There’s something special and different about every town in Hawaiʻi, from the energetic streets of Honolulu to the more laid-back country roads of Hanalei. And as much as we’d like to visit every one of them and experience their unique attractions, there are just too many towns and too little time. So, to make things easier, our readers have voted for their favorites, giving us an ordered list of the Islands’ best towns in 2020.
1. Hanalei, Kauaʻi
The jewel of Kauaʻi’s north shore, Hanalei’s sand-dusted streets, salty ocean air and charming small businesses make it one of the Islands’ most popular towns. The community has made a full recovery from the torrential rainfall and flooding it experienced in April 2018, and the many tightly packed stores and businesses in the Ching Young Village shopping center are once again welcoming visitors. And dreamy Hanalei Bay, which serves as the attention-stealing centerpiece of the small community, is as inviting as ever.
2. Lahaina, Maui
Quite possibly the most popping borough on Maui, Lahaina’s got an entire city’s worth of shops, restaurants, bars and galleries all on its bustling Front Street thoroughfare. While the assumption is that you’ll have to shell out a fair share of cash to enjoy your time in Lahaina, there’s plenty to do and see for free. You can visit the largest banyan tree in the nation at Banyan Court Park or check out the Old Lahaina Prison, where rowdy sailors and whalers got locked up during the 1850s.
3. Poʻipū, Kauaʻi
Compared to Hanalei, Poʻipū couldn’t be more different. There are resorts—big ones—and shopping centers filled with high-end shops like Tommy Bahama and Sunglass Hut. However, one thing it does have in common with Hanalei: dreamy beaches. Poʻipū Beach is one of the best places on the island if you want to catch the sunset, and Shipwreck Beach, on the eastern edge of Poʻipū, is a great place to escape to.
4. Kapaʻa, Kauaʻi
The third (wow!) Kauaʻi town on the list, Kapaʻa has successfully shifted from being an unassuming plantation town to an eclectic borough with colorful storefronts, visitor-friendly activities and really, really good food. Case in point: The Local Kauaʻi serves colorful cocktails and tapas made with ingredients sourced almost exclusively from the Islands, and it might change your definition of what “bar food” should taste like. Visiting Wailua River, Kauaʻi’s only navigable river (by anything larger than a kayak) is also a must-see when in Kapaʻa—and it’s up to you whether you traverse it via kayak, stand-up paddleboard, riverboat or even water skis.
5. Honolulu, Oʻahu
Hawaiʻi’s capital city, Honolulu, often referred to as “town” by island residents, is as urban as it gets in the Aloha State. There are Hawaiian skyscrapers—buildings that are tall but not that tall—in Honolulu’s artsy downtown district (pictured), cat cafés along Kapahulu and sugarcane juice bars next to Ala Moana Center. But best of all, the city is surrounded by nature’s finest. If you want to hike into a tropical rainforest to find a 150-foot waterfall, Mānoa Falls Trail is just minutes away. Looking makai (toward the ocean) you can find Ala Moana Beach Park and Diamond Head Beach Park, both of which can provide enough sand and sea to make you forget you’re in the middle of “town.”