Top 10 things to do in Hawaii (Oahu, Maui and Kauai)

The older I get, the more I realize how precious TIME is. We only get 1,440 minutes each day and the choice to do what we love – something we’re passionate about. If you’re blessed enough to live an average lifespan of 79 years old, that’s 28,835 days of opportunity to create a life of purpose and one that you love living.
Facts above are why I live for travel moments like this one: Standing in front of Manawaiopuna Falls, the famous 400 foot waterfall in Jurassic Park, that can only be accessed by helicopter.The 1.5 hour helicopter ride with Island Helicopters in Kauai was one of my favorite experiences in my entire life and one of my top ten recommended activities to do in the Hawaiian Islands!

Read my full list below and get ready to have the time of your life!

1. Hike to the top of Diamond Head Volcano on Oahu

The view from the top of Diamond Head is my favorite view of Waikiki! The view alone is likely the reason why visiting Diamond Head National Park is the #1 rated thing to do in Honolulu on TripAdvisor.
Anyone in good health can compete this hike. It’s pretty easy and is a partially paved walkway with railings all the way to the top. Even if you walk slow, you should be able to make it to the top in 45 to 60 minutes or less as the trail is only 1.6 miles. Oh, and don’t worry – Diamond Head is an extinct volcano that erupted more than 150,000 years ago so there’s no need to worry about anything catastrophic happening to you during your visit!
My advice: Get there early to get a good parking spot! Otherwise, you might end up having to park in one of the lower lots which are further from the entrance.
Admission is $5 per vehicle to park in the main parking lot, plus $1 per person to go into the park. Treat yourself to a tropical smoothie or açaí bowl in the parking lot after you finish your hike!

More info here.

2. Visit the Pearl Harbor Memorial and USS Arizona on OahuImage from NPS.gov
The Pearl Harbor Memorial is one of the most visited places on the island of Oahu – and for good reason! There is so much history here as this historic landmark is iconic of the United States entering into World War II. Don’t be surprised if you get emotional during your visit here!
You can book a reservation online up to 60 days before your visit, however, it’s somewhat difficult to get tickets in advance. If you’re unable to reserve tickets on the website, arrive at Pearl Harbor early enough in the morning to get your tickets on a first come, first serve basis as 1,300 tickets are held each day for visitors.

There is no admission fee but note that the the memorial opens at 7am and closes at 5pm, 7 days a week. Check out more details here to make a reservation.

3. Book a Surf Lesson at Waikiki Beach on OahuOk, I know the idea if surfing can be intimidating if you’ve never done it before, but if there’s one place to surf only once in your life, it’s Waikiki! The water is so shallow for so long that you can literally ride a wave for a good 10-20 seconds.

I took an hour lesson for $99 with Dive Oahu because they were conveniently located on the beach. They offer group or private lessons with an instructor who will take you out and teach you how to get up on a wave, guaranteed!

The group lesson was with 4 other people and I got up on my board without falling off on my very first try! Don’t worry if you do fall off though..it doesn’t hurt and it’s really easy to get back up on your board. If I did it again I would book a private lesson next time for $149 as I didn’t have much luck catching additional waves after my first time. Totally worth it though! The photo above was taken from my GoPro mounted on the front of my surf board, but note that they take professional photos of you which you can purchase afterwards for an additional fee if you wish.
4. Take a movie set tour at Kualoa Ranch on OahuKualoa Ranch is a 4,000 private nature reserve located about 45-60 minutes from Waikiki and the drive alone is absolutely breath taking. A number of movies and TV shows have been filmed here and for good reason – the Kaaawa Valley surrounding it make it one of the most beautiful places on the planet! It’s most famous for part of the original Jurassic Park movie being filmed here, which has dubbed it ‘Jurassic Valley’ as well as the TV shows Hawai’i Five-O and Lost.
You can book several different movie set tours and they also offer other fun activities such a kayaking, biking, horseback riding and zip lining. Check out their full list of offerings here.
Tips: If you begin your trip to Oahu with staying in Waikiki for a few days, I would recommend heading up to the North shore and stopping here on your way! It’s basically half way between both locations. After your visit at Kualoa Ranch, drive up to the North shore to stay for a few nights. Also, be sure to rent a convertible to enjoy your drive around the island a little more than you would in a regular vehicle! Jeeps are also a great choice.
5. Swim with Sharks on the North Shore of OahuImage from IslandViewHawaii.com
This was at the top of my Oahu list, but the weather was unfortunate the day we were supposed to go. I guess that just means we will have to go back, right?! I’m dying to free drive with sharks!
After doing a ton of research, the top recommended company to dive with in my opinion is Island View Hawaii. Click here to check out their incredible adventures and book your free dive!
If you’re terrified of free diving and would rather be in a cage because you’re convinced a shark will eat you, check out North Shore Shark Adventures.
6. Enjoy a smoothie bowl, a shave ice and shrimp on the North Shore of Oahu (obviously not all at once!!)Favorite Smoothie Bowls: The Tropical Bowl from the a Sunrise Shake (They also have AMAZING bullet coffee here) or the Maui Sunrise from Banzai Bowls.
Favorite Shave Ice: Matsumoto is one of the most famous and iconic shave ice places in Hawaii because it’s been around since 1951!
My favorite is the Hawaiian bowl (pictured below) with pineapple, coconut and banana, but you can also mix and match your favorite flavors to create your own. They have over 40 flavors to choose from! Be sure to add a scoop of vanilla ice cream underneath and top it with condensed milk. (It might sound odd but I promise it’s 100% worth it!)
Tip: While you’re in Haleiwa, make sure to check out all of the cute boutiques and souvenir shops!

Favorite Shrimp: Garlic Butter Shrimp and Coconut Shrimp from Fumi’s.(My mouth is literally watering just thinking about it!) Need I say more??


7. Snorkel and/or Snuba dive at Molokini Crater on Maui

Molokini Crater is a crescent shaped, partially submerged Crater 2.5 miles off the coast of Maui. It’s home to about 250 marine species which makes it an excellent spot for snorkeling and snuba diving.

We toured with Pride of Maui which was a fantastic experience! I would highly recommend touring with them. The tour itself was $99 for 5 hours and included 2 stops – one at Molokini Crater and one at ‘Turtle Town’ to snorkel with sea turtles.

The boat provided sunscreen, snorkel gear, underwater photography and a water slide which was really great for kids! The tour also included breakfast (muffins and bagels), lunch (grilled burgers, veggie burgers, chips and cookies) as well as unlimited soft drinks and cocktails. Mai tai anyone??

If you’re super comfortable being in the water, I would totally recommend tacking on the optional $68 addition of snuba diving at Molokini Crater as it allows you to go as far down as 30 feet under water.
7.  Watch the sunrise at the top of Haleakala Volcano on Maui (and hike into the volcano if you’re up for an adventure!)Image from HaleakalaCrater.com

This was an experience I will never forget! YES, it will suck to wake up before 4AM to drive all the way to the top of a volcano in the dark, but I promise it’s worth it!! There’s nothing like watching a Hawaiian sunrise break through the clouds and feeling like you’re on top of the clouds. You’ll feel like you’re dreaming!

If you’re healthy enough and are up for an adventure, I highly recommend hiking into the volcano. It feels like you’re on Mars! And is totally unlike any other experience. We hiked the Sliding Sands Trail 30 minutes in and 50 minutes out.
My advice: Keep in mind that it will take you almost twice as long to go back up as it took to go in downhill. The hike back up is pretty steep. Make sure you bring PLENTY of water!!

Image from HawaiiMagazine.com

8. Complete the famous Road to Hana on Maui
If you go all the way to Maui, you must do the road to Hana! If you’re on the fence about it because it will take a full day, I would recommend at least doing half of a day OR staying overnight in Hana once you compete the trek. (Hana Hotel recommendation: Travaasa)

The drive is absolutely stunning and there are so many cool things to stop and see along the way like scenic ocean overlooks, lush waterfalls, a hidden bamboo forest and a black sand beach!

My advice: Download the GyPSy guide app on your phone BEFORE you start this drive and make sure you have a portable phone charger with you. Your phone GPS will track where you are and an automated guide will speak through your car stereo as you drive. It’s basically like having a tour guide in the car with you. You will learn about the history of Hawaii and the tour guide will tell you where to pull off the road whenever there’s something amazing to see!

WARNING: DO NOT GO OFF ROADING, even if you rent a 4 wheel drive car or Jeep. We spent half a morning helping 2 girls who got their car rental stuck in the mud in the middle of a sugar cane field the first time we did this drive. And they were lucky as hell we happened to come along because they had no cell service to call for help!
YOU WILL HAVE LIMITED OR ZERO CELL SERVICE THE ENTIRE DRIVE. Do not put yourself or the people you’re with at risk. And remember, the road to Hana is a journey, not just a destination!
9. Enjoy the thrill of a helicopter ride in Kauai to see the Napali coast
Ok my friends, if there is ONE thing you do in life, it’s gotta be a helicopter ride in Kauai!
I’ve jumped out of airplanes, I’ve been in hot air balloons and I’ve swam with sharks, but nothing will EVER come close to the thrill of landing in front of a 400 foot waterfall that can only be accessed by plane OR seeing the Napali coast with my own two eyes from the sky! Trust me when I say that YOU WILL NOT DIE, and YES, IT IS WORTH EVERY SINGLE PENNY!!
We flew with Island Helicopters and the experience blew my mind!

10. Take a boat ride along side the Napali coast in Kauai

Image from BestKauaiTours.com

We chose to see the coast by helicopter, but if you REALLY aren’t convinced a helicopter is the way to go or if you’re not comfortable, your other option is to see it by boat. Book your tour with Na Pali Coast Tours here.

I hope this blog post is helpful in planning your Hawaii trip and that you enjoy each of these activities and places as much as I do! I promise none of them will not disappoint.

Mahalo!

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