In this chapter of our series about the landmarks of the USA, we will focus on the Aloha state. From Surfing to Pearl Habour, there are many things Hawaii is famous for, but the Hawaiian landmarks are marvelous. As usual in this series, we invited a few fellow bloggers to contribute with some of the most famous Hawaiian landmarks to produce the best information possible.
Hawaii is one of the most popular destinations in the US. The state is well-known for its wonderful beaches, impressive volcanoes, and stunning natural sites. So, naturally, most of the famous landmarks in Hawaii are natural, but we have also included a few human-made landmarks, such as the Road to Hana and the Pearl Harbor memorial.
So, without further ados, let’s explore the most iconic landmarks in Hawaii.
Famous landmarks in Hawaii Island / Big Island
By Francesca Makana from Homeroom Travel
One of the coolest Hawaii landmarks to see when visiting the Big Island is Mauna Kea. Mauna Kea is located in the middle of the Big Island of Hawaii. From Kona, it takes about two hours to reach Mauna Kea. It is believed that the first eruption of Mauna Kea was 0.8 million years ago. It stopped erupting about 6,000 years ago.
Mauna Kea is over a million years old, and it is one of the island’s dormant volcanoes, meaning it cannot erupt. It sits at 13,803 ft above sea level, and if you measure it from its underwater base, it is the largest mountain in the world. It is one of the few places in the world where visitors can go from sea level to about 14,000 feet in less than two hours.
The visitor’s center lies at about 9,200 feet. It is recommended to take some time there to acclimate. Then visitors can drive to the top of Mauna Kea, but a 4-wheel drive car is recommended. At the top, visitors can take in the views, stargaze, or walk outside scientific observatories.
Black Sand Beach
By Chris Fry from The Aquarius Traveller
Hawaii is known for its natural attractions, and one you can’t miss is Punaluu or the famous Black Sand Beach. It’s located on the south-western side of the Big Island and takes about 1.5 hours to drive from the city of Kona. While some tours stop here on the way to Volcano National Park, it is probably easier to drive yourself and spend some time enjoying the atmosphere.
The Big Island has high volcanic activity, particularly in the National Park. Therefore, the Island does consist of a lot of lava rocks. The ocean waves continually break down the Lava rocks, naturally pushing the Black Sand onto the beach. The Black Sand is coarse and could massage your feet, or you might need to wear shoes.
The beach is lined with palm trees, has its own lifeguard during peak times, and a small shop for drinks and snacks. You can swim/snorkel in the waters, but it’s safer wearing reef shoes, and you need to watch out for the crashing waves.
Besides the Black Sand, the beach is also known as a turtle nesting area, and you will often find a couple on the beach resting. The Black sand is warmer and helps them to regulate their body temperature.
Green Sand Beach
By Chris Fry from The Aquarius Traveller
Now, this is one spot a little off the beaten path, and you may not have heard of it. Hawaii or The Big Island also has a Green Sand Beach (Papakolea beach) located in the South. Why is it Green, you ask? The nearby Volcanic cone contains Green Olivine Crystals that erode with the force of the ocean waves. These crystals are crushed into fine sand and considered too small to be gemstones.
This beautiful beach is located 3 miles (5 km) from South Point, the most southern point of the United States. There is no easy driving path and will require parking and hiking 45 minutes each way to get there. Therefore, ensure you take a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water as there is no shade for resting.
The entrance to the beach is down a short, steep trail to the crater wall. Swimming is possible, but the waves and undertow are strong and advised to stay close to the shore. The area has no lifeguards, no facilities, or phone service, so please take extreme caution when visiting.
It may be harder to get to, but it doesn’t stop the tourists. With that in mind, visiting early morning will help beat the crowds while being a less humid time of day for hiking.
Beaches like this are rare, and it’s almost like walking on real jewels!
By Noel with This Hawaii Life
No visit to the Big Island is complete without taking a tour and visiting the impressive site at Kilauea, the active volcano in the heart of Volcanoes National Park and located on the eastern side of the island. Kilauea is a very spiritual place and home to the goddess Pele and ancestor of the caldera in the middle of the park. Pele is the goddess of fire, and she is both a creator and destructor of lands around the island and a legend throughout the Hawaiian islands. Visitors visit Kilauea to see the magnificent and huge caldera with the crater inside of Halema’uma’u that is still active but goes through many stages of active lava flows or quiet time frames.
The Volcanoes national park is both a Unesco World Heritage site and a national park. A first visit should start at the welcome center, where rangers talk about ancient Hawaiians’ history, culture, and practices and the complete power of the Goddess Pele living inside Halema’uma’u. They also share information about guided tours, open trails, and other details to visiting the park for practical purposes. A road trip through the park will give you many fabulous places to experience, including Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube, Pu’u Loa petroglyphs, the many observation points to the caldera, or even fun hikes like Kilauea Iki or the Devastation trail. If you follow the Chain of Craters road to the end, you will be rewarded with acres of black lava rock and cliffs with arches that end abruptly into the ocean in stark contrasts of blue and black.
Kilauea at Volcanoes National Park is both a cultural treasure and nature combined that give a fascinating look at how ancient Hawaiians revered this spiritual place and the goddess of fire, a living legend inside the caldera within the park.
Hawaii Landamarks – Maui
By Nicole Hunter from Go Far Grow Close
Molokini crater is a crescent-shaped partially submerged islet located a few miles off the shores of Maui, about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) west of Makena State Park and south of Maʻalaea Bay. It is thought to be about 150 thousand years old.
Today, it is uninhabited and Hawaii’s only island marine and seabird sanctuary. Divers and snorkelers come from all around the world to experience the fantastic underwater marine life. Its crescent shape protects snorkelers and divers from waves and powerful currents. Typically, the waters are calmer in the morning. Divers and snorkelers also dive off the 300-foot (91.5-meter) sheer outer wall during this time. The crater houses a reef with amazing sea life.
Molokini is home to about 250 species of fish. Molokini is a popular tourist attraction and is heavily regulated. You can book boat tours with or without snorkeling or diving departing from Kaanapali, Lahaina, Maalaea Harbor, and Kihei. If you plan to travel to Maui during the high season, it is recommended that you plan in advance and book a tour prior to your arrival.
Road to Hana
By Erin from Never Ending Voyage
Driving the Road to Hana is one of the most popular things to do in Maui. This 64-mile road trip follows a narrow winding road along the island’s north coast to Maui’s less developed eastern side.
The beautiful drive-through rainforest passes waterfalls, gardens, bamboo forests, and beaches of all colors—black, red, gold. There are numerous hikes, but you can still see plenty if you don’t venture far from your car.
Some of the most beautiful stops include the stunning black sand beach at Waianapanapa State Park (advance reservations required) and the hike through the bamboo forest on the Pipiwai Trail.
Another highlight is the many snack stands along the way—don’t miss the delicious homemade banana bread.
If you are a confident driver, you can drive the Road to Hana yourself in a rental car or relax and enjoy the ride or take a private or group bus tour.
Most people drive the route in a day—getting an early start is essential—but if you have the time, spend a night or two in Hana. This way you can enjoy some of the most popular sights in the morning before the crowds arrive.
By Diane McAllister from Travels with Eli
‘Ohe’o Gulch is located in the Kipahulu District of Haleakala National Park on the island of Maui. It is the last stop on the well-known Road to Hana. Although ‘Ohe’o Gulch is twelve miles past the town of Hana, it is well worth the drive.
The highlight of ‘Ohe’o Gulch is the Seven Sacred Pools. The beautiful black lava rock tiered pools are fed by waterfalls and surrounded by green vegetation. The combination of blue water, black rock, and green vegetation is striking.
Access Kuloa Point trail to the Seven Sacred Pools from the visitor center parking lot. The trail is an easy half-mile loop that takes you by a historical Hawaiian cultural exhibit, the Seven Sacred Pools, ocean views, and crashing waves at Kuloa Point.
Swimming in the pools is allowed depending on the weather. But, you should know that there is a better chance that you will find the pools closed on your visit.
Kuloa Point is a popular trail but doesn’t usually get busy until the afternoon. If you are staying in Hana, plan to visit ‘Ohe’o Gulch first thing in the morning. If you go early, you could have this special place all to yourself.
By Sarah Vanheel from CosmopoliClan
Halfway through the shoreline of Kaanapali, one of the most popular places to stay in Maui, is where you’ll find Pu’u Keka’a or Black Rock. To native Hawaiians, this landmark is of great cultural significance since they believe this to be the place where the souls of the dead passed from this world into the spirit world.
Many battles were fought near the Black Rock promontory just so that the warriors would be at the right place when death occurred. It’s also where Chief Kahekili, the last ruling king of the Valley Isle, cliff-jumped. Doing so at the exact spot that made all other warriors feel uneasy only emphasized his courage. A daily torch-lighting and cliff-diving ceremony at Black Rock honors its cultural status.
Black Rock is also home to a wealth of marine life. Cornet fish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, and the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (or Hawaiian triggerfish) are just some of the colorful creatures you may encounter here. The honu or Hawaiian green sea turtle is another frequent resident. The snorkel reef is accessible right off the beach, and the sandy bottom and excellent clarity make this one of the best snorkeling spots on Maui. Just note that, especially near the tip of Black Rock, the water has proven to be treacherous, and there are no lifeguards at Kaanapali beach.
By Jen Bourbon from Glasses and Boarding Passes
One of Hawaii’s famous landmarks is undoubtedly Haleakala Volcano on the island of Maui. In fact, thousands of years ago, this volcano was responsible for creating the eastern half of the island! Today, the volcano is dormant but still plays an important role on the island. At over 10,000 feet, Haleakala impacts the weather on the island, and as a result, is home to numerous diverse microclimates. To protect this unique landmark, it has been designated a national park and is full of hiking trails and beautiful vistas.
In addition to exploring the national park trails, you can’t miss watching the sunrise from the summit of Haleakala. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun light up the sky from above the clouds! Make sure you buy your ticket in advance on the Haleakala National Park website, as you can only enter the park with a pre-purchased ticket before 7:00 am. They’re only $1.50, but spots are limited in order to preserve this beautiful location.
To get to Haleakala, fly into Maui’s Kahului airport and rent a car. Then, drive southeast on route 37 and follow the signs to the park.
By Adria Saracino from The Emerald Palate
Another must-visit famous Hawaiian landmark is ʻĪao Valley State Monument in central Maui. It’s in Wailuku and easily accessible by car, only 20 minutes west of the airport. Just a few minutes before the monument parking lot, you’ll pass Kepaniwai Park Heritage Gardens, which memorializes the rich history of Maui with buildings and gardens representing the different cultures that influenced the land. However, this is not technically part of the state monument.
Pronounced “ee-ow,” ʻĪao means “cloud supreme” in Hawaiian. This 4,000-acre valley covered in the lush rainforest is a popular tourist destination, but it’s considered sacred and kapu (taboo) in Hawaiian culture to all but Hawaiian royalty. The cliffs in the valley were used as a burial site for years, and Hawaiians believed that desecrating bones could cause harm to living descendants. So all of this is to say, visit humbly with reverence and respect for the area.
Besides sacred traditions, the ʻĪao Valley also has historical significance. It was here in 1790 that King Kamehameha I defeated Maui’s army in a bloody battle to change the course of Hawaiian history. As you walk through the park along the paved 0.6-mile trail, read the interpretive signs to learn more about the history of this spot.
As you meander the path, it’ll lead to an observation deck with a stunning view of the 1,200-foot erosion protruding from the valley floor. This is Kuka‘emoku or the ʻĪao Needle, and it’s a must-add to your Maui itinerary. In Hawaiian culture, it’s known as the phallic stone of Kanaloa, the god of the ocean.
Along the footpath, you’ll also come across a botanical garden and a stream where you may see some locals swimming. You can walk down to the stream and do a short nature loop, which also has access to some informal trails considered for locals only. If you venture, you may come across locals not too happy to see you, so be respectful and consider staying within the park.
Hawaii famous landmarks – Oahu
By Ashlee Fechino of The Happiness Function
Oahu is home to one of Hawaii’s most picturesque and photographed natural landmarks in Hawaii – the Na Mokulua Islands, also known as the Mokes. Located roughly three-quarters of a mile from Lanikai beach, the Mokes can be accessed by stand-up paddleboard (SUP), kayak, or other paddle sport activities like SUP surfing or outrigger canoeing.
An offshore island landing permit is required to land on the larger island after a short paddling adventure since it is a recognized bird sanctuary. Visitors are not allowed on the smaller island.
There are multiple guiding outfits to rent paddle equipment. Kailua Beach Adventures is close to Lanikai beach, and gear can be transported easily for an adventure out to the islands. An offshore island landing permit can also be easily acquired when renting gear from a local guiding company.
Add a self-guided SUP or kayak trip to the Mokes next time you visit Oahu! Paddling across the turquoise blue water and through the waves is a super fun way to experience this incredible Hawaiian gem and experience Hawaii like a local!
By Marcie Cheung from Hawaii Travel with Kids
One of the most fascinating Hawaii landmarks is Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s the only royal palace in the United States and one of the best historical places in Hawaii. King Kalakaua (the last king of Hawaii) built the palace in 1882, and it was the first place in the United States to have electricity (even before the White House).
The palace was a place of opulence and hosted many events and lavish parties. However, in 1893, the Hawaiian government was illegally overthrown, and Queen Liliuokalani was actually imprisoned inside Iolani Palace for 8 months. When you go on the tour of Iolani Palace, you can visit the room where she was confined and where she wrote the famous song Aloha ‘Oe.
Hawaii was annexed by the United States in 1898. After Hawaii became a state in 1959, Iolani Palace was used as the state capitol for a few years before becoming a museum. Iolani Palace is located in downtown Honolulu, and you can either drive there or take an Oahu tour that stops here.
When you visit, you can either do an audio tour or a guided tour. The guided tour is definitely the way to go because you’ll be able to hear up-to-date information about what’s going on with the palace. One of the most interesting things is that they are still looking for lost items from Iolani Palace, and sometimes they find them at auctions across the world or at garage sales!
Pearl Harbor/USS Arizona
By Sydney Richardson from A World in Reach
In 1941, the United States officially entered World War II after a surprise attack carried out by the Japanese military on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Today, you can visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial to learn more about what happened on December 7, 1941, and pay your respects to the lives lost on that fateful day.
The Pearl Harbor National Memorial is located on Oahu, about a 25-minute drive from Waikiki Beach. The main site here is the USS Arizona Memorial. Accessible by boat, the memorial was built over the sunken USS Arizona Battleship and the final resting place of the crewmen killed during the attack. You will also watch a short documentary before visiting the memorial to learn more about the attack. Though reservations are not required to visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial, you do need a timed ticket to visit the USS Arizona Memorial. Tickets are booked online at Recreation.gov and are free minus the $1 booking fee.
In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, the Pearl Harbor National Memorial includes various exhibits detailing the events leading up to the attack and its aftermath. You can also visit the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. However, these sites are separate and not affiliated with the National Park Service-operated Pearl Harbor National Memorial.
By Karee Blunt from Our Woven Journey
Most people are familiar with the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Oahu, but have you heard of the Punchbowl?
Located in Honolulu, Hawaii, Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery has become one of Oahu’s most popular attractions. Over five million people visit the cemetery to pay their respects and see the spectacular view each year.
Since Punchbowl is situated in the crater of an extinct volcano, visitors can walk to the crater’s rim for one of the most panoramic views of Downtown Honolulu and the coast.
Punchbowl was built in 1948 as a cemetery for soldiers of the American Armed Forces who died during World War II. Later, this included the Korean and Vietnam Wars as well. Currently, there are over 53,000 veterans and eligible family members interred there.
The 116-acre grounds are beautiful and well maintained and offer a stunning view upon entrance. Visitors can drive the loop around the cemetery or walk through the grounds, reading the many statues and tributes that have been added.
Although you may not have thought visiting a cemetery would be on a list of what to do when visiting Hawaii, Punchbowl is definitely worth adding to your agenda.
By Holly from Globeblogging
If you visit the city of Waikiki on the island of Oahu, you can’t avoid seeing Diamond Head. The imposing volcanic crater is visible from most of the city and is one of the most well-known and popular hikes on the island. It has been a National Natural landmark since 1968.
Formed about 300,000 years ago, the entire area of the crater is over 475 acres. From the parking lot to the summit is just 1.6 miles, but it climbs nearly 600 feet. At the top are panoramic views that once made Diamond Head a critical military installation for the defense of Hawaii.
Entrance to the crater is $1, and it is every day from 6 am – 6 pm. The last entrance is at 4.30 pm. Located just 3 miles from Waikiki, it is easily walkable, or the #23 bus regularly runs outside the crater entrance. Alternatively, parking is available in the crater for $5 per car.
Some of the military structures date back to WWI, and the climb to the top will pass by a number of them, to the delight of history buffs. The panoramic views from the top make this a popular hike at both sunrise and sunset, but this will depend on the time of year and whether these line up with the opening hours. There is not much shade on the climb, so this is best not done during the hottest part of the day.
The Dole Plantation
By Roxanna from Gypsy With a Day Job
The Dole Plantation is one of the most famous landmarks in Hawaii, on the island Oahu. Located among the farmlands in the island’s center, along Kamehameha Highway, or Route 99, it is easiest to access using the island’s Interstate Highways. Take the H2 Route, which begins near Pearl Harbor, to its end at Kamehameha Highway.
In simple terms, the Dole Company started as a fresh fruit stand in Oahu. In the early 20th century, the pineapple was a novelty around the world. Through an innovative canning process and extensive marketing plan, canned pineapple became a common snack by the 1950s. Twenty years later, Dole was the world’s top producer of both pineapple and bananas. While history is far more complicated, Dole now has operations in 28 countries, producing over 170 products. But the Dole name will forever be associated with its home, Hawaii, and evoke thoughts of juicy pineapples and bananas.
A visit to the Dole Plantation is a top choice for many travelers to Hawaii. While the fruit fields still stretch far, the plantation has become far more than just a farm, with formal gardens, the world’s largest maze, and educational tours by foot and on the Pineapple Express train. There are also shops and a café, where the sweet Dole Whip is a highlight.
By Trijit Mallick from BudgetTravelBuff
If you are in Hawaii on vacation, then Hanauma Bay is definitely one of the best places to visit if you have never been here. It’s a famous Hawaii landmark that has a dedicated snorkeling beach. The blue azure water of the sea and the white sand of the beach make this place absolutely stunning.
Located just 11 miles from Waikiki, Hanauma Bay is a paradise for a snorkeling adventure. Local public buses and taxis are available from Waikiki. It is really amazing seeing the beautiful fishes on the reefs in Hanauma Bay. Even if you are not a great swimmer, you should try snorkeling here as the water is comparatively calm. Just stay where you are comfortable and watch the gigantic fish. You will get to see different wildlife species in the bay, including Butterfly Fish, Green Sea Turtles, Tang, Triggerfish, and numerous Parrotfish. Jellyfish and Moray eels can also be found.
Hanauma Bay is a beautiful snorkeling spot and state park. There is a certain limit of viewers per day as it is under conservation. Reservation is a must, and tickets become available from 7 am two days prior to the visit.
Hanauma Bay is absolutely gorgeous, but it might be crowded on summer weekends. But that won’t stop you from enjoying the surrounding views of the bay. It is recommended to reach there early in the morning. The unique environment, the harmless fish with no fear for close-up pictures, and the gorgeous landscape are a must-see in Hawaii.
I won’t say Hanauma Bay is the cheapest place in The USA, as you have to pay $25 to enter the state park. In addition, $3 for parking if you have a car.
Tip: Bring your own Snorkel to save some serious buck. Use sunscreen and wear water socks to protect your feet from the rocks and sharp corals.
Famous Hawaii Landmarks – Kauai
By Nikki of She Saves She Travels
If you are looking for the most famous Hawaii landmarks, look no further than the NaPali Coast in Kauai. Home to one of the most majestic coastlines in all the world, the NaPali Coast is a stunning sight to see in real life. It’s truly the kind of experience that takes your breath away!
Located on the remote northern coast of the island of Kauai, it can be seen in a few different ways. You can hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail, which is considered one of the most dangerous trails in the world. However, hiking the first 2 miles of the Kalalau Trail to Hanakapiai Beach is only moderately strenuous.
Reservations are required to gain access to the Ha’ena State Park and sell out quickly. If you can score reservations, it will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life!
Alternatively, you can see the beautiful NaPali Coast in the Koke’e State Park. Drive to the Kalalau Lookout for stunning views of the coast. Or better yet, grab your hiking shoes and hike the Pihea Trail, where you’ll get peek-a-boo views of the coast as you hike this moderate trail.
Two more adventurous ways to view the NaPali Coast are by taking a boat tour or helicopter tour. Kauai is a very lush island and gets a lot of rain. The north shore gets rough surf, so summer is the best season for both tours when the weather tends to cooperate more. Be sure to take motion sickness remedy before either tour as needed. The views from the air and sea of the NaPali Coast are spectacular!
By Nikki of She Saves She Travels
Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the Waimea Canyon in Kauai is unbelievable. You’ll be asking yourself how a place like this exists in this world!
On a clear day in the Waimea Canyon, you’ll see almost every color of the rainbow. From greens and reds to purples and oranges, the Waimea Canyon is incredible. The easiest way to see the Waimea Canyon is to take Highway 550 north from Waimea town. Just past mile marker 10 is an unbelievable lookout.
If the weather is nice (not raining) and you’re up for the challenge, one of the most incredible views you’ll ever experience is from inside the canyon. One of the most scenic trails is the Waimea Canyon Trail. The trail features a spectacular look out into the canyon, plus the impressive Waipoo Falls. It’s a moderate hike at 3.6 miles round trip, and the views are worth every single step!
Many visitors combine seeing the Waimea Canyon and the Kalalau Lookout at Koke’e State Park on the same day because of the proximity.
Pro tip: watch for a clear day during your stay on Kauai. The canyon draws in clouds and fog, so pick a sunny day with little rain chances for the best views.
By Laura Pedlar from Cruise Lifestyle
Fern Grotto is a fern-covered, lava rock cave that was once kept for only Hawaiian royalty to enjoy but is now open to visitors. This popular Kauai landmark was made famous by Elvis Presley in the movie Blue Hawaii and has become a popular wedding venue for couples to tie the knot in this little corner of paradise.
Fern Grotto is situated in the Wailua River State Park on the east coast of Kauai and can only be accessed by boat or kayak. The easiest way to visit is via a Wailua River cruise.
This natural amphitheater plays host to musicians and Hawaiian dancers for those taking organized boat trips. There is a viewing platform that also doubles as a performance area.
The river cruises operate from the Wailua Marina State Park and offer trips throughout the day. The two-mile journey up the river is an opportunity to learn about the culture from the tour guides as well as take in the beautiful riverscape scenery. A short walk through the rainforest with exotic plants and flowers leads to Fern Grotto from the river dock. It’s tranquil, and part of the attraction is its natural beauty.
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