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Things to Do in Hawaii

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Waikiki
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12 Tours and Activities

Waikiki pretty much embodies the ancient spirit of aloha: oceanfront high rises, white sand beaches, world-class dining and some of the world’s best surfing certainly explains the neighborhood’s alluring magnetism. The name Waikiki as such means spouting fresh water in the native Hawaiian language; it refers to the streams and springs that formerly fed the wetlands separating Waikiki from the interior. Once a playground for Hawaiian royalty, and now a playground for the rich and famous of the entire planet, Waikiki has become one of the most iconic beaches in the world and draws millions of visitors every year – and with most hotel rooms being just a block or two from the ocean, it’s easy to understand why.

But more than just glitz and glory, Waikiki is really mostly about surf. What could possibly be most picturesque than learning the basics of surfing at the foot of Diamond Head State Monument and by boys who were taught everything they know by local celebrity.

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Kona (Kailua-Kona)
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Often called Kailua-Kona, and referring to the western Kona Coast district as a whole, Kona is on the leeward (dry and sunny) side of the Big Island.

The Kona Coast is the Big Island’s vacation central, with good weather, watersports, great beaches, Hawaiian temples, museums, restaurants and shops. The annual Ironman Triathlon is held here in October. While you’re here, sample the local Kona coffee, follow the scenic oceanfront drive to Kailua Pier, visit the former royal palaces of Kamakahonu and Hulihee, and drop into Hawaii's first church.

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Paia
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39 Tours and Activities

Once a little sugarcane town, tiny Paia was brought to world notice by the windsurfers who discovered its first-class waves. It’s now known as the windsurfing capital of the world. The town’s old plantation-style wooden buildings are now home to funky bars and restaurants, craft shops, surf stores and art galleries. The town’s windsurfing hub is nearby Ho'okipa Beach. Pull up a towel and watch the surfers in action, or head to calmer Baldwin Beach for a paddle.

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Nu'uanu Pali Lookout
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On Oahu’s Windward (or east) Coast, Nuuanu Pali Lookout stands sentinel over the 1,200-foot (360 m) cliffs of the Koolau mountains.

One of the best viewpoints on Oahu, the lookout provides panoramic vistas across the island. You can also see Chinaman’s Hat and Kaneohe Bay. In 1795 the lookout was the site of a massacre, when King Kamehameha defeated the island’s warriors by forcing them off the treacherous cliff top to their deaths. Hold on to your hat, as it can get extremely windy up here, and bring a warm coat and your camera.

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Dole Plantation
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For a fun day out in the Hawaiian countryside, discover Oahu’s pineapple heritage at the Dole Plantation. What started out as a fruit stand in the middle of the pineapple fields in 1950 is now an extremely popular Hawaiian attraction.

The Dole pineapple empire was founded more than a century ago by the Pineapple King, James Dole. Visit his original pineapple plantation to tour the living museum housed in a traditional plantation home. Exhibits trace the history of Dole and his pineapple industry, but there’s far more than history to be found here.

Get lost amongst Hawaiian plants in the world’s largest maze, ride the Pineapple Express train through the fruit fields, take a garden tour of the hibiscus, bromeliads and other tropical flowers, and dine on island cuisine at the Plantation Grille.

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Kohala
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Like a large thumb jutting into the sea, the Kohala district occupies the northwestern tip of the sprawling Big Island of Hawaii. Formed by a 5,400 ft. volcano which last erupted over 120,000 years ago, the Kohala district today is dominated by lush valleys, laidback plantation towns, verdant pastures, and ancient Hawaiian religious sites. It’s an outpost of cowboys and hippies, beaches and valleys, and architecture which ranges from the modern resorts of South Kohala to ancient temples constructed entirely of stone. Although the land area of Kohala only comprises 6% of the island’s total, it could still take weeks to explore in its entirety. More than just a part of the Big Island of Hawaii, Kohala is easily a destination unto itself.

Most visitors to South Kohala are familiar with the resort enclaves of Waikoloa and Mauna Lani where irrigated golf courses sit in stark contrast to the surrounding black lava fields.

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Waimea Bay
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Welcome to one of the most iconic places on O’ahu Island! Combining popular culture, history and extreme sports, Waimea Bay Beach simply does not disappoint. Its stunning panoramas alone, as seen from the Kamehameha Highway, are sufficient reason to visit the island’s northern end! The area’s international reputation emerged in 1779, when famous Captain James Cook was killed by native villagers after he tried to make the King of Hawaii captive. Staples of this period are still visible today at the Pu'u o Mahuka Heiau State Monument, the largest of its kind on the island.

Many years later, Waimea Bay Beach once again gained popularity by becoming the top surfing destination in the world and officially starting the 1950s now-iconic surf phenomenon (as demonstrated by the Beach Boys’ famous song!). In fact, surfing is still very much in fashion in this neck of the woods, with numerous surfing events taking place throughout the year.

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Waiʻanapanapa State Park
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The legendary “Road to Hana” drive seems to indicate that the town of Hana itself is the goal, but you'd be crazy to miss a visit to Wai'anapanapa State Park.

Spending some time in Wai'anapanapa State Park is reason enough to stay overnight in Hana. It's a lush and gorgeous park just outside of Hana, and one of its most well-known features is the small black sand beach of Pa'iloa. It's a beautiful beach, to be sure, lovely for swimming or simply sunbathing, but there's more to this park than just a beach. Wai'anapanapa has two underwater caves you can visit that are filled with a combination of fresh and salt water. You can go swimming in these pools, too. This area also has historical significance, too, as you'll see when you visit the ancient burial sites. There is also a trail that winds three miles along the coast, from the park all the way into Hana Town itself.

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Rainbow Falls
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Rainbow Falls create a rare instance where a Hawaiian name and an English name actually mean the same thing. Known to Hawaiians as waianuenue, the name is a reference to the arcing rainbows that can be seen in the waterfall’s mist. The image, it seems, is a natural occurrence of such beauty and wonder that it transcends linguistic lines, and today the waterfall is one of the most popular attractions when visiting the town of Hilo.

Only 50 yards from a paved parking lot in Wailuku River State Park, a large viewing area provides the best platform for gazing out at the falls. To see the waterfall’s namesake rainbow, visit the falls around 10 a.m. when the angle of light is just right. Behind the falls, a large cave forms the home of Hina—the mythological Hawaiian god who gave birth to the demigod Maui—and the turquoise pool and surrounding rain forest are the trademark photo of paradise.

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Akaka Falls
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When you first set eyes on Akaka Falls you can be forgiven if your heart skips a beat. After all, the beauty of this 422 ft. waterfall has been known to catch travelers off guard, as there is something about its vertical perfection that casts a hypnotic, time-stopping trance.

Or, perhaps it’s the dramatic jungle surroundings that give the falls their grandeur, where the heavily eroded theater of green seems to gently cradle the plunge. Either way, Akaka Falls is one of the Big Island’s most popular and scenic attractions, and the short hike to reach the falls makes it easily accessible for visitors. Located 25 minutes north of Hilo, the waterfall is found within the confines of Akaka Falls State Park. A short loop trail leads from the parking lot towards the overlook for the famous falls, and along the way offers peek-a-boo views of 100 ft. Kahuna Falls.

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More Things to Do in Hawaii

Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley

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Forming a deep natural amphitheater, washed by the sea and waterfalls, the Big Island’s Waipi'o Valley is a natural wonderland of flowering rainforest and hiking trails.

Cliffs thousands of feet high line the famously steep valley, and waterfalls course their way down to the valley floor.

The curved black-sand beach here is reached by a steep route entering the valley, and lookouts give stupendous views from above.

It’s a magical place, where battles were fought by Kamehameha the Great, and the site of temples and royal burial caves.

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Makena

Makena

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Makena has the notorious distinction of being the first place where a Western explorer set foot on the island of Maui. When Jean Francois de La Perouse first “discovered” the island of Maui in 1786, he found a thriving population of Native Hawaiians living along this volcanic shoreline. Unlike areas of South Maui such as Kihei and Wailea which are so developed today, Makena was the population center for South Maui’s original inhabitants, and consequently, it’s an area which is heavily steeped in ancient history and culture.

Although much of modern Makena has been developed with resorts and homes, this history is still evident at places such as Keawala’i Church—a Congregational Church established in 1832—where sermons are still held in the Hawaiian language. Similarly, at the end of the paved road in Keone’o’io Bay, the trailhead begins for the ancient King’s Highway, a rocky path commissioned by King Pi’ilani which once wrapped its way around the entire island.

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Banzai Pipeline

Banzai Pipeline

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The Banzai Pipeline, one of the most famous surf breaks along Oahu’s Seven Mile Miracle, is known by wave riders the world over. This is no beginners’ break: Pipeline has earned its reputation as one of the most intense on the planet. The danger here is the same thing forms its ridable tubes—an abrupt and shallow coral shelf that causes the water mounds to topple quickly and very close to the shoreline. Experts try their luck when Pipeline pounds between October and April with waves heights averaging 15 feet.

As one might imagine, with surf crashing close to shore, Pipeline is a sight to behold even for landlubbers. Gawkers come out in droves to see the spectacular sunsets over the tropical waves, but especially to see the pros shred it. The Billabong Pipe Masters’ challenge—the final competition in the World Surf League’s competitive season and culminating event of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing—selects its winner here each December.

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Halona Blowhole

Halona Blowhole

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Once visitors are aware that hālona means “lookout” in Hawaiian, it becomes quite clear what the Halona Blowhole is about: views, Pacific Ocean and blowhole! The Halona Blowhole is one of the most spectacular natural wonders on O’ahu Island; the more than 1,000-year-old geyser-like rock formation is characterized by a hole which propels incoming surf in a narrow, molten lava tube, shooting sea spray high into the air as a result - sometimes up to 30 feet. This is mostly a summery phenomenon but wintertime also has a big ticket item drawing visitors: humpback whales. The lookout point offers unobstructed views of the O’ahu shoreline as well as glimpses of Lanai and Moloka'I Islands on clear days.

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Sunset Beach

Sunset Beach

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White sand, blue sea, great waves and shady palms. If it sounds too good to be true, it must be Sunset Beach!

This 2-mile (3 km) stretch of sand is targeted by swimmers and snorkelers in the calm of summer, and by the world’s best surfers during December and January, when the wintertime waves are at their lethal best for pro surfer tournaments. Pack a picnic to enjoy under the palms, go swimming in summer under the watchful eye of the beach lifeguards, and collect shells in tidal pools when the tide’s out.

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Ko Olina

Ko Olina

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Although it is often referred to as a resort, Ko Olina doesn’t describe a property in particular. It is, in fact, a master-planned vacation and residential community containing several upscale resorts, like the Aulani Disney Resort & Spa, the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa and Marriott's Ko Olina Beach Club. The area is famous for its pristine, man-made beach coves (the sand was imported from Lanai!) that are very popular with swimmers. Their creation was more a necessity than a caprice, as the ocean tends to be quite turbulent in these parts; the rock levies encase the lagoons for safer sea ventures.

The destination is famous for its unparalleled golfing opportunities, including the LPGA Lotte Championship (women's professional golf tournament on the LPGA Tour).

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Oheo Gulch

Oheo Gulch

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The Ohe’o Gulch is a vibrantly green valley that has been naturally created by centuries of rainforest streams. Also called the Kipahulu Area, these lush lands became part of the Haleakala National Park in the 1940s. The main draw for visitors is the many tall waterfalls that feed into groups of large, tiered natural pools, sometimes called the Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o. Swimming in the fresh water is popular when water levels are safe.

Two streams, the the Palikea and Pipiwai, are the source of all of the water in this area. Visitors can hike the two-mile Pipiwai Trail (3-5 hours roundtrip) along the streams with view of the pools. Along the trail, there is one tranquil natural pool that can be less crowded than the Seven Sacred Pools area. The path ends at the 400-foot-tall Waimoku Falls, and you can always cool off in the pools after finishing the hike.

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Byodo-In Temple

Byodo-In Temple

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While most sights on the island of Oahu are located in an urban setting, the Byodo-In temple is a Buddhist sanctuary backed by the Ko’olau Mountains. Located in Oahu’s “Valley of Temples”, the Byodo-In temple is only ten minutes from the town of Kaneohe and is a peaceful escape from the fast pace of city life.

Modeled after the 900-year old Boydo-In temple in the Kyoto prefecture of Japan, the temple on Oahu is a popular place for events and weddings where Buddhist communities from both Hawaii and Japan come to celebrate together. Although the Byodo-In temple is not a practicing temple, visitors are welcome to tour the grounds in exchange for a nominal fee. More than just well-manicured grounds and a replica of Japanese architecture, the temple is also home to a golden Buddha which is believed to be the largest of its kind carved outside of Japan.

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Kailua Beach Park

Kailua Beach Park

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Thanks to its ample parking, family-friendly atmosphere, and postcard-worthy shoreline, Kailua Beach Park is often regarded as one of Oahu’s nicest beaches. Like its neighboring cousin, Lanikai Beach, this stretch of white sand is fronted by turquoise waters which stretch out to the Mokulua islands. Unlike Lanikai, however, Kailua Beach Park is as active a destination as Lanikai is calm. Everything from snorkeling to kayaking and parasailing is available from this windward shore classic, and when the wind picks up in the afternoon the kitesurfers, windsurfers, and catamaran sailors take to the water in full force.

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Kahana Bay Beach Park

Kahana Bay Beach Park

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Pre-contact Hawaiians didn’t believe in land ownership, but they did divide the Islands into sectional slivers called ahupua’a. Running from the mountains to the sea, ahupuaa had enough land and water resources to support a whole community, and the 5,300 acre Ahupua’a ‘O Kahana State Park is one of the few statewide divisions that remains intact and managed as a whole. Surrounded on three sides by the verdant Koolau Mountains, and fronting Kahana Bay, the scenic park includes a dusty neighborhood of mostly ethnic Hawaiian residents, two popular jungle hiking trails —Kapa’ele’ele and the Nakoa Loop—leading back into a deep valley, the remnants of an ancient fishpond and a beach park with year-round camping. Most visitors, drawn by its forested seaside park and calm tropical waters, stop by the here to snap photos enroute to the North Shore. The bay is very shallow and can be murky thanks to the nearby infusion of Kahana Stream, so swimming is not recommended.

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Kawaiaha'o Church

Kawaiaha'o Church

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Often referred to as “the Westiminster Abbey of the Pacific,” this historic stone church was the first of its kind to be built on the island of Oahu. Prior to the construction of the church in 1843, Christian missionaries held weekly sermons in small, pili grass huts. The Hawaiian royalty rapidly embraced Christianity, and a long lineage of Hawaiian royalty have worshipped here at the Church. Not only is King Kamehameha II buried on the Church’s grounds, but this is where Kamehameha III uttered the phrase that would eventually become the state motto: “Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono”—“the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”

At the time of its construction, Kawaiahao Church was unlike any structure that had previously been built on Oahu. Over 14,000 coral blocks were carved from offshore reefs, and it’s estimated that over 1,000 workers took nearly six years to completely finish the church.

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Chain of Craters Road

Chain of Craters Road

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For as overly dramatic as the name might sound, this road is literally a winding journey that weaves past volcanic craters—many of which still steam with life from magma within their core.

Located in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Chain of Craters Road drops 3,700 feet over 20 scorched Earth miles. It's the main conduit for exploring the park and accessing its numerous hikes, and it ends at the point where lava crossed the road in a 2003 eruption. There are numerous trailheads that start from the road, although hiking can be hazardous across the sharp lava rocks and there are no facilities or supplies. Even if you don’t venture out the trails, the views simply from driving the road are spectacular in their geologic beauty. Patches of rainforest over a thousand years old appear as islands amidst a sea of lava rock, and pit craters that formed from collapsing Earth lie pockmarked just off the road.

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Sandy Beach Park

Sandy Beach Park

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42 Tours and Activities
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Hanakao'o Beach Park

Hanakao'o Beach Park

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