Image by Hawaiian Tourism Authority / Tor Johnson
What about the culture?
In addition to the endless natural beauty, Hawaii’s cultural activities are an essential part of any visit. Oahu’s Polynesian Cultural Center is a great start for understanding Hawaii and the various Polynesian cultures that have contributed to the Hawaii of today. Many of the islands' resorts and hotels offer daily cultural activities; guests can make leis out of fragrant plumeria, learn to play the ukulele, hear stories of ancient Hawaiian kingdoms, or learn to dance the hula.
Organized luaus give guests the opportunity to enjoy Hawaiian dance performances while feasting on kalua pig and other delicacies prepared in a traditional manner. The potato-like taro root is a Hawaiian staple, and many cultural organizations throughout the islands offer you the opportunity to help maintain sacred taro patches by getting down and dirty to pull weeds while learning about the traditional culture.
What should I eat?
Hawaii has an interesting mix of culinary influences and popular dishes often combine native, Chinese, Portuguese, and American elements. Most restaurants incorporate the state’s bountiful assortment of tropical fruit and delicious seafood.
To enjoy and learn more about the produce available on the islands, visit one of the state’s lively farmers markets; the Hilo Farmers Market (Hawaii Island) and KCC Farmers Market (Honolulu) are two of the biggest and best.
Must-eat foods when visiting Hawaii include loco moco (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and brown gravy), malasadas (Portuguese donuts), Spam musubi (a slice of grilled Spam atop a block of rice, wrapped in dried seaweed), poke (chopped raw fish), slow-cooked kalua pig, and poi (pounded taro root).
There are a number of regional specialities across the islands, too. Head to Oahu’s North Shore for the no-frills shrimp trucks cooking tasty, locally harvested shrimp, then cool off with a sweet, slushy treat from a family-owned shave ice shack.
Image by Hawaiian Tourism Authority / Dana Edmunds
How do I get around?
Hiring a car is the best way to explore each island, but be prepared for the challenge of focusing on the road and not the gorgeous scenery.
To travel between islands there are regular, inexpensive flights, most of which consist of little more than a takeoff and landing. Flying is the only way to get from island to island, other than private, chartered boats – the public ferry from Maui to Lanai is the lone exception.
Perhaps the biggest travel challenge for any visitor is stepping on the plane home and saying goodbye to this slice of paradise on earth.
Where should I stay?
When choosing a place to stay in the “Aloha State” visitors are wise to consider how much they want to immerse themselves into the culture. The high-end resorts all but guarantee a perfect getaway, complete with gorgeous pools, direct beach access, world-class spa treatments, but there are plenty of less expensive options as well.
There’s everything from retro motels and basic chain hotels to the Hawaiian-based Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, renowned for their culturally-inspired hospitality.
Visitors with a historical bent soak up the atmosphere at historic Waikiki properties such as The Royal Hawaiian, Moana Surfrider, and Halekulani.
To really dive in and experience Hawaii like a local, though, consider a vacation rental or a cosy inn/B&B where local owners provide insight into all aspects of Hawaiian life. For a true back-to-nature experience, there are plenty of opportunities for camping and sleeping under the stars.
Words by Eric Grossman and Gerrish Lopez; featured image by Hawaiian Tourism Authority/Tor Johnson. Explore more of Hawaii with the Rough Guide to the USA.