From snowcapped volcanoes to rainforests to lava-rock deserts, Hawaii is much more than the parade of high-rise hotels that hug glorious Waikiki Beach. The push and pull between highly developed tourist apex, ancient Polynesian culture, and natural paradise is palpable in the complex 50th state. Add to that the vestiges of “old” (pre–1959 statehood) Hawaii—the one where mai tais are poured in a salty seaside shack to the tune of hapa haole (Hawaiian music with English lyrics), and you have a destination with a rich, complex identity. But everywhere the generous spirit of “aloha” is infectious, making lifetime repeat visitors of many who set foot on these exotic, yet very American, islands.
- A horseback or carriage ride into the Big Island’s Waipio Valley, a lush ancient gorge sacred to the Hawaiians, where taro is still cultivated as it was by the original Polynesian settlers who set foot here more than a thousand years ago.
- Ringing the enormous bell at Oahu’s stunning Byodo–In temple, a replica of a 900-year-old building in Uji, Japan, with a gorgeous green mountain backdrop.
- Seeing some of the best hula dancers in the state at the dance’s traditional birthplace on rural Molokai at the three-day Molokai Ka Hula Piko festival in May.