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Hilo is one of the two cities on the Big Island. Far from a tourist magnet, Hilo is a laid-back town that sees comparatively little outside traffic. Due to driving ocean winds, Hilo’s beaches pale in comparison with those on the leeward coast. However, Hilo offers endless road and mountain biking trails, good summer surfing, and easy access to Saddle Road. The streets of Hilo’s old-fashioned downtown also offer a glimpse into the city’s tragic past. Devastated by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960, the city remembers the natural disasters through park memorials and the Pacific Tsunami Museum. Clear from the tourism that clogs up the Kona side of the island, Hilo’s residents are usually less friendly to tourists. Indeed, the city itself may seem a bit run-down. However, with great food and easy access to adventure, Hilo may be a worthwhile stop.
Hilo lies on the Big Island’s east coast, at the intersection of Route 19 (Bayfront Highway), from the Hamakua Coast and Waimea, and Route 11, from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Kailua-Kona is 87 mi. away, across Saddle Rd. Rte. 19 and Kamehameha Avenue run parallel to each other next to Hilo Bay, and Kamehameha serves as downtown’s de facto Main St. Farther back from the water, Kilauea Avenue (which turns into downtown’s Keawe St.) and Kinoole Avenue are the main arteries that run parallel to the bay. Waianuenue Avenue is the major cross street and becomes Kaumana Drive, and then Saddle Rd. Rte. 11 (Kanoelehua Avenue), southeast of downtown, goes from the water to the airport.
Hilo is not known for its beaches, in part because it’s dominated by rocky coastline. The best places to go are east of downtown Hilo along Kalanianaole Ave. Onekahakaha Beach Park, a little less than 2 mi. northeast of the intersection of Rte. 11 and Kalanianaole Ave., has a sandy-floored swimming pool and a lawn for the perfect picnic, with basic facilities. Families sometimes head to Reed’s Bay, where the water is calm and perfect for small swimmers. But not to worry if the coastline isn’t your favorite, Hilo had more than just beach to offer. Hilo boasts the only tropical forest zoo in the US and the first Hawaiian Bank, which now stands as the Pacific Tsunami Museum.
Don’t let its small size fool you – this island city has plenty to see. Here are our favorites. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Hilo is full of fantastic food joints. To do it yourself, the colorful Hilo farmers’ market, on Mamo St. between Kamehameha and Kilauea, runs all day, every day.
Though the small cities of the Big Island often seem to have their eyelids half closed when the surf is down, there are exceptions on Wednesdays and Saturdays: the farmers’ markets. These gatherings, sprayed throughout the Big Island (most notably in Kona, Hilo, and Waimea), offer invigorating experiences with a wide array of people searching for deals. You’ll find hippies, townies, surfers, farmers, tourists, and resort bigwigs all within 10 ft. of each other browsing the fruit stands.
The farmers’ markets were originally showcases for the sugar plantations that dotted the eastern coast. Today, in Hilo alone, over 100 local farmers and craftspeople have set up shop to cater cheap fruits, kitsch, and clothing to locals and tourists alike. Here baked goods have taken over the western end, while to the south, clothing and crafts have sunk their roots. Fruits, vegetables, and summer wraps (spring rolls, not fried) are ubiquitous throughout.
The locals love the markets because of the unbeatable prices, the tourists for their authentic goods. Trying to beat the middle men is the common goal. The markets have become such social epicenters that some residents go just to have a half-hour of inevitable gab with fellow shoppers. They’re double shots of espresso for otherwise drowsy towns—a real trip.
In many ways, the confluence of backgrounds and ethnicities that make up Hawaii’s unique population is most evident in local culinary offerings. Most popular dishes combine elements of several cultures and incorporate unique island ingredients. Much like Hawaii residents, island fare is unpretentious and low-key; anything that isn’t beach-friendly is immediately suspect.
The epitome of local cuisine is the plate lunch. Plate lunches are available almost everywhere in Hawaii, from roadside stands to fast-food chains. The meal is a descendant of the Japanese plantation worker’s bento, a boxed lunch of rice, meat, and pickled vegetables. A typical plate lunch is a combination of two scoops of white rice, one scoop of macaroni salad, and an entree. For the entree, most places offer an overwhelming array of choices. At the very least, expect Japanese teriyaki or katsu, Korean short ribs, Filipino adobo, Chinese soy sauce chicken, hamburgers, and chili. Quantity often trumps quality in this island comfort food—most plate lunches can feed two people.
Many other local favorites have been taken from outside cultures and adapted over the years. Saimin is a noodle soup dish developed in and unique to Hawaii. Inspired by Japanese udon, Chinese mein, and Filipino pancit, saimin was developed during Hawaii’s plantation era. It is a soup dish of soft wheat egg noodles served in hot dashi (stock from Japanese bonito fish or shrimp). Same as Japanese ramen (which is often incorrectly called saimin by locals), saimin noodles tend to crinkle when cooked. Saimin is so common that even McDonald’s offers a fast-food version. Crack seed, residents’ preferred snack, is a generic term that refers to preserved fruit that have been cracked or split with the seed or kernel partially exposed as a flavor enhancement. Crack seed was brought to Hawaii by Chinese plantation workers. Many generations of Hawaiian children have flocked to neighborhood crack seed shops for after- school snacks. The little stores are packed with island delicacies—Japanese rice crackers (arare), coconut candy, and dried squid—in addition to the huge glass jars filled with varieties of crack seed.
Other local treats were once imported but have been fully embraced by Hawaii. Japanese immigrants supposedly brought shave ice to the islands during the plantation era, and it has been an island favorite every since. According to legend, the treat was created by an ancient Japanese shogun (general) who liked to snack on snow from Mt. Fiji. Often confused with the mainland snow cones, shave (not shaved) ice in Hawaii is much finer and thus absorbs the flavors rather than letting them sink to the bottom, earning the jealousy of countless sticky-fingered mainlanders. Modern toppings include the basic flavored syrups as well as fancier options such as ice cream, condensed milk, shaved li hing mui (salty plum), and azuki beans.
Spam, the lovable spiced ham in a can, rounds out any true Hawaiian’s diet. After the US military introduced Spam during WWII, islanders quickly incorporated the food into their cooking. “The Hawaiian steak” is often cooked, giving it a different taste than mainlanders are used to. Despite mainland conceptions of Spam as pedestrian and unappealing, islanders are addicted. Hawaii now boasts the highest Spam consumption in the States (over 6.7 million cans per year). Spam musubi, sticky rice topped by Spam and wrapped in dried seaweed, is one of the most popular forms of the food’s preparation.
Poi is another unique island dish. Made out of pounded taro root, poi is a thick, purplish-gray paste past down from Native Hawaiian’s Polynesian ancestors. Lacking a strong flavor, poi’s unfamiliar consistency and appearance make it an acquired taste. Locals swear by it, however, and some even rave about its semi-magical healing powers. If you’re going to give poi a try, make sure it’s fresh—the poi is sweetest right after it’s made.
Hawaii-based chefs have developed a style of cooking they call Hawaii Regional Cuisine. Led by Sam Choy, Alan Wong, and Roy Yamaguchi, the chefs have taken advantage of Hawaii’s unique ingredients to create a type of cuisine that honors Hawaii’s diverse culture while meeting the highest culinary standards. Dishes include seared Hawaiian ahi with lilikoi shrimp butter and guava-smoked Kahua ranch lamb. Hawaiian Regional Cuisine has proved to be a culinary revolution on the island. Prized for its fresh ingredients, beautiful presentation, and creativity, it has not only raised the level of gourmet dining on the island but has also established Hawaii-grown products as some of the finest in the world.
Hawaii’s architecture reflects its varied past. Heiau are remnants of ancient Hawaiian religion. These simple structures were built to honor the gods and typically consist of altars and taboo houses enclosed by lava or limestone walls. Many still stand today, albeit in varying stages of disrepair, and there have been initiatives to restore them to their original states.
Plantation-style houses are another throwback to Hawaii’s past. Built to house immigrant workers from China, Japan, and the Philippines, the houses were grouped in villages. They stood on lava rock foundations and featured single-wall construction and cedar shingle roofs. The plantation-style commercial structures of this era were much more elaborate, often consisting of multiple buildings grouped around a courtyard. The main building would sometimes be modeled in mainland style, with wide canopies. The Honolulu Hale and the Hawaii State Public Library are prominent examples of this design.
Along with Christianity, missionaries also brought a more ostentatious style of architecture. The American Florentine Iolani Palace, the only example of American Florentine architecture in the world, and Gothic structures like Saint Andrew’s Cathedral were built in the late 19th century and strongly reflect Western influences. The 1990s saw the construction of Hawaii’s first true skyscrapers, including First Hawaiian Center, Hawaii’s tallest building. Most residential houses in Hawaii have been built with regard to the islands’ tropical climate. They are typically low, airy structures that were built with an eye to the cooling trade winds. Though some critics doubt the cohesion of Hawaiian architecture, contemporary styles certainly reflect the diverse architectural history of Hawaii. Constant reverence for Hawaiian symbolism and attention to abundant natural Hawaiian light are consistently included in current designs.
Hawaii has a rich and thriving art community. Along with numerous private galleries, Oahu has two notable art museums. The Honolulu Academy of the Arts celebrated its 80th birthday in 2007, and the museum houses a permanent stock of over 70,000 pieces, including a celebrated collection of Asian art. The less conventional Contemporary Museum has two locations on Oahu. Part of the organization’s mission dictates that a significant portion of its exhibits must focus on art created in Hawaii. Maui, too, has a strong coalition of artists and art lovers. Each spring, the island hosts Art Maui, a prestigious exhibit of about 100 new works by Maui County artists.
Hawaiian art before the arrival of Captain James Cook in 1778 shares the themes of other Oceanic art from the period. Without metal or woven cloth, Native Hawaiians created of wood carvings, feather work, and petroglyphs. These art forms continue today as the Hawaiian renaissance persists.
Hawaii has inspired a number of extraordinary artists. Although prominent oil painter John Young died in 1999, he is remembered by a museum within the University of Hawaii. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) travelled to Hawaii in the late 1930s to escape a difficult divorce. She was revitalized by her three-month stay in Hawaii, which followed a two-year dry period. Prior to settling down in Honolulu, Paris-born Jean Charlot (1898-1979) worked as Diego Rivera’s assistant in Mexico. During his time in Hawaii, Charlot applied the techniques he learned with Rivera to a number of fresco murals that can be seen in various Oahu locations. Madge Tennent (1889-1972) concentrated on capturing the beauty she saw in the Hawaiian people. She is best known for her oil paintings of Hawaiian women, many of which hang prominently in buildings around Honolulu. Other notable Hawaiian artists include watercolor artist Hon-Chew Hee (1906-1993), painter and printmaker Yvonne Cheng (born 1941), and potter and watercolor artist Charles Higa (born 1933).
Art takes on a practical form in Hawaii’s distinctive quilts. After learning quilting techniques from New England missionaries, Hawaiian women translated the images from their daily lives onto fabric. The quilts, with their flower, leaf, and vine designs, are still popular today.
As in the visual arts, the Hawaiian islands often served as inspiration to great writers. Early in his career, Mark Twain journeyed from San Francisco to Hawaii for a four-month stay that eventually helped him achieve his mammoth literary stature. Chronicles of his 1866 trip were published in the Sacramento Union and scholars hold that it was in Hawaii that Twain first began to develop his singular descriptive and interpretive style. Twain later compiled his personal and professional writings from this period into Roughing It. Intrigued by the islands and people of the Pacific, Robert Louis Stevenson explored Hawaii extensively and lived the last years of his life in Samoa. Much of his writing from that period is compiled in Travels in Hawaii. Jack London and Herman Melville also passed through the islands briefly and wrote about their travels. One of the most well-known novels about Hawaii, and perhaps one of the most monotonous, is James Michener’s 1036-page epic titled, simply, Hawaii. A combination of fact and fiction, the book begins with the creation of the islands and follows their growth until the year 1955.
Nurtured by local enterprises, such as Bamboo Ridge, the journal of Hawaiian literature and arts, local writers are gaining exposure and critical acclaim. The leader of this generation of authors is Hawaiian-born novelist Lois-Ann Yamanaka, who tackles the themes of Asian-American families. Yamanaka’s work addresses the reality of living in paradise; she eschews flowery words, aiming instead for authentic pidgin dialogue between her characters. Other authors who are a part of this reinvention of Hawaiian literature include Milton Murayama, Darrell Lum, Sylvia Watanabe, Kathleen Tyau, and Nora Okja Keller.
Hawaii has a rich musical tradition, both which were crucial in the development of modern pacific music. Traditional Hawaiian folk music is a huge part of the state’s musical heritage and the music is largely religious in nature. The mele (chant) is often accompanied by percussion and dancing. From 1778 onward, Hawaii began a period of acculturation with the introduction of numerous styles of European music, including the himeni (hymns) introduced by Protestant missionary choirs and the string instruments of the Spanish-speaking paniolo (cowboys). Legends hold that the ukulele was introduced to Hawaii in 1879 by a Portuguese immigrant named João Fernandes. The islanders dubbed Fernandes’s cavaquinho (also known as a braguinha, a type of guitar) a ukulele (literally, “jumping flea”) because of the way the musician’s fingers jumped across the strings of the instrument. The ukulele quickly gained popularity; even Hawaiian royalty became proficient. It became a symbol of Hawaiian beach culture during the 1920s and 30s, thanks to the Waikiki Beachboys, who serenaded locals and tourists with their ukuleles. The Waikiki Beachboys, not to be confused with the West Coast American group, included such renowned Hawaiian musicians as Squeeze Kamana, Pua Kealoha, and Chick Daniels.
Traditional Hawaiian musicians record songs almost entirely in Hawaiian and use the ukulele, steel guitar, and slack key guitar extensively. As legend has it, the steel guitar was developed on Oahu by local youngster Joseph Kekuku in the late 19th century. Kekuku’s instrument was able to achieve a previously unthinkable range of sound and to this day remains a centerpiece of Hawaiian music. Contrary to legend, experts believe the guitar came to the islands via early 19th-century cowboys. However, Hawaiians developed the unique slack-key sound themselves. Hawaiian musicians round out the distinctive island sound with a guitar technique called slack key, or ki hoal. Literally, “loosen the key,” this method of playing consists of relaxing the strings of an acoustic guitar and picking them with the fingers.
With the Hawaiian renaissance of the 1970s, traditional artists, such as Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoole (1959-1997), the Sons of Hawaii, and Kealil Reichel, all experienced a boost in their popularity. The emergence of Jawaiian, a Hawaiian style of reggae music, in the 1980s coincided with the spread of reggae culture in Hawaii. Pop artist and surfer Jack Johnson also hails from Oahu, and the influence of laid-back North Shore culture permeates his popular music.
The hula has long been a symbol of Hawaiian culture. The hula centers around the mele (chant) and the dance either dramatizes or comments on the mele. The dances and chants of ancient hula were an integral part of the Hawaiians’ oral tradition. Through them, elders ensured that their traditions, customs, and history would live on in a younger generation. For a short period in the early 19th century, Christian missionaries convinced the reigning monarchs to outlaw the dance. However, all that changed when, in 1874, King David Kalakaua ascended to the throne. The new king, nicknamed the “Merrie Monarch,” became hula’s greatest patron, and during his rule, the dance flourished. The ukulele and the steel guitar were used to accompany dancers, who began wearing ti leaf skirts for the first time. Kalakaua is remembered each Easter in the Merrie Monarch Festival, which showcases both ancient hula and the more modern versions that have developed.
Despite the difficulty of transporting film-making equipment, movie producers have never been able to resist Hawaii’s allure. The islands are reputed to have made their on-screen debut as early as 1898, when a film crew shot footage of the tropical paradise during an 18hr. layover. Early Hawaiian films, such as Honolulu Street Scene (1898), were simple, silent films showing local life. In the early 1900s, Hawaii was used in numerous silent films, including Hawaiian Love and The Shark God, both made in 1913. The advent of “talkies” added a new dimension to Hawaiian-set films. In 1937, Bing Crosby starred in Waikiki Wedding, playing a crooning press agent for a pineapple cannery. The film’s hit song, “Sweet Leilani,” garnered an Oscar and earned Crosby his first gold record.
Although WWII put filmmaking in Hawaii on hold for a few years, it also provided the industry with its most enduring subject: war. From Here to Eternity (1953) chronicled the days leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack, but it is probably best remembered for Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s passionate embrace on the sand (and in the water) of Halona Cove. Kauai was used to film the musical South Pacific (1958), in which Mitzi Gaynor plays a love-struck Army nurse who tries, unsuccessfully, to wash a captivating man out of her hair. Elvis Presley gratified his adoring fans on Hawaii when he starred in 1961’s Blue Hawaii. As an island boy back from the war, Presley spends much of the movie strumming the ukulele and wooing beach bunnies with his dance moves. The film yielded several musical hits, including “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
Filmmakers switched gears in 1976, when Hawaii was featured in the blockbuster King Kong. Following the movie’s release, Hawaii increasingly became the filming site of action-packed blockbusters. In 1980, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg joined forces to produce the first of the Indiana Jones series, Raiders of the Lost Ark, filmed partly in Kauai. Spielberg continued his blockbuster trend with Jurassic Park (1992), also filmed in Hawaii. The 1997 dino-sequel, The Lost World, features gorgeous shots of Kauai’s lush scenery and boasted an opening weekend gross of over $92 million. Other crowd-pleasers filmed in Hawaii include George of the Jungle (1997) and 6 Days, 7 Nights (1998).
Filmmaking in Hawaii shows no signs of stopping in the new millennium. In 2001, producer Jerry Bruckheimer let loose his biggest (and longest) film yet, the epic Pearl Harbor. The Hawaii Visitor’s and Convention Bureau joined forces with Disney to market Lilo & Stitch (2002), a widely appreciated film about a young girl and an extraterrestrial fugitive set in the islands. The surfing flick Blue Crush (2002) features Kate Bosworth tackling Oahu’s famous Bonzai Pipeline and scoring points for female surfers everywhere. The state itself has capitalized on the premier filming conditions in Hawaii—the archipelago is home to the only state-owned and -operated studio in the country.
Hawaii hosts a few film festivals. The Hawaii International Film Festival began at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 1981 as a means of cultural exchange between North America, Asia, and the Pacific. It is now a state-wide event. The Maui Film Festival began in 2000 and has stuck around to delight local film fanatics.
Hawaii has a long, successful history on television, beginning with the popular Hawaii Five-O. The show, filmed almost exclusively on Hawaii from 1968 to 1980, was one of the longest-running series on television. A daytime variety show featuring a local performer, The Don Ho Show, aired from 1976-1977. During the 80s, Tom Selleck charmed viewers across the nation as a dashing Hawaii-based private investigator in Magnum, P.I. The “Baywatch” cast packed up its itty-bitty wardrobe and suntan oil in 1999 to relocate from California to Hawaii. The series, Baywatch Hawaii, lasted only two seasons. MTV’s The Real World: Hawaii (1999) was the first in a series of reality TV shows to choose Hawaii as a backdrop. Soon to follow were The Bachelor (2002) and Average Joe: Hawaii (2004). Four seasons of ABC’s smash hit, Lost, were filmed on Oahu’s North Shore. The 2hr. pilot for the series was one of the most expensive in television history, costing over $10 million.
Watersports reign in Hawaii—some of the world’s best surfing and windsurfing spots can be found here. Golf is the chosen sport of many tourists, and manicured greens are spread across the islands. Other popular activities include paddling, kayaking, snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving, swimming, bodyboarding, bodysurfing, hiking, and biking.
Modern surfing was born in Hawaii, and the sport stays true to its homeland. There is no impeding continental shelf surrounding the islands to slow incoming waves, so they arrive huge and powerful on Hawaiian shores, creating magnificent, world-renowned surf. There are two surf seasons in Hawaii. Summer surf (May-Aug.) is generated by storms in the South Pacific and occurs on the southern shores of the islands. In the winter (Sept.-Apr.), storms in the northern Pacific create surf on the northern shores of the islands. The seasons’ overlap allows for nearly year-round surfing.
The so-called “sport of kings” began as the ancient sport of hee nalu (wave-sliding) and was later perfected by the kings of Hawaii. The revival of interest in surfing in the early 20th century is attributed to Hawaii’s Duke Kahanamoku (1890-1968). Kahanamoku, also known as “The Big Kahuna,” was a talented swimmer, representing the United States at four Olympic Games between 1912 and 1924, winning three gold medals and two silvers to become Hawaii’s first Olympic medalist. His first love was surfing, however, and he organized one of the first amateur surfing clubs in 1908. He is also credited for creating both windsurfing and wakeboarding on the islands.
Since then, the evolution of board design and material has made major changes to surfing, both as an activity and as a culture. The first boards were made of wood; their weight and lack of maneuverability was part of what limited the sport to certain physiques. The first big breakthrough in board design came in 1958 when construction changed to lightweight foam and fiberglass. A bottom fin also helped stabilize the new boards. These lighter, steadier boards made surfing more accessible to the general public. When surfing was introduced to California it quickly gained popularity as both a sport and a culture, inspiring fashion, music, and movies in the 1950s and 60s.
Today, surfers use one of two types of boards: long boards (a traditional style that can be as long as 10-12 ft.) and short boards. Short boards are less than 9 ft. in length, are faster, and have better maneuverability. Although beginning surfers generally start off on long boards, most professional surfers use short boards, as they are better for riding larger waves. These surfboards often have two to three fins, called thrusters, which provide greater maneuverability. The addition of a leash, attached at the ankle, improved both the safety of surfing and its style. Before leashes were added, lost boards would collide with reefs and rocks as well, resulting in significant damage. With leashes, surfers can ride waves near rocks and reefs and try radical tricks with greater security.
Outrigger canoe paddling is popular throughout Hawaii. The outrigger canoe differs from a regular canoe in that it has a rig, known as an outrigger, extending from one or both sides of the vessel. The outrigger acts to balance the hull of the boat. Early Hawaiians used the outrigger canoes extensively in their daily lives, and paddling eventually became a means of recreation.
Encouraged by King Kalakaua, paddling enthusiasts formed the first official outrigger club in 1908. The Outrigger Canoe Club of Hawaii was followed shortly after by Hui Nalu; there are now over 60 outrigger clubs throughout the islands. Canoe racing began in 1910, and formal regattas began in the 1940s. Paddlers are typically grouped into divisions by age. There is a separate junior season in late winter to ensure that younger athletes get as much attention as possible. Though paddling had previously been dominated by males, the number of women competing in the sport has increased steadily since the 1980s.
Sailing canoes are a variation on the outrigger canoes. Although not nearly as common as paddling, sailing canoe races have been gaining popularity. Each May, participants race the 75 mi. between Maui and Oahu in canoe sailing’s most well-known, and still terribly obscure, competition, the Steinlager Hoomanao Sailing Canoe Race.
Laid-back lifestyle aside, Hawaii is home to hundreds of running events and triathlons, from 1 mi. fun runs to a 100 mi. ultra marathon on the Big Island. Among these is one of the world’s most intense multi-sport events—the original Ironman Triathlon. Over 50,000 hopefuls from all 50 US states and over 50 countries compete to qualify for the event, held each October in Kona on the Big Island. Of these, 1500 are selected to compete in the grueling race. Competitors start with a 2.4 mi. ocean swim, follow with a 112 mi. bike race, and cap the whole thing off with a full 26.2 mi. marathon. The course is open for 17 hours. Over five million viewers worldwide tune in to watch the event each year.
Hawaii also has several official marathons. The Honolulu Marathon, held each December, is the 6th-largest marathon in the world. The Maui Marathon, held in March, is the oldest continuously held running event in Hawaii. Other marathons are the Kilauea Volcano Marathon in July, the Kona Marathon in June, and the Big Island International Marathon in March.
Water polo, volleyball, and sailing are among the most popular high school and college competitive sports in Hawaii. The University of Hawaii at Manoa Warriors boast a nationally ranked sailing program, and the 2002 men’s volleyball team were national champions. Since 1997, the Hula Bowl All-Star Football Classic, a game for potential professional players, has been held each year on Maui and the islands have long been home to the NFL’s Pro Bowl. In addition, the NCAA Hawaii Bowl is played each year in Honolulu.
Hawaii residents place so much stock in the aloha spirit that there is an actual law in the Hawaii Revised Statutes that requires residents to abide by the spirit of ancient Hawaiians. And, for the most part, locals do. Smiles abound and islanders are quick to wave hello, usually in the form of shaka, a greeting made by extending the pinkie and thumb and curling up the middle three fingers of the right hand. It is especially popular with young people in Hawaii; the gesture is a way of saying, “hang loose” or, “relax.” Easy-going driving in Hawaii is likely to surprise many visitors. Driving aggressively is one sure way to secure tourist status. No need to cut anyone off—a simple turn signal is likely to allow you access into another lane. Avoid using your horn except in emergencies.
In addition to shaka, the word aloha is also used extensively throughout the islands. Don’t be afraid to use it to say hello; it’s not regarded as corny. The lei, a garland of flowers, shells, leaves, or even candy, is a traditional Hawaiian symbol of love or friendship. Visitors entering and leaving Hawaii are often gifted with the fragrant necklaces. Leis are also given to mark special occasions like anniversaries, birthdays, and graduations.
While Hawaii is extremely laid-back, there are a few things that travelers should keep in mind. Hawaii is inhabited by an exceptionally diverse group of people, but the only people who are referred to as Hawaiian are those of Hawaiian blood. Except for Caucasians, anyone born in the islands is known as a local. The term haole (foreigner) used to describe Caucasians is not necessarily offensive though it can be used by to denote general island incompetency. Residents who were born outside of Hawaii but have lived in the state for a long time are known as kama aina (children of the land).
Respect is key in Hawaiian culture. While this applies to the general spirit of aloha, it is especially important to treat sacred sites, such as heiau (temples), with appropriate consideration. On a more casual level, it is polite to remove your shoes when entering someone’s home.