20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Hawaii

Jul 22, 2021

Hawaii, also known as the Aloha State, was the first U.S. state to welcome tourism, and is now the most visited U.S. state. The state attracts 20 million tourists per year, many of whom enjoy its warm sunny climate and more leisurely pace of life.

The first Europeans to sight the island chain were the expedition led by Captain James Cook, who called the islands home between 1778 and 1782. The earliest recorded history of the islands spans over 3,000 years. Ancient Hawaiians developed a rich culture, filled with sophisticated works of art and architecture. The contact of the first European explorers with Hawaii brought about a dramatic transformation. European diseases wiped out most of the indigenous people and a new culture was born.

Today, the cuisine, music, dance, and festivals of Hawaii's unique blend of the modern and the traditional, are in themselves, a major attraction for visitors. See the diversity of Hawaii and enjoy an endless list of the best places to visit in Hawaii with our list of the top attractions in Hawaii.

Kauai

Although most people's first impression of Kauai is of lush tropical forests and the look of it's "heaven on earth" flora, Kauai has a fascinating history that makes it interesting and unique. The story of Hawaii's largest island is certainly more than the tale of gardens and beaches. As a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the atolls of which Kauai is the largest, Kauai has both an extraordinary biological diversity and equally unique geological features. At the tip of the archipelago is the Volcano National Park, which is home to active fissures, lava flows, steaming mud pools, fumaroles, and bubbling hot springs. Among the more intriguing geological formations of the park are lava tubes, which are empty passageways created by a volcanic process that hollowed out the formations. Aside from the vivid red and brown colors of the volcanoes, Kauai's greatest attractions are its natural wonders and its history. Visitors can walk along the famous Rail Trail through a tropical paradise, or cycle through the lush landscape to explore the isolated northern side.

Maui

The lush scenery of Maui's northwest shore make it one of the most popular destinations in Hawaii. The resort areas include Paia, where surfing is big business, and the town of Lahaina, which lies on the opposite side of the island from Kapalua. Other towns worth visiting are Hana and Kula, which are known for their vineyards and scenic drives. Nearby, a visit to Hana is the perfect way to relax as it is known for its warm waters. The best months to visit Hana are May to November and snorkeling is popular along the Kipahulu coast. The most popular attractions in Maui are the Hana region, the Poipu Beach, Maui and the Haleakala National Park.

Lanai

Photo of Lanai City, Hawaii
Lanai City, Hawaii: en.wikipedia.org

Lanai is the largest of the main Hawaiian Islands. Lying 20 miles off the southern coast of the island of Maui, Lanai is 12 miles long and 6 miles wide and has about 30,000 residents. The island's central location makes it ideal for visiting almost anywhere in Hawaii. Of the many things to do on Lanai, some are likely to be appealing and others not so much. For instance, the famous, but windy, five-mile-long red-sand beach of Napali is more popular with windsurfers and kiteboarders than people trying to go for a walk. Lanai's capital, Lanai City, contains a charming downtown, its main street lined with retail shops and cafes, as well as a stately courthouse and a church. The town's visitors center is an excellent starting point for your trip around the island. You can spend much of your time exploring Lanai's resorts, lodges and golf courses. Visit the Shops at Koele for shopping, the Topper's Restaurant for a great meal or the Art Museum at Grand Hyatt Lanai for both art and history.

Oahu

Oahu is the most populous Hawaiian island, but it remains relatively sparsely settled. It's about a 10-hour drive from Los Angeles, and it's fairly easy to fly in from Sydney or Japan. Since the airline tax is currently almost as high as the airfares, it is highly advisable to stay in Honolulu on your way to Oahu. If you choose to stay in Honolulu itself, check out the Modern Art Museum, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Bishop Museum. For dinner, where else would you eat but in Chinatown, where there are dozens of delicious restaurants offering various flavors.

Waikiki Beach

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Waikiki: en.wikipedia.org

Waikiki Beach, located in the northwestern part of the city of Honolulu, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state of Hawaii. The beach stretches in a north-south direction, beginning at Kapi'olani Boulevard in the south and ending at Ala Moana Boulevard in the north, with a total area of 8.7 km (5.3 miles). It's not just the beach and waves that make Waikiki so appealing: foodies will want to sample the outstanding Italian food, the luscious local produce, and the variety of authentic Japanese restaurants and sushi bars. For those of you seeking some of the best nightlife and entertainment in the state, Waikiki is the place to go. Waikiki Beach has a wide beach that's filled with perfect white sand, beautiful clear turquoise waters, and water activities that are available for those seeking to enjoy sun, surf, swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, and more. Some of the most iconic and highly regarded hotels in the world have popped up at Waikiki Beach, including the legendary Royal Hawaiian and the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani.

Hanauma Bay

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Hanauma Bay: en.wikipedia.org

One of the best known and most popular of the islands' parks, Hanauma Bay is in the heart of Oahu's urban area. It is a 3.7-square-mile bay in the back of the green and pleasant lagoon of Waikiki, a famous tourist resort and city. Some 1,814 meters long and 500 meters wide, Hanauma Bay's clear waters and white sandy beach are a popular attraction for snorkelers and divers. Because of the nearby wreck of a World War II aircraft carrier and the heavily trafficked waters, scuba divers should consult with a certified operator about diving Hanauma Bay. Much of the surrounding area is undeveloped. Ancient Hawaiian temples are found among the trees. During the Polynesian Cultural Center's mild off-season, Hanauma Bay is a quiet place to relax and enjoy the tropical serenity. The area is free to the public, and few items are available for purchase. No vendors or services are allowed on the beach. There is also a movie theater inside Hanauma Bay, and the site has an on-site kiosk that sells snacks and souvenirs.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Photo of Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park: en.wikipedia.org

This National Park is part of the volcanoes of the famous Hawaiian Islands, and is probably one of the most famous National Parks in the USA. It was established in 1934, when President Roosevelt proposed a park be created to protect the powerful Mauna Kea volcano, whose snow-covered summit rises 12,400 feet above the park. The National Park was the first National Park in the United States, and is still one of the most visited. Two visitors' centers explain in detail how the mighty Mauna Kea volcano formed and how the area became a National Park. Historical displays describe how people lived and traveled through the island before the islands became famous as Hawaii. At Kea Loa Beach, water activities include windsurfing, kayaking, and snorkeling. On land, tourists can hike through the rain forest to the 12,000-foot summit of the volcano for great views of the park and into the Pacific Ocean. Things to do in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park include walking the full 17-mile Trail to Puuiki, visiting the geothermal pools of the Ancient Hawaii Institute, visiting the recently restored 1780's Mission Houses at Puuiki, and to have a picnic on the expansive Kea Loa Beach.

Kailua-Kona

Photo of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii: en.wikipedia.org

Kona is one of the most beautiful and accessible beaches in Hawaii, popular among tourists because of its mild weather and proximity to Kailua-Kona, the Kona Coast's main town. The waters of Kona are famous for being crystal clear, and the huge beaches, such as Kailua and Mauna Lani, are especially popular because of their reef-protected conditions and crystal-clear waters. A great way to enjoy the great outdoors while sightseeing in Kailua-Kona is on a kayaking trip. There are many options for guided kayaking tours of the area, offering excursions of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty.

Honolulu

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Honolulu: en.wikipedia.org

Waikiki, home to the legendary Waikiki Beach, is the best place to explore the truly fantastic architecture of Honolulu, perhaps the most strikingly beautiful city in America. A carnival atmosphere dominates the island in the summer, with nightlife, shopping, and lively dining spilling into the evening. Visitors to Hawaii can also enjoy the island's beaches, surf spots, and museums, and this is the best place to explore both by foot and on horseback.

Read more 👉  Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Honolulu

Diamond Head

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Diamond Head, Hawaii: en.wikipedia.org

The only volcanic crater in Hawaii, Diamond Head rises 2,300 feet above the Pacific, making it the oldest peak in the state. Located just west of Honolulu, it has been used as a landmark and taken as a symbol of the Hawaiian people since the mid-1800s. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park offers breathtaking views and an understanding of the structure of a Hawaiian volcano, both of which are best enjoyed on guided hikes and treks, where a knowledgeable naturalist can offer insight on Hawaii's geology and flora and fauna. At the summit of Diamond Head, hikes take visitors to the eerie lava tube caves and around the crater rim to get a different vantage point of the island's geography. If you want to get a closer look at the crater, there are various cable cars up to the top, which allow visitors to get a better view than the hiking tours.

Waimea Canyon

Photo of Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea Canyon State Park: en.wikipedia.org

Set in lush green valleys high in the volcanic heights of Hawaii's Big Island, Waimea Canyon on the northwestern shore of the island is one of the world's most breathtaking sights. Not just one of the world's great natural wonders but also a natural wonder. The sheer cliffs of rock-studded, green mountains rise from the floor of this narrow canyon as towering as three stories. Its colorful red and black tuff and walls are still half-hidden by the trees and trees of a pristine forest that survived the lava flows of 5,000 years ago. Majestic Maile trees (known as the Hawaiian Christmas tree) line the canyon's walls, and there are streams running down its bottoms and lagoons and ponds along its edges. On some days it's possible to see tour busses and horseback riders travel the switchback roads, but the area is beautiful and serene during most of the year.

Mauna Loa

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Mauna Loa: en.wikipedia.org

Mauna Loa, the largest and highest active volcano in the world, can be seen from many parts of Hawaii. Tourists can either take a tour or, if you have some experience, take to the skies and ride a helicopter around the rim of the volcano. The viewing platforms also give visitors a wonderful opportunity to experience the breath-taking site from above. The crater at the heart of Mauna Loa is one of the deepest holes on the planet and, at 17,200 feet deep, the largest known open pit volcano in the world.

Pearl Harbor

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Pearl Harbor: en.wikipedia.org

At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Hawaii was, in many ways, the heart of America. It was a refuge for "Rainbow Five" (aka the "Ready Brigade"), United States servicemen serving in the Royal Air Force; it was the site of the Pacific Fleet, and of the US naval base and port, where the USS Arizona was moored when it sank in an explosion. Today, the area of Pearl Harbor is a popular tourist destination, and it's home to the USS Arizona Memorial Museum. A tour of the museum provides a crash course in Japanese history, and then it is on to the memorial, which is dedicated to all who died in the attack. The remains of the four carriers that were sunk that fateful day are on display at the mooring site of the USS Arizona Memorial. The ship was razed by fire after the attack, and those responsible for the crime remain imprisoned.

Big Island

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Hawaii (island): en.wikipedia.org

Even though the largest Hawaiian island is also the only one with the volcano, Mauna Kea, its ideal location makes it a popular tourist spot. Stunning Hilo, the second largest city on the island, is the gateway to a plethora of adventure activities, including kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, fishing, scuba diving, zip-lining, surfing, and so much more. Hilo is known as the Gateway to Hawaii. Visitors to the island should first head to Hilo because it is the center of everything. This magnificent city offers more than 100 restaurants and bars that serve a variety of ethnic cuisine. Hilo is well-known for its volcanological research and touristic activities, like scuba diving. It is the home of the annual Rodeo Hawai'i festival, which is held each year from July to September. The best time to visit Hilo is in the winter or spring.

Mauna Kea

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Mauna Kea: en.wikipedia.org

The top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii's tallest mountain, is a dormant volcano, meaning that it has not erupted since its last big eruption about 4,800 years ago. Although it is now no longer active, the volcano still has a claim to fame: it is the world's largest shield volcano, a complex system of craters, lakes, and lava flows covering about 10,000 square miles and rising over 13,000 feet above sea level. Mauna Kea is part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, about 65 miles southeast of Hilo. The Mauna Kea observatory, a telescope operated by the University of Hawaii, is on the north side of the peak. It is operated by an international consortium and has an 88-inch Schmidt telescope and a 20-inch Unit Telescope on a 12-m carriage. Beyond the Mauna Kea observatory, the park provides opportunities for hiking and views of several other dormant volcanoes in the area. For example, less than an hour's drive southwest is Puu Poa, where five cinder cones have formed in a row along the ridge, reaching heights of more than 1,200 feet.

Kualoa Ranch

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Kualoa Ranch: en.wikipedia.org

Set among cliffs towering 1,500 meters above the Pacific Ocean on the islands of Oahu and Kauai, this great private land includes two sacred mountain peaks, stunning ocean views, sea turtles, rainforests, plus a wide variety of native flora and fauna. Private cabins, campgrounds, gourmet restaurants, pools, hot tubs, kids activities, horseback riding and guided hiking and biking are just a few of the fun amenities at the ranch. Today, Kualoa is known for its great golf courses and hiking trails, but back in ancient times, this area was first inhabited by indigenous people of the ancient Hawaiians. Visitors can still hike to the top of the two twin peaks that rise 1,500 meters above the Pacific Ocean, known as Puʻu oʻo and Mauna Loa, where they will discover a sacred shrine honoring the kapu alii, the Gods of the Kona district. There's also an excellent museum where one can get a glimpse of the history of the Kona district from ancient times to present.

North Shore

Photo of North Shore (Oahu)
North Shore (Oahu): en.wikipedia.org

The North Shore is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hawaii, and it is quite unique among Hawaiian beaches in that the public and private sectors are vying to keep it that way. The scenery is undeniably impressive, from the soft textures of gold on the lagoon sides to the green hues of the valleys and the deep shades of red and gold near the bluffs. The juxtaposition of the ocean and land is a sight that's difficult to beat. As is often the case with a national park, it takes the simple beauty of the natural environment to really bring out the true quality of the area. When looking for a place to stay, the following are some of the better hotels and resorts in the area.

Waikiki Aquarium

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Waikīkī Aquarium: en.wikipedia.org

The Waikiki Aquarium has been providing visitors to Hawaii with a new perspective on fish ever since it opened in 2000. The aquarium is a surreal collection of myriad species, including thousands of Pacific species including the giant sunflower sea star, pelagic octopi and gigant squid. It is housed in a 260,000-gallon pool and features a walk-through glass tunnel designed to provide a window into some of Hawaii's colorful marine worlds. Over 3,500 animals representing more than 1,000 species inhabit more than 1.4 million aquatic creatures housed in its "oceanarium." This includes, the largest display of "open-ocean" whales and dolphins in the Pacific; 12 species of shark, a massive blackfin tuna, rays, sea stars, electric eels, ribbon eels, hagfish, seahorses, scorpion fish, octopi and kraken, each with their own special habitat.

Maui (Island Tours)

The beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui is filled with attractive beaches, waterfalls, nature preserves, beautiful pools, exciting activities and much more. Some of the many things to do include visiting the Big Kahuna Sand Board at Makena Beach State Park, which is filled with great big giant balls of sand sculpted by the ocean, perfect for a beachside picnic. Hiking, scuba diving and snorkeling are popular among visitors who are seeking a true Hawaiian experience. About 30 minutes from the busy island of Oahu, Maui has five major resorts on its south and west coasts, each offering something unique. A visit to the Maui Wildlife Center is a must, with over 100 animals in its natural habitat, from sea turtles to wild birds. To get to Maui you can fly, ferry, or drive.

Waihee

Photo of Waihee-Waiehu, Hawaii
Waihee-Waiehu, Hawaii: en.wikipedia.org

The Hawaiian Islands of Molokai and Lanai are part of Maui County, where their highest and largest mountain is located. The 2,155-meter-tall Haleakala rises 2,175 meters above sea level, and despite being the highest point in the state, has sweeping vistas and fertile soils, especially on the steep slopes that descend toward the southeast coast of the island of Molokai. The best things to do in Waihee are hiking and sightseeing. Several trails lead to the top of Haleakala's cone, the Waianapanapa State Park, which also features an observatory, changing exhibits, and waterfalls.