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Located in the South Pacific, Hawaii feels like a world apart from the mainland United States, with its distinct cultural heritage and political history. Say “Aloha” to five of the state’s main islands after completing this bucket list, which showcases world-renown landscapes and incredibly hospitable residents, all without the need for a passport.

10. Lanikai Pillbox Hike

Lanikai Pillbox Hike in Hawaii(image via Flickr)

Named for the military bunkers along the trail, the Lanikai Pillbox Hike winds up to the Kaiwa Ridge, offering perhaps the best view on the island. You can reach the pillboxes after about half an hour of hiking, and from there, turn around or keep following the ridge trail. You’re not going to want to do either for a while, though. The sight of the Mokulua Islands and Kailua and Lanikai Beaches is beautiful enough you’ll want to stick around as long as you can to enjoy the views.

9. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park(image via Flickr)

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of our favorite spots in the world to check out volcanoes. Mauna Loa and Kilauea are two of the most active volcanoes in the world, and they aren’t even the only ones in the park. Scenic overlooks and crater rim trails provide plenty of opportunities for close-but-safe appreciation of the powerful forces at work here.

8. Haleakala Crater

Haleakala Crater in Hawaii(image via Flickr)

Haleakala is an enormous shield volcano that last erupted in 1790 and forms the bulk of Maui. The summit holds an important place in Hawaiian folklore. The demigod Maui’s grandmother lived there and helped Maui capture the sun and lengthen the day. It’s no wonder this place inspired legends of the sky. The sunset is gorgeous from here, and the stargazing may be even better. Beyond the view, there are indigenous plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.

7. Helicopter Tours of Kauai

Helicopter Tours of Kauai in Hawaii

Everyone talks about beaches when they talk about Hawaii, but there’s so much more to it than that. These islands are dramatic, with lush hills, jagged cliffs, and powerful waterfalls tumbling into the ocean. Of course, it’s hard to appreciate the grandeur when it’s right in your face, but a helicopter tour should give you some much-needed perspective. There is a startling variety of companies offering tours, so it won’t be hard to find the experience you want.

6. Waimanalo Beach Park

Waimanalo Beach Park

Waimanalo Beach is a quiet, serene beach, full of soft sand and clear water. It’s consistently voted as one of the best beaches in the entire country. There are campgrounds here if you want to bunk down, and the crowds aren’t overwhelming, so camping out here may actually be appealing.

5. USS Arizona Memorial

USS Arizona Memorial(image via Flickr)

The USS Arizona was commissioned in 1916 and served faithfully in diplomatic and training missions until its sinking on December 7,  1941, in the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that pulled the United States into World War II. There are museum exhibits about the war to take in before a boat trip out to the memorial itself, which straddles the sunken remains of the ship.

4. Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay

Snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay(image via Flickr)

There’s a lot to get out of snorkeling here, but you have to work for it. You have to boat out to the Captain Cook Monument to get to the snorkeling area, but once you’re there, you can swim among coral, reef sharks, and more. Even dolphins have been known to come hang out with swimmers in the area—not in some supervised, Sea World-like tourist way, but actual, in-nature dolphins coming to see what you’re doing. Honestly, as clear as the water is, you may not even need a snorkel to see the reef.

3. Shipwreck Beach

Shipwreck Beach

Its traditional Hawaiian name is Kaiolohia, but it’s also called “Shipwreck Beach”—for lots of reasons. The most obvious of those reasons is the massive World War II ship that still sits rusting where it beached on the coral reef. If you don’t want to go diving around for the other ships that have run aground here, you can always enjoy eight miles of soft sand and clear water. You’ll need an ATV to get out to the beach, but it’s worth the trek.

2. Pipiwai Trail

Pipiwai Trail(image via Flickr)

The Pipiwai Trail is part of the same national park as the Haleakala crater. Things are old here, old and enormous: from the giant banyan tree to the bamboo forest to the enormous waterfalls, Makahiku and Waimoku. It’s not as difficult as other Hawaiian hiking trails, but the sheer amount of breathtaking sights packed into a trail this size is truly something to see.

1. Polynesian Cultural Center

Polynesian Cultural Center(image via Flickr)

The Polynesian Cultural Center showcases the peoples, foods, and practices of seven cultures across Oceania. There’s a lot of emphasis on fun, from games and food to the luau, but there’s also a genuine, in-depth education about cultures that don’t always get the representation they deserve. Whether you’re here for a meal and a show or to broaden your global horizons, the PCC can show you the best of Polynesia.


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