The Hawaiian Islands may be small in terms of landmass, but what they lack in space, they make up for in magical destinations and attractions hiding where you would least expect them. From stunning beaches in a variety of colors and coastal gems to heavenly hiking trails and secret gardens, here are 12 Hawaii attractions locals keep to themselves. Let’s dive in:
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. Kaumahina State Wayside, Maui
Home to 7.8 acres of exotic plants and tropical forest, Kaumahina State Wayside is located along Maui’s famous Hana Highway but is often overlooked for more popular stops. This scenic rest area is an idyllic spot to enjoy a picnic and bask in the beauty of Maui’s coastline.
2. Lyon Arboretum, Oahu
While this beautiful arboretum has been open to the public for more than 40 years, many locals and tourists alike opt for the more popular Manoa Falls. The 194-acre research site is home to more than 5,000 tropical and subtropical plants as well as 12 beautiful gardens and seven miles of hiking trails. The main trailhead leads to the stunning, and not too crowded Aihualama Falls.
3. Makauwahi Cave, Kauai
Makauwahi Cave is not only the largest limestone cave in Hawaii but also one of the state’s largest archaeological sites. This relatively unknown archaeological site 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.
4. Waimanu Valley, Hawaii Island
Waimanu Valley, the largest of several remote valleys on the Hamakua Coastline, is quite difficult to visit but offers incredible views for anyone adventurous enough to tackle the nine-mile Muliwai Trail.
5. Mokuleia Beach, Oahu
On Oahu’s northern shore, west of Haleiwa and more than 10 miles from the nearest restroom, is a picturesque beach nestled between the beautiful Waianae Mountain Range and the vast Pacific Ocean. The beautiful, fine sand found on Mokuleia will invite you in, and the breathtaking blue water will keep you coming back for more. The waves are almost always choppy here, but the waters are rich with sea life and you will often find green sea turtles basking on the sand during the summer months.
6. Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center, Maui
In the shell of what was once one of Maui's oldest sugar mills, you will find this nonprofit visual arts center that was opened in 1934 and offers everything from artist lectures, exhibitions, and tours to events, classes, and workshops for those of all ages. Don't forget to take a stroll around the stunning grounds before you leave.
7. Wai Koa Loop Trail, Kauai
The trail is accessible through the Anaina Hou Community Park and will lead you on a journey through the Wai Koa Plantation, a working farm on 500 private acres, as well as the largest mahogany forest in North America. Ideal for everyone from running enthusiasts to families with young children, the trail is relatively flat, and can be easily walked in two to three hours. If you’re up to it, mountain bike rentals are also available on the property.
8. Kamehame Beach, Hawaii Island
Situated on Hawaii Island's southeastern coast, Kamehame Beach is one of the country's foremost nesting sites for the Hawksbill turtle and honu. The beach is an official turtle-breeding site, so the only guaranteed access is through volunteering with a turtle-monitoring program.
9. Mo’omomi Preserve, Molokai
This sprawling 921-acre preserve on Molokai protects one of the state’s last intact coastal regions, boasting sand dunes a mile long and hundreds of feet wide. Home to native plant species, Mo’omomi is also a nesting site for native shorebirds, the Hawaiian owl, and green sea turtles.
10. Makawao Forest, Maui
We’ve talked about Maui’s brilliant Redwood Trail and the enchanting Bamboo forest, but the gorgeous Makawao Forest offers some incredible hiking on the Kahakapao Trail where you will see wild Koa, young Redwood trees, Raspberry bushes, Eucalyptus varieties, and fragrant Ginger plants. Located in upcountry Maui at a high elevation, the forest is a little colder than most of the island, bringing a welcome refuge from Hawaii’s typical weather.
11. Waimea Beach, Kauai
Kauai’s secluded Waimea Beach is, quite simply, the stuff dreams are made of. The rare black sand beach is located on Kauai’s relatively undeveloped western shore and will absolutely enchant you. Though most focus on the beach’s incredibly rich black sand, I am absolutely head over heels for the picturesque Waimea Pier, the embodiment of Old Hawaii. The pier was once an important location for whaling ships that came into port during the 19th century, and while the pier isn’t original, you will still find people using the pier for fishing and crabbing.
12. Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park, Oahu
Ahupua’a O Kahana State Park, formerly known as Kahana Valley State Park, is often overlooked for more accessible spots on the island but is an absolute natural oasis for anyone who wants to get away from it all and have a little adventure. The state park is Hawaii’s only public ahupua’a — an ancient land division — and stretches from the shores of Kahana Bay to the tip of Pu’u Pauao at 2,670 feet in elevation.