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The 11 best things to do in Hawaii

Paradise on Earth? You better believe it. These are the very best things to do in Hawaii that don't involve hammocks...

Written by
Lori A May

Did you know that Hawaii is made up of 137 islands? Well, you do now. You aren’t going to visit them all (only six are accessible) unless you are some sort of strange backpacking bird (quite the image), so we’ve whittled down the mass of adventures into one concise collection of the best things to do in Hawaii, just for you. Yes, just for you!

The only tropical state in the United States is paradise, a conveyor belt of sweeping beaches that stretch for miles buttressed by bluer-than-blue water dipping beyond the horizon. Hawaii is adventure, Hawaii is delicious, Hawaii is luxurious, and Hawaii is serenity. In short, Hawaii is astounding.

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11 best things to do in Hawaii

1. Polynesian Cultural Center

Where is it? Oahu

What is it? A 42-acre interactive cultural theme park on the north shore of Oahu

Why go? This lush garden is home to one of Hawaii’s top-rated luaus, a Samoan fire knife performance, and canoe tours through a tropical lagoon. Explore the grounds to visit six pacific island villages with activities including spear-throwing, coconut tree climbing, and hula lessons.

Where is it? Lanai

What is it? A nonprofit ranch home to more than 500 free-roaming cats

Why go? Cat lovers, you won’t want to miss this! As you enter Lanai Cat Sanctuary, you’ll start making fast friends with curious kitties eyeing your arrival. The sanctuary gives Lanai’s street cats a safe place to live and socialize, with regular vet checkups and dedicated staff. The public is welcome to visit and take a stroll through the ranch, petting passersby as you wish.


3. Kauai Coffee Company

Where is it? Kauai

What is it? The largest coffee plantation in the US offers estate tours and tastings.

Why go? Coffee farming has been a part of Hawaiian history since 1813. On the picturesque seaside hills of Kauai, guests are welcome to explore Kauai Coffee Company—home to four million coffee trees. Take a free self-guided tour through the estate or attend a roasting demonstration on weekday mornings. You’ll learn about the production process from bean to brew.

4. Papohaku Beach Park

Where is it? Molokai

What is it? One of the largest white-sand beaches in all of Hawaii

Why go? Visit Papohaku Beach Park to experience an expansive white-sand beach with incredible views of Diamond Head on Oahu. The beach itself is three miles long and 100 yards wide, and even on a so-called busy day, visitors will find themselves with ample space to enjoy. There are no lifeguards here, but the park has picnic facilities and restrooms, along with a few campsites.


5. Wailua River

Where is it? Kauai

What is it? A 20-mile Kauai river with royal history suitable for kayaking

Why go? Once home to the high chiefs of Kauai, this river region on the Coconut Coast offers a regal backdrop for a challenging afternoon paddle. Seven sacred sites dot the river’s edge as you pass through a jungle of canopied trees. Explore the calm river mouth at your leisure, or take a guided tour to add on a hike and see the Secret Falls waterfall.

6. Royal Lahaina Resort Luau

Where is it? Maui

What is it? Maui’s longest-running Hawaiian luau, located on the Kaanapali Beach oceanfront

Why go? Take in a sunset celebration of Polynesian dance accompanied by an open bar and buffet featuring island cuisine. You’ll be greeted with a shell lei, as musical performers set the festive tone, while fire dancers and hula performers of all ages will entertain well beyond the feast. Save room for the guava cream tarts!


7. Banzai Pipeline

Where is it? Oahu

What is it? A world-renowned surfing destination on Oahu’s north shore

Why go? Even if you’re not a surfer, you can’t help but be wowed watching pros navigate some of the world’s best barrel waves. In the winter, spectators fill the beach to witness the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, but year-round you’ll find folks hanging ten on larger-than-life waves. Not an athlete? Soak up the sun on this soft sand beach in the summer when crowds are low.

8. Black Rock Snorkeling

Where is it? Maui

What is it? One of Maui’s finest snorkeling destinations, located on the north end of Kaanapali Beach

Why go? Before watching the famed cliff diving ceremony at Black Rock, rent yourself some snorkel gear for a few bucks. These clear warm waters will give you an incredible view of Hawaii’s tropical fish, huge sea turtles, and submerged lava rocks. Pick up a complimentary fish ID card at Maui Ocean Center’s Hawaiian Marine Life Hale in front of Sheraton Maui Resort to help identify what you see under the surface.


9. Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Visitor Center

Where is it? Big Island

What is it? The farm and factory home for one of Hawaii’s most popular macadamia nut growers

Why go? Just a few miles outside of Hilo is a sprawling macadamia nut orchard where sweet treats are made—and devoured. Inside the visitor center, you can sample a variety of snacks, from chocolate-covered macadamias to mango chipotle roasted nuts. Explore the grounds, then take a self-guided tour of the production facility where you’ll see the roasting process firsthand.

Where is it? Maui, Oahu, and the Big Island

What is it? A quick-serve Mexican-Surf eatery with a beach bum vibe

Why go? You’ve seen them profiled on Food Network. Try this laid-back diner the next time you visit Maui, Oahu, or the Big Island. Since 1993, Maui Tacos has fused island flavor with popular cantina favorites. Nibble on Hawaiian BBQ pork burritos, mango salads, and local shrimp tacos packed with flavor. The salsa bar offers up to seven unique toppings to customize your order.


11. Hilo Hattie

Where is it? Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu

What is it? The largest retailer and manufacturer of Hawaiian-made fashions and gifts

Why go? Visit Hilo Hattie, founded in 1963, if you want to find genuine made-in-Hawaii clothing and souvenirs, including eco-friendly reusable face masks. Vibrant colors and patterns make up their famous Aloha shirts for the whole family, while women’s dresses are breezy and perfect for a stroll along the beach. Don’t forget to sample the coconut and pineapple candies. Locations in Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu.

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