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 should I pack for a trip to Hawaii?

    You should definitely pack layers for a trip to Hawaii. While the weather is warm year round, you can go from a lush rain forest to a snow-capped mountain in a day. The Big Island, for example, has many microclimates. You’ll want to pack a jacket for hiking and visiting the volcanoes on any island, as well as sturdy shoes — flip flops simply won’t do on the slippery rock.

    Otherwise, pack up all your beach resort stuff. There are really only two seasons in Hawaii — winter and summer, but the weather doesn’t change much. Summer is from May to October, with an average daily temperature of 85 F, and winter is from November to April, with an average daytime temperature of 78 F. Temperatures drop about 10 degrees at night. Note that these temperatures are at sea level — it can get really cold at higher elevations.

    Don’t forget your camera and a few good books, and you’re off.
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    What is the best way to see Hawaii in two days?

    If you only have two days to spend on one of the islands of Hawaii-shame. But no really, you might consider a visit to Maui. You’ll no doubt want to stay longer, but you can see most of the island in two days. Here’s the best way to see it:

    Start your first day with a walk along Kalama beach followed by breakfast at Kihei Caffe across from the beach. The casual spot is where locals catch up with one another over stacks of pineapple coconut pancakes and steaming mugs of Kona coffee. After your delicious breakfast, hop in the car and head to Lahaina. The former whaling town is a scenic hour or so drive from Kihei. From here you can take a charter boat to scuba around Molokini. When you return from you excursion, make the short drive to the Kapalua resort and have delicious pupus off the wine bar menu at Merriman’s Kapalua. Chef Peter Merriman is one of the pioneers of Hawaii regional cooking, and the lanai features views of Molokai.

    Drive to Wailea and visit the Spa at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea for an amazing treatment. Stay for cocktails in the lively lobby lounge before dinner on the oceanfront patio at Spago.

    Wake up really early the second day to see the sunset at Haleakala National Park. Several companies offering biking tours from the top of Haleakala down to the base, or you can drive to save time. After the sun comes up, drive the road to Hana. There are hundreds of hairpin turns, but the scenery is spectacular. Later, stop in Makawao to stroll around the art galleries and have a bite at Hali’imaile General Store. You’ll be beat from a long day but the food is outstanding.
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    What is the best way to see Hawaii in one day?

    Oahu is the only island where a day might be enough if you want to see Waikiki and Honolulu. Here’s the best way to see it:

    Start with a walk along Waikiki at sunrise. Grab a Kona coffee from any of the cafes at Waikiki Beachwalk then walk along the beach (this is the only time you’ll have it more to yourself — it’s not deserted, but you can actually see the sand without scores of beach towels on it). This could also be a great time to take a surfing lesson (you can sign up at the school next to Moana Surfrider Westin). Or, have breakfast at House Without a Key at Halekulani, which has a huge buffet and is right on Waikiki. Later, have that surfing lesson if you didn’t get it already (each of the breaks along Waikiki are famous and have names — Canoes is considered the most gentle break to learn how to surf, near the statue of Duke Kahanamoku).

    Then, sun on Waikiki or take a hike around Diamond Head. Or hang out on Sans Souci beach, a quieter spot closer to Waikiki; you could have a picnic there (you’ll find snack huts near the beach). Have a spa treatment at the incredible Kahala Resort’s Spa Suites (then stay for the dolphin show — the resort actually have resident dolphins); or for a more active day, visit USS Arizona, then make a stop in Chinatown and grab lunch from one of the many food stalls.

    Next, shop along Kalakaua Avenue (which gets more glitzy closer to Royal Hawaiian Center). Have a mai tai at the Royal Hawaiian’s Mai Tai bar, a legendary spot, and then stay for their Aha Aina (luau on the beach) if they’re having it that night; if not, you could have sushi at Nobu Waikiki, or a very special dinner at La Mer at Halekulani (the corner table with views of Diamond Head and the ocean is the number one spot for proposals).
  • On June 29, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    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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    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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    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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    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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    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 are the five best things to do on a romantic trip to Hawaii?

    There are so many things that make Hawaii a great romantic trip — from the gorgeous sunsets to the island breezes to the aloha spirit, it’s easy to see why Hawaii is one of the top honeymoon destinations. Our picks for the five most romantic things to do:

    1. Go horseback riding. You can do this pretty much anywhere in Hawaii but one of our favorite spots is on Lanai along the Paniolo Trail. The Stables at Koele offer great facilities and an expert staff. You’ll pass through groves of sweet-smelling guava and ironwood trees, and experience scenic views of Molokai and Maui. Carriage rides are also available. Afterward, we recommend an oceanside couples massage at Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay. The secluded setting right on the bay is idyllic. Cabanas are set up right next to the water for this reason.

    2. Take a helicopter ride. One of the best — and most romantic — ways to see the islands is from the air. Get a view of Kilauea, the active volcano on the Big Island, or explore the Na Pali coast in Kauai sitting side by side on a chopper — totally thrilling and romantic.

    3. Watch the sunrise. The best spot to do this is on Haleakala on the island of Maui. In the early morning hours, many sleepy-eyed folks huddle in the park’s chilly high altitude to watch a spectacular sunrise.

    4. Sail along the Na Pali coast. Another great way to see Kauai’s famous coastline with its emerald green sea cliffs is from the water. Boat tours depart from Port Allen.

    5. Pack a picnic and swim under a waterfall. You don’t have to go very far in Hawaii to find a beautiful waterfall — along the road to Hana in Maui, the Manoa Falls Trail in Oahu, the Na Pali coast in Kauai, and many other places. A lot of restaurants also sell a picnic lunch.
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    Where is the best Hawaii shopping?

    The best shopping in Hawaii can be found in the upscale stores located in Honolulu and Maui, as well as in the bustling marketplaces found throughout the islands. Shop for designer goods, buy some Hawaiian shirts, and stock up on gifts to take back home. You’ll find all this and more at these five shopping destinations:

    1. Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. Within walking distance of most Waikiki hotels, this tri-level 290-store open-air mall includes stores in every price range, from the Gap to Prada. You’ll also find banks, a post office, a couple of drugstores and a wide variety of restaurants. Plenty of stores here, such as the island-wide chains Hilo Hattie and Crazy Shirts, stock Hawaiian souvenirs. There’s also a Reyn’s, which is where locals go for the popular “reverse print” fabrics.

    2. Luxury Row in Honolulu. A select group of high-end boutiques on Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki carry some of the world’s finest French, American and Italian designer clothing and accessories. The quaint townhouse look of this upscale outdoor mall incorporates lava rock, limestone and bronze into the architecture and provides an elegant showcase for flagship stores of Chanel, Gucci, Tiffany & Co. and Yves Saint Laurent.

    3. The Shops at Wailea in Maui. This smart collection of shops includes Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Folli Follie, Bottega Veneta and other high-end stores, as well as more reasonably priced options including Gap, Tommy Bahama, T-shirt Factory and several locally owned boutiques and specialty shops.

    4. Kapaa Town. When you want to do some shopping on Kauai, hit the main drag through this charming old town. You’ll find a wide assortment of funky shops and specialty stores with hard-to-resist merchandise, so it’s unlikely you’ll head back to your car empty-handed. Asian-influenced accessories for your home, handmade glass decorative pieces, woodcarvings, aloha shirts and handmade jewelry are a sampling of the goods that independent retailers sell along this colorful shopping strip.

    5. Hilo Farmers’ Market. Every Wednesday and Saturday since 1988, island vendors have been gathering at this outdoor market on the Big Island to sell fresh produce, crafts, gifts and tropical flowers. Over the years, the market has grown from a handful of vendors to more than 200. You’ll find everything from bitter melon and jackfruit to bongo drums and puka shell anklets.
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    What are the five best things to do with kids in Hawaii?

    Hawaii may conjure images of romantic luaus by the beach, but you’ll find a lot of things to do with the kids, too. Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island has a program where you can swim with the dolphins; Grand Wailea Resort Hotel & Spa on Maui has nine pools, which include slides, caves, rapids and waterfalls; Grand Hyatt on Kauai has a great camp; and each of the Four Seasons resorts throughout the islands also has great kids programs. With so many kid-friendly resorts, it’s easy to plan a family trip to Hawaii. So bring the kids and check out these great things to do:

    1. View one of the most active volcanoes on earth. The Big Island is home to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where you can still see the lava spewing from Kilauea. The park serves as the primary motivation for traveling to the Big Island. Kilauea has been erupting continuously since 1983. You can explain to your kids how new land mass is created. (Hint: As lava flows down Kilauea and into the ocean, the Big Island grows.)

    2. Head to the beach. There are kid-friendly beaches on every island: Hapuna State Recreation Area on the Big Island; Poipu Beach Park in Kauai; Hulopoe Beach on Lanai; Kapalua Beach Park on Maui; Murphy’s Beach Park in Molokai; and Waimea Beach Park on Oahu (just be sure to visit this North Shore spot in summer; the waves in winter can be up to 50 feet high).

    3. See Waimea Canyon. Take the kids to see the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Located on the southwest side of Kauai, the canyon stretches 14 miles and is more than 3,600 feet deep.

    4. Go underwater. Explore the depths of the Pacific Ocean in a high-tech submarine. Sink down 100 feet into the deep blue sea. Atlantic Adventures has been offering submarine tours on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island for decades. Who knows what will swim by — perhaps a shark or two, some stingrays or a school of parrotfish.

    5. Learn about the culture. With its multiple villages, each depicting life on one of the Polynesian islands, the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu is fun and educational for the whole family. People from these islands demonstrate ancient practices such as coconut cracking and spear tossing. Learn how to start a fire, climb a tree and cook the Samoan way. In addition to the seven villages and an Easter Island exhibit, there are live shows and an IMAX theater showing ocean-related films on its giant screen.
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