Hawaii Things to Do and Sights to See | Snorkeling, Culture, Food, and Tours

Last Updated on July 5, 2023 by Snorkel Ken

awesome-hawaii-snorkel-store Our inspiration for starting SnorkelStore.net back in 2015 was mainly due to the inspiration that the beautiful island waters of Hawaii gave us.  We really enjoyed ourselves and each other while hanging at the beach and snorkeling.  Truth is, though, that there is so much MORE to Hawaii than snorkeling (yeah, even we have to admit that) and we enjoyed all the hiking, historic sites, beautiful views, and other awesome activities.  So, while the snorkeling is obviously our favorite past-time this page of the Snorkel Store is our ode to the rest of the awesomeness that is Hawaii.

5 Things You Must Do in Oahu

Known as the “gathering place,” Oahu’s nickname is apt considering it holds not only Hawaii’s capital city, but the vast majority of people. While its melting pot of ethnicities had bred a distinct and exciting culture, Oahu isn’t just about urban landscapes, like its more rugged tropical neighboring islands,  Oahu has its unique can’t-miss treasures. hawaii-oahu

Visit Iolani Palace

While portions of the United States have been owned by the French, Spanish, or English royalty at one point or another, but the only place in the United States to ever have a royal palace built is in Oahu. Iolani Palace represents the last days of the Hawaiian Kingdom’s rule over the islands, serving as the home to the last two monarchs to ever rule here. The palace that now sits in Downtown Honolulu was influenced by European architecture styles and hosts the first flush toilets, electric lights, and intra-house telephone system in Hawaii. Even today, the palace hasn’t lost an ounce of its royal elegance, featuring a stunning koa staircase, ornate furniture, a showcase of gifts given to the royal family, and regal portraits of past Hawaiian royalty.

Snorkel Hanauma Bay

Oahu is home to a number of great snorkel spots, but Hanauma Bay is easily the most popular snorkeling destination on Oahu. With a high population of particularly friendly fish, shallow calm water, and beautiful white sand, it provides the perfect conditions for snorkelers just starting out with the marine life views to thrill even those at high skill levels. While the fish are attracted to this partially submerged volcanic crater due to its protection from ocean swells, they also come for the protection provided by humans. Although Hanauma Bay gets a lot of visitors, it is more nature preserve than your typical Hawaiian beach park. While Hanauma Bay is a can’t-miss snorkel spot, if you are looking for more, be sure to check out Kuilima Cove, Kahe Point, Sharks Cove, or Kaena.  Also, there are plenty of snorkel tours on Oahu that are worth it.

Pay Your Respects at Pearl Harbor

Oahu has had a long military legacy and is home to one of the most touching memorials to the lives lost in World War II. Pearl Harbor was one of the first times that America was hit by foreign powers abroad and it devastated a nation. However, instead of clearing away all the devastation, today the sunken ships sit as both grave markers and memorials. Standing over the sunken USS Arizona is to literally stand above where 1177 men lost their lives and Hawaii’s clear waters leave those above to gaze down and view it clearly on most days. Serving as a bookend to America’s stages in World War II is the USS Missouri, or Mighty Mo, anchored just a short distance away from the Arizona, showing the strength and perseverance that came about after the attack. Visitors can also tour the USS Bowfin, a World War II submarine that hosts a submarine-dedicated museum, as well as the Pacific Aviation Museum.

Surf the North Shore

Once only the sport of Hawaiian royalty, it was Olympic swimmer Duke Kahanamoku and his Waikiki boys in Oahu that brought surfing back from the brink of extinction and gave it to the rest of the world. However, while you can still learn to surf around Waikiki Beach, it is a little too crowded to enjoy the sport seriously. However, Oahu is still home to one of the best surf spots in the world – the North Shore. With places to learn and some of the most majestic winter swells rolling in, the North Shore is a surfer’s dream, no matter how novice or experienced they are. If you don’t quite have the pop needed to stand up on the board and choose to just watch from land, be sure to check out the Banzai Pipeline when it is in season to see surfers zipping through that iconic curl.

Hike to the Top of Diamond Head

Waikiki Beach is just one of those places that when you are on Oahu, you just sort of end up gravitating towards. However, while it is, without a doubt, a great beach, there is a better way to check it out. Diamond Head is the great summit that looms over Waikiki. Named for the calcite crystals sparkling at the top that enticed British explorers towards it in the 1700’s thinking they found diamonds, you won’t find any diamonds up there today, even faux crystal ones. However, you will be treated to an absolutely inspiring view out over the beach and the vast ocean beyond. From the beach, the hike up might look daunting, but the 1.4-mile round-trip complete with hand rails and benches at the top isn’t exactly what you’d call a challenge.

5 Things You Must Do on Hawaii (Big Island)

While Hawaii’s Big Island lives up to its name as the biggest island in the archipelago, this isn’t the land of crowded beaches and packed downtown streets. The Big Island is the land of fiery volcanoes, vast black rock fields, imposing mountains, dense tropical forests, and sparkling waterfalls. While it has its beaches like every island in Hawaii, the Big Island is so much more. It is the island for the adventurer that is ready to lace up their hiking boots and explore. Big-Island-Volcanoe

Explore Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is easily the biggest attraction on the Big Island. Home to craters, lava fields, lave tubes, and, of course, volcanoes, for many this is a once in a lifetime chance to get to see a volcano in action. One of the two volcanoes in the park, Kilauea, has been spitting, spewing, and oozing lava since 1983, gradually adding 500 acres to the Big Island’s land mass since it started. While seeing actual lava flow is a bit up to luck, there is more to see in this park than just volcanoes. If the Kilaeua is being fussy and not putting on a show, one can’t-miss area of the park is to explore is the Thurston Lava Tube. Inside you can see the path that lava once took straight from the core of the earth all the way the the outside. After the lava stopped flowing, the tube remains like a massive vein leading right to the heart of Hawaii. Other options include taking a tour to summit the quieter, occasionally snow-capped Mauna Loa volcano, trekking the Chain of Craters road, and driving the inspiring Crater Rim Drive.

Zipline Past Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls State Park is a relatively small area on the Big Island that is renowned for some of Hawaii’s mightiest waterfalls. While you can walk a short loop around the park to view two waterfalls that won’t take more than an hour of your time, there is a better way to see waterfalls. You can walk to waterfalls almost anywhere that waterfalls are found, but how often do you get to zipline past them? Thanks to Skyline Eco-Tours, you soar well above the 250-foot high waterfalls in a zipline experience that is as invigorating as it is terrifying.

Snorkel Kahalu’u Bay

Located close to Kona, the Kahalu’u Bay is the perfect place to escape for a quick and scenery-rich snorkel on the Big Island. This sheltered and shallow bay is home to one of the biggest concentration of fish around the Big Island and provides ideal conditions for those not quite confident in their snorkel skills. With plenty of tide pools to explore beforehand, there is a lot to see in Kahalu’u, but what makes it unforgettable is the abundance of sea turtles. These turtles come to the bay to sun themselves on the warm rocks as well as to munch on the seaweed on floor of the bay, making snorkeling here a sight like no other. Other great snorkel spots on the Big Island include Kealakekua Bay, Honaunau Bay, and Captain Cook. However, snorkelers should be aware that the ecosystem around Captain Cook has been compromised by its own popularity with snorkelers, kayakers, and other visitors. So it might be best to just let that one recover.

Head into the Waipio Valley

Historically, the Waipio Valley is the equivalent to Hawaii’s bread basket. It was once home to over 10,000 people when Captain James Cook first arrived in 1778, and home to several kings including King Kamehameha the Great, leading to its nickname, The Valley of Kings. However, no one really lives here anymore, but it is preserved as a modern day Garden of Eden. Framed by verdant steep hills and accented by a black sand beach, this is a major destination for those on the hunt for the Big Island’s greener views. While the waters on the shore aren’t great for swimming, the real attraction here is the thick blanket of green that spreads out before you. Accessible by van tour, horseback ride, or a particularly strenuous hike (the valley walls are pretty steep), part of the adventure waiting in Waipio Valley is getting to it.

Tour the Hilo Coffee Mill

The Big Island is rugged country, but it is easy to forget that it is also coffee country. All that amazing Kona coffee that you imbibe in each morning is grown, ground, and packaged right on the Big Island, with much of it done at the Hilo Coffee Mill. What makes this mill worth the visit is that while they do process coffee beans from other farms on the Big Island, they also grow some of their coffee on-sight. This means you can follow the bean from the field, through the roaster, and all the way from packaging. Of course, you also get to sample the fruits of their labor fresh brewed right there as well. It is coffee like you have never had it before and an excellent way to energize before other adventures.

5 Things You Must Do on Maui

Maui is one of the most visited Hawaiian Islands, and rightly so. Maui is an island that has a little something for everyone. It has rugged adventures for the explorers, white sand beaches for all those beach bums, good swimming and surf, and even great golf courses for more resort-bound vacationers. It is an island that, no matter what your ideal Hawaiian vacation entails, you can have it on Maui maui_island_things-to-do

Spelunk in Waianapanapa State Park

In Hawaiian, “Waianapanapa” translates to “glistening waters,” but the real draw to the park is really the jet black volcanic sands of the beach that add the perfect contrast to the verdant jungle and bright blue water beyond. However, while many stop at the beach for a quick picture before continue on to other sights, if you choose to look beyond the obvious, this state park can become even more exciting. Hiking the park’s primary path that traces along the black sand beach eventually leads to Waianapanapa’s beautiful freshwater caves. While in Hawaiian lore this was the sight of the grisly murder of Popo’alaea by her husband Chief Ka’alea, today visitors come more to explore the caves and swim in the cool pools within.

Snorkel the Molokini Crater

Maui is home to hands-down the most popular snorkel sight throughout the archipelago – the Molokini Crater. From afar, Molokini looks like a slim crescent just barely breaking the water, but that land mass serves as a crater wall of the extinct volcano that used to ooze here. Now both a marine and bird sanctuary, it is both a popular spot for snorkelers and divers. However, it does take a boat tour to reach the sight, but in the winter it also might turn into an unofficial whale watching tour as the magnificent sea giants migrate through the area. Other amazing snorkel destinations in Maui for those that want to stay closer to shore include the Honolua Bay, Pu’u Keka’a, and Kapalua Bay.

Ride the Road to Hana

Most roads in Hawaii are pretty spectacular, but there is no drive that is more of a must than the road to Hana. This coastal road winds 64 miles between Kahulu and just beyond the town of Hana. While tracing the northeastern coast, drivers are privileged to pristine rainforest views, ample beautiful beaches for day trips, steep lava cliffs, and glistening waterfalls, making it one of the best drives you will ever take in your life. Travelling the road to Hana can be a vacation in and of itself purely because there are just so many places you can stop along the way to enjoy the Hawaiian landscape and culture. The seven sacred pools in the Oheao Gulch, hiking through the bamboo forest on the Pipiwai Trail, and visiting the aforementioned Waianapanapa Beach are just some of the great stops to visit along the way. However, if you are travelling the road to Hana in the winter, be sure to take a stop at Hookipa Beach to watch surfers and windsurfers shred some of the most extreme waters in the islands. It is a chance to see some real life daredevils at work.

Skygaze from the Top of Haleakala

Haleakala, the namesake of Haleakala National Park, is a dormant volcano that many visitors to Maui use as a perch to see for miles over the island. Many tours ferry visitors up here as the 10,000-foot elevation of the volcano is a bit too strenuous to hike on a vacation. Once at the summit, there are two popular activities – watching the sunrise and star gazing. As one of the highest points in Hawaii, it is the first to spot the sun rise and because it is so high up, you won’t find any star-studded skies that are clearer. However, while you may have packed nothing but shorts and tank tops for your Hawaiian vacation, Haleakala’s high elevation causes it to be much chillier than Maui’s beaches, so consider bringing a jacket.

Spend a Day in Upcountry

The way people envision Maui, and indeed all of Hawaii, is all beaches, volcanoes, and rainforest, which is why Maui’s Upcountry can catch them by surprise. The high elevation rolling grasslands that make up Maui’s Upcountry is where much of Hawaii’s agriculture and livestock are grown. It is essentially an area where foodies definitely want to visit. You can enjoy fresh fire-roasted coffee, farm-to-table lunches, and even ride powerful horses across those green hills. It is an area that thrives on rustic, but has refined its simplicity into something special. Consider visiting one of the area’s overlooked wineries, take a paraglider over the area, and pick up some fresh goat cheese from the Surfing Goat Dairy, if only for the chance to get to see a goat on a surfboard.

5 Things You Must Do on Lanai

Lanai is often Hawaii’s forgotten island. As the smallest and least populated island, Lanai takes a stance of remote luxury where, if visitors bother to come, they certainly won’t forget this little island. With secluded sands, isolated natural wonders, and more bizarre Hawaiian sights that you probably won’t see inside your resort, Lanai is easily one of the most interesting off the beaten path spots in the island chain. hawaii-lanai-things-to-do

Wander the Garden of the Gods

When you hear the name, the Garden of the Gods evokes visions of a modern day Garden of Eden, rich with flowers, fruits, and other lush vegetation. However, the Garden of the Gods is not that. In fact, it is an area that seems like it would be more at home in the American Southwest rather than in Hawaii. While wandering the Garden of the Gods, you feel a bit like you have been transported to Mars. With red dust framing some oddly shaped boulders, this wasteland is, in every definition, alien. While a day can be spent exploring all the oddly shaped rocks in the area, the Garden of the Gods really comes alive at sunset. When the sun sets, the light of the setting sun almost lights the area on fire, coloring the rocks an unforgettable hue of colors ranging from fiery reds and bright purples.

Trace the Koloiki Ridge

There are a number of great hikes on Lanai, but often one of the most memorable is the Koloiki Ridge Trail. While it is a relatively easy trail, featuring a long trek through dense forest cover to keep temperatures down, the little work that you do put into it gives off great pay outs in the form of the peak. From atop the Koloiki Ridge, you are treated to sweeping views over the rolling hills painted in every hue of a sunset, the gully below, and all the way out into the sea. Accessible from the Four Seasons Lanai Lodge in Koele, the hike only takes about two hours roundtrip, but it could not be a more rewarding way to spend a day.

Snorkel Shark Fin Cove

Some of Lanai’s best snorkeling lies off the coast of the island itself in Shark Fin Cove. While you will need to charter a boat to get there, once you arrive at Shark Fin Cove, you will not only get to visit a small volcanic island that serves as the home to an abundance of sea life, but it actually features some pretty dramatic views back at mainland Lanai. However, within the serene reef-studded waters, you will have the privilege of snorkeling waters rich with clownfish, green sea turtles, and octopus. While rare, reef sharks have also been known to prowl the area as well. Other great snorkeling options in Lanai include Hulopoe Bay, Polihua Beach, and Shipwreck Beach. However, less experienced snorkelers should be aware that Shipwreck Beach can occasionally have strong currents, so if you are not a great swimmer, it might be best to just enjoy it from the shore.

Hike the Munro Trail

While the Munro Trail doesn’t feature the same dramatic vista of the aforementioned Koloiki Ridge Trail, it does present a chance that not everyone gets to experience – a chance to see all Hawaiian Islands at once. With landscape constantly evolving along the circuit from forest, canyon, and ocean views, you get to see everything that makes up the island’s unique landscape. However, on particularly clear days, when you look out over that ocean you do get a chance to see all the major islands in the distance, making it a great final trek for those island-hopping through Hawaii. As the trail goes through dense rainforests, sandy trails, and that beautiful red Hawaiian dirt, it can be a difficult trek, which is why many choose to take a car down the trail instead of hiking it.

Sunbathe in Hulopoe Bay

For the visitors that do come to Lanai, hands-down the favorite activity is to head down to some of the least-crowded beaches in Hawaii. While Hulopoe is the most popular beach, it draws people for a reason. Sunbathers can stretch out on the pristine wide stretch of white sand and feel like they actually have an area all to themselves. While the waters are perfect for snorkelers of all levels and a particular thrill when the spinner dolphins come to play, those who choose to stay on land can occupy themselves exploring the tide pools on the beach’s eastern end.

5 Things You Must Do in Kauai

Kauai isn’t Hawaii’s largest island, or even its smallest, but it is the oldest island. As such it has had years to cultivate a landscape that it uniquely its own. Known as Hawaii’s Garden Isle, you can expect lush foliage creating verdant steep peaks, beautiful native flowers, and all of it framed by Hawaii’s trademark white sand beaches. With a number of excellent trails and calm clear waters, Kauai is a land of recreation both above and below the water.

Hike the Na Pali Coast

The trails that run along the Na Pali coast create not only one of the most stunning and challenging hikes in Hawaii, but in the entire United States. Visitors must traverse some of the steep painted cliffs that make up the coast, making them really work to get to scenic overlooks and beaches that remain almost untouched from the millions of tourists that come to Hawaii. However, as this trail leaves society and its crowds behind, the steep, narrow, and occasionally slippery trails can be dangerous to unprepared hikers. Adding to that, many hikers make the deadly mistake of trying to swim in the oceans along its beautiful resting beaches. Due to the strong ocean currents in the area, even going in the water is not advised. While you shouldn’t be swimming in the area, hiking the Na Pali coast provides one of the most rewarding treks in the island chain.

Explore Waimea Canyon

Nicknamed by Mark Twain as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon runs ten miles long, two miles wide, and 3,600 feet deep. The deep red, brown and yellow hues cut through the otherwise completely green jungle like a knife, creating a much more striking appearance than the actual Grand Canyon. Unlike other great canyons created by water flow, the Waimea was actually created over thousands of years by lava flows, providing fertile soils within that create a rich ecosystem. This has made exploring Waimea Canyon in full a Hawaiian vacation in and of itself.

Take in the View at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge

Located on Kauai’s north shore, Kilauea Point is a must-stop for visitors. It not only serves as a refuge for Hawaii’s native and migratory sea birds, but the surrounding waters are also home to Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, and humpback whales in the winter. While visitors come to watch the red-footed boobies, Laysan albatrosses, and wedge-tailed shearwaters in their natural habitat, this area is also home to some of the most dramatic lookouts on the island, providing stunning overlooks to the ocean. The centerpiece of the area is also its historic Kilauea Lighthouse that operated from 1913 through 1976.

Snorkel Ke’e Beach

Unlike Maui or Oahu, Kauai doesn’t feature the same wide array of mind-blowing snorkel spots to choose from. As Kauai suffers from both strong currents and crowded beaches, the less crowded snorkel spots can be dangerous for the less experienced, while the easier spots get so crowded with people there for other sorts of water play. Ke’e Beach is a bit more out of the way, but the calm summer waters and reef protected lagoon attracts a lot of snorkelers as well as swimmers. However, while the waters are bursting with marine life, including green sea turtles, the further out you go, the more risk you run of getting caught in the strong currents. Other snorkeling options in Kauai include Anini Beach, Poipu Beach, and Lydgate State Park. However, each has their own disadvantages, be it in the form of currents or crowds.

Kayak the Wailua River

Although a short river at only around two miles long, the wide river bed surrounded by lush jungle makes the Wailua River in Kauai feel like a piece of the Amazon. Experienced kayakers can ply the serene waters on their own while others can engage in any number of tours down the water. While paddling, you will pass an old Hawaiian village, pristine canyons, and a tropical rain forest that comes alive around you. It is an excellent option for those who want to sample some of Hawaii’s kayaking culture, but don’t quite feel confident for a sea kayaking trip yet. The best part of any kayaking trip up the Wailua is the end of the trip where the river ends at the stunning Secret Falls, or Uluwehi Falls, that provide the perfect reward to those that put in the work to explore this secret slice of paradise.

Our Favorite Videos of Things to Do on each Hawaiian Island-Enjoy!