Big Island hike to Ha’ena Beach

Big Island hike to Ha’ena Beach

If you’re looking for a fun hike that’s also a little challenging on the east side of Hawaii Island with a nice ending to spend in the water then Ha’ena aka Kea’au beach is a fantastic choice. Take a look at the details to this Big Island hike to Ha’ena Beach and you might want to plan a discovery tour in the near future for yourself.

The start of hiking through Shipman/Ha’ena Beach

The tropical hike to the secluded Shipman property (one of the earliest missionary families on the Big Island) and beach has been called Ha’ena, Kea’au and also Shipman beach. It’s a very photogenic black and white sandy beach – the only one for miles of rugged coastal terrain and lava rocks. The trail starts from the quiet subdivision of Hawaiian Paradise park on the end of Beach road with limited parking in the lot. It is the start of the Old Puna Trail where early inhabitants had created a trail through this rain forest along the coastal Puna region of Keaau. The Old Puna Trail is part of a statewide public Na Ala Hele Trail and Access System to beach areas open to the public even though it is surround by private Shipman property.

The hike is less then ninety minutes (each direction) and around 5 miles round trip and traverses old lava flows and into dense jungle (mosquito spraying is definitely a good idea before you start) and often muddy and challenging spots to cross through. You definitely have to be careful in many spots with challenging stone crossings and slippery areas along with muddy spots to walk around.

Parking lot area of the Ha'ena beach hike

Parking and start of Old Puna Trail

Take Kaloli road from the main highway 130 to the end and make a right on Beach road all the way to the parking lot and there is a marker that shows the start of the trail. Parking is limited, but you can also park on the street if the lot is full.

Most of the trail is fairly flat or some rolling areas in exposed sun to dense tropical jungle with areas that are purely lava rock zones that you need to be very careful. Depending on rain in the area, this zone definitely has a lot of wet spots and muddy areas to go through so there are a lot of detours you need to look for in crossing the area to get back into the trails.

Large trunks along the Ha'ena hiking trail

Enjoying the serenity and jungle

Along the trail, you’ll see many stone walls that show the entire length of the original Kings Highway that was a trail and then carriage trail running from Hilo along the coastline to Kalapana. There used to be a village Paki in the area that is not there anymore but in place are the rock walls, tall banyan trees, strawberry guava, Ironwood trees and local Ohia forests and miles of ferns and other flora.

While walking along the trail, don’t forget to also look down and around – it’s really magical!

mossy roots in the Haena hike

Ferns and jungle on the Ha'ena hike

Look out points along the trail

There are a few side trails that leads to the coast with fantastic cliff views along the entire rugged coastline.

Ha'ena beach trail and lookout points

There’s also a fantastic lava tube about 2/3’s of the way to the beach with a small side trail to the right where you can explore the opening in the shallow lava tube below.

Small exposed lava tube on the hike to Ha'ena beach

Rugged puna lava coastline on the Ha'ena Keaau hike

Arriving Ha’ena beach

The trail starts to bend towards the ocean and you’ll see some Kapu signs on cattle fences. This trail at the time we visited had a stream going through the trail – if you continue towards the ocean, you’ll find some dry spots to cross over. You finally get to a small lookout point to view the lovely Ha’ena beach and protected lagoon like bay. Closer to the beach is the private property of the Shipman estate which has Kapu signs not to enter the grassy area because it is also a nene (Hawaiian goose) breeding ground. The large three acre estate contains large fish ponds that are a breeding habitat for the native Hawaiian goose. Famous celebrities were hosted at Ha’ena including Amelia Earhart, Paul Newman, Cole Porter and local legends like the Beamer family and other important artists and dignitaries from the islands visited.

Fish pond at Ha'ena beach Big Island

Beach and lagoon area of Ha’ena beach

View of Ha'ena beach and lagoon area

The beach and lagoon is the big draw at the end with suprisingly very cold water that is fed from the underground aquifers that open directly into the lagoon. If you are in luck you’ll find wildlife like honu, monk seals and even the endangered nene around the beach areas. The inviting and safe lagoon is a nice ending to the hike and you’ll see some beautiful impressions of the beach with the ebb and flow of the tide creating beautiful mixtures and instant art that changes with the next wave.

Black and grey sands create patterns at Ha'ena beach Big Island

Beach area at Ha'ena beach Big Island

Heading back to the parking lot

You can choose to head back to the parking lot the same way you came from or you can also take a detour route along the coastline and walking through lava rocks over the rugged and scenic coast. There’s a lot of fantastic photo ops along the way, but if you decide to head back to the main trail, there are connecting paths that can lead you back to the main trail and directly to the parking lot.

Coastal views from the trail leading to Ha'ena beach

More tips on hiking to Ha’ena Beach

Bring water and snacks for your own needs

Bring some mosquito spray for the entire trail hike through the Old Puna Trail.

This is a popular local hike so the parking lot is filled quickly but you can park on Beach road and walk to the trail head.

Please pay attention to the Kapu (do not enter signs) for private property.

There are no public toilets on site – so prepare accordingly.

There are many rocky areas and muddy spots so take your time in going through these difficult spots.

If you do go swimming, make sure you have no cuts or scrapes and clean yourself immediately after swimming.

Walking from the parking lot to Ha'ena beach trail

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Other hiking posts on visiting the Big Island

Big Island hike to Narnia

Big Island hike to Polulu Valley

Big Island hike to Pu’uwa’awa’a

Green sand beach hike in the Big Island

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Big Island hike to Polulu Valley

Big Island hike to Polulu Valley

Big Island hike to Polulu Valley

A gorgeous hike from the top to the gorgeous black sandy beaches of Polulu Valley, the drive alone and panoramic views of the cliffs and coastlines impresses the moment you park on the end of road. This is a relatively short hike to the bottom and nice to explore the slowly rambling stream that ends at the ocean or just amble from one end of the black sand beach to the cliffs on the other side and maybe do a climb to another gorge beyond if you feel challenged to do more exploring. Check out all the fun details of this Big Island hike to Polulu Valley.

Hiking to Polulu Valley and beyond

VIew of Polulu and other gulches Big Island

The hike down is mostly gravel and soil and relatively easy to climb down depending on temperature and wetness factor. You should hike down with sturdy shoes or boots for the variable rocks, steps and slope factor.

A lookout view to Polulu Valley

Arriving Polulu Valley and parking

Parking is just at the end of road with most day trippers coming to take pictures and leave, so there is a lot of turnover for the parking spots. You can also park further out and then walk to the end where the trail begins.

The hike downhill on the trail is rocky and wide with some nice spots for views and picture taking. The roundtrip hike goes down about 420 feet to the valley floor and is only about a half hour hike to the bottom of this .6-mile hike.

It is wide enough for both uphill and downhill traffic to the bottom but give some clearance to people struggling uphill.

Black sandy beach at Polulu valley

The black sand beach of Polulu

Once you get to the bottom, head for the black sandy beach (the small trails that follow the stream inland ends and is mostly private lands that are off limits to explore. Views of the beach with the impressive 500 foot cliffs make for a fantastic photo opportunity in the area.

The expansive black sand beach is fantastic to walk through and check out the rock sculptures and enjoy the beach. There are no lifeguards on the beach and the surf breaks and the beach with undertow is treacherous so swimming is not encouraged on the beach.

strolling the black sandy beach at polulu

Along the river bank are tall ironwood trees with swings set up for some casual fun and really high swinging.

Swing ropes at Polulu Valley

Swing ropes at Polulu Valley

You can take a short stroll along the river bank before it stops with warning signs of private property beyond the trail areas.

Polulu river running through Polulu

Extend your hike to Honokane Nui trail

If you’re challenged to extend your hike, consider going beyond to the next valley on the Honokane Nui trail to reach the Honokane gulch. The trail is located about a hundred feet from the shoreline with a small trail located with low lying ferns and on the eastern ridge of Polulu. You climb over 750 feet with many switch backs for about one mile. You’ll finally get to a high ridge with magnificent views of Honokane and the other cliffs of the Kohala mountains. Currently, there are no trails leading to the valley floor of Honokane so you return back to Polulu and up to the Polulu lookout point.

Gulches of Polulu valley

More details to hiking Polulu

The trail is steep with 13 percent grade going down to the valley floor and is only .6 miles to reach the bottom

On rainy days, it is muddy and extremely slippery

Look to visit on sunnier days when the trail is dry and easy to hike below

There are no public services or lifeguards at the beach

Bring plenty of water with you on the short hike and sun screen for hot days

Trail and rocky and rough so hiking shoes or tennis shoes are necessary

Other things to do in the Kohala area

If you’re done with your hiking adventure, check out all these other fun things to explore and see in the area.

Keokea Beach park – a beautiful park with nice views of the coastline with picnic grounds and public services.

ATV tours in Kohala – ATV outfitters take you on tours on private lands for 1.5 to 3-hour scenic tours and outdoor ATV experiences between Hawi and Polulu. Check out the details here for more images and inspiration to doing this tour.

Check out the Kamehameha statue in Kapaau – at the Kohala civic center sits the original statue of Kamehameha 1st who united all of the Hawaiian Islands. You can find more details about the original Kamehameha stature here for more information. The small town of Kapaau has many unique galleries and shops worth exploring while you are in the area.

Explore the western town of Hawi and try some local food and snacks. Also, home to some unique art galleries, boutiques and restaurants located in old plantation style buildings, you can easily spend a few hours exploring and eating your way through town.

Overlook views to Polulu Valley

Directions to Polulu Valley

Drive down the Akone Pule highway 270 and past the small town of Hawi. From there its s another 8 miles until you hit the end at the Polulu Valley Look out point.

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More details and hikes in Hawaii

Hiking the Green sand beach at Papakolea

Big Island Hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

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Big Island hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Big Island hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Big Island hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

A gorgeous trail to explore from the bottom to the top of the cinder cone, Pu’uwa’aw’a is a moderate to challenging hike to undertake. A 12.9 Km or approximately 8 mile roundtrip trail is filled with beautiful wildflowers, native flora and spectacular views from all around the trail. It is about an 2000 foot elevation gain and a good workout for those that want to burn some calories on the hike. If you want to do a unique and different hike, check out the Big Island hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a, it is worth the hike all the way to the top.

hike to the top of Pu’uwa’awa’a

Hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone trail

You can choose to hike up a paved roadway to the base area of the Pu’u or take a side trail called the Ohia trail through some lovely high desert like forest and shady spots before you hit more exposed and sunny areas.

The area around the parking lot is filled with beautiful wildflowers with these gorgeous red succulents in bloom the day we were hiking up the trail.

Wildflowers at parking area of Hiking Pu'uwa'awa'a

Starting the Big Island hike at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Just past the entry paved road going upwards to the base of the pu’u is a detour trail marked the Ohia trail which is more scenic and a gravel/dirt path to another fire road that eventually connects to the same paved road. This trail is covered and shady in throughout the route which is a nice cover before you get to the more exposed and sunny areas of the trail head leading the base of the pu’u.

Entry check in station at Pu'uwa'awa'a Cinder Cone State Park
Entry check in station at Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone State Park

The asphalt fire road leading to the base area of the Pu’u cinder cone

base asphalt trail at Pu'uwa'awa'a

Detour on the Ohia Trail – a dryland forest

Hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a

Taking the Ohia trail to the Pu'u base at Pu'uwa'awa'a
Taking the Ohia trail to the Pu’u base at Pu’uwa’awa’a

grass and dryland tree forest on the Ohia trails
Feather grass and dryland tree forest on the Ohia trails

Reaching the base of the Pu’u

The paved road eventually stops at the base of the pu’u with a secured gate entry that prevents invasive wildlife from entering the area. Horses are allowed on the trail so take note of all the horse manure left along the trail you can avoid. You may spot wildlife around the area including goats, rams and wild sheep roaming the hills around the Pu’u along with the typical cows, ducks and various birds living the vicinity.

grassy trail Pu'uwa'awa'a Cinder Cone State Park

grassy trail Pu'uwa'awa'a Cinder Cone State Park
grassy trail Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone State Park

Cloudy skies at Pu'uwa'awa'a Cinder Cone State Park
Cloudy skies at Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone State Park

The trail is a recent addition to the state park system and called the Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone State Park.  Along the way you’ll see fantastic views of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalei, and North Kohala mountains. Weather is variable from pure sun to cloudy and rainy, so choose a sunny and clear day if you want to have beautiful views and weather reaching the top of the cinder cone.

Hiking Pu'uwa'awa'a with Hualalei in background
Hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a with Hualalei in background

Mid range of the pu’u hike

The trail is pleasant with dirt trails that eventually lead to grassy meadows with a moderate incline. There are nice stops along the way with benches if you want to take a break and enjoy the views below. Note – most of the remainder of the trail is exposed and very hot on sunny days so bring plenty of water and sun protection.

steep incline at Pu'uwa'awa'a Cinder Cone State Park
Steep incline at Pu’uwa’awa’a Cinder Cone State Park

The last segment through a mostly dirt pathway to the top is challenging and steep so take a break and enjoy the views along the way. These are fun moments to also capture and even do some selfies.

Reaching the top of Pu'uwa'awa'a
Reaching the top of Pu’uwa’awa’a

Reaching the top of the cinder cone

The steep incline to the top is definitely difficult especially on sunny and hot days, but there are benches along the way to enjoy and soak in all the views from the back side. The grassy trails make it more scenic and pleasant to hike through to the top which is filled with beautiful native Ohias and fascinating dead trees that make a nice photo composition to capture.

Reaching the top of Pu'uwa'awa'a

There’s also a cool set of trees that look like the perfect framing of the coastline views below of the Kohala area.

Tree portal and views from Pu'uwa'awa'a
Tree portal and views from Pu’uwa’awa’a

Views of surrounding mountains and Pu’u cinder cone below

Views from the top of Pu'uwa'awa'a
Views from the top of Pu’uwa’awa’a

One top is mostly grassy area with a few benches to relax and enjoy the views or have a casual picnic on the grass.

Enjoying a bench and views at  Pu'uwa'awa'a
Enjoying a bench and views at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a

Decayed trees make for dramatic landscapes to capture

Downed trees and views to the Kohala coastline
Downed trees and views to the Kohala coastline

Hiking back down

Kohala views from the cinder cone at  Pu'uwa'awa'a
Kohala views from the cinder cone at Pu’uwa’awa’a

The hike back downhill is relatively fast depending on your speed and need to descent. There are different views going downhill and the light changes late in the afternoon with the clouds coming in and golden light time frame.

Native ohia and grass at Pu'uwa'awa'a
Native ohia and grass at Pu’uwa’awa’a

Heading back downhill

Hiking downhill from Pu'uwa'awa'a
Hiking downhill from Pu’uwa’awa’a

Cloudy skies and silhouettes from Pu’uwa’awa’a

Gorgeous panoramas from Pu'uwa'awa'a
Gorgeous panoramas from Pu’uwa’awa’a

Storymy skies from Pu'uwa'awa'a
Storymy skies from Pu’uwa’awa’a

Walking downhill from Pu'uwa'awa'a
Walking downhill from Pu’uwa’awa’a

Tips on hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a

Entry to the state reserve park is between Mile Marker 21 and 22 on Highway 190 and you enter a remote control gate that opens with sensors and you park right next to the sign in station which only requires hunters to sign in.

Most of the trail and hike is exposed so bring plenty of water and sunscreen or hike in the morning or afternoon when conditions are cooler. It is mostly asphalt fire road to the base of the pu’u, but you can take an alternate on the Ohia trail through more scenic dryland forested areas which connects to another gravelled fire road to the mid way point.

Trail is moderate with a steady climb and steeper at the end with excellent views of the area.

There is a foot entry scrub (which prevents boots that might have contact to the Ohia virus happening throughout the island) so please do scrub your shoes before and after the hike.

There is a porta john on the way up the asphalt road, but outside of this, there are not other services in the park.

The gate and park is  open from 6am to close at 6pm so descend before that time frame.

Hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a

Directions to Pu’uwa’awa’a

From Kona  – This is 18.1 miles or about  29 minutes from downtown Kona. Take Highway 190 until reach between mile marker 21 and 22.

From Hilo area – This is about 60 miles or 1.10 mins from Hilo. Take the Saddle road to the dead end T and make a left on Highway 190 to mile marker 21 and 22.

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More details and hikes in Hawaii

Hiking the Green sand beach at Papakolea

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Hiking Pu’uwa’awa’a on the Big Island

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Green sand beach on the Big Island

Green sand beach on the Big Island

Green sand beach on the Big Island

A hike to the green sand beach on the south end of the Big Island is a fantastic and unique hiking experience. Papakolea is the name of the beach located close to the south point of Hawaii Island and it is an easy and relatively easy hike along the coastal trails leading to the beach. If you love to see something rate and unusual, then go hiking the green sand beach on the Big Island and discover this gorgeous place on the south side of the island.

Hiking the green sand beach on the Big Island

Papakolea is named after the cinder cone that was formed along the beach which collapsed and eventually weathered down to a crater tuffed form with the beach area below the crater cliffs that protect it. (Very similar in nature to the more famous tuffed ring cinder cone called Diamond Head in Honolulu).  

driving the green sand beach at south point

Getting to South Point and Papakolea

Follow the road going to the southern tip of the island and past scenic pasturelands and wind turbines heading to South Point. You will eventually reach a sign that points to the green sand beach and entrance to the parking lot area. Once you parked, there are a few trails leading directly to the ocean and take any of these which eventually will lead you to the main trail that also has a Kapu “No Trespassing “sign that is jokingly the mile marker and ignored by locals and visitors.  There are two main trails one right on the ocean and the other just a hundred yards further inland. Beyond the trails are larger dirt roads that local taxi’s (pickup trucks that offer roundtrip rides for a donation) and other 4-wheel drive vehicles take to go directly to the beach.

Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island
Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island

Starting Point to hiking Papakolea

The hike to the beach takes about a two- and one-half miles in each direction on the coastline and is only one of four green sand beaches in the world.  The rugged terrain and coastline are untouched and scenic with beautiful native wildflowers blooming against black lava rock.  Along the hike, you’ll start to spot green olivine crystals on the sandy stretches which is what the beach is made of – Lava hitting the ocean breaks up into many particles and the green olivine is predominant in this sandy beach mixed in with the black lava rock. The olivine is a heavier crystal and stays intact on the beach, the finer version of olivine is better known at Peridot when it is of gem quality.

Coastal hike to the green sand beach big island

The Coastal hike to Green Sand Beach

The hike is easy to do on gently sloping terrain and the ocean views are nice and fantastic to photograph the many small coves and rocky coastline heading to Papakolea. You’ll know when you are close when you see the large cinder cone sticking out directly from the flat shoreline. You’ll definitely get better photo opportunities along the coastline when you reach the cinder cone and spot some fantastic views to capture the moment. Once you get to the entrance, you’ll notice that the beach is below the tuff cliffs and there are ladders that you can climb down to get to the beach area. Since there is only one access going up or down, be patient with hikers going in both directions and share some aloha.

Cinder cone at Papakolea
Approaching the cinder cone at Papakolea

The well protected Mahana bay and surf is variable so do take precaution since there are no lifeguards on site. There are also no facilities available on this rugged beach area.

entrance to Green-sand-beach-Big-Island

Gorgeous green olive colored beach at Papakolea below

Green-sand-beach-detail of olivine sand

Climbing down the face of the cliffs via ladders and rocks to reach the bottom of the beach area below.

climbing down to Papakolea beach

Here’s a cool video highlighting the entire hike to Papakolea

Things to do and see in South Point

Once you head back to the parking area there are a few other places of interest to see in the South Point area below. Also check out the other attractions and fun things to see in the immediate area of South Point.

Gorgeous coastal views from the South Point area

Jumping platform to the south point area

Other fun things to do in South Point area

  1. Go visit the tip of South Point – the jagged cliff areas of South Point are spectacular and wild it is definitely worth the short drive to see this place
  2. Those on an adventure kick actually love to jump from the cliffs for a real thrill ride.
  3. You can also just walk along the cliffside trails for more fantastic views in the area.
  4. Check out the Kula Kai Caverns for lava tube explorations in Ocean view
  5. Visit Punalu’u black sand beach and the gorgeous turtles that bask on the lava rocks and sandy beaches there.
  6. Get your fix of delicious Kau coffee at the Kau Coffee Mill in Wood Valley

How to get to Papakolea and South Point

From Kona area, the drive is about 63.6 miles driving down Highway 11 and in between mile marker 69 and 70. Look for South Point road and make a right, then drive down to a sign showing the Green Sand Beach on the left side. Drive to the parking lot area and look for the trails towards the ocean.

From Hilo area the drive to Papakolea is about 81.7 miles on Highway 11 and in between mile marker 69 and 70. Look for South Point road and make a left, then drive down to a sign showing the Green Sand Beach on the left side. Drive to the parking lot area and look for the trails towards the ocean.

Public transportation is limited and there are no tour outfitters going to this area. If you plan on doing this trip, then you should rent a car from either Kona or Hilo airport and drive down to the South Point area.

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Diamond Head hike

Diamond Head hike

Diamond Head hike

When you visit Honolulu, one of the must visit sites to start off your vacation to Oahu is going up to Diamond Head crater and check out the amazing views from the top. This iconic cinder cone with a crater on the edge of Waikiki always seems to be on everyone’s photo capture of the Waikiki capture and is a fantastic experience to see Honolulu from a different vantage point. Check out why a Diamond Head hike should be on the top of your list in visiting Honolulu soon.

Back side views from DIamond Head Crater
Back side views from DIamond Head Crater

Visiting Diamond Head State Monument

The state park entrance is open seven days a week and with parking available at $5 per car and entry to hike the trails at $1 per person. You pay at the gate entrance and drive directly to park entrance or park if you are driving. There is a visitor center with souvenir stand, restrooms and even a food truck for cool drinks and fresh pineapples.

How to get to Diamond Head Crater

There are a few key ways to get to Diamond Head and the main entrance area which is on the northeast end of the park entrance. Here’s the main options on easily getting to the park.

  1. Take an Uber – easy access on your phone app to book a trip to Diamond Head, it’s hassle free to book directly with Uber. The difficulty tends to be the return trip and price increases due to less availability when you are waiting for a return trip.

2. Go by bus – taking the bus to and from Diamond Head is definitely the affordable option at $2.75 per direction. You just need to check the schedules on when the bus goes in either direction to the bus stop right at the entrance to the park grounds.

3. Drive yourself – if you have access to a car then driving to the park is fast and easy and parking per car is only $5 for the whole day.

4. Walk to the entrance – A very long walk from Waikiki, it is doable but definitely takes a bit of time and you have a lot of walking to do right from the start of the park entrance

5. Take the cable car buses – these regular trolley buses plying through the Honolulu and Waikiki areas stop directly at the park entrance. You can book a day pass directly with the Waikiki trolley lines for trips to most attractions in the Honolulu area.

Start of hike up Diamond Head Crater

There is a trail head marker past the restrooms that shares the history of Diamond Head and how it was used in the past to present day. The trails are paved and easy from the start and then change into gravel and sand when the trail starts uphill. It gets narrow at this point and traffic does get busy for both uphill and downhill climbers.

Start of trail head in Diamond Head hike
Start of trail head in Diamond Head

The average time to do the hike is about two hours round trip, more if you take more time for pictures and time frame that you are busy. The best time to visit is earlier in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid crowds and excessive heat going to the top.

Trail head gravel path mid section at Diamond Head
Trail head gravel path mid section at Diamond Head

looking down into Diamond Head canyon

Look out points at Diamond Head

Along the way to the top are many lookout points to the crater floor and views to the east side and coastal views. At the the mid point, you’ll hit your first set up stairs which then leads to a long dark tunnel and eventually a circular staircase that is a real work out so take your time. Those that are physically challenged should take plenty of rests with benches located throughout the trail areas.

First set of stairs to top of Diamond Head
First set of stairs to top of Diamond Head

Tip – if you don’t want to enter the tunnel and circular climb, you have an option to do the route from the left side to nice views and a slower climb to the top without doing the circular stair case.

Entering the long dark tunnel at Diamond Head below

Entering the tunnel to top of Diamond Head
Entering the tunnel to top of Diamond Head

After the tunnel area, you enter another climb with a circular stair case to the top. (You can choose to go on the left side option after the first stairs if you choose not to go up the circular stairs). Take your time going up the stairs because it is used for climbing and also descending.

Circular stairs leading to the top of Diamond Head
Circular stairs leading to the top of Diamond Head

Reaching the top of Diamond Head Crater

After you pass through the staircase you finally get to the opening with nice views of the areas below, but there is another short staircase with a viewing platform that is very busy so can your time enjoying the views and doing your selfies of gorgeous Waikiki and Honolulu.

City views on back side of Diamond Head
City views on back side of Diamond Head

Panoramic views from Diamond Head Crater
Panoramic views from Diamond Head Crater

Do not do this, you are not allowed to go off trails
Do not do this, you are not allowed to go off trails

Check out this video of Diamond Head for inspiration to visiting below.

Descending Diamond Head

You have an option of climbing back down the circular staircase but the best route back is to take the slow declining route on the left side with nice views of the east side coatline, beaches and the ritzy areas of Diamond Head, Lanikai, Portlock and Kahala.

Check out this beautiful light house below

Light house below Diamond Head
Light house below Diamond Head

More views on the back side of Diamond Head
More views on the back side of Diamond Head

The trails connects back to the main trail and stairs down to the crater floor and in no time you get back to the restrooms and visitor center.

Tips on visiting Diamond Head Crater

  1. Bring plenty of water or you can purchase at the vending machines when you enter the park.
  2. It is very hot and busy mid day so if you want to avoid both go early or later in the morning
  3. You can take various transportation modes and the cheapest is the bus coming from Waikiki and costs $2.75 one way
  4. Wear good shoes, the climb is over 560 feet over mixed terrain
  5. Bring sunscreen, the sun is harsh mid morning to later afternoon
  6. Diamond Head is not ADA compliant and a challenge for non active visitors
  7. There are no bathrooms at the top of the lookout areas.

Love photography – check out these tours

If you love to capture some of the best photographs of Honolulu and Oahu consider some of these cool tours to take.

The best photography tour of Waikiki and beyond

Waikiki from above with doors off

Sunset photography tour with a guide

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Top things to do in Honolulu

Top things to do in Honolulu

Top things to do in Honolulu

Honolulu is the main tourist hub in Oahu and a fun place to explore the many attractions on the island. With outdoor activities and adventure experiences available almost year round, there is something for everyone to enjoy in around Honolulu area. If you are visiting Oahu, check out all the top things to do in Honolulu for planning your visit. Hopefully, these fantastic suggestions and tips will fill up your must do list when you are visiting Hawaii.

Here’s 34 fantastic things to do in Honolulu

Visiting Pearl Harbor in Honolulu

Visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona

The most popular attraction to visit in the area, a visit to Pearl Harbor is a must to really absorb and experience the infamous Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The park is a national park monument that is filled with interesting artifacts, historic film background, museums and a water tour to the monument and the USS Arizona which is all fascinating to witness. You can also visit the Pacific Aviation Museum and the USS Bowfin submarine park for a nominal fee. Entrance to the park is free but there is a small fee to book a reservation which is advised.

You can also book a nice tour of the Pearl Harbor and visit here for a guided tour of the park and visit to other attractions along the North Shore area.

Exploring Kakaako in Honolulu

Explore cool and hip Kakaako, Honolulu

The hip and fun district of Kakaako in Honolulu is where to hang out for all the fun bars, galleries, cool new restaurants and colorful street art. The once run-down warehouses in the neighborhood is now filled with vivid graffiti and street art and the area is a hot new entertainment zone filled with cutting edge art, shopping, dining and entertainment.

HIking up Diamond Head in Honolulu

Hike up to Diamond Head

One of the fun things to do is to hike up Diamond Head and experience the expansive panorama of Waikiki and Honolulu below. Popular time frames would be early in the morning for cooler temperatures or later in the afternoon for that golden light and sunset views (park closes at 6pm). Park is open from 6am to 6pm with the trail head closed off at 4:30 pm and parking fee is $5 per car. Check out the visitor information site here for more details.

For a guided tour of Diamond head, transfers and visit, check out this affordable tour here for more details.

Exploring Kalakaua Blvd at night time

Stroll down Kalakaua Boulevard

The main thoroughfare In Waikiki is Kalakaua Boulevard which contains all the popular tourist attractions filled with shopping malls, restaurants and entertainment venues on the street. It’s fun to check out all the chic shops and galleries during the day time but Kalakaua Boulevard really comes alive at night when everyone seems to be out and enjoying the lively night scenes, people watching and dining al fresco in all the outdoor bars and restaurants around the street and beach areas at Waikiki.

Exploring Kapiolani park in Honolulu

Enjoy Kapiolani park in Waikiki

The large green park area on the edge of Waikiki is a nice and quiet respite to enjoy in busy Honolulu. But you can also check out the main attractions in Kapiolani park including the Honolulu Zoo, Diamond Head Crater, Queens beach, Waikiki Aquarium and also the bandstand at Waikiki Shell that has weekly free or paid events and concerts for visitors and locals.

Kuhio beach hula show

Free Hula show at Kuhio Beach

Regular hula shows are offered at Kuhio and visit Waikiki hosts a free hula show at Kuhio Beach which Is a fantastic way to enjoy a hula experience for free at the beach. You’ll enjoy different types of hula styles being performed along with live music accompaniment and the visitors are allowed to hang out on the grass or beach area around the stage. Check the calendar here for any updates on the regular show schedule at Kuhio.

Hilton Hawaiian firework show

Enjoy free fireworks at night

Every Friday night between 7:45 to 8pm on the beach at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a free firework display is staged for all to enjoy right on Waikiki beach. Make sure that you get there early since the prime spots fill up quickly closer to the stage and the beach area for the best picture taking spots. For easier and good views of the fireworks at the distance, check out Ala Moana park with nice views to the fireworks display at Waikiki.

Honolulu photo tour and attractions

Photo tour of Honolulu and region

A guided tour showing you the best spots around town and in the area with a guide and without the headache of driving, parking is a great way to spend the day and capture some of the best images and scenes around Oahu.  I would recommend doing this with someone who knows the best locations and times to be at certain spots around the main attractions of Honolulu without all the hassles.

If your visit is limited or planning is a pain, check out this local tour photography experience that you can do without all the hassles and time to enjoy the photo process and focus your energies to creating beautiful impressions of your visit. Or you can enjoy a full day tour covering Waikiki, East Hawaii and also the North Shore in a full day photo tour experience.

Leonards-bakery in Honolulu

Enjoy amazing malasadas at Leonard’s Bakery

For a delicious foodie experience, go to Leonard’s and try some of the famous malasadas (Portuguese inspired doughnuts and now a local favorite dessert). These fried goodies are best hot and just served fresh and you can have them filled with different custards or tropical inspired flavors.

surfing lesson in Waikiki

Learn to surf on Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach is the perfect surfing beach in Oahu with shallow water that expands far out at a distance from the beach area and with a sandy soil bottom to land on when you fall. Learning to surf on Waikiki is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy a new adventure experience or even brush up on some of your surfing background.

Check out this fantastic surfing lesson experience on Waikiki Beach here for more information and planning for your surfing fun on the beach.

Honolulu-Museum-of-Art

Honolulu Museum of Art

If you’re into visiting museums, this museum is definitely worth visiting containing an eclectic mix of Polynesian inspired artifacts, artwork, sculpture and spanning from ancient tribal to contemporary styles of art and expression. The Honolulu Museum of Art hosts and impressive collection along with some fascinating rotating shows highlighting the unique history and culture of Pacific Island lifestyle and interests. Check out their website here for more information and details to the current shows on their calendar.

Visit to Shangri La in Honolulu

Tour Shangri la

The famous American heiress Doris Duke created her own Shangri La Mansion that shines like a Persian jewel box in the middle of the Pacific coastline in Honolulu. Created entirely to look and feel like a Muslim palace, the home has been customized with spectacular marbles, hand-maid inlay tiles and intricate Islamic artwork showcasing the best art she purchased from various sources. This amazing Shangri La fronting the Pacific Ocean is truly one of a kind filled with art, sculpture, artifacts and other treasures. Tours to this special place have to be arranged in advanced but you can easily book a reservation on their website here for visiting this amazing and historic home.

Atlantic submarine tours in Honolulu

Atlantis Submarine Tours

If you are looking to see the bottom ocean floor in Hawaii without getting your feet wet, then sign up for this Atlantic Submarine Tour which will take you under 100 feet of Oahu’s coastline. You can experience the real marine life, tropical fish and corals that exists around the coastlines of Oahu especially the hidden marine areas around Diamond Head’s coast which is not easily accessible on your own.

Check out the Atlantic submarine experience here for more details to enjoying a different tour of the area.

hiking Manoa Falls in Honolulu

Visit Manoa Falls in Honolulu

Located in Honolulu area towards the university, Manoa falls is an easy hike through a lush jungle area called Rainbow valley with all the rain and rainbows occurring daily in the area. You’ll know when your close when you reach the rock cliff areas where Manoa falls cascades about 150 feet from the top to the basin area to a shallow lagoon. When you are in the area already, check out the Lyon Arboretum which is close by. You can check more details about visiting Manoa Falls here for planning a hike to the falls and surrounding area.

Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Snorkel/Dive experience

What’s not to like with a snorkel or dive experience to round out the Waikiki fun. This snorkel tour here will take you on a sailing experience to some fun spots around Oahu to check out all the cool sea life, tropical fish, green sea turtles and coral reef to explore and snorkel through. Providing, transportation services, equipment and a nice meal you’ll enjoy this guided tour and not have to deal with driving and parking issues around the island. For a more extensive diving experience around Waikiki including two diving wrecks, this tour is unique and fun to do in Oahu.

Lyon Arboretum in Honolulu

Explore a mature and lush Lyon arboretum in Honolulu

If you love natural gardens then visit the Lyon Arboretum very close to Manoa Falls. Entrance is free but a requested donation of $5 helps to maintain the expansive gardens in the park.  Large with lush garden areas and an inspiration point that really inspires, it is hard to believe that this is just in the city limits with all this tropical splendor and beautiful landscape to enjoy. Check out visiting the Lyon Arboretum here for more details and inspiration to seeing this lush and mature garden in Oahu.

Shave ice experience in honolul

Waiola Shaved Ice

If you are looking for a really good shaved Ice experience in Honolulu then check out the different locations that you can find Waiola Shaved Ice. The longest running shave ice store on all the island, the Moilili location is the original location to go for that authentic experience. Check out the Waiola Shaved Ice website to find the closest location and hours.

Honolulu Zoo experience

Visit the Honolulu Zoo

The Honolulu Zoo located at Kapiolani park is the perfect family friendly attraction that is colorful and filled with a fantastic assortment of animals regionally and from around the world. The gorgeous tropical settings and environments make this zoo fun to explore specially to capture in photographs with friends and family. Check out the Honolulu Zoo’s website here for more details and information to what’s currently happening or any other special events currently going on.

Duke surfer statue in Waikiki

Duke Statue at Waikiki

The world-famous Hawaiian surfer Duke Kahanamoku has a bronze statue located on Waikiki beach right at the end of hotels. A well-loved water sports leader and spirit of Aloha, you will always find fresh leis adorning this sculpture with outstretched hands.  It’s a perfect spot to take pictures of the surfer typically adorned with fresh and old leis. With fantastic views of Waikiki beach and ocean in the background, this is the perfect moment to capture with your friends and family along with the Duke of Waikiki.

Ala Moana Shopping center

Dining and shopping at Ala Moana Center

This is the largest open-air shopping mall in the Pacific and filled with high end designer shops, local galleries and art, souvenir and gift specialty vendors and the biggest food court you’ll find around Oahu along with a cool Japanese food walking court.  There’s plenty of things to see and do at Ala Moana Center and the outdoor venues and even outdoor food venues really complement the Hawaii lifestyle and shopping at its best.

snorkeling Hanauma bay in Honolulu

Hanauma Bay

One of the best snorkeling areas on Oahu and a marine preserve sanctuary, Hanauma Bay is quite spectacular and well maintained. You have to go through a video entry to the park first and then have access to the park and beach areas. What you’ll find at Hanauma Bay is a magnificent crescent shaped beach protected by small cliffs with beautiful coral beds, colorful tropical fish and some cool marine life that may unexpectedly show up. Definitely worth visiting and enjoying the beach and snorkel experience, check out the Haunama Bay website here for more details on entrance, conservation and other updated news to your snorkel experience in Waikiki area.

Honolulu hula show

A delicious Luau show and buffet

A fantastic one of a kind luau experience with a large buffet spread in Waikiki, this luau show and dinner here also includes entrance to the Waikiki Aquarium.  Dinner includes a different farm to table experience with locally sourced local foods and other specialties.

KCC Farmers market in Honolulu

Visit a local Farmers market in Honolulu

Check out local life, snacks and goodies, and fresh local produce at these local farmers markets. Held every Wednesday on the Lawn at the Blaisdell Center, the farmers market is held from 4 to 7pm. At the KCC farmers market facing the Diamond Head entrance, the market is on Saturday from 7:30- 11am and on Tuesdays evenings from 4 to 7pm. For a comprehensive list of farmers market here in Honolulu and the entire Oahu island.

Shirokiya Japan walk village

Japanese food experience at Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk

For a unique food experience check out the Shirokiya’s Japan Village Walk at the Ala Moana Center. Modeled after a Japanese village, this walk has over 30 kiosks serving typical and favorite Japanese foods and local beers. There is a cool set up buddhas in the back that serve as guardian spirit for the area. A cool and unique Japanese foodie experience in Honolulu, check out their official website here for details and other new updates on the Village Walk.

Sunset cruise in Waikiki and Honolulu

Sunset cruise on Waikiki at night

A sunset cruise is a great time to experience to enjoy sunset on the water and fantastic views of Waikiki and the golden hour. Many cruises do offer cruises with dining or drinking options to compliment the cruising experience.  Most of the experiences launch right on Waikiki beach with catamarans that offer a typical 1 ½ to 2-hour tour cruising the coastline and passing through popular attractions in the area.

Check out this sunset sailing cruise tour with appetizers, drinks and a two hour cruise and launching right on Waikiki beach.  Or check out this elaborate dinner buffet cruise with fireworks experience is a really way to do it up for the once in a lifetime experience cruising Waikiki.

Visiting Iolani palace in Honolulu

Tour Honolulu’s Iolani Palace

The royal Iolani palace built in 1882 by King Kalakaua is where the last queen, Liliuokalani was living prior to the US coup that overthrew her government and installed an interim colonial government. This once royal palace was at its time, the most innovative and outstanding royal palace and the only one in the USA in its time frame. Filled with magnificent furniture, artifacts, memorabilia and even fashion of the royals during that time frame, you’ll get to see all of these wonderful collection within the palace rooms. You can visit the palace with a docent tour by registering for a set tour on the Iolani Palace website here for more details and instructions to the tour.

exploring the Bishop museum in Honolulu

Experience Hawaiian history at the Bishop Museum

The rich and cultural heritage and tradition of the ancient Hawaiians are well presented at the renovated Bishop Museum in Kahili. This expansive museum houses Polynesian artifacts, historical treasures even royal adornments and fascinating exhibits to explore. The museum shares the history of the early voyagers and Polynesian settlers, Hawaiian and cultural beliefs or exhibits and folklore along with features on Volcanoes, different cultures, even early sporting events on the Hawaiian Islands. Check out the calendar and new shows at the Bishop Museum here for updated information, entry and other events.

Helicopter rider over Diamond Head in Honolulu

Helicopter tour over Honolulu

A night tour above Waikiki and Honolulu along with an amazing firework display is one of the most spectacular helicopter experiences you can have in Hawaii. This helicopter tour offers a real one of kind experience cruising the south shore, Pearl Harbor and all over Waikiki.

A day helicopter tour over the Pali mountains, east side of Oahu and Waikiki is another fun option to see the spectacular attractions from above.

Walking through Honolulu's Chinatown

Visit Honolulu’s Chinatown district

On the outskirts of Honolulu and Waikiki is the large Chinatown district which has gone through a big change and now is a popular and hip area for cool art galleries, cafes and a monthly First Friday series event. You can also opt for the more traditional Chinese restaurants or dim sum scene, checking out the lei stands, traditional shops and produce markets that locals visit for cheap and fresh produce. Check out the Chinatown First Friday website here for updated information, pictures and calendar of fun things happening in this district.

Aloha swap meet in Honolulu

Check out the Honolulu Aloha Swap meet

Just outside Honolulu at the Aloha Stadium is the popular swap meet that happens every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. You’ll find lots of thrift and antiques, collectibles and even lots of cheap Hawaiian souvenirs to take home as gifts. Entry to the swap meet is only $1 per person. Check out the swap meet website here for more details, hours and updates.

Exploring the Waikiki aquarium

Waikiki Aquarium

Located in Waikiki off Kapiolani park, this family friendly venue has a lot of fantastic local animals and typical animals from around the world in tropical inspired environments. Admission for the aquarium is $12 per adult and $5 per child. Visit the museum’s website here for more details, admission and current shows.

The Punchbowl memorial at Honolulu

Honolulu’s Punchbowl cemetery

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific locally known as the punchbowl was built in 1948 as a cemetery for the US armed forces that died during World War II. The Punchbowl is in a dormant volcano called Pouwaina and means the hill of Sacrifice. A beautiful area with gorgeous views, cemetery and monuments, it is very peaceful and a quiet respite from busy Honolulu. Check out more details to visiting the Punchbowl here for information and directions.

Sunset on the beach in Honolulu

Enjoy sunset on the beach

A simple but inspiring way to end the day in Waikiki is a walk on the beach or just relax and watch the sunset come down with all the brilliant colors on the bay and beach area. Afterwards the twinkling lights of Waikiki’s shopping streets and restaurants beckon you to stop by and check out all the fun and delicious food venues waiting for hungry appetites.

Hiking Koko Head in Oahu

Hike Koko Head Stairs

This is a fantastic workout climbing an ancient tuff cone with an old abandoned railway that serviced bunkers that were built on top of the cone. You climb over these railroad ties (that’s over 1000 steps ) all the way to the ridgeline and the trail truly a cardio workout if you don’t take any breaks on the way to the top. Once there, will be rewarded with fantastic views of the east side of the island and the Hawaii Kai area of Portlock.

Check out these amazing views from the top of Koko crater trail.

Views above Koko Head stairs

Looking to save more money while on vacation

Check out the Go Oahu Card which will save you with admission to the most popular attractions on the island with a 1, 2, 3, 5 to 7-day pass. This includes entrance to many must visit places like the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hanauma Bay, Iolani Palace, Bishop Museum, Dole plantation and a variety of snorkeling excursions and more. With a few of these bigger experiences you can easily save some money on this vacation. You can purchase the Go Card here.

where to stay in Honolulu

Where to stay in Honolulu

With most of the hotels located in Waikiki, you can find the full gamut of hotel accommodations that can fit your needs and budget. Check out these highly rated Trip Advisor reviews of the best hotels in Waikiki below.

The Outrigger Beach Resort in Waikiki – is right on the beach and in a great location with excellent service, many rooms with ocean views/city views and excellent value for the money. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.

Prince Waikiki – on the edge of Waikiki and a close walk to the Ala Moana Center. This quiet hotel is away from all the bustle of Waikiki, excellent ratings, service and comfortable rooms. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.

Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach – features 1 to 2 bedroom suites and kitchenette. Also free breakfast, poolside reception and just steps to famous Waikiki Beach and shops. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.

Ilikai Lite – 5 star ratings to this quality 3 star hotel with excellent service, free wiki, good walking distance to beach and shopping, and really good value for Waikiki. Check the TA site here for the reviews and images of this highly rated hotel.

Check out more of the best rated hotels with Trip Advisor here for images, details and un biased reviews from visitors.

Check out these additional Oahu posts

Exploring the North Shore of Oahu

Horseback riding in Hawaii

Free of Cheap things to do on Oahu

Best kid friendly beaches in Oahu

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Thanks for visiting today and checking out this post on Top things to do in Honolulu. I hope you are inspired to plan a visit and enjoy these wonderful attractions. If you enjoyed the images and post, could you please share it with any of the social media buttons located around the post.

If you like what you see, come and check out my other social media channels for more updates, including Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter

Some links in this article on Top things to do in Honolulu are affiliates which provide a small commission to support this site at no extra cost to you. Thank you for reading, and happy travels

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