One of the best things about vacationing to Hawaii is the amount of beauty you will see during your stay. The islands cover an array of stunning topography, from lush rainforests to golden beaches to black volcanic coastlines, making Hawaii a chain of incredibly diverse islands. The landscapes are quite possibly one of the biggest attractions for visitors, and the best part about this feature is it’s free! Although you may get the occasional park entrance fee or parking fee, the majority of the sites to visit in Hawaii simply require a desire for adventure and a craving for nature (and maybe a car…). Today’s topic covers a few of my favorite scenic views on Oahu, Big Island, Maui, and Kauai. I receive tons of inquiries on this topic, especially for first time Hawaii vacationers, those who are on a budget, and those with limited time to explore the island. For anyone else interested, here are our top landscape choices to visit while in Hawaii, we hope you love them as much as we do!
Even the densely populated parts of Oahu are breathtakingly beautiful. You can be swimming at Waikiki, your back facing the ocean, and gaze up to find sloping green mountains behind the high rises of the city. Just because a place is built up with apartment complexes, city streets, and commercial buildings, doesn’t mean you can’t find some raw beauty. But the spots we’re featuring today are outside of the hustle and bustle of Honolulu, and tucked away in some of the quieter counterparts of Oahu. The first scenic view is the Ko Olina coves on the west side. Ko Olina is a resort community with man made swimming coves that resemble the quaint, protected fishponds of Hawaii. The beaches are clean and the backdrop is verdant, and during the sun setting hours, Ko Olina is a sight to behold. Looking out further west toward Waianae, you may just capture one of the most scenic views to witness the sunset on Oahu.
Another favorite island sight of mine on Oahu is Lanikai beach on the east side. On a clear sunny day, this view really can’t be justified with words. White, talcum powder soft sand, extremely turquoise waters, and the Moku Islands off the nearby coast is as breathtaking as it gets. Fronting a high-end neighborhood, Lanikai is popular for families and lazy Sunday afternoon vacationers. The waters are calm and the view is simply too spectacular to pack up early. A hike to the closet pill box (or lookout shelter) will reveal an aerial view of this spot too, which is another worthwhile (and free) activity. Lanikai will absolutely take your breath away. Our last scenic highlight on Oahu is Sunset Beach on the north shore. On a warm summer day, this beach is idyllic Hawaii. Palm trees and naupaka bushes line the sand’s edge and a clear sandy bottom makes this a perfect swimming spot. The beach is also wide and long, offering up more space than other spots on the north shore. Just driving past this beach will turn your head and make you stop for photos!
Big Island is possibly the most diverse of the Hawaiian chain. With volcanic rocks butting up against translucent waters, colored sand beaches (green and black), and dense rainforests, there are a handful of spectacular spots on this island. Our first mention is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, first and foremost because of its accessibility to the volcanic past and present of this archipelago. This national park has an abundance of views to behold in one contained area; steaming craters, underground lava tubes, fields of molten rock, museums, and landscapes that defy the typical Hawaii visions. The park also transitions into verdant pathways where you can spot native plants and birds, and the entry fee is nominal in comparison to the fulfillment you’ll receive.
Waipio Valley is my other favorite scenic view on the Big Island. Here you will view the lush and rich valley of Waipio or “The Valley of the Kings”, which has played a significant historical and cultural site for the Hawaiians. Waterfalls and taro fields adorn this land, giving it the feel of being untouched by human hands. When you see Waipio Valley, it’s like looking at a glimpse of ancient Hawaii, shocking to the senses and evoking a strong emotion of magnificence. Hiilawe Falls cascades down 1,300 feet from the top of the valley down to a pool below, and is known to be the Big Island’s largest waterfall. An opposite view from the black rock of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Waipio Valley is an eye-full of lush green valleys.
Maui, otherwise known as the Valley Isle, lives up to its name flawlessly. And there is no better place to view these characteristics than the Hana Highway. Referred to as The Road to Hana, this drive will wind through some of the densest rainforests in Hawaii, with views of waterfalls too plentiful to count, arching bridges, and incredible beach lookouts. The amount of gasps that escape while on this drive are enumerable, and the scenic views will satisfy any craving for a natural Hawaiian landscape. There are tons of gorgeous hikes along this road as well, all free to access. The Road to Hana is by far one of the most spectacular drives you’ll ever do, and is a must see while on Maui.
Our other favorite scenic view on the Valley Island is the Kaanapali coastline, particularly the stretch of beach that fronts the Sheraton. The sand here is golden brown and the waters are temperate and clear. The sandy bottom makes for ideal swimming conditions and the black rock that juts up at the far end of Kaanapali Beach is not only awe inspiring, but also perfect for adventure. Here you will find gorgeous snorkeling, diving, and cliff jumping for the true nature enthusiast, and views of Maui’s west side like no other. With such an expansive stretch of sand, the Kaanapali coastline offers an array of scenery. Just travel 20 minutes further west and you’ll come across some of Maui’s most famous bays, Honolua Bay and Mokuleia Bay. This drive and the scenic views are simply spectacular.
Our last island to highlight is Kauai, the Garden Isle. I’ve got three utterly stunning views that will surely make you fall in love. My first one is Hanalei Bay, specifically at the point where you’ll find the pier. Once parked, walk to the end of the cement pier and the panoramic sights will amaze. Sailboats lull in the gentle swells while Bali Hai mountain range looms in the distance. Green mountains with tumbling waterfalls also backdrop this view, and surfers vie for a position in the line up at the point break. Hanalei Bay offers a distinct symbolism of Kauai and its north shore, with a beauty that is beyond your imagination.
Accessible via hiking the north shore (and also by boat from the west side) is the Napali Coast. The views you’ll get by foot versus by boat are completely different but equally incredible. By hiking the Napali coast (via the Hanakapiai trail), you’ll see lookouts points, deep red dirt, beachscapes, mountain ranges, streams, and waterfalls. And by boat, you’ll see the cathedral-like mountain steeples that make this area so renown. Pointed and steep, these rugged cliffs plunge into the ocean and offer such a magnificent view, it’s almost too much to take in. Known for its history and beauty, the Napali coast is a must-see while visiting Kauai. But it’ll be up to you how you choose to view it!
Our last scenic view for Hawaii is Kokee, on Kauai’s west side. Rivaling the Grand Canyon, this state park is famous for its deep canyons made of iron-rich red dirt. The drive alone to this place offers incredible look out points that boast fertile lands and soil, waterfalls, and views of the mountains from atop them all. The highest point of Kokee takes you to the most spectacular of the entire look out points, and if you veer off the main road, you’ll find yourself in dense forests of ironwood and pine. While the road may be steep, the end result is absolutely worthwhile. Kokee is a classic representation of Hawaii’s gorgeous earth and its impressive landscape. Unique and one-of-a-kind, Kokee State Park is a free visit to one of Hawaii’s most distinctive scenic points of interest.