Ah, Hawaii—the 50th state. As you land in Hawaii after taking the long flight from the mainland, you soon realize you’ve arrived in paradise.
Everything about Hawaii is both remarkable and beautiful, from the people and culture to the scenery and food. But Hawaii is more than just breathtaking beaches; you’ll find abundant wonders to explore no matter the island.
That’s why we’re providing our list of 11 interesting and beautiful places to visit in the Aloha State, so you can have a spectacular Hawaii vacation you won’t soon forget. I leʻaleʻa kāu!
1. Waimea Canyon – Kauai
Maybe you’ve seen the Grand Canyon in Arizona… or at the very least heard of it. What many people don’t know is you can find similarly spectacular vistas in Kauai at Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Located in Waimea Canyon State Park, this magnificent canyon meanders for 14 miles at over 3,600 feet deep and 1 mile wide. With vast expanses, distant waterfalls, colorful rock faces, and dramatic cliffs, it’s easy to get inspired looking upon the mighty canyon.
The best place to take in Waimea Canyon’s grandeur is the popular Waimea Canyon Overlook, though you can experience the canyon on several hiking trails as well.
2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial – Oahu
Pearl Harbor is the kind of place everyone needs to visit once in their lifetime. It’s both a sobering and heroic moment in history that deserves to be remembered.
When visiting the Pearl Harbor National Memorial near Honolulu, a great place to start is the visitor center’s exhibit galleries, where you can immerse yourself in the history of that fateful day when the US entered World War II.
If time permits, make sure to take the boat to visit the USS Arizona memorial. Here you can pay your respects to those lost inside and see the ship resting where it sank on December 7, 1941— shockingly still leaking oil into the water to this day.
3. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – Big Island
There isn’t a more unique place in the United States than Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Located on the Big Island, this famous park and UNESCO World Heritage Site contains two of the world’s most active volcanoes regularly reshaping the landscape.
When you visit, you’ll want to keep track of eruption viewings in the park so you can see glowing lava up close (and get some spectacular photos!). You can also explore lava tubes, craters, lava fields, rainforests, deserts, and more.
Hikers will enjoy numerous trails to explore, including the Crater Rim Trail along the legendary summit caldera of Kilauea volcano. If you’d prefer to see the park by car, check out the scenic Chain of Craters Road.
4. Waikiki Beach – Oahu
Wonderful beaches are everywhere in Hawaii, but there’s none more iconic than Waikiki. Located in Honolulu, Waikiki Beach puts you in the heart of the city’s offerings, with popular resort hotels, shopping, and dining nearby along Kalakaua Avenue.
Perhaps most famous about Waikiki is its surfing culture. If you’ve never surfed before, Waikiki provides an excellent place to try it for the first time, with multiple surfing lesson options right on the beach.
After you’ve caught the perfect wave (or tried, at least), make a visit to the nearby Duke Kahanamoku statue depicting the “father of modern surfing.”
5. Tahiti Nui – Kauai
Kauai is spectacularly beautiful, laid-back, and less developed than some of its more popular island neighbors. As a result, it gets quiet on the Garden Island when the sun goes down, except at Tahiti Nui in Hanalei.
A friendly, relaxed gathering space where locals and tourists have dined together since 1963, Tahiti Nui is the quintessential Hawaiian restaurant experience.
Offering live music performed nightly, Tahiti Nui becomes the place to be on Kauai in the evenings. And with tasty, authentic dishes and classic tropical drinks, you’re bound to have the most memorable meal of your Hawaii trip here.
6. Kualoa Ranch – Oahu
You’ve seen its sweeping mountainous backdrop featured prominently in movies like Jurassic Park, Fifty First Dates, and Jumanji or the TV show LOST, so why not visit this popular filming location firsthand?
Known as the “Backlot of Hawaii,” Kualoa Ranch is a sprawling 4,000 acres of untouched tropical splendor. Located on the quieter side of Oahu, a visit to Kualoa Ranch is a fun way to see Hawaii’s natural beauty up close.
Kualoa Ranch offers several tours, but I recommend those that take you to its filming locations, giving you a unique perspective on some classic movies and TV shows. ATV, e-bike, sailing, and horseback riding tours are also available.
7. Haleakala National Park – Maui
Haleakala National Park encompasses the dormant volcano, Haleakala, which dominates Maui’s landscape. This otherworldly place allows you to experience dramatic volcanic terrain, rainforests, and endangered species you won’t find anywhere else.
Watching the sunrise from the Haleakala summit is by far the favorite activity of those visiting the park. In fact, it’s so popular you’ll need to get a permit in advance from the park in order to participate (hint: it’s well worth it!).
Enjoying the park at night is also recommended, as Haleakala is well-known for its stargazing. In between sunrise and sunset, you’ll find plenty to explore during the day, including several hiking trails through fascinating lands.
8. Diamond Head State Monument – Oahu
Diamond Head State Monument, located near Honolulu, provides a highly-recognizable backdrop for visitors and locals who easily see it from beaches nearby. And, with its close proximity to the city, a visit to the monument in person makes for an excellent day hike.
Formed from an eruption around 300,000 years ago, Diamond Head allows you to easily discover what it’s like to stand atop a dormant volcano’s crater rim.
The hike to the top is definitely uphill, but the views you’ll get are downright epic. Once you’re there, you can see a magnificent bird’s-eye view of Honolulu, the Pacific Ocean, and the gigantic crater below.
9. Napali Coast – Kauai
When you see photos of dramatic coastlines in Hawaii, it’s likely you’re viewing the legendary Napali Coast in Kauai. Where jagged, lush cliffs meet pristine beaches and the ocean below, this iconic coast stretches for 17 miles through protected wilderness.
To see the Napali Coast in all its splendor, consider hiking the famous 11-mile Kalalau Trail, giving you the only land access to the coast. For a shorter day hike, you can trek to the tranquil Hanakapiai Falls and swim in the cool water pooling at the bottom.
If you’d like a more relaxing alternative to see Napali, I recommend going by boat on a sunset cruise.
10. Waianapanapa State Park – Maui
The Road to Hana is a spectacular scenic drive along Maui’s coast, and one of its best stops is the one and only Waianapanapa State Park. Here the rugged lava-formed coastline gives way to an outstanding black sand beach you won’t want to miss.
While its sweeping views are a photographer’s dream, the park has plenty of other features to explore, such as sea arches, blowholes, islets, and caves.
Be sure to walk down to the black sand beach and take in the surreal surroundings. Whether you stay on the sand or take a swim, the sparkling blue water contrasted against the black sand leaves an indelible memory not easily replicated.
11. Polynesian Cultural Center – Oahu
If you’re seeking authentic island culture and history, you’ll want to add the Polynesian Cultural Center in Oahu onto your Hawaii itinerary.
Highlighting 6 Polynesian cultures (including Hawaii) in its island villages, the PCC provides interactive and educational experiences for the whole family. Think tree climbing, hula dancing, playing ancient Hawaiian games, twirling fire knives, coconut cracking, and more.
Yet perhaps the most popular reason to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center is its famous luau. With a grand dinner buffet of Polynesian foods and an extravaganza of live entertainment, it’s a true Hawaiian celebration you don’t want to miss.
Did we miss any of your favorite places in Hawaii?
Let us know in the comments if there are any more places in Hawaii that you would add to our list!