Once the exclusive destination of the very rich, Hawaii has become one of the most popular holiday locations in the world. This exotic, tropical place is within the United States of America (U.S.A.), which means that you are guaranteed a high standard of living and service, and unlike most tropical destinations you can drink the water without getting sick!
Honolulu and its surrounding areas have something to offer everyone: warm, sunny weather all-year round; beautiful white sandy beaches; lush tropical rainforests; exotic colorful flowers mingled with palm trees and tropical plants; a huge variety of sporting opportunities that includes sailing, snorkeling, swimming, diving, fishing, and golfing; and abundant shopping opportunities; and all within a safe, secure environment. Hawaii has much to offer, and its largest and most exciting city is Honolulu—its capital. Out of the 1.3 million people who live in Hawaii, about 900,000 live in Honolulu.
Honolulu has been described as the most remote large city on earth: almost 1 million inhabitants living in the middle of nowhere—right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After you spend a few days there you won’t mind its isolation. As a matter of fact, you won’t want to leave! Hawaii seems to have that effect upon many people. You may be truly surprised how many people you will meet that came to Hawaii for a vacation, and have never left!
Discovered by the King of Rock ‘n Roll
Believe it or not, there is one person in particular that has to be given the credit for helping the rest of the world to “discover” Hawaii: in the late 1950’s a young Elvis Presley, the famous American singer and movie star, often referred to as “the King of Rock ‘n Roll” music, came to Hawaii for a vacation. That trip was a life-changing event for Elvis, as he fell in love with Honolulu and Hawaii itself. His love affair with Hawaii continued on until his untimely death in 1977 at the age of 42. Elvis made three movies here. He also came here regularly for vacations.
Elvis’ first movie, Blue Hawaii, released in 1961, became one of his most successful films. In the movie you will recognize such famous landmarks as Diamond Head crater, Waikiki Beach, and Hanauma Bay (located outside of Honolulu). Many credit this movie as “kickstarting” Hawaii’s tourism industry—it suddenly made Hawaii famous and a very desirable destination to go for a holiday. Elvis became Hawaii’s most influential spokesman, especially in 1973 when he hosted the television special “Elvis – Aloha from Hawaii” via satellite on location in Hawaii to raise money for medical research (i.e. for the treatment of cancer). It made television history and was seen in 40 countries by an estimated 1.5 billion people.
Without a doubt, Elvis had a life-long connection with Hawaii and its people. Even today the people of Hawaii speak very affectionately of Elvis, almost as though he was one of them! Many Hawaiians would say that even though Elvis’ home was in Memphis, Tennessee, his heart was in Hawaii, as well as his spirit!
Hawaii is located about 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) southwest of the North American mainland. It takes, for example, over 5 hours by jet to reach it from San Francisco, California. There is nothing between Hawaii and the mainland, which makes for quite a surprise when you look out the window of your jet after flying for hours and hours and then see the bright lights of Honolulu shimmering in the distance—they seem to be almost beckoning you to come for a visit.
Hawaii is made up of a chain of islands in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. This archipelago comprises hundreds of islands that are spread out over a distance of 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers). There are 8 “main” islands of which Kauai, Oahu, Maui, and the “Big Island”—also referred to as Hawaii (which can be confusing to tourists), are the best known. Honolulu is located on the island of Oahu. All of the islands throughout Hawaii are volcanic in nature. Some islands even have active volcanoes that you can visit.
Climate and Topography
Even though Hawaii has a tropical climate, its temperature and humidity is not as extreme as many other tropical destinations. This phenomenon is due to the trade winds that continually blow across this area from the east.
Honolulu’s temperatures are fairly representative of Hawaii: in January, the average daytime (high) temperature is 80º F (26.7º C) and the nighttime (low) temperature is 66º F (18.9º C). In August, the average daytime (high) temperature is 89º F (31.7º C) and the nighttime (low) temperature is 75º F (23.9º C). As you can see, the temperature stays almost constant all-year round, which makes this city unique and very pleasant to live in.
Unlike most places, Hawaii has only 2 seasons: the dry season from May to October and the wet season from October to April. Thankfully when it rains in Hawaii, it usually rains in the evening, leaving the days warm and sunny.
The topography (landscape) of Hawaii is volcanic in origin and extremely varied, comprising high rugged mountain ranges, low flat plains, lush rainforests covered in mist, areas so arid they almost resemble a desert, high cliffs that suddenly drop off into the Pacific Ocean, and beaches covered with miles and miles of white sand. Few places on the planet offer such an incredible variety of landscapes.
Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state of the United States of America on August 21, 1959. Due to its mid-Pacific location, it has been influenced throughout its history by Asian and North American cultures as well as it own native culture, primarily stemming from the Polynesian peoples from Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands.
The famous British explorer, Captain James Cook, discovered the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. By that time he was already famous for having discovered much of the South Pacific. His writings about Hawaii led to many European visitors coming in, especially other explorers, tradesmen, whalers, and Christian missionaries. Right from the beginning the contact with Europeans and Americans was disastrous for the Hawaiian people: visitors brought measles and other communicable diseases that wrecked havoc and brought death upon the Hawaiian people; missionaries nearly destroyed all of the traditional customs—they even banned hula dancing; the presence of so many whalers and sailors fostered prostitution and alcoholism; sugar planters brought in waves of Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese immigrants to work the sugar fields, which changed the population base; and by the end of the 1800’s foreigners owned 80% of all of the private land.
Many people may be unaware that for most of its history Hawaii was an independent country with its own royal family and traditions. All of that changed forever when in 1893 a group of American businessmen, primarily sugar plantation owners, with the assistance of U.S. marines overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy (Queen Lili’uokalani), and created the Republic of Hawaii. The president of this new republic was Sanford Dole, a prominent pineapple plantation owner, born to American Christian missionaries who had moved to Hawaii many years earlier. Dole was an active participant in helping to overthrow Hawaii’s monarchy, and was richly rewarded for such treachery. For example, his cousin, James Dole, set up a company that eventually became known as the Dole Food Company. Everyone is very familiar with Dole pineapple! It was obvious that the business community wanted control over the Hawaiian government so that their interests could be better served—it didn’t matter to them that the Hawaiian people did not want to be annexed to the U.S.A. Apparently, Queen Lili’uokalani, the strong willed and independent-minded ruler of Hawaii was quite hostile to the idea of Hawaii being taken over by the U.S.A., thus the need to eliminate her.
Five years later, in 1898, the Territory of Hawaii was simply annexed to the U.S.A. with no regard to the wishes of the Hawaiian people.
It is amazing how few people, especially Americans, realize that Hawaii never freely joined the United States—it was annexed by means of military force. The unjustified arrest of Hawaii’s royal family and the destruction of Hawaii’s government was not a proud day for the U.S.A., especially given the fact that it has always boasted that it is the champion of freedom and democracy!
As a visitor you may encounter some hostility from the native Hawaiians, especially in the remote areas of the islands. Given their treatment at the hands of foreigners, you can understand why! Surprisingly and to the credit of Hawaiians, they are not bitter about their past mistreatment. Instead they are a genuinely friendly, helpful, and spiritual people.
Famous Places to Visit (War Memorials)
(1) The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
On December 7, 1941 Japanese warplanes, without warning, attacked the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. Within minutes the entire fleet lay in ruins. Anyone who has seen the 2001 Hollywood movie “Pearl Harbor” (starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) has a good idea of the amount of destruction and loss of life this attack caused. The USS Arizona battleship, for example, sank in just 9 minutes, killing all of the 1,177 sailors aboard.
When visiting this memorial, go first to the Visitor Center for an orientation. Make sure to get the 2 ½ hour audio tour: you will listen to a tape on a MP3 player that describes in depth what happened that fateful day. A U.S. navy launch will then take you to the floating memorial that is literally 6 feet above the sunken remains of the USS Arizona battleship. The memorial evokes quite an emotional response from its many visitors, including surprisingly, many Japanese visitors. You will experience first-hand the futility of war. Thousands of young men died that day for no reason, all no doubt thinking how lucky they were to be serving in a tropical paradise like Hawaii. Japan’s unprovoked attack led the U.S.A. to declare war on Japan that same day.
As strange as it may sound, it was Elvis Presley who made the construction of this memorial possible. In 1961, he gave a benefit concert in Hawaii to directly raise funds for the construction project. He also assisted the project by creating publicity for this worthy cause. With Elvis’ help, the project was able to raise the large amount of necessary funds. This was one of many gestures on Elvis’ part towards the Hawaiian people.
On average you should allow about 4 hours to visit this site, as the line-ups can be quite long to visit the memorial. The memorial is open for daily visits, usually between 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(2) USS Bowfin Submarine
This World War II submarine is located next to the USS Arizona Memorial Visitor Center. Apparently there are only 15 such submarines left in the entire world. This submarine had a crew of 80 men and fought against the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a matter of fact, the nickname of this submarine was the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”. You are able to go below deck and tour the entire submarine. It is open daily, usually from 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
(3) USS Missouri Battleship
This World War II battleship, moored in Pearl Harbor, was the site where the Japanese signed their unconditional surrender to American forces on September 2, 1945, ending the war between the U.S.A. and Japan. The Missouri played an active role in World War II helping to carry out bombing raids over Tokyo as well as assisting in the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima in the Pacific. A guided tour of this ship is available. Check in at the Visitor Center of the USS Bowfin Submarine where you will be transported by bus to Ford Island where you can board the ship. It is open daily, usually between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Interesting Sites to Visit
(1) Waikiki Aquarium
This small aquarium is located on Waikiki Beach, near the Honolulu Zoo. It is built on a live coral reef right on the Pacific Ocean. The exhibits are full of many species of exotic, colorful fish, including sharks, eels, monk seals, and green sea turtles. Many of the fishes on exhibit are native to Hawaiian waters. Make sure that you view its most unique exhibit: its giant live 100-pound clams. They are huge! It is open daily, usually from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(2) Honolulu Zoo
This municipal zoo is a mixture of tropical forest and savannah. It is about 43 acres in size located in Waikiki, near the Waikiki Aquarium. With over 300 species of animals, it has a large collection of birds and reptiles from many of the islands of the Pacific. Animals include elephants, lions, and zebras, many of which are found in the African Savannah, a 10-acre exhibit. Make sure to check out the Komodo dragon, a lizard-like reptile that is so huge it can kill a human! The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
(3) Dole Pineapple Plantation
This large pineapple plantation is extremely popular. It is located outside of Honolulu, in the center of the island, about a 30-minute drive from Honolulu. Make sure to try the pineapple ice cream—it’s delicious! Attractions include the Pineapple Express, a small train that takes you on a tour of the plantation. Kids will love wandering through the Pineapple Garden Maze, the world’s largest maze, according to the Guiness Book of Records. The Plantation Garden Tour is interesting for its many exotic plants and flowers. You may even get to see baby pineapples growing in their natural habitat. Coffee and other tropical fruit are also grown here. The plantation is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
(4) Polynesian Cultural Center
This 42-acre site is 35 miles outside of Waikiki. It is a major tourist attraction founded in 1963 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (i.e. the Morman Church). Made up of several re-created individual villages, this center is meant to show visitors what the traditions and lifestyles of various Polynesian peoples once were: for example, the people from Hawaii, Fiji, Tonga, and Tahiti. It is well known for hosting luaus (the traditional Hawaiian feast) where you can witness fire dancing, and other traditional ceremonies (e.g. hula dancing). Many tour companies have package deals available—use them rather than driving there yourself or having to make all of your own arrangements (it’s too much hassle).
(5) Iolani Palace (Hawaii’s Royal Residence)
This building is the only state residence of royalty in the U.S.A. It was the residence of Queen Lili’uokalani until her reign ended in 1893 when she was overthrown by U.S. military force. Sanford Dole himself stood on the steps of her palace and announced that Hawaii was now a republic and he was its president.
Located in downtown Honolulu at the intersection of King and Richards Streets, this palace is open for tours to the general public. Of particular interest are the Central Hall with its impressive hardwood staircase, the Blue Room where the king used to meet guests on an informal basis, the Throne Room where the king and queen received visitors, the Dining Room, and the Palace Galleries which displays the royal treasures, including the royal jewels.
The queen herself was put on trial right here in her own palace in the Throne Room. She was fined $5,000 and sentenced to 5 years of hard labor, later reduced to house arrest. She was pardoned in 1896. After that she spent the rest of her life in Washington Place, a block away. When she died in 1917, nearly everyone in Honolulu attended the funeral procession. Hawaiians still thought of her as their queen, even if the American-installed government did everything possible to remove her from public life.
This site is quite popular, so make sure that you make a reservation preferably a few days in advance.
Visiting Tropical Botanical Gardens
(1) Foster Botanical Garden
This impressive 14-acre garden is located in downtown Honolulu, beside Chinatown. Tropical plants have been collected for this garden from all over the world dating back to 1850. It is a living museum containing many species of rare and endangered tropical plants, some of which are massive in size. The Cannonball Tree, for example, is an exceptionally tall palm-like tree that produces a huge number of nuts the size of cannon balls. Whatever you do, don’t walk under this tree in case one of the nuts falls to the ground—it could be dangerous in case it lands on your head! Make sure to visit the Herb Garden, the Butterfly Garden, and the Conservatory with its incredible collection of beautiful and colorful orchids. This garden contains a huge variety of interesting species such as pomelo, bamboo, vanilla, fig, mango, eucalyptus, coconut, palm, breadfruit, avocado, and cinnamon trees. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with on-site parking available, and guided tours are available. This garden is beside the canal and next to the beautiful Kuan Yin Temple.
(2) Lyon Arboretum & Manoa Falls
This amazing botanical garden dates back to 1918 and is massive in size with over 194 acres. It is owned and operated by the University of Hawaii, and is renowned for its extensive collection of tropical plants. A large part of this garden is actually part of the rainforest located at the head of Manoa Valley—an amazingly beautiful place to visit. If you ever win the lottery, consider living in this area, as its natural beauty is indeed breathtaking! The tropical plants grow to such incredible sizes in this protected area that you will feel like you are in a scene from the movie “Jurassic Park.” The range of colors of many of its flowers is impressive, everything from whites and yellows to purples and reds. At the entrance to Lyon Arboretum, for example, you will be intoxicated by the smell of the beautiful colorful plumeria flowers, used for making leis (the famous fragrant flower necklaces used to greet visitors to Hawaii). Make sure to visit the Hawaiian Ethnobotanical Garden where you will see breadfruit trees, sugarcane plants, taro plants (which are like yams), and the kukui nut whose oil was used as lantern oil (to light homes and businesses). Plan to spend several hours here, as Manoa Falls, a 150-foot high waterfall at the end of a mile-long hike, is right beside the Lyon Arboretum. It is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and can be reached by the local bus.
Beaches: Swimming, Snorkeling, and Surfing
Without a doubt this is the world’s most famous and glamorous beach, and when you visit Waikiki you will understand why. For the longest time it was a “playground” strictly for the wealthy and for famous movie stars. Walk along it and all you will see for miles is a beautiful arch-shaped sandy beach bordering the warm turquoise-colored water of the Pacific Ocean. Along this palm-lined beach are some of the world’s most luxurious hotels, and in the distance the massive Diamond Head Crater stands, dwarfing all of the buildings. You can swim, snorkel, and surf or just lay in the sun enjoying the incredible beauty of the landscape around you and appreciating your incredible good fortune to be in such a place!
(2) Hanauma Bay Beach (outside Honolulu)
This world-famous beach is situated along Oahu’s spectacular southeast volcanic coastline, outside of Honolulu. Actually this site is an underwater park, famous for its snorkeling. It is a huge bay with plenty of exotic colorful fish, green sea turtles, and beautiful sandy beaches. This palm-shaded beach can be reached easily by private car or by the local bus. There is plenty of parking available. The beach is open daily, except for Tuesdays.
(3) Halona Cove (outside Honolulu)
This small picturesque beach is east of Hanauma Bay, and is often referred to as the “From Here to Eternity Beach”, as scenes from the famous movie “From Here to Eternity” were actually filmed on location at this site. The movie has an all-star cast led by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, and its setting is Honolulu in 1941 just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. There is a famous night scene in the movie where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr are romantically entwined in each other’s arms on the beach while the waves crash onto them—it’s an incredibly romantic scene that caused quite a stir when the movie was released back in 1953. This secluded site is incredibly beautiful with its white sandy beach surrounded by black volcanic rock. Nearby is a natural-formed blowhole in the rock that shoots a column of saltwater high into the air at regular intervals, testimony to the island’s volcanic past.
(4) Waimanalo Bay (outside Honolulu)
If you continue north for quite a distance past Halona Cove you will come across this exceptional beach, famous for being Oahu’s longest sandy beach. This beach, however, can be quite difficult to find so make sure beforehand that you know where to turn off the main highway. It is not well known by most tourists and many of the locals are undoubtedly happy about that for this beach is stunning. You won’t be disappointed by its miles and miles of soft white sandy beaches and aquamarine water. There are no hordes of tourists here, which gives the place a sense of serenity and calmness—traits not usually found in the more popular beach sites. This beach is lined with a backdrop of ironwood trees and is so beautiful that it is without a doubt what everyone dreams of when thinking of a tropical paradise.
Visiting Sacred Sites
(1) Diamond Head Crater
This site is undoubtedly Hawaii’s most famous landmark, as witnessed by the number of post cards with it on it! It’s a 760-foot volcanic cone that offers visitors a 360-degree view of the city of Honolulu and its surrounding areas. The Hawaiian people considered it a sacred place. At one time it was even the site of human sacrifices. The hike to the summit starts at the intersection of Monsarrat and Diamond Head Road. Make sure to wear proper walking shoes. Bring a flashlight for when you walk through some of the tunnels, a hat to protect you from the hot, searing sun (as there is little shade), a camera, and water. The hike can take at least 1½ hours.
(2) Pali Lookout
The famous American writer, Mark Twain, once described this site as having one of the most beautiful views in the entire world. Upon visiting it, you will understand why. High atop a mountain ridge you will look down upon vast tracts of rainforests, mountain ranges, the turquoise-colored waters of the Pacific Ocean, and settlements such as the town of Kailua dotted along the coast. The breathtaking view provides plenty of photo opportunities for those interested in photography. Believe it or not, this picturesque lookout was the scene of a major battle between two Hawaiian kings. The victorious king used his army to push hundreds of enemy warriors off the ridge to their death. Such carnage was a very sad day in Hawaii’s history, as it was Hawaiians killing other Hawaiians. To make matters worse, when the losing king was captured, the victorious king killed him, sacrificing him to the war god Ku. Sometimes it is easy to forget that this beautiful tranquil island had such a bloody and violent history.
(3) Ulupou Heiau
The word “heiau” means Hawaiian temple. This particular site is a very interesting archaeological site, as it is a mystery as to where the massive number of stones used to make the foundation of this temple came from. There is no rock quarry nearby or even close to this location. This temple was used to worship the war god Ku and to make human sacrifices. It is now a state historic site as well as a “test” site to grow Hawaii’s most important traditional agricultural crops and plants such as taro, bananas, coconuts, and noni fruit trees. Part of a large tropical forest borders this area. As you walk around this site, you will notice that all of the vegetation has grown to huge sizes. As strange as it may seem, you will feel like you are walking through a jungle scene from the movie “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” Be forewarned, this site is very difficult to find—it is 1 mile south of the town of Kailua, literally behind the YMCA building. Its actual address is 1200 Kailua Rd. Admission is free, and it is open daily from sunrise to sunset.
(4) Byodo-In Temple
This majestic temple is located in the Valley of the Temples, an interdenominational cemetery located on Kahekili Hwy. What makes it so special is both its architectural design and location. Byodo-In is a replica of a 900-year old temple located in Uji, Japan, complete with its classic design and red walls, all set against the magnificent backdrop of the Koolau Mountains. Inside the temple, in the main hall, is a tall statue of Buddha covered in gold leaf. Outside the temple is a 3-ton brass bell reputed to bring good fortune and harmony to anyone who rings it. Encircling the temple is a pond full of large multi-colored carp and an elegant Japanese-style garden. You will be pleasantly surprised to find such an exotic temple in Hawaii, as it looks like it should be somewhere in the Japanese countryside. Due to its proximity to the mountains, it can become enshrouded in mist very quickly, adding an air of mysticism and serenity to the entire site.
(5) Kuan Yin Temple
Located beside the Foster Botanical Garden, this beautiful Chinese temple is Honolulu’s oldest. The temple is dedicated to Kuan Yin, goddess of mercy. Her large statue is in the richly carved Prayer Hall. Devotees of Buddhism worship primarily at this site, placing offerings of fruit and fresh flowers on the altar. You may also notice some of the worshippers burning what appears to be money. It is special fake paper money burnt as an offering to ensure prosperity and good luck. Admission to the temple is free.
Visiting Art Collections & Museums
(1) Honolulu Academy of Arts
This museum, in downtown Honolulu, is located at 900 S. Beretania Street and has one of the top Asian art collections in the world as well as an exceptional collection of European and American art. No matter what your taste in art, this incredible museum is bound to have something that will interest you. Built in 1927, this museum houses nearly 40,000 pieces of art. With its magnificent courtyards, water fountains, and galleries it is a wonderful place to relax and at the same time enjoy the museum’s interesting collection, which includes Hiroshige’s Japanese woodblock prints; paintings by Picasso, Gauguin, and Van Gogh; Ming dynasty porcelain paintings; war clubs and masks from Polynesia; major works of art from well known American artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe; and an immense Asian textile collection. Have lunch at the on-site café and make sure to visit the gift shop. With 30 galleries to visit you may be pleasantly surprised at what you find in this world-class museum.
(2) The Contemporary Museum
Located at 2411 Makiki Heights Drive, this museum has 3 acres of Asian gardens, reflecting ponds, and terraces offering stunning views of Diamond Head Crater. It houses various ever-changing exhibits of paintings, sculpture, and contemporary artwork.
(3) Bishop Museum and Planetarium
Located in downtown Honolulu at 1525 Bernice Street, this museum is well known for its Polynesian artifacts. Its main gallery, the Hawaiian Hall, is dedicated to Hawaii’s cultural history. Objects of interest include a full-size pili, a grass-thatched house; shark-tooth war clubs; and a magnificent yellow-feather cloak worn by King Kamehameha the Great. The feathers belong to the now extinct mamo bird. Apparently 80,000 birds had their feathers plucked to make this one cloak! The Polynesian Hall has elaborately carved dance masks, canoes, and ceremonial costumes. Of interest to many will be the planetarium with its shows explaining how the Polynesians used the stars to navigate thousands of miles in outrigger canoes. There is so much to see in this museum—it even has a Sports Hall of Fame and Science Center. Make sure to visit its gift shop, as it sells a wide variety of high-quality souvenirs.
Food and Drink
Honolulu, especially Waikiki, has an abundance of restaurants, offering an amazing variety of food such as American, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Greek, and Thai. Everything that is available on the American mainland is also available here. Unfortunately, most restaurants are expensive. If you want to save money and try numerous exotic dishes, then go to the Food Court located at the back of the International Market Place, situated right in the heart of Waikiki. Some of the interesting food dishes are: Pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles with vegetables), green papaya salad with shrimp, stir-fried broccoli with beef and onions, chicken souvlaki, grilled mahi-mahi fish, cajun-style ahi tuna with coconut rice, etc. The list is endless! The food is tasty, well prepared, and far less expensive than other places.
Hawaii is famous for its tropical fruits. Make sure to try the fresh mango, pineapple, and papaya—it’s great for breakfast. For snacks, try the apple bananas, a unique Hawaiian fruit, much smaller than a regular banana but denser and more nutritious.
At one time the Hawaii people had one of the best diets in the world: plenty of fruit, vegetables, and fish. Thankfully that is still available for you to enjoy even if most Hawaiians have opted for the fast food diet of the mainlanders such as mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad and believe it or not, spam (cheap, high calorie ground pork), also referred to as “Hawaiian steak”. In some cases Hawaiians have even created their own recipes. Be careful if you order the “loco moco”, usually eaten for breakfast. It consists of a plate of white rice, a hamburger patty with a fried egg on top, and then everything is smothered in gravy. The amount of calories is huge! If you are adventurous, you can try two staples of the traditional Hawaiian diet: Kalua pig (roasted in the ground with hot stones) and poi (a gooey, purplish paste made from cooked taro roots). Such foods will always be served at a luah (a traditional Hawaiian feast). As bizarre as it sounds, the only time you will get the chance to even taste traditional Hawaiian food is when you attend a touristy luau, and it will be expensive.
Many coffee lovers adore Hawaii, as Kona coffee is grown here, which is one of the best gourmet coffees in the world. If you don’t drink coffee, then try the various tropical fruit juices such as passion fruit, orange, guava, and of course pineapple juice. Local alcohol-based drinks include beer (ales and lagers) from the Kona Brewing Company and the famous “mai tai” made from rum and orange curacao with a mixture of orange, lemon, lime, and pineapple juice.
Honolulu has a vast assortment of hotels, everything from budget to luxury. The vast majority of hotels are in Waikiki. Remember that only the 5-star luxury hotels will be right on the beach and they will cost you a fortune.
For location, try, if possible, to find a hotel near the International Market Place—it’s central to everything. Unlike most places, the hotels in Honolulu follow a complex pricing structure that depends upon where your floor is located and how much of the ocean you can view. Generally, there is a range of 4 different types of rooms going from budget to expensive: standard, partial ocean view, ocean view, and full ocean view. If your travel agent sells you a standard room it usually means you will have a room on a low-level floor (e.g. the 3rd floor) at the back of the building close to a noisy street, or the room is overlooking either a garbage dumpster or the back of another building. Yes, you will save money, but it will make your trip to Honolulu a lot less memorable. Certainly if you are on a romantic trip (i.e. a honeymoon), you should only consider an ocean view or full ocean view room, preferably located on an upper-level floor. Remember, if you take a room on a lower-level floor, it is going to be noisier (due to its proximity to the street traffic) and the view will be non-existent.
Crime and Safety Hints
In general, Honolulu is a fairly safe city (in comparison to most other American cities). Usually the crime that is directed towards the tourists is petty theft such as pick-pocketing or purse snatching. For drinks, go to the tourist bars. Avoid places like Chinatown especially for drinks, as many of the drinking places (its bars) are still quite sleazy. During World War II, Chinatown was infamous for its cheap bars, massage parlors, and prostitution. Many sailors and army personnel were regularly “ripped off” and mugged. Even nowadays in some sections of Chinatown not much appears to have changed! This area, however, has an interesting history. For example, in January 1900 the local government burnt Chinatown to the ground to halt the spread of the bubonic plague. The entire area had to be completely rebuilt. If you visit Chinatown, go during the day. There are many food markets and boutiques that may be of interest to you.
At night Waikiki takes on a different look. Prostitution is rampant, with so much activity on some of the side streets that these areas themselves have become tourist attractions! Be careful, particularly in Waikiki, if someone approaches you with a parrot or other tropical bird on his/her shoulder and asks if you want a picture of yourself with the bird. Once the photo has been taken, the owner of the bird will demand money from you. The other thing to be wary of is people selling time-share condominiums: it may be a scam to get you to give them money for a down payment (money which you may never see again). Be forewarned! As in any other city, keep your wits about you, and you will be safe.
Taking Guided Tours
Many people may be initially apprehensive about taking a guided tour, simply because it seems so “touristy”. However, when you go to Hawaii for the first time it is advisable to take a tour of the island to get your bearings. Some activities are so specialized such as hiking through one of the local rainforests that you are advised to use the services of a specialized tour company. Trying to find a remote trail in the midst of a dense tropical rainforest is not going to be easy, and you can easily get lost.
Every major hotel will have a tour booth to assist you with booking various tours, inside and outside of Honolulu. If you are interested in experiencing the awesome beauty of Hawaii’s nature, consider using Oahu Nature Tours, a local eco-tour company. This company offers a wide variety of tour packages, everything from trekking through tropical rainforest and botanical gardens to exploring the rugged coastline with its spectacular beaches.
Special Places to Visit (Experience How the Rich Live)
Moana Surfrider Hotel
Don’t miss this luxury 5-star hotel, once the exclusive haunt of the rich and famous, located at 2365 Kalakaua Avenue in the heart of Waikiki, literally right on Waikiki Beach. As a matter of fact, it was Waikiki’s original beachfront hotel, dating as far back as 1901. This colonial-style hotel has an elegantly designed lobby with tropical hardwood flooring and paneling and an elegant palm-lined courtyard right on the ocean. Its lobby is so beautiful that it has become a favorite place for Japanese couples to get their honeymoon photos taken. Visit the Banyan Tree Courtyard for drinks in the evening. You can hear live Hawaiian music while waves crash onto the beach. The setting is without a doubt exceptional. Even if it’s for just one evening in your life, experience first-hand how the rich live! Believe me, it’s an experience you won’t forget!
Royal Hawaiian Hotel
This beautiful 5-star hotel was built over the remnants of what was once a royal garden. Also known as the “Pink Palace”, the Royal Hawaiian is almost next door to the Moana Surfrider Hotel. Constructed in 1927, this luxury hotel is a combination of art deco and Moorish-style architecture. It dates back to an era when the only way to visit Hawaii was by luxury liner, which meant only the rich had the privilege of traveling to places like Waikiki, staying in such exclusive hotels as the Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian. Take a walk through the lobby with its beautiful works of art, luxurious furnishings, and unique open design—there are no entrance or exit doors. In the evening, the outdoor lighting of the gardens gives added elegance to this exceptional site. Go for drinks at the Mai Tai bar. Enjoy yourself, as you are relaxing in one of the world’s most famous and classy hotels! This is your chance to experience how the rich live, even if it’s for a very short period of time!
(1) Exploring the Reefs by Submarine
Contact the company, Atlantis Submarines Oahu, or ask your hotel tour booth staff if you are interested in exploring the coastal waters surrounding Waikiki and Honolulu. Two submarines are available. One of these is the Atlantis XIV, which holds 64 passengers—it’s the world’s largest passenger submarine. Check in at the Hilton Pier located in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village Ali’i Tower Hotel located right on Waikiki Beach. Diving off Waikiki, you will descend to 100 feet, observing a wide variety of turtles, coral, and tropical fish. You will then explore the coral reefs and get to observe interesting sites such as sunken shipwrecks and airplanes. This underwater adventure is one you will never forget!
(2) Horseback Riding on the Beach
Gallop on horseback along the beach at the 880-acre Turtle Bay Resort, located in the northern part of the island, near the North Shore on Kamehameha Hwy. Experience first-hand the spectacular white sandy beaches bordered by lush green tropical forests. It will be next to impossible to ever find another site like this to ride horseback! The setting is so surreal that you will think you are on a movie set! Contact Turtle Bay Resort for horseback riding information and costs.
(3) Exploring Oahu by Plane
Take an exciting tour over Honolulu and the entire island by seaplane. Get an aerial view of Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head Crater, Hanauma Bay, the lopsided conical island referred to as Chinaman’s Hat (made famous in Elvis Presley’s movie “Blue Hawaii”), the North Shore (famous for surfing), and Oahu’s famous historic wartime sites. Check with your hotel’s tour booth for aircraft charter companies that offer this service. One company that has offered this service for many years is Island Seaplane Service.
(4) Taking Day Trips to Other Islands (Island Hopping)
If you have the time and resources, consider taking a one-day trip to some of Hawaii’s other islands such as Maui or the Big Island of Hawaii. Daily flights are available to other islands. Consult with your hotel’s tour booth staff to find out what is available.
No matter how you spend your time in Honolulu, you will fall in love with this city and Hawaii itself. It is little wonder that so many people want to make this place their holiday destination—the combination of sun, surf, and sand in the midst of so many tropical plants and flowers is an opportunity to experience paradise. Life here is at a slow pace, allowing you to simply relax. Be forewarned that this place can have an unsettling affect upon you, as you may relax and enjoy yourself so much that you forget about everyone and everything back home! Take advantage of every minute that you are in Hawaii, and be thankful—unlike most people, you turned your dream of visiting Hawaii into reality!
About the author:
Eric Alexander Hamilton lives in Vancouver, Canada. He loves travelling and has lived in several cities such as Paris, London, and Zurich. His passions in life are photography and writing, particularly about travel, self-help and spiritual topics. To him, writing and photography are a natural match, as witnessed in his web site, www.lifedestiny.com. With each passing day, he is trying to follow the advice of the famous American writer, Jack London:, who said: “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist.” It’s advice we should all follow.