From snorkelling with manta rays and diving with sea turtles to joining a luau feast and walking through volcanic craters, there are so many incredible Hawaii bucket list ideas and things to do.
We loved our time spent on the Hawaiian islands and are desperate to go back again one day. We’ve even joked a few times about retiring there as we loved it that much.
We hope this Hawaii bucket list helps you with your Hawaii trip planning and that you also love your time in Hawaii just as much as we did.
As they say: “Hawaii is paradise born of fire”.
The Ultimate Hawaii Bucket List
1. Take a tour of Pearl Harbor
No Hawaii bucket list would be complete without including Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial.
You’ll easily spend a few hours exploring inside some of the war ships and swatting up on the history of the event through interactive exhibits and documentary style films.
You can get to Pearl Harbor via a bus from downtown Honolulu or you can join a day trip tour if you prefer.
2. Pay your respects at Byodo-In Temple
Found in Kaneohe (about a half hour’s drive from Honolulu) is the beautiful Japanese Buddhist temple: Byodo-In Temple.
While this temple rarely makes its way onto most first timer Hawaii bucket lists, you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you do add it!
The temple itself is beautiful and peaceful while the small grounds are a joy to wander around.
You may even see some turtles and get the chance to feed the birds and koi fish!
3. Chill on Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu is one of Hawaii’s most famous beaches.
Although some don’t like the fact that it’s surrounded by skyscrapers; once you turn your back on the buildings of downtown Honolulu, you’ll find a clean sandy beach with a bay that’s perfect for swimming in as it’s warm, shallow and calm.
Plus this is a perfect spot for watching the sunset!
4. Speaking of Hawaiian beaches…
Beyond the glitz, glamour and fame of Waikiki Beach, there are so many amazing sandy beaches just waiting for you to discover across all the islands.
We personally loved the beaches along the north coast of Oahu as they were quiet, full of palm trees and some even backed onto jungle-like areas that were fun to wander through.
But according to USA Today’s Readers’ Choice Awards, these are the beaches that made it onto their ‘Best Hawaii Beach’ list:
- Hulopoe Beach on Lanai
- Hapuna Beach on The Big Island
- Kaanapali Beach on Maui
- Wailea Beach on Maui
- Kaunaoa Beach on The Big Island
- Makena “Big” Beach on Maui
- Punaluu Black Sand Beach on The Big Island
- Lanikai Beach on Oahu
- Waikiki Beach on Oahu
- Hanauma Bay on Oahu
5. Hike Diamond Head
During your time in Honolulu, you should make it your mission to follow the coast and hike the Diamond Head Trail, which is easily one of the most popular hikes on Oahu – and probably in all of Hawaii too!
Diamond Head is roughly an hour’s walk from Waikiki Beach and then it’s another 1-2 hours to the summit.
But the effort will be worth it as you’ll be treated to such beautiful views across the city and seascape.
6. Explore Volcanoes National Park
Of all the places in the world made from volcanic rock, the Hawaiian islands are probably best known for it.
And that’s mostly down to Volcanoes National Park, which is a must see on the Big Island.
Here, you can gaze down at gigantic craters, watch lava bubble and boil away plus so many other cool things related to volcanoes (as you can see below).
7. Hike through Kīlauea Iki crater
Have you ever wanted to walk through a volcanic crater? Did you even know it was possible to do that? We certainly didn’t until we created our Big Island bucket list.
This crater is simply massive in size and easily takes a few hours to explore the whole of it. You could choose to walk the perimeter of the crater’s rim, or you could walk a mile down a slope to walk inside the crater itself.
Personally, we’d recommend the latter.
From down here, you can see the steaming cracks up close, the true size of the crater plus some incredible plants that have started growing in the cracks!
One word of caution: do not take the rocks with you. This is sacrilege to the Hawaiian culture and their beliefs. In fact, they would go as far as to say you would be cursed if you stole the rocks.
8. Head to the crater viewpoint
If you’d rather not hike through the crater and just take in its vast size from a viewpoint then head to the overlook on Crater Rim Drive for some epic views.
Here are the coordinates you need: 19°24’59.3″N 155°14’34.6″W.
9. Walk through the Thurston Lava Tube
Also known as Nāhuku, the Thurston Lava Tube was discovered in 1913 by a local newspaper publisher: Lorrin Thurston.
Found just a few miles away from Kīlauea Iki Crater, this lava tube is a great introduction to geology.
As you walk through, consider that several hundreds of years ago, red hot lava would have been gushing through here.
After parking up, you’ll just need to walk for about 20 minutes through a forest to find this lit prehistoric cave-like lava tube, which is free to explore.
10. Admire the free lava show of Kīlauea at night
At the end of your day in Volcanoes National Park, you should visit Kīlauea in the late evening or at night. This is still an active volcano and puts on an impressive lava show night after night.
If you don’t have technology like this; don’t worry! You will still be able to see the lava spurt into the sky dramatically and dance away within the volcano’s rim.
11. Catch a sunset from the top of Mauna Kea
Found within the almost exact centre of The Big Island is the Mauna Kea mountain.
Home to one of the world’s most famous observatories, Mauna Kea is an impressive feat to see.
If you choose to visit in the early evening, you’ll be greeted with the most incredible sunset framing the observatories 13,000 feet up the mountain.
12. Go stargazing (and Milky Way gazing) on Mauna Kea
Once the sun sets, you’ll be able to see thousands upon thousands of stars (plus the chance to see the Milky Way with the naked eye!) at 9000 feet near the visitor centre.
13. Try to find the mystical Ahinahina (Silversword) plant
Found on Mauna Kea and other mountains throughout Hawaii is the Ahinahina (Silversword) plant, which truly looks like something out of a sci-fi movie!
14. Drool over Hawaii’s best and tastiest food
There are so many must-eat foods and dishes from Hawaii, which are as tasty as they are tropical and exotic.
Put some of these on your Hawaii bucket list for sure:
- Kālua Pork: Pork cooked in an imu (an underground oven).
- Poi: Pounded root of taro (a sacred plant in Hawaii).
- Lomi-Lomi Salmon: Fresh tomato and salmon side salad.
- Laulau: Steamed pork (and sometimes chicken or beef) wrapped up in taro leaves.
- Poke Bowls: Cubed raw fish usually ahi (tuna) served on top of rice.
- Hawaiian Plate: A scoop of rice with kalua pork or chicken wrapped up in ti leaves with dried beef (pipikaula), lomi-lomi salmon and poi on the side. This is one surefire way to tick off multiple Hawaiian foods in one go. But if you’re not used to huge meals, you might want to share this one between two.
- Pineapple and passionfruit: Pineapples and passionfruit grow in abundance throughout Hawaii and are delicious eaten fresh. You’ll usually see them included in large fruit platters at a luau.
15. Try some Kona coffee
As one of the most expensive coffees in the world, and now making up over 95% of all coffee grown on The Big Island, you can’t miss a mug of Kona coffee when visiting Hawaii.
Ask any local and they will tell you: “Kona coffee is the best!”
In fact, they love their homegrown coffee so much that an annual festival – the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival – seeks to celebrate 200+ years of coffee heritage in Hawaii.
So prized is their coffee that a 100% Kona coffee package would frequently be referred to as 24 carats!
16. Go to a luau
A luau is a traditional Hawaiian party involving extraordinary feasts, games, music and – most famous of all – hula dancing!
You can join a luau almost anywhere in Hawaii as they’re quite common especially around tourist hubs like large hotels and restaurants.
However, if you’re unsure, you can always join a tour to take you to one.
17. Snorkel or scuba dive to find sea turtles
Hawaii is one of the best places in the world for snorkelling and scuba diving as sea turtles frequent here almost as much as they do in Indonesia!
18. Go dolphin or whale watching
It’s not just turtles you can see in Hawaii but dolphins and whales too!
19. Snorkel with manta rays
You might be sensing a theme here that Hawaii is amazing for water lovers… and you’d be right!
An amazing adventure you can do off the coast of The Big Island is to snorkel with manta rays.
20. Look for all the Lost filming locations
If you’re a fan (or used to be a fan) of the TV show Lost then you must join a Lost filming locations tour to see amazing things like Kate’s tree, Hurley’s house and the iconic waterfall among others.
21. Swim underneath waterfalls at Waimea Valley
While Lost fans will recognise the waterfall at Waimea Valley as the home of an iconic scene in the TV show, non-fans will love coming here anyway.
Waimea Valley itself is beautiful and home to thousands of different trees, flowers, plants and shrubs. It’s a lovely place for a walk!
But the crowning jewel is its waterfall, which you can even swim in!
Heck! You may even spot a peacock in the onsite cafe…
22. Try some island hopping
There are eight main Hawaiian islands in total. While some are not commonly visited by tourists, it’s common for most Hawaiian itineraries to include at least two islands.
After all, each island has its own vibe, flair and bucket list things to do.
If it’s your first time island hopping in Hawaii then you’ll find it really easy to catch domestic flights between Oahu, Maui and The Big Island.
But some cruises also dock at multiple islands so you’ve got options when it comes to island hopping around Hawaii.
23. Check out Rabbit Island and the Chinaman’s Hat
Not only are there eight Hawaiian islands but there are also several small islets and numerous atolls… so many in fact that most of them are uninhabited, impossible to get to and some don’t even have names!
But those that do have names have interesting ones indeed.
Like Mānana Island; more commonly known as Rabbit Island. This small islet is less than a mile from Kaupō Beach on Oahu and is so named because it was once home to hundreds of rabbits for well over a century.
While the rabbits were sadly exterminated in the 1990s, its name remains and is actually now a designated State Seabird Sanctuary. And you can see it from Makapuu Lookout.
And then there’s Mokoliʻi; more commonly known as the Chinaman’s Hat.
This small islet is roughly a third of a mile from Kualoa Point also on Oahu. And it’s so named because of the shape of the island.
Did you know it’s possible to walk to Mokoliʻi at low tide? You can also kayak there or hop in a small boat.
24. Take in the views of Rainbow Falls
Found on The Big Island, Rainbow Falls is so called because you can often see rainbows right in front of the waterfall.
It’s a pretty place and the surrounding woodland walks are also well worth taking the time to do!
Rainbow Falls is usually included as a stop on many Mauna Kea tours so you should find it easy to tick off this Hawaii bucket list activity.
25. Search for rainbows when it rains
Hawaii is nicknamed ‘The Rainbow State’ because rainbows are super common here.
While this is mostly because of the frequent spouts of rain mixed with beautiful sunshine they get there, it’s also because of the misty rain they get through the mountainous tropical areas – also mixed with the sunshine.
Wherever you are – on the beach, on the road, hiking through rainforests… be sure to look for rainbows in Hawaii; you will likely see plenty!
26. Wander through Liliuokalani Park and Gardens
With a Japanese influence on the design of these gardens, the Liliuokalani Park and Gardens are a very zen place to come to in downtown Hilo on The Big Island.
Located right next to the bay, you can enjoy a wander through these gardens before finding somewhere to eat with a great view.
27. Take a refreshing dip at Keaukaha Beach Park
There are several beach parks on The Big Island of Hawaii, but Keaukaha Beach Park is definitely a must-see!
Although the water can be a little chilly in the early morning; by late afternoon, the sun has warmed it up considerably.
Surrounding the water are several small ‘islands’ making up the beach park, which makes you feel like you’re sitting on your own private deserted island.
28. Go on an epic road trip along the Hana Highway
The Hana Highway stretches for over 64 miles connecting the Kahului airport and the town of Hana on the island of Maui.
The road twists and turns along the coast and past incredible scenery; from waterfalls and ocean vistas to jungle-like rainforests.
The ‘Road to Hana’ is one of the world’s most famous road trip destinations and is a must for visitors to Maui.
29. Learn all about Hawaii’s most sacred values and beliefs
Traditional Hawaiian people have many sacred values and beliefs that influence their way of life and behaviour.
Such as; did you know that they believe if you take lava rock or even a grain of sand home from the island then a curse will fall upon you?
Or that ‘Aloha’ is more than just a greeting but is a common state law known as the “Aloha Spirit”?
It exists to ensure a person’s mind and heart are always in balance and that each person thinks and acts positively towards themselves and others.
How you decide to show this kindness can be influenced by:
- Akahai – meaning kindness expressed with tenderness
- Lokahi – meaning unity expressed with harmony
- ‘Olu’olo – meaning agreeableness expressed with pleasantness
- Ha’aha’a – meaning humility expressed with modesty
- Ahonui – meaning patience expressed with perseverance
It’s so interesting to learn about the Hawaiian culture; we could all learn a thing or two from them!
Read More About Hawaii & Plan Your Trip
We hope your Hawaii bucket list is now well and truly created!
If you want to start putting some of these incredible things to do in action then check out our other Hawaii travel blogs:
- What is the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii for First Time Visitors?
- Your Perfect 7 Days in Hawaii Itinerary
- Epic 3 Day Oahu Itinerary For First Time Visitors
- Tips For Stargazing On Mauna Kea
- 22 Incredible Hawaii Tours You Must Do!
- Incredible Lost Filming Locations Tour in Hawaii
- 60+ Quotes About Hawaii & Proverbs From The Rainbow State
We hope you’ve found this blog post helpful! Now tell us… what places and activities are on YOUR Hawaii bucket list? Let us know in the comments below…
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