Hawaii is the only US state made up entirely of islands-132 of them, to be exact. Eight major islands form part of the Hawaiian archipelago, of which four are popular tourist destinations. These four islands are Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu. Of all the islands, Oahu, with the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, is the most visited. However, there is a lot to see on all the Hawaiian islands, which each have its fair share of highly explorable cute towns.
More in HawaiiDiscover the 8 coolest small towns in Hawaii for a summer vacation.
The picturesque Hanalei Town lies on Kauai’s North Shore and is the place where kalo grows in abundance. Tourists can visit kalo farms during authorized farm tours or gaze out across the landscape from the Hanalei Valley Lookout. Hanalei is well known for the Hanalei Pier, built in 1892. The pier is perfect for watching the sun go down over Hanalei Bay and features in the film “South Pacific.”
The town of Hanalei also offers various art galleries where Kauai art is on display, and regular ukulele concerts are held. For those who prefer to spend their time outdoors, there is the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, which offers hiking trails and kayaking. Experienced kayakers can leave the bay behind and paddle toward the Napali Coast cliffs to explore several magnificent sea caves.
Those who want an underwater adventure can go snorkeling at Tunnels Beach with its underwater lava fields, or Anini Beach, which is home to one of the longest reefs off the coast of Kauai!
Wailuku lies in the shadow of the majestic West Maui Mountains. This newly revitalized town is one of the oldest in Maui and still bears the history of the ancient Hawaiians, who built temples on a hill overlooking the sea. In recent years, many restaurants have sprung up in Wailuku, as have several shops that sell local goods. One of the most unique stores is Native Intelligence, where native culture practitioners buy cultural items to help preserve the Hawaiian arts. Wailuku also offers a small theater scene, with the Iao Theatre built in 1928.
The natural beauty of Wailuku is something out of this world, however. The Waihe’e Ridge Trail offers scenic views of the Maui Forest Reserve, the Makamakole Falls, and the sparkling water of the ocean below. The Iao Valley State Park provides even more jaw-dropping views, including the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, which is a natural rock formation created by erosion over a thousand years.
Those who love marine creatures, will not want to miss out on the Maui Ocean Center, where stingrays, sharks, and colorful fish swim around in a 750,000-gallon tank.
In the 1800s, the Unna Brothers owned Hana and raised sugar cane in the 4,500-acre region. Hana belonged to Paul Fagan in 1935, before the town changed hands again. Today, Hana belongs to a group of Hawaiian investors and is one of the most visited places in Maui.
Visiting Hana begins with a spectacular 52-mile drive from Kahului. The Hana highway must be driven by experienced drivers because there are 620 curves and narrow bridges to navigate. However, the unmatched views from the highway include evergreen rainforests, gorgeous ocean vistas, and intense waterfalls, which more than compensate for the challenging trip.
The Wai’anapanapa State Park lies within Hana and boats Maui’s only black sand beach. In the center of Hana Town is the Hana Cultural Center and Museum where visitors can learn more about the town’s culture and see authentic Hawaiian artifacts. Hana hosts some of the best farmer’s markets in Maui, and for the adventurous at heart, there is a hiking trail that leads to Fagan’s Cross.
Volcano Village, Big Island
The dramatically named Volcano Village sits a mile away from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island. A deep rainforest filled with local trees and Hapu’u ferns surrounds Volcano Village and is a place where calm and tranquility reign.
Volcano Village offers excellent art exhibits at the Volcano Art Center and Volcano Garden Arts. 2400 Fahrenheit offers a fascinating look into the world of glass art, while the Atsuka Orchid Gardens cater to flower enthusiasts with over 200,000 orchid plants. There is a local winery that produces exotic sweet wines, and a tea farm for a unique tea-tasting experience.
Naalehu, Big Island
The charming town of Naalehu has the distinction of being the southernmost town in the US. Old plantation homes dot the landscape here, and the town itself forms a magnificent backdrop for the two major festivals that happen within its limits every year – the Naalehu Rodeo bull-riding festival and the Hawaiian Hula Festival celebrated on Labor Day. Just outside of Naalehu is Papakolea Beach, which is one of only two green sand beaches in the US. The beach is sheltered by a 49,000-year-old cinder cone that forms part of the Mauna Loa volcano. Olivines from the volcano gave the beach its apt nickname, “Green Sand Beach.”
Back in Naalehu, visitors can explore Manuka State Park, where they can picnic among the trees and explore Hawaii’s natural history. Then there is Paradise Meadows Orchard and Bee Farm, which offers award-winning coffee, macadamia nuts, and delectable Hawaiian honey.
Haleiwa is a surfer’s paradise, with ocean waves perfect for beginner and expert surfers. This cute little town makes the most of its surfer culture by offering several surf shops, and island-style attractions. In the midtown area are several fashion boutiques and jewelry stores, as well as art galleries where local artists showcase their talent. The Pipeline Gallery displays surf photography art, while the Tabora Gallery exhibits original paintings and sculptures. Several food trucks make the rounds in Haleiwa, each with a delicious menu, including pizza, garlic shrimp, and tacos. The best way to round off a meal in Haleiwa is to indulge in flavored shaved ice, which is just the thing for a hot summer day.
Natural WondersCheck out The 5 Active Volcanoes in Hawaii
Waikiki was once a royal retreat and is still one of the top attractions in Honolulu, Oahu. Waikiki is a district of Honolulu, and despite being remote, it generates around $2 billion in tourist revenue per year. The first hotel built on Waikiki is the Moana, which opened in 1901. The Moana Hotel is also known for introducing the first electric elevator in Hawaii. The hotel and elevator are still in use today. To ensure visitors keep coming back to this magical island spot, Waikiki Beach is continuously filled with imported sand due to ongoing erosion issues.
There are five beach sections that collectively create Waikiki Beach, and this stretch of sand is one of the busiest places in all of Oahu. Other must-see attractions in Waikiki include the Fort DeRussy Army Museum and the Iolani Palace which is the only royal palace in America. The Honolulu Zoo provides insight into the lives of animals including Hawaiian short-eared owls, and other mammals, reptiles, and birds. Waikiki also has a long-standing torch lighting ceremony, during which the torches along the neighborhood near the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center are lit every evening in anticipation of the nightly hula pageant that takes place at Kuhio Beach Park.
And no trip is Waikiki is complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, which is a mere 12 miles from the beach.
Old Koloa Town, Kauai
The plantation era saw the rise of Old Koloa Town, which once held the first sugarcane business in Hawaii. The first Koloa sugar mill opened in 1835 and provided opportunities for immigrants to make Kauai their home. More than 500 eucalyptus trees line the road to Koloa. In 1911, Baron Walter McBryde gifted Kauai the original trees, planted along Maliuhi Road. Hurricane Iniki destroyed the trees in 1992, and the so-called Tree Tunnel only recovered 20 years later.
Today, visitors to Old Koloa Town can stop by the Koloa History Center to learn more about Koloa’s famed sugar industry. There is also the Koloa Heritage Trail, which includes fourteen historical sites. Koloa boasts several old-fashioned stores where tourists can browse and buy various locally made gifts and Lappert’s ice cream. Koloa also holds an annual Plantation Days Celebration to commemorate the area’s sugar plantation roots.
Island ParadiseExplore The Largest Hawaiian Islands
Hawaii is a picture-perfect destination for travelers worldwide. The Aloha Spirit is vibrant and offers a mesmerizing look into the life and culture of Hawaiians. Hawaii is the place to find unbelievably gorgeous views from all angles, and experience marine life like never before. Add to this the memorable beaches, fantastic cuisine, and dramatic volcanic landscapes, making Hawaii's small towns great bucket list destinations!
Estelle Thurtle April 14 2023 in Places
What is the prettiest city in Hawaii? ›
- 8 Kane'ohe, Oahu.
- 7 Makaha, Oahu.
- 6 Ka'anapali, Maui.
- 5 Kihei, Maui.
- 4 Lahaina, Maui.
- 3 Honomu, Big Island.
- 2 Kealakekua, Big Island.
- 1 Wailua, Kauai.
Kahoolawe is the smallest of the eight main Hawaiian islands. There is no permanent population of this island.Which of the 8 main islands in Hawaii is uninhabited? ›
At 44.6 sq mi (116 km2), Kahoʻolawe is the state's largest island with no permanent inhabitants. Lānaʻi has a population of 3,193; Molokaʻi has a population of 7,404.What is the best less crowded island in Hawaii? ›
Molokai is the least visited island of Hawaii. With about 65,000 visitors, the island attracts only a fraction of all the tourists that visit the island group each year. The island is more rural and doesn't have resorts. Molokai is most definitely a destination off the beaten path.What is the least crowded city in Hawaii? ›
Molokai. The most local of the main Hawaiian Islands, Molokai also receives far fewer visitors than the other islands and will have the least touristy feel.What is the biggest little town in Hawaii? ›
From World War I to the early 1950s, West Side Hanapēpē was also one of Kauaʻi's busiest towns, alive with G.I.s and sailors who were stationed there for training. Today, “Kauaʻi's biggest little town” hasn't changed much over the last century at first look.Is Oahu or Maui better? ›
If you're looking to hole up at your hotel for the entire vacation, pick Maui and its sprawling oceanfront resorts. But if you're looking for adventure, to really experience the Hawaiian Islands and make the most of your well-earned vacation, Oʻahu should be your choice.Which Hawaiian island is younger? ›
The higher the ratio, the older the rock. These measurements showed that the Big Island of Hawaii, at the southeastern end of the archipelago, is the youngest of the chain, with an estimated age of less than half a million years (Panel 1).Where is the prettiest part of Hawaii? ›
Kauai is the winner
In our opinion, Kauai takes the throne as the prettiest Hawaiian island. It has a variety of views and terrain to see. Rocky coastlines, beautiful beaches, lush jungles, and mountains and valleys. There is so much to see and do.
With its jagged cliffs, lush valleys, and paradisiacal beaches, Kauai is truly heaven on earth and is our top pick for the most beautiful island in Hawaii. While it would be impossible to squeeze in everything that makes Kauai so special, we have narrowed it down to the top 3 must-see destinations in Kauai.
Is Honolulu or Maui better? ›
Hawaii is a stunning location with plenty of fun things to do, no matter which island you visit. If you're in the market for a beachy, relaxing vacation, you may want to head to Maui. Otherwise, consider Honolulu for its abundance of hotels, things to do and plentiful flight connections to other U.S. cities.What is the number 1 vacation spot in Hawaii? ›
Oahu is the most visited of all the Hawaiian islands, at nearly 4.7 million visitors annually. Oahu is primarily defined by the state capital of Honolulu, as well as Pearl Harbor and the famous beach known as Waikiki. These areas attract tourists by the thousands daily.