For some, a vacation in Hawaii is a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list trip. For others, Hawaii is a regular, must-visit destination they simply can’t get enough of. And for still others, Hawaii is simply home.
No matter which of these groups you fall into, our list of things to do, activities, and attractions in Hawaii will help you make the most of your time in the Aloha State. You’ll find options across all four of Hawaii’s major islands: Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island, and Maui. Use this list to plan an unforgettable vacation or just a memorable day off. We’ll start at the very beginning—with the natural phenomenon that created the Hawaiian Islands approximately 30 million years ago.
Explore Hawaii’s Fiery Past (and Present!) Through Its Volcanoes
The Hawaiian Islands owe their entire existence to a geological phenomenon called a hotspot, a place where hot magma erupts through the seafloor. In the case of the Hawaiian islands, the lava built up over millions of years, eventually reaching the surface of the sea. As the tectonic plates over the hotspot shifted, the island chain we know today was created.
Although the Big Island is the only Hawaiian Island with an active volcano, you can still explore Hawaii’s volcanic history throughout Hawaii:
- On Kauai, head to Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. As you gaze at the canyon’s magnificent structures, you’re actually looking at the result of a collapse of part of the volcano that formed Kauai. This depression was further shaped by lava flows, then millions of years of water erosion.i We think you’ll agree that it’s a beautiful remnant of Kauai’s volcanic past.
- On Oahu, head over to Diamond Head State Monument, where you can view the skyline of Honolulu while perched on the edge of a volcanic tuff cone.
- On Maui, make the drive up to Haleakala, where you can sit above the clouds at 10,023 feet and hike the otherworldly crater, which some liken to a trip to Mars.
- On the Big Island, head to Volcanoes National Park. There, you can catch a glimpse of the state’s most active volcano, Kilauea, which is also one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
Take in Hawaii’s Natural Beauty on Horseback
Horseback riding has a fascinating history on Hawaii. The first horses were brought to Hawaii to herd cattle. Like the horses, the cattle on Hawaii weren’t native, but, rather, offered as a gift to King Kamehameha from British Captain George Vancouver. However, it wasn’t until King Kamehameha III brought several Mexican-Spanish cowboys to the Big Island that paniolo culture was truly born. From then on, horseback riding and ranching earned a permanent place in Hawaii’s culture. Today, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to experience the islands’ gorgeous (and often unspoiled!) landscape from the back of a horse.
- On Kauai, enjoy a ride along a gorgeous white sand beach with CJM Country Stables.
- On Oahu, head to Kualoa Ranch. Their Jurassic Valley ride will take you through the spectacular scenery the Jurassic Park movies made famous.
- On the Big Island, explore the Waipio Valley on horseback. This area, also known as the Valley of the Kings, was the childhood home of King Kamehameha. It’s also a gorgeous valley that’s home to lush greenery, gorgeous flowers, dramatic waterfalls, and an unspoiled landscape—perfect for exploring via horseback.
- On Maui, drive on over to Triple L Ranch in Kanaio. A ride through this working ranch will give you a new appreciation for Maui’s wilder east side. (And make sure to grab a burger at the Bully’s Burgers food truck before you head back!)
Continue a Uniquely Hawaiian Tradition by Catching a Wave
Hawaiians are often given credit for inventing surfing. Whether or not that’s the case, surfing one of the islands best known outdoor activities. And it’s not just traditional surfing, these days plenty of people enjoy stand-up paddle surfing, foiling, boogie boarding and bodysurfing
If you’re an experienced surfer, head to Oahu’s North Shore to test your skill on the performance waves you’ll find during the winter. If you want to take a lesson, join one of the many surf schools in Maui’s Kihei Cove or the Big Island’s Kahaluu Bay, where the gentle waves are perfect for beginners. If you want to get into stand up paddleboarding, check out Hawaiian Surf Adventures, whose shop is right near gorgeous Hanalei Bay in Kauai.
Snag One of Hawaii’s Don’t-Miss Ono Dishes
Ono means “delicious” in Hawaiian, and if you frequent the right places in Hawaii, you’ll hear that word used often. Hawaii has long been a destination for immigrants who brought their culinary traditions from Japan, China, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, the Philippines, Pacific Islands, and more. As a result, you’ll find many unique dishes in Hawaii that you won’t find anywhere else. Everyone’s got their favorites, and you’ll soon develop your own.
To get you started, we’ve put together a few ideas:
- Classic mixed plate (two scoops of rice, one scoop of macaroni salad, plus a protein) from Rainbow Drive-In on Oahu.
- Savory manapua (a pork bun) at Wong’s Chinese Bakery on Kauai.
- All-natural shave ice (next-level snow cones) from Kula Shave Ice on the Big Island.
- Authentic loco moco (a bed of rice topped by a hamburger patty and two eggs, covered in gravy) from Kihei Caffe on Maui.
Continue a Classic American Tradition—the Road Trip!
You may think hitting the road is an activity best left to mainlanders. However, there are plenty of scenic drives to enjoy in the Hawaiian Islands, each as unique as the island they belong to. Just remember as you explore to drive with aloha, pull over where possible to let the locals pass, respect traffic rules and “no trespassing” signs along the way, and, most of all, relax and enjoy the ride.
- On Oahu, start in Honolulu and head for the North Shore. But instead of heading due north, try the scenic route. Take the H-1 freeway to Highway 72 all the way to Kailua. Then take a quick jaunt on Highway 61 to Highway 83, which will take you all the way up Oahu’s windward coast. You’ll be taking the long way around, but the breathtaking scenery is more than worth it.
- If Kauai were a clock, you could drive from midnight clockwise all the way around to about ten o’clock. However, you’d spend a lot of time in the car and not a lot of time truly enjoying the sights along the way. Instead, consider taking it slow along Kauai’s north shore with stops in charming Hanalei town and at the serene Kilauea Wildlife Refuge on the island’s northwest corner.
- On the Big Island, savor every mile of the Pepeekeo Scenic Drive, a four-mile-jaunt off Highway 19 that’s part of the old Old Mamalahoa Highway. When headed north from Hilo, look for the Scenic Drive signs between mile markers 7 and 8 on Highway 19. Charming wooden bridges, jungle canopies, tropical foliage, and waterfalls await.
- On Maui, consider skipping the busy Road to Hana in favor of going all the way around West Maui. Start in Wailuku and head counterclockwise through Waihee, past the Nakalele Blowhole. You’ll enjoy unforgettable coastal views all the way to Kapalua. Continue on to Lahaina, where you can enjoy a cocktail in one of the town’s many ocean side bars.
Enjoy All the Activities That Make Hawaii Hawaii
As its repeat visitors and long-time residents will tell you, there’s no place on earth quite like Hawaii. With this list of things to do, activities, and attractions, you’ll quickly experience the unique magic of these islands all on your own.
Looking to make Hawaii your home? We’d be happy to help! With crews and warehouses on Oahu, Kauai, the Big Island, and Maui, we can get you anywhere in Hawaii that you want to go. It all starts with a complimentary quote from one of our experts
Tell us about your move!