What is Hawaii’s cultural scene like?

Hawaii’s cultural scene is one of its biggest draws. Each year, millions of people visit to catch some of the aloha spirit. Aloha is used to say hello and goodbye but it also means love and affection. It’s a way of living in Hawaii, and a spirit that can be felt anywhere you go.

The first settlers to the islands were part of the Polynesian migration. Through the years, people came from all over the globe to work the plantations. The result is a multi-ethnic population that includes Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Tahitians, and many others cultures. Today, Hawaii celebrates its rich history by preserving traditions from the past.

One of the main ways Hawaii celebrates its ancient culture is through hula. According to island history, hula began on Molokai when the Hawaiian goddess Laka began dancing to appease her sister, Pele, the goddess of fire. Laka, according to the lore, then traveled from island to island teaching the dance. In the years that followed, hula — which refers to movement and hand gestures — played an important role in oral tradition. The people of Hawaii combined the dance movements with chants to express everything about their lives. Every movement in hula has a specific meaning, every gesture a special significance. Despite the cultural importance of hula, it nearly became a lost art when Protestant missionaries arrived in the island in the late 1800s. Seeing only the provocative movements of the dance, the missionaries denounced hula as heathen and banned it. But Hawaiians had a cultural patron during this time in King David Kalakua, who not only encouraged hula and other local arts to continue, but is credited with their preservation. You can catch an authentic hula performance at a luau. And we have to say: Attending a luau while you’re in Hawaii is a must.

You’ll find heritage sites, natural wonders and sacred places throughout the islands. In Oahu, be sure to visit the Bishop Museum, Diamond Head State Monument and the Polynesian Cultural Center. In Maui, make a trip to Haleaklala National Park to see the sunset and endangered species. Of course, there’s Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Be sure to also visit Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park on the southern Kona Coast to see where Captain Cook first arrived on the Big Island. On Kauai, you’ll want to visit Waimea Canyon State Park, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.

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    What are the five best free things to do in Hawaii?

    Hawaii may be known for being expensive, but there are actually many things do that are free. Here are five free things that can’t be beat. If nothing else, you can lie on the beach all day.

    1. Watch the sunrise. Climb atop a dormant volcano in Maui. Most sunrises are pretty, but witnessing the sun overtake the dark night sky from atop Haleakala Crater is breathtaking. The view of this daily ritual just doesn’t get any better than from the craters summit, at 10,000 feet. After the dawning of a new day, many visitors hop on bicycles and pedal the 40 miles or so back down the volcano.

    2. Drive the road to Hana. You have to pay for gas, and you’ll want to pack a picnic, but the road to Hana offers miles and miles of spectacular beauty that doesn’t cost a penny. Fifty-two miles separate Kahului from Hana, taking you through a rain forest and some of the prettiest scenery anywhere in Hawaii. The many memorable sights include waterfalls, freshwater pools, black-sand beaches, exotic tropical flora, coastal overlooks and more. The drive can take up to three hours one-way, and not just because the sights encourage frequent stops. The road, much of it only two lanes, has 600 curves and 54 narrow bridges.

    3. Visit Pearl Harbor. Most of the Pearl Harbor attractions are free, including the USS Arizona. This memorial is the final resting place of many of the 1,177 crewmen killed on December 7, 1941, when Japanese naval forces bombed the battleship USS Arizona. The interpretive program features a talk followed by a 23-minute documentary film about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    4. Drink up at the coffee plantations on the Big Island. Kona is known around the world for its delicious coffee grown on the slopes inland from the coast. See how the coffee is grown and produced by touring the coffee companies, many of which have tasting rooms where you can sample the different roasts and buy what you like best.

    5. Tour the Dole Plantation. This former fruit stand on the North Shore of Oahu is home to the Pineapple Garden Maze, claimed to be the world’s largest maze. Covering 1.7 miles, the 2-acre maze is made up of more than 11,000 native plants, including hibiscuses. Visitors can also take a ride on the Pineapple Express, a 20-minute train ride during which narrators describe the history of pineapple and other agriculture in Hawaii and the life of pineapple pioneer James Dole.
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    What are the best Hawaii museums?

    The best — or at least the biggest — museums on Hawaii are located on Oahu. See great art, learn more about Hawaiian music and dance and see what life was like aboard a submarine during World War II.

    1. USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park. Get a small taste of what life was like for the 280 men assigned to the USS Bowfin submarine during World War II. Now a National Historic Landmark, the sub was used for nine war patrols after its launch on December 7, 1942. Take a tour of the sub, view sub-related artifacts in the 10,000-square-foot museum, and watch a video about submarine history in the 40-seat theater.

    2. Bishop Museum. It’s worth taking some time off from the beach to ground yourself in the rich natural and cultural history of Hawaii and its people. The Bishop Museum features a wide variety of hands-on activities and programs, including a twice-daily show of Hawaiian music and dance. Visit the Hawaiian and Polynesian Halls, and Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame to see precious objects from the museum’s permanent collections.

    3. Contemporary Museum. If you’re a fan of David Hockney, Jasper Johns or Deborah Butterfield, you’ll find that the Contemporary Museum’s artistic wonders match the natural wonders of Hawaii one for one. Spend the afternoon pondering provocative pieces by some of the world’s top contemporary artists. Once you’ve taken in an eyeful, wander the 3.5-acre sculpture and meditation garden that surrounds the museum.

    4. Hawaii State Art Museum. Explore Hawaii’s rich artistic tradition in the museum’s three galleries. The Diamond Head, Ewa and Sculpture galleries house a wide variety of art forms and styles, including traditional arts such as quilting and pottery. The museum includes a café, gift shop, and information kiosk. The museum is also open from 5 to 9 p.m. on First Fridays, the monthly downtown gallery walk held the first Friday of each month.

    5. Honolulu Academy of Arts. With a collection of more than 34,000 works, the Academy is Hawaii’s premier art museum, and it’s the only general art museum in the state. Particularly strong is its Asian collection, which makes up almost half of the total collection, but the museum also exhibits Western art from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt to the present. The museum is located in a historic building and spans more than 30 galleries that surround multiple courtyards.
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    What is the best Hawaii nightlife?

    For the best nightlife in Hawaii, head to Oahu. You’ll find scores of lively restaurants, bars and lounges in Waikiki and Honolulu. But no matter which island you’re on, you can find some evening entertainment, though it might not be the thumping nightlife of Oahu. Most of the large resorts throughout the islands offer luaus, and there are happy hours everywhere with live music. This being Hawaii, you might also consider a cocktail cruise where you can spot whales or scuba after dark.

    Waikiki is teeming with bar and lounges like the Yard House and RumFire in Sheraton Waikiki. Chinatown also has a variety of bars along Hotel Street, including Thirtyninehotel and Bar 35. If you’re in the area on the first Friday of the month, you’re in luck. The art galleries around Nuuanu Avenue and Bethel Street near the Hawaii Theatre host open houses with the artists, and people line the streets and fill the restaurants and bars around Chinatown.

    In Maui, the old whaling town of Lahaina is a hotbed of activity 24/7. There are bars galore, including Cheeseburger in Paradise, which features live music during happy hour. From here, you can also take a cocktail cruise, or check out what some say is the most authentic luau at the Old Lahania Luau. Karaoke is also very popular in Hawaii. Locals head to Sansei (locations in Kihei and Kapalua) to indulge in the delicious sushi and then sing a few tunes.

    Life on Kauai is slow and relaxing, but there are a few places to go to in Hanalei, including Bar Acuda Tapas and Wine for delicious bites and a great wine list. Keoki’s Paradise on Poipu Beach is known for live music.

    On the Big Island, you’re more likely to grab a Kona coffee than a cocktail or go night scuba diving or stargazing on Maunakea. But you can find live music in Historic Kailua Village along Alii Drive and just south of there in Keauhou. The Keauhou area attracts manta rays that can be spotted in the shallow waters near Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa. You can go on a night dive from the Honokohau Harbor, or sign up for a sunset cruise. The resorts along the Kohala Coast also offer entertainment at night. Check out Fairmont’s Gathering of the Kings Polynesian Feast and Hilton’s Legends of the Pacific Luau.
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    Where are the best places to hear live music in Hawaii?

    From island music to jazz and rock, there are plenty of opportunities to hear live music while in Hawaii. One of the best ways to experience live music while visiting Hawaii is to attend a luau. Watch hula and hear the sounds of the steel guitar. Resorts all around Hawaii offer luaus. Many of the resorts around Hawaii also feature a variety of other live music, as do bars and restaurants.

    In Oahu, you an also listen to traditional Hawaiian music at popular spots such as Tiki’s Grill & Bar and Duke’s Canoe Club. If you want to hear something besides island music, Waikiki’s main strip also has plenty of bars and restaurants featuring rock, jazz, and more. Chinatown in downtown Honolulu is another good spot for live music.

    Several of the major resorts in Kauai offer live music, including Marriott Kauai’s Beach Club, Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa and Sheraton Kauai. Keoki’s Paradise in Poipu Beach is known for live music.

    You can also find great live music in the resorts of Maui, including Four Seasons Maui, which is famous for its lobby entertainment. Another popular spot on the island is Ambrosia for jazz. Many of the bars and restaurants in Kihei and Lahaina also feature live music.

    On the Big Island, the resorts along the Kohala Coast feature live music. You’ll also find a bunch of bars in Kailua, including Huggo’s and the Kona Brewing Company, which feature live bands.
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    Where can I go to watch sports in Hawaii?

    In Hawaii, you’re more likely to participate in sports — on the water — than you are to watch them but there are places to do that, too. Most of the islands have sports bars, particularly Oahu, which has a bunch. The Shack Hawaii Kai, for one, is a chain of sports bars in Hawaii and California with four locations on Oahu.

    Legends Sports Pub in Waikiki is a longtime favorite for both college and professional sports. There’s a TV broadcast schedule for every sport on the website, it opens early and there are $3 mai tais anytime — can’t beat that.

    Popular sports bars in Kauai include Kalapaki Joe’s (locations in Lihue and Poipu) and the Rob’s Good Times Grill in Lihue.

    On the Big Island, Ocean Sports Bar & Grill is a popular spot, while the Maui Brewing Co. on Maui is a good spot for breakfast, football and handcrafted ale.
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    What is Hawaii’s restaurant scene like?

    Hawaii’s restaurant scene ranges from fine dining overlooking the beach to hole-in-the-wall places selling stacks of delicious pineapple pancakes and plate lunches. We love it all.

    A group of leading chefs established what has become known as Hawaii Regional Cuisine in the early 1990s. The most well-known of these chefs include Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi, George Mavrothalassitis and Peter Merriman. Get a taste of Alan Wong’s cooking at Alan Wong’s or the Pineapple Room on Oahu; visit Roy’s locations on Oahu, Maui, Kauai and the Big Island; sample Peter Merriman’s delicious plates on the Big Island and Maui; and reserve a table at Chef Mavro’s in Honolulu for wonderful French-Hawaiian cooking.

    As Hawaii’s biggest city, Honolulu has the most bustling restaurant scene. Top restaurants include Chef Mavro and La Mer, located inside the Halekulani hotel.

    Maui also has some great restaurants apart from Merriman’s and Roy’s. Spago at Four Seasons is always bustling, thanks to a lovely patio overlooking the ocean. In Makawao, the Hali’imaile General Store wins raves for its Texas-meets-Hawaii menu.

    On the Big Island, the growing community of Waimea is home to some of the best restaurants there, which makes sense considering the town has a strong ranching and farming community. Merriman’s is located here, as is Daniel Thiebaut.

    On Kauai, there are many good restaurants in Poipu, Kapaa and Hanalei. Red Salt at Koa Kea resort has a gorgeous, contemporary all-white room with blue accents, polished service and great upscale French-influenced menu. Kauai Grill by Jean-Georges Vongerichten inside The St. Regis Princeville is a delicious spot for fresh seafood and beautiful views of Hanalei bay.

    On the other end of the spectrum are all the wonderful food stalls, lunch counters and hole-in-the wall breakfast places where the food rivals these big-name restaurants. The plate lunch is something we want to see on the mainland — that’d be two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and a protein slathered in brown gravy. The plate lunch — which usually costs somewhere around $7 or less — can be found all over Hawaii. For breakfast, you’re pretty much always in reach of a heaping stack of pancakes doused in fresh pineapple, coconut or macadamia nuts, with a steaming mug of rich Kona coffee. Pure Hawaii heaven.
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    What are the five best Hawaii food experiences?

    We love the food in Hawaii, from the traditional pork that’s served at a luau to the stack of coconut pineapple pancakes and steaming mug of Kona coffee we order practically every single morning for breakfast while we’re in Hawaii. Everything is fresh and delicious. These five food experiences are a must while in Hawaii:

    1. The breakfast spot. Pancakes with fresh pineapple and coconut and a healthy sprinkle of powdered sugar, along with a steaming mug of rich Kona coffee. Breakfast in Hawaii is heaven on earth. You’ll find hole-in-the-wall breakfast spots serving such delicious fare all over Hawaii.

    2. The plate lunch. Get it on the beach, in a general store (they still exist in Hawaii), or in a fine-dining restaurant. This perfectly balanced meal consists of two scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad and an entrée, usually seafood or meat.

    3. The luaus. Nothing captures the aloha spirit better than a luau — and the food is usually delicious. Traditional foods include roasted pig, poi (made by pounding taro root), poke (raw seafood marinated in lemon or lime juice with other condiments), lomilomi salmon (chopped up salmon with tomatoes and onions), chicken long rice, haupia (coconut pudding) and kulolo (taro pudding).

    4. Oceanside dining. Regardless of what island you’re on, you’ll find pretty oceanside dining all over Hawaii. Many restaurants have outdoor seating where the only light comes from the glow of the tiki torches.

    5. The farm market. The biggest market is Kapiolani Farmer’s Market in Honolulu, but there are farm markets all over Hawaii and they are an excellent way to try some of the world’s best produce, as well as local treats. The Hilo Farmer’s Market on the Big Island, for example, is a great place to try strawberry papayas, which look like regular papayas only their pink-orange flesh is sweeter.
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    Which five Hawaii restaurants are best for brunch?

    There are so many great little hole-in-the wall breakfast spots all over Hawaii but when you want a fine brunch, here are the best spots:

    1. Pahui’a. This beautiful oceanfront restaurant inside the Five-Star Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu on the Big Island serves an excellent buffet every day of the week; otherwise, the lemon-ricotta pancakes are delightful. Eat your breakfast on the oceanfront patio and thank your lucky stars that you’re in Hawaii.

    2. House Without a Key. This restaurant inside Four-Star Halekulani on Oahu has a huge buffet and beautiful views of Diamond Head.

    3. Hoku’s. Located inside the Four-Star Kahala Hotel and Resort in Oahu, Hoku’s multi-level dining room offers views of the Pacific Ocean from every table. The huge brunch buffet includes a seafood bar, made-to-order station and dessert buffet.

    4. Makana Terrace. Overlooking Hanalei Bar, Makana Terrace inside The St. Regis Princeville on Kauai serves a delicious Sunday Champagne Brunch that includes a seafood bar, artisan cheese, made-to-order omelets and crepes, herb crusted prime beef and lots more.

    5. Mauna Kea. The Sunday brunch at this resort on the Big Island is a longtime tradition. The huge buffet includes mouthwatering desserts, dim sum, smoked salmon, imported and domestic cheese and a selection of charcuterie. Kids will love building their own sundaes, while you enjoy the ocean views, live music and champagne.
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    What are the five best romantic restaurants in Hawaii?

    It’s not hard to find a romantic restaurant in Hawaii. There are plenty of spots with beautiful views; places where the only lighting comes from the warm glow of tiki torches; where the food and drink is as seductive as the setting. Our picks for the five best romantic restaurants:

    1. Pahui’a. Imagine a restaurant in Hawaii, and it probably looks like Pahui’a: thatched-roof hut, tiki torches, a large aquarium that casts a neon glow and an outdoor dining area with elegantly-topped wood tables that practically sit on the sand. Tucked away inside the gates of Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the setting was made for honeymooners and elegant dinners at sunset, and the impeccable hospitality makes it even lovelier.

    2. La Mer. With incredible views of Diamond Head through its open-air windows, this Colonial-chic Four-Star dining room inside Halekulani is a romantic, special-occasion spot for sampling masterful French cuisine. Beginning with the gorgeous fresh floral displays at the entrance, the space exudes elegance, with tables arranged to make the most of the ocean views.

    3. Chef Mavro. Chef George Mavrothalassitis reigns as the king of regional Hawaiian fare. His petite, candlelit Honolulu dining room remains the city’s best choice for fine dining. Menus at the Four-Star restaurant change often depending on what’s in season, but might include lobster paella or burgundy braised wagyu beef short ribs. For special occasions, opt for the six-course meal with wine pairings.

    4. The Dining Room at Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele. This elegant Four-Star restaurant is like being invited to dinner at someone’s beautiful estate. A wood-burning fireplace warms the intimate dining room, which looks out onto the manicured lawns and a small lake. The cuisine — classic French with a reliance on local produce, poultry and seafood — is equally inviting.

    5. Plantation Gardens. The entrance to this restaurant is a big part of the attraction of dining here — a gorgeous landscaped garden filled with blooming orchids of every shape and color lines the path to the quaint plantation-style building housing the restaurant. Inside the restaurant, which offers open-air dining on its wraparound verandas, the atmosphere is upscale and tropical, with rattan chairs, slow spinning ceiling fans and plenty of candlelight.
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    What are the five best kid-friendly restaurants in Hawaii?

    One of the best things about Hawaii is the variety of restaurants — from romantic hideaways to kid-friendly spots that the whole family can enjoy. You can’t go wrong at these kid-friendly spots:

    1. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Humu for short) in Maui. Named after a local fish, this fun Polynesian-thatched roof restaurant inside the kid-friendly Grand Wailea lets you to select your own lobster from the lagoon.

    2. Anthony’s Coffee Co. in Maui. This tiny restaurant/bake shop is the perfect spot for breakfast, lunch or a sweet treat while visiting Paia on your way to or from Hana. Options include pancakes drenched in coconut syrup, a variety of sandwiches, and enormous brownies, muffins (try the pineapple coconut) and other scrumptious baked goods. They also have a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with a scoop of macadamia nut brittle ice cream that you should just go ahead and order for yourself, because sharing with your kid just won’t cut it.

    3. Tip Top Café and Bakery. A Kauai tradition since 1916, this café has been a longtime source of wonderful baked goods. In a nondescript neighborhood of Lihue, one block over and parallel to Curio Highway (Highway 56), this family-run operation shares a site with a rather plain motel. Four generations of the Oto family have operated the property, which is famous for its macadamia pancakes and pineapple guava jam.

    4. Duke’s Waikiki: This ever-popular casual restaurant sits in the heart of all the action, directly across the street from the International Market Place and just a few steps away from the soft sands of Waikiki Beach. The atmosphere here is vibrant, with locals and tourists alike flocking to Duke’s nightly to enjoy live Hawaiian music. Dig into heaping portions of baby back ribs or fresh grilled local fish. The restaurant’s namesake, surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku, mastered his sport by ripping the curls off Waikiki. Try the Hulu pie with macadamia nut ice cream, a cookie crust, hot fudge and macadamia nuts.

    5. Zippy’s: Hawaii’s fast food chain is famous for its chili — you can get bowls of chili, chili fries, chili nachos and burritos with a side of chili. There’s also a bunch of noodle dishes, pupu platters and plate lunches. Complete meal options offer such choices as soup or salad, jello, pudding, cake or pie, ice cream or a cookie, and a drink.
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    What are the best places to stay in Hawaii?

    There are many great hotels in Hawaii but here’s what we consider the best places to say — in no particular order. Pack your bags and get ready for a trip of a lifetime.

    Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea: Blessed with abundant sunshine and perfect white-sand beaches, Wailea is one of Maui’s best destinations, and the Five-Star Four Seasons Resort is its most luxurious hotel. The open-air property impresses with its standard-setting service and superior amenities. The breezy style of the island is evident throughout the resort’s 15 acres. You’re greeted with orchid leis on arrival and are treated to a wide array of complimentary services, from iced tea when you come in from activities to Evian spritzes by the pool. Lighted tennis courts, a seemingly unending variety of water sports, indoor and outdoor exercise facilities, and off-site golf give you plenty of options for things to do each day. At night, Four-Star Spago is a lively place for delicious ocean side dining.

    Four Seasons Resort Hualalai at Historic Ka’upulehu: This Five-Star Big Island resort blends beautifully into its natural surroundings and is the ideal place to soak up all that Hawaii has to offer. From the moment you enter the soaring, open-air lobby full of exotic floral arrangements and sip the fruity rum punch offered at check-in, you’ll be in pure Hawaiian heaven. Outdoor showers, pools lined with tiki huts, a spectacular spa and a charming general store stocked with great wines and snacks make it hard to ever leave. Charming little bungalows carved into the black lava house the spacious rooms, all of which have ocean views and private lanais.

    Sure, the island of Lanai doesn’t have much; but, it does have two Four-Star resorts. So if you are on the island, book at room at Four Seasons Resort Lana’i at Manele Bay or Four Seasons Resort Lana'i, The Lodge at Koele. If you are venturing to Kauai, settle in at the Four-Star St. Regis Princeville Resort. On the picturesque island of Maui, book a room at Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, situated on a 23,000-acre working pineapple plantation. On Oahu, you’ll find The Kahala Hotel & Resort. and Halekulani.