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A quick glance at the top ten attractions in Hawaii proves it: Increasingly, visitors are heading to the islands for more than just sun and sand.
While beaches certainly remain a highlight of a 50th state sojourn, travelers are demonstrating a growing interest in Hawaii’s past, its unique traditions and its distinctive natural environment.
Here’s a rundown of the ten most-visited sights in the state, according to data from the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism:
World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Pearl Harbor)As the most popular lure in Hawaii, this Oahu complex includes the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and several other military history attractions. It is a small wonder that it draws over one million people annually. It pays compelling tribute to the role that Hawaii played in the Pacific War, including the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the men who died defending it. www.nps.gov/valr
Dole PlantationPineapples are no longer a major commercial crop in Hawaii, but the golden spiky fruit is still indelibly linked to the islands. Perhaps that explains the second-place ranking for Dole Plantation, a central Oahu showcase of all things pineapple. Clients can get lost and found in the world’s largest maze, take a 20-minute train tour through agricultural history and slurp a popular iced confection called the Dole Whip. www.doleplantation.com
Hawaii Volcanoes National ParkSteaming vents, bubbling lava and dripping caves await visitors at this magical Hawaii Island park, home to the world’s longest continuously erupting volcano. The Jaggar Museum shares fascinating geology exhibits, while nighttime tourists are mesmerized by glowing lava in the adjacent Halemaumau Crater. Hikes crisscross centuries-old lava fields, and rare birds and plants delight the senses at Hawaii’s third most-visited sight. www.nps.gov/havo
Haleakala National ParkWith a name that means House of the Sun, Haleakala sets a shining example of Hawaii’s natural riches. It’s so magnificent that people actually wake up in the wee hours of the morning to drive to its 10,024-foot summit for sunrise. Thirty-seven miles of hiking trails wind through its vast crater, and visitors can spot such endangered species as the silversword plant, found nowhere else in the world. www.nps.gov/hale
Hanauma Bay Nature PreservePufferfish, butterflyfish, turtles and the inimitable humuhumunukunukuapuaa (triggerfish) peacefully cohabit these pristine waters, closely protected by the city and county of Honolulu. Swimmers start seeing fish from the moment they step into the ocean, which is calm and clear for snorkeling and diving. Visitors can learn more about the bounties of the bay at the attraction’s Marine Education Center. www1.honolulu.gov/parks/facility/hanaumabay
Diamond Head State MonumentA Hawaii icon, this dormant volcano invites visitors to explore its crater as they hike the one-mile trail to the 762-foot summit. Along the way they pass abandoned 1911 army bunkers, walk through a lighted tunnel and climb steep staircases. The effort is worth it, for the lookout at the top provides a dramatic panorama of southern Oahu including dazzling views of Waikiki and the Pacific Ocean. www.hawaiistateparks.org
Polynesian Cultural CenterThis longstanding Oahu attraction has staying power. Celebrating its 50th anniversary throughout 2013, it’s still one of the top draws for visitors who want to learn about the history and culture of the Pacific islands through traditional songs, dances, food, shows and hands-on activities. Recent upgrades and additions have made this 42-acre park well worth the drive from Waikiki to the north shore. www.polynesia.com
Honolulu ZooFrom an African savanna to a tropical forest and Pacific Islands habitat, this 42-acre Waikiki gem showcases a lively congregation of birds and beasts while creating a distinctive sense of place. Clients can find out about elephants, monkeys and many more critters during zookeeper talks and demonstrations. Special programs like Snooze in the Zoo and stargazing add to this attraction’s allure. www.honoluluzoo.org
Battleship Missouri MemorialLaunched in 1944, this 58,000-ton marvel — measuring the length of three football fields — was the last battleship built by the U.S. and the site of the Japanese surrender that ended World War II. Today, as a museum ship at Pearl Harbor, the “Mighty Mo” presents tours that give clients a firsthand feeling for what it was like to live and work on one of the greatest battleships of all time. www.ussmissouri.org
Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical ParkIn ancient times, people who broke the law could find refuge here. Today, this 420-acre Hawaii Island attraction features archaeological remains of heiau (Hawaiian temples), house sites, a visitor center and a pretty palm-fringed cove where sea turtles sometimes swim. Located on the Kohala Coast, it also presents Hawaiian cultural demonstrations of weaving, carving and other time-honored pastimes. www.nps.gov/puho