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How to Authentically Experience Hawaii on Your Next Vacation

Mary Zakheim
Written by Mary Zakheim

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful natural wonders that the United States has to offer explorers, beach bums, and families alike are the Hawaiian Islands. Birthplace of surfing, the hula dance, and delectable cuisine … home to the only royal palace on US soil, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and the world’s tallest sea mountain — It’s no surprise that the United States’s youngest member is also its most unique and has become a haven for all sorts of travelers: from luxurious honeymooners to organic farmers to families looking to de-stress. It certainly makes sense, as the Hawaiian Islands offer vacationing Americans a way to experience a tropical escape without the hassle of toting around passports or exchanging money.

So how can mainlanders authentically experience this chain of islands whose history dates back nearly 1,500 years (and whose doors to the West have only been opened for 238 of them)? Luckily the Hawaii Tourism Authority offers some advice here, urging visitors to take the time to look beyond the brilliant sand and surf of the islands to add depth and understanding to their trip.

Here are our top ways to go deeper and experience Hawaii with its past, present, and future in mind:

Pick Up a Book


First things first: If you want to have a deeper understanding of a place, you should read up on its political, geographical, and cultural history. And Hawaiian history doesn’t disappoint. Spanning back almost 1,500 years, Hawaii has been divided, united, colonized, independent — you name it. Take a moment to appreciate the depth of the place you want to visit. Head to the tourism site for a quick history lesson or dive deeper with books like A Concise History of the Hawaiian Islands by Phil Barnes or Hawaii Pono: An Ethnic and Political History by Lawrence H. Fuchs. If fiction is more your style, check out the works of local writers like Chris McKinney’s The Tattoo, one of Darien Gee’s many memoirs, Lisa Linn Kanae’s Sista Tongue, and much more.

Know Where You Want to Go


There are six major islands you can visit in Hawaii and each has its own vibe, offerings, and history. There is Kauai, best known as the oldest and most northern island in the chain, it’s home to Waimea Canyon — “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” — as well as stunning dramatic cliffs that call to the most adventurous visitors. Oahu is home to the state capital and much of Hawaii’s population. It’s the best place to go to see how island traditions have fused with modernity, especially in the island’s music, arts, and food scenes. With nearly half of Molokai’s population having Native Hawaiian ancestry, this laid-back land is most connected to both its history and its natural resources: explore the island’s past and present in Kalaupapa National Historical Park. Lanai doesn’t have a single traffic light, yet it is home to some of the world’s most luxurious resorts, set here because of the island’s secluded nature. See the Garden of the Gods rock garden and read up on the folklore surrounding the otherworldly setting. Maui is the second largest of the islands and is home to some of the world’s best surfing beaches, whale watching and natural vistas. Hawaii Island — or the Big Island — is indeed larger than all of the other islands combined. Better yet, it is large and diverse enough to hold 11 of the world’s 13 climatic zones — from warm beaches to icy peaks to active volcanoes.

Leave Your Cell Phone, Watch, and Pager Behind

Enjoy a slower pace without worrying about cramming in a million must-see landmarks, resort-organized activities, or self-imposed expectations. Take a leisurely stroll along the beach in the morning. Pop into local coffee shops and stores in the afternoon and take a bite of island life. Take a hike, a swim, or relax by the sea to really soak up the island state of mind.


Go Local for Local Information

When you’re at home, how do you usually find out what’s going on? Whether you scan through the newspaper, check out a local magazine’s site, or just ask around, do the same thing when you travel to get the local beat of what’s going on. Head to local farmer’s markets, churches, and other organizations to get a real feel of Hawaiian vibes.

Embrace the Idea of Aloha


Yes, it means more than just hello and goodbye — it also means love and an understanding that the world and its inhabitants are each a part of you. So as you travel and lounge and hike and learn, keep the notion of aloha in mind during your time in Hawaii. Maybe this will manifest in keeping the beaches that you visit clean, shopping at local businesses, or simply giving a smile and a wave to those you encounter.

Are you from Hawaii or have spent a significant amount of time there? Tell us  in the comments how you encourage visitors to get to know the Hawaii that you know and love!


About the author

Mary Zakheim

Mary Zakheim

When she is not figuring out what the middle button on her headphones is for, explaining the difference between Washington State and Washington D.C., arriving to the airport too early or refusing to use the Oxford comma, you can usually find Mary in the mountains, at a show or on her couch.

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