Here at Only In Hawaii, we absolutely love sharing all of the incredible natural beauty the Hawaiian Islands have to offer, and in the last year, we’ve featured countless incredible places and experiences with you. So, in honor of the new year, we’re taking a look back at some of the coolest places we featured in 2016 with the hopes of creating a bucket list worthy of the wonder that will surely be 2017. From mountain peaks shrouded in clouds and sandbars only accessible at low tide to secluded beaches and ancient Hawaiian historic and cultural sites, these 23 places absolutely must be added to your must-experience list for 2017.
1. Kula Ali’i Lavender Farm
Upcountry Maui, near Mount Haleakala, gets a great deal of rain, resulting in lush, green scenery, and flourishing lavender at the Kula Ali’i Lavender Farm. But the beautiful, fragrant lavender isn’t the only thing to see at this gorgeous farm – visitors will also be rewarded with panoramic views of the entire western half of the island.
2. Doris Duke’s Shangri La
Often considered to be one of Hawaii’s most architecturally significant homes, Shangri La is an utterly enchanting Islamic-style mansion built in the late 1930s by heiress Doris Duke near Diamond Head just outside Honolulu, and overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
3. Ka Lae
Located at the end of South Point Road near Na’alehu, on the southernmost tip of Hawaii Island, is this picturesque spot known for its phenomenal fishing, and sweeping panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
4. Alekoko Fishpond
Also known as Menehune Fishpond, Alekoko, located near Lihue on the island of Kauai is a historic Hawaiian fishpond that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. It is said that the Menehune – a mythical people who inhabited the islands before Hawaiians arrived – are responsible for the fishpond construction.
5. Kalaupapa Leper Colony
Located on the tiny island of Molokai, with the ocean on one side and giant 1,600-foot cliffs on the other, are the Kalawao and Kalaupapa Leper Colonies – described by Robert Louis Stevenson as a “prison fortified by nature.” Kalaupapa is now a U.S. National Park, and home to a dwindling population, those of whom are outnumbered exponentially by those in the cemetery – where an estimated 2,000 graves lie unmarked, in addition to those with headstones.
6. Kahakuloa Bay
The beautiful Kahakuloa Bay is home to an isolated community and absolutely incredible scenery. Stop here for Lorraine's Shave Ice for a sweet treat and check out Kaukini Gallery while passing through.
7. Kukaniloko Birthing Stones
Found nearly 100 yards from the intersection of Whitmore Avenue and Highway 80 in Wahiawa on the island of Oahu, the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones have marked the site of royal births and power struggles for centuries. Recent research has discovered that the stones may have served an astronomical purpose as well – perhaps as a sort of a Pacific Islands henge?
8. Lake Waiau
Located at 13,000 feet above sea level on the Big Island’s Mauna Kea, Lake Waiau is arguably one of the highest lakes in all of the United States. However, it is also relatively small, measuring in at just about 100 meters across. To reach this sacred lake, visitors will have to take a short, one-mile walk, found near Mauna Kea’s astronomy domes.
9. Kauai’s Fern Grotto
This naturally-formed lava cave, located off Kauai’s Wailua River, was formed millions of years ago, and is home to various native Hawaiian plant species as well as colorful, exotic plants, that come together to make visitors feel as though they have entered a tropical rainforest.
10. Makawao, Maui
Located in upcountry Maui on the rural northwest slopes of Mount Haleakala is a charming little town worthy of a visit – and a little recognition. With a population of approximately 7,100, Makawao is one of Hawaii’s biggest little towns. The town is famous for its Hawaiian cowboy, or paniolo, history, and is a haven for artists of all kinds.
11. Kaneohe Sandbar
Situated off the coast of Windward is Oahu is a picturesque slice of paradise that is only accessible during low tide. The Kaneohe sandbar, located in the middle of Kaneohe Bay surrounded by the striking Ko’olau mountains, features crystalline turquoise waters, fine white sand, and plenty of fun. At high tide, you can comfortably stand waist-deep in the water, while at low tide, the sand is completely exposed.
12. Makauwahi Cave
This little-known archaeological site is home to Kauai’s largest limestone cave that was formed when the once fossilized sand dune collapsed. After you squeeze through the mouth of the cave, you will be rewarded with stunning views of a spacious open-air amphitheater.
13. MacKenzie State Recreation Area
This secluded park covering 13 acres on Hawaii Island’s rural southern coast featuring tall ironwood trees, volcanic sea cliffs, and quite a few paranormal encounters. Portions of the King's Trail wind through the park, and according to the National Park Service, improvements to this ancient coastal trail were made in the mid 1800s by prisoners and those unable to pay their taxes. Legend has it that the souls of prisoners who died while working on the trail still wander around the park.
14. Maluhia Road
The Holo Holo Koloa Scenic Byway serves as the gateway to Kauai's southern shore, and is full of magnificent views and gorgeous stops, including Maluhia Road, a stretch of highway covered in a canopy of eucalyptus trees.
15. Lanai's Sweetheart Rock
Puu Pehe, often referred to as Sweetheart Rock, is not only a magnificent natural landmark but a geological formation steeped in Hawaiian legend.
The story goes that there were two lovers, a Hawaiian maiden named Pehe from Lahaina and a warrior from Lanai named Makakehua. He was extremely taken with her beauty, and he hid her in a sea cave at the base of Manele’s cliffs. One day, while gathering supplies, he noticed a storm coming and started back to Pehe, who had drowned by the massive waves. Makakehua was devastated and wailed out to his ancestors to help him climb the steep rock island where he eventually buried her and jumped into the pounding surf below.
16. Maui’s Garden of Eden
These lush botanical gardens are set on 26 acres full of trails, picnic spots, waterfalls and coastal views. Visitors should be sure not to miss these incredible groves of rainbow eucalyptus trees, which look as though they have materialized here from the pages of a storybook.
17. Queen’s Bath
A sinkhole surrounded by igneous rock, this incredible geological formation is not only a vibrant turquoise pool set in the striking black lava shoreline, but it is also a dangerous lava bench exposed to deadly high surf.
18. Mount Waialeale + Kauai’s Weeping Wall
Deep in the heart of Kauai is the lush, emerald Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest places on the planet, rises more than 5,000 feet into the sky and is covered by an ever-present blanket of clouds. There you will find the epic Weeping Wall, a collection of stunning waterfalls cascading down the mountain.
19. Waipio Beach
While this Big Island beach is often seen from above at the Waipio Valley lookout, you will need to hike 1.5 miles from the parking lot down to the beach, so you can bet that you’ll be mostly alone once you arrive.
20. Haleiwa Joe’s at Haiku Gardens
An iconic Hawaiian seafood restaurant, Haleiwa Joe’s second (and we’d argue, prettier) location can be found in windward Oahu at the Haiku Gardens, a slice of absolute paradise. The restaurant is surrounded by the towering Ko’olau Mountains, lush greenery, and a pond so picturesque you’d be remiss if you didn’t stop to take a photograph - or twenty!
21. Ahalanui Hot Pond
There is little better after a long hike than jumping into the ocean for a quick swim – except maybe slipping into a steaming hot spring fed by the expansive Pacific Ocean and warmed geothermally by flowing lava deep beneath the surface. Ahalanui Hot Pond, found on Hawaii’s Big Island near Pahoa, and surrounded by green grass and palm trees, is the ultimate retreat.
22. Hanakapiai Beach + Falls
Situated on Kauai’s fabled Na Pali Coast is Hanakapi’ai Falls, accessible only by a strenuous day hike. The trail is, in fact, the beginning of the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, but only takes you four miles in, past Hanakapi’ai Beach and up to the valley and approximately 300-foot cascading waterfall.
23. Round Top Drive + Mount Tantalus
This two-lane, ten-mile loop features a series of steep inclines, hairpin turns and blind corners that challenge even the most skilled drivers in the smallest cars you can find. The views of Honolulu from the Tantalus Lookout are well worth the slightly nerve-wracking drive - on a clear day, you can see everything from Diamond Head and Waikiki to the east and Honolulu International Airport and Pearl Harbor to the west.
How many of these places have you visited already? For more incredible suggestions about Hawaiian activities, you must experience, check out
the ultimate Hawaiian Island bucket list.