What do you want on a Hawaiian holiday? Lots of people set off daily to do the things tourists do.
Crowded beaches with a vacation atmosphere, and busy destinations that let you know you’re in one of the world’s most idyllic places on earth, it's all here for the taking.
But what happens if you want to see the other side? One that isn’t as crowded or as well known. The roads least taken if you like.
Is it even possible? Because the Hawaiian Islands are such a well-known place in the world, it’s a fair question.
Many of us want everything that makes an island vacation a big deal and, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime trip. There are some, however, who want a more low-key experience. Small towns with a more local feel bring something different to their dream vacation.
Check out some underrated Hawaiian towns that you will hold close long after you return home.
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Updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides
If you're visiting Hawaii soon, be sure to download a copy of one of our updated 2023 Hawaii Visitor Guides. We've updated the packets with a lot of new great information for potential visitors (and for those who've been a time or two as well).
This beautiful town has come to be known as Kauai’s biggest small town. Located on the southern side of the island, its history tells of landslides in the area hence its name is translated from “crushed bay.”
Peaceful and scenic, Hanapepe is home to artists and subsequent galleries showing one-off pieces of true artisanal beauty. The beach is as stunning, if not more so, as any others on the islands, but somehow has something mystical about it.
Stop in for lunch or stay for dinner at the restaurants owned and run by locals for that traditional, true taste of Hawaii.
One to visit if your itinerary includes traveling around Kauai.
Where: The Island of Kauai
Population: 2770 approx.
Things to Do: Hanapepe Bay, Visit art galleries, Glass Beach
Located in upcountry Kona, this town shows off just what a town in Hawaii away from it can bring to a person’s inner peace.
Tranquil and a restful and rejuvenating place to stop, this town offers a coolness due to its elevation. Great for those wanting to escape the full extent of the sun during warmer months.
While sleepy and inviting, the town has its livelier side, with Friday night bringing a little more of an urban feel. Live music events and food trucks greet locals and visitors waiting for a good night out.
Small galleries and artists who create stunning artworks inhabit Holualoa, thus evoking a village-style atmosphere.
Photographers don’t miss out on this town. The ocean views are spectacular and well worth the visit alone.
Where: The Big Island
Population: 8600 Approx.
Things to Do: Coffee Farms, Ocean views, visit local craftspeople
3. Old Koloa Town
The gorgeous Southeast side of Kauai is old Koloa Town. With a history in plantations, this town grew from nothing to a formidable industry through sugar. It set the benchmark for commercial crop and commodity production for the rest of the islands.
In summer, the big event here is the Koloa Plantation Days Celebration. If you happen to be here in July, it’s a must-do.
The local history center will tell you all you need to know about the town's past, people, and significance today.
Even the ice cream store here has a history to it.
Where: The Island of Kauai
Population: 2230 Approx.
Things to Do: Explore the Koloa Heritage Trail, Shop locally at the historic gift shops
With friendly people, an arts culture, and a penchant for cowboy themes, this town is something quite unique and special. Brimming with the character of towns from a gone-by era, it's no wonder visitors take an immediate liking to this part of the world.
Like many smaller towns found in the Hawaiian Islands, this town boasts a large art and creative community and has been named among the top 25 creative and art destinations in the United States.
Quite a feat and something that helps with pride here, with artists offering creative workshops to enhance and build skills.
Where: The Island of Maui
Population: 8010 Approx.
Things to Do: Come here on the 4th of July. Buy some local art and try the bakery
5. The Town of Volcano
Also known as Volcano Village, the name certainly lives up to its location. Snuggled next to the Hawaii National Park, this is the place if you like adventure and is truly a village setting, forest-like in appearance. This town offers an indescribable tranquillity but with an edge of seemingly volcanic power.
This is the home to the varied resident. Artists, scientists, and all those who love the rainforest setting all come here to live their days under the majesty of the volcano’s watch.
Tucked away, yes, boring, never.
Feel the power. Visit Volcano on your next trip to The Island of Hawaii.
Where: The Island of Hawaii
Population: 800 people Approx.
Things to Do: Visit the Volcano Arts Center, Feel the peacefulness and chill
This town, located on the Island of Molokai, has fewer visitors than most other islands. Don’t quote us on that, as Hawaiian towns tend to become more popular the more they are mentioned.
This has the most local feeling than most and, as such, has been described as the winner among the most less likely to be overrun with tourists and the most desirable place to visit when you need to get away from it all and experience Hawaii at its realistic finest.
You won’t find any chain store or big retail fanfare here. This is true local shopping, with long-time residents providing everything they need regarding food and necessities.
A walk down the main street of Ala Malama, you will find places to eat and the majority of stores suited to everyday living.
Boats deliver food and other essentials like they did back when King Kamehameha V visited here.
Where: Island of Molokai
Population: 3080 Approx.
Things to Do: Molokai Public Library, the Port of Kaunakakai Wharf
So, there you have it. A selection of towns to visit, all with something to remember them by. For many residents, these towns are their homes, where they raise their families, and where they have come to learn and understand the history and significance of their little patch on this Earth.
For visitors, it is an honor to share in their spirit, take time out from the more established Hawaiian destinations, and experience life outside the hustle and bustle.