From the crystal clear waters and white sand beaches, to lush rainforests and the tallest sea cliffs in the world, the Hawaiian Islands are some of the most extraordinary places to visit. For first timers, the state of Hawaii is all about discovering culture, history, cuisine, natural wonders and adventure at once.
1. Learn about Hawaiian culture
During a visit to the Hawaiian Islands, travellers will be introduced to a rich history comprised of the stories, traditions, cuisine and events of multiple cultures that have merged over time and are celebrated today. Still evolving in present day, each visit to the Hawaiian Islands will show there is more to learn about the islands and their way of life. Visitors should grasp opportunities to learn and understand the culture and will find opportunities to embrace Hawaii’s history, people and places of interest. Places to start learning include the Bishop Museum, Iolani Palace, Hale Hoikeike at the Bailey House, Imiloa Astronomy Center, Kona Coffee Living History Farm, Kauai Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, Hulihee Palace, Lyman Museum and Mission House, and Celebration of the Arts.
2. Try local food
With some of the tastiest and most diverse cuisine offerings in the world, the food across Hawaii originates from it’s multicultural history. The diversity of cuisines found in the Hawaiian Islands today is the result of multiple origins – among them, the native Hawaiian culture, dozens of multicultural influences, and modern-day tastes from around the world. Although the Islands offer their fair share of prestigious dining options, one of the best ways for visitors to understand the local cuisine is by dining at beloved food-truck, hole-in the-wall, and hidden-gem eateries. From shave ice and malasadas to saimin, oxtail soup, poke, loco moco, Hawaiian food mixed plates and beyond, if Hawaii’s multicultural cuisine piques your palate, dig in!
3. Drive and discover
The Hawaiian Islands are easy to navigate, with most islands featuring one main loop road that goes the entire way around the island. From Kauai to the island of Hawaii, there is something unique to discover by taking the open road on each of the Hawaiian Islands. The Road to Hana on Maui is one of the world’s most famous drives, twisting and turning along cliffside scenery and through lush rainforests. On the other hand, a drive through the island of Hawaii will take visitors to the out-of-this-world type landscapes of the lava fields, truly a ‘must-do’ activity for first-timers. For visitors, a road trip allows the freedom and flexibility to stop at points of interest during the journey.
4. Visit Hawaii’s many captivating towns
With so many to choose from, visitors will be surprised and delighted as they explore the captivating and quaint towns across the Hawaiian Islands. From the restored sugar plantation-era storefronts of Paia on Maui, to the shave ice stands and diverse eateries of Haliewa, there is something unique about each of Hawaiis diverse towns. Koloa, on the island of Kauai, is the Hawaiian Islands’ first plantation village. Founded in 1835 with the establishment of Kauai’s (and Hawaii’s) first sugar plantation and mill, Koloa has kept much of its sugar town charm in the years since, restoring many of its main street plantation-era buildings, now occupied by an appealing mix of small businesses. On the Island of Hawaii, head to Waimea for some cowboy (paniolo) culture. Nestled in the cool, green and fertile saddle of wide-open pasturelands between Maunakea and Kohala mountains, Waimea proudly celebrates its past and present history and culture, adding superlative local-raised farm-and-ranch-to-table ingredients, cuisine and restaurants to its coolness.
5. Keep the Islands beautiful
Responsible travel is more important than ever before, and visitors are encouraged to embrace sustainability when travelling across the Hawaiian Islands. There is a myriad of voluntourism opportunities for eco-conscious travellers, a way to ensure that anyone who wishes to visit the islands in the future, will be able to do so. Exploring Hawaii’s natural splendour while positively impacting the Islands’ ecological wellbeing is paramount and organisations like Travel2Change enable travellers to take part in leisure activities while giving back. Travellers with a desire to get their hands dirty for mother nature are welcomed with open arms.
6. Attend a festival celebrating Hawaii’s multiculturalism
Throughout the Hawaiian Islands, visitors are welcomed to take part in the many cultural festivals and special events that celebrate the Islands’ world-famous multiculturalism. These festivals and events are the places for visitors to experience the continued vibrancy of the cultures of the Hawaiian Islands, in large part, through the skills, knowledge, craftsmanship, personal histories, and genuine pride and willingness to share of the many cultural practitioners. Popular cultural festivals include the Kauai Mokihana Festival, Okinawan Festival, Korean Festival, Maui Matsuri, Filipino Fiesta, Honolulu Festival, Pan-Pacific Festival, Koloa Plantation Days and summertime Hawaii OBon festival dances.
7. Choose a souvenir unique to Hawaii
From local-designer fashions inspired by Hawaii’s natural world, woodworks crafted from Hawaiian koa and mango wood, and craft beers and spirits made with Hawaii ingredients, to unique food items made from produce grown and raised on Hawaii farms and ranches, and even custom-shaped surfboards and ukulele, visitors will find an ever-growing array of made-in-Hawaii items available at retailers, culinary stores, farmers markets and festivals statewide. Must-check-out annual homegrown product festivals include the Made in Hawaii Festival, Made in Maui County Festival, Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair and Koloa Plantation Days Heritage Craft Fair.
8. Experience real hula
For true practitioners of the Hawaiian dance form, hula is neither pastime nor hobby, it is Hawaiian culture perpetuated and an important part of their lives. Hula’s most steadfast practitioners, having learned the intricacies of the dance over years of instruction led by knowledgeable kumu hula (hula teachers), practice diligently, often with the intention of eventually showcasing their craft in prestigious hula festivals and competitions, many of these invitation-only affairs for skilled halau hula (hula groups). Of course, festivals and competitions aren’t the only places one can experience hula at its best. For those interested in seeing great hula, schedule a Hawaii visit to coincide with the Merrie Monarch Festival (tickets are hard to come by but competition is broadcast live for TV in Hawaii and livestreamed worldwide), Prince Lot Hula Festival, Molokai Ka Hula Piko and Eo E Emalani I Alakai, or Ku Mai Ka Hula.