Things to Do in Hawaii
The Napali Coast tops nearly everyone’s Kauai bucketlists with its sheer green undulating cliffs dropping directly into cerulean waters. The Kalalau Trail takes you back in and along Napali’s Valleys for 11 miles down to the beach and back up and out for another 11—a trip that takes most people at least two days to complete. Not for everyone. Enter the Kalalau Lookout, an easily accessible vantage from which to take in the deep expanse of Napali’s most recognizable Kalalau Valley and get a taste of Napali from land without all of the hiking. Sitting at an elevation of 4,000 feet, the lookout is perfectly positioned to take in the full two-mile-across valley and the ocean beyond.
With much of its coastline covered in jagged black lava rock, Kona is not well known for its beaches. However, a few locales offer the unspoiled white sand oases that typify Hawaii, including the palm-lined stretches at Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park. The best beachy parts are located more than a mile down a bumpy road through the remnants of a jumbled lava flow. Signs calling stretches “unimproved” are an understatement. Hualalai Volcano, looming behind the park, oozed these paths to the sea between the late 1700s and 1801. To truly appreciate the ocean dip awaiting you (and to satisfy many rental car agreements), hike the 1.6 miles in instead. When you arrive seaside, the small facilities—including limited parking, toilets, showers and an on-the-beach picnic area will be straight in front of you. But, to get to the larger stretches of white sand, you’ll need to continue on, turning right at the signs before the toilet blocks to reach Mahai’ula Bay.
It’s easy to look at the Kona coastline and wonder how Hawaiians survived. Barren, dry, and covered in black lava, this desolate terrain appears inhospitable and incapable of supporting life. In actuality, however, this harsh coastline boasted a thriving population of native Hawaiian inhabitants, who worked intimately with the natural surroundings to maximize all of its resources. At Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park—set just south of the Kona Airport—this ancient history is brought to life and is blended with recreation. Take a hike past ancient fishponds that were used for feeding the village, and follow trails past historic heiau that were used to worship the gods. If the Kona sun gets a little too hot, cool off at white sand Honokohau Beach, or a take a dip in the Queen’s Bath and enjoy the secluded, hidden surroundings. More than just the beaches and hiking trails, the Kaloko Honokohau National Historical Park is as an outdoor museum of Hawaiian archaeology.
Guarding the tip of Kilauea Point since 1913, this historic Kilauea Lighthouse is one of Kauai’s most visited attractions.
One of the most intact historic lighthouses in the USA, the lighthouse was decommissioned in 1976 and now forms part of a wildlife refuge for migrating seabirds. Gaze out to sea and imagine the ships that were guided by its light, pick up a souvenir in the gift shop, and learn about the restoration project that’s currently under way.
Honolulu's Chinatown is one of the oldest in the United States.
Home to an eclectic assortment of storefronts, spend some time wandering and you’ll find herbalists, temples, antique shops and lei makers. Folks in Chinatown also know how to eat well. When hunger strikes you’ll have your pick of dishes. Chefs serve everything from Chinese dim sum to Cuban and French Fare. Night owls will be happy to know Chinatown offers a variety of nightlife options from jazz clubs to wine bars and nightclubs.
For 83 years, Kings, Queens, and regal monarchs ruled the Hawaiian Kingdom. One of the most controversial—and eventually beloved—monarchs was the half-Hawaiian Queen Emma, whose Caucasian background led many to argue she wasn’t fit to be Queen. Nevertheless, she would end up marrying King Kamehameha IV and become heavily involved in philanthropy—even setting up the Queen’s Medical Center that is Oahu’s main hospital today. During the peak of summer, however, Queen Emma would escape the Honolulu heat at her home in Nu‘uanu Valley.
Twenty minutes. That’s all the time that is takes to be transported from the white sand beaches of Waikiki, up to the waterfall-laden wilds at the back of Manoa Valley. Here, where cliffs rise vertically over 2,000 feet and it rains nearly every day, visitors will find one of Hawaii’s foremost tropical botanical gardens. Managed by nearby University of Hawaii, the Lyon Arboretum spans 193 acres and has over 5,000 species of plants. Given the cool, wet conditions—it rains over 165 inches per year here—the forested amphitheater is the perfect setting for researching tropical plants.
Take an hour to stroll from the parking lot back to Inspiration Point, and reap the rewards of the casual walk with a view looking out at the valley. Along the journey you might encounter up to 25 species of birds, including the endangered amakihi which calls the arboretum home.
Located in downtown Honolulu, Ali'iolani Hale is the current home of the Hawaii Supreme Court, court administration offices, a law library, and the Judiciary History Center. Constructed in 1872, it was the first western-style building in Hawaii built by the Hawaiian monarchy.
Ali'iolani Hale was originally slated to be the Royal Palace, but ended up housing the Supreme Court and its legislative body. The building was the site of some of Hawaii’s pivotal historical moment, including the 1889 revolt by Robert Wilcox and over 100-armed insurgents. And, in 1893, the Committee of Public Safety overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy from here via a proclamation. Over the years, Ali'iolani Hale has undergone renovations, and was spared demolition in 1937 when new renovation plans were approved. The bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 and subsequent declaration of Martial Law put everything on hold, and Ali'iolani Hale became a center for military personnel.
More Things to Do in Hawaii
Hualalai is massive, and yet it’s unknown. For all of its size and volcanic grandeur—gradually rising behind the town of Kona and fading into the clouds—this dormant volcano is shrouded in obscurity by its famous, more active neighbors.
At 8,200 feet in height, Hualalai isn’t nearly as high as Mauna Loa, and having last erupted in 1801, it isn’t considered nearly as active as the currently erupting Kilauea. Nevertheless, Hualalai remains an active volcano just miles from populous Kona, and experts feel that this sleeping volcano is on the brink of waking up. It’s believed that Hualalai will erupt again within the next 100 years, potentially adding more black lava rock to Kona’s volcanic landscape. As the volcano sleeps, however, coffee farms continue to dominate its flanks and resorts now dot its shoreline.
Perfect acoustics and gorgeous scenery come together at Fern Grotto, the highlight of a cruise on the Wailua River.
A natural amphitheater, the fern-filled grotto provides a unique venue for visitors to hear traditional Hawaiian music in one of the islands’ most beautiful outdoor settings. The beautiful grotto was created by volcanic activity, and is draped in tropical ferns.
Historic Honolulu Harbor, the state’s original hub for commerce and immigration, stretches from Honolulu’s downtown business district in the east to Ke’ehi Lagoon in the west. A center of activity even prior to European contact, the harbor today—a series of dredged channels and basins encircling the less-than-a-square-mile Sand Island—is picturesque in parts and downright commercial in others. Despite a massive molasses spill that occurred here in Sept. 2013, there are those who say the harbor is among the cleanest commercial ports in the nation. To see for yourself, head down to Pier 7 where modern cruise ships still occasionally dock (if you didn’t arrive by boat, look for the giant wooden Falls of Clyde sailing ship fronting the now-shuttered Hawaii Maritime Center). There, just along the concrete harbor wall, is a veritable open-air aquarium: coral, tropical reef fish and the occasional reef shark can be seen making a living just steps from downtown skyscrapers.
Ka’anapali Beach is perhaps the most well-known beach in all of Maui. Situated on west the west coast, these three miles of soft, golden sand have been called the best beach in America. It was once the retreat for the royal family of Hawaii, and it is now home to some of the most famous Hawaiian resorts.
There are countless ways to enjoy the beautiful beach, from a stroll on the sand to swimming and snorkeling in the clear, warm sea. There is a paved walkway along the length of the beach, but it’s hard to resist walking on the sand. If you’re in the water, keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles — they’re common visitors to the area. During whale season, humpback whales can be seen breaching from the shore. At the northern end of the beach, Black Rock has some of the beach’s best snorkeling. Every night at sunset cliff divers can be seen performing the Hawaiian ritual here, lighting torches along the cliff before leaping into the ocean.
The Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu was the first in the chain to open in Hawaii, in the summer of 1987. The restaurant moved to its present location in 2000. The current setting for the Hard Rock Cafe in Honolulu is right in the middle of Waikiki, within easy walking distance of many of the area's hotels and resorts, as well as other shops, restaurants, the Hawaii Convention Center, and the beach.
The Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu, like all the Hard Rock Cafes, has a casual restaurant with a menu full of American favorites, a lively full bar, and a shop where you can buy all kinds of Hard Rock Cafe merchandise.
Also known as the Hana Lava Tube, these subterranean caverns were created when lava once cooled on the surface here but continued to flow underneath the ground above. Now there are hundreds of unique rock formations throughout the half mile long cavern system, including stalagmites and stalactites. The caverns are the largest accessible lava tubes on Maui. It is estimated that the caves were formed nearly 30,000 years ago, and legend would tell us they are the work of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire.
Water drips from the ceilings of the caves, but bats and insects are noticeably absent from the environment. Much of the caverns look as though they’ve been coated in chocolate. It’s an underground landscape that feels almost otherworldly, waiting to be explored. Above ground, there is a unique red Ti botanical garden maze that is also easy to get lost in.
Things to do near Hawaii
- Things to do in Maui
- Things to do in Oahu
- Things to do in Kauai
- Things to do in Big Island of Hawaii
- Things to do in California
- Things to do in Oregon
- Things to do in Baja California
- Things to do in Napier
- Things to do in Sausalito
- Things to do in Santa Rosa
- Things to do in San Francisco
- Things to do in Nevada
- Things to do in Washington
- Things to do in Tahiti
- Things to do in British Columbia