When you think of the Hawaiian islands, you may picture surfers and sunbathers on Waikiki Beach. However, the Aloha State is so much more than that. In fact, Hawaii is one of the most ecologically diverse places globally–home to active and dormant volcanoes, sandy beaches, and mountain ranges. With this in mind, we’ll review the 25 most beautiful places in Hawaii to add to your travel bucket list.
Some of these destinations are more popular, like Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park on Big Island or The Hana Highway on Maui. Nonetheless, many of these pretty places in the Aloha State may be a total surprise! For example, did you know that Hawaii has its own version of the Grand Canyon? Or, what about that you can find a snow-capped volcano on Hawaii Island? Keep reading to learn more about these 25 beautiful locations in Hawaii!
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission when you purchase a product or book a stay through these links at no extra cost to you.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park (Big Island)
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park is home to two of the most active volcanoes in the world, Mauna Loa (13,679 ft) and Kilauea (7,079 ft). During your visit to this World Heritage Site, you’ll find most of the attractions on Crater Rim Drive. For example, the Sulphur Banks, the Steam Vents, Kilauea Overlook, and the Thurston Lava Tube are all along this route. Pro tip: Before you start the drive to visit Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, be sure to check volcano eruption status and park closures!
Waimea Canyon State Park (Kauai)
Waimea Canyon State Park is often called the “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Measuring approximately ten miles long and 3,000 feet deep, it’s not quite as big as the Grand Canyon on the mainland. However, you can find some stunning hiking trails here, including the Canyon and Kukui trails. Don’t forget to stop at the Waimea Canyon Lookout for an incredible view! The cost is currently $5.00 per person to visit this park.
Haleakalā National Park (Maui)
Haleakalā National Park is named after the dormant volcano that sits within its boundaries. The word “haleakala” translates to “house of the sun.” Notably, the park’s most popular attraction, Haleakala Crater, is one of the prettiest places in Hawaii to watch the sunrise or to go stargazing.
If you’d like to visit for sunrise, make sure to snag a required reservation beforehand. Additionally, the Summit District at Haleakala National Park reaches over 10,000 feet above sea level, so you’ll also want to dress warmly in layers.
Road to Hana (Maui)
The Hana Highway, also called “The Road to Hana,” is undoubtedly the top thing to do on the island of Maui. This 52-mile drive takes you through beautiful Hawaiian scenery, including waterfalls, lookouts, hiking trails, and beaches. You can even stop at the Garden of Eden Arboretum, which you may recognize from Jurassic Park!
An uninterrupted drive down The Hana Highway would take just over two hours. However, you’ll likely spend at least one day on The Hana Highway, making your way around its 600+ curves and stopping at attractions.
Hanauma Bay (Oahu)
Years ago, Hawaiian Royalty used Hanauma Bay as a secluded spot for fishing and recreation. Nowadays, Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is considered one of the most beautiful Hawaii snorkeling spots. In fact, you can find 400+ species of fish and an abundance of green sea turtles in this protected marine life conservation area.
Remember that online reservations are required to visit and can be made up to two days in advance. First-time visitors must watch a short video to learn about marine life and preservation before entering the park.
Lanikai Beach (Oahu)
Lanikai Beach is ranked as one of the prettiest beaches in Hawaii and one of the top beaches in the world. You’ll find calm waters and soft, powdery white sand here! Besides sunbathing and swimming, Lanikai is also popular as a kayaking spot to Mokulua Nui.
Located on Oahu’s Windward Coast, this beach is approximately a 40-minute drive from downtown Honolulu. Plus, don’t miss the Lanikai Pillbox hike while you’re in the area!
Mauna Kea (Big Island)
Mauna Kea sits at 13,803 feet (4,207.3 m) above sea level, making it the highest point in Hawaiʻi. This one-million-year-old dormant volcano is also one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. Thanks to its elevation, two of the most popular activities here are stargazing and checking out the incredible views at sunset. Before you go, note that a 4-wheel drive vehicle with a low range is required to drive to the summit.
Hanalei Bay (Kauai)
Hanalei Bay is the largest bay on Kauai’s north shore, with almost two miles of beautiful golden beach surrounded by lush green mountains. The bay’s calm waters in the summertime make it perfect for swimming, boogie boarding, and water sports, like sailing and paddleboarding. Moreover, in the winter, Hanalei Bay becomes one of the top surfing locations on the island. Due to its sandy, shallow bottom, this pretty Hawaii spot is also popular among surfing schools.
Akaka Falls (Big Island)
At Akaka Falls State Park, you can explore two waterfalls along the short 0.4-mile Akaka Falls Loop Trail. First, you’ll encounter the smaller Kahuna Falls, followed by the 442-foot (135 m) tall Akaka Falls! The entire loop through the rainforest to this famous waterfall should only take about 30 minutes. Thanks to its accessibility, visiting Akaka Falls is one of the best things to do on the Big Island with kids.
Seven Sacred Pools (Maui)
The Pools of ‘Ohe’o, also called the Seven Sacred Pools, are located in the dreamy ‘Ohe’o Gulch in East Maui. This popular attraction along the Road to Hana consists of, in reality, about 20 swimmable pools surrounded by waterfalls and a gorgeous bamboo forest.
Although this spot was famous for swimming and cliff jumping in the past, Haleakala National Park currently recommends that tourists not enter the water. Nonetheless, we still think it’s worth visiting to see the pools and to hike the Pipiwai Trail, where you can see Makahiku Falls and Waimoku Falls.
Rainbow Falls (Big Island)
Rainbow Falls is located in Hilo, Hawaii, and is sometimes called Waianuenue Falls, which translates literally to “rainbow water.” This nickname comes from the fact that you can see rainbows here on sunny days around 10 a.m.
The falls themselves are 80 feet (24 m) tall and can be accessed via Wailuku River State Park. Moreover, Rainbow Falls flows over a natural lava cave, which is said to be where Hina, an ancient Hawaiian goddess, resides. This beautiful place on Hawaii Island is an excellent addition to any travel bucket list–especially because it’s free to visit!
Wailua Falls (Kauai)
Wailua Falls is a waterfall near Lihue on Kauai, reaching 173 feet (52.7 m) tall and featuring two drops. You may recognize it from the opening credits of the long-running ’70s TV series Fantasy Island. Even if you don’t, this waterfall is 100% worth the short drive! Just be aware that parking is limited.
Waipi’o Valley (Big Island)
In the past, the sacred Waipi’o Valley was home to many early Hawaiian Aliʻi (chiefs/kings), including King Kamehameha I. Nowadays, fewer than 100 people live in this one-mile-long valley. Although Waipiʻo Valley Road is now closed to visitors, you can still visit the Waipio Valley Lookout.
Located on Hamakua Heritage Corridor drive, this scenic overlook features beautiful views of the Hamakua Coast, including a black beach. You’ll probably only need 15-30 minutes for this quick stop!
Kalaupapa National Historical Park (Molokai)
Kalaupapa National Historical Park is situated on the north shore of Molokai. Although it’s one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii, it also has a dark history. In fact, from 1866 to 1969, around 8500 people with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were banished to this remote peninsula.
The national park, established in 1980, works to educate visitors about its past as a leper colony, preserving the experiences and memories of its residents. Access to Kalaupapa National Historical Park is strictly limited and only possible by mule ride, hiking tour, or airplane.
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park (Kauai)
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, in northwest Kauai, is famous for its stunning coastline, featuring rugged cliffs, or “pali.” It’s also home to the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, which has been used since the 1800s as one of the only ways to access the coast by land. Due to the length of this trail, the park requires visitors to obtain a valid overnight camping permit. Note that you can also see the Nā Pali Coast on a helicopter or boat tour if you don’t enjoy hiking.
The Byodo-In Temple (Oahu)
The Byodo-In Temple, located on Oahu within the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, is undoubtedly one of the prettiest places in Hawaii. It was commissioned in 1968 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaiʻi. Furthermore, the Byodo-In Temple is a smaller-scale replica of the Byōdō-in Buddhist temple near Kyoto, a World Heritage Site.
On the temple grounds, you can feed the koi fish in the large reflecting pond, meditate without being disturbed, or just enjoy the views of the Ko’olau Mountains. It’s essential to remove your shoes and keep your voice low if you enter the temple.
Halawa Valley (Molokai)
The Halawa Valley is on the eastern side of Molokai and extends for approximately two miles. This site is home to one of the earliest settlements in the Hawaiian Islands, and archeological remains here include agricultural terraces, irrigation ditches, and several temples.
The drive is beautiful. However, for the full experience, it’s best to visit the Halawa Valley on a cultural hike with a guide. During this experience, you’ll learn about Hawaiian culture as you make your way to Mo’oula falls.
Pololū Valley (Big Island)
The Pololū Valley is similar to a smaller version of Waipi’o Valley, and many tourists consider it to be the most beautiful place on the Big Island. The Pololu Valley Lookout provides a gorgeous view of the northern coastline that is certainly photo-worthy! However, the main attraction is actually the short but steep hike to the black sand beach on the valley floor. This hike should take about 25 minutes–just make sure to pack some water!
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden (Oahu)
Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens, is one of the top tourist attractions on the island of Oahu. Due to its popularity, we recommend arriving early in the morning to see the gardens without so many people! Remember that it is free to visit.
“Ho’omaluhia” means “a peaceful refuge,” which seems very on-brand for one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii. You can find tropical plants from all over the world in the 400 acres that make up this botanical garden.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial (Oahu)
Pearl Harbor National Memorial is one of the best things to do on Oahu, commemorating the sailors and marines who lost their lives during the attack on December 7, 1941. Due to its historical importance, visiting the USS Arizona Memorial is a can’t-miss experience for Americans. Entrance to the visitor center, museum, and the USS Arizona Memorial program are all free. However, online reservations are strongly recommended if you plan to take the boat shuttle out to the memorial.
Punalu’u Beach (Big Island)
Punalu’u Beach is a black sand beach on the Big Island’s southeastern coast, created from volcanic activity originating in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The top activity to do here is to watch for hawksbill and green sea turtles.
These two endangered species can often be spotted basking in the Punalu’u black sand. However, please remember to maintain a distance of at least 10 feet (3 meters) from all turtles. Although you can swim here, we don’t recommend it–the beach is pretty rocky, and the currents can be substantial.
Shark’s Cove (Oahu)
Shark’s Cove is one of the most beautiful snorkel and dive beaches on the North Shore of Oahu. You can see all sorts of marine life in these tide pools, including butterflyfish, parrotfish, surgeonfish, tang, sea turtles, eels, and more. Notice that I didn’t say sharks!
In fact, the name “Shark’s Cove” comes from the shape of the reef in this area. Remember that this spot is only safe for snorkeling when the water is calm–mainly in the summertime. Additionally, if you plan to enter the tide pools, make sure to add water shoes to your Hawaii packing list.
Mākena State Park (Maui)
Makena State Park is home to some of the prettiest beaches on Maui, as well as a dormant volcanic cinder cone. Big Beach is the most popular attraction for visitors, featuring clear, warm water and soft, golden sand. With this in mind, it’s the ideal spot for sunbathing and bodyboarding. Just a five-minute walk from Big Beach, you’ll find Little Beach, a tiny, 660 feet (200 m) long sandy beach. Before you cross over to this second beach, keep in mind that it is a famous destination for nudists!
Waiʻānapanapa State Park (Maui)
Waiʻānapanapa State Park is a beautiful black sand beach on Maui and a top stop along the Road to Hana. Due to its popularity, this state park now requires reservations for entry and parking. So, make sure to snag a reservation in advance and give yourself extra time on the Hana Highway for traffic and other delays–you won’t want to miss your reservation time!
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout (Oahu)
Nu’uanu Pali Lookout is one of the most beautiful places on Oahu, offering a panoramic view of the island’s northeast coast and the Ko’olau Mountain Range. Plus, this scenic spot is only five miles from Downtown Honolulu. Entrance to the lookout is free, although you have to pay $7.00 per car for parking. Moreover, come prepared for strong winds! We recommend spending about 10-30 minutes taking in the views from this lookout.
Did you enjoy this post about beautiful destinations in Hawaii? Pin it for later!