Now that Southwest has begun Hawaii flights, it’s made this little pice of paradise much more accessible to those of us who love to fly Southwest Airlines.
So, if Hawaii is on your dream list, we’re about to give you even more reasons to start planning a trip.
Here are 19 amazing things to do in Hawaii from the Go to Travel Gal team.
19 Incredible Not-to-Miss Things to Do in Hawaii
We’ve included some of our top picks and divided them by islands for you. Now, picture yourself in a lei with the tropical breeze blowing by and add these things to do in Hawaii to your list!
1. Explore Volcanoes National Park
On the southeast side of the big island of Hawaii sits Volcanoes National Park. You won’t believe you’re actually standing on a volcano!
Check in at the Kilauea Visitor Center for a park map, Ranger-led activities and safety precautions (roads are sometimes closed for earthquake damage or caldera collapses) before adventuring further.
Buckle up and choose one of two driving tours. Crater Rim passes steam vents, has overlooks and a hike to a crater or choose the Chain of Craters Road, which passes craters, lava flow and petroglyphs. Either is sure to be full of things you’ve never seen before on the mainland!
For the more adventurous, lace up your hiking boots and get on one of the trails (there are 150 miles of them). These include Kilauea Iki trail, which takes you straight into a crater and across lava flows still steaming from a 1959 eruption. Let’s hope she doesn’t decide to blow again any time soon!
2. Go Snorkeling
Have you ever tried snorkeling? It’s amazing what you can see and hear when you put on a snorkel mask and put your head just inches below the surface of the water! All kinds of colorful and exotic fish, sea turtles, sharks, coral, schools of fish and even the sounds of whales await you.
If you’ve never tried it before, Kahalu’u Beach Park is a great spot for beginners, because it’s shallow, as well as sheltered, and has a high concentration of fish. There are even lots of tide pools when the tide is out. If you’ve never explored a tide pool, it’s a great way to see a lot of marine life WITHOUT going in the water! This bay is also famous for its sea turtles.
For the more skilled, how about snorkeling at night with manta rays? Take a sunset snorkel cruise and then jump into the water with a custom SUP board rigged with an ultraviolet light, which attracts plankton and then be awed by these magnificent creatures soaring beneath you to feed.
It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
3. Tour a Coffee Farm
What better place to tour and, of course, taste coffee, than from the farms where it’s grown? The Big Island is chock full of coffee farms, because of the volcanic soil, which helps produce beans low in acidity. When I say chock full, how about MORE THAN 600 near Kona alone?
World famous for its highly-rated coffee, you’ll be able to get your coffee fix, as well as take some home, so you can smell, taste and enjoy your Big Island vacation for months afterward. Vacations are always too short, so you might as well help it linger :)!
4. Find a Lava Tube
While tromping around the Big Island, or any island for that matter, you might come across a lava tube.
What’s a lava tube? A lava tube is a natural conduit formed by flowing lava, which moves beneath the hardened surface of a lava flow. In other words, it’s a cave of sorts made from lava.
These caves can be short or long, small in stature or huge; take your pick. Each is entirely unique based on the lava flow from an erupted volcano. The exit of the one you find might be constantly flowing with ocean surge, in which case, you’d better exit from the entrance!
You’ll find a lava tube in Volcanoes National Park that you can hike through with your paid admission, while you can explore other ones for free. Some are only part of a paid tour like Kazamura Cave (referred to as the “master lava tube,” because of all its geological lava features and its length: 40 miles long!).
5. Take a Bi-Plane Ride
Does the idea of a bi-plane ride conjure up images of Snoopy and Woodstock from the old cartoons? It should!
Soon you’ll be donning your own pair of goggles as you and your seat mate climb in to soar in the open air over the beauty of Kauai. Your pilot might even suggest doing a loop-the-loop if you’re up for it, which you won’t soon forget!
From your heavenly vantage point, you can see breathtaking scenery in the form of hidden waterfalls, mountains and blue ocean waters bestowed upon this land.
6. Visit Waimea Canyon State Park
An hour’s drive from Lihue Airport off State Highway 550, Waimea Canyon looks strikingly like the Grand Canyon. While not as “grand” as its Southwestern counterpart, this gorge shares the same orange/red hues and dramatic vistas as the Grand Canyon, only complemented by much more greenery.
Waimea Canyon offers free admission and is open daily during daylight hours. The 10-mile long, 3600-feet-deep Canyon offers many hiking and picnicking opportunities. Or drive over to two lookouts, the Puu ka Pele and Puu Hinahina, park your car and just take in the majestic sights.
7. Float Past the Napali Coast
The absolutely breathtaking Napali coast, on the northeast side of the island, is best seen in all its glory by boat. When Cami and her family saw it at sunset from their cruise boat, they were in awe of its beauty.
The much more adventurous will want to experience it by foot through the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park. To hike more than 2 miles from the trailhead, you’ll have to get a valid camping permit, which sell out months in advance. The entire hike in and out is 22 miles, so be prepared!
8. Drive the Road to Hana
Take a full day and drive the Road to Hana. Start early, because it’s a long drive, as well as a long day. Lyn says she remembers doing this drive as a little girl and falling asleep, because it was so long! Be sure to check out a driving app tour, which will talk you through the drive and tell you exactly where to stop and what you can skip.
Or opt to leave the driving to someone else on this road, which has more than 600 curves and 59 bridges, some one way. That’s what Cami and her husband did, and it made the drive so much more enjoyable.
They even got to go to the backside where most tourists don’t venture. There you’ll find a fun roller-coaster-like hill, lots of bumps, gorgeous ocean views, mountains and rainbows.
Bring a change of clothes, water shoes and a towel if you plan on swimming in a waterfall or in the ocean at the black or red sand beach. You can grab snacks to bring, but there are numerous places along the way where you can buy famous fresh baked banana bread, exotic fruits, roasted coffee and delicious plates of food to eat at the water’s edge. Yum!!
9. Tour Banyan Tree Park
When in Maui, you’re likely to end up in Lahaina. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii with a storied whaling tradition, Lahaina remains a cultural hub in west Maui. Near the center of town is a fascinating botanical site: the banyan tree.
Planted in 1873 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Protestant mission in Lahaina, this single tree looks like a copse of trees until you look closer. The banyan’s huge branches send down aerial roots, which anchor themselves into the soil. These roots look like trunks, and the tree is gigantic. According to Lahainatown.com, it is the largest banyan tree in the U.S.
What started as an 8-foot sapling has grown to reach a height of more than 60 feet with 16 major trunks apart from its main trunk. Its shady, nearly 1/2-acre interior is a perfect spot to relax and escape the heat.
10. See the Nakalele Blowhole
Nakalele Point is located on the northernmost part of Maui, about three hours from Hana off HI-340. The ride is beautiful and winding, and the Point is a good place to stop and stretch your legs.
Can you see Molokai in the distance? But its most famous attraction is the blowhole. The blowhole erupts sometimes as high as 100 feet, depending on winds and tides.
This geyser-like display is impressive from the highway, and while you can trek down to see it up close, be careful. The rocks are jagged and slippery, with many reported accidents as a result.
11. Jump Off a Cliff
Not for the faint-of-heart, cliff-jumping and cliff-diving are definitely a “thing to do” in Maui.
While walking along a coastal trail one very windy day, Cami spotted several people standing on the cliff’s edge with the water cascading down near them from the tidal surge. This jumping-off point even had a ladder to help them get back out of the water. Waiting with baited breath to see if they would take the plunge or not, she was relieved to see them back away!
A few days later, in a much calmer part of the island, Cami saw numerous men, women and even little children were happily jumping off of Black Rock into Kaanapali Bay while she snorkeled below. With no tidal surge and many onlookers cheering them on, she only worried whether or not they would jump on her head! 🙂
12. Spot Rainbows
Seeing rainbows on your trip to Maui is a given. With a large amount of rain, you’ll soon lose track of how many rainbows you’ve seen on your vacation.
Cami didn’t even try to keep track, seeing at least three in just one day alone. Rainbows, double rainbows and rainbows in the giant splashes of waves were common every single day while in Maui :).
13. Attend a Luau
When you think of a Polynesian vacation, what comes to mind? Beaches? Of course. Tropical drinks? Yep. Luaus? Of course! You simply can’t visit Hawaii without attending one (we won’t let you!). In fact, you’ll see advertisements all over to try to get you to come to a particular one.
Luaus were started by ancient Hawaiians to celebrate important events. Today, luaus are often held by hotels, resorts and private companies — like Paradise Cove — to give tourists a sense of these celebrations.
Paradise Cove offers a number of different luau packages from which to choose, and you get there by boarding one of their buses or driving about 45 minutes from Waikiki.
At Paradise Cove, attendees can sip Mai Tais, stroll through a Hawaiian village, and participate in island games. A highlight of the evening is the luau buffet, with the main course the pork prepared in the imu, or underground oven.
14. Relax on Waikiki Beach
Visited by millions of tourists each year, Waikiki Beach is a happening spot in Honolulu on Oahu. With Diamond Head looming in the distance, Waikiki’s calm waters are the perfect place to swim, learn to surf or even paddleboard.
Most of Oahu’s hotels are located either on Waikiki Beach or just a few blocks away, and you’ll also find plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment within steps.
5. Hike to Manoa Falls
Getting tired of the hustle and bustle of busy Waikiki? Manoa Falls is the cure, and it reminds you of what Oahu looked like before development.
Only 5 miles from Waikiki, this nearly 2-mile trail leads to Manoa Falls, a 150-foot waterfall. Verdant, misty, and, yes, humid, depending on the time of year, the trail has been used in both movies and television to depict jungle settings.
The hike is roughly one hour, but what’s the rush? You’re on vacation!
Here’s another tip: Have breakfast first at Honolulu’s venerable Eggs ‘n Things, located at 339 Saratoga Road. Indulge in their pancakes, waffles and omelettes, and then work off these calories on your beautiful hike.
16. See Diamond Head National Monument
Diamond Head crater, one of the world’s most distinctive natural landmarks, was formed 300,000 years ago after a single catastrophic explosion. In 1915, bunkers and gun emplacements were built into Diamond Head as part of the island’s defense system.
To hike to the top (elevation 761 feet), go to the Visitor’s Center first. It has the only bathrooms and refreshments on the trail. Your hike will lead you to a lookout point (perfect for pictures/selfies), a tunnel, a stairway with 99 steps (whew!) and then through a spiral staircase and into the bunkers.
This is a medium/difficult hike that is 1.6 miles roundtrip and will take about two hours, so take plenty of water and bring comfortable shoes.
The trail is open 365 days a year from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; entrance fees are $1 per person or $5 per car. There is limited parking, so consider taking your hike during the non-prime time hours between 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. You can also take a taxi or the No. 2 or 23 buses from Waikiki.
17. Tour Iolani Palace
The only royal palace on U.S. soil, Iolani Palace, built in 1879 in a style called American Florentine, has a storied history.
Once the royal residence for the rulers of Hawaii until the monarchy was overthrown in 1893, the building later served as the state capitol until 1969.
Thereafter, it was restored and turned into a museum. It is now a National Historic Landmark and gives visitors a glimpse into the opulent setting once enjoyed by Hawaiian royalty.
18. Visit Dole Plantation
Probably the best known export from Hawaii is pineapples, and Dole is probably the most famous brand.
At the Dole Plantation, you can see a demonstration of how to properly cut a pineapple (it’s so much easier when you know how!), how to cut the acidity and how to season it with Li Hing (plum) powder.
The maze is sure to please young and old alike, and the Pineapple Express Train tour teaches you the history of the pineapple and shows you where it’s grown.
After you’re done with all of your explorations, DO NOT MISS their world-famous DoleWhip (anyone had it at Disney World? It’s a hit there, too!) or splurge and get their Pineapple Split. It’s to die for!!
19. Remember Pearl Harbor
Visit this solemn place to pay your respects to the 2,335 military personnel who lost their lives here on December 7, 1941. Described by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy,” it plunged the U.S. into World War II.
You can learn an abundance of history at this monument, while exploring the visitor’s center and the five museums and memorials.
Make your reservations well ahead, whether for tickets (free, but only 4,500 per day) or an authorized tour, as Pearl Harbor is Hawaii’s most visited tourist site with 2 million visitors per year.
What attractions and sites are tops on your list of things to do in Hawaii? What did we miss? Share in the comments!
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