40 Ultimate Things to Do in Hawaii

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From gorgeous beaches to traditional luaus to top-notch surfing, Hawaii offers terrific experiences that should be on every traveler’s list. Here are Fodor’s top picks for a memorable trip.

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Hit the Road to Hana

Spectacular views of waterfalls, lush forests, and the sparkling ocean are part of the pleasure of the twisting drive along the North Shore to tiny, timeless Hana in East Maui. The journey is the destination, but once you arrive, kick back and enjoy. Wave to pedestrians, “talk story” with locals in line at the Hasegawa store, and explore the multicolor beaches. An overnight stay here allows for the most relaxed experience, though; a day trip is a big push. You may decide to drive just part of the way as an alternative.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

Visit Pearl Harbor

This top Honolulu site is not to be missed. Spend the better part of a day touring the Missouri, the Arizona Memorial, and, if you have time, the Bowfin.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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See a Lava Show

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, watch as fiery red lava pours, steaming, into the ocean; stare in awe at nighttime lava fireworks; and hike across the floor of a crater.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

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Explore Kauai’s Napali Coast

Experiencing Kauai's emerald green Napali Coast is a must-do. You can see these awesome cliffs on the northwest side of the island by boat, helicopter, or by hiking the Kalalau Trail. Whichever you pick, you won't be disappointed.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kauai Travel Guide

Courtesy ofHawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

Hike Haleakala

Take time to trek down one of the trails into Haleakala National Park's massive bowl and see proof, at this dormant volcano, of how powerful the earth's exhalations can be. The cinder cones have beautiful swirls of subtle colors that can sparkle in the sunlight. You won't see a landscape like this anywhere, outside of visiting the moon. The barren terrain is deceptive, however—many of the world's rarest plants, birds, and insects live here.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Go Surfing

Waikiki, with its well-shaped but diminutive waves, remains the perfect spot for grommets (surfing newbies), though surf schools operate at beaches (and many hotels) around the island. Most companies guarantee at least one standing ride in the course of a lesson. And catching your first wave? We guarantee you'll never forget it.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

Courtesy ofHawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

Waimea Canyon

From its start in the west Kauai town of Waimea to the road's end some twenty uphill miles later at Puu o Kila Lookout, you'll pass through several microclimates—from hot, desert-like conditions at sea level to the cool, deciduous forest of Kokee—and navigate through the traditional Hawaiian system of land division called ahupuaa.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kauai Travel Guide

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Drive Hamakua Coast

The views of the Pacific are absolutely breathtaking along this stretch of road between Kohala and Hilo. Make sure to take the Old Mamalahoa Highway's scenic four-mile detour off Hawaii Belt Road.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

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Enjoy Oahu After Hours

Yes, you can have an umbrella drink at sunset. But in the multicultural metropolis of Honolulu, there's so much more to it than that. Sip a glass of wine and listen to jazz at The Dragon Upstairs in Chinatown or join the beach-and-beer gang at Duke's Waikiki.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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Whale Watch

Maui is the cradle for hundreds of humpback whales that return every year from late November through April to frolic in the warm waters and give birth. Watch a mama whale teach her one-ton calf how to tail-wave. You can eavesdrop on them, too: Book a tour boat with a hydrophone or just plunk your head underwater to hear the strange squeaks, groans, and chortles of the cetaceans. Tours are good, but you can also easily watch whales from the beach.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Old Lahaina Luau

The Old Lahaina Luau has a warm heart—and seriously good poke (diced raw tuna tossed with herbs and other seasonings). Tuck a flower behind your ear, mix a dab of poi (taro-root paste) with your lomilomi salmon (rubbed with onions and herbs), and you'll be living like a local. Different styles of hula are part of the performance; the fire dancers are not traditional, but they are fun. Reserve well in advance.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Discover the Joy of Snorkeling

Snorkeling is a must, either on your own with a buddy or on a snorkel cruise. Maui has snorkel boats of all sizes to take you to spots such as the Molokini Crater. Wherever you duck under, you'll be inducted into a mesmerizing world underwater. Slow down and keep your eyes open; even fish dressed in camouflage can be spotted when they snatch at food passing by. Some great spots to try right near the shore are Honolua Bay and Kekaa (known as Black Rock, it's in front of the Sheraton Maui) in West Maui. There are also good spots on the rocky fringes of Wailea's beaches on the South Shore.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

Stretch Out on Makena

This South Shore beauty is the sand dreams are made of: deep, golden, and pillowy. Don't be discouraged by the crammed parking lots; there's more than enough room. Makena (Oneloa in Hawaiian) is still relatively wild. There are no hotels, minimarts, or public restrooms nearby—instead there's crystal-clear water, the occasional pod of dolphins, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery (including the sunbathers). You can grab a fish taco and a drink at a nearby truck for a tasty lunch.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Dana Edmunds

Buy Tropical Fruit at a Roadside Stand

Your first taste of ripe guava or mango is something to remember. Delicious lychee, mangoes, star fruit, bananas, passion fruit, pineapple, and papaya can be bought on the side of the road with the change in your pocket. Go on, let the juice run down your chin. Farmers' markets are another place to seek out taste treats—just be sure to ask if what you crave is, indeed, local.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Try the Resorts and Spas

Indulge your inner rock star at the posh, pampering resorts and spas around the island. Sip a “Tommy Girl” in the hot tub at the Four Seasons or get massaged poolside at the Grand Wailea. Even if you don't stay the night, you can enjoy the opulent gardens, restaurants, art collections, and perfectly cordial staff. For pure relaxation, book a spa treatment from the extensive menus.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

Courtesy of Banyan Bed and Breakfast Retreat

Escape to a Bed and Breakfast

Being a shut-in isn't so bad at a secluded B&B. It's a sure way to get a taste of what it's like to live in paradise: trees hanging with ripe fruit outside your door, late-night tropical rainstorms, a wild chicken or two. Rather than blasting the air-conditioning in a hotel room, relax with the windows open in a plantation house designed to capture sea breezes.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Green Sands Beach

It’s a bit off the beaten track, but this is one of the few places in the world to see green sand, which gets its unusual color from the mineral olivine. And it happens to be surrounded by turquoise waters and dramatic cliffs.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

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Exploring Waipio Valley

Whichever way you choose to get there— on horseback, in a four-wheel drive, or on foot—you’ll discover that the Valley of the Kings, on the Hamakua Coast, is full of sky-high waterfalls, lush green cliffs, and a mystical quality that can’t quite be described or rivaled.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

Stargazing at Mauna Kea

Teams of astronomers from all over the world come to Mauna Kea for the clearest skies and some of the best conditions anywhere. Head up the mountain in the late afternoon for the prettiest sunset on this island and the best stargazing on this planet.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

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Stunning Waterfalls on the Hamakua Coast

Watch rainbows forming in the mist; then take a refreshing dip in cold, deep pools fed by powerful waterfalls spilling over the dramatic cliffs of the Hamakua Coast.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

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Snooze With a Sea Turtle

Hang out at Punaluu Black Sand Beach, fringed with coconut groves, where sea turtles surf the waves and nap on black sands.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

A Kona Coffee Farm Tour

Spend an afternoon discovering why Kona coffee commands those high prices. Visit a working estate and watch as “cherries” become beans, enjoy the smoky aromas of the roasting process, and then indulge in the smoothest cup of coffee you’ll ever taste. Did we mention that it’s all free? Our favorite: Lions Gate Farms in the heart of Honaunau’s coffee belt. The annual ten-day Kona Coffee Cultural Festival in November celebrates coffee with tours, cupping contests, tastings, and special events.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

Courtesy of Big Island Visitors Bureau (BIVB); Photo by Kawika Singson

A Swim Through Coral Gardens on the Kona Coast

Diving or snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters off the Kona Coast is like being let loose in your very own ocean-size aquarium. Bright yellow, purple, and rose-colored coral creates surreal kingdoms ruled by octopi, turtles, rays, dolphins, and fish in every color of the rainbow.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Big Island Travel Guide

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Highway 560

This ten-mile stretch of road starting at the Hanalei Scenic Overlook in Princeville rivals all in Hawaii and in 2003 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, one of only about 100 roads nationwide to meet the criteria. Indeed, the road itself is said to follow an ancient Hawaiian walking trail that skirts the ocean. Today, Route 560 includes thirteen historic bridges and culverts, most of which are one lane wide. Be patient.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kauai Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ)

River Kayaking

The best part about kayaking Kauai's rivers is that you don't have to be experienced. There are no rapids to run, no waterfalls to jump and, therefore, no excuses for not enjoying the scenic sights from the water. On the East Side, try the Wailua River; if you're on the North Shore, don't miss the Hanalei River. But if you have some experience and are in reasonably good shape, you may choose to create a few lifetime memories and kayak Napali Coast.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kauai Travel Guide

Sunshine Markets

Bananas. Mangos. Papayas. Lemons. Limes. Lychees. The best and freshest fruits, vegetables, flowers—and goat cheese—are found at various farmers' markets around the island. Just don't get there too late in the day—much of the best stuff goes early. Aside from the county-affiliated venues, a number of community-based markets have sprouted on church grounds, small parks, and other non-traditional venues. To find one near you, just ask the concierge or any local person—chances are they frequent one nearby. If you want to slide in as a local, wear flip-flops and a T-shirt and maintain a cool attitude.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Kauai Travel Guide

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Kailua Beach

Kailua is the beach you came to Hawaii for—and the reason why many have never left. This popular stretch of white sandy beach on Oahu’s windward side is wide and inviting, with several small offshore islands perfect for exploring on kayaks. The waves are gentle and forgiving, and the beach is within walking distance of small convenience stores and friendly eateries.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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Finding Shangri La

Built atop the cliffs of Diamond Head, Shangri La is the lavish oceanfront home of American philanthropist Doris Duke. It houses an extensive collection of Islamic art, much of which was collected during her world travels. But the sprawling five-acre estate—with its sweeping views, exotic gardens, and seventy-five-foot saltwater pool—is an architectural wonder in its own right. It’s open to the public for small group tours.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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Hiking to Kaena Point

On the westernmost point of the island, magical Kaena Point is one of the last intact dune ecosystems in the Hawaiian Islands and is home to a growing population of wedge-tailed shearwaters and other rare and endangered seabirds. Hawaiian green sea turtles and monk seals often rest along the shore, and in winter you can often see migrating humpback whales offshore. While you can’t access all 850 acres of this culturally significant place—this area has long been known as the leaping place of souls—you can walk or bike along the coastline. A trek through this protected area may change your mind about Oahu being “too crowded.”

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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Exploring Chinatown

Over the past few years, Chinatown has been transformed into the center of Oahu’s arts scene. This vibrant neighborhood,which pours into downtown Honolulu, boasts art galleries, eclectic restaurants, hip bars, trendy boutiques, and the historic Hawaii Theatre. There are a few guided tours of the cultural attractions, but you can easily wander the area on your own. Every first Friday of the month there's a block party of sorts, when art galleries and restaurants stay open late and bars feature live music. It’s well worth the cab fare.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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Sail on the Wild Side

Who wouldn't want these memory snapshots to take home: the unblinking and seemingly amused eye of a spinner dolphin as it arcs through the wake of the catamaran in which you're riding; the undulating form of an endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle swimming below you; the slap and splash and whoosh of a humpback whale breaching in full view on indigo seas. Wild Side Specialty Tours can't promise these specific encounters, but its ecologically conscious daily excursions in a quiet, uncrowded catamaran do guarantee good memories.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA); Photo by Tor Johnson

A Day on the North Shore

Head north along Oahu’s eastern coastline toward the famed North Shore, where professional surfers nab some of the world’s best waves. You’ll pass through quaint residential areas and fruit stands on the side of the road. (Stop and buy bananas in Kahuku.) While you’ll be tempted to try one of the famous shrimp trucks—plates of garlic shrimp hover around $20—consider the variety of eats on the North Shore, from old-school bakeries to burger joints to sit-down restaurants. In Haleiwa, cool off at Matsumoto Shave Ice. If you’re visiting in the summer, head to Three Tables or Shark’s Cove for some stellar snorkeling. Or spend a lazy day at Sunset Beach, good book optional.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

A Trip to Japan

Little known outside Oahu's growing community of Japanese nationals is a class of small restaurant-bars called izakaya, or Japanese taverns. Grilled, fried, and raw dishes are perfect with beer, sake, or shochu (a liquor distilled from barley, sweet potato, or rice). Even newer on the scene are okonomi, hip spots that specialize in Osaka-style grilled omelets and potent Japanese spirits. Both are like a visit to Japan, minus the long plane ride. They are a must-notch in any foodie's belt.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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Delicious Food

“Ono kine grinds” is local slang for the delicious food you'll find at dozens of restaurants island-wide. Maui chefs take their work seriously, and they have good material to start with: sun-ripened produce and seafood caught the very same morning. Try a plate lunch, that reminder of the state's cultural mix, at a casual spot. Sample as many types of fish as you can and don't be shy: Try it raw. And try shave ice flavored with tropical fruit syrups.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Walking in the Rainforest or To a Waterfall

Wend your way through the hillside neighborhood of Aiea, northwest of Honolulu, and suddenly you're in a cool green park, scented with astringent eucalyptus. This is the three-and-a-half-mile Aiea Loop Trail, and if you're committed to squeezing a hike into a short Oahu stay, you couldn't do better for glimpses of hidden valleys and the experience of an island forest If waterfalls are more your speed, then head straight to the back of Manoa Valley, three miles mauka (toward the mountains from Waikiki) and you'll find a one-and-a-half-mile trail along a well-worn path following Manoa stream through native trees and flowers to the Manoa Falls.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

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HulaHula with Heart

Professional hula dancers—the ones in poolside hotel shows and dinner extravaganzas—are perfection: hands like undulating waves, smiles that never waiver. But if you want to experience hula with heart, scan the newspapers for a hula school fundraiser or ask the activities desk about local festivals. You may see some missteps and bumbles, but you'll also experience different hula styles and hear songs and chants deeply rooted in the culture, all the while surrounded by the scents of a hundred homemade leis.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Honolulu and Oahu Travel Guide

Courtesy of Hawaii Tourism Japan (HTJ)

Hawaiian Music

Before his untimely death in 1997, Israel Kamakawiwoole, or “IZ,” woke the world to the sound of modern Hawaiian music. Don't leave without hearing it live. The Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului has top Hawaiian entertainers regularly and so do many island bars and restaurants. The Wednesday-night George Kahumoku Jr.'s Slack Key Show: Masters of Hawaiian Music concert series at the Napili Kai Beach Resort in West Maui is excellent. The Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival features guest performers who play Hawaii's signature style.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Tee Off in Paradise

Spectacular views, great weather year-round, and challenging courses created by the game's top designers make Maui an inspiring place to play golf. The Kapalua Resort on West Maui and the Wailea and Makena resort courses on the South Shore offer memorable rounds. Check about twilight fees to save some money.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Tour Upcountry

Beach lovers might need some arm-twisting to head up the mountain for a day, but the views and the fresh-smelling countryside are ample reward. On the roads winding through ranchlands, crisp, high-altitude air is scented with eucalyptus and the fragrances of the forest. Stop for an agricultural tour and learn about where the island's bounty comes from; you can sample it, too.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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Windsurf at Kanaha

You might not be a water-sports legend, but that doesn't mean you can't give it a try. In the early morning, this renowned windsurfing spot is safe for beginners. Don't settle for the pond in front of your hotel—book a lesson at Kanaha and impress yourself by hanging tough where the action is.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Maui Travel Guide

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