Hawaiian Islands – the Manele Golf Course. Stay at one of the Four Seasons hotels on Lanai and you can golf its greens.

Any golf lover will tell you that golfing here tops the list of best activities in Hawaii.

Built on lava outcroppings, the course is immaculate – and you can count on an ocean view from all 18 holes.

65) Explore tide pools at Manele Bay

Lava-rock tide pools at the left side of Manele Bay (as you’re facing the water) are perfect for checking out the tiny shrimp, limpets, sea stars and other miniature critters that make their home here.

For safety reasons, only explore these tide pools at low tide and wear proper water shoes.

66) Experience the Garden of the Gods

Countless huge boulders litter the red dirt landscape at Keahiakawelo.
Countless huge boulders litter the red dirt landscape at Keahiakawelo

You’ll need an all-wheel drive vehicle to access the rough terrain of Keahiakawelo (aka the “Garden of the Gods”).

But there, you’ll enjoy some knockout views of its surreal, red rock landscape. You’ll also get views of Molokai and a very distant Oahu on a clear day.

67) Scuba dive the Lanai Cathedrals

We love scuba diving and think it’s one of the most fun water sports in Hawaii.

One of the best places to dive in the Hawaiian Islands is off the coast of Lanai – diving the caverns, archways and pockmarked lava tubes of the two Lanai Cathedrals.

You’re sure to see a wide array of incredible sea life, from sea turtles to octopi and countless tropical fish.

And the rays of sunlight that stream through the large caverns make diving this site quite magical.

68) Spend a day on Hulopo’e Beach

Beautiful Hulopo'e Beach, Lanai
Beautiful Hulopo’e Beach (Credit: Four Seasons Resorts Lanai)

Pristine Hulopo’e Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Lanai, if not the best!

It’s clean, expansive and not crowded, making it perfect for lounging, swimming and snorkeling.

Snorkeling is best on the left side of the bay, where you’ll find a plethora of reef fish and coral.

69) Take a 4×4 adventure around Lanai

4x4 in Lanai
Explore Lanai in a 4×4 (Credit: Four Seasons Resorts Lanai)

Because Lanai is a fairly small island (roughly 140 square miles), a great way to experience it is by driving it.

There are few paved roads, though, and the terrain is very rocky, so you’ll need to rent a 4×4 to embark on this adventure.

Best things to do on Molokai

Soaring green cliffs of Molokai, Hawaii
Molokai’s cliffs are a sight to see!

Calling all crowd-averse adventurers!

If you’re looking for a true off-the-beaten-path version of the Hawaii experience, the rugged island of Molokai is your answer.

Molokai is the second smallest inhabited island in the Aloha state – only 38 miles long and 10 miles wide. And like Lanai, it’s one of the least visited Hawaii islands.

Its main attraction? The lack of commercial Molokai attractions. Instead of shopping malls and traffic lights, you’ll find towering sea cliffs, a slower pace of life and authentic expressions of Hawaiian culture.

Here are some of the best Molokai activities…

70) Visit the leper colony

Looking out over Kalaupapa, Molokai
Looking out over Kalaupapa

Delve into a poignant part of Molokai’s history at its national historic site, Kalaupapa.

It’s a former leprosy colony, where King Kamehameha V first banished all locals afflicted with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy). Belgian Catholic priest, Father Damien, cared for its residents for 11 years until he too contracted leprosy and died in 1889. 

Today, Kalaupapa is still an active community with several patient-residents. And the historic site offers guided tours to see the grounds and learn more about its history.

The most interesting way to get there is by riding a mule down the 2,000-foot sea cliffs. 

These tours are, however, currently suspended. Kalaupapa National Historic Park staff are hoping to welcome visitors again in the future, so we’ll have to just cross fingers in the meantime.

71) Enjoy private beach time on Papohaku Beach

Papohaku is one of Hawaii’s largest beaches – a glorious white sand beach at least 100 yards wide and 3 miles long. And considering that Molokai isn’t heavily touristed to begin with, chances are you’ll have a whole huge expanse of that sand all to yourself!

Yep. Imagine the luxury of space to enjoy sunbathing, swimming and beach strolling without a soul in sight.

This isn’t the case with most Hawaii attractions, so take advantage of the solitude while you can!

72) Catch the sunset from Papohaku Beach

Fiery orange sunset over Papohaku Beach, Molokai
Oh, this sunset will color your dreams!

Papohaku Beach is also the best spot to watch a stunning sunset in Molokai. The serene west-facing beach offers the best sunsets night after night.

73) Mail a coconut

Of all the fun things to do in Hawaii, this is the coolest!

Thanks to Molokai’s Post-a-Nut program, you can go to the post office in Ho’olehua and mail a coconut anywhere in the world.

The really fun part? You’re given permanent markers to paint and decorate your coconut.

It’ll cost you anywhere from $12 to $20 but is totally worth it, don’t you think?

Sending a hand-painted coconut from Molokai is a pretty cool "letter"
Sending a hand-painted coconut from Hawaii makes for a pretty cool “letter” (Credit: Molokai Visitors Association)

74) Soak in Molokai nature in Kamakou Preserve

Located on the green-covered slopes of Kamakou, Molokai’s tallest mountain, is an unspoiled 2,774-acre preserve unlike any other – the Kamakou Preserve.

Take a walk along the narrow 3-mile boardwalk through rainforest, past the trees cloaked in moss, to the Waikolu lookout. Listen to the sound of birds. Let yourself get lost in the natural beauty.

75) Enjoy live music at Hotel Molokai

The oceanfront Hotel Molokai restaurant, Hiro’s Ohana Grill, puts on special evenings with live music. Enjoy the moonlit view while listening to Hawaiian musicians perform traditional Hawaiian songs under the stars.

Okay, that’s a wrap on the best things to do in Hawaii!

Sunset over Honolulu
Sunset in Honololu

We’ve covered the best of Hawaii here – at least, we think we have!

Did we miss any of your favorite activities or things to see in Hawaii? If so, let us know in the Comments below.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

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Best things to do in Hawaii
What to Do in Hawaii: Hawaii Bucket List

Photo credits: 17 to 19, 32, 62 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!