Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Hawaii is glorified for its beautiful island environments and native cultural heritage. The island state has also been a mainstay for tourism industries, as it encapsulates vacation leisure and the feeling of being one with nature, though typically tourists stick to the big cities of Maui and Honolulu.  However, Hawaii is home to many small towns and significant landmarks, which attract much attention from casual and thrill-driven adventurists. Here are seven unforgettable small towns worth visiting in Hawaii in lesser-known regions of the island!


Colorful stores in small town Haleiwa.
Colorful stores in small town Haleiwa. Image credit Christian Mueller via Shutterstock.

The small town of Haleiwa, almost an hour away from Waikiki, offers a unique taste of suburban life on the northern shore of O’ahu. First established in 1898 by Benjamin Dillingham, who opened a hotel chain designed to support the town’s future growth and was instrumental in its naming and origins, it has been recognized as a “surf town” for its gorgeous beach views and surfing foundation for paradise. It boasts tourist enjoyment related to shops, art galleries, plantation-era souvenirs, and antique parlors. Haleiwa perfectly mixes local beauty and charm to create a quaint, small-town atmosphere that still encompasses modern fashion and depth. Waimea Bay is a crucial tourist element of the town, a prominent beach landmark that lets visitors experience the delicacies of food trucks and freshly caught shrimp. The town’s history provides a feeling of being lost in the old days of the North Shore while still being able to experience tasty shaved ice or shopping delights. In addition, ‘Ehukai (Banzai Pipeline) also allows tourists to enjoy beachside sightseeing, including sights from Sunset Beach. It is essential as it alludes to the history of Hawaiian frozen treats, known formally as kakigori in Japanese. For the outdoor enthusiast, Haleiwa Beach Park promotes cloudy skies and is an excellent outlet for novice swimmers to hone their physique while consuming a hearty barbecue under the sun.


Hulihe'e Palace, Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i
Hulihe’e Palace, Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i.

Sitting west of Hualālai, the archipelago’s third youngest volcano, Kailua-Kona, shortened as Kona, provides a different take from other island chains one may find while on vacation, as the small town is fueled by community and a sense of unification. Tourists often visit Kona to experience the rich history associated with King Kamehameha I, who was responsible for establishing the town as his seat of government when he was first chief of the city. However, his rule was consolidated in 1795. Historical landmarks, such as the Hulihe’e Palace and Kamakahonu, are reminders to tourists of all backgrounds that Hawaiian culture and history still maintain a strong presence in Kailua-Kona by putting on stunning dance shows to entertain audiences of all ages and demonstrate what life used to be like in the 1830s.

For visitors who wish to see how religion played a significant role in the upbringing of Kailua communities, Moku’aikaua Church builds on its past as it showcases stone structures and missionary architecture, a staple of 1820s planning first witnessed by American Christian Missionaries. Koa wood is also featured within lush rainforests near the Church, exhibiting how natural materials play a small yet meaningful role in shaping Hawaiian history. Another historical contributor is Captain James Cook, who first set foot on the Kealakekua Bay in 1778. Assuming tourists want to explore other small-town areas, Kona locals would recommend Pualani Park or Hale Halawai Park, two recreational landmarks with relaxing landscapes. With plenty of historical sites and entertainment, Kona ushers in emotion and encourages family-friendly cultural traditions, leaving for a lasting experience that cannot be easily forgotten.


Wailua Falls, Kauai, HI
Aerial view of Wailua Falls, Kauai, HI. 

Nestled at the base of the Waianae Mountains, Wailua is deemed one of the most peaceful small towns in Hawaii. Found on O’ahu’s northern shore, the town is surprisingly active. Also, it provides a blend of essential facilities and landmarks, ranging from post offices, libraries, and businesses to classic exploration trails and small coffee shops. For relaxation, tourists may enjoy the North Shore Soap Factory or Waialua Bay, where peaceful and quiet surroundings await. The “Gathering Place” is another notable factor for tourism, as O’ahu welcomes cattle farming and livestock herding within a sleepy residential town. On the side of history, Wailua is known for its large-scale heiaus. Although heiaus are essential to many Hawaiian towns, Wailua stands out from the rest because of its political emphasis due to the “rising sun” foundation laid out many years ago by Wailua chiefs. The Great Wailua Complex offers massive and human-made rock formation structures, providing visitors to these sites with enough architecture and history to maintain an array of perspectives, including petroglyphs and stone carvings. Wailua River State Park is a historical site worth exploring in the small town, known for the first migratory Tahitians, who came and settled down in Wailua to benefit royalty. The park is home to the Wailua River, Kauai’s most extensive and only navigable river. Tourists with a penchant for riverside observance will enjoy the refuges and locales this natural landmark offers. The overarching views of Wailua will leave a lasting impression that persuades tourists to choose to come back for more.


Kapa'a Beach Park, Hawaii
Kapa’a Beach Park, Hawaii.

Situated north of Wailua, Kapa’a is a small shopping town with a reputation for producing copious amounts of sugarcane and pineapple. One of the most populous towns in Kauai, it is frequented by Hollywood personnel when it comes to filmmaking against the backdrop of a vast mountain range. Kap’pa offers a lot for tourists who can spend a fortune, while others can relax at beach resorts and enjoy exquisite tribal food. Water skiing and kayak rentals are uncommon in Kapa’a, alongside restaurants and crafts stores for rumbling stomachs and creative minds, respectively. With live music festivals, individuals seeking afternoon or nightlife crowds may find Kapa’a worth every moment. Historically, Kapa’a is one of two areas in Hawaii where the birthplace of Kamehameha I holds importance. Mo’okini heiaus (places of worship) were critical to Hawaiian history and the development of modern archipelago sights, and Kapa’a is no stranger to this phenomenon, as it grants tourists the ability to see how historic sites like Hikinaakala Heiau have matured since its development. Another historic landmark in Kapa’a is the Sleeping Giant Trail, which takes form and importance for its famous lookouts that tourists would want to take advantage of. The views overlook the entire coast, allowing for an ambient lens of the small town. For tourists and visitors wanting to explore religious contributions, Hindu monasteries and temples, like the Kadavul Hindu Temple, are bound to pique the interest of anyone with an appetite for knowledge about Hinduism and its alluring ceremonies. For anyone seeking to revisit old locales and gain newer understandings, Kap’pa provides just that and makes everything worthwhile for each visit.


Puu Poa Beach in Princeville, Hawaii
Puu Poa Beach in Princeville, Hawaii. Image credit bluestork via Shutterstock.

Princeville, a small town on the northern shore of Kauai, stands out for its elegant sunsets and beach paths. With cliffside views overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the city is easily accessible by walking, biking, or running along corridors by the coast. Namolokama Mountain is a famous site for tourists who want to view nature from a distance, and for some who prefer inclement weather, heavy rainfall also illustrates a better view of the mountain range. With a friendly and attractive residential community, Princeville reels in tourists because of its quintessential atmosphere, and it bears roots in a historical legacy once influenced by the Kamehameha dynasty. For adventurers wanting to see nature more up close, the Princeville Botanical Gardens offers diversity through plants and flowers, all blooming and blossoming during even the rainiest seasons. Lush garden terraces and tropical chocolate treats can also gratify tourists, both young and elderly. Hanalei Valley Lookout is another prime attraction that allows visitors to see hills and plains from the small town. Another inspiring landmark is the Princeville Fountain, created in 1989 by twelve artisans who used 900 tons of marble to achieve artistic success and idyllic beauty. Princeville’s naming history goes back to 1860, coined by residents who honored Hawaiian Crown Prince Albert and his family members. In the late 1890s, however, the plantation evolved into a small town, now serving as a focal point for tourism culture today. Princeville provides plenty of features for every tourist to always remember on their trip back home.


The sky glows just before sunrise in Hau'ula, Oahu, Hawaii
The sky glows just before sunrise in Hau’ula, Oahu, Hawaii.

Hau’ula is known for its natural scenery and lively beaches, but it also has something other towns may not, including its enhanced rural lifestyle. The town takes pleasure in its farming and agricultural livelihood, and visitors to this town will find themselves learning about how red blossoms are the most common natural feature due to the cultivation of farms and flowerbeds for decades, denoting a close reference to the name of the town (“red hau”). With a relaxed pace of life, the town is suited for friendly atmospheres and Polynesian culture. The Polynesian Cultural Center is one of the significant highlights in Hau’ula since it provides arts and crafts, dance, and music accompanied by hiking and the great outdoors. The Hukilau Marketplace is another focus for those who enjoy shopping and tourist products. Brigham Young University-Hawaii and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sponsor many of these vicinities, providing an educational and religious foundation for tourists wanting to learn more about culture. For nature seekers, Hau’ula Beach Park and Punalu’u Beach Park grant a pleasant view of the town, as do the Ma’alua Ridge Trail and the Hau’ula Loop Trail. These recreational sites provide more realism for how the town has transformed since its inception. With colorful waves and beachfront vibes, the town of Hau’ula instills a perfect combination of nature and coziness, leaving tourists expecting more should they ever revisit the town.


Sunrise on Makapu’u beach. Waimānalo, Hawai’i O’ahu
Sunrise on Makapu’u Beach. Waimānalo, Hawai’i O’ahu.

The windward town of Waimānalo, located on O’ahu, is distinct for its rural atmosphere and white, sandy beaches. Snorkeling and other underwater endeavors are often taken in this small town, as tourists might enjoy being one with creatures of the sea. Alongside fascinating waters and animals, hole-in-the-wall eateries and farmers markets are plentiful. Kalanianaole Highway is famous for its inhabitants, as they typically wave to anyone passing by. From a historical perspective, the town was the first area explored by ancient Polynesians in O’ahu and was one of the first towns in Hawaii to include big television productions. It was also known for its former resident, Akebono Taro. Taro was a famous sumo wrestler born and raised in the town; his fame was internationally known for his ability to attain yokozuna, the highest rank in such a competitive sport. Besides the aforementioned, Waimānalo is notable for Bellows Air Force Station and Kaiona Beach Park, offering a view of military architecture coupled with offshore reefs. Saint Catalina Seaside Chapel also encompasses beauty as a picturesque town view. Finally, Shima’s Market provides all the groceries tourists may want to purchase, as it is one of the only tiny shops in the town that delivers on its promise of Hawaiian and Asian-inspired seafood and poke bars. All of these stops make for an unforgettable experience.


Small towns in Hawaii are unparalleled for tourism experiences. Discovering political, cultural, and natural landmarks driven by rich history, tourists will enjoy countless opportunities to see wonders and sights all around when visiting the island state. With this list in hand, every visitor in Hawaii will always feel energized in their itinerary, as small towns provide unfettered access to resplendent landscapes.


By Lala