Sunset is one of the most popular times in Hawaiʻi, but sunrise might be the most sacred. It’s a time of extreme calm and beauty in the islands, when most people are still asleep. If you’re looking to have a Hawaiian beach all to yourself, sunrise is a great opportunity to do so and connect with the mana, or energy, of nature.
Table of contents
Table of Contents
- Sunrise viewing tips for Hawaiʻi
- Sunrise Spots on the Big Island
- Sunrise Spots on O’ahu
- Sunrise Spots on Kaua’i
- Sunrise Spots on Maui
Below, we dish on our favorite spots to catch the sunrise in Hawaiʻi, including hikes, beaches, and unique spots for each island. But first, some tips to make your sunrise-viewing a bit more easy:
8 Tips for Seeing the Sunrise in Hawaiʻi
Checking out the sunrise? Here are some tips to make it a better experience:
1: Make your jet-lag work for you!
If you come from the east (US mainland, Europe) this is a golden tip. You will most likely have a jet-lag which will make waking up early very easy for you – especially during the first few days of your trip.
Early mornings are my favorite time of day, and if you decide to go out you will get a rare peak of Hawaiʻi without (many) people. Get yourself a warm drink and see nature wake up slowly. The sunrise is a great bonus!
2: You can still enjoy a sunrise without directly seeing the sun
Obviously, most beaches and mountain trails that face east will do the trick; however, a clear view to the east isn’t necessary to enjoy the sunrise.
If you’re staying on the west side of an island, don’t worry! You could drive over to the windwardside, but it’s not necessary. Walking a west-facing beach during the sunrise is still a great experience, with many colors in the sky and those same peaceful, calm feelings.
3: Understand it will be “light out” before the sunrise.
Whatever time your weather report tells you the sun will rise, know that it will begin to get light enough to go about your day without artificial light about 20 to 30 minutes before that time. As the sun rises closer to the horizon, soft colors will appear in the sky, a mix of blue, pink, purple, red, and orange. We recommend getting to your viewing area at the beginning of this stage, as the colors can be very beautiful and the vibe peaceful.
4: Bring a headlamp when hiking.
If you’re setting out on a hike and plan to watch the sunrise from the trail, bring a headlamp or flashlight to help you navigate.
5: Bring a coffee or hot drink for the beach.
If you’re watching the sunrise from the beach, bring a hot drink! It can be super relaxing in the morning, walking the beach with a coffee in hand as the world begins to wake up.
6: Plan for breakfast afterwards – and perhaps an afternoon nap.
Getting up early is tough for some people, but most find the experience rewarding when they finish watching the sunrise and realize it’s still very early and they have the whole day ahead of them. Below, we recommend a few breakfast spots to enjoy afterwards. Go easy when planning your afternoon; you may want to pencil in a nap on a beach towel.
7: Go big and experience sunrise and sunset in the same day.
Why not? It’s something you most likely don’t get to do often in your daily life, and you can’t ask for a more beautiful place to begin and end a day. For sunset recommendations, check out our guide to the Best Places for Sunset in Hawaiʻi.
8: Timing is everything
Sunrise in Hawaiʻi (Honolulu) varies between 05:48 (early June) and 07:11 (early January). You can look up the exact time of the sunrise on for example the Time and Date website.
Sunrise spots on the Big Island
The Big Island has a wide-variety of unique sunrise opportunities. Because the sun rises in the east, all of these spots are facing the windward (eastern) direction.
Hike (well, a small walk): The Rainbow Falls
This is more of a walk than a hike, but it’s one of the most convenient and potentially beautiful sunrise experiences on the windwardside. Rainbow Falls is just minutes from downtown Hilo and gets its name from the rainbows that appear in and around the falls when the rising sun hits it in the morning. There’s a short staircase that brings you to the top of the falls, but the best viewing area for the rainbows will be from the area in front of the falls, where you are positioned between the falls and the sun.
Good to know: After visiting Rainbow Falls, check out another nearby trail, the Waiʻale Trail, to explore another waterfall.
Sunrise hike #2: Pololu Valley
Another great option is to see the sunrise from the overlook at Pololū Valley. You can watch from the overlook, or hike down (with a headlamp) to the beach and watch the sky light up.
Good to know: If you happen to be visiting our island during whale season (December – April) this is an especially good morning outing, as you can often see whales in the ocean from the trail.
Related: Seeing the sunrise from the Pololu Valley overlook made it to out list of 15 bite-sized things to add to your Big Island itinerary.
Beach: Richardsons Beach
You can see the sunrise from many places in Hilo, including the beach parks around Hilo Bay (Coconut Island is a great one), but if you want a true beach, head to Richardsons, a small black sand beach with pockets of green sand. Poke around the rocky coastline, or pull up a chair and enjoy a coffee as you watch the sun come up and the light reflect off Mauna Kea across the bay. Keep an eye out for sea turtles.
Good to know: Richardsons is a lifeguarded beach with much to enjoy, so plan on spending a couple hours after sunrise. Bring a snorkel set and enjoy an early-morning swim.
Uniquely Big Island: Steam Vents at Kīlauea
Want an absolutely epic sunrise experience? Head to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park before dawn and set up shop near the Steam Vents overlooking Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.
If you get there when it’s still dark, you’ll possibly catch the “glow” of the lava, then watch as the colors in the sky change and the sun rises over the volcanic crater. Keep an eye behind you as well to see Mauna Loa, the island’s largest volcano, get lit up by the morning light.
Good to know: The National Park will be quite empty at this time of day, which is a reason to go on its own. Since you’re already in the Park, make plans to spend the rest of the morning there, exploring and hiking. Bring some food and drink for breakfast, as options are limited within the National Park.
Breakfast: Ken’s House of Pancakes
Ken’s House of Pancakes, an institution and one of our favorite restaurants in Hilo, is known for its large portions and local flair. It has been regarded as the best breakfast place in Hilo since the late 90s, and we recommend it as a great option after a sunrise experience.
Good to know: You’ve been warned – the portions are big. Your afternoon nap may come sooner or later after the combination of an early wake up and Ken’s breakfast. But, it is a local institution, so go with confidence.
Sunrise Spots on Oʻahu
The windwardside of Oʻahu offers a few of our favorite sunrise spots in the entire state:
Hike: Lanikai Pillbox
Accessible by a short hike from the Lanikai neighborhood on Oʻahu’s windwardside, the ridgeline is home to two pillboxes, or bunkers, that once served as lookouts during the world wars. From there you are treated to an amazing panoramic view of the ocean and the offshore islands, with the sun rising right there in front of you. Start your hike in the dark (wear a headlamp!) and plan for about 20-30 minutes to get to the top. Once there, settled in for one of the best sunrise experiences of your life.
Good to know: The Lanikai Pillbox might be the most popular sunrise place in all of Hawaiʻi, so don’t expect complete solitude, as on any given day there can be about 50 people up there. That said, there’s plenty of room to spread out. Avoid the pillbox itself and instead grab your own slice of paradise somewhere else on the ridge. Just be mindful of where you stand and sit, as the cliffs are steep in many areas. Be mindful when parking in the Lanikai neighborhood and pay attention to all parking signs and restrictions.
ps: if you feel like a dip after your hike up to the pillboxes you can go straight to Lanikai Beach.
Beach: Kailua Beach
If you’re not looking to hike, simply head to Kailua Beach for a walk. The long, white-sand beach is perfect for a morning stroll, the surf usually calm and the sun rising just offshore. Wear your bathing suit for a morning dip!
Good to know: If you’re trying to get a direct view of the sun coming up, walk north on Kailua beach to increase your vantage point to the southeast.
Related: Seeing the sunrise from Kailua beach made it to our list of 14 favorite small (less than 1 hour) things to do on Oʻahu.
Uniquely Oʻahu: Diamond Head
Hiking Diamond Head is on the list of many tourists who visit Oʻahu, but most of them don’t tackle it at sunrise. Depending on the time of year, you may be able to see the sun actually come up to the southeast; but even if not, there’s still much to see – the top of Diamond Head provides panoramic views of the ocean, and watching the city of Honolulu sparkle in the morning light is a beautiful thing to see.
Good to know: Diamond Head opens at 6 a.m. in the morning. We recommend you arrive before then, so you can start the hike right when it opens. You will need to pay a entrance and parking fee. After the hike, head down to Waikīkī Beach for a morning swim.
Breakfast: Kalapawai Market
Post sunrise, head into Kailua and grab breakfast at the Kalapawai Market. There is a location in Kailua town itself, which has a more traditional restaurant feel with tables and seating, and another location at Kailua Beach Park, which has some seating but is more of a grab-and-go market. Either way, enjoy the local coffee and breakfast specialties.
Good to know: We like the idea of hitting the Kalapawai Market at Kailua Beach Park, then enjoying the coffee and breakfast sandwich on Kailua Beach.
Sunrise spots on Kauaʻi
Hanging out on Kauaʻi? Here are a couple ideas for enjoying the sunrise:
Hike: Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail
This southeast-facing coastal trail is a perfect place to watch the sunrise, nice and flat but winding along the undeveloped coast just outside of Poʻipū. It will allow you to find a peaceful place to sit for the sunrise, and a chance to explore around afterwards. You can choose your own adventure, hiking as far as you’d like before turning back.
Good to know: The Mahaʻulepu Heritage Trail is one of our favorite trails in southern Kauaʻi. For more ideas, see our 15 favorite hikes on Kauaʻi.
Beach: Lydgate Beach Park
Located on Kauaʻi’s east coast, Lydgate Beach Park is a great option for anyone staying in Kapaʻa or Līhuʻe. It faces east and has white sand for walking, as well as a grassy area and playground for the kids.
Good to know: Bring your beach gear and plan to spend the morning! Lydgate is also a wonderful place for beginner snorkelers. (related: 11 great snorkeling spots on Kauaʻi).
Uniquely Kauaʻi: Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon will take some effort to reach, but those who make the journey will be rewarded with a spectacular sunrise as the morning light illuminates the canyon walls and the shadows create incredible photo opportunities.
Good to know: To make the journey easier, consider renting a cabin (the Cabins at Kōkeʻe or Kōkeʻe Lodge) or tent camping in Kōkeʻe State Park. From there, you’ll have any easy trip to the canyon rim for sunrise viewing.
Breakfast: Kountry Kitchen
This Kapaʻa institution has been serving brunch since 1975, so if you believe in the test of time, the Kountry Kitchen has passed with flying colors. Fresh local juices, kalua pig omelettes, and macadamia nut French toast are just the starting points here, with loco mocos, breakfast sandwiches, and fresh baked goods rounding out the menu.
Good to know: After breakfast, work off your belly by biking or walking the Kapaʻa Bike Path, which travels along the coast for about ten miles.
Sunrise spots on Maui
Maui offers some of the most colorful sunrises in Hawaiʻi. Here’s where to catch it:
Hike: Waiheʻe Ridge Trail
The Waiheʻe Ridge Trail offers panoramic views of the ocean and Maui’s rural northeast coast, and makes for a great sunrise hike. The trail goes through pastures and forests and even offers a view of Makamakaole Falls.
Good to know: The hike is not that long – just 2.5 miles one way – but it is steep with 1,500 of elevation gain. Unless you are really hardcore and start very early, you probably won’t make it to the top for sunrise. However, there are plenty of places along the trail to look back over the ocean. Find a nice place to sit along the way to watch the sun come up, then continue climbing and finish the hike.
Beach: Baldwin Beach
Baldwin Beach on Maui doesn’t have a view directly east, but it’s a wonderful place to start the day. The soft white sand feels good for an early morning walk, and watching the sunlight illuminate the peaks of the West Maui Mountains is a thing to see. Calm and quiet, it’s a safe bet for serenity.
Good to know: If you’re tackling the Road to Hāna, watching the sunrise at Baldwin will give you a head start on the crowds. Enjoy the morning beach walk, pop in to Pāʻia for breakfast (see below), then cruise east toward Hāna.
Uniquely Maui: Haleakalā
If you want the high effort/high reward option, plan on watching the sunrise at the summit of Haleakalā, about 10,000 feet above sea level. Here, you are above the clouds, and it brings a whole new meaning to watching the world wake up. After, you can hike the trails of the summit crater.
The catch? Seeing the sunrise from the Haleakalā summit requires an early wakeup – from most hubs on Maui, it will take 1.5 hours to reach the summit by car.
Good to know: Watching the sunrise at Haleakalā has become so popular that it now requires you to get a reservation in advance. This is a good thing in some ways, as it limits the amount of people and prevents overcrowding. Be sure to reserve your spot in advance, as they tend to fill up, and bring food and drink, as there are no services at the summit.
Alternatively, you can hop on a tour that takes you up for the sunrise, as many companies offer this experience.
Breakfast: Better Things Café
Looking for a healthy brekkie? Try the Better Things Café in Pāʻia, serving an assortment of local fruit, pastries, breads, and waffles, including acai bowls (from the former Pāʻia Bowls) and, of course, coffee.
Good to know: From here, you can continue to explore Pāʻia, hit the Road to Hāna, or checkout other nearby beaches, like Hoʻokipa.