1. Catch the sunset at Lumahai Beach on the North Shore.
The North Shore’s Lumahai Beach is the perfect example of a gorgeous Hawaii beach that will make you the envy of anyone who knows you’re there. Luscious white sands, clear waters, and a great view of the sunset makes it a must visit, no matter what you’re doing on Kauai. It truly is paradise.
Pro tip: Lumahai’s currents can get pretty strong, so make sure that you are aware of the water conditions before jumping in, and be advised of the many rocks throughout the beach.
2. Familarize yourself with an amazing plate lunch at Da Imu Hut Cafe in Eleele.
When food is so incredibly delicious in Hawaii, there is one term we often use: “Broke da mouth.” At Da Imu Hut Cafe, that is exactly what happens no matter what you try, whether it’s the Loco Moco, the hamburger steak, or the restaurant’s amazing and crispy Teri Fried Chicken. The place has long been one of Kauai’s favorite restaurants, and after your first bite, you’ll see why.
Must try: Teri fried chicken, hamburger steak
3. Hike among the tallest of trees at Sugi Grove near Kokee.
A handful of Kauai’s hikes are just as jaw dropping as some beaches, and the hike to Sugi Grove is a fine example of that. Surrounded by tall trees, rich greenery and the Kawaikoi Stream Trail, Sugi Grove is known for its legacy as a legendary campground and wowing every visitor with nature as far as the eye can see.
Pro tip: It’s heavily recommended you follow these directions and get a 4 wheel-drive vehicle before coming up here. Even better, befriend a knowledgeable local person to find the not so obvious path to Sugi Grove.
4. Go through a magical, easy snorkel at Tunnels Beach on the North Shore.
If snorkeling is your favorite way of seeing the ocean, Tunnels is your heaven. Situated right by the breathtaking Na Pali Coast, Tunnels’ inside reef is shallow enough for beginners while still featuring a lot of beauty while its outside reef is full of life from coral and fish. It’s that special Hawaii magic you’ve been looking for, and that’s why you should visit.
Pro tip: Park at one of the many open spots at Ha’ena State Park and enjoy the 10 minute walk, which is full of Hawaii’s many native trees and flowers.
5. Try the best poke at Ishihara Market in Waimea.
There’s no way you can be in Hawaii without having poke (pronounced poh-keh), which features pieces of a fish marinated in sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, onions, and peppers. Kauai’s Ishihara Market is among the best places in the islands for poke, and features over 10 different styles with ahi (tuna), salmon, tako (octopus), and even king crab all available. Remember to share!
Must try: Spicy ahi poke, king crab poke
6. Feel like you’re truly away from the world at Polihale State Park on the West Side.
While the East Side of Kauai contains many iconic spots, the West Side is where all of the true beauty is. Polihale State Park is the westernmost beach in the United States, and the mountains surrounding the beautiful water make you truly feel like you’re on a getaway. It is quite a drive to get to Polihale because the beach is located at the end of the road, but going on a clear day makes it worth it.
Pro tip: Really, really be careful when you’re swimming. The water is usually a great temperature, but there’s no reef blocking Polihale from the open ocean.
7. Push your limits on a hike to see the best of Kauai’s nature at Hanakapi’ai Falls.
No pain, no gain, right? Not for the weak, the Hanakapi’ai hike takes two miles to get to an isolated beach, and then another two miles if you’re craving absolute waterfall nirvana. It’s treacherous because of the narrow path, muddy conditions, and hot sun, but Hanakapi’ai is one of the few hikes in the world that can offer so many different types of nature in one go.
Pro tip: Take your best gear and get in shape before you do the hike. The trail is tough even on a day with completely clear skies, and you’re simply going to want all of your essential gear before doing something so epic.
8. Get away from the crowds while still enjoying the best of Hanalei Bay at Waioli/Pine Trees Beach.
Hanalei Bay is arguably Kauai’s most iconic spot, as its in everything from postcards to a Childish Gambino video. However, Hanalei can get pretty crowded, and those looking to experience it without crowds should go to Waioli Beach, which has the same crystal clear water and gorgeous mountain views. It’s great for surfers of all skill levels due to its varying currents, and swimmers can enjoy the calm shores.
Pro tip: If you need some activity after your swim, there’s a few volleyball courts on the north end of the beach that always have people playing. Go make some friends!
9. Find great sights of the mountains, turtles, and monk seals on the easy Mahaulepuhike.
If you want a hike that gives you a great look at Kauai’s mix of wonderful nature and wildlife without the stress of an intense trek, Mahaulepu is your hike. The hike takes you from the famous Shipwreck Beach to Keonela Bay, as trees, cliffs, sea turtles and even the Hawaiian Monk Seal can all be seen. It really is a testament to just how much variety is in Hawaii’s beauty.
Pro tip: The hike is mostly regular elevation, which means that it’s totally okay for kids and the rest of the family to come along. More amazing pictures for everybody!
10. Experience a wide variety of amazing food trucks at Hanapepe Art Night.
Roll into the westside of Kauai on a Friday night and you’ll come across the town of Hanapepe and its iconic Art Night, filled with a number of merchants selling everything from local art to seashells. The best part about Art Night are all the food trucks, as vendors like Kickshaws offer their delicious take on burgers, while others like Paradise Grinds and Porky’s offer fresh cooked local favorites like chicken katsu, Kalua Pork hot dogs and more. Bet you can’t eat at just one place!
Must try: Kickshaw’s 100% Awesome Burger (80% fresh ground chuck steak, 20% ground bacon, pineapple-black-pepper-onion marmalade, cheddar, arugula, tomato), Porky’s Kalua Pork hot dogs, Paradise Grinds’ fried ice cream.
11. Enjoy the clearest, most unique tidepools at Makapu’u.
Oahu has so many things to do, and experiencing Makapu’u is one of the best ways to realize the island’s beauty. The area’s incredibly beautiful beach has soft sand and clear water as far as the eye can see, but what makes Makapu’u unique is a large tide pool right next to a blowhole. The tidepool itself is more on the shallow side, which means that it isn’t a difficult swim if you’re looking to jump in.
Pro tip: Be careful of the occasional large wave that comes into the tidepool, as it can sweep you away to sea if you have your back turned. Also, the rocks slightly above the tidepool are a great place for your valuables before your swim.
12. Hike through World War II history to see Oahu from the top at Lanikai Pillboxes.
The Lanikai Pillboxes hike offers the most jaw dropping views you’ll find anywhere for such an easy trail. The “pillboxes” themselves are left over from the United States’ efforts during World War II, but go today and you’ll find unique graffiti from different people. The first 10 minutes of the hike are a little steep, but it only takes another 15 to get there to see a great view of such a scenic island.
Pro tip: You can find the hike’s entrance by searching for its sign, which is near the Mid-Pacific Country Club. Make sure to also keep quiet and pick up your trash around the area – there is a thriving neighborhood around the hike.
13. Taste the best Hawaiian food at Helena’s in Kalihi.
When you’re talking about traditional Hawaiian food at a great price with wonderful service, Helena’s Hawaiian Food has to come to mind. Every traditional Hawaiian dish including Kalua Pig, Pipkaula Short Ribs, Lomi Lomi Slamon, and more is here to satisfy your taste buds. Helena’s has been regarded as one of the best places on Oahu since founder Helen Chock opened up in 1946, bringing Oahu its fix of amazing traditional food.
Must try: Combo C – Kalua Pig, Lomi Salmon and Pipikaula Short Ribs
14. Get lost in cool waters and clear sunsets at Haleiwa Beach Park on the North Shore.
Oahu’s North Shore is famous for featuring the world’s most iconic beaches, and those looking to enjoy it without such a giant commotion should check out Haleiwa Beach Park in the charming town of Haleiwa. Sunsets here are in perfect view, the water is on the cooler side, and the beach is wide enough to carve out your own space. It’s time for that long walk on the beach you’ve always wanted.
Pro tip: It actually is pretty common to see turtles on the shoreline, and they are usually active in the day. However, make sure you observe them from a distance and give them their space – they are an especially protected species in Hawaii.
15. Get a view of the other islands by hiking to the top of Koko Head.
If you’re flying to Oahu, chances are you’ll notice the Koko Head crater from above. The Koko Crater Trail allows you to climb to the top of it and get great views of Oahu and other Hawaiian Islands on a clear day. The trail is steep, so bring good shoes and remember of course to pack water for the long trek. It’s all worth it, and this is the perfect hike if you want to feel like the king of the world.
Pro tip: If you need to stock up on goods before your hike, check out the nearby Koko Marina Shopping Center. Also, beware of the steps and be careful, as the concrete can get a bit slippery after rain.
Most locals will tell you that they’ll avoid Waikiki when possible, but a trip to eat at Marukame Udon often serves as the exception. You can see the thick noodles being made when you come in, and you can customize your udon with toppings like green onions and tempura batter after you order. It helps that Marukame’s prices are on the cheaper side, and there’s also a variety of tempura and musubis to choose from if you’re somehow still hungry.
Must try: Curry udon, teriyaki chicken rice bowl
17. Catch great views of legendary waves by hiking to Ka’ena Point State Park.
One of the most surreal hikes you can do on Oahu is situated at Ka’ena Point, which is at the westernmost tip of the island. There are trails on the northern side and the southern side, with both sides offering a great look at big waves and even some seals and birds. It’s easy to enjoy being surrounded by the mix of mountains and water, and both ways won’t kill your feet too much.
Pro tip: Wear sunscreen, bring water, and wear comfortable shoes – both trails offer little shade, especially during hot days.
18. See a beautifully clear blue sea at Waimanalo Beach Park on the Windward side.
When you ask people what stands out to them the most at Waimanalo, they’ll usually say the water. The turquoise color of the sea is absolute ecstasy for your eyes, and the soft sand and windy breeze helps the experience. There’s also usually a ton of parking and Ono Steaks and Keneke’s are nearby by just in case you need some food to accompany you in this paradise.
Pro tip: Just as you would with many public beach bathrooms, make sure you bring someone with you when you have to go. Make sure to also beware of any Portuguese man o’ war jelly fish in the winter.
19. Have a tasty, colorful shave ice at Waiola Shave Ice in Moiliili.
Remember the best snow cone you’ve ever had? It doesn’t matter, because a shave ice at Waiola is a thousand times better. Where snow cones are usually crunchy and hard, shave iced is soft, fluffy, and comes in a variety of flavors. Waiola has been a longtime staple on Oahu and uses its own blended flavors, and as any local will tell you that there is no better way to cool off than with a shaved ice.
Must try: Rainbow shave ice with snow cap
20. Swim, snorkel, kayak, or relax at Makaha Beach Park on the west side.
Whether you want to snorkel, kayak, surf, or just go for a swim, Makaha allows you great conditions to do it all. The beach is spacious, the usually sunny conditions of Oahu’s west side make the water temperature great, and there are lifeguards watching over in case of anything. Incredibly lively sea life like dolphins, sea turtles, and Hawaii’s many colorful fish also make an appearance.
Pro tip: The current can vary, so make sure that you’re always aware of any signs before you head into the water. Also, park close to the beach, and not in the lot across the street – it’ll be easier to keep an eye on your car.
21. Have all the space you want at Big Beach on the southside.
Sand and beach for days – that’s the first thing that comes to mind for anyone that’s visited Maui’s Big Beach. To be specific, the sands extend about 2/3rds of a mile, and the beach is perfect for that getaway swim or even a snorkel with marine life. The lush mountains that surround the beach also help protect from intense winds, and the area itself is perfect for any picnic or family gathering you might plan.
Pro tip: There aren’t really any places to eat around the area except for the occasional food truck here and there, so make sure you bring something ready to eat. Tables for a picnic are also located close to the parking lot.
22. Drive through lush greenery on the Road To Hana.
You know you’re in a one of a kind place when even the car trips are stunning. The Hana Highway is a 64 mile coastal drive that takes you from the main town of Kahului to the town of the Hana, with gorgeous views of waterfalls, forests, trees, and more everywhere you look. It’s a trip that showcases Maui’s unique hybrid beauty of land and sea, as those that experience it are bound to tell everybody.
Pro tip: Standard driving safety rules apply, but please – do not be the type that slows down traffic considerably just to take a picture. There will be many opportunities to do so, and it’s important to stay aware despite the beauty.
23. Find out how dry noodles can be so tasty at Sam Sato’s in Wailuku.
On Kauai, you have Hamura’s Saimin, and on Maui we’re treated to Sam Sato’s and its legendary dry mein. While saimin without broth just seems plain, the incredibly smooth, flavorful noodles at Sam Sato’s give you an eating experience you just can’t describe. The place is usually packed (and for good reason), but the family friendly environment and the low prices make it one of the best local eating environments on Maui.
Must try: Dry noodles, manju
24. Swim with exotic fish and enjoy rich reef life at Kapalua Beach.
Everything that is right about the Hawaii beach experience all seems to be at Kapalua. From the reef that protects the shoreline from harsh waves to the abundance of exotic fish, turtles, lobster, and more, the beach has become a favorite of locals and visitors alike. The waters welcome those looking for a good snorkel, the sand never gets too uncomfortable for feet, and there’s plentiful space for everyone to enjoy themselves.
Pro tip: If you’re going to snorkel, do it at the north end of the beach near the reef – the water is at its clearest here and you’ll get a great look at the reef.
25. Find the calmest pair of waterfalls around at Twin Falls past mile 2 on the Hana Highway.
You’ll find the path to the Twin Falls hike just past mile marker 2 on the Hana Highway, which is full of Hawaii’s beautiful native plants and trees all the way to the overlooking waterfall. The trek itself tends to be pretty easy and is kid friendly, with a free entrance and a portable washroom that takes donations. The twin waterfalls themselves provide a calm and cold water, perfect for anyone wanting a swim.
Pro tip: There’s a concession stand at the beginning of the trail, so feel free to double down on some fresh fruits from the rainforest before you begin your journey. The trail itself can get pretty slippery and watery, so remember to wear good shoes.
26. Feast on fresh fish at Mama’s Fish House in Paia.
It’s not often that someone will go out of their way to recommend a pricy, fine dining restaurant in Hawaii, but you will find no shortage of people that recommend Mama’s Fish House. Every cut of seafood comes fresh from Maui fisherman, from ahi to mahimahi (dolphinfish) and even lobster. The restaurant offers a great selection of prime cut beef and a whole host of deserts. If you need to cap your visit to Maui with a dining experience you’ll never forget, Mama’s is where you want to go.
Must try: Grilled ahi in ti leaf with papaya, chili pepper and coconut rice, Hana banana macadamia nut crisp
27. Revel in the uninterrupted glory of Hamoa Beach in Hana.
While it’s a little off the beaten path, Hamoa Beach is where to go if you want simple, uninterrupted beauty. The waves crash freely on the shoreline, red and black sand surround the water, and its crescent moon shape gives the feel you’re in another world. The current can be rough, but it does create an opportunity for good bodysurfing and there’s a few caves for those that want an adventure in snorkeling.
Pro tip: Make sure you fully understand what the current is like before heading in, as the waves can easily throw someone and create the opportunity for potential injuries. There is no designated parking on the beach, so make sure to find somewhere by the dirt lot.
28. Go up into the clouds and look down on Maui by hiking Waihe’e Ridge Trail in Wailuku.
If you’ve always wanted to be up in the clouds, hiking the Waihe’e Ridge Trail is exactly what you want to do. Covering 4.5 miles, the trail gives you the most amazing look at all of Maui’s wonders, including rainforest valleys, the iconic Haleakala volcano, the island’s coastline, and so much more. The high altitude also makes for a literally cooler trip, meaning that you don’t have to worry too much about the sun.
Pro tip: Rain makes the trail frequently slippery, so make sure to bring some great shoes for traction. Be aware of any edges that may lead to danger.
The local food at Da Kitchen is so good that the restaurant was invited by The White House to cook for President Obama’s inauguration. Respected by residents and visitors alike, Da Kitchen is famous for its giant portions, feel good dining experience, and its wide variety of offerings including chicken katsu, kalua pork sandwiches, and salads. Grab some food, and feel good about saving what you can’t finish for later.
Must try: Fried spam musubi, Da Kitchen burger
30. Surf dream waves at Launiupoko Beach in Lahaina.
What’s Hawaii without an awesome place to surf? Launiupoko’s currents are the best for learning how to surf or paddle board, and the reef protected tide pools offer a place for swimmers of all skill levels to go to. At certain points throughout the year, you can also watch humpback whales play near the ocean shore, making for a pretty unforgettable experience.
Pro tip: If you go on Saturday, go across the street to find the Farmer’s Market, as there are a ton of vendors selling delicious local fruits including papayas, mangos, oranges, and more.
31. Walk on green sand at Papakolea in Kau.
One of four beaches in the world to actually have green sand, Papakolea is located near the southernmost point of the island (Ka Lae) and requires a three mile hike which is filled with scenery. The beach itself is isolated, the sand tends to be on the warmer side, and the waves crash softly because of the rocks there. You’ll truly feel like you’re at the end of the world.
Pro tip: There are often reports of locals charging visitors $10 per person one way to drive them to Green Sand Beach. Truth is, finding the beach isn’t that hard during your hike, and you’re better off saving your money.
32. Adventure through Hawaiian history on a hike through Polulu Valley in the Kohala Mountain.
Hiking Pololu Valley is like taking a walk through Hawaiian history, as the valley itself is said to be one of the oldest parts of the island and filled with Hawaii’s most traditional greenery and best coastline views. The roughly three mile trail itself is full of life, but those looking for something more can hike to the beach, or travel to the bench that overlooks the Honokane Nui Valley. Who knew history could be so fun?
Pro tip: There are some private homes among the trail, so please be respectful. If you’re going to the beach, remember to be careful of the sometimes slippery surface and bring water to counter the heat.
33. Get your local food fix at Da Poke Shack in Kailua-Kona.
Da Poke Shack was chosen as Yelp’s top restaurant in 2013, and for good reason – the place’s wide variety of fish, flavors, and local style plates wow anyone who stops in for a big meal or something to go. Even more, Da Poke Shack offers a wide variety of non-fish offerings including huli huli chicken (slow roasted chicken) and lau lau (steamed pork and butterfish wrapped in taro leaf). The food truly matches the hype.
Must try: Pele’s Kiss Poke (spicy), Poke Bowl Poke Plate
34. Travel through gorgeous white sands and clear waters at Hapuna Beach.
In order to get to Hapuna Beach, you have to go through some barren volcanic rock fields that seem to go on for miles. But arrive after the signs and you’ll find it was worth it – Hapuna’s giant white sands and picturesque waters are good for just about anything you want to do at the beach, from walking to surfing. This part of the island is also known for being particularly hot, so make sure to double up on suntan lotion and take a dip to cool off.
Pro tip: There is a $5 parking fee for the beach, so make sure you have some cash on hand. Currents can get pretty rough especially around the winter, so make sure not to go too far out.
35. Stroll through an ancient lava flow point at the Thurston Lava Tube at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
The Big Island is known for its volcanoes both active and historic, and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has many choices for those who want to experience a walk on previously red hot surface. One of the best easy trails in the park is the Thurston Lava Tube, which takes you on an adventure though the forest into a tunnel that once carried lava. The tunnel itself has a full walkway shrouded in darkness, giving quite the feel.
Pro tip: You may want to bring a head lamp if you have kids or if you’re bothered by the lack of light. The tunnel is a pretty quick however, so maybe you can conquer your fears just this once.
36. Enjoy delightful Japanese cuisine at Teshima’s in Kealakekua.
Local cuisine would not be anything without the Japanese cooking style, and Teshima’s seems to pay perfect tribute to that with just how much it offers. For breakfast, you can get anything from traditional eggs and sausage to udon, and lunch offered includes sweet and sour spareribs, chicken, ahi, steak, curry stew, and more. Teshima’s offers an intimate dining experience and great service perfect whether you’re going with your spouse or with the whole family.
Must try: No.2 Teishoko (Miso Soup, Sashimi, Sukiyaki, Fried Fish, Sunomono, Tsukemono, Rice), Kona Up-Country Chop Steak
37. Lay on soft sand and watch smooth waves hit the shore at Kua Bay in Kailua-Kona.
The softest sand and the clearest waters on the Big Island might just be found at Kua Bay, which can attract just about anyone with how perfect it usually looks for a swim. The coral and rocks help give this beach some character, and you’ll often see a dolphin or turtle show up to impress crowds and give life to an already vibrant beach. The currents can vary, but there’s absolutely no shame in jumping in the shallow part just to experience Kua Bay’s waters for yourself.
Pro tip: There is no shade provided by trees or the elements here, so make sure to bring an umbrella. Parking is also usually limited, so get there early to avoid the hassle of guessing where your car is.
38. Watch two beautiful giant waterfalls on the hike to Akaka Falls in Honomu.
A less than half a mile hike in total, the hike to Akaka Falls features many of Hawaii’s famous flowers and ferns before blowing you away withbut two waterfalls. The first waterfall you’ll encounter is the 100 foot Kahuna Falls before a loop takes you right into the 442 foot Akaka Falls, which has water going right down into a stream. For a quick, unforgettable thrill, there really isn’t any better choice on the Big Island.
Pro tip: Walking in from the road will cost $1 per person, but it’s recommended you park close and pay the $5 total. After all, you wouldn’t want to strain yourself coming back from such a beautiful encounter.
39. Have great pizza with a local twist at Longboard Legends in Kailua-Kona.
I know, it’s a bit weird to recommend pizza when you’re in Hawaii of all places, but Longboard Legends truly mixes some of the best local ingredients with great pizza toppings. The dough is made with taro, the sausages and ham are homemade, vegetables are grown locally, and each pizza comes out with great consistency. There are also a great selection of alternatives including sliders, buffalo chicken wings, and the root beer float.
Must try: Mr. Pipeline’s Combo (Tomato basil sauce, Mozzarella, Provolone, Hawaiian Ham, Pepperoni, Bell Pepper, Onion, Black Olive and Mushroom), Big Island Hawaiian (Tomato Basil Sauce, Hawaiian Ham, Mozzarella, Provolone, Fresh Pineapple and Fresh Tomato)
40. Spend some time enjoying the calm scenery at Waialea/Beach 69 in Waimea.
While everyone is enjoying themselves at the Big Island’s more popular beaches, take some time to check out the secluded and calmWaialea Beach, also known as Beach 69. The small beach has calm currents, the sand has its own unique texture, there are seashells to collect and giant trees for shade. Parking is plentiful and there are a number of facilities through the area, making it a truly a hidden gem.
Pro tip: There are rocks scattered throughout the beach, so think about going elsewhere if you want to do some serious snorkeling. Also, make sure to keep an eye out for the many exotic fish that swim through the waters.
Meet more of our favorite places.
When you plan travel with Vacationisms, you're shopping small and supporting a privately owned business based in Goffstown, NH.
We're owned by a husband and wife power duo living locally with their two-nager. Yes, two-nager. When you plan your travel with us, you aren't only supporting our amazing team, you're supporting the community, too. We reinvest heavily in our community in social advocacy, youth development and athletic programs, and we too shop small. We believe that our community is important and we appreciate your business to allow us to continue.