Visiting Hawaii? New to Hawaii? Or just not that familiar with Hawaii — but ready to change that. This page has links to things you should know about Hawaii, as well as points of interest, insider tips and even trivia.
BYODO-IN TEMPLE – Built in 1976 to commemorate the 100year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants coming to Hawaii, the Byodo-In Temple is the perfect image of peaceful tranquility. Located at the foot of the Ko’olau mountains, it serves as a sacred place of worship for the local Buddhist community, but also welcomes visitors of all faiths to come and meditate or simply enjoy the beautifully landscaped grounds.
Constructed as a smaller-scale replica of the original 950-year-old Byodo-In Temple in Uji, Japan, it is often the site of wedding ceremonies and TV shows, with hundreds of Japanese carp, meditation niches, small waterfalls and wild peacocks.
The temple is also home to Amida, an immensely large golden Buddha. It is thought to be largest figure carved outside of Japan, standing over nine feet tall. Located in a stunning hall that was designed to artfully evoke the cultural essence of the aristocratic Fujiwara era, Amida is also surrounded by 52 smaller sculptures.
Then there is the three-ton brass Bon-sho Bell, which, upon striking, produces a resonating sound that is supposed to induce a tranquil atmosphere, necessary for meditation.
Other attractions include a place for one to be alone with their thoughts at the Meditation Pavilion, and the Tea House gift shop where visitors may purchase food to feed the koi.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission is $3 for adults, $2 for senior-citizens, and $1 for children. The temple accepts cash only.
Out of respect, it is asked that visitors please remove their shoes before entering the sanctuary.
For more visitor and contact information, or directions, click here.
Before becoming a state in 1950, Hawaii was ruled by royalty. Various sites throughout the state have been dedicated to the preservation of the state’s sovereign past. These sites serve as a reminder of an era of decadence, turmoil and sorrow, and seem to stand still as the world around them rushes to keep up with the demands of modern society. One would be amiss if they skipped out on the rich history the islands have to offer.
364 S. King Street Honolulu, HI 96804
There is nothing more bone-chilling than standing in the same place the monarchs ate, bathed, and slept more than a century ago. Built in 1882 and located in the heart of downtown Honolulu on South King Street, Iolani Palace is Hawaii’s Versailles, the official residence of former royalty. Site of the infamous overthrow of the monarchy, it was a place of jovial festivity before it became a prison to Hawaii’s last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. In all of its opulence and regality, Iolani Palace is the physical manifestation of Hawaii’s royal heritage.
Free and open to the public, visitors may venture onto the palace grounds Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Palace tour prices vary, as well as tour times. Click here to see a schedule of times and prices, or for more information, one can visit the palace’s website: http://www.iolanipalace.org/index.php/museum-information/welcome.html
957 Punchbowl Street
Honolulu, HI 96813
One of Honolulu’s oldest churches, Kawaiahao Church was resurrected in 1842. By royal order of King Kamehameha III, it is built entirely out of coral hewn from nearby reefs. Within its majestic walls the kingdom’s royalty prayed, sang hymns, were married, and christened their children. Paintings of all the kingdom’s Ali’i’s, starting from King Kamehameha the Great, seem to watch from the church’s upper levels as worshippers sing along with the church’s pipe organ.
Beautifully landscaped, the church grounds also hold the tomb of one of the kingdom’s most beloved and well-liked monarchs, King William Charles Lunalilo. It was the king’s last wish to be laid to rest near his people.
The church regularly holds open services on Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings, where services are conducted partly in the Hawaiian language.
For information on sermons or other events, visit their website: http://www.kawaiahao.org/
MAKAPU’U – A day spent at Makapu’u Beach would be filled with adventure and breathtaking scenery. The beach itself being a popular East Oahu surf spot, Makapu’u Beach is located just down the road from the famous Sandy Beach. Waves and crowds usually peak during the summer season when the island’s North Shore waves go flat.
Overlooking the beach is Makapu’u Lookout, which is the perfect place to snap photos of Makapu’u’s blue-green waters and Waimanalo Beach (located a little further along the coast). Other excellent backdrops for photo ops include Rabbit Island, named due to its uncanny resemblance to (what else?) a rabbit.
After capturing some Kodak moments at the lookout, visitors can hike up a paved walk to Makapu’u Lighthouse where more stunning views of the island’s east facing shores make for beautiful additions to the family photo album.
PALI – King Kamehameha the Great was not only Hawaii’s first king, but also a fearless warrior. See where he became one of the most revered figures in Hawaiian history by venturing out to the Pali Lookout. It was here in 1795 that Kamehameha and his warriors defeated Oahu’s armies by sending them over the steep cliffs, a victory that united the Hawaiian Islands and prompted the rise of the monarchy.
The lookout is located amongst the majestic Ko’olau Mountains, 985 feet tall. Not just a historical site, the Pali Lookout also gives tourists one of the best views on the island. From here you can look down into the lush green valleys that roll through the island’s wetter half as you try not to get blown away! Gusty winds are known to reach such violent speeds that sometimes the park has to close itself to the public for the day.
Visitors can also see Chinaman’s Hat Island and the glittering waters of Kaneohe Bay in the distance while perched atop the lookout.
Park hours go from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, weather permitting of course.
For directions and other information, click here.
DIAMOND HEAD – One of Hawaii’s most prolific icons, Diamond Head Crater, or Leahi, is more than just a pretty backdrop for the Waikiki postcards. It is one of the island’s best known hikes, in addition to being the site of numerous geological and military events throughout history.
The hike itself is a steep 0.8 mile trek to the summit. Generally taking 25 minutes to reach the top, those who take a little longer have nothing to be ashamed about. Not only does the last 1/10 of the hike consist entirely of stairs, the sharp ascent from trailhead to summit totals 560 feet. Tunnels and concrete stairs will guide visitors through the iconic landmark that was once used as a station to direct artillery fire from the bunkers at the summit. The bunkers remain there to this day.
While the hike does sound daunting, don’t let the challenge deter you. Panoramic views of shorelines running from Koko Head to the Waianae coast are worth it.
Entrance fees into the park are $1 per pedestrian and $5 for cars entering through the park’s gates. The park is open every day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., but the last call for those who wish to do the hike is at 4:30 p.m.
To access the park website, click here.
ALA MOANA – Literally meaning “path to the sea” in Hawaiian, Ala Moana Shopping Center is the world’s largest outdoor open air mall. Aside from Ala Moana Beach Park being right on its doorstep, many flock to Ala Moana because of its world class shopping. It is a short trip from Waikiki with more than 290 shops offering a wide range of personal style and prices. Four of the nation’s major department stores flank the mall’s perimeter (Macy’s Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, and Sears), while everything in-between ranges from high-class to affordable. The mall also boasts more than 70 restaurants serving cuisine from all over the world, including Goma Tei, Assagios, Mariposa, and an international food court.
Also serving as a gathering place for the island, concerts and performances are often scheduled at the mall’s Center Stage.
For more information and mall hours, click here.
WAIKELE – The Waikele Premium Outlets are located in the heart of Central Oahu, about a 30 minute drive from Honolulu. The open air mall houses 50 stores offering bargain outlet prices on famous designer brands such as Michael Kors, Saks fifth Avenue and Coach. A shopping trip that is definitely worth the trek, shoppers might also appreciate the space to breathe and fewer crowds then one would find in town.
For information, maps, store listings and mall hours, click here.
World-renowned for its incredible surf and white sandy plains, there is no place in the world that comes close to the magic of Oahu’s North Shore.
Go snorkeling at Shark’s Cove and delight in the company of sea turtles and tropical reef fish. Float in the sparkling waters of Waimea Bay as you watch thrill seekers jump off a rocky ledge three stories high. Bask in the sun at Sunset Beach while surfers gliding through crystal barrels put on a show. Or rent a paddle board to ride the mellow waves at Haleiwa Beach Park. Waves during the winter season attract people from all over the world, reaching heights well over 20 feet. It is also during this season that Pipeline hosts its famous surf contests, including the always astonishing Eddie Aikau event. Hoards of spectators watch in awe as pro surfers brave strong rip currents and giant waves that can, and have, taken lives.
When the ocean flattens out in the summer, those less adept at battling waves of utter monstrosity are able to take a leisurely dip and enjoy the sensation of cool waters against warm, sun-kissed skin.
One can also find numerous lunch trucks scattered along the shoreline, the most popular being the shrimp trucks serving fresh Kahuku shrimp. Be sure to visit Giovanni’s Shrimp truck, which offers variations such as shrimp doused in butter, chopped garlic, lemon, and served with a side of rice.
After spending the day as a beach bum, be sure to stroll through historic Haleiwa town. While there, pick up a fresh deli sub from Storto’s, sip on a refreshing Li Hing Mui margarita at Cholo’s, or shop for gifts at the little thrift shops lining the town’s main street. Most importantly, become a part of a local debate that has been the talk of the town for decades: Matsumoto’s shave ice or Aoki’s?
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Spacious and beautiful in all of its unkempt wildness, the Big Island of Hawaii is comprised of lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and rolling farmlands. It is also home to three unique volcanoes, one of them still active. The volcanoes reside at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where visitors have the opportunity to see a side of nature that is wild, unpredictable, and a little dangerous. Fittingly so, being that the Big Isle is not only the largest in the island chain (hence it’s literal nickname), but also the youngest.
Guided tours lead visitors through fields and tubes of hardened lava, wet forests, and geological museums. The trio of volcanoes (Kilauea, Mauna Kea, and Mauna Loa) are visible throughout the island and have distinctive characteristics.
Kilauea remains very much active, sending flows of lava cascading through surrounding communities as recently as April 2012.
Nestled in the snowy peaks of Mauna Kea are the Mauna Kea Observatories, famous for its state-of-the-art telescopes and as the world’s largest observatory in optical astronomy. Visitors can drive up Saddle Road for an education on developments occurring in the heavens.
Mauna Loa appears as a floating mountain in the clouds, rising above the island as the world’s largest volcano when measured from its base at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to its dome-shaped summit.
Visitors may learn more about the history and activity of each volcano at the park’s museum, complete with geological samples, timelines, and a seismograph where one can see how an earthquake is measured. In addition to the museums, there are also art galleries and film showings for visitors of all ages.
Endemic wildlife, mostly endangered, can also be seen on the grounds of the park. There is a decreasing population of Nene goose, the State bird, which the reservation is trying to nurture back to stability.
The park is open daily with each facility operating at various hours. Admission fees run at $10 per individual while children 15 years and younger get in for free. Click on the links to set up tours, view daily hours of operation, or to simply learn more.
Bishop Museum is the largest museum in Hawaii and recognized throughout the world for its exclusive collections and extensive library and archives. It was opened in 1889 as a memorial to Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last direct descendant of King Kamehameha I. The museum’s original collections were based largely on the royal family heirlooms.
Admission is $17.95 for adults, $14.95 for children 4-12 years and seniors 65+, and free for children under 4 and Bishop Museum Members. There are also discounts available for kama‘āina (local residents) and military.
With five exhibit halls, highlights of the museum include exhibits of the royal family’s personal keepsakes and ancient Hawaiian artifacts. The Watumull Planetarium offers daily sky shows, educational programs, and a recently added state-of-the-art exhibit that projects images of the solar system, weather patterns, and other scientific data on a six-foot white fiberglass sphere. Visitors can learn about Hawaii’s natural environment through a three-floor gallery of interactive exhibits at the Mamiya Science Adventure Center. Topics of discovery include volcanology (see lava melt!), oceanography, and Hawaii’s unique system of biodiversity.
Bishop Museum offers regularly scheduled guided exhibit tours, Hawaiian music and hula shows, Native Hawaiian crafting and demonstrations, garden tours, and dramatic storytelling. They are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except Tuesdays and Christmas.
Click here for a list of upcoming events and other museum information.
PEARL HARBOR MEMORIAL
Easily one of Hawaii’s main attractions, Pearl Harbor Memorial attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year. Many go to pay their respects to the thousands who lost their lives on one of the most infamous days in American history. It is sobering knowing that you are standing over the watery tomb of 1,177 men.
Aside from a boat trip to the USS Arizona Memorial, there are also guided educational tours and a theatre that showcases documentaries about the attack with live first-hand accounts by WWII veterans. The visitor center is open daily from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
With such large numbers of people visiting the memorial every day (literally busloads), it would be in one’s best interest to plan a visit well ahead of time. The best time of day to visit is early in the morning before the tour buses arrive.
Avoid long ticket lines and the risk of waiting only to find out that tickets are sold out by booking ahead of time. Tickets can be ordered online up to a three-month period. There is a non-refundable reservation fee of $1.50 per ticket. Reservations can be made through their website or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
Click here to learn more about the Memorial’s tours and events.
POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER
About an hour away from Waikiki in the sleepy town of La’i’e is an experience that can only be found in Hawaii. At the Polynesian Cultural Center, visitors have the opportunity to become culturally enlightened while being visually and physically engaged in an active learning environment.
Exhibits are setup like small villages, categorized by the different islands that are a part of the Polynesian region. Some islands include Samoa, Tahiti, and New Zealand, among others. Employees put on dances and demonstrations that showcase cultures and daily lifestyles. Also included are displays of traditional garments and ancient artifacts, all unique to a specific island’s heritage. Some of the displays are hands-on, with a few offering activities such as basket weaving and temporary body art. At the Samoa exhibit, one can enjoy the fresh juice from a young coconut after having watched an employee race up the bark of a towering coconut tree to pick it.
As the setting sun signals the end of the day’s activities, the center comes together to put on a spectacular luau and night show for its guests. The festive dinner spread includes a roasted pig cooked in an underground oven as well as other ‘ono foods authentic to Hawaii. After feasting, guests are treated to an on-stage production where the villages come together and put on a show which includes fire stunts, adrenaline pumping drum performances, and traditional Polynesian dances.
To plan a day, find special deals, or buy tickets, you can visit their website.