The coral reef off Moloka'i
The coral reef off Moloka'i; Photo: Ron Dahlquist/Getty Images

Considered by many to be the most “Hawaiian” of the islands, this quietly breathtaking place has deep culture, towering sea cliffs, and beautiful beaches. Here, the local's guide to the island's can't-miss beaches, activities, restaurants, and more.

By Caroline McKenzie

Secret Beach: Pāpōhaku Beach
On the island’s western edge lies three miles of unspoiled pale sand, remote even by Moloka‘i standards. It’s not uncommon to have the shore all to yourself.

Natural Wonder: The Coral Reef
Explore Moloka‘i’s 28 miles of virtually unspoiled coral reef—the largest in Hawai‘i—on a snorkeling expedition with Moloka‘i Fish and Dive—$79 for a three-hour tour.

Elyse Butler/Getty Images

Culture Excursion: Kalaupapa
In the 1870s, a missionary priest established a colony for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) on this cliff-isolated peninsula. Father Damien spent the rest of his life in service to this shunned community (succumbing to the contagious disease himself); the location remains a moving memorial. Kalaupapa is only accessible by boat or plane, or via mule excursion down the cliffs, which includes a guided tour that takes you to the heart of this stark, hauntingly beautiful locale.

Knockout View: Hālawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike
This extraordinary excursion isn’t about one payoff view; it’s about magic in every step of the 11/2-mile hike to Mo‘oula Falls led by the charismatic cultural leader Greg Solatorio (one of the only Moloka‘i natives to be born and raised in the valley).

Shopping Stop: Kalele Bookstore
This quirky shop in the center of Kaunakakai is always well stocked with books, but also a charmingly idiosyncratic collection of clothing, jewelry, and artwork. Stop in for the free cups of coffee, but stay for the idle conversation with the locals. It’s the Moloka‘i way.

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Meal of the Moment: Paddler’s Restaurant
Locals refer to Paddler’s as “Moloka‘i’s restaurant” for good reason—with its metal-roof dining area, ample bar, and live music, it feels like the only one you need. Don’t be fooled by the old-school trappings, though: Chef Kainoa Turner’s scratch kitchen puts out plates featuring local ingredients and a burger so good you may decide to order it two nights in a row; paddlersrestaurant.com.

Old-School Favorite: Kanemitsu Bakery
For 90 years, the Kanemitsu family has been serving up buttery creations at their eponymous bakery in Kaunakakai. And while that’s already a good thing, insiders know that the real magic happens Tuesday through Sunday nights at 7:30, when Kanemitsu sells “hot bread”—oversize rolls stuffed with jelly, cream cheese, cinnamon, and sugar—from a stand down an alley behind the bakery. Better than a speakeasy—way better.

Don't Leave Before You: Make Your Own Lei
Thirty years ago, Richard and Aome Wheeler planted 10 acres of plumeria, the fragrant bloom popularly used in lei. Today you can tour their Moloka‘i Plumeria Farm. Pick flowers as you wander the grounds and staff will help you make your own lei before
you leave. Tours are weekdays at 10:30 a.m. and must be booked in advance—$25 per person for tour and lei workshop.

Rest Your Head At: Hotel Moloka‘i
The only hotel on the island, this dreamy property has deep charms: an intact aesthetic of mid-1960s Polynesian A-frame architecture, a beachfront location with sunrise and sunset views, a poolside bar, and proximity to town.

Insider Take: 3 Ways to Live Like a Local on Moloka‘i
1. Sit and chat. Talk with the locals to get wind of little-known spots and learn the rhythms of our laid-back ways. There’s also a very good chance someone will invite you over for dinner.
2. Embrace kuleana, our responsibility to be stewards of the island. It takes shape by treading gently on our shores and respectfully giving a wide berth to conservation areas.
3. Take it even slower on Sundays. Sunday is all about ‘ohana [family]. Most of our shops close, and we spend the day catching and grilling fish, relaxing, and visiting with friends.
—Wailani Tanaka, apparel line founder/owner of Something for Everybody Boutique