10 Underrated Yet Extraordinary Places in Hawaii

From stargazing at Mauna Kea, the tallest sea mountain in the world, to visiting Pearl Harbor and watching lava flow at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, many tourists visiting Hawaii share a noticeably similar itinerary. But if you’ve already hit most of the Aloha State’s popular attractions, we’ve got you covered. Here are 10 of Hawaii’s most underrated — and amazing — places.

Bishop Museum, Oahu

A view of the Bishop Museum in Oahu.
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As the largest museum in the state of Hawaii, the Bishop Museum was founded in honor of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family, in 1889. In accordance with her will, a school for children of Native Hawaiian ancestry was built upon her death, a behest that was carried out in conjunction with the creation of the museum.

After the school moved in 1940, the Bishop Museum expanded to become the mammoth institution it is today. With a mission to protect and honor the culture and traditions of Native Hawaiians, the Bishop Museum houses extensive collections celebrating the natural and cultural history of Pacific Islanders.

The three-story exhibition hall, Hawaiian Hall, provides a thorough dive into Hawaiian history, with stories of gods and legends that reveal the significance of nature within the Hawaiian culture. Other exhibitions include a planetarium, as well as numerous galleries displaying Hawaiian art and cultural artifacts.

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, Hawaii

Hawaiian style wood carvings in Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park.
Credit: Damien VERRIER/ Shutterstock

To learn more about the ancient settlements that lived in Hawaii for hundreds of years, visiting Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is a fascinating trip into the past. Located on the Big Island, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Park is a sacred site of great significance to the ancient Hawaiian government system that was regulated by the kapu, a set of rules for everyday life in which certain behaviors or items were forbidden or considered sacred.

The sacred laws were punishable by death if broken. If sentenced to death, fugitives could find absolution if they set foot on Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, as it served as a sacred place of refuge. If reached, both the fugitive and the fugitive’s family were assured a safe passage home.

Today, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau is an active religious site for Native Hawaiians, although it remains open to visitors via a self-guided walking tour. Native Hawaiian descendants continue to carry out ceremonies according to the lunar calendar, with cultural demonstrations open to visitors on certain days of the week.

Maha’uleupu Heritage Trail, Kauai

Clouds gathering over Shipwreck Beach in Kauai, Hawaii.
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Situated on the last stretch of undeveloped coastline on Kauai’s South Shore, Maha’uleupu Heritage Trail is accessible to the public from Shipwreck Beach. The trail meanders along the coast for nearly four miles, providing trekkers with unfettered views of the Pacific (and glimpses of humpback whales during migration season).

A fairly flat ascent along the coast, Maha’uleupu Heritage Trail is one of the island’s easier trails, making it a popular spot for families and novice hikers. Although the surf is too rough for swimming, visitors can occupy their time by searching for nēnēs (Hawaiian geese) or identifying kiawe trees.

Leading to the trail’s eponymous Maha’uleupu Beach, hikers are also treated to craggy limestone cliffs, precipitous sand dunes, and a large cave that once contained ancient petroglyphs. Along the way, sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals can be spotted in the rocky inlets that make up the coastline.

Waiānuenue Falls, Hawaii

A photograph of the beautiful Rainbow Falls.
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Situated in Wailuku River State Park, Waiānuenue Falls is where the Wailuku River descends 80 feet into a large jungle basin. Translating to “rainbow water,” Waiānuenue is named for the abundance of rainbows that can be seen in the early morning light amongst the mists.

In addition to the sheer beauty of these magical waterfalls, Waiānuenue plays a significant role in the mythology of Hawaii. According to legend, the cave beneath the waterfalls is the home of Hina, goddess of the moon and mother of Maui, a demigod.

Two viewing platforms make it easy for visitors to see the falls from multiple angles, including a highly accessible platform next to the parking lot and another platform located on top of the falls. For those willing to walk farther, a third viewing platform is located a mile upstream next to the boiling pots, a network of terraced pools in the middle of the jungle.

Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Hawaii

The kitchen at the Uchida Farmhouse at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm.
Credit: Jim West/ Alamy Stock Photo

From sugarcane plantations to coffee farms, Hawaii is a state with deep agricultural roots. On the Big Island, this history is evident at the Kona Coffee Living History Farm. This historic working farm provides extensive tours of the original 1920s farmhouse and surrounding the coffee trees, as well as tutorials on how to mill and dry coffee.

Since 14% of the state population has Japanese ancestry, the farm is also the perfect opportunity to learn about Hawaii’s Japanese immigrants. In the late 19th century, roughly 900 Japanese immigrants came to Hawaii in search of work. After years of backbreaking labor in the sugarcane fields, Japanese immigrants began working on coffee plantations and by the early 20th century, almost all of Kona’s coffee farms were leased by Japanese immigrants.

As a result, the Kona Coffee Living History Farm allows visitors to see how Hawaii’s agriculture and immigration history are intertwined. By sharing stories of the first, second, and successive generations of Japanese immigrants, visitors will leave with a greater understanding of life as an immigrant on a coffee farm.

Hulihe'e Palace, Hawaii

Hulihe'e Palace in Kona Kilauea.
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Lovingly preserved by the Daughters of Hawaii, Hulihe'e Palace is the former summer residence of Hawaiian royalty. Today, it houses cultural artifacts from the Victorian era when King Kalākaua and Queen Kapi‘olani ruled. The beautiful museum showcases hand-carved koa wood furniture, Hawaiian quilts, feather work, portraits, ornaments, and royal ensembles — giving visitors a better understanding of Hawaii’s royal history.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973, the palace is a marvel inside and out. Constructed in the 19th century out of lava rock, the property features six large rooms, an oceanfront lanai (veranda), and magnificent grounds.

Open seven days a week, guided tours of the palace are available for a fee. The grounds are also open to the public once a month for An Afternoon at Hulihe‘e Palace, an event featuring traditional hālau hula on the lawn.

Waianapanapa Black Sand Beach, Maui

Black Sand Beach in Maui, Hawaii.
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Situated in Waianapanapa State Park, this black-sand beach is one of the most intriguing shorelines in Maui, and perhaps all of Hawaii. Created over the course of 1,000 years, the black-sand beach is the result of continual ocean surf pounding on the fresh lava flow from the nearby volcano Haleakelā.

Today, visitors can discover this otherworldly beach tucked into a secluded cove near the village of Hana. Although the currents are dangerous for swimmers, visitors can spread their towels on the glittering black sand or take pictures of the dramatic contrast between the dark sand and the dazzling ocean.

Hawai’i Tropical and Bioreserve Garden, Hawaii

The beautiful tropical bioreserve and garden in Big Island, Hawaii.
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Situated on Onomea Bay not far from the city of Hilo, the Hawai’i Tropical and Bioreserve Garden is a 20-acre preserve dedicated to the conservation of tropical plants. Once overrun with invasive species, the garden now features native plants of Hawaii, in addition to other species that can no longer be found in the wild.

Serving as a hub for education, sustainability, and biodiversity, these botanical gardens feature over 2,000 species of plants. With walking trails that traverse streams, bypass waterfalls, and offer magnificent views of the Pacific, the gardens and extended 100-acre bioreserve celebrate the tropical beauty of Hawaii’s diverse ecosystem.

Visiting the grounds in the morning is recommended to avoid the heat and crowds. Be sure to bring bug repellent and wear comfortable walking shoes. Walking the entirety of the gardens requires approximately 2.5 miles of uphill and downhill travel, with stops along the way including a birdhouse, an orchid garden, and a picnic area along the ocean.

Valley of the Temples Memorial Park, Oahu

Magnificent architecture of Byodo-In Buddhist temple in Oahu, Hawaii.
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Snugly situated between Oahu’s lush mountains, Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is one of the most tranquil spots on the island. The replica of an 11th-century Japanese Buddhist temple was built in the 1960s and remains a popular spot for visitors to find serenity in nature.

With 240 acres of immaculate land that has been sculpted into a Zen garden, wandering the grounds of the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park is an excellent way to spend an afternoon. With wild peacocks, koi reflection ponds, and a meditation pavilion, the tranquility of the garden provides visitors an escape from hectic everyday life.

The grounds are also home to a beautiful cemetery, with sections denoted for Buddhist, Shinto, Protestant, and Catholic religions, in addition to a pet cemetery. After strolling the grounds, visitors can visit the non-denominational Buddhist temple, or stop by the Ocean View Terrace to take in the magnificent scenery.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, Maui

Beautiful Gardens at Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm in Maui, Hawaii.
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A visit to Ali’i Kula can be a bit disorienting — with acres of fresh lavender, the cultivated farm looks more like Provence, France, than Hawaii. But since it is located 4,000 feet above sea level, Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm has the perfect climate for growing the wildly fragrant herb.

Spread across 13.5 acres, the farm has 55,000 lavender plants and 20 different varieties, including nine varieties that bloom year-round. The climate is also beneficial for other Mediterranean plants to thrive, such as olive trees, succulents, and hydrangeas, turning a trip to the farm into a lush botanical journey. Guests are permitted to explore the farm at their leisure, with to-go food items available for purchase, such as lavender coffee and lavender scones.

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