Planning a vacation to Aloha State can feel daunting, given the numerous activities and sights available. From the beautiful Na Pali Coast and beaches to active volcanoes, there's no shortage of things to do in Hawaii.
To help with your trip planning, we've compiled a comprehensive guide to the most extraordinary places to visit and experiences to have while island-hopping in Hawaii.
Best things to do in Kauai
1: Emerald green Na Pali Coast
If you're planning a trip to Kauai, be sure to visit the magnificent Na Pali coast for a truly unforgettable experience. The Kalalau Trail is a must-see, starting at Tunnels Beach and stretching for around 11 miles. The views from the rugged mountains are breathtaking, with the sparkling Pacific Ocean below. You'll feel like you're in a scene from Jurassic Park!
To reach the trail, drive north from Hanalei Town until you reach the end of the road. The trail begins at Ke'e Beach and winds along the Na Pali coast.
If you don't have time for a trek, consider a helicopter ride over the coast for a spectacular and unforgettable experience. While it may be pricey, starting at around $120 per ride, it's well worth it.
2: Beaches on the north shore
Hanalei town and beach
Hanalei is a charming town located on the north shore. It has been featured in popular films like "South Pacific" and "The Descendants" starring George Clooney, and it's no wonder why visitors fall in love with this picturesque location.
If you're exploring Hanalei, make sure to visit the Wai'oli Hui'ia Church, which is situated in the heart of the town. The church is a stunning sight that cannot be missed, and the surrounding scenery is simply magical. Take your time to enjoy it all.
When exploring the north shore of Kauai, you can easily find several amazing tropical beaches nearby. If you plan to visit Hanalei town, pack your swimwear. This place offers one of the best beaches in Kauai.
The crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay, surrounded by the beautiful green Na Pali hills, is an ideal spot for a refreshing swim.
For a more private beach experience, consider visiting Haena Beach. It's just a short distance from Tunnels Beach - ideal for couples seeking a secluded honeymoon spot in Hawaii.
The view at Tunnels Beach is truly breathtaking, and it's difficult not to fall in love with it. This beach is known for its exceptional beauty and is considered one of the most stunning beaches in Kauai.
For this very reason, it can get quite busy, especially during peak season. If you're lucky enough to visit during winter, you may even have the beach all to yourself.
Tunnels Beach is also a popular wedding spot, thanks to its location near the magnificent Mount Makana. Don't be surprised if you come across a celebration while you're there.
3: Waimea Canyon State Park
To fully appreciate the stunning Waimea Canyon State Park, we suggest staying in Waimea town, where Captain Cook first landed in 1778. Despite its small size, the town is charming and even boasts a nearby beach.
The name "Waimea" derives from the reddish-brown water of the river that takes on salt from the canyon, colouring the ocean red. As you explore the area, you'll witness this natural wonder.
If you're hopping islands in Hawaii, visiting the Grand Canyon of the Pacific is a must. However, keep in mind that the Waimea Canyon lookout points are some of the wettest places on earth during the winter months in Kauai, so pack patience as the mist is a constant occurrence. The heavy fog in the canyon will eventually clear for those who wait.
We recommend exploring at least one hiking trail to appreciate the Waimea Canyon fully.
Start with the relatively easy Cliff Trail (0.1 miles) and continue on the semi-steep, 1.8-mile Canyon Trail, which offers incredible views. The hike can be exhilarating, but pick up a stick if you find one to help you navigate the slippery sections.
If hiking down into the canyon isn't feasible for your Hawaiian vacation, you can take the Canyon Drive, which passes by the main lookout points. As for food, there's a cafe/restaurant called Kokee Lodge, located approximately 5,000 feet high. They serve hearty meals and have a large fireplace for you to cozy up next to before or after your explorations.
4: Hanapepe Art Night
If you're looking for fun things to do at night in Kauai, we highly recommend attending the Friday Night Festival in Hanapepe. This Art Night Walk event brings together locals and visitors for an enjoyable night out.
Hanapepe hosts this festival every Friday, and it's the event to attend if you're nearby. Picture walking down dimly lit streets illuminated by hundreds of fairy lights, enjoying delicious street food, listening to live music, and soaking up the welcoming atmosphere filled with Aloha spirit.
It's a small place but packed with fascinating experiences. Check out the Hanapepe Friday Night Festival!
5: Spouting Horn Blowhole
Lonely Planet considers Spouting Horn Beach Park among Kauai's most popular places to take pictures. Witnessing the water gushing out of the hole in the shoreline is an enjoyable and effortless experience in Hawaii. So be sure to include it in your itinerary of must-visit attractions on the island.
Between December and May, when the whale-watching season is at its peak, Spouting Horn Beach Park is an excellent spot to observe majestic humpback whales. Enjoy your time there!
Wailua is perfect if you love lush landscapes and rolling hills, as there are plenty of exciting things to do and see. Kayaking through the rain forests is a must-try outdoor activity in Kauai.
The Smith Family Garden Luau and the Fern Grotto could be the perfect day out if you're travelling with kids. The Kamokila Hawaiian Village is another fantastic attraction.
Or, head to Fuji Beach on the east side of Kapaa for a lovely beach day. This beach is excellent for swimming, picnicking, or relaxing after a long day of activities in Kauai.
7: Two-Tiered Opeakaa and Wailua Falls
If you plan to see Opeakaa Falls and Wailua Falls, you're in for a treat! These waterfalls are gorgeous and can be easily seen from the main road.
During our visit, the trails leading to the falls were temporarily closed. But we could still take in the stunning views from the road. Enjoy!
8: Kapaa Town
Our eighth recommended destination is Kapaa Town, the only walkable town on the east side.
The town's primary eateries and cafes are situated along Kuhio Highway, which gives it a distinctive ambience that feels like a temporary movie set. Despite this slightly mysterious feel, we highly recommend including Kapaa Town in your Hawaii itinerary for its fantastic food options.
Where to Stay in Kauai
There are many great places to stay on Kauai, but for the best experience, we recommend looking into Airbnb. If you prefer to avoid interacting with locals, numerous hotel options are also available on the island.
Best things to do on the Big Island
9: Mauna Kea Volcano
A visit to Mauna Kea Volcano's summit is an incredible experience to have on The Big Island. This ancient volcano is over one million years old and towers over 13,000 feet. With proper planning, you can reach the top and take in the breathtaking views.
If you prefer to plan your trip independently, check out our post on visiting Mauna Kea for more information. Alternatively, you can opt for an organised tour that offers a stunning sunrise view from the tallest volcano on Earth.
10: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Visiting the world's most active volcano is, hands down, one of the most extraordinary things to do in Hawaii. And the Big Island offers a unique opportunity to witness an active volcano up close.
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is open 24/7 throughout the year, so plan to spend an entire day exploring it. We recommend arriving as early as possible and wearing comfortable shoes. It will be a long but incredible day!
Begin your adventure by immersing yourself in the Kingdom of Pele, the Hawaiian mythological volcano goddess. Explore the steaming sulphur banks on the crater's rim and hike down into the Kilauea Iki Crater floor. Afterwards, drive to the seafront to see the Sea Arch, a naturally carved formation by the ocean that's also worth visiting.
As the sun sets, head back to witness the world's youngest and most active volcano. The highlight of your day will be observing the mesmerising and glowing lava bubbling in the dark - an unforgettable experience.
11: Lava Rock Parks
Consider exploring the fascinating lava rock sites when visiting Hawaii's Big Island. The three main parks are on the east coast and provide a pleasant and relaxed day out.
Isaac's Beach Park, located approximately 7 miles from Pahoa, is great for camping, surfing, and snorkelling along Pohoiki Bay.
MacKenzie State Recreational Park offers a great view of rough waves breaking into lava cliffs, but take care when exploring the hazardous volcanic cliffs.
Fishing is allowed in designated areas, but camping, pets, bikes, and alcohol are prohibited.
If you only have time to visit one site, make it Kaimu Beach. The black sand amplifies the deep-blue ocean's colour, making it stunning.
Take the Eco Path through the ancient village of Kalapana, which was unfortunately buried under hot lava in 1990. You can view photographs at the start of the "Eco Hike" showing the area before the Kilauea volcano erupted.
12: Akaka Falls
For a relaxing stroll in the jungle, check out Akaka Falls State Park. The circular route is effortless, and the stunning Akaka Falls, which drops down through the green ferns, is a hidden gem on the island.
The park is situated at the end of Akaka Falls Road (Hwy. 220), about 11 miles north of Hilo and 3.6 miles southwest of Homomu town. The park is easily accessible, and visitors can enter for $1 if walking or $5 if driving.
13: Tropical Botanical Garden
If you love plants, you must check out the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden when you're on Hawaii Island. The locals call it "Garden in a Valley on the Ocean," and it's a heaven on earth for anyone who loves gardening.
You can stroll through the garden and admire the beautiful waterfalls and towering palm trees that seem to reach the sky. Setting aside a few hours to really take in all the sights and sounds is a great idea.
Dan J. Lutkenhouse bought the garden in 1977 and transformed it into the beautiful botanical garden it is today. It opened to the public in 1984 and donated to a non-profit trust in 1995. You can discover more about this impressive project by reading the information boards located throughout the garden or by visiting their official website.
Get ready for relaxation and fun at the best beach on The Big Island! Pack your swimwear, sunglasses, sunscreen, boogie board, and hat before heading out. You've earned a break after all the activities on the island, and the two-mile-long Hapuna white-sand beach is the perfect place to unwind.
This beach is perfect for swimming, boogie or paddle boarding, bodysurfing, or simply splashing around. It's also a safe practice spot if you're new to surfing. If you're looking for a romantic place, Hapuna Beach is perfect for picnicking too.
Just like most places in Hawaii, Hapuna Beach is hassle-free. There's a large car park near the beach and food vans and restrooms. These are just a few of our top recommendations for The Big Island, but there's plenty more to explore here year-round.
Where to Stay on The Big Island
As mentioned, staying with locals in Hawaii can be a fantastic experience. We had a great time, which is why we did extensive research for our stay on The Big Island using Airbnb.
However, if you prefer hotels, plenty of excellent options are available for your perfect island-hopping holiday. Check out the beautiful Volcano Village Lodge - a beautiful honeymoon accommodation option.
Located just a short drive from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, this lodge is a hidden oasis of relaxation and romance nestled in the misty forests. It's a genuine Hawaiian paradise! You can read the full review of this stunning Hawaiian Villa for more information.
Best things to do in Maui
15: Spectacular Haleakalā Sunrise
"If you haven't been to Haleakala, you haven't truly experienced the essence of Maui," say the locals. The East Maui Volcano is the world's largest dormant volcano and a stunning, mystical place. It's home to powerful telescopes that enable scientists to observe the sun, earning it the nickname "the house of the sun."
Maui's exceptional viewing conditions make it the fourth-best place on the planet for stargazing, which is why the white-domed observatories are located here. You absolutely must visit!
Additionally, the volcanic landscape of Haleakala is so similar to the moon's surface that astronauts once practised mock lunar walks here.
Plan to arrive at least an hour before sunrise to secure a parking spot or earlier. Wear plenty of layers and bring a warm blanket - the summit can get freezing and windy.
TOP TIP: Baware that the national park authorities have implemented a fee of $1.50 per car due to the large number of visitors who wish to witness the sunrise at Haleakala. As of February 1st, 2017, reservations are required, and you can only reserve a spot via their website. Visit the official Haleakala National Park Summit Sunrise Reservations page for more information.
16: The jaw-dropping Road to Hana
Explore the stunning Hana Highway on Maui Island for an unforgettable experience. This lush road, also known as the Road to Hana, offers plenty of exciting activities, such as swimming in waterfalls and relaxing on black sand beaches.
However, drive carefully. You will encounter fifty-four one-lane bridges, and hairpin bends with limited visibility.
Allow yourself a full day for this journey. Start early, have a hearty breakfast, pack essentials such as water, snacks, swimwear, towels, and cash, and fill up your tank - the next petrol station is in Hana!
There are designated picnic areas and clean toilets along the way, so there is no need to worry about those.
17: Paia - the windsurfing capital of the world
In North Shore Maui, you'll find Paia, the perfect spot to enjoy your stay on the island. Paia is famously known as the windsurfing capital of the world and has everything you could want: a fantastic beach, delicious food, plenty of sunshine, and a warm Aloha vibe.
Don't miss out on Ho'okipa Beach Park, a white-sand beach near the town. It's a paradise for surfers and windsurfers.
If you head further down the coast, away from the busy surfing scene (to the right when facing the ocean), you'll discover another stunning beach ideal for snorkelling, swimming, picnics, or romantic sunsets. Watch out for giant turtles basking in the sun on the beach - you might just get lucky!
18: The Big Beach
There is only so much you can do without hitting a beach in Hawaii. If you're looking for a beach in Maui that's not too crowded, the Big Beach is a great option. It's over half a mile long and broad enough to enjoy without feeling cramped.
19: Wale watching
20: Picture-perfect Lanai Island
Have an extra day in Maui? Consider taking a day trip to the picture-perfect Lanai Island. This beautiful island is known for its adventurous red-dirt Munro trail and stunning Hulopo'e beach, which boasts golden sand and plenty of picnic tables for shade.
If you're up for a challenge, you can hike the trail, but if you'd prefer a more comfortable experience, you can rent a Jeep. Just be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks - no food stalls may be available, especially during winter.
Fun Fact: The gardeners responsible for maintaining the Four Seasons Hotel resort grounds also take care of the Hulopo'e Beach and park.
How to get to Lanai from Maui?
To get to Lanai island from Maui, take a public ferry from Lahaina town. The round trip lasts approximately 90 minutes and offers stunning views of flying fish, dolphins, and even humpback whales in the distance!
Where to Stay in Maui
Looking for a unique accommodation option in Maui? Give Airbnb a try! However, if you're looking for luxury accommodations in Maui, there are plenty of resorts and hotels.
For families travelling on a budget, consider the Whaler on Ka'anapali Beach. Located among five-star resorts on the beachfront, this hotel offers one-bedroom apartments, studios, and two-bedroom apartments, all with stunning ocean views. Enjoy snorkelling right outside the hotel, and keep an eye out for turtles on the beach.
The hotel also boasts a fantastic pool and is conveniently located next to Whalers Village shopping mall. Thrifty Family Travels highly recommends it.
Tips for island hopping in Hawaii
When visiting Hawaii, flying between islands with Hawaiian Airlines is best if you have limited time.
At first, we considered using different local airlines to save money. However, we ultimately chose to book all our flights with Hawaiian Airlines because of many negative reviews about delays and cancellations with other carriers.
Our experience with Hawaiian Airlines was fantastic, and we will always cherish our inter-island flights as a comfortable and luxurious experience.
Renting a Car in Hawaii
We used the Thrifty Car Rental services during our three-week vacation in Hawaii. The entire process was effortless, from booking cars for all four islands to picking them up at the airport and returning them.
When you collect your rental car, you'll need to buy a full tank of petrol, which will increase the rental cost.