Hawaii is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the planet, but that doesn’t mean your trip to the Islands has to be surrounded by other tourists — at least not the entire time. Each island has a long list of underrated attractions that are often overlooked by the crowds of visitors. After scouring reviews, asking some locals, and visiting quite a few of them ourselves, we’re confident we’ve found the 30 best overlooked attractions in all of Hawaii.
Ahalanui Hot Springs
Ahalanui Hot Springs is a unique geographical attraction location on the Big Island of Hawaii. The large swimming hole is fed by volcanic hot springs, and stays a toasty 90 degrees Fahrenheit no matter the time of year. Brings your favorite floaty and a picnic, and enjoy the warm, relaxing waters. Best of all, the hot springs are practically unknown to the island’s many visitors, though it’s a favorite amongst the locals.
Architectural Walking Tour in Honolulu
Honolulu is a wonderfully historic place, but you’re likely to miss it all just walking around from point A to point B. Fortunately, AIA Honolulu offers awesome two-hour walking tours of Honolulu’s oldest architecture and historical sites for just $15. The tour includes fascinating information about all the most important buildings in downtown Honolulu, including the beautiful Iolani Palace.
Charles Lindbergh’s Grave Site
Located along the famous Road to Hana is the grave site of famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. The site is marked by a modest gravestone and a small coral church, but once you visit, it’s easy to see why Lindbergh chose this site. The sweeping ocean views are absolutely stunning from this spot, and provide a beautiful natural setting for this important trailblazer.
Dragon’s Teeth is a fascinating geological feature formed hundreds of years ago when incoming ocean waves crashed into flowing lava, causing the latter to harden in upward formations. The result is a truly cool natural wonder that looks like something out of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. To see the Dragon’s Teeth, head to the golf course at the Ritz hotel. As you’re enjoying the lava rocks, enjoy the views of the island of Molokai, and keep an eye out for turtle and whale sightings.
The island of Kauai has its own landfill now, but before it did, large amounts of trash from the nearby industrial quarter were dumped here, at what is now known as Glass Beach. The beach gets its name from the millions of tiny shards of colored glass mixed in with the sand. Don’t worry, the beach isn’t dangerous to walk on, as the glass has been softened and worn down from the ocean tides. Crafters will enjoy scouring the beach for the best pieces. You can also head to the beach’s southernmost edge where large lava rock arches and holes — some of which have become embedded with colorful glass shards — can be found and walked upon.
Kauai’s Spouting Horn Blowhole is one of the island’s busiest sights, but surprisingly, the blowhole on the island of Oahu is relatively underrated and often overlooked by visitors. Like its much more famous counterpart, Halona Blowhole was formed by volcanic eruptions that ultimately formed molten lava tubes. Halona puts on quite the show. Visitors who wait for just the right moment are likely to be rewarded with the sight of water shooting as far as 30 feet into the air.
Just about every visitor to the island of Maui braves the infamous Hana Highway, but few people stop at the overlooked attraction of Hamoa Beach. Located right along the “Road to Hana,” Hamoa was once the edge of a small volcano. Today, it’s a never-crowded, crescent-shaped beach that makes for a great picnic spot, or at the very least, a picturesque place to stop and catch your breath and a few rays.
Kauai is one of the best Hawaiian islands for hiking, but fortunately there are still some underrated hiking spots, one of which is to Hanakapi’ai Falls located along Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. Round trip to the Falls and back is eight miles of challenging terrain (think slippery rocks and multiple river crossings). You’ll be rewarded with a stunning secluded beach about two miles in, only visible during the summer time. The many streams and rivers you cross along the trail are great for swimming, as is the pond at the bottom of the 300-foot waterfall that greets you at the end of the trail.
Hanapepe on a Friday Night
Nicknamed “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town,” Hanapepe is a popular day trip destination for tourists visiting the island. What’s underrated, however, is Hanapepe on a Friday night. Each Friday evening at about 5 p.m. this traditional Hawaiian town becomes a one-night arts festival. The many local art studios that line Hanapepe’s main drag stay open later, while other artists simply set up shop along the sidewalk. Grab a walkaway snack from one of the local vendors, then wander the galleries while local musicians play classic Hawaiian tunes.
Harold Lyon Arboretum
Tourists and locals alike tend to skip right over the Harold Lyon Arboretum, which is a shame! This massive arboretum, named after a famous plant pathologist, consists of huge, varied gardens and acres of natural rainforest. The 5,000 plants include a large collection of endangered Hawaiian plants, and tons of interesting birds call the Arboretum home. It can all be explored via the miles and miles of hiking trails.
Iao Needle at Iao Valley State Park
While visiting Maui, take some time to visit Iao Valley State Park. This often-overlooked attraction is the home of the Iao Needle, the 1,200 foot-high monument. This is where the document was signed to officially unite the Hawaiian Islands. Besides the Iao Needle, the state park offers visitors a number of hiking trails which include interesting rock formations, rainforest settings, and interactive exhibits of the Hawaii Nature Center.
Kaena Point is an important site to Native Hawaiians, and worth seeing, but you’ll have to hike there. The 2.5-mile hike (one way) is moderate in difficulty, but it probably won’t bother you. You’ll likely be too distracted searching the gorgeous view for sightings of whales and monk seals. Once you reach Kaena Point, a stunning lava shoreline, you’ll be standing on the spot where ancient Hawaiians once believed they’d meet the souls of their ancestors. Look out over the crashing waves and see if you can spot the large sea cave where it’s believed Nanue the shark man lives.
Our list of the best overlooked attractions in Hawaii includes both Papakolea Beach, a green beach and Kaihalulu Beach, a red sand beach. Kaihalulu Beach was formed from part of the Ka’uiki Head cinder cone, which gives it the uniquely rust-red colored sand.
In the years prior to 1847 (when it disappeared from historical record), Kaniakapupu was a favorite palace of the king. Its location offer slightly cooler temperatures during the humid summer. It also provided a much-needed respite from the Western influence encroaching upon the native Hawaiian culture. Today, the palace is little more than ruins, though it’s still considered an important site. Signs ask visitors to treat the area with the respect that a sacred site deserves.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai island is a fascinating yet often overlooked attraction that appeals to visitors of all ages. The refuge’s main on-land feature is the historic lighthouse. Guests can use the many telescopes surrounding the lighthouse to catch a glimpse of the massive flocks of birds that use the nearby cliffs for nesting and resting. If you’re lucky, you may even see humpback whales, endangered monk seals, sea turtles, or other marine species that often make an appearance around the refuge’s waters.
Kualoa Ranch on Oahu island is the closest you can get to visiting the actual Jurassic Park. The movie (along with Jurassic World, Godzilla, Lost, and others) was partly filmed here. You’ll probably recognize the landscape from some of the most memorable scenes. But even if you’re not interested in seeing the spot where that giant herd of dinosaurs run past Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and the kids, you’ll find plenty to do at Kualoa Ranch. The ranch’s 4,000 working acres includes beaches, rainforest, cliffs, valley, and tropical gardens. You can explore it all by car, horse, ATV, or even kayak.
If you’re already staying on Maui, consider a day trip to the nearby island of Lanai. The crossing on the passenger ferry takes roughly one hour, and if you’re lucky enough to be traveling during the winter months, you’re likely to see some humpback whales along the route. Once on Lanai, catch a ride into town on the hop-on, hop-off shuttle bus, or head to Hulopoe Bay for some world-class snorkeling.
Lava Tree State Park
Lava once flowed through this area, burning through areas of Lehua trees, creating shaped lava molds, or “lava trees” in their place. Today, the lava trees are protected and open to the public for free, though this amazingly unique geologic site remains surprisingly quiet.
Liliuokalani Park and Gardens
Spend some quiet time wandering around the stunning Liliuokalani Park and Gardens in Hilo in the Island of Hawaii. The park, which was dedicated in 1917 and named after Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani, is a tribute to the Islands’ large historical population of Japanese immigrants. As such, it is designed as a waterfront Japanese Garden, the largest outside of Japan.
To see why they call Kauai the “Garden Isle,” make some time to stop at the overlooked attraction of Limahuli Gardens. Located on the island’s north shore and overlooking both mountain and water, these stunning gardens are lush with little-known plants native to the Hawaiian Islands. As you explore the gardens, check out the variety of lava rock terraces. These unique man-made terraces were used by ancient Hawaiians to grow taro.
It may not look like much, but this unique overlooked attraction is chock full of history — literally. The Makauwahi Cave is the largest limestone cave on Kauai Island. In recent years it has become the richest fossil site in all of the Pacific.
The cave, once a sand dune, collapsed thousands of years ago to form a natural sinkhole that now holds more than 10,000 years of pre-human plant life, animal fossils, and evidence of various weather patterns. You’ll need to be brave to sneak through the small mouth of the cave, but once you’re in, you’ll find yourself inside a spacious open-air amphitheater that’s truly a sight to behold.
If geology isn’t your thing, visit the Makauwahi Cave for the on-site turtle sanctuary, or spend some time on nearby Mahaulepu Beach, where part of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed.
The charming little mountain town of Makawao is home to just a little more than 7,000 people and is a great place to spend a day exploring. The town is well known for its local artist population. A number of galleries and craft shops line Makawao’s main drag. Visitors will also get a kick out of the local cowboy culture. Indeed, Makawao and its surroundings have been an important cattle farming site since the 1800s.
Manta Ray Night Diving
Get up close and personal with some of Hawaii’s most interesting residents. Book a nighttime scuba diving or snorkeling tour to see the manta rays. These gentle creatures are quite active at night when they hunt for plankton. Big Island Divers is a top-rated local company that takes divers and snorkelers of all abilities out into the water. Swim through the water and watch the rays as the guide shines a light on these amazing animals.
If you’ve truly seen it all in Hawaii, or you have a deep enough wallet for a really fancy day trip, then Molokai is the perfect off-the-beaten-path destination for you. Though well known, Molokai tends to get overlooked on the average Hawaiian itinerary because it’s one of the smallest islands in the chain. It also doesn’t have any major resorts.
Most people who visit Molokai for the day spend their time exploring the Kalaupapa Leprosy Settlement and National Historical Park to learn about the leprosy colony during the 1940s and 50s. For those with more time, the island’s beaches are absolutely stunning. The 56-mile drive around the whole island is also worth the time and effort.
There are only four green-sand beaches in the world, and one of those happens to be on the Big Island. Getting to Green Sand Beach, officially known as Papakolea Beach, is an adventure unto itself. You can drive if you’ve rented a 4×4 or you can hike the two-mile trail. Once you’re there, you’re not likely to be disappointed. The beach’s green appearance is the result of the fact it was once the side of a cinder cone. Though the cone erupted more than 50,000 years ago, it’s left a stunning secluded cove and some of the softest sand you’ll experience anywhere.
This underrated attraction isn’t for the faint of heart! Don a coat to brave the surprisingly chilly early morning, and make your way to Pier 38 by 5:30 a.m. That’s when the bell rings to start the fish auction from which all of the island’s hotels and fancy restaurants acquire their fresh catch. It’s quite a sight to see the locals bid on fish one-by-one. If you’re brave enough you can even join the fun and grab something for tonight’s barbecue! When you’ve had enough of the auction, grab breakfast at Nicos Pier 38.
Once upon a time, long before tourism became the Hawaiian Islands’ biggest industry, sugar dominated the local economy. At the Plantation Village in Oahu, visitors can learn what life was like while living and working on a sugar plantation between 1850 and 1950. The guided tours lead guests through former houses of workers from various ethnic backgrounds. The tours offer tons of information about the unique heritage of the Hawaiian people, and end with a tasting of fruit grown on plantation trees.
With its other world-like black sand and local sea turtle population, Punalu’u Beach on the Big Island is one overlooked attraction that is definitely worth visiting. The beach is one of the best places in the Islands to see turtles in their natural habitat. And thanks to fewer crowds than other beaches, getting up close (safely and respectfully, of course) is much easier here. Punalu’u also happens to be an excellent snorkeling destination, with an underwater marine life that contrasts brilliantly with the unique black sand.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau
From 600 AD until 1810, Hawaii was a rough place to live, but not because of the harsh wild environment. Rather, a system of strict kapu, or forbidden acts, made living lawfully especially difficult. For example, one was not allowed to step into the shadow of the king. Commoners could not walk on royal ground, and women were not allowed to eat bananas that looked too phallic. For those found guilty of such crimes, execution by beheading or human sacrifice was almost certain. Those convicted had only one hope, and that was to get to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (“The Place of Worship”).
Anyone who stepped within these bounds was instantly forgiven. But it wasn’t easy. To make it to The Place of Worship, one had to escape capture, find the way to the southwestern coast of the Big Island, elude the royal guards, then make it across a shark-infested bay to the temple. Today, the site is mostly ruins, but there is enough there to see the hope that once drove people to risk everything for safety.
Amazing view aside, South Point is worth going to because it’s known as the southernmost point of United States. Standing on the most southern edge of the country is definitely something to brag about back at the office. Plus, South Point happens to be stunning, with grand sweeping views of the Pacific. Since it’s a bit of a trek there, prepare to spend some time lazing on the beach, or bring your fishing gear to take advantage of some of the best fishing on the Big Island.