31 Unique Ways to See Hawaii Like a Local

Venture beyond Hawaii’s typical tourist destinations and experience the islands through the eyes of a local. Away from the tourist traps, the islands are brimming with hidden gems and regional favorites. Here’s how to distance yourself from the overcrowded beaches and enjoy the rich history and stunning landscapes without the usual crowds. 

Commercial Snorkel Tours vs. Independent Discovery 

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Snorkeling tours can be costly and crowded. Rent some gear and head to places like Hanauma Bay or Shark’s Cove, where you can explore marine life at your leisure.

Avoid the Tourist Menus 

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Skip the tourist-targeted restaurants with their high prices and standard menus. Seek out eateries where locals eat. The food is often better, more authentic, and less expensive.

Skip the Luau, Find a Local Festival 

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While traditional luaus are a must-see for many, they can often be overpriced and overcrowded. Instead, look for local festivals happening during your visit. They’re frequent, fun, and offer a slice of authentic Hawaiian culture.

Ditch the Helicopter and Explore by Foot 

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Helicopter tours can offer breathtaking views but come with a hefty price tag. Consider hiking for a more immersive and affordable adventure. Trails like the Manoa Falls Trail or Kalalau Trail offer stunning vistas at your own pace.

Ditch the Crowded Waikiki Beach 

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Waikiki Beach is famous, but its fame brings crowds. For a more serene beach day, try less populated beaches like Lanikai Beach or Waimea Bay. You’ll still get stunning views and sandy shores, minus the tourists.

Avoiding the Overpriced Hotels 

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Instead of booking a hotel in the center of the action, consider staying in a vacation rental or a boutique hotel further from the main tourist hotspots. You’ll enjoy more space and a more relaxed atmosphere.

Say No to Driving Tours 

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Many guided driving tours are expensive and stick to predictable routes. Rent a car and explore at your own pace, stopping at hidden gems.

Tourist-Heavy Historical Sites 

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While places like Pearl Harbor are significant, they can be very crowded. For a quieter experience, visit lesser-known historical sites like Waialae Avenue or Yokohama Bay.

Swap the Tour Bus for Public Transit 

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Tour buses are convenient but expensive. Hawaii’s public transit system can get you to many places on the islands, allowing you to see the sights without the steep price.

Create Your Own Kayak Tours 

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Instead of a structured kayak tour, rent a kayak and explore places like the Mokulua Islands at your own pace. It’s liberating and allows for a personalized adventure.

Nature Reserves Over Tourist Traps 

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Swap crowded tourist spots for tranquil nature reserves. The Waimea Valley and Koke’e State Park offer breathtaking landscapes and a chance to see some of Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna up close.

Forget Generic Souvenirs, Shop Local 

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Avoid chain souvenir shops that sell the same generic items. Instead, visit local markets like the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, where you can find unique handmade crafts that reflect the Hawaiian spirit.

Become a Voluntourist

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Engage with the community and the land by giving back. Volunteering opportunities allow you to learn more about the culture and natural environment.

Street Art and Culture Over Commercial Galleries 

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Explore local art scenes in places like Kaka’ako, where street murals tell real stories about Hawaii, far from the commercial galleries. Wander through this open-air gallery to connect you to the islands’ spirit in a way traditional galleries often can’t.

Eat Like a Local 

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Instead of dining at chains, try food trucks and small eateries serving poke bowls, loco moco, and more. It’s a tastier, more authentic way to eat in Hawaii.

Handmade Over Mass-Produced 

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You can find authentic Hawaiian gifts and crafts at local artisan shops, not the airport gift shops. These items, often made by local artists, offer an authentic taste of the islands.

Quiet Mornings at Lesser-Known Beaches 

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Start your day at lesser-known beaches for sunrise. You’ll avoid crowds and witness some of Hawaii’s most breathtaking moments.

Local Music Scenes 

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Discover Hawaii’s music by checking out live performances at smaller venues or town celebrations, where the music is heartfelt and the crowds are smaller.

Stay Off the Beaten Path 

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Choose accommodations in neighborhoods outside of major tourist areas. These often offer a more authentic and relaxed Hawaiian experience.

Upcountry Adventures 

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Head to the upcountry regions, like those on Maui, for a cooler climate and stunning landscapes. You’ll find farms, botanical gardens, and less-trodden hiking paths.

Cultural Immersion Classes 

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Participate in local workshops or classes such as Hawaiian quilting, hula dancing, or lei-making. This is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and bring home a unique skill.

Picnic Over Restaurant Chains

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Pack a picnic with local produce and enjoy it on the beach or at a scenic overlook. It beats dining at overpriced, impersonal chain restaurants.

Hidden Hikes Over Crowded Trails 

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Seek out less-known hiking trails through local guides or apps. Trails like the Waihou Spring Trail Loop offer a peaceful hike with fewer tourists.

Learn Through Local Storytelling 

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Attend a local storytelling session. Many communities have events where elders share stories and legends of Hawaii, offering a deeper understanding of the island’s heritage.

Farm-to-Table Experiences 

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Enjoy a meal at a farm that offers dining experiences. You’ll enjoy fresh, local cuisine and support sustainable agricultural practices.

Responsible Wildlife Encounters 

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Choose wildlife encounters responsibly. Opt for accredited sanctuaries or guided tours that prioritize animal welfare and conservation.

Early Morning Ocean Outings 

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Go snorkeling or surfing early in the morning to beat the crowds. The ocean is calmer, and you’ll have a more serene experience.

Explore Lesser-Known Islands 

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Consider visiting lesser-known islands like Molokai or Lanai, where you can enjoy island life without the crowds. Here, you can immerse yourself in untouched natural beauty and truly disconnect from your day-to-day stresses.

Seek Out Hidden Cultural Gems

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Explore small museums or cultural centers focusing on Hawaiian history and culture. These places are often overlooked but provide rich insights into the island’s past.

Sunset Moments Away From the Crowds 

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Find a secluded spot for sunset views instead of joining the crowds at popular lookout points. Sometimes, the best views are the ones you have all to yourself.

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Lori Meek

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