Frommer's Hawaii 2017 by Martha Cheng, Jeanne Cooper, and Shannon Wianecki by Martha Cheng, Jeanne Cooper, and Shannon Wianecki - Read Online

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Frommer's Hawaii 2017 - Martha Cheng

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Hawaiian beach.

There’s no place on earth quite like this handful of sun-drenched Pacific islands. Here you’ll find palm-fringed blue lagoons, lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, soaring summits (some capped with snow), a live volcano, and beaches of every hue: gold, red, black, and even green. Roadside stands offer fruits and flowers for pocket change, and award-winning chefs deliver unforgettable feasts. Each of the six main islands possesses its own unique mix of natural and cultural treasures—and the possibilities for adventure, indulgence, and relaxation are endless.

The best Beaches

Lanikai Beach (O‘ahu): Too gorgeous to be real, this stretch along the Windward Coast is one of Hawai‘i’s postcard-perfect beaches—a mile of golden sand as soft as powdered sugar bordering translucent turquoise waters. The waters are calm year-round and excellent for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Two tiny offshore islands complete the picture, functioning both as scenic backdrops and bird sanctuaries. See p. 106.

Lanikai Beach, O‘ahu.

Hāpuna Beach (Big Island): A half-mile of tawny sand, as wide as a football field, gently slopes down to crystalline waters that in summer are usually excellent for swimming, snorkeling, and bodysurfing; in winter, the thundering waves should be admired from the shore, where the picnicking and state camping facilities are first rate. See p. 221.

Wai‘ānapanapa State Park (Maui): Maui has many terrific beaches to choose from, but this one is extra special: On the dramatic Hāna coast, jet-black sand is pummeled by the azure surf, sea arches and caves dot the shoreline, and a forested path leads to a secret swimming hole, the hiding place of an ancient Hawaiian princess. Plan to picnic or camp here. See p. 330.

Pāpōhaku Beach Park (Moloka‘i): The currents are too strong for swimming here, but the light-blond strand of sand, nearly 300 feet wide and stretching for some 3 miles—one of Hawai‘i’s longest beaches—is great for picnicking, walking, and watching sunsets, with O‘ahu shimmering in the distance. See p. 448.

Hulopo‘e Beach (Lāna‘i): This large sprawl of soft golden sand is one of the prettiest in the state. Bordered by the regal Four Seasons resort on one side and lava-rock tide pools on the other, this protected marine preserve offers prime swimming, snorkeling, tide-pool exploring, picnicking, camping, and the chance to spy on resident spinner dolphins. See p. 473.

Po‘ipū Beach (Kaua‘i): This popular beach on the sunny South Shore has something for everyone: protected swimming, snorkeling, bodyboarding, surfing, and plenty of sand for basking—with a rare Hawaiian monk seal joining sunbathers every so often. See p. 532.

The best Authentic Experiences

Eat Local: People in Hawai‘i love food. Want to get a local talking? Ask for her favorite place to get poke or saimin or shave ice. The islands offer excellent fine-dining opportunities (see the examples below), but they also have plenty of respectable hole-in-the-wall joints and beloved institutions that have hung around for half a century. On O‘ahu, eat poke at Ono Seafood (p. 145), enjoy true Hawaiian food at Helena’s Hawaiian Food (p. 149), and join the regulars at Liliha Bakery (p. 150) for a loco moco. On Kaua‘i, slurp saimin and shave ice at Hamura’s Saimin Stand (p. 582).

Feel History Come Alive at Pearl Harbor (O‘ahu): On December 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor, forcing the United States to enter World War II. Standing on the deck of the USS Arizona Memorial—the eternal tomb for the 1,177 sailors trapped below when the battleship sank—is a profound experience. You can also visit the USS Missouri Memorial, where the Japanese signed their surrender on September 2, 1945. See p. 77.


Experience Hula: Each year the city of Hilo on the Big Island hosts a prestigious competition celebrating ancient Hawaiian dance: the Merrie Monarch Festival (p. 175). The week after Easter, local hālau (hula troupes) perform free shows at several shopping centers. On O‘ahu, check out the Bishop Museum (p. 71), which stages excellent performances on weekdays, or head to the Halekulani’s House Without a Key (p. 165) at sunset to watch the enchanting Kanoelehua Miller dance beautiful hula under a century-old kiawe tree. On Maui, the Old Lahaina Lū‘au (p. 427) is the real deal, showcasing Hawaiian dance and storytelling nightly on a gracious, beachfront stage.

Ponder Petroglyphs: More than 23,000 ancient rock carvings decorate the lava fields at Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (p. 207) on the Big Island. You can see hundreds more on a short hike through the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve (p. 189), near the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast. Go early in the morning or late afternoon when the angle of the sun lets you see the forms clearly. On Lāna‘i, fantastic birdmen and canoes are etched into rocks at Luahiwa (p. 470), Shipwreck Beach (p. 475), and Kaunolu Village (p. 472).

Trek to Kalaupapa (Moloka‘i): The only access to this hauntingly beautiful and remote place is by foot, mule, or nine-seater plane. Hikers can descend the 26 switchbacks on the sea cliff’s narrow 3-mile trail, but the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour (p. 442) is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure astride sure-footed mules. Once you’ve reached the peninsula, you’ll board the Damien Tours bus (p. 444)—your transport back to a time when islanders with Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) were exiled to Moloka‘i and Father Damien devoted his life to care for them.

The best Outdoor Adventures

Surfing on O‘ahu: Whether you’re learning to surf or a pro, O‘ahu has waves for everyone. Few experiences are more exhilarating than standing on your first wave, and Waikīkī offers plenty of lessons, board rentals, and gentle surf. During the winter, the North Shore gets big and rough, so stay out of the water if you’re not an experienced surfer. But even the view from the beach, watching the daredevils take off on waves twice their height, is thrilling. See p. 113.

Witness the Whales: From December to April, humpback whales cruise Hawaiian waters. You can see these gentle giants from almost any shore; simply scan the horizon for a spout. You can hear them, too, by ducking your head below the surface and listening for their otherworldly music. Boats on every island offer whale-watching cruises, but Maui is your best bet for seeing the massive marine mammals up close. Try Trilogy (p. 333) for a first-class catamaran ride or, if you’re adventurous, climb into an outrigger canoe with Hawaiian Paddle Sports (p. 334).

Lava flowing into the sea.

Visit Volcanoes: The entire island chain is made of volcanoes; don’t miss the opportunity to explore them. On O‘ahu, the whole family can hike to the top of ancient, world-famous Diamond Head Crater (p. 114). At Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (p. 207) on the Big Island, where Kīlauea has been erupting since 1983, acres of new black rock and billowing sulfurous steam give hints of Pele’s presence even when red-hot lava isn’t visible. On Maui, Haleakalā National Park (p. 309) provides a bird’s-eye view into a long-dormant volcanic crater.

The welcoming Lei

A lei is aloha turned tangible, communicating hello, goodbye, congratulations, and I love you in a single strand of fragrant flowers. Leis are the perfect symbol for the islands: Their fragrance and beauty are enjoyed in the moment, but the aloha they embody lasts long after they’ve faded.

Traditionally, Hawaiians made leis out of flowers, shells, ferns, leaves, nuts, and even seaweed. Some were twisted, some braided, and some strung. Then, as now, they were worn to commemorate special occasions, honor a loved one, or complement a hula dancer’s costume. Leis are available at all of the islands’ airports, from florists, and even at supermarkets. You can find wonderful, inexpensive leis at the half-dozen lei shops on Maunakea Street in Honolulu’s Chinatown and at Castillo Orchids, 73-4310 Lau‘ī St., off Ka‘iminani Drive in the Kona Palisades subdivision, across from the Kona Airport on the Big Island




). You can also arrange in advance to have a lei-greeter meet you as you deplane. Greeters of Hawai‘i (



) serves the major airports on O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i, and the Big Island.

Get Misted by Waterfalls: Waterfalls thundering down into sparkling pools are some of Hawai‘i’s most beautiful natural wonders. If you’re on the Big Island, head to the spectacular 442-foot ‘Akaka Falls (p. 193), north of Hilo. On Maui, the Road to Hāna offers numerous viewing opportunities; at the end of the drive, you’ll find ‘Ohe‘o Gulch (p. 320), with some of the most dramatic and accessible waterfalls on the islands. Kaua‘i is laced with waterfalls, especially along the North Shore and in the Wailua area, where you can drive right up to 151-foot ‘Ōpaeka‘a Falls (p. 509) and 80-foot Wailua Falls (p. 509). On Moloka‘i, the 250-foot Mo‘oula Falls (p. 436) can be visited only via a guided cultural hike through breathtaking Hālawa Valley, but that, too, is a very special experience.

Peer into Waimea Canyon (Kaua‘i): It may not share the vast dimensions of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, but Kaua‘i’s colorful gorge—a mile wide, 3,600 feet deep, and 14 miles long—has a grandeur all its own, easily viewed from several overlooks just off Kōke‘e Road. Hike to Waipo‘o Falls to experience its red parapets up close, or take one of the helicopter rides that swoop between its walls like the white-tailed tropicbird. See p. 521.

Explore the Nāpali Coast (Kaua‘i): With the exception of the Kalalau Valley Overlook, the fluted ridges and deep, primeval valleys of the island’s northwest portion can’t be viewed by car. You must hike the 11-mile Kalalau Trail (p. 497), kayak (p. 537), take a snorkel cruise (p. 541), or book a helicopter ride (p. 523) to experience its wild, stunning beauty.

Four-Wheel It on Lāna‘i (Lāna‘i): Off-roading is a way of life on barely paved Lāna‘i. Rugged trails lead to deserted beaches, abandoned villages, sacred sites, and valleys filled with wild game.

The best Hotels

Halekulani (O‘ahu;;



): When price is no object, this is really the only place to stay. A place of Zen amid the buzz, this beach hotel is the finest Waikīkī has to offer. Even if you don’t stay here, pop by for a sunset Mai Tai at House Without a Key to hear live Hawaiian music while a lovely hula dancer sways to the music. See p. 128.

Royal Hawaiian (O‘ahu;;



): This flamingo-pink oasis, hidden away among blooming gardens within the concrete jungle of Waikīkī, is a stunner. It’s vibrant and exotic, from the Spanish-Moorish arches in the common spaces to the pink-and-gold pineapple wallpaper in the rooms in the Historic Wing. See p. 130.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, the Big Island.

Kahala Hotel & Resort (O‘ahu;;



): Situated in one of O‘ahu’s most prestigious residential areas, the Kahala provides the peace and serenity of a neighbor-island vacation, but with the conveniences of Waikīkī just a 10-minute drive away. The lush, tropical grounds include an 800-foot, crescent-shaped beach and a 26,000-square-foot lagoon (home to two bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, and tropical fish). See p. 134.

Grand Hyatt, Kauai.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai (Big Island;;



): The seven pools alone will put you in seventh heaven at this exclusive yet environmentally conscious oasis of understated luxury, which also offers a private, 18-hole golf course and an award-winning spa, exquisite dining, and impeccable service—with no resort fee. See p. 256.

Fairmont Orchid Hawai‘i (Big Island;;



): Subtle elegance and warm service mark this recently renovated beachfront hotel in the Mauna Lani Resort, which takes pride in the area’s cultural treasures—including a vast petroglyph field and a network of fish ponds—as well as its own top-notch dining and an inviting, open-air spa set amid tumbling waterfalls and leafy walkways. Just outside the Fairmont lie two 18-hole championship golf courses of equal beauty. See p. 258.

Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel (Big Island;;



): This is the sleeper on the Kohala Coast, boasting huge rooms, an enormous beach, and an exceptional restaurant in a relaxing, low-key atmosphere. A nightly shuttle allows guests to explore the excellent dining options at the iconic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, the property’s gorgeous but pricier sister. See p. 259.

Andaz Maui (Maui;;



): The newest resort in Wailea offers a prime beachfront locale, chic decor, an apothecary-style spa, and two phenomenal restaurants, including one by superstar chef Masaharu Morimoto. Accommodations here ramp up the style quotient with crisp white linens, warm wood furniture, and midcentury accents. Wrap yourself in a plush robe and nosh on the complimentary minibar snacks from the sanctuary of your private lanai. Visit the ‘āwili Spa, where you can mix your own massage oil and body scrubs; yoga and fitness classes are complimentary. See p. 373.

Travaasa Hāna (Maui;;



): Nestled in the center of quaint Hāna town, this 66-acre resort wraps around Kau‘iki Head, the dramatic point where Queen Kaahumanu was born. You’ll feel like royalty in one of the Sea Ranch Cottages here. Floor-to-ceiling sliding doors open to spacious lanais, some with private hot tubs. You’ll be far from shopping malls and sports bars, but exotic red-, black-, and white-sand beaches are just a short walk or shuttle ride away. This is luxury in its purest form. See p. 383.

Dole Plantation, pineapple field, O‘ahu.

Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay (Lāna‘i;;



): This gracious resort on Lāna‘i’s south coast overlooks Hulopo‘e Beach—one of the finest stretches of sand in the state. Guest rooms are palatial, outfitted with museum-quality art and automated everything—from temperature, lighting, and sound system to fancy toilets! The suites have deep soaking Japanese cedar tubs, and views that stretch on for an eternity. The restaurants and service throughout the resort are impeccable. See p. 481.

Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa (Kaua‘i;;



): At this sprawling, family-embracing resort in Po‘ipū, the elaborate, multitiered fantasy pool and saltwater lagoon more than compensate for the rough waters of Keoneloa (Shipwrecks) Beach. Don’t fret: Calmer Po‘ipū Beach is just a short drive away. Anara Spa and Poipu Bay Golf Course offer excellent adult diversions, too. See p. 570.

Poipu Plantation B&B Inn and Vacation Rentals (Kaua‘i;;



): Just a short walk from Brennecke and Po‘ipū beaches, a handsomely renovated 1938 cottage holds four bed-and-breakfast suites, with a half-dozen well-equipped cottage units sharing the quiet compound, managed by gracious innkeepers and their helpful staff. See p. 573.

The best Restaurants

Alan Wong’s Restaurant (O‘ahu;;



): Master strokes at this shrine of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine include ginger-crusted fresh onaga (red snapper), a whole-tomato salad dressed with li hing ume (plum powder) vinaigrette, and opihi (limpet) shooters. Alan Wong reinvents local flavors for the fine-dining table in ways that continue to surprise and delight. See p. 151.

Izakaya Gaku (O‘ahu;



): The city is dotted with izakayas, Japanese pubs serving small plates made for sharing, and Izakaya Gaku is the best of them all. You’ll discover life beyond maguro and hamachi nigiri with seasonal, uncommon seafood, such as sea bass sashimi and grilled ray. Thanks to the large population of Japanese nationals living in Honolulu, the Japanese food here is some of the best outside of Japan. But it’s not just straight-from-Tokyo fare at Gaku; the chefs here scour fish markets around town daily for the best local fish. See p. 152.

The Pig and the Lady (O‘ahu;;



): This casual restaurant, with its traditional Vietnamese noodle soups and playful interpretations of Southeast Asian food, is both soulful and surprising. The soulful: the pho of the day, drawing on recipes from chef Andrew Le’s mother. The surprising: hand-cut pasta with pork and lilikoi (passionfruit). The best of both worlds: a pho French dip banh mi, with slices of tender brisket and a cup of pho broth for dipping. See p. 149.

Ka‘ana Kitchen (Maui;;



): Treat chef Isaac Bancaco’s grid menu like a gourmet bingo card; every combo is a winner. Start off with a hand-mixed cocktail and the ahi tataki: ruby-red tuna, heirloom tomato, and fresh burratta sprinkled with black salt and nasturtium petals. The $45 breakfast buffet grants you access to the kitchen’s novel chilled countertops, stocked with every delicacy and fresh juice you can imagine. See p. 406.

Mama’s Fish House (Maui;;



): Overlooking Kū‘au Cove on Maui’s North Shore, this restaurant is a South Pacific fantasy. Every nook is decorated with some fanciful artifact of salt-kissed adventure. The menu lists the anglers who reeled in the day’s catch; you can order ono caught by Keith Nakamura along the 40-fathom ledge near Hāna or deep-water ahi seared with coconut and lime. The Tahitian Pearl dessert is almost too stunning to eat. Though pricey, a meal at Mama’s is a complete experience. See p. 415.

Mama’s Fish House, Maui.

Merriman’s (Waimea, Big Island;;



Kapalua, Maui,



and Po‘ipū, Kaua‘i,



): Chef Peter Merriman, one of the founders of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, oversees a locally inspired culinary empire that also includes Monkeypod Kitchen outlets on Maui, Kaua‘i, and O‘ahu (p. 157). His original Waimea restaurant, opened in 1988 and now under the direction of chef Eric Purugganan, still merits the drive upcountry from the coast. See p. 276.

Da Poke Shack (Kailua-Kona, Big Island;;



): Poke—pronounced po-kay—the islands’ diced raw, marinated seafood specialty, comes in many varieties at this hole-in-the-wall takeout counter, where it’s prepared so expertly that patrons make repeat visits just to try them all. A second branch opened in Captain Cook




) in 2014 to equal acclaim. See p. 270.

Pueo’s Osteria (Waikoloa, Big Island;;



): Former Four Seasons Hualālai chef James Babian takes his inspiration from Tuscany and, as much as he can, uses ingredients from local farmers and fishermen, creating exceptionally fresh, well-priced cuisine paired with an intriguing wine list. Another reason to drive 15 minutes off the highway and up the mountain: The thoughtfully crafted bar menu is served until midnight daily. See p. 275.

Bar Acuda (Hanalei, Kaua‘i;;



): When the sun goes down, the surfing set freshens up for a night on the town at this stylish tapas bar. Created by Jim Moffat, a former star of San Francisco’s culinary scene, Bar Acuda’s fare is centered around fresh seafood and seasonal pairings inspired by Mediterranean cuisine. See p. 583.

The Beach House (Po‘ipū, Kaua‘i;;



): Sunset should be listed as its own course on the menu here because everyone stops to ogle it or snap pictures from the oceanfront lawn. But the food, which is just as good at lunch, stands on its own merits, from a crackerjack kitchen that was sourcing ingredients locally long before farm-to-table became a buzzword. See p. 587.

Nobu Lāna‘i (Lāna‘i;;



): Lāna‘i now ranks among New York, Milan, Budapest, and Mexico City as somewhere one can dine at a Nobu restaurant—a measure of how fun a place is, in the immortal words of pop star Madonna. The best way to experience this epicurean phenomenon is to order the omakase—the chef’s tasting menu—for $120. Each dish is as delicious as it is artful. See p. 483.

Hale Kealoha (Moloka‘i;;



): Siblings Kama Hoe and Tammy Smith, known for their down-home Hale Kealoha restaurant in Kailua, O‘ahu, have brought Moloka‘i its first island-inspired, locally sourced menu in an oceanfront setting—the low-key Hotel Moloka‘i. They’ve kept the Aloha Friday entertainment and moderate prices of the previous on-site restaurant but kicked everything else (including poke) up a notch.

The best of Hawai‘i for Kids

Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, Ko Olina, Hawai‘i (O‘ahu;;



): Disney built this high-rise hotel and spa (with timeshare condos) on 21 acres on the beach, about an hour’s drive from Waikīkī. It’s a great destination for families, with a full children’s program, plus areas and activities for teens and tweens. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, and other Disney characters walk the resort and stop to take photos with kids. See p. 136.

Dole Pineapple Plantation (O‘ahu;;



): Get the kids (and yourself!) a Dole Whip and fresh pineapple, and then take them through the main attraction: part maze, part scavenger hunt. They’ll also enjoy the Pineapple Express, a short train ride on a single-engine diesel locomotive around the plantation’s grounds. See p. 97.

Build Sandcastles on Kailua Beach (O‘ahu): This gorgeous beach is kid-friendly, with sand that slopes gently into the water. The waves vary in spots—perfect for the young ones to splash around and older kids to boogie board. The broad stretch of sand is also great for building castles. See p. 106.

Slumber Party at the Aquarium (Maui): Kids can book a sleepover in the Maui Ocean Center, staying up into the wee hours to watch glowing jellyfish and other nocturnal animals. See p. 306.

Snorkel in Kealakekua Bay (Big Island): Everyone can enjoy the dazzling display of marine life here on a Fair Wind cruise (;



or 808/322-2788), which offers inner tubes and underwater viewing boxes for little ones (or older ones) who don’t want to get their faces wet. Two water slides and a spacious boat with a friendly crew also make this a treat. See p. 228.

Play at Lydgate Park (Kaua‘i): If kids tire of snorkeling in the protected swimming area of Lydgate Beach, a giant wooden fantasy play structure and bridge to the dunes await, along with grassy fields and several miles of biking trails. See p. 508.

Ride a Sugarcane Train (Kaua‘i): At Kilohana Plantation (p. 507), families can enjoy an inexpensive, narrated train ride through fields, forest, and orchards, with a stop to feed sheep, goats, and wild pigs.

Surfer in Waikīkī.

For most people, the fetching dollops of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean are a dream destination—but getting to this remote region can seem daunting. So once you finally arrive, you’ll want to make the most of your time. In this chapter we’ve built five 1-week itineraries for O‘ahu, Hawai‘i Island, Maui, Moloka‘i, Lāna‘i, and Kaua‘i, each designed to hit the highlights and provide a revealing window into the real Hawai‘i.

You can follow these itineraries to the letter or use them to build your own personalized trip. Whatever you do, don’t max out your days. This is Hawai‘i, after all—save time to smell the perfume of plumeria, listen to wind rustling through a bamboo forest, and feel the caress of the Pacific.

A Week on O‘ahu

O‘ahu is so stunning that the ali‘i, the kings of Hawai‘i, made it the capital of the island nation. Below, we presume that you’ll be staying in Waikīkī; if your hotel is in another location, factor in extra time for traveling.

Day 1:

Unwind from your plane ride with a little sun and sand. Take a dip in the ocean at the most famous beach in the world: Waikīkī Beach (p. 102). Catch the sunset with a Mai Tai, Hawaiian music, and some of the loveliest hula you’ll ever see at House Without a Key (p. 165).

Day 2:

Thanks to jet lag, you’ll be up early; take advantage with an early-morning surf session, aka dawn patrol, to take advantage of the morning glass. Waikīkī has great waves for learning, and a surf lesson (p. 113) will have you riding the waves in no time. The poke at Ono Seafood (p. 145) makes a great post-surf meal. In the afternoon, head to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor (p. 77), site of the infamous 1941 attack. For dinner, go local. Head to the Highway Inn (p. 147) for kālua pig, laulau, pipikaula, and poi.

Day 3:

Fuel up on fresh fruit smoothies and chocolate banana bread at Tucker & Bevvy (p. 143) before heading to the North Shore (see Central O‘ahu & the North Shore, on p. 97). Stop in the quaint town of Hale‘iwa for a pineapple-lilikoi-mango treat at Matsumoto Shave Ice (p. 100), and grab a picnic lunch from Beet Box Café (p. 156). Pick one of the gorgeous North Shore beaches for a day of swimming and sunbathing. Waimea Beach Park (p. 108) is a favorite, no matter the season. In winter, if the waves are pumping and conditions are right, head to Pipeline (p. 100) and watch pro surfers ride this tube-like wave over razor-sharp reef. Heading back south, hit the shrimp trucks at Kahuku (p. 155). Still daylight? Take the longer coastal road back into Honolulu. On the way back to Waikīkī, stop at Town (p. 153) or 12th Ave Grill (p. 153) for dinner.

Waikīkī Beach.

Day 4:

Head out early in the morning to grab a fried malasada (hole-less doughnut) dipped in sugar at Leonard’s Bakery (p. 142) on your way to a snorkel at Hanauma Bay (p. 111). If you’re a strong swimmer and the water is calm (check with the lifeguard), head out past the reef and away from the crowds, where the water’s clearer and you’ll see more fish and the occasional turtle. Continue beach-hopping down the coastline—watch bodysurfing daredevils at Sandy Beach (p. 105). Hike the easy Makapu‘u Lighthouse (p. 116) trail, with views to Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i on a clear day. In winter, you may even see migrating humpback whales. Turn back to take the Pali Highway home to Waikīkī—and be sure to stop at the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout (p. 83).

'Iolani Palace.

Day 5: Glimpse Historic Honolulu & Experience Hawaiian Culture

Head to downtown Honolulu to see the city’s historic sites, including the ‘Iolani Palace (p. 75) and Kawaiaha‘o Church (p. 76). Lunch at The Pig and the Lady (p. 149) for modern Vietnamese food, pick up some tropical fruit to enjoy later, and browse the trendy boutiques (p. 62). Spend the afternoon at the Bishop Museum (p. 71) to immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture. Head up to Pu‘u ‘Ualaka‘a State Park (p. 83) to watch the sunset over Honolulu. For dinner, get a taste of Honolulu’s spectacular Japanese cuisine at Izakaya Gaku (p. 152).

Day 6:

On your last full day on O‘ahu, travel over the Pali Highway to the windward side of the island and spend a day at Kailua Beach (p. 106). It’s the perfect beach to kayak or stand-up paddle to the Mokulua Islands (or, as the locals call it, the Mokes) or simply relax. For your last dinner, splurge at Alan Wong’s Restaurant (p. 151), with classic local-style foods reimagined for the fine-dining table.

Day 7:

Head to the Honolulu Museum of Art for your tour of Shangri La (p. 75), the private palace of tobacco heiress Doris Duke. Filled with Islamic art, the interior is stunning, but so is the location, on a cliff facing Diamond Head. Pick up souvenirs at the museum’s gift shop. On your way to the airport, stop at Ala Moana Center (p. 161) for more shopping, and grab a pre-flight meal and in-flight snacks at Shirokiya’s second-floor Yataimura (p. 147).

A Week on the Big Island of Hawai‘i

Because of the distances involved, a week is barely enough time to see the entire Big Island; it’s best to plan for 2 weeks—or even better, a return visit. Here’s how to see the highlights, changing hotels as you go.

Day 1:

Since most flights arrive at lunchtime or later, check into your Kona Coast lodgings and go for a stroll through historic Kailua-Kona by Hulihe‘e Palace (p. 181) and Moku‘aikaua Church (p. 182). Wear sandals so you can dip your feet in one of the pocket coves, such as Kamakahonu Bay, within sight of Kamehameha’s historic compound, and enjoy a sunset dinner at an ocean-view restaurant. Don’t unpack—you’ll be on the road early the next day.

Day 2:

The day starts with a morning snorkel tour (plus breakfast and lunch) aboard the Fair Wind II (p. 228), sailing to the historic preserve of Kealakekua Bay. After returning to Keauhou Bay, head south to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (p. 207), by way of Pu‘uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park (p. 187) and the Ka‘ū Coffee Mill (p. 211), for a pick-me-up. Check into Volcano Village lodgings (p. 264) or Volcano House (p. 266) in the park, where you’ll dine in full view of Kīlauea’s fiery evening glow.

Day 3:

Stop at the national park’s Kīlauea Visitor Center to learn about current lava flows (if any) and the day’s free ranger-led walks. Take Crater Rim Road past billowing Halema‘uma‘u Crater (p. 208) to see Nāhuku, aka the Thurston Lava Tube (p. 209), and Devastation Trail (p. 246), before driving down Chain of Craters Road, leading to a vast petroglyph field and the 2003 lava flow that smothered the roadway. After sunset, visit the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum (open till 7:30pm; p. 208) and its observation deck (open all night) for yet another look at Pele’s power.

Day 4:

It’s just a 45-minute drive from Volcano to Hilo (p. 175), so after breakfast go to ‘Imiloa: Astronomy Center of Hawaii (p. 202), opening at 9am. Then explore Banyan Drive (p. 199), Lili‘uokalani Gardens (p. 199), and one of Hilo’s small but intriguing museums, such as the free Mokupāpapa Discovery Center (p. 203). Stroll through Nani Mau Gardens (p. 203) or the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (p. 194) before driving along the pastoral Hāmākua Coast (p. 193), stopping at breathtaking ‘Akaka Falls (p. 193) and the similarly stunning Waipi‘o Valley Lookout (p. 198). Dine on farm-fresh cuisine in Waimea (p. 276) or Kawaihae (p. 273) before checking into your Kohala Coast hotel.

Day 5:

Start by visiting Pu‘ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site (p. 189), the massive temple Kamehameha built to the war god, Kū; it also looks impressive on an intimate cruise with Kohala Sail & Sea (p. 230). Continue north on Hwy. 270 to Lapakahi State Historical Park (p. 190) to see the outlines of a 14th-century Hawaiian village, and have lunch in Hawi or Kapa‘au; the latter is home of the original King Kamehameha Statue (p. 190). The final northbound stop is the picturesque Pololū Valley Lookout (p. 190). Heading south in the late afternoon, stop at the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological Preserve (p. 189). To learn more Hawaiian lore, book one of Kohala’s evening lū‘aus (p. 288).

Day 6:

You’ve earned a morning at the beach, and the Big Island’s prettiest beaches are on the Kohala Coast: ‘Anaeho‘omalu Bay (A-Bay), Hāpuna, and Kauna‘oa (see Beaches, p. 215). Skip the scuba, though, because in the afternoon you’re heading up 13,796-foot Mauna Kea (p. 191), revered by astronomers. Let an expert with four-wheel-drive, cold-weather gear, and telescopes for stargazing take you there; Mauna Kea Summit Adventures (p. 195) or Hawai‘i Forest & Trail (p. 195) are recommended tour guides.

Thurston Lava Tube.

Day 7:

On your last full day, visit one of North Kona’s gorgeous beaches hidden behind lava fields, such as Kekaha Kai State Park (p. 216) or the tranquil cove at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (p. 182) in the morning. In the afternoon, relax with a spa treatment at the Fairmont Orchid’s Spa Without Walls (p. 258) or another Kohala resort spa, or tour a Kona coffee farm (p. 185) and pick up gourmet beans as souvenirs.

Pololū Beach.

A Week on Maui

You’ll need at least a week to savor Maui’s best experiences. We recommend splitting your vacation between East and West Maui, starting with hot and sunny beaches and ending in the rejuvenating rainforest. We’ve designed this itinerary assuming you’ll stay in West Maui for the first 3 days, but it works just as well if you stay in Wailea or Kīhei. To minimize driving, move your headquarters to lush East Maui on day 4.

Day 1:

After checking in to your hotel, head immediately for one of West Maui’s prime beaches (p. 324). After a reviving dip in the ocean, spend a couple of hours walking around the historic old town of Lahaina (p. 295). As the sun sets, immerse yourself in Hawaiian culture at Old Lahaina Lū‘aū (p. 427).

Day 2:

You’ll likely wake up early on your first morning here, so book an early-morning trip with Trilogy (p. 333), the best sailing/snorkeling operation in Hawai‘i. You’ll spend the day (breakfast and lunch included) sailing to Lāna‘i, snorkeling, touring the island, and sailing back to Lahaina. You’ll have the afternoon free to shop or nap.

Day 3:

Take a drive out to Mākena State Beach Park (p. 328) and soak in the raw beauty of this wild shore. On the way, pay a visit to the sharks and sea turtles at the Maui Ocean Center in Mā‘alaea (p. 306). Linger in South Maui to enjoy the sunset and feast at one of the area’s terrific restaurants (recommendations start on p. 404).

Day 4:

Venture up to the 10,023-foot summit of Haleakalā, the island’s dormant volcano. Witnessing the sunrise here can be phenomenal (as well as mind-numbingly cold and crowded). Aim for a little later and hike in the National Park (p. 309), an awe-inspiring experience any time of day. On your way back down the mountain, stop and tour Upcountry Maui (p. 297), particularly the communities of Kula, Makawao, and Pā‘ia. Plan for a sunset dinner in Kū‘au at Mama’s Fish House (p. 415). Stay at a nearby B&B or the chic Pā‘ia Inn (p. 381).

Old Lahaina Lū‘au.

Day 5:

Pack a lunch and spend the entire day driving the scenic Hāna Highway (p. 299). Pull over often and get out to take photos, smell the flowers, and jump in the mountain-stream pools. Wave to everyone, move off the road for those speeding by, and breathe in Hawai‘i. Spend the night in Hāna (hotel recommendations start on p. 383).

Hālawa Valley, Moloka‘i, as seen from the beach.

Day 6:

Take an early-morning hike along the black sands of Wai‘anapanapa State Park (p. 318); then explore the tiny town of Hāna (p. 318). Be sure to see the Hāna Museum Cultural Center, Hasegawa General Store, and Hāna Coast Gallery. Get a picnic lunch and drive out to the Kīpahulu end of Haleakalā National Park at ‘Ohe‘o Gulch (p. 320). Hike to the waterfalls and swim in the pools. Splurge on dinner at the Hotel Travaasa Hāna (p. 416).

Day 7:

Depending on how much time you have on your final day, you can relax on the beach, get pampered in a spa, or shop for souvenirs. Spa-goers have a range of terrific spas to choose from, and fashionistas should check out the boutiques in Makawao and Pā‘ia (recommendations start on p. 417). If you have time, explore the verdant gardens and waterfalls at ‘Iao Valley (p. 302).

A Week on Moloka‘i

Some visitors would quail at the thought of spending 7 whole days on Hawai‘i’s most low-key island, which at first glance seems to offer only a few activities and attractions. But you’ll need to plan your vacation carefully—including the season and days of the week—to be able to experience everything on this itinerary, based on a Monday arrival (weekday arrival strongly recommended). If you’re staying on the West End or East End, where the most desirable lodgings are, leave plenty of time to drive to Central Moloka‘i attractions.

Day 1: Arrive & Pick Up Edibles

Since you’re most likely staying in a vacation rental, after you pick up your rental car (a must), stop by Kumu Farms near the airport (p. 457) for organic produce. While en route to Kaunakakai (p. 435) to finish your shopping, enjoy the views of the Molokai Plumerias orchard (p. 438), typically in bloom March to October, and the historic Kapuāiwa Coconut Grove (p. 441).

Day 2:

Whether you’re hiking, flying, or riding the mules down to Kalaupapa National Historical Park (p. 441), you will need to have made reservations in advance—up to a month or more for the Kalaupapa Guided Mule Tour (p 442). But the effort and expense are worth it to explore this otherwise inaccessible, always impressive site of natural beauty and tragic history, where two Catholic saints, Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope (p. 442), helped care for the leprosy patients exiled here. After your return topside, recharge at Coffees of Hawaii (p. 438), which grows its own.

Day 3:

Pack a picnic lunch and beach gear—stop at Molokai Fish & Dive (, where you’ll want to stay for sunset. At 9pm make a hot bread run at Kanemitsu Bakery in Kaunakakai (p. 448).

Day 4:

Anyone can take the incredibly scenic, sinuous, shore-hugging drive to pretty Hālawa Beach Park (p. 447), but you’ll need reservations (book several weeks in advance) and a picnic lunch for the Hālawa Valley cultural tours (p. 445) offered by the Solatorio family. After the traditional Hawaiian protocol to welcome visitors and an introduction to the ancient enclave’s history, you’ll hike to the gorgeous, 250-foot Mo‘o‘ula Falls, where a dip is possible in calm conditions. Since you have your swim gear, stop at the East End’s Sandy and Kūmimi beaches (p. 447) on the drive home. You’ll also want to make a photo stop at Father Damien’s picturesque churches on the eastern half of King Kamehameha V Hwy., St. Joseph and Our Lady of Seven Sorrows (p. 442).

Day 5:

If you haven’t explored the teeming marine life and tranquil waters sheltered by the South Shore’s enormous fringing reef, then you haven’t really seen Moloka‘i at its finest. Depending on your ability, book a stand-up paddle or kayak excursion with Moloka‘i Outdoors (p. 449), or a snorkel/dive trip with Molokai Fish & Dive (p. 448). The reef typically keeps the water calm even in winter (Dec–Mar), when several outfitters also offer whale-watching excursions (p. 445). Unlike on Maui, your boat may be the only one visible for miles around. If it’s Friday, head to Aloha Friday at Hotel Moloka‘i (p. 460), where resident recording artist Lono and island elders play old-school Hawaiian music and pop classics by the oceanfront pool from 4 to 6pm; stay for a fresh, island-sourced dinner at Hale Kealoha (p. 456)

Day 6:

The best (and only recommended) way to explore the windswept dunes of Mo‘omomi Preserve and the miniature trees in the cloud forest atop the Kamakou Preserve is via one of the Nature Conservancy’s guided hikes (p. 451), offered once a month March through October—book as far in advance as possible. If neither hike is available or practical, drive to Pālā‘au State Park (p. 443) to check out the Kalaupapa Overlook and Phallic Rock, and stop by the Molokai Museum and Cultural Center (p. 439) and Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm (p. 440). Or simply browse the Saturday morning farmer’s market (p. 459) and quaint stores in Kaunakakai (p. 459).

Day 7: Enjoy the Peacefulness

If this is Sunday, then there’s little to do on Moloka‘i—besides going to one of the many churches—and that’s the way local folks like it. Now’s a good day to revisit a favorite beach or drive up to rustic Ironwood Hills Golf Course (p. 450).

A Week on Lāna‘i

The smallest of all the Hawaiian Islands, this former pineapple plantation is now home to a posh resort, hundreds of years of history, and a postage-stamp-size town with some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. There are enough activities here to keep you busy, but you’ll probably be happiest skipping a few and slowing down to Lāna‘i speed.

Day 1:

After settling into your hotel, head for the best stretch of sand on the island (and maybe the state): Hulopo‘e Beach (p. 473). It’s generally safe for swimming, and snorkeling within this marine preserve is terrific. The fish are so friendly you practically have to shoo them away; dolphins are frequent visitors. Climb up to the Pu‘u Pehe or Sweetheart Rock lookout. Dine like a celebrity at Nobu (p. 483).

Day 2:

Head into quaint Lāna‘i City to browse the boutiques (p. 486) and get a colorful history lesson at the Lāna‘i Culture & Heritage Center (p. 468). Buckle up for a 3½-hour tour with Rabaca’s Limousine Service. Let your driver navigate the rough road down to Polihua Beach (p. 474), Lāna‘i’s largest white-sand beach. On the way back, linger at the Garden of the Gods (p. 469) to snap photos of the otherworldly landscape at sunset. Finish your day at the Lāna‘i City Grill, listening to live music and dining by the fire pits out back (p. 484).

Day 3:

Spend the day with Trilogy Excursions (p. 475) on a snorkel sail or scuba adventure at Cathedrals, one of Hawai‘i’s most ethereal dive sites. At night, savor hand-mixed cocktails and shoot some pool at the Four Seasons Lāna‘i Sports Bar (p. 488).

Day 4:

Lāna‘i is a fantastic place to go four-wheeling. If it hasn’t been raining, splurge on a four-wheel-drive vehicle and head out to the East Side. Get a picnic lunch from Pele’s Other Garden (p. 485) and download the Lāna‘i Guide app for GPS-enabled directions, historic photos, and haunting Hawaiian chants. Find the petroglyphs at Shipwreck Beach (p. 475) and forge onward to Keōmoku Village and Lopa Beach (p. 470).

Day 5:

Fill your belly at One Forty (p. 483), where the lavish breakfast buffet’s omelet station, juice bar, and malasada (Portuguese doughnut) fryer should fuel you up for hours. Tackle the rugged four-wheel-drive road down to Kaunolu Village (p. 472), where King Kahekili and his warriors famously leapt from the cliffs into the sea. Return your car in town and catch a movie at Hale Keaka (p. 488).

Hulopo‘e Beach tide pools, Lāna‘i.

Day 6:

Visit the Island Adventure Center to book your preferred activity: a horseback ride through Lāna‘i’s upland forests (p. 478), a rambling UTV tour through several cultural sites, or a round of golf at the award-winning Challenge at Mānele golf course (p. 478). Follow your adventure up with a soothing treatment at the Four Seasons Resort Lāna‘i spa (p. 481).

Kayaking in Hanalei River.

Day 7:

Soak up the sun at Hulopo‘e Beach (p. 473). Grab a book and watch the kids play in the surf. If you feel inclined, follow the Kapiha‘a Trail (p. 480) along the rocky coast. For lunch, wander over to the Views (p. 484) and scan the horizon for dolphins or whales.

A Week on Kaua‘i

Because much of the Garden Island, including the Nāpali Coast, is inaccessible to cars, a week will just suffice to view its beauty. To save driving time, split your stay between the North and South shores (detailed below) or stay on the East Side.

Day 1:

From the airport, stop by Hamura’s Saimin Stand (p. 582) or another Līhu‘e lunch counter (see Plate Lunch, Bento & Poke, p. 580) for a classic taste of Kaua‘i before driving through the bustling Coconut Coast on your way to the serenity of the rural North Shore (p. 496). Soak in the views at the Kīlauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse (p. 511), and then poke around Kīlauea’s Kong Lung Historic Market Center (p. 595).

Day 2:

Thanks to the time difference, you’ll have a head start driving across the nine one-lane bridges on the way to the end of the road and popular Kē‘ē Beach (p. 530). If conditions permit, hike at least a half-hour out on the challenging Kalalau Trail (p. 552) for glimpses of the stunning Nāpali Coast, or tackle the first 2 miles to Hanakāpi‘ai Beach, 3 to 4 hours round-trip. After (or instead of) hiking, snorkel at Kē‘ē and equally gorgeous Mākua (Tunnels) Beach (p. 531), accessed from Hā‘ena Beach Park (p. 532). Eat lunch in Hā‘ena and then spend time in the jewel-box setting of Limahuli Garden and Preserve (p. 512). Return to Hanalei to explore shops and galleries; after dinner, enjoy live Hawaiian music at the venerable Tahiti Nui (p. 601).

Day 3:

The day begins on Hanalei Bay, kayaking, surfing, or snorkeling (see Watersports, p. 535) or just frolicking at one of the three different beach parks (p. 530). If the waves are too rough, head instead to lagoon-like ‘Anini Beach (p. 528). In the afternoon, try ziplining (p. 557) or horseback riding (p. 555) amid waterfalls and green mountains; the less adventurous (who’ve booked in advance) can tour delightful Nā ‘Aina Kai Botanical Gardens (p. 512). Savor views of Hanalei Bay and Bali Hai over cocktails at the St. Regis Princeville (p. 568) before dinner at Bar Acuda (p. 583).

Day 4:

After breakfast, head south. Visit Kīlauea’s Anaina Hou Community Park (p. 509) for Kaua‘i-themed mini-golf in a botanical garden or a hike or bike along the scenic Wai Koa loop trail. Stop for a bite at a funky cafe in Kapa‘a; then drive to ‘Ōpaeka‘a Falls and see the cultural sites of Wailua River State Park (p. 508). After crossing through busy Līhu‘e, admire the scenery on the way to Old Kōloa Town (p. 596), where you can browse the quaint shops before checking into your Po‘ipū lodgings. Pick a dinner spot from the many excellent choices in the Shops at Kukui‘ula (p. 597).

Day 5:

Splurge on a snorkel boat or Zodiac raft tour (p. 535) to the Nāpali Coast, or take a helicopter tour (p. 523) for amazing views of Nāpali, Waimea Canyon, waterfalls, and more. After your boat returns, hoist a draft beer at Kaua‘i Island Brewery & Grill (p. 592). For helicopter tours, most of which depart from Līhu‘e, book a late-morning tour (after rush hour). Then have lunch in Līhu‘e and drive to Wailua Falls (p. 509) before perusing the shops, tasting rum, or riding the train at Kilohana Plantation (p. 507).

Day 6:

Start your drive early to the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon (p. 521). Stay on the road through forested Kōke‘e State Park (p. 518) to the Kalalau Valley Lookout (p. 497), and wait for mists to part for a magnificent view. Stop by the Kōke‘e Museum (p. 554) to obtain trail information for a hike after lunch at Kōke‘e Lodge (p. 592). Or head back down to hit the waves at Salt Pond Beach or stroll through rustic Hanapēpē (p. 500), home to a Friday night art walk (p. 601).

The Nāpali Coast from helicopter.

Day 7:

Spend the morning at glorious Po‘ipū Beach (p. 532) before the crowds arrive, and then head over to Keoneloa (Shipwrecks) Beach (p. 533) to hike along the coastal Māhā‘ulepū Heritage Trail (p. 554). Later, indulge in a spa treatment at Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt Kauai (p. 570) or take a tour (booked in advance) at the National Tropical Botanical Garden (p. 517). Check out the flume of Spouting Horn (p. 518) before sunset cocktails at RumFire Poipu Beach in the Sheraton Kauai (p. 572) and dinner at the Beach House (p. 587).

Fire dancers.

Since the Polynesians ventured across the Pacific to the Hawaiian Islands 1,000-plus years ago, these floating jewels have summoned visitors from around the globe.

Located in one of the most remote and isolated places on the planet, the Hawaiian Islands bask in the warm waters of the Pacific, where they are blessed by a tropical sun and cooled by gentle trade winds—creating what might be the most ideal climate imaginable. Mother Nature has carved out verdant valleys, hung brilliant rainbows in the sky, and trimmed the islands with sandy beaches in a spectrum of colors. The indigenous Hawaiian culture embodies the spirit of aloha, an easy-going generosity that takes the shape of flower leis freely given, monumental feasts shared with friends and family, and hypnotic Hawaiian melodies played late into the tropical night.

Visitors are drawn to Hawai‘i not only for its incredible beauty, but also for its opportunities for adventure. Go on, gaze into that fiery volcano, swim in a sea of rainbow-colored fish, tee off on a championship golf course, hike through a rainforest to hidden waterfalls, and kayak into the deep end of the ocean, where whales leap out of the water for reasons still mysterious. Looking for rest and relaxation? You’ll discover that life moves at an unhurried pace here. Extra doses of sun and sea allow both body and mind to recharge.

Hawai‘i is a sensory experience that will remain with you, locked in your memory, long after your tan fades. Years later, a sweet fragrance, the sun’s warmth on your face, or the sound of the ocean breeze will deliver you back to the time you spent in the Hawaiian Islands.

The First Hawaiians

Throughout the Middle Ages, while Western sailors clung to the edges of continents for fear of falling off the earth’s edge, Polynesian voyagers crisscrossed the planet’s largest ocean. The first people to colonize Hawai‘i were unsurpassed navigators. Using the stars, birds, and currents as guides, they sailed double-hulled canoes across thousands of miles, zeroing in on tiny islands in the center of the Pacific. They packed their vessels with food, plants, medicine, tools, and animals: everything necessary for building a new life on a distant shore. Over a span of 800 years, the great Polynesian migration connected a vast triangle of islands stretching from New Zealand to Hawai‘i to Easter Island and encompassing the many diverse archipelagos in between. Archaeologists surmise that Hawai‘i’s first wave of settlers came via the Marquesas Islands sometime after a.d. 1000, though oral histories suggest a much earlier date.

Over the ensuing centuries, a distinctly Hawaiian culture arose. Sailors became farmers and fishermen. These early Hawaiians were as skilled on land as they had been at sea; they built highly productive fish ponds, aqueducts to irrigate terraced kalo lo‘i (taro patches), and 3-acre heiau (temples) with 50-foot-high rock walls. Farmers cultivated more than 400 varieties of kalo, their staple food; 300 types of sweet potato; and 40 different bananas. Each variety served a different need—some were drought resistant, others medicinal, and others good for babies. Hawaiian women fashioned intricately patterned kapa (barkcloth)—some of the finest in all of Polynesia. Each of the Hawaiian Islands was its own kingdom, governed by ali‘i (high-ranking chiefs) who drew their authority from an established caste system and kapu (taboos). Those who broke the kapu could be sacrificed.

The ancient Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipō, depicts a universe that began when heat and light emerged out of darkness, followed by the first life form: a coral polyp. The 2,000-line epic poem is a grand genealogy, describing how all species are interrelated, from gently waving seaweeds to mighty human warriors. It is the basis for the Hawaiian concept of kuleana, a word that simultaneously refers to privilege and responsibility. To this day, Native Hawaiians view the care of their natural resources as a filial duty and honor.

Western Contact

Cook’s Ill-Fated Voyage

In the dawn hours of January 18, 1778, Captain James Cook of the HMS Resolution spotted an unfamiliar set of islands, which he later named for his benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich. The 50-year-old sea captain was already famous in Britain for discovering much of the South Pacific. Now on his third great voyage of exploration, Cook had set sail from Tahiti northward across uncharted waters. He was searching for the mythical Northwest Passage that was said to link the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. On his way, he stumbled upon Hawai‘i (aka the Sandwich Isles) quite by chance.

With the arrival of the Resolution, Stone Age Hawai‘i entered the age of iron. Sailors swapped nails and munitions for fresh water, pigs, and the affections of Hawaiian women. Tragically, the foreigners brought with them a terrible cargo: syphilis, measles, and other diseases that decimated the Hawaiian people. Captain Cook estimated the native population at 400,000 in 1778. (Later historians claim it could have been as high as 900,000.) By the time Christian missionaries arrived 40 years later, the number of Native Hawaiians had plummeted to just 150,000.

King Kamehameha I.

In a skirmish over a stolen boat, Cook was killed by a blow to the head. His British countrymen sailed home, leaving Hawai‘i forever altered. The islands were now on the sea charts, and traders on the fur route between Canada and China stopped here to get fresh water. More trade—and more disastrous liaisons—ensued.

King David Kalākaua.

Two more sea captains left indelible marks on the islands. The first was American John Kendrick, who in 1791 filled his ship with fragrant Hawaiian sandalwood and sailed to China. By 1825, Hawai‘i’s sandalwood groves were gone. The second was Englishman George Vancouver, who in 1793 left behind cows and sheep, which ventured out to graze in the islands’ native forest and hastened the spread of invasive species. King Kamehameha I sent for cowboys from Mexico and Spain to round up the wild livestock, thus beginning the islands’ paniolo (cowboy) tradition.

King Kamehameha I was an ambitious ali‘i who used western guns to unite the islands under single rule. After his death in 1819, the tightly woven Hawaiian society began to unravel. One of his successors, Queen Kaahumanu, abolished the kapu system, opening the door for religion of another form.

Staying to Do Well

In April 1820, missionaries bent on converting Hawaiians arrived from New England. The newcomers clothed the natives, banned them from dancing the hula, and nearly dismantled the ancient culture. The churchgoers tried to keep sailors and whalers out of the bawdy houses, where whiskey flowed and the virtue of native women was never safe. To their credit, the missionaries created a 12-letter alphabet for the Hawaiian language, taught reading and writing, started a printing press, and began recording the islands’ history, which until that time had been preserved solely in memorized chants.

Children of the missionaries became business leaders and politicians. They married Hawaiians and stayed on in the islands, causing one wag to remark that the missionaries came to do good and stayed to do well. In 1848, King Kamehameha III enacted the Great Māhele (division). Intended to guarantee Native Hawaiians rights to their land, it ultimately enabled foreigners to take ownership of vast tracts of land. Within two generations, more than 80% of all private land was in haole (foreign) hands. Businessmen planted acre after acre in sugarcane and imported waves of immigrants to work the fields: Chinese starting in 1852, Japanese in 1885, and Portuguese in 1878.

King David Kalākaua was elected to the throne in 1874. This popular Merrie Monarch built ‘Iolani Palace in 1882, threw extravagant parties, and lifted the prohibitions on the hula and other native arts. For this, he was much loved. He proclaimed that hula is the language of the heart and, therefore, the heartbeat of the Hawaiian people. He also gave Pearl Harbor to the United States; it became the westernmost bastion of the U.S. Navy. While visiting chilly San Francisco in 1891, King Kalākaua caught a cold and died in the royal suite of the Sheraton Palace. His sister, Queen Lili‘uokalani, assumed the throne.

Who is Hawaiian in Hawai‘i?

Only kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) are truly Hawaiian. The sugar and pineapple plantations brought so many different people to Hawai‘i that the state is now a remarkable potpourri of ethnic groups: Native Hawaiians were joined by Caucasians, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans, Portuguese, Puerto Ricans, Samoans, Tongans, Tahitians, and other Asian and Pacific Islanders. Add to that a sprinkling of Vietnamese, Canadians, African Americans, American Indians, South Americans, and Europeans of every stripe. Many people retain an element of the traditions of their homeland. Some Japanese Americans in Hawai‘i, generations removed from the homeland, are more traditional than the Japanese of Tokyo. The same is true of many Chinese, Koreans, and Filipinos, making Hawai‘i a kind of living museum of Asian and Pacific cultures.

The Overthrow

For years, a group of American sugar plantation owners and missionary descendants had been machinating against the monarchy. On January 17, 1893, with the support of the U.S. minister to Hawai‘i and the Marines, the conspirators imprisoned Queen Lili‘uokalani in her own palace. To avoid bloodshed, she abdicated the throne, trusting that the United States government would right the wrong. As the Queen waited in vain, she penned the sorrowful lyric Aloha Oe, Hawai‘i’s song of farewell.

U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s attempt to restore the monarchy was thwarted by Congress. Sanford Dole, a powerful sugar plantation owner, appointed himself president of the newly declared Republic of Hawai‘i. His fellow sugarcane planters, known as the Big Five, controlled