28 Best Things to Do in Hawaii for First Time Visitors | 2024 (with Photos)

James A. Smith

James A. Smith - Chief Editor

Published: September 27, 2023

Hey there! I'm James, the author of the article "28 Best Things to Do in Hawaii for First Time Visitors | 2024 (with Photos)". With my personal experience and love for Hawaii, I've curated a list of the top activities to make the most out of your trip. Get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Hawaii!

Best Things to Do in Hawaii for First Visitors

Welcome to paradise. With its stunning landscapes, rich Hawaiian culture, and an abundance of activities, it's no wonder the Hawaiian Islands are a top destination for travellers.

This article will guide you through the best things to do in Hawaii for first timers, from exploring the majestic Haleakala National Park to soaking up the sun on the beautiful beaches of Waikiki.

Prepare to be captivated by the unique Hawaiian history and the countless adventures that await on each island.

So, get ready to discover the best Hawaii bucket list.

Most Recommended Thing to Do


Top Choice Hotel

Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea

Our Top Choice Restaurant

Alan Wong's

Our Top Choice Bar for Nightlife

Mai Tai Bar

Best Time to Visit

Optimal weather for outdoor activities and scenic beauty.

Average Temperature

Warm and pleasant with gentle ocean breezes.

Transportation Options

Taxis, buses, car rentals, bikes, ferries, rideshares, walking, scooters.

Average Cost ($, $$, $$$)


My Top Recommendation

When it comes to visiting the enchanting city of Honolulu in Hawaii, my personal recommendation would be to immerse yourself in the local culture and explore the vibrant atmosphere that surrounds this tropical paradise. Start your day with a visit to the iconic Diamond Head State Monument, where you can hike to the summit and witness breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the sparkling blue ocean stretching as far as the eye can see.

In the afternoon, venture to the historic neighborhood of Waikiki, where you can soak up some sun at the famous Waikiki Beach and try your hand at thrilling water activities such as surfing or paddleboarding. Don't miss out on indulging in the delicious local cuisine while you're here - be sure to try some mouthwatering poke bowls or sample the delectable flavors of traditional Hawaiian plate lunches. End your day by watching a mesmerizing sunset at Magic Island or taking a leisurely stroll along the Honolulu waterfront, basking in the warm tropical breeze and taking in the sights and sounds of this incredible city. Honolulu is a truly magical destination that promises an unforgettable and personalized travel experience.

What You'll Need to Bring

  1. Clothing suitable for warm weather, such as shorts, t-shirts, and swimwear.
  2. Sunscreen and hat to protect yourself from the sun.
  3. Comfortable shoes for walking and exploring.
  4. Beach towel and beach accessories.
  5. Travel documents such as ID, passport, and any necessary visas.
  6. A camera or smartphone to capture your memories.
  7. Money and credit cards for expenses.
  8. Snacks and a refillable water bottle for hydration.
  9. Travel guide or map of the city.
  10. Any necessary medication or toiletries.

What Not to Miss

  1. Waikiki Beach
  2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial
  3. Diamond Head State Monument
  4. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve
  5. North Shore

What Not To Miss in CITY (continued): 6. Polynesian Cultural Center 7. USS Arizona Memorial 8. Manoa Falls 9. Lanikai Beach 10. Iolani Palace

What to Avoid

  1. Crowded tourist areas
  2. High-end tourist traps
  3. Overpriced souvenirs
  4. Unlicensed tour operators
  5. Relying solely on hotel dining
  6. Neglecting to bring sunscreen and insect repellent
  7. Engaging in disrespectful behavior towards locals or cultural sites
  8. Leaving valuables unattended on beaches or in rental cars
  9. Ignoring beach safety guidelines and swimming in dangerous areas
  10. Missing out on local food and dining experiences by sticking to familiar chain restaurants.

1. Explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a must-see destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers visiting Hawaii's Big Island.

This national park offers a unique opportunity to witness the power and beauty of active volcanoes, including Kilauea, one of the world's most active.

Wander through lava tubes, hike along scenic trails, and visit the informative visitor center to learn more about the park's geology, flora, and fauna.

Don't forget to take a helicopter tour for a bird's eye view of the stunning volcanic landscapes and witness the raw beauty of this natural wonder.

2. Relax on Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is the perfect place to unwind and soak up the sun on your Hawaii trip.

With its beautiful beaches, swaying palm trees, and crystal-clear waters, Waikiki is an iconic destination on the island of Oahu.

Spend your day swimming in the warm Pacific Ocean, learning to surf, or simply lounging on the soft sand with a tropical drink in hand.

As the sun sets, enjoy a romantic sunset cruise along the coast or explore the bustling city life nearby, complete with shopping, dining, and entertainment options.

3. Surf at Hanalei Bay

Surfing at Hanalei Bay

Kaua’i Island of Hawaii offers passionate surfers the ultimate destination for surf, soft sand, and incredible views. The summer season at Hanalei Bay provides gentle surf for beginners, while the winter months boast more dramatic swells for experienced surfers.

This is also one of the best swimming beaches in the summer, great for families with kids and anyone who wants to bask in the warm, clear waters the Hawaiian Islands have to offer.

4. Encounter Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

One of the best things to do in Hawaii is to encounter the majestic Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles, which can be found along the shores of many of the Hawaiian Islands.

Join a snorkeling or scuba diving tour to swim alongside these gentle creatures in their natural habitat, or simply watch them bask in the sun on beaches like Laniakea on Oahu's North Shore.

Remember to respect these endangered species and maintain a safe distance while observing them.

5. Discover Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden

 Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Immerse yourself in the incredible diversity of Hawaii's flora at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island.

This lush, 40-acre garden is home to over 2,000 species of tropical plants, including palms, heliconias, and orchids.

Stroll along the garden's well-maintained paths, take in the stunning ocean views, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere as you learn about the unique plants that thrive in Hawaii's climate.

Don't miss the chance to visit the nearby Akaka Falls, another must-see natural attraction on the island.

6. Experience Hawaiian Culture

Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu

Immerse yourself in the rich and diverse Hawaiian culture during your visit to the islands.

Attend a traditional luau, where you can enjoy a feast of local delicacies, watch mesmerizing hula performances, and learn about ancient Hawaiian customs.

Explore the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu, a living museum that showcases the history, art, and traditions of the Polynesian people.

Take a guided tour of the Iolani Palace, the only royal residence on US soil, and delve into the fascinating history of the Hawaiian monarchy.

7. Pay Respect at Pearl Harbor

USS Missouri (BB-63) Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor is a significant historical site that commemorates the events of December 7, 1941, when the United States was attacked by Japan, prompting its entry into World War II.

Visit the USS Arizona Memorial, which honors the 1,177 crew members who perished during the attack, and explore the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum to learn about the history of military aviation.

The USS Missouri, where the Japanese surrendered to end the war, is another must-see attraction at this solemn and educational site.

8. Tour the Big Island's Kailua-Kona Coast

Big Island's Kailua-Kona Coast

Discover the breathtaking beauty of the Kona Coast on Hawaii's Big Island, known for its stunning beaches, clear waters, and world-famous Kona coffee.

Embark on a Kailua-Kona tour to learn about the cultivation and production process while sampling delicious coffee varieties.

Enjoy snorkeling or scuba diving with the majestic manta rays, or explore the beautiful underwater world teeming with tropical fish and colorful marine life.

Relax on the pristine beaches, such as Kailua-Kona and Ke'e Beach, and soak in the picturesque surroundings.

9. Visit Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park

Haleakala National Park, located on the island of Maui, is home to the dormant Haleakala Volcano, which offers a unique and otherworldly landscape.

Hike or take a guided tour to the summit, where you can witness the awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets above the clouds.

The park also features a variety of hiking trails through diverse ecosystems, including lush rainforests and stark volcanic landscapes.

Don't miss the chance to explore the park's numerous waterfalls, streams, and freshwater pools.

10. Witness Marine Life at a Black Sand Beach

Black Sand Beach

Black sand beaches, formed by volcanic activity, are a unique and captivating feature of the Hawaiian Island.

Visit the famous Punalu'u Beach on the Big Island, where you can witness an abundance of marine life, including green sea turtles and tropical fish.

Take a stroll along the beach, swim in the warm waters, or simply relax and enjoy the contrast of the Black Sand Beach against the azure sea.

Remember to respect the delicate ecosystem and follow all posted guidelines to protect the environment and wildlife at Black Sand Beach.

11. Take a Helicopter Tour

Helicopter Tour

Experience the breathtaking beauty of the Hawaiian Islands from a bird's eye view with a thrilling helicopter tour.

Soar above the lush landscapes, towering sea cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and active volcanoes that comprise Hawaii's diverse natural beauty.

Marvel at the stunning Na Pali Coast on Kauai, fly over the lava fields and lava tubes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or explore the lush valleys of West Maui.

Helicopter tours offer a unique perspective on the islands' majestic landscapes, providing an unforgettable experience for visitors.

Catch sight of the humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii's warm waters during whale watching season, or spot the verdant Garden Isle of Kauai, where scenes from "Jurassic Park" were filmed.

Whether it's your first time visiting Hawaii or you're a seasoned traveler, a helicopter tour is a must-add to your Hawaii bucket list.

12. Learn at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center

Dive into the rich history and vibrant culture of the Pacific Hawaiian island at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Located on Oahu's North Shore, this popular attraction offers an immersive experience of the traditions, customs, and lifestyles of the Polynesian people.

Watch captivating performances, participate in hands-on activities, and learn about the diverse cultures from native Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian, Fijian, Tongan, and Maori villages spread across the center's 42-acre property.

Don't miss the award-winning evening show, "Ha: Breath of Life," which tells a story of love, family, and tradition through dance, music, and fire.

The Polynesian Cultural Center is the perfect place to gain a deeper understanding of Hawaii's rich cultural heritage and its connections to the broader Pacific region.

Related Article: Fun Things to Do in Hilo

13. Swim with Tropical Fish

Swim with Tropical Fish

Experience the colorful marine life that thrives beneath the surface of Hawaii's crystal-clear waters by snorkeling or scuba diving with tropical fish.

Discover an underwater paradise teeming with vibrant coral reefs, fascinating geological formations, and an abundance of sea creatures.

From the protected cove of Hanauma Bay on Oahu to the pristine waters of Molokini Crater off Maui's coast, there are countless spots to explore the wonders of the underwater world.

Dive with manta rays along the Kona coast on the Big Island, or snorkel among the diverse marine life at the renowned Ke'e Beach on Kauai.

Whether you're a beginner or an experienced diver, swimming with tropical fish in Hawaii is an unforgettable adventure that showcases the islands' incredible biodiversity.

14. Enjoy Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach

Kailua Beach, located on Oahu's windward coast, is a picturesque stretch of white sand and gentle turquoise waters, perfect for a relaxing day under the Hawaiian sun.

This family-friendly beach offers a range of activities, including swimming, boogie boarding, stand-up paddleboarding, and kayaking.

With its steady onshore breezes, Kailua Beach is also a popular spot for windsurfing and kitesurfing.

Take a leisurely walk along the soft sand, or enjoy a picnic beneath the swaying palm trees.

With its stunning natural beauty and laid-back atmosphere, Kailua Beach is a must-visit destination for beach lovers exploring the Hawaiian Islands.

15. Hike the Trails on the Hawaiian Islands

Kalalau Trail

Discover Hawaii's diverse landscapes and incredible beauty by embarking on a hike through the islands' extensive network of hiking trails.

Trek through lush rainforests, scale volcanic peaks, or wander along rugged coastlines as you explore the islands on foot.

Ascend the iconic Diamond Head crater on Oahu for panoramic views of Waikiki, or hike the challenging Kalalau Trail on Kauai's Na Pali Coast, known for its steep emerald cliffs and unparalleled vistas. Kauai offers a plethora of activities to cater to every traveler's interests.

On the Big Island, explore the lava tubes and volcanic landscapes of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, or journey through the dense bamboo forests and waterfalls of South Maui.

With trails suitable for all skill levels, hiking in Hawaii offers an unforgettable adventure for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

16. Explore West Maui

West Maui Mountains

West Maui, home to the historic whaling town of Lahaina and the world-famous Ka'anapali Beach, offers a wealth of activities and attractions for visitors.

Immerse yourself in Hawaiian history by strolling along Lahaina's bustling Front Street, where you'll find art galleries, shops, and restaurants set amidst the backdrop of a 19th-century whaling village.

Take a sunset cruise along the picturesque coastline, or embark on a whale-watching tour during the winter months to catch a glimpse of the majestic humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii's warm waters.

Venture into the verdant Iao Valley, where you'll find the iconic Iao Needle, a towering lava formation surrounded by lush vegetation.

Whether you're seeking relaxation, adventure, or cultural experiences, West Maui offers a diverse array of activities for every traveler.

17. Admire the Beauty of the National Tropical Botanical Garden

McBryde Garden

Experience the breathtaking beauty of Hawaii's diverse flora at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a network of botanical gardens and preserves dedicated to the conservation and study of tropical plants.

Wander through the enchanting landscapes, where you'll encounter a vast array of native Hawaiian species, rare and endangered plants, and a multitude of tropical flora from around the world.

Visit the McBryde Garden on Kauai, home to the largest collection of native Hawaiian plants, or explore the lush, tranquil paradise of the Limahuli Garden, nestled in a verdant valley with stunning views of the Na Pali Coast.

From the serene waterfalls and idyllic pathways of the Allerton Garden to the vibrant blooms of the Kahanu Garden on Maui, the Botanical Garden offers a captivating journey through the incredible beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

18. Hike Diamond Head Crater

Diamond Head Crater

Embark on a thrilling adventure to the summit of Diamond Head Crater, an iconic volcanic landmark on Oahu.

This moderate hike takes you through a series of switchbacks, staircases, and tunnels as you ascend to the crater's rim, offering a fascinating glimpse into the area's geological and military history.

Once you reach the summit, you'll be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of Waikiki, the Pacific Ocean, and the lush Koolau Mountains.

The hike up Diamond Head Crater is a must-do activity for those seeking an invigorating outdoor experience, stunning vistas, and a deeper understanding of Hawaii's volcanic past.

19. Marvel at Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon

Discover the breathtaking beauty of Waimea Canyon, often referred to as the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Stretching over 14 miles long, one mile wide, and more than 3,600 feet deep, Waimea Canyon boasts a stunning array of colors, from the rich reds of its canyon walls to the vibrant greens of its lush vegetation.

Explore the canyon via a network of hiking trails, offering varying degrees of difficulty and showcasing spectacular views of the canyon's gorges, cliffs, and waterfalls.

For a different view, consider taking a helicopter tour, providing an unparalleled perspective of this geological wonder. 

Waimea Canyon is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and those seeking awe-inspiring landscapes in Hawaii.

20. Snorkel with Manta Rays

Giant Manta Rays

Experience the magic of swimming with mantas, one of the most graceful and mesmerizing creatures in the ocean, on a snorkeling adventure off the coast of the Big Island.

As the sun sets, join a guided tour and head out into the calm waters, where you'll have the opportunity to witness these gentle giants up close as they feed on plankton.

Marvel at their elegant movements as they glide effortlessly through the water, often coming within inches of snorkelers.

Snorkeling with mantas is a truly unforgettable experience, offering a unique glimpse into the fascinating world of Hawaii's marine life.

21. Visit the USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Pay your respects and learn about the pivotal moment in American history at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Oahu.

The memorial, which spans the sunken wreckage of the USS Arizona, serves as a poignant reminder of the December 7, 1941 attack that propelled the United States into World War II.

Begin your visit at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, where you can explore exhibits, watch a documentary film, and listen to survivor accounts.

Then, board a shuttle boat to the solemn memorial, where you can pay tribute to the 1,177 sailors and marines who lost their lives aboard the USS Arizona.

The USS Arizona Memorial is an essential stop for those seeking to understand and honor the sacrifices made during this tragic event.

22. Experience a Kona Coffee Farm Tour

Kona Coffee Farm

Embrace the spirit of Aloha on the Island of Hawaii by partaking in one of its unique Hawaii activities - a Kona Coffee Farm tour.

Wake up with the sunrise and head over to a local farm nestled in the lush landscapes of Kona. 

Here, you'll experience firsthand the rich tradition of coffee making that has made Kona Coffee renowned worldwide.

Witness the meticulous process of sorting, drying, and roasting, which is all integral to crafting the unique, smooth flavor of Kona Coffee. 

Don't forget to savor a freshly brewed cup of this coveted coffee at the end of your tour.

Enjoy it after a rewarding hike up the Makapu'u Point Lighthouse Trail from which you saw the sun rise over Hawaii.

This coffee tour is not just about experiencing the coffee-making process; it's about embracing the island's culture, its people, and its rich agricultural history.

It's a must-experience activity in Hawaii, promising to leave you with lasting memories and a deeper appreciation for every cup of coffee you savor henceforth.

23. Explore Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum

Immerse yourself in the captivating world of military aviation at the Aviation Museum, a top attraction for Hawaii visitors, situated on historic Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Oahu.

The museum is nestled within two massive hangars that withstood the 1941 attack. 

Moreover, the museum boasts an impressive collection of aircraft, artifacts, and exhibits that encompass the history of military aviation in the Pacific.

Discover meticulously restored aircraft from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War while exploring Hawaii's rich Hawaiian history. 

Learn about the tales of heroism and sacrifice that characterized these conflicts.

The Aviation Museum offers an engaging and educational experience for history buffs, aviation enthusiasts, and anyone intrigued by the events that defined the Pacific theater of war during their Hawaii adventures.

24. Enjoy Maui's North Shore

Outrigger Canoeing

Embrace the laid-back island lifestyle and stunning beauty of Maui North Shore, a haven for surfers, beach lovers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Bask in the golden sands of Baldwin Beach Park, a popular spot for swimming and sunbathing, or explore the charming town of Paia, known for its vibrant arts scene, eclectic shops, and delicious local cuisine.

You can also have fun on a snorkeling tour, or take part in Hawaiian paddle sports, which many people enjoy doing.

Visit the world-famous Ho'okipa Beach Park, a mecca for windsurfing and surfing, where you can watch skilled athletes ride the waves or spot Hawaiian green sea turtles basking on the shore.

Maui's North Shore offers a perfect blend of pristine beaches, lush landscapes, and cultural experiences that showcase the spirit of Hawaii.

25. Watch Active Volcanoes

Twilight Volcano Tour

Experience the raw power of nature by witnessing active volcanoes at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, a must-visit spot for an adventure.

This awe-inspiring park, one of the best things to do in Hawaii, is home to Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world's most active volcanoes.

Explore the park's vast landscape, from volcanic craters and lava tubes to lush rainforests and barren lava fields, while visiting Hawaii.

Drive along the Crater Rim Drive or Chain of Craters Road for breathtaking views of volcanic activity or join a group tour for a deeper understanding of the geology and Hawaiian history.

Watching volcanoes showcases the incredible force of nature and the unique beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.

26. Experience Oahu North Shore

Oahu North Shore

Oahu North Shore is renowned for its world-class surfing, stunning beaches, and laid-back atmosphere.

Immerse yourself in the vibrant surf culture by visiting iconic spots such as Sunset Beach, Pipeline, and Waimea Bay, where you can watch professional surfers tackle towering waves during the winter months or take a snorkeling tour.

Wander through the charming surf town of Haleiwa, known for its eclectic boutiques, art galleries, and delicious food trucks.

Whether you're a seasoned surfer or simply looking to unwind, Oahu North Shore offers a quintessential Hawaiian experience full of beauty and captivating charm.

27. Go on Whale Watching Tours

Whale Watching Tours

Embark on a thrilling whale-watching adventure in Hawaii's warm, crystal-clear waters.

From December to April, humpback whales migrate to the Hawaiian Islands to mate, give birth, and raise their young, providing a unique opportunity for visitors to observe these majestic creatures in their natural habitat.

Join a guided boat tour or charter a private tour to witness the awe-inspiring sight of humpback whales breaching, tail-slapping, and spouting. Many whale-watching group tours also offer the chance to spot other sea life such as dolphins, sea turtles, and colorful fish.

A whale-watching excursion is an unforgettable experience that highlights the incredible diversity of Hawaii's marine ecosystem.

28. Take a Sunset Cruise on Na Pali Coast

Sunset Cruise on Na Pali Coast

Experience the breathtaking beauty of Kauai's Na Pali Coast on a sunset cruise, a must-do activity for any Hawaii bucket list.

Sail past the dramatic emerald cliffs, towering waterfalls, and secluded beaches that make up this 17-mile stretch of coastline, accessible only by sea or air.

As the sun sets, marvel at the vibrant hues that paint the sky and reflect off the Pacific Ocean.

Many sunset cruises also include live music, delicious food, and refreshing beverages to enhance the experience, as well as Hawaiian sea turtles.

A Na Pali Coast sunset cruise is the perfect way to soak in the stunning scenery and create lasting memories of your Hawaiian adventure.

FAQs Regarding Things to Do in Hawaii

Now we are going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the best things to do in Hawaii for first-timers.

Where should I go for the first time in Hawaii?

For a first-time visit to Hawaii, the island of Oahu, with its iconic Waikiki Beach and rich Hawaiian culture, is an excellent starting point to explore the Hawaiian Islands.

What is the number 1 attraction in Hawaii?

Many tourists testify that the number 1 attraction in Hawaii is the stunning Haleakala National Park, known for its breathtaking sunrises and diverse landscapes.

What is the most interesting thing in Hawaii?

The most interesting thing about Hawaii is its vibrant Hawaiian history, as seen through historical sites, cultural experiences, and rich traditions.

What is the best reason to visit Hawaii?

The best reason to visit Hawaii is the diverse range of experiences, from exploring beautiful beaches to immersing in Hawaiian culture and thrilling adventures in nature.

Summing Up: The Best Things to Do in Hawaii

In this article, we've explored the diverse and mesmerizing Hawaiian Islands, showcasing the must-visit attractions and experiences.

From helicopter tours that provide bird's eye views of the Garden Isle and Jurassic Park, to snorkeling with vibrant marine life in Hanauma Bay, there's something for everyone in this tropical paradise.

With a rich Hawaiian history and countless opportunities to connect with nature, you'll never run out of things to do in Hawaii.

So, whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or an unforgettable cultural experience, it's time to book your trip to Hawaii and start creating memories that will last a lifetime.