Whether you're a local or visitor to the Hawaiian islands, people constantly search for new activities, sightseeing locations, eateries, and experiences. Luckily, there are endless opportunities for exciting experiences across the Hawaiian islands, from natural crater parks to beaches, hikes, and popular food spots. Some of these locations have become popular spots for tourists and locals alike, and have thus become a staple in the Hawaiian experience for many people.
If you're interested in learning more about these popular places around Hawai'i, check out our list below!
Arguably the most recognizable and well-known feature on O'ahu (as well as one of the most well-known volcanic craters in the world), Diamond Head is an unmistakable natural landmark on O'ahu's South shore. This famous crater is home to one of the most well-known hikes on O'ahu, the Diamond Head Crater Hike, which features a 0.8-mile dirt trail up to the peak of the crater. This trail's construction started in 1908 and was completed in 1911, with the intention of being used as part of O'ahu's coastal defense system.1 At the top, hikers will receive gorgeous and unparalleled 360-degree views of the surrounding island landscape, including the Waikiki cityscape, the Pacific Ocean, the towns to the East, and the Ko'olau Mountains in the North.
This hike takes approximately 2 hours and receives lots of direct, hot sun, so make sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen!
Located in the Western portion of Kaua'i is Waimea Canyon, a 10-mile-long and 3,500-foot-deep canyon and the largest canyon in the entire Pacific region.2 With formation beginning as far as 10 million years ago,3 this canyon is decorated with wild green and lush foliage, waterfalls, rainbows, and orange cliffs. Waimea Canyon State Park features different canyon lookouts, including the main Waimea Canyon Lookout, the Pu'u Hinahina Lookout, and the Kalalau Lookout. These lookouts provide varying degrees of visibility of the canyon, with the Waimea Canyon Lookout providing panoramic views of the edge of the canyon without needing to hike a trail.3
For those interested in hiking a trail, there are 4 trails available to the public: Cliff Trail, Canyon Trail, Black Pipe Trail, and Kukui Trail. Cliff Trail is the easiest of the group with a length of 1/10 of a mile and spanning just 30 minutes. The Canyon and Black Pipe Trails are more moderate-level trails, with the former lasting up to 3 hours and featuring a waterfall stop, while the latter is 8 miles long and takes half of a day to complete. The final trail, Kukui Trail, is intended only for experienced hikers who are able to trudge through more rough terrain.
Tours of the canyon are also available.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Located on Hawai'i, or the Big Island, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is home to Mauna Loa Volcano and Kilauea Volcano, as well as 3 other volcanoes outside of the park's territories (Mauna Kea, Hualalai, and Kohala). Mauna Loa is the largest active volcano on Earth and makes up over 50% of the Big Island's land mass, as well as averages an eruption around once every 5 years. Kilauea Volcano, on the other hand, is the youngest and most active of the Hawaiian volcanoes,4 having erupted dozens of times since 1952 and with its most recent ongoing eruption beginning in late September 2021.5
To safely view these volcanoes, the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park has specific hiking trails and driving spots to view flowing lava into the Pacific Ocean. These are popular spots to get up-close views of active volcanoes and lands covered in volcanic rock, which is an incredibly rare experience for many people.
This park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, the Kilauea Visitor Center is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily. Recently, though, the Mauna Loa summit has been closed due to increased seismic activity. Though there are no current signs of danger to the area, the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) continues to monitor the summit.6 You can check eruption updates here.
Lava from Kilauea flowing into the Pacific Ocean
North Shore of O'ahu
Considered by many as their favorite part of O'ahu, the North Shore is a large surf and water-sport-heavy part of O'ahu that encourages people to take a break from the busyness of Honolulu. This part of O'ahu features lots of great beaches, food trucks, and local shops.
Not to mention, there are a variety of activities on the North Shore, such as snorkeling with turtles, ziplining, diving with sharks, and more. Some popular eateries in this area include Big Wave Shrimp, Beet Box Cafe, and Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, and beaches include Haleiwa Beach Park, Waimea Bay (a popular surfing location), and Pupukea Beach Park (known well for snorkeling).
Helicopter Tour Over Kaua'i
A popular activity for Kaua'i visitors is the helicopter tours, such as the Doors Off Air Kaua'i Helicopter Tours, which takes passengers on an unforgettable doorless helicopter ride over Mt. Waialeale, the Na Pali Coast, Manawaiopuna Falls, Waimea Canyon State Park, and more! These helicopter tours provide breathtaking views of the entire island and the coastline, and these tours even show passengers where films like Jurrasic Park were filmed. There are different helicopters available to visitors, so be sure to look into which experience you would like (for example, doorless vs. with-doors helicopter rides).
Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial
Located in Western Honolulu, The Pearl Harbor USS Arizona Memorial offers boat tours to see the sunken old WWII ship in person, in addition to providing a short lesson about the history of the war. The USS Arizona Memorial offers different tour packages, including a deluxe tour, a narrated tour, and a package that includes admission for 2 and official souvenirs.
A popular option is the site's full-day pass to all Pearl Harbor historic sites, which will provide buyers a tour of the Visitor Center, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Battleship Missouri, the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, and the Pearl Harbor Virtual Reality Center. You can check out the various packages, inclusions, and pricing here.
USS Arizona Memorial
Waikiki & Waikiki Beach
Perhaps the most popular tourist destination in all of Hawai'i is the Waikiki area and Waikiki Beach on O'ahu's South shore. This shopping- and restaurant-heavy area is nearly always packed, as Kalakaua Avenue is one of the most popular shopping strips on the island. Not to mention, there are a plethora of restaurants and cafés lining the Waikiki streets, as well as hotels for visitors to stay.
Waikiki also has a rich nightlife, with torches around the streets to illuminate the sidewalks as people walk to popular bars and restaurants in the area.
Located Northwest of the center of O'ahu, Dole Plantation is an incredibly popular family-friendly place to tour O'ahu's famous pineapple fields, grab the famous pineapple soft serve ice cream, and experience the Pineapple Garden Maze. The plantation was originally a fruit stand founded in 1950 but has since grown drastically and opened to the public for tours and retail in 1989.7
Dole Plantation welcomes over 1 million visitors each year and offers various tour packages of the land, though group tours have been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19. You can find the package information and pricing here.
This popular experience allows you to drive a UTV through the Ka'a'awa Valley in Northwestern O'ahu, taking you through lush vegetation to see various filming sites for Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic Park. The tour takes people on a trail through the 1,000-acre Ka'a'awa Valley and lasts around 2 hours. The UTVs can fit between 4-6 people, including children given this is a family-friendly and safe experience.
You can find more information about the Kualoa Ranch UTV Raptor Tour here.
Haleakala National Park
Located in Kula on the island of Maui, the Haleakala National Park is a sacred and rich cultural site set on volcanic land. This unique martian-like area is home to the famous dormant Haleakala Volcano, Haleakala meaning "house of the sun" in Hawaiian, which rises more than 10,000 feet (or over 3,000 meters) above sea level.8 One of the most popular ways to experience this park is by waking up before sunrise and driving up to the top of the park at the Haleakala Visitors Center, where you will be able to watch the sunrise above the clouds. However, you can also view the sunset from the Visitor's Center if you prefer to make the trip later in the day. You can make reservations to travel up to the Haleakala National Park Summit here.
There are various hiking trails and cultural sites spread around the park, which makes this a great opportunity to learn more about Native Hawaiian culture and indigenous practices in this region of Maui.
1 The State of Hawai'i Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of State Parks, "Diamond Head Summit Trail." 2022.
2 Kauai.com, "Waimea Canyon State Park." 2022.
3 Hawai'i State Parks, "Waimea Canyon State Park." 2022.
4 Geology and Ecology of National Parks, "Geology of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park." United States Geological Survey.
5 United States Geological Survey, "Kilauea."
6 Sharma, Shweta. "Hawaii national park loses world's largest active volcano due to increased seismic activity." The Independent, 2022.
7 Dole Plantation, 2022.
8 United States Geological Survey, "Haleakala."