Planning your next adventure to Hawaii? Ditch the crowds and see the real Hawaii by experiencing all the best things to do in Molokai. As the second-smallest inhabited Hawaiian island, Molokai has been affected little by the state’s rise to a tourist mecca.
The ruggedly beautiful island of Molokai is less than 40 miles long and has some of the most spectacular scenery in Hawaii. Forget mega-resorts and sprawling malls. Life here is quiet, yet full of adventure. Among the top tourist attractions in Molokai, you’ll experience authentic culture before hiking to the top of the world’s tallest sea cliffs or through the mesmerizing Halawa Valley.
Not sure what to do in Molokai? Plan your best trip yet with our guide to the best places to visit in Molokai.
Best places to visit in Molokai, HI
Whether you’re visiting Molokai for a week or on a day trip from Maui, trekking through the Halawa Valley is a must. The valley is believed to have been the oldest township in Hawaii, settled in 650 AD. Much of the community was sadly destroyed because of a tsunami in 1946, with nature reclaiming the land.
What’s left to be discovered in the Halawa Valley is a thick sprawling jungle where waterfalls pop out from around the bend, tumbling hundreds of feet into the abyss. They’re the life source that fuels the array of tropical plants and drives old driftwood down to the shores below.
One of the best hikes on Molokai, The Halawa Valley Cultural Hike isn’t a walk in the park and must be done with a guide. But the valley showcases a wilder side of Hawaii that looks like it’s never been touched.
Papohaku Beach Park
Travelers are often motivated to visit Molokai to get away from the crowds. If that sounds like you, then Papohaku Beach Park is one of the best places to go in Molokai. The spacious Papohaku Beach stretches for over three miles and is one of the longest beaches in the Hawaiian chain.
The white sand beach presents an envious amount of space to relax with friends and family or just kick back by yourself and watch the world go by. The beach has full amenities, from picnic tables and BBQs to restrooms and showers.
Stick around for a beautiful west-facing sunset before the lights of Honolulu on the island of Oahu begin to glisten across the strait. If the sight is too captivating, Papohaku Beach Park has two campsites to stay overnight.
Kalaupapa National Historical Park
Both breathtaking and confronting, Kalaupapa National Historic Park is up there with the top places to visit in Molokai. The park may be home to some of the tallest sea cliffs on the planet, but your first discovery of the Kalaupapa Peninsula will be its quarantine past. Here, patients with leprosy were looked after for more than a hundred years.
Quarantine may have ended in 1969, but the once hearty community has diminished to only 11 residents. Discover ancient churches, old homes and learn the story of this historic site. From there, prepare for a similarly jaw-dropping Pali Trail, a hike that’ll take you 1,700 feet down to the valley over 2.9 miles.
From the base, you’ll feel dwarfed by the towering cliffs, measuring up to 3,900 feet tall.
Molokai is teeming with “off the beaten path” adventures and underrated locations waiting for their day in the sun. But if the trek down the Pali Trail is a bridge too far, settle for majestic views of the sea cliffs from above at the Kalaupapa Overlook. Although it’s hard to beat the sensation of being below the giants, the stunning views from the summit are unforgettable.
The Kalaupapa Lookout is within Pala’au State Park at the end of Kalae Highway. From the car park, you’ll have just a brief walk to the spellbinding viewpoint. From here, the cliffs spread out along the rugged coast, like something out of a fairy tale.
After dragging yourself away from the views, take a detour to the famous Phallic Rock.
Halawa Beach Park
As you venture through the impeccable Halawa Valley, convince your weary legs to continue until you reach the sandy shores of Halawa Beach Park. Located on the island’s east coast, Halawa Bay Beach is split by a surging river, creating two equally beguiling spots to veg out and bask in the quintessential Hawaiian scenery.
Backed by sand dunes that lead to soaring cliffs, Halawa Bay Beach Park feels secluded and rightfully so. It makes an already relaxing island feel ever more tranquil.
Halawa Bay Beach sits within its namesake bay, providing pleasant swimming in times of low surf. From the edges of the beach, anglers can also cast a reel to land some fresh catches of the day.
Just a slight cut of golden sand, Sandy Beach is a “blink and you’ll miss it” location. It’s the last beach before Highway 450 turns inland and heads to the Halawa Valley and is all but 250 feet long. The jade green water comes high up the beach, giving little room to spread out.
Both these aspects help make Sandy Beach one of the best beaches in Molokai. Simply park the car off the road and take five steps down to her soft sands. Soon, you’ll have your own private slice of paradise.
Sandy Beach is protected by an offshore coral reef. It helps to create calm and clear swimming, two things that aren’t common on the south and east coasts of Molokai.
Another way to experience the prehistoric landscapes in Molokai is to make your way to the Kamakou Preserve. Unlike the hike through the Halawa Valley, the preserve’s major trail saunters for three miles across a resplendent boardwalk.
Kamakou Preserve is spread out across Mount Kamakou, the tallest peak on the island. The now-extinct volcano is just shy of 5,000 feet tall and is now shrouded in moss-covered rainforests.
Mount Kamakou makes for a spectacular sight as you wander along the boardwalk with the music of mother nature providing a beautiful tune. As native birds flutter about the canopy, you’ll soon reach the end of the path.
As you pick your jaw up off the floor, you’ll look over the Pelekunu Valley, with her dramatic sea cliffs soaring out of the Pacific Ocean.
Maunaloa Molokai Ranch
Travelers wondering where to go in Molokai for a different kind of adventure can make their way to the island’s ghost town: Maunaloa Molokai Ranch. The ranch once employed over 115 staff and over 33% of the island. The site had everything, from a hotel, shops, and multiple restaurants to a golf course and cinema. Maunaloa was a hub of activity in Molokai’s upcountry.
Eventually, the greedy bug bit the powers that be at the Maunaloa Molokai Ranch and they pursued further expansion. They wanted to open another property on the coast but were met with stinging protests.
As a result, all operations ended in 2008, leaving behind dozens of buildings, now abandoned and frozen in time. Some people remain in town and there’s a single general store left, surrounded by reminders of the old ranch.
Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm
I know we’ve come to Molokai to escape the crowds, but it’s okay to indulge in a little bit of tourism from time to time. This holds especially true at a place as homely as Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm. One of the top Molokai tourist attractions, the farm has welcomed guests since 1980.
Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm has become an island institution, with the always entertaining Tuddie and Kammy Purdy providing a wonderful experience.
The all-natural, five-acre farm has 50 macadamia trees, with the nuts harvested once they’ve fallen. They’re then roasted on-site just for you. Sign up for a free guided tour, or simply sample the nuts while enjoying the beautiful farm.
Pohaku Mauliuli Beach
Pohaku Mauliuli Beach is home to some of the softest white sand on the island. Located on Molokai’s west coast, the beach comprises two small golden sand coves and some delightful tide pools. The coves are perfect for sunbathing. One is even a renowned nude beach due to its natural privacy.
After a splendid time bathing in the sun, cool off with a dip in the water. Beachgoers should stick to the shallows. The waters at Pohaku Mauliuli Beach can have strong currents, especially at times of high swell.
There are two ways to reach Pohaku Mauliuli Beach: via a bumpy 4WD road trip or with a ten-minute walk along the coast from Kepuhi Beach.
Palaau State Park
On the edge of the Kalaupapa Peninsula, Palaau State Park is a memorable way to explore Molokai’s North Shore. There’s much more to the 233-acre park than its famed overlook. Visitors will find a range of nature trails guiding them through ironwood and koa forests along with the chance to ride a mule.
One of the highlights of Palaau State Park is the legendary Phallic Rock. Known as Kauleonanahoa, the rock would see women walk to it to give offerings before spending the night there. By doing so, as legend would have it, they would return home pregnant.
For visitors, Palaau State Park has restrooms and picnic facilities. The on-site campground is also a great way to experience this remote part of the island of Molokai at night.
Post-a-Nut Hoolehua Post Office
From macadamia nuts to coconuts, there’s no shortage of nuttiness in Molokai. One of the most unique experiences on Molokai is to send a coconut from the Post-a-Nut Hoolehua Post Office to anywhere in the world. The quirky program began in 1991. The post office estimates that over 3,000 coconuts are sent every year!
You can get in on the action by picking up any of the coconuts around the Ho’olehua Post Office. You can get as creative as you like, decorating the dry drupe before handing it over to the attendant.
For $12 to $20, you can send it anywhere you like. Prepare to confuse your friends and family back home with this unique souvenir!
Just 10 minutes from Molokai Airport, the 250-acre Kumu Farms is a fresh fruit paradise. Whether you’re heading to your Molokai vacation rental for a week or seeking a tasty day trip, you must discover what the farm has to offer. (But keep in mind, once you try their papaya, you’ll want to buy the entire tree!)
Kumu Farms opened in 1980 as a humble family establishment. Since then, their GMO-free range of fruits and vegetables has made it a local institution.
Today, you’ll have your choice of fresh, seasonal produce, from majestic papayas and bananas to basil and eggplants. If you can’t get enough, you can even get some sent to mainland USA.
The crown jewel of Halawa Valley, the promise of Moaula Falls will keep your legs moving. It’s one of two epic waterfalls in the region and the most accessible.
The trek to Moaula Falls will take between 2.5 and 3 hours round trip. Since the hike passes through private property, you’ll need a guide. This only serves to elevate the experience and lets you learn about the intricate history of the valley.
Make your way through the dense rainforests, keeping your eye out for spider webs along the way, as the thundering roar of the falls grows louder. Soon, the forests will disperse as the 250-foot Moaula Falls tumble down into a large and refreshing swimming hole.
The west end of Molokai is a great base for your travels on the island. One of the best local beaches in the area is Kepuhi Beach. The white sand beach is dotted with the odd swaying palm tree, with the southern end once home to a Hawaiian temple.
Kepuhi Beach remains tranquil throughout the year, with few crowds gathering on any given day. Like many beaches on Molokai, there are strong currents here. Swimming is recommended only on calm days.
When the swell picks up, it’s an epic sight. Watch the waves tumble down on the craggy rocks found on the edge of the beach. As the sun falls, get comfortable as you prepare for a wonderful golden hour.
The other major waterfall in Halawa Valley, Hipuapua Falls is one of the best things to see in Molokai. You can hike to the incredible 500-foot waterfalls, but not before a strenuous trek through the most rugged part of the valley.
For this reason, fewer travelers make their way to Hipuapua Falls. The trail is often closed in the wet season due to the potential for flooding and landslides. If you’ve arrived in the drier months, you can embark alongside a guide for the intense 4.5-mile trip, involving several river crossings and boulder crossings.
Both major falls can be seen from multiple viewpoints along Highway 450. But you can’t beat seeing them from above on a helicopter tour.
Molokai Museum & Cultural Center
On your way to the Kalaupapa Peninsula, pay a visit to the Molokai Museum & Cultural Center. The museum focuses on island history from the last 150 years. It showcases life on Molokai from the last decades of the monarchy to the present day.
Molokai Museum & Cultural Center offers a fascinating look into how much the island has changed. Although Molokai is known as the “most real” Hawaiian island, the passage of time has still left an indelible mark. Visitors can learn about the quarantine colony, browse age-old newspapers, and hear personal stories from locals.
Afterward, tour the historic sugar mill that’s been meticulously restored and discover Molokai’s agricultural past.