Readers' Secret Hideaways in Hawaii

Here are our readers' top picks for beaches, eats, and extraordinary things to do and see.

The sun peaks over the clouds into Haleakala at sunrise, image
Haleakala at sunrise.
Pierre Leclerc / Shutterstock

Under the Radar Sights

"When visiting Maui, you cannot skip visiting Haleakala at sunrise. Get up early, dress in layers, and join the crowd watching for the sun to peek over the rim." —Stella Bouldin

"Iolani Palace on Oahu is the only official state residence of royalty in the United States. It is done in a rich only-in-Hawaii style, with koa wood on the grand staircase, and is easy to find in the civic center of downtown Honolulu." —Phyllis Litman

"The Big Island's Kaumana Caves can be easy to miss, but look for the sign, because this is the tropical Hawaii you picture when you think of paradise. A steep staircase descends into a lush, fern-covered area that leads to two lava tubes. Bring a flashlight and good shoes: After rains, there could be dripping and running water inside. At the end of one tube you'll see roots hanging down and light pouring in, at which point you can exit or retrace your steps. Stunning." —Katie Horn

"Many people refer to Kauai's Waimea Canyon State Park as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. Pullouts offer a variety of vistas, including colored rock formations and waterfalls. The 40-mile round-trip drive on winding roads is worth every mile." —Robert Matheson

"On the northern slope of Maui's Haleakala, you can take the National Park Service's free, guided, three-mile hike in the Waikamoi Preserve. In 3½ hours you see scenery filled with native plants and birds that change as you progress through different layers of the forest. The hike allows you access to an area normally closed to the public." —Karen Mudge

A woman walks into the waves with her snorkle at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park.
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park, Big Island, Hawaii.
Fominayaphoto / Shutterstock

Best Beaches Without the Crowds

"About an hour's drive from the town of Kea'au on the Big Island, you will come upon Punalu'u Black Sand Beach Park. Freshwater, bathtub warm, percolates through the sand, forming unexpectedly salty pools at the ocean's edge, and the sand feels like caviar. The surf roars in at a pretty good clip, while sea turtles the size of manhole covers tan their leathery hides on the warm sand." —Joyce Davis

"Two miles down the rugged Kalalau Trail on Kauai's North Shore lies a secret. In summer, aquamarine waters churn toward soft sand fringed by lush foliage at stunning Hanakapi'ai Beach. Sea caves and coves offer enticing spots to explore. Ahead rise the impregnable cliffs of Na Pali. You can watch the strong current carve the coastal landscape." —Manjusha Gupte

"Wish you could have visited Hawaii before all the traffic and commercialism? You can, on Molokai. Enjoy a morning walk on the finest sand along secluded Halawa Bay on the east end. End your day with a stroll on three-mile-long Papohaku Beach on the west end. Watch the sun color the sky and sink into the sea as nearby Oahu fades from view. You may find yourselves the only ones on either beach." —Ron Bolt


Unforgettable Experiences

"The Luau Kalamaku just outside Lihue, Kauai, puts on not just one of the best luaus, but one of the best live performances we have ever seen. The performers did an excellent job telling the history of Polynesian travel and Kauai's beginnings, and they walked out into the crowd to dance with audience members." —John and Eva Thomas-Wash

"Our favorite place to visit on Maui is the Keawala'i Congregational Church in Makena, one of the oldest churches on the island, located on the water with a spectacular view. The service uses both English and Hawaiian, and it feels like true aloha." —Tad and Patti Gantenbein

"The five-mile round-trip trail to Kaena Point is a find on Oahu. At 2.2 miles you reach Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve, where you might see the Laysan albatross doing mating dances, endangered monk seals sunning on the rocks, or mother and baby whales breaching. The hike is an explosion of nature's beauty." —Chris Ayres

"The most memorable place to snorkel on the Big Island is in Honaunau Bay next to Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. You can swim with green sea turtles, and see spinner dolphins in nearby shallows. Schools of colorful fish are easily admired from shore." —Che’ Devol

Vibrant shaved ice from Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore of Oahu.
Matsumoto Shave Ice on the North Shore of Oahu.
Klara_Steffkova / Shutterstock

Local Eats

"Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop on Maui is a must-try! Delectable salads and sandwiches made from fresh local ingredients, amazing pies, and a homey yet hip atmosphere combine to make an unforgettable dining experience." —Kimberly Ramos

"Da Poke Shack on the Big Island, where the locals go, was our favorite during our trip. We savored authentic, delicious poke, the fish freshly caught, in a budget-friendly shop." —Allyson Medeles

"On the North Shore of Oahu sits the quaint town of Haleiwa, home of Hawaii's best dessert—Matsumoto Shave Ice. The shop has an array of cool flavors, souvenirs, and a welcoming atmosphere. People from all over visit this old-time store. It's kind of an icon." —Melissa Ramirez