Destinations / North America

Where to Find Culture, History, Food & Adventure in Hawaii

Hawaii’s resplendent nature is world-renowned, placing it near the top of most travellers’ bucket lists. However, this is just one of many things that contributes to Hawaii’s international appeal. Whether it’s high-flying adventure, fascinating culture or delicious local specialties, Hawaii treats you to more experiences than you may expect!

From the Island of Hawai’i (nicknamed the Big Island) to Maui and Oahu, each Hawaiian island offers its own blend of immersive experiences. On your next Hawaii holiday, soak up these incredible worlds of culture, history, adventure and cuisine. Here are some of the highlights worth adding to your itinerary.

Best Hawaii Experiences for Adventurers

Hawaii Adventure
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority

On the Island of Hawai’i, you can’t pass up the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive among hundreds of Manta Rays as they feed on microscopic plankton. Jump aboard a Sea Quest boat tour to cruise through unique lava tubes off the coast and go snorkelling with dolphins and sea turtles.

One of the best ways to experience the dormant Haleakalā Volcano on Mau’i is with a guided sunrise tour. Soak up the morning’s first light while admiring panoramic island vistas from Haleakalā’s summit and learn about the region’s history. After sunrise, turn it up a notch with some exhilarating zip-lining on down Haleakalā’s slopes with Skyline Eco Adventures.

Kaua’i is renowned for having the only navigable rivers in Hawaii. Take advantage of these tranquil waterways by exploring the lush countryside on a kayaking tour down Wailua River or Huleia River. You can also experience Kaua’i’s cascading waterfalls on a hiking excursion to Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls.

Adrenalin junkies will love exploring Oahu on an ATV tour at Kualoa Ranch, where you can also traverse iconic Jurassic Park film locations and visit an ancient Hawaiian fish pond. From land to sky, a doors-off helicopter sightseeing flight offers uninterrupted views of Oahu’s waterfalls, city skylines, rural tapestries and heavenly Windward Coast beaches.

Best Hawaii Experiences for Foodies

Hawaii food trucks
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Foodies are treated to a smorgasbord of dining experiences on Oahu. If you appreciate a wide selection, head to the North Shore to find some of Hawaii’s best food trucks, from Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck to Leonard’s Malasada Truck. Lovers of Asian cuisine should head to Chinatown in Honolulu, where you can enjoy authentic Chinese, Hunan and Vietnamese.

Get your fill of local Hawaiian cuisine in Kapaa Town on Kaua’i, where shopping meccas, such as Kinipopo Shopping Village and Wailua Shopping Plaza, house a variety of Hawaiian and international eateries. Taste locally-made rum, fresh seafood and farm-to-table produce at the Kilohana plantation, where you can dine by a fire pit at Gaylord’s Restaurant.

Want to learn more about local spirits? Taste Ocean Organic Vodka on Mau’i after touring the sustainable Hawaii Sea Spirits Organic Farm and Distillery. Upcountry Maui farms also offer tours and tastings, including harvesting vegetables at O’o Farm and picking coffee beans on a Shim Coffee and Protea Farm Tour.

Caffeine enthusiasts will love the hands-on tours at coffee plantations on the Island of Hawai’i, such as the Roastmaster Tour at UCC Hawaii, which lets you roast your own unique batch of Kona coffee. You can pick up fresh coffee at the Hilo Farmers Market, which has over 200 stalls selling handicrafts, farm-fresh produce and flowers.

Best Hawaii Experiences for Culture Vultures

Hawaii traditional dance
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority

The hula is one of Hawaii’s best-known cultural experiences and there are multiple ways to witness this Polynesian ritual around the state. You can time your visit for one of the state’s many hula festivals, such as the week-long Merrie Monarch Festival on the Island of Hawai’i, which features competitions, pageants and more. Every Thursday you can watch the free Kuhio Beach Hula Show near Waikiki Beach or visit the Polynesian Cultural Centre on Oahu to watch an authentic hula performance.

Music has long been a part of Hawaii’s laid-back and joyous lifestyle, from the bright melodies of a ukulele to the finger-picking magic of a slack-key guitar (kī hōʻalu). Watch the state’s top ukulele players perform at the Ukulele Festival held Waikiki’s Kapiolani Park Bandstand in July. In September, the annual Kona Slack Key Festival showcases the unique Hawaiian form of guitar playing. Of course, you can always duck into one of Hawaii’s bars or resorts on most nights to watch the local musicians in action.

Admire the work of Hawaii’s finest artists at museums around the state, including the Kauai Museum, which showcases historic watercolour paintings. The Honolulu Museum of Art is the largest of its kind in Hawaii and features over 50,000 pieces of art representing all major Hawaiian cultures.

Best Hawaii Experiences for History Lovers

Hawaii history
Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority

Hawaii’s has a rich history steeped in Polynesian culture, a legacy of the ancient voyagers who first discovered the islands. Begin your exploration of Hawaii’s past at the mesmerising Iao Valley State Monument, where the Battle of Kepaniwai was won in 1790 by King Kamehameha I’s army. Discover the largest-surviving prehistoric Hawaiian settlement at Kaunolu Village on Lana’i. It was once a retreat for King Kamehameha I and contains petroglyphs and the sacred Halulu heiau temple.

Continue your journey forward to Hawaii’s more recent history at the Historic Kailua Village, a seaside town home to historic landmarks. Learn about Hawaiian royalty at the circa-1838 Hulihee Palace, which now showcases Victorian-era artefacts. You can admire authentic Hawaiian artefacts at Bishop Museum in Honolulu, including canoes, religious totems and surfing memorabilia.

Finally, learn about the tragic World War II events that took place in Hawaii at the sombre Pearl Harbour Historic Sites. Explore the site of the Pearl Harbour bombings and see the names of the brave men and women who fought at the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken USS Arizona battleship.

Author: Ben Stower

I'm enamoured with travel, whether it's finding the quiet, local sanctuaries in touristic cities, venturing into rock vaults in a distant jungle or spending hours on a Spanish beach. I can't see an end to my travelling. Just another chapter and another story to tell.

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