Hawaii has more going for it than breathtaking beaches, secluded waterfalls, mango groves, dramatic bluffs and rainforests. Although, its idyllic landscape is clearly a major selling point. This volcanic archipelago also promises a magical mix of adventure and leisure. There are tons of cool cultural attractions and fabulous resorts. Plus, the food is freakin’ delicious.
Before you escape to paradise, scroll through our list of the top things to see and do in Hawaii.
1. OCEAN COURSE AT HOKUALA
Who cares about your handicap when the green offers such incredible vistas? Talk about a hole in one. (Sorry, we couldn’t resist.) Puns aside, the Ocean Course at Hokuala—designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus—ranks among the most gorgeous places to tee off on the planet.
2. RED SAND BEACH
Want to gain more Insta followers or, perhaps, just make the ones you’ve already got super jealous? Add Red Sand Beach to your itinerary. The only caveat? To reach this unspoiled oasis, you have to navigate a rather treacherous cliff-edge trail, so pack smartly, prep carefully and get your safe hike on.
3. HAWAI’I VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
In terms of life-changing trips, seeing an active volcano IRL is right up there with climbing Machu Picchu. Don’t miss the chance to traverse massive craters, steam vents, arid deserts and dense rainforests at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island.
4. WISHING WELL SHAVE ICE
It’s sacrilegious to visit Hawaii and not sample shave ice. You’ll find a ridiculously addictive rendition of this traditional sweet treat (sans artificially flavored syrups) at Wishing Well Shave Ice, an old-school food truck on Kuhio Highway in Hanalei. Also on the menu? Tasty acai bowls and organic cold brew coffee.
5. PAPOHAKU BEACH
Drive west from Kaunakakai Town and in 30 minutes you’ll arrive at Papohaku Beach. Beloved by shutterbugs and sunbathers, this stunning three-mile stretch of white powder is a not-so-secret slice of paradise that still feels surprisingly under the radar.
6. PU'U O MAHUKA HEIAU STATE HISTORIC SITE
Perched on a picturesque hilltop, Puʻu o Mahuka is the largest heiau (place of worship) on the island. Constructed in the 1600s, this sacred temple site was used for religious rituals until 1819, when the kapu system—the ancient Hawaiian code of law—ended. Locals still leave fruit and flowers as offerings at the altar.
7. MANAWAIOPUNA FALLS
Kauai is inexorably linked to the film Jurassic Park. Several scenes from Steven Spielberg's 1993 blockbuster were actually shot at Manawaiopuna Falls. Tucked away in the Garden Isle’s verdant Hanapēpē Valley, this striking sight is only accessible by helicopter.
8. LANIKAI BEACH
Situated on the windward coast of O'ahu, Lanikai Beach will stir your spirit with its turquoise waters, soft sands and famous breeze. Plus, it’s a top pick for family fun. Spend a stress-free day snorkeling, swimming and soaking in all the splendor.
9. OLD LAHAINA LUAU
A huge part of the reason you visit Hawaii is to experience a real-deal Luau. Think: authentic food (like taro-wrapped pork), drinks, music, dancing, costumes and tiki torches. That’s what you get at Old Lahaina Luau. This oceanfront restaurant serves up dinner and a show—done the aloha way.
10. PEARL HARBOR NATIONAL MEMORIAL
Is a visit to the newly-named Pearl Harbor National Memorial going to be the most lighthearted thing you do on vacation in Honolulu? Not by a long shot. That said, it’s an important reminder of the more than 1,177 lives lost during the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941.
Perfect for cinephiles and adrenaline junkies, Kualoa is a 4000-acre private nature reserve. There are tons of awesome activities, from ziplining to kayaking. “Hollywood's Hawaii Backlot” also has loads of film cred, too. So, as you can imagine, the movie sites tour is a major draw.
12. BLUE HAWAIIAN HELICOPTERS KAUAI ECO ADVENTURE
Did you know that over 70 percent of the Garden Isle is inaccessible by land? Insert Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. The company’s most popular Kauai tour gives passengers an aerial view of spellbinding natural wonders. Highlights include Manawaiopuna Falls, Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast.
13. KAUNAʻOA BEACH
The Big Island is blessed with miles of scenic shoreline. Though we hate to choose a favorite spot, let’s just say that Kauna'oa Beach definitely stands out with its tranquil tides and photogenic panoramas. Parking is limited, but it’s a small price to pay for an afternoon of bliss.
14. HALEAKALA NATIONAL PARK (MAUI)
There’s something pure and unburdened about Haleakala National Park. When presented with the opportunity to survey such an extraordinary landscape, it’s a no brainer. While hiking through Mars-like craters, bamboo forests and botanical gardens, you can sense Mother Nature nodding with satisfaction.
15. SUSHI SHO
Omakase enthusiasts flock to Sushi Sho at The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach. Keiji Nakazawa brings time-honored techniques to this exclusive 16-seat establishment (his first outside of Japan). Reservations are tough to nab, however we’d call on repeat if it meant savoring just one masterfully prepared piece of otoro.
16. LOMI LOMI MASSAGE
We love any opportunity to practice self-care. Even better if it’s on vacation. In the mood for a little TLC? Indulge in a lomi lomi massage. This artful rubdown technique uses flowing strokes to release energy blockages and soothe muscle tension.
17. HANA HIGHWAY
Ready to hit the open road, err, the Hana Highway? This magnificent 52-mile-long passage is dotted with bridges, flowing waterfalls, tropical vegetation, refreshing streams and jaw-dropping lookout points. Keep in mind it’s not a quick drive. Start early and leave yourself a minimum of two hours.
18. BYODO-IN TEMPLE
Byodo-in Temple looks plucked straight out of Japan. And that’s because it’s a scale replica of a famed Buddhist temple in the city of Uji. What’s more, it was constructed without nails. Crazy, right? The grounds showcase well-tended gardens, peaceful pathways and a koi pond.
19. WAIMEA BAY
Located on the North Shore of O'ahu, Waimea Bay is a popular locale for big wave surfing, particularly during the winter months. We’re talkin’ 30-foot swells. Not in the mood to carve? Try bodyboarding, or just chill at a picnic table and watch the pros hang ten.
20. NĀ PALI COAST STATE WILDERNESS PARK
Defined by its magical mountains, lush valleys, spectacular sea caves and clear waters, Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is bastion of untouched natural beauty. There are many ways to explore this eden. Hike the Kalalau Trail, hop in a kayak or embark on a helicopter excursion.
21. PUU PEHE
Calling all love birds! Few landmarks are more romantic than Puu Pehe, aka Sweetheart Rock. This amour-inducing formation is a short journey from the Four Seasons Resort Lanai. (Don’t worry, you won’t be too sweaty to snap selfies.) The most alluring time to make the trek? Sunset. Duh.
22. PUNALU’U BEACH
Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island is a sight to behold—and not just because of the volcanic cast. Its palm-fringed shores also play host to endangered green sea turtles. If eye-catching terrain and cute critters are your jam, be sure to visit Punalu'u Beach.
23. HOOLEHUA POST OFFICE
When traveling to a new destination, we’d rarely—if ever—suggest checking out the local USPS branch. Hoolehua Post Office on Molokai (yes, where lepers were formerly exiled) is the exception. Patrons can decorate and mail coconuts through the clever Post-a-Nut service.
24. HOTEL WAILEA
Honeymoon alert! Hotel Wailea corners the market on romance and luxury. This adults-only escape has it all, from swanky pool cabanas to a Tesla Model X courtesy car. Whether you splurge on a posh suite or dinner at the award-winning restaurant, we guarantee it’s totally worth it.
25. HANALEI BAY
Words don’t do justice to the majesty of Hanalei Bay. This crescent-shaped treasure wows with its golden sand, blue water and 4,000-foot-high emerald mountains. It’s a sublime setting for strolling, stand-up paddleboarding and good ol’ fashioned splashing around.