Hawaii is a dream destination for many travelers, not just because it is ideally suited to family holidays, adventure trips, or couples’ getaways, but because of its natural splendor and diverse activities. Hawaii is America’s 50th state and is well known for its rich heritage, iconic surfing beaches, rugged landscape, and many volcanoes, which make it such an attractive place to visit.
From the famous Waikiki Beach to Pearl Harbor and beyond, endless landmarks make Hawaii a fascinating place to explore. Whether you want to dive into the rich cultural heritage, marvel at volcanic wonders, or wander through lush rainforests, Hawaii has it all – and more. Amidst the natural charm of Hawaii lies an abundance of world-famous landmarks that have captured the hearts of millions and stand as a testament to the island’s unique allure.
There is no need to worry about being bored in Hawaii since there is a vast range of iconic places to see, things to do, and awe-inspiring wonders to captivate you. One thing is for sure: you will undoubtedly have the urge to return time and time to tick all these spots off your Hawaii bucket list. But first, let’s explore the most famous landmarks in Hawaii for you to discover on your next tropical journey.
The 12 Famous Landmarks In Hawaii
Diamond Head is, without a doubt, one of the most famous and most visited landmarks in Hawaii and welcomes almost 3,000 people per day. It is located on the eastern edge of the Waikiki coastline. Hawaii is iconic for its rugged volcanic landscape, and Diamond Head showcases this. Diamond Head State Monument is, in fact, a volcanic tuff cone, and its crater and surrounding 475 acres are what makes it a fascinating area to explore.
It got its name back in the 1820s when the British thought they had encountered diamonds on the crater when they turned out to be calcite crystals – the name Diamond Head stuck. This is a popular hiking area and is well known for its historic hiking trail and fantastic panoramic views, which is why this is often one of the main landmarks visitors want to tick off their list when visiting Hawaii.
2. Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor is a landmark and national memorial site known by many across the globe. This historic location is one of the most visited memorial sites in the world. It attracts over 2 million visitors annually, especially history buffs and those wanting to learn more about the tragic Pearl Harbor attack of 1941. The site is now home to a visitors’ center, and informative guided tours are offered to help tourists understand the significance of this tragedy in great detail.
Visitors can learn about the history at the USS Arizona Memorial Site, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, the USS Oklahoma Memorial, and the Battleship Missouri Memorial to pay their respects and delve deeper into the stories behind each one. A visit to Pearl Harbor and its memorial sites is a must when visiting Oahu, and plenty of informative tours can help you understand more about this world-famous site.
If you ask anyone to name a beach in Hawaii, many will choose Waikiki for the first time because it is one of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii. This neighborhood of Honolulu is on the island of Oahu, the most visited of any Hawaiian Islands, with an average of 4.7 million tourists visiting each year.
So, what makes Waikiki so famous? Visitors are attracted to the vibrant atmosphere of this famous beach, with its variety of bustling late-night venues and bars, eateries, and beach lifestyle.
While there are a few other beaches in this area, like Queens Beach, Greys Beach, and Kuhio Beach, Waikiki has made a name for itself throughout the years and is commonly high on the list of places to see when visiting Hawaii.
Although Hawaii is known for its stunning wild and rugged coastline, Waikiki Beach is, in fact, entirely man-made. Waikiki became famous in the 1900s for its beauty and surfing and, most notably, because celebrities like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra chose it as a destination. These days, Waikiki Beach is still as booming as ever, and it’s no wonder it remains a top Hawaii landmark.
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4. Hana Highway
The Hana Highway is one of the most spectacular coastal roads on Earth, and for those who go to Hawaii to discover the incredible nature – which is most, then embarking on this scenic drive is generally high on their list.
Hawaii is an excellent destination for hiking and stunning road trips, and the Hana Highway, located on the idyllic island of Maui, stretches for 83km (52 mi). The highway is intriguing because of how narrow it is and the fact that it crosses 59 bridges and features at least 620 curves.
While the drive can be done in a few hours, it can take much longer since there are plenty of stop-offs along the way, and this is one of the best parts of driving the Hana Highway. Some of the most famous spots include Ho’okipa Beach Park, Twin Falls, Huelo Lookout Point, Maui Garden of Eden, and Pua’a Ka’a Falls and State Park, to name a few incredible stops.
Many visitors who visit Maui love to rent a car and embark on this self-drive journey, while many others choose to join one of the many amazing tours in the area.
Hawaii is a chosen destination for many because of its jaw-dropping views, some of which will leave you truly speechless. Hanauma Bay State Park is undoubtedly one of the most visited places in Hawaii, with half a million visitors per year eager to witness the unique and pristine marine ecosystem it is famous for. This marine nature reserve was declared a protected conservation area and underwater park in 1967 and, to this day, attracts divers who want an incredible experience.
Located on the southeastern side of Oahu, Hanauma Bay Nature Reserve was formed within a volcanic cone, and the bay is protected by vertical crater walls, which make this landmark genuinely outstanding.
Because of the ultra-calm waters, this is perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and observing marine life, and a visit here is one that many are eager to experience. The features and the overall beauty of this Hawaiian beach have not gone unrecognized, and in 2016, Dr. Beaches named Hanauma Bay America’s best beach.
Waimea Canyon is a place you might have heard of because it is one of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii and is often regarded as one of the state’s scenic treasures. This is a popular hiking area with many stunning trails and lookout points, but hunters, fishermen, and picnickers also frequent the area.
This gorgeous state park features an iconic scenic drive, which is one of the best ways to explore, but there are a range of scenic but strenuous hiking trails that take you deep within the colorful gorge if you are up for a challenge.
Known for its wide-open spaces, its variety of colors, and incredible panoramic views, Waimea Canyon is by far one of the most popular natural attractions in the state. Known as the ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific‘, Waimea Canyon is a feast of the eyes, and it found fame when American explorer John Wesley went there in 1869.
Incredibly, the canyon was formed when the volcano that lay on top of it collapsed over 10 million years ago, resulting in the canyon that we see today. It is this sight that thousands of visitors want to experience first-hand.
Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park is an unmissable spot in Hawaii because it is highly regarded as one of the most incredible stretches of coastline worldwide and has been used as a filming location for countless Hollywood movies. When people imagine the landscape of Hawaii, the Na Pali coastline is what comes to mind for many, with its dramatic pali or cliffs and narrow valleys that lead straight down to the sea.
Hawaii Is said to have some of the most unique landscapes on Earth, one of which has been carefully created over millions of years through hot spot volcanism, and the Na Pali Coast showcases precisely this.
This state park is a stunning hiking destination located northwest of Kauai Island. It features the famous Kalalau Trail, a steep footpath that runs through the park between nearby Ke’e Beach and sandy Kalalau Beach. This 22-mile (round trip) trail boasts spectacular views over the rugged coastline and tumbling waterfalls and is undoubtedly one of the top things to do on the island of Kauai.
Often referred to as ‘one of the most adventurous hiking trails in the world,’ the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast will take your breath away and provide countless incredible photo opportunities along the way.
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Hawaii’s incredibly unique landscape comes down to volcanic activity, so one of the main things that attracts visitors to the islands is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Within the park, designated as an International Biosphere Reserve (1980) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1987), lie two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea.
There are two main scenic drives within the park and countless hiking trails, and it is a popular place to spend a few days camping in these unique surroundings.
Mauna Loa, one of the active volcanoes in the park, is, in fact, one of the largest of its kind on Earth by volume and area, which adds to the allure for visitors, yet it is Kilauea that has risen to fame. This stunning place is warm all year round and tends to attract tourists between November and March, when the rest of the US is cold, making it an ideal tropical adventure destination.
The park is so special because of its unique volcanic landscape. It is also home to rare flora and fauna and gives visitors a glimpse into the authentic Hawaiian culture and its connection to this region.
As you might have guessed, the state parks of Hawaii are indeed something special, and Akaka Falls is another incredible place that visitors flock from across the world to see. One of the reasons this is one of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii is that Akaka Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls you could hope to see. The free-falling waterfalls, which plunge 135m (442ft), are remarkable and easily accessible via a short hike, making it an excellent attraction for all ages.
Along the trail, several viewpoints give you a different perspective of the magical waterfalls, and you can also observe Kahuna Falls, a 90m (300ft) waterfall with several stunning cascades. One of the most exciting things for visitors to the park is to learn that the falls were used in the opening scene of Jurassic Park, and many of Hawaii’s natural attractions have been used in countless Hollywood productions because of their dramatic nature and unique features.
If you thought Hawaii’s landscape and unique aspects couldn’t get even wilder, you must visit Kehena Black Sand Beach, an otherworldly location. Located on the east shore of Hawaii, this mesmerizing spot was formed in 1955 from lava flow, and its volcanic black sand attracts many locals and visitors to its shores. Also known as Dolphin Beach due to its abundance of Spinner dolphins, Kehena Black Sand Beach is, in fact, one of the rare ‘unofficially’ nudist beaches in Hawaii.
The striking black sands and the volcanic cliffs make this a fantastic place for getting ‘insta-worthy’ photos since this landscape is only found in countries formed through volcanic activity. The beach is located along the famous Puna Coast and is also home to many other attractions, often combined with a visit to Kehena Beach.
The best ones to visit are the town of Pāhoa, which is well known for its ‘free-spirited’ atmosphere, much like Kehena Beach, while some other notable stops include the Lava Tree State Monument, the Puna Coast Trail, and Holei Sea Arch.
11. Mauna Kea
Unlike the two main islands of the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea is dormant, yet it is the highest point in Hawaii and one of the most famous summit hikes among tourists. Reaching 4,207m (13,803ft) at its peak, Mauna Kea offers sensational views as it pierces through the clouds, and this is, in fact, the second-highest peak of an island on Earth after Punkak Jaya in New Guinea.
While it is world famous for its excellent views and hiking opportunities, it is also one of the best places for stargazing, and it attracts astronomy enthusiasts who love to combine the challenging climb with an evening of astronomical observation.
Located on the island of Hawaii, Mauna Kea, this volcano erupted 4,500 years ago. Still, it is thought that an eruption is not out of the question since scientists have now predicted that the volcano is due for an eruption soon. It is considered one of the most sacred volcanoes in the state, and its name, ‘white mountain,’ comes from its snowcapped appearance during part of the year.
One of the most fascinating things about Mauna Kea is that it is the largest observatory of its kind on Earth, and it features telescopes worldwide. It is more than possible to observe some of the farthest galaxies on Earth from the summit, which makes this an ever-alluring place for adventurers.
Located on the island of Maui, this remote and spectacular national park is one of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii for a whole host of reasons. Let’s start with the fact that it comprises lush rainforests, volcanic landscapes, and rocky coastlines, adding up to a rather impressive overall landscape. But that’s not all; the park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980. The park is home to a volcano of the same name, which lies dormant and is famous for those who hike up to see the sunrise or sunset.
While there are plenty of attractions to observe within the park, apart from the looming volcano, one of the top attractions is Hosmers Grover, which results from experimental forestation and features an abundance of flora and fauna. Many hiking trails throughout this area are a hit with nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts, and the grove is a well-known birdwatching location.
One of the reasons the national park emerged was to protect the rare plant species, animals, and geological resources found in the volcano crater. To this day, it remains one of the most awe-inspiring, otherworldly places to explore in Hawaii.