When you go to Hawaii for vacation, honeymoon in Hawaii or have a Hawaiian destination wedding, you’ll quickly realize just how much there is to see and do around the islands. Hawaii is known around the world for its natural beauty, tourist-friendly activities, and breathtaking landmarks – but choosing where to go and what to see in your limited time in paradise can be a challenge!
Your “home base” island will play a major role in where you visit over the course of your vacation, but with a little planning, you can travel among the islands to check items off your “must see” list. You can even cruise between islands to experience more!
Whether a professional, informative tour or a self-guided wander through one of Hawaii’s amazing destinations, you can find great places to visit that fit your interests, speed, and sense of adventure.
We can’t possibly include every option in this list, from numerous boat cruises to hiking trails, historic landmarks to pristine beaches… Instead, we’ve compiled some of Hawaii’s most popular – and most iconic – tourist destinations to help you narrow down your plans. You can pick (at least) one of these destinations as the centerpiece of your vacation, and plan outward from there!
Top Hawaii Vacation Destinations
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Encompassing over 300,000 acres of the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is home to two active volcanoes: Kilauea, the most active volcano in the world, and Mauna Loa, the largest shield volcano in the world. Depending on volcanic activity, visitors can see flowing lava in person!
You can hike miles of trails, learn about the island’s history in the Visitor’s Center, walk through a 600-foot lava tube, take scenic drives along Crater Rim Drive or Chain of Craters Road, and get a firsthand look at the powerful volcanic activity that formed the Hawaiian islands millions of years ago.
Located on Oahu’s south shore just east of Waikiki beach, Diamond Head (also known as Leahi) is perhaps Hawaii’s most iconic national monument. This massive crater features incredible hiking trails, panoramic views, and historic military bunkers from the region’s use as a lookout in the early 1900s.
Easily accessible by car or bus from Waikiki, the 1.6 mile hike is an intermediate challenge, but historical markers and ADA accessibility make the crater floor a great place to sightsee for anyone. As of May 2022, parking and entry reservations are required for non-residents, so it’s a good idea to plan accordingly!
You can hike this one-of-a-kind national park on your own, participate in a guided audio tour, or visit Diamond Head as part of a larger Oahu tour that makes other stops near Waikiki.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Along the north shore of Kauai, the Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge is home to thousands of migratory seabirds including the Laysan albatross, wedge-tailed shearwaters, red-footed boobies, great frigatebirds, brown boobies, white-tailed tropicbirds, and beyond. Whale and dolphin sightings are common, and the 203-acre park includes the historic Kilauea lighthouse (which offers guided tours), hiking trails, and gorgeous views of the nearby mountain range.
This tourist destination is a must for nature lovers, but to minimize foot traffic, reservations are required for entry.
The Iolani Palace
The Iolani Palace is a truly iconic piece of Hawaiian history, dating back to the late 1800s and the lineage of the Kingdom of Hawaii, well before the islands became an American state. Built in 1879 and a prominent landmark in downtown Honolulu, this gorgeous palace went through a massive restoration process in the 1930s, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Visitors can enjoy a number of guided and self-guided tours that showcase the beauty of the palace and learn about its intricate history. There are some requirements for visiting, including appropriate attire and restrictions on personal items. Learn more about preparing for a visit to Iolani Palace.
USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is Hawaii’s most popular tourist destination, with more than 2 million people visiting each year. The memorial is only accessible by boat, and is built over the sunken hull of the USS Arizona. Reservations are recommended but not required, and the Memorial Program includes a Navy-provided shuttle to the memorial, time at the memorial site, and a return trip to the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center.
Beyond visiting the memorial itself, the Visitor Center and surrounding area of Honolulu offers a range of other tours, memorial sites, and activities that focus on the history surrounding the tragic attack.
Contact Us for a Free Hawaii Travel Consultation!
This is just a small sample of the amazing places to visit in Hawaii. Tour destinations are scattered across each of the islands, with no shortage of options for all kinds of budgets, ages, and interests. To start planning your vacation to these iconic Hawaiian landmarks – and so much more of the beauty the islands have to offer – contact Sunset Travel & Cruise today!