Each of the islands of the Hawai'ian chain
deserves to be considered one of the best places to visit in the
world. Since it's difficult for us to decide which island is
the right one for you, we provide complete guides to
Lanai to help you get a taste of the wonders that
each island offers.
If you want to be
convinced about traveling to Hawai'i, read our
travelers overview, However, if you just want to get
started, here are our recommendations for the best places to visit
in Hawai'i when considering all islands,
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park - the Big Island
Although there are five volcanoes on the Big Island, only three
are active, in a geological sense. Hualalai last erupted over 200
years ago and Mauna Loa’s last eruption was in 1984. However the
volcano known as Kilauea, which is part of Hawai’i Volcanoes
National Park, has been erupting continuously since 1983.
The Volcanoes of the Hawai'ian Island chain normally evidence gentle
eruption cycles that do not have the violence associated with them,
as, for example, was witnessed in the cataclysmic eruption of Mount
Saint Helens in 1980. As a consequence, the eruptions of this
usually slow flowing, ropey-type of lava, are relatively safe to
view, as well as being scenic and spectacular, especially when
viewed at a safe distance at night or from offshore.
Kilaeua's eruption is one of the most beautiful and visceral
attractions that you will ever see.
It’s not often that you will have the opportunity to visit an
active, erupting volcano and no one knows when Kilauea will stop its
current flow, In fact, we recommend
traveling to the Big Island just to see Kilauea erupt. See our guide
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for more details.
2. The Road to Hana – Maui
Maui is filled with a number of excellent attractions and foremost
among these is the curvy, coast-hugging, spectacularly scenic Road
to Hana. We recommend taking a tour to Hana, as this will allow you
to focus on the breathtaking scenery, take photos and enjoy the
ride, while someone else drives.
There are more curves along this seventy-mile stretch of road
than you can count and a large number single-lane bridges from which
to view the shoreline, the beaches the mountain valleys and numerous
While the Road to Hana is the attraction, we think
you will find a lot to like about the town of Hana, especially if you spend the
night. Read more about
the Road to Hana in our guide to Maui.
3. Waikiki – Oahu
Waikiki is a gorgeous combination of a flat, lovely beach, adjacent
to the azure waters of the Pacific, surrounded by cozy hotels,
upscale shopping centers and sleek condominium towers. Waikiki is a
good introduction to the tropics, as it is the entryway to the
delights of Oahu, one of the most diverse of the Hawai'ian Islands.
During your visit, you can laze on its scenic beach, gaze in
wonderment at Diamond Head, participate in water sports, ride a
submarine, eat at some of the best restaurants in Hawai'i and
participate in the area's active nightlife - something that you may
really have to search for on the other islands in the Hawai'i chain, but
not in Waikiki. Waikiki has a solid reputation as a
family-friendly resort area and has numerous alternatives when the kids get
tired of surfing. If you are going to visit Oahu, Waikiki is the
place to stay. Read more about the attractions in Waikiki in our
4. Snorkeling and scuba diving - Oahu, Maui, the Big Island and Lanai
Hawai'i’s tropical waters are rich with sea life and attract
snorkelers and scuba divers from around the world. Few visitors can
pass up the opportunity to snorkel in Hawai'i and those who are
certified head for the deeper waters and scuba.
Although there are an enormous number of excellent scuba and
snorkeling locations in the Hawai'ian Island chain, among the best are: The Hanauma Bay Nature Park in Oahu, Molokini off Maui’s southwest
coast, Hulopoe Beach in Lanai (only via
cruises unless you are staying on Lanai). Next up is Mauna Kea Beach at Kaunaoa Bay on the Big Island, although access here is limited
(unless you are staying at the Mauna Kea Beach hotel or the Hapuna
Beach Prince Hotel, both formerly owned by Westin but now owned and
Prince Resorts Hawai'i).
Diving, whether snorkeling or scuba, carries risks, so be sure of
your swimming skills, scout the surf conditions, dive with a capable
partner, and always ask locally about the safety of diving anywhere
5. Waimea Canyon State Park – Kauai
Often advertised as the Grand Canyon of
Hawai'i, Waimea State Park is
a spectacular sight with steep, deep colorful canyons of the Waimea
Gorge touched, in places, by lush vegetation.
You need to hike in,
but it is worth the scramble. On the other hand, if the weather is
clear, a helicopter tour of the park might be just the ticket. Read
more about the park and
Kauai in our one page guide to the best
places to visit.
6. World War II Pearl Harbor Memorials – Oahu
The Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor is one of the most somber of
the monuments in Hawai'i dedicated to the Americans who lost their
lives in World War II. The memorial center has a number of
exhibits explaining the attack by Japan on the United States on
December 7, 1941. However, the boat ride from the center to the
Arizona Memorial is a lonely journey across Pearl Harbor to the spot where the USS Arizona,
moored in Battleship Row, was
sunk with the loss of over one thousand sailors on that Day of
Memorial is evocative, heart- breaking and thought provoking.
While in the area, you can visit the refurbished battleship USS
Missouri (it was on her deck that the declaration ending the War
with Japan was signed in Tokyo Bay in 1945), the USS Bowfin Memorial
to submariners and the Pacific Aviation Museum. See our guide to
Oahu and click on
World War II Memorials for more details on visiting.
7. Haleakala National Park – Maui
One of the favorite adventures of visitors to Maui is to see the sun
rise over Haleakala National Park, a view which is breathtaking, to
say the least.
Haleakala is an ancient volcano, often wreathed by
clouds, that looms over much of Maui. It is the signature vista of
this island and thought by some to be an energy vortex with “powers”
much like those associated with the peaks surrounding Sedona,
Arizona. We are not sure what to think about the vortex claim, but
Haleakala is mysterious, foreboding and starkly beautiful. In
addition, Haleakala is a scenic wonderland with many unique habitats
to explore and the Park is recognized as an important international
Finally, you can rent a bike and glide down the slope
of Haleakala (starting outside of the National Park boundary) for an
exciting ride while experiencing an enchanting view of Maui. Read
Haleakala in our Guide to Maui.
8. Hilo and Hamakua - the Big Island
If you are looking for a sense of the tropics as they used to be,
the Big Island’s northeast coast from Hilo through the Hamakua
District is a must-see. This is the rainy side of the Island and
home to lush rainforests and amazing waterfalls. Take the Hilo
Hamakua Heritage Drive (the Hawai'i Belt Road) and be prepared to
experience Hawai'i’s primal beauty, including small towns and villages
seemingly unchanged for generations. See our description of the
Hilo and Hamakua area in our guide to the Big Island.
9. Whale Watching Cruises – MauiThe warm winter water
off Maui’s western and south shores attracts Humpback whales who
migrate here from the North Pacific near the Aleutian Islands to
mate and birth their offspring. The season runs from November
through May and the gentle giants are usually present in abundance.
See our Guide to the best places to visit in
more details on what else this famous island has to offer.
10. Napali Coast State Wilderness Park - Kauai
The beauty of the rugged Napali Coast is stunning. You can discover
this for yourself by trekking a series of trails that are as rugged
as the topography, or you can observe the spectacular view from a
boat or a helicopter. Either way, the beauty is endless, although
you may feel more a sense of accomplishment if you are an avid,
in-shape trekker and conquer the challenge of the trail. See our
guide to the best places to visit in
Kauai for more details.
11. Polynesian Cultural Center – Oahu
Cultural Center on the northeast shore of Oahu explores and
celebrates the Polynesian culture across the Pacific Ocean. Interactive
activities make this attraction a hit with kids and its luau is one
of the best on Oahu. Do yourself a favor; this is a must-see stop if
you visit Oahu. Explore our guide to
Oahu for more
information on this and other fantastic attractions.
12. Luxury resorts and golf – Lanai
If you really want to get away from it all and be pampered at the
same time, visit the island of Lanai. Although it’s a compact,
almost tiny isle, it is well-known for its two luxury resorts, each
of which has a signature golf course. The Four Seasons at Manele Bay
is a spectacular beach-side resort in the lowlands of the island,
while the Four Seasons Lodge of Koele is a plantation-style resort,located high in the hills of Lanai. Other than seclusion, pampering,
relaxation and golf, Lanai is short on attractions, but most people
who visit never notice and for good reason. See our guide to
Lanai for more information on visiting.
13. North Shore Surfing Beaches – Oahu
One of the delights of visiting Oahu is the chance to
view the activity at its
North Shore surfing beaches that are famous around the world
for their waves and the unique surf culture that permeates this area
of Hawai'i. Sunset Beach, Ehukai, Waimea Beach Park and other beach
areas will thrill you with the size of the breaking surf and the
hardy riders that brave their majestic waves. See our
recommendations on the
best beaches in Oahu, part of our guide to the best places to
visit in Oahu.
14. Mauna Kea – Big Island
Mauna Kea is an extinct volcano that towers almost fourteen thousand
feet above sea level. Its peak is adorned with numerous
observatories and high powered telescopes for searching the
Although the biggest and best of these imaging devices are off
limits to visitors, stargazing from the slopes of Mauna Kea on a
clear night will likely be the highlight of your visit to the Big
The drive is difficult and demanding of both the driver and the
vehicle. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are required and we recommend
that you sign up for a Mauna Kea Summit tour and let someone else do
the driving while you gawk at the sights. Read more about visiting
Mauna Kea in our guide to
Hawai'i’s Big Island. Mauna Kea is not a tour for everyone
and as you can see from the snow in the photo, it's cold at that
elevation, even if it is in the tropics.