- Building your Hawaii itinerary can be overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors.
- There are many overlooked activities that won’t be flooded with other tourists – or overpriced.
- Hawaii locals chimed in with some recommended activities to do during your stay and why.
Hawaii offers an abundance of activities for people, from luaus to surf lessons and visits to iconic attractions like Diamond Head. At times, it may feel overwhelming for visitors to figure out how to allocate their time, especially if this is their first visit and they want to avoid tourist traps.
Who better to turn to for recommendations than the locals themselves?
“Hawaii has an incredibly rich history that is far deeper than hula, luaus, or pristine beaches,” said Diana Su, senior marketing manager of Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. Su, who grew up in Honolulu, has years of experience working in Hawaii’s hospitality sector.
There are many overlooked activities that can reward you with a deeper connection to the islands and won’t be flooded with other tourists – or overpriced. Check out the recommended activities below to not miss out on as a tourist, according to locals:
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1. Cheers to that
One way to taste the islands is through a pint glass. Across the islands, talented brew masters have opened up breweries infusing beloved local flavors, such as lilikoi (passionfruit) and Hawaiian vanilla, into their drinks.
From Ola Brew in Hilo and Kona on Hawaii Island to Lanikai Brewing in Kailua on Oahu, there are many spots to pick from. Not only are you supporting a local business, but you’re also sipping on some unique beers you likely can’t find anywhere else. And if you don’t drink alcohol, many breweries offer kombucha or other local-inspired, nonalcoholic bevies.
2. Get dirty
You’ll probably see the light purple paste known as poi, which is made from taro, around on your visit to Hawaii, but consider going all the way back to the source: visit a lo’i, or taro field.
Many farms offer community workdays that are open to the public, like at Kakoo Oiwi in Kaneohe on Oahu. Get your hands dirty as you learn to traditionally cultivate the crop and more about how Hawaiians have been growing taro for many centuries to use as a staple food in their diets.
With low light pollution and some seriously high summits, Hawaii offers some of the best stargazing.
At Haleakala on Maui, you can see the Milky Way from the summit and also reserve an overnight camping spot so you can spend the entire night stargazing. Just beware, it’ll get cold when dark. On Hawaii Island, there’s Mauna Kea, where people can stargaze at the Visitor Information Station (you’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get there). While on Hawaii Island, check out the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii to learn more about how indigenous cultures use the stars and visit its full-dome planetarium.
If you’re not close to these volcanoes, no worries. The organization Stargazers of Hawaii hosts public stargazing shows across Oahu, setting up telescopes and teaching families about the constellations and mythology around stars.
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4. A royal visit
In Honolulu, ‘Iolani Palace has stood tall since 1882 and played an important role in the overthrow of Hawaiian royalty. It is where Queen Liliuokalani was imprisoned by American officials. Nowadays, visitors can tour the property and see the royal quarters and staterooms, even the small room where the queen was locked away, and hear the stories of the Hawaiian monarchs.
I believe one of the most inexpensive yet incredible experiences is a tour of ‘Iolani Palace. It is a wonderful way for our visitors to understand the complexity of Hawaii’s storied past, royal monarch and their impact on the world, the suppression of Hawaiian traditions and beliefs, international presence and relations and so much more. Before visiting any place, it is important that we understand where we are going – the history, the usage and the spirituality of the place, and ‘Iolani Palace’s docent-led tour is a fantastic way to achieve that.
The palace offers docent-led tours every Wednesday and Thursday for $30 per person.
5. Pay your respects
“Hawaiians have multiple wahi pana sites, storied or celebrated places in the cultural traditions of Hawaii, and in present-day spiritual rituals continue to be practiced; some of these sites are still accessible for visitors to experience,” Su said.
Many of these sites, which range from places of worship to royal birthing sites, are now part of the state and county parks or botanical gardens, like Hale O Lono in Waimea Valley on Oahu’s North Shore and Hikiau Heiau in Kealakekua State Historical Park on Hawaii Island.
While seeing these ancient sites in person makes for an incredible experience, it’s important to remember that they are considered sacred to others.
“Before visiting these revered sites, we ask visitors to practice culturally appropriate behavior, hana kupono, to evoke respect in the form of silence and transform the mood from mundane and ordinary into something deeper and more significant,” Su added.
The traditional protocol also includes silently asking ancestors for permission and expressing gratitude for visiting the site. Never touch or disturb the site and always leave no trace.
“What Makes Hawaii Hawaii?”Exploring Hawaiian heritage at Haleakalā National Park
6. Check out a local show
Aunty Wendy Tuivaioge, director of Hawaiian Programs at the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, suggests people check out local, culturally relevant events, like ukulele concerts and hula competitions, at venues such as the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.
These are “open to the public, this is a great place for visitors to meet locals who are eager to talk and share their mana’o (thoughts) on our unique culture,” she said.
7. Take a ride
On your visit to Hawaii, you’ll likely spot a long canoe with lateral supports on the side of the main hull, which are called outriggers. As you may know from Disney’s “Moana,” these canoes have long played an important role in Polynesian cultures.
“Polynesians were master navigators, and the wa’a (canoe) was a vital tool that not only led them to the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands, but provided daily sustenance and food for their families, community, and moku (island),” Nakoa Prejean, master navigator and founder of Hawaiian Ocean Adventures at the Four Seasons Resort O’ahu at Ko Olina, said.
Prejean said an outrigger canoe sailing experience allows visitors to actively participate in culturally significant activity in a way that’s educational and fun – many excursions combine the canoe ride with a cultural protocol like chanting and snorkeling or whale watching.
8. Immerse yourself
Ha’aheo Zablan, general manager of Kaimana Beach Hotel and a Native Hawaiian, recommends tourists visit Bishop Museum as an “inexpensive yet extremely immersive” experience.
Open daily, the Bishop Museum was founded in honor of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop in 1889. The museum has the largest collection of Hawaiian and Pacific cultural artifacts, like the feather staffs made for Hawaiian royalty called kahili, and natural history specimens. There’s also a planetarium with shows about Polynesian wayfinders who used the stars to navigate the Pacific Ocean. Spend a morning or afternoon here, and take time to enjoy the sprawling lawn too. General admission is $26.95 for adults, and there is a military discount. If you attend their monthly After Hours event, admission is only $5, and local vendors will be selling food and drinks.