The Aloha State is known for lush mountains, dotted with hidden waterfalls and framed by gorgeous beaches in almost every color from green, to red, black, and white.
What visitors might find surprising is the diversity. The Big Island has 8 of the world’s microclimates while Lanai is a dry, Mediterranean subtropical climate, and Kauai is in large part tropical, but actually has 7 microclimates too including a dry side! The surf conditions are world class in some areas, while the snorkeling, sometimes even with whales, is unbeatable in others. Struggling to pick where to go? Look no further than these 20 most beautiful places in Hawaii:
20. Big Island’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while Hawaii Volcanoes National Park looks like the surface of the moon, it is probably one of the coolest places on planet Earth! The park is home to two active volcanoes, one of which is the most active volcano in the world. It spans more than 300,000 acres and offers 150 miles of hiking trails through several different landscapes and ecosystems. The starry night skies there are unbelievable, too!
Read more about the Big Island’s best things to do here.
19. Molokai’s Halawa Valley
Molokai’s lush, green Halawa Valley is one of the oldest known settlements in the Hawaiian Islands. On the east end of the island, the valley is home to Mooula Falls, a two-tiered, 250-foot waterfall which can be seen for miles. The valley itself can only be reached on foot with the help of a guide, which is worth booking, but the incredible view pictured above can be seen from a turnout at mile marker 26 of Kamehameha V Highway.
18. Maui’s Seven Sacred Pools
On the east side of Maui, the Pools of ‘Ohe’o, or “Seven Sacred Pools,” as they’re more colloquially referred to as, are a series of small waterfalls and plunge pools fed by a stream running through the rainforest. Not only are the pools popular for swimming and cliff-jumping, but also the scenery is magical! The site is part of Haleakala National Park and the Road to Hana, which you’ll see later in the list.
17. Big Island’s Rainbow Falls
Also called Waianuenue Falls, Rainbow Falls earned its nickname thanks to the rainbows that appear in the mist around 10am each day. The 80-foot falls is part of Wailuku River State Park, about 2 miles outside of downtown Hilo. There, you can also see the nearby Boiling Pots, cute little springs which bubble like they’re boiling.
16. Molokai’s Papohaku Beach
On Molokai’s west side, great waves and no one around make Papohaku one of the best beaches in Hawaii. It is one of the largest white sand beaches in all of the Hawaiian Islands, too, and has been nicknamed “Three Mile Beach” as a result. Not only is the beach itself gorgeous, but also a sunrise or sunset here would be even more stunning.
Keep in mind, the water here is seriously rough, and it’s not advisable to go in the water.
15. Oahu’s Hanauma Bay
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, on the southeast coast of Oahu, is known for its picture-perfect combination of teal waters and warm yellow sand. The beautiful beach is protected by the curve of the bay as the island’s cliffs — the remains of a dormant volcano — jut out in both directions. The shallow waters are perfect for snorkeling, and although the beach often sees some crowds, it makes for a stunning real-life postcard.
14. Oahu’s Ko’olau Mountains
The Ko’olau Mountains are the dormant remaining fragment of Oahu’s eastern shield volcano, most of which was washed into the ocean hundreds of thousands of years ago by a massive landslide. The landslide plus millennia of wind and rain erosion have given the mountains their steep, distinct look; at more than 3,000 feet in elevation, dozens of waterfalls run down the sides.
Some of the best hikes on the island can be found up in these mountains, and the views from the top are awe-inspiring.
13. Big Island’s Akaka Falls
Akaka Falls is the most famous of the Big Island’s waterfalls, and with good reason: it’s 442 feet tall! On the northeast coast of the island, it’s also the most easily accessible waterfall. The falls sits at the end of a half-mile hike through lush trees and flowers; getting there also takes you right past the smaller, 100-foot Kahuna Falls.
12. Big Island’s Pepeekeo Scenic Drive
This gorgeous route is one of the best drives on the Big Island. Unfortunately, you’ll have to turn around at the road block created by the 2018 lava flow, but that’s just another cool reason to go check it out! You’ll also see magical tree tunnels like this one, fancy beach houses, and little bridges and waterfalls.
11. Big Island’s Kehena Black Sand Beach
Kehena Black Sand Beach, in the Big Island’s eastern Puna district, is one interesting place. The contrast between the thick green fringe of trees, the deep black sand, and the vibrant blue ocean is such a unique sight; meanwhile, this is also the most volcanically active region of the island, which means that you could find yourself with a lava problem on your hands at any given moment!
Regardless of the volcanic potential, though, this beach has an eclectic spirit, visible through its drum circles and nude beach-goers.
10. Kauai’s Hanalei Bay
Two miles of beach and a bright blue bay bookended by lush green mountains make Kauai’s Hanalei Bay a gorgeous spot. In the summer, the bay is calm and ideal for sailing and paddle-boarding, while winter brings great waves for surfing. At its center, the town of Hanalei has even been named Vogue’s “Hippest Town in Kauai“! This is certainly a North Shore gem.
9. Lanai’s Polihua Beach
Few things are more beautiful than a pristine beach all to yourself! This 1.5-mile-long beach is nearly empty at any given time; it’s just you, the sea, the sand, and the other islands off in the distance. Nearby is the Garden of the Gods, a rock garden full of cool towers and formations which has some equally cool legends to go with it, as well as Sweetheart Rock. Check out more amazing things to do in Lanai here.
8. Kauai’s Wailua Falls
This two-stream, 173-foot (others claim anywhere from 80 to 200 feet depending on perspective) waterfall can be found at the south end of the Wailua River in eastern Kauai. Interestingly, this is the location of the opening scene of the old TV show, “Fantasy Island.” The falls can be seen from the road, and if you arrive at the right time in the morning, you might even catch a rainbow!
7. Kauai’s Waimea Canyon
Southwest Kauai’s Waimea Canyon has earned the nickname, “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It’s 14 miles long, a mile wide, and over 3,600 feet deep, but perhaps even more impressive is its array of colors. Cruise Waimea Canyon Drive for a couple of incredible lookout spots, or follow one of the many hikes to admire all the different shades of reds, browns, and greens. (Either way, admission is free!)
6. Lanai’s Kaunolu
Kaunolu, on the southern tip of Lanai, was once a fishing village frequented by King Kamehameha I; today, it is one of the island’s most sacred places. The village, home to the remains of Halulu Heiau and other artifacts, was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 1962 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The area has spectacular views and would make for the perfect, quiet spot to watch a sunset.
5. Maui’s Haleakala
Many consider Haleakala to be one of the most spiritual places on Earth, and even home to the heart chakra! The dormant volcano crater in southeast Maui stands at more than 10,000 feet tall and offers incredible natural scenery. “Haleakala” actually means, “house of the sun,” which has become the nickname of the crater as it coincides with the incredible sunrises there. (Sunsets and starry night skies are equally as impressive!)
4. Molokai’s Kalaupapa
Picturesque Kalaupapa on the island’s northern tip was once a colony for those chronically ill, mostly with leprosy, but they were compassionately treated by a man called Father Damien who arrived in 1873. Today, the stunning peninsula can only be accessed by mule ride, which follows a 1,700-foot descent from the cliffs to sea level. Whether or not you take the ride down, the views of Kalaupapa’s bright blue waters and vibrant green landscape are incredible!
3. Maui’s Road to Hana
Maui’s Road to Hana isn’t exactly one spot; it’s a bunch! However, driving this winding road (all 600 turns of it) makes for a special experience because of the sheer beauty around every corner. From waterfalls and tall bamboo to coastal lookouts and rainforest, the Road to Hana is without a doubt one of the most breathtaking journeys in all of the Hawaiian Islands.
2. Kauai’s Nā Pali Coast State Park
The Nā Pali Coast on Kauai’s northwestern coastline is known for its 4,000-foot-tall, multi-colored cliffs. One way to explore this unbeatable scenery is to follow the Kalalau Trail, a rugged, 11-mile hike dating back to the 1800s, which travels through five valleys and ends at the pristine Kalalau Beach.
Or, kayak along the coastline and explore the sea caves and beaches scattered along it. Regardless, this is one of the most beautiful locations in the Hawaiian Islands.
1. Big Island’s Pololu Valley
Take in one of the most impressive views on the island at the Pololu Valley Lookout. It’s easy to get to, right off the highway, but you’d think you’d traveled to a secret spot because the scenery is so spectacular! If you’re up for it, follow the trail down to the beach below and then back up again for sunset, about a half-hour each way. This is a view you won’t soon forget!
While this list is far from exhaustive and is, of course, full of personal opinions, as someone who has had the pleasure of exploring all of Hawaii’s Islands, these are the spots that took my breath away. Happy travels in the Aloha State!
PLEASE: When traveling in Hawaii, swear off plastic. Take refillable water bottles and shopping bags, and don’t buy items that come in single use plastic bottles, like soft drinks, fruit, etc. Hawaii no longer recycles plastic or paper! Please help keep the islands clean.