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Leitfaden für Anfänger in Hawaii

First time in Hawaii? Here are our picks for the best things to see and do while you're there.
Hi, I'm Wendy!

Wendy Awai-Dakroub is a native Hawaiian freelance writer based in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is the CEO of a software company that helps Native Hawaiian–owned businesses expand their concepts globally. She also co-founded Honolulu's first learner-driven school, Acton Digital Academy and spends her free time at the beach or writing for her blog EAT|PLAY|STAY|HAWAII.

When you think of Hawaii, white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and renowned surf spots may come to mind. But these islands offer much more than just beach culture. Visitors can admire whales in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, immerse themselves in Polynesian culture, hike a dormant volcanic crater, and eat hearty Hawaiian favorites alongside locals.

For first-timers to the Hawaiian islands, island-hopping is where it's at—America's 50th state is actually a collection of eight main islands: Hawai’i Island (the Big Island), Oahu, Maui, Lanai, Kauai, Molokai, Niihau, and Kahoolawe. Don’t miss these top things to see and do on the Hawaiian Islands during your first trip to the Aloha State.

1. Take a food tour

Hawaiian tropical fruits and ice cream being brought by a server to a table in Hawaii.
Take a food tour to find out your favorite local dishes.Bildquelle: Elyse Butler / Viator

Indulge in local staples and Hawaiian comfort foods.

Take a food tour on an island like Kauai or Oahu to sample one of the state's most quintessential meals: the plate lunch. Comprised of two scoops of white rice, macaroni salad, and a hearty serving of protein, this dish serves as one of the best history lessons on how an influx of foreign plantation workers in the 1800s from countries like Japan, Korea, and the Philippines shaped Hawaii's diversity and culinary landscapes.

If you’d prefer to tackle the world of Hawaiian cuisine on your own, try the Loco Moco—it's a local favorite. Other popular Hawaiian dishes include kalua pig, laulau (taro, coconut cream, and protein), chicken katsu, teriyaki salmon, chicken adobo, and lechon (roast suckling pig).

Related: Must-Try Street Food on Oahu

2. Visit the Polynesian Cultural Center

Visitors explore a lush green lake at Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is well worth the trip.Bildquelle: Elyse Butler / Viator

Understand more about the history of the Polynesian islands.

Set on 42 lush acres (17 hectares) of Oahu's quiet northeastern shore, the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) is one of the island's most visited attractions. Focused on preserving Polynesian culture, history, and heritage, the PCC offers visitors a chance to learn in-depth about life in six island nations across the Pacific Ocean, including Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, and Aotearoa New Zealand.

Take a guided walk through the interactive space’s diverse villages; enjoy the only all-Hawaiian luau in the state; savor the Ali'i luau buffet; and watch "Onipa‘a," a tribute to Queen Lili‘uokalani, Hawaii's last ruling monarch.

3. Snorkel with marine life in Molokini’s waters

A snorkeler meets the marine life while swimming at Molokini’s waters in Hawaii.
This sunken volcano is a haven for snorkelers.Bildquelle: Tony Novak-Clifford / Viator

Discover Hawaii's underwater paradise.

Molokini is just off the coast of Maui, a sunken Hawaiian volcano that’s an undisputed haven for snorkelers. The partially submerged remains of a cinder cone that erupted approximately 230,000 years ago, created a striking crescent-shaped islet surrounded by some of Hawaii's most transparent, crystalline waters.

Put on some reef-safe sunscreen and book a snorkeling tour to get up close and personal with colorful coral reefs and over 250 species of tropical fish.

Related: Best Places To Snorkel Around the World

4. Swim and hike in Waimea Bay

A woman hiker follows a path in the sun above Waimea Bay in Hawaii.
Take a hike (or a swim) at Waimea Bay.Bildquelle: Flystock / Shutterstock

Enjoy a family-friendly hike full of cultural sites and tropical charm.

Waimea Valley is set across from Waimea Bay on Oahu's North Shore, steeped in ancient Hawaiian history. Visitors to the sacred valley can learn about the numerous cultural and religious sites in the area. Those that prefer to enjoy Hawaiian flora and fauna can explore a 150-acre (61-hectare) botanical garden with over 5,000 different types of tropical plants, including the state's official flower, the bright yellow hibiscus.

A paved path makes it easy for beginners and families to reach the eponymous 45-foot (14-meter) waterfall on foot. Depending on the weather forecast, you can also cool off with a refreshing dip in the plunge pool under Waimea Falls.

5. Go on a whale-watching excursion

Tourists on a whale-watching trip see a whale breach the waters in Hawaii.
Hawaii's waters are known for their whales.Bildquelle: Manuel Balesteri / Shutterstock

For beautiful coastline vistas and one-of-a-kind whale breaching views.

Every December to May, the waters surrounding Maui welcome thousands of North Pacific humpback whales. Hop on a whale-watching cruise for a chance to watch these majestic mammals breach the warm Pacific Ocean waters as they make their annual 3,500-mile (5,632-kilometer) journey south from the Gulf of Alaska to breed and nurse their young. The expansive, scenic coastline views of Maui from the boat are an added bonus, and certain whale-watching tours even have an underwater hydrophone so you can hear the whales sing.

6. Catch the sunrise at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Sunrise coming up above the lava flows at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
There's nowhere quite like Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.Bildquelle: Andrey Matveev / Shutterstock

Hike to a volcanic crater at sunrise.

The Big Island's activities aren't just confined to its unique black-sand beaches, idyllic beach towns, and Kona coffee farm tours. Head 45 minutes south from Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a sprawling UNESCO World Heritage site home to two of Hawaii's most active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Hike the mile-long Halema'uma'u Trail to the Kilauea caldera floor for an unforgettable sunrise and incredible lava flow views. Have a couple of days to explore? Take a tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to discover even more of its must-see stops.

7. Helicopter around Kauai's Na Pali Coast

An aerial view of Kauai's Na Pali Coast from a helicopter in Hawaii.
See Kauai's Na Pali Coast from up high.Bildquelle: Pierre Leclerc / Shutterstock

For panoramic island views, take to the skies.

Booking a helicopter tour is one of the best ways to experience Kauai’s impressive landscape. You'll get a bird's-eye view of the dramatic sea cliffs along the Na Pali Coast, fly over the notable red rock formations at Waimea Canyon State Park, and spot numerous cascading waterfalls (including Manawaiopuna Falls, which you may recognize from the fan-favorite film Jurassic Park).

Prefer to explore by water? A catamaran tour of this magnificent region offers unique, rugged coastline views and the chance to spot spinner dolphins, green sea turtles, and whales during snorkeling stops off the Lehua and Niihau Islands.

8. Wander the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”

Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon is a red-rock expanse.Bildquelle: Martin M303 / Shutterstock

Set your eyes on Kauai’s Waimea Canyon for nearly infinite vistas.

Waimea Canyon, on the island of Kauai, is a sight to behold. It easily rivals the best views in America’s most popular national parks but with a fraction of the notoriety—and therefore crowds. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” this 14-mile-long (22-kilometer-long), 3,600-feet-deep (1,100-meter-deep) red-rock expanse is lush, waterfall-rich, and accessible. Most visitors will explore it via the lookouts on Waimea Canyon Drive, though a number of trails can get your boots into this verdant wilderness.

9. Take in world history at Pearl Harbor

The exterior of the national memorial at Pearl Harbor.
Explore the national memorial at Pearl Harbor.Bildquelle: Elyse Butler / Viator

Explore the site that launched the United States into WWII.

Few spots in America—save maybe Gettysburg or The Alamo—have had more of a political impact on world history than Pearl Harbor, the site of the Japanese attack on the United States on December 7, 1941. Today, this active naval base doubles as a national memorial, where visitors can explore two world-class museums, “visit” the sunken USS Arizona (via the memorial above), explore several other wartime sites, and hear stories from WWII heroes themselves.

10. Drive the epic Road to Hana

A waterfall on the Road to Hana.
The Road to Hana is one of the most scenic drives in the world.Bildquelle: arkanto / Shutterstock

Fill your windshield with some of the country’s wildest views.

With 600 hairpin turns and more than 50 bridges, Maui’s 64-mile (102-kilometer) long Road to Hana is widely regarded as one of the wildest, most scenic drives in the world. You’ll cruise along black-sand beaches, cascading waterfalls, the seven sacred pools of Oheo, magnificent bays, lava tubes, and more—stopping to scope out the sights usually turns this 2.5-hour trek into a 6-hour journey, give or take.

Insider tip: The road can be rough; many opt for a tour to avoid those white knuckles and better soak in the route’s unforgettable majesty.

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