Nine reasons it’s worth being a tourist in Hawaii

Oahu's Waikiki Beach - Hawaii

Yes, I’ll admit it. I was a tourist in Hawaii and you know what? I absolutely loved it. I sported a lei and sipped on mai tai’s with pink umbrellas. I enjoyed the ambiance of a luau and snorkeled with fish and turtles twice. I bought shaved ice on three occasions and feel no shame.

Cocktail at Duke's Waikiki - Oahu, Hawaii

These days there’s so much talk about being a traveler over a tourist. But what’s so wrong with being a tourist from time to time? Of course I enjoy getting off the beaten path, but it can also be fun hitting the top tourism activities in certain destinations. They’re popular for a reason; millions of people have done it before you and millions will do it after you. But does that make your experience any less fun? Not when it involves relaxing on beaches, indulging in delicious cocktails, swimming with fish and turtles, and taking in stunning views.

Here’s my list of nine things you don’t want to miss in Hawaii, no matter how touristy. Because it’s fun as heck. So sit back, relax, and pretend you’re on the beach with a fruity cocktail in your hand.

Snorkeling. Coral reefs, crystal clear water, bright-colored fish, cute turtles. There’s a million reasons you can’t go to Hawaii and not go snorkeling at least once. Prior to visiting Hawaii, I had only snorkeled once before, and it was a very average experience. As a Tennessee girl, I’m very landlocked so the opportunity doesn’t come around very often. Honestly, I was unsure if I would really enjoy it, but the views of the coral reef through my snorkel mask had me in awe. For the best snorkeling, I recommend Oahu’s Hanauma Bay and Maui’s Turtle Town.

Snorkeling in Hawaii

Snorkeling at Maui, Hawaii's Turtle Town

Luau. Prior to visiting Hawaii, I read that some view going to a luau as a tourist trap. However, one of my favorite nights during my 10 days in Hawaii was when we went to Feast at Lele’s luau in Lahaina. We arrived at the beach during sunset with a beautiful display of pinks and oranges and were immediately given a cocktail and lei. Then, we were served delicious food from Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Samoa and bottomless drinks of your choice. During the four courses, chants, songs, and dances from each island came to life. It was such an enjoyable, laid-back evening, I can’t imagine being in Hawaii and not going to a luau.

Mai tai’s. Hawaii is famous for its delicious cocktail, the mai tai. The beverage includes white and dark rum, Curacao liqueur, lime juice, and an orgeat syrup – a perfect drink for paradise. It’s also typically garnished with a pineapple spear, making it healthy right? Even if cocktails aren’t your thing, you’re in Hawaii – enjoy a Mai Tai!

Mai Tai's - Hawaii

Surf lessons. Ever wanted to learn how to surf? Why not splurge on a lesson on Oahu’s Waikiki Beach? The waves are gentle, making it an ideal place to learn. My brother did a private lesson and found it helpful having an instructor there to help with riding his first waves. Some companies even guarantee you’ll stand up on a wave if you take a lesson.

Surfing - Hawaii

Poke and other pupu’s. Pupu’s may sound off-putting but it’s Hawaiian appetizers. Poke (POH-keh) is a classic pupu often described as a raw fish salad. It consists of raw fish (usually tuna or octopus) cut into chunks seasoned with salt and crushed kukui nuts, in addition to green onion and sesame. It’s most often eaten on its own or over a bed of rice. Many restaurants have put their own twists and adaptations to it. It’s seriously addictive and one of the most popular Hawaiian food, so don’t miss out on it.

Poke, a pupu - Hawaii

HikingThe islands of Hawaii abound with rocky cliffs, black, white, red, and green beaches, luscious rain forests, mesmerizing waterfalls, and dramatic volcanoes. Hiking is an excellent way to see all the unique beauty Hawaii has to offer. You can take an hour hike up Diamond Head’s Summit Trail for views over Waikiki and Honolulu or you can take longer, more adventurous hikes in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park or Haleakalā National Park – your opportunities are endless. So lace up your shoes and hit the trails.

Shaved ice. Shaved Ice is a refreshing Hawaiian treat, especially during an afternoon on the beach. The majority of Hawaii is warm enough year round to appreciate this indulgence. When I visited in December, I enjoyed it on three occasions trying watermelon, strawberry, and pink lemonade flavors. It’s the perfect way to quench your thirst on a warm, sunny day in paradise.

Shaved Hawaiian Ice - Hawaii

Malasadas. Malasadas are Portuguese donuts, a popular dessert in Hawaii. The donuts are enriched with butter, eggs, and milk and rolled in sugar. Many bakeries offer a variety of fillings like custard and coconut-flavored haupia pudding. They’re undeniably delicious – do I really need to persuade to you to try a donut covered in sugar?

Malasadas, Portuguese Donuts - Hawaii

Sushi. When in Hawaii, it’s easy to get your chopsticks on delicious sushi. The fresh fish and Japanese influence throughout this US state is what makes it so tasty and feel more authentic. Research where the best sushi bars are in the areas you’re visiting.

Sushi - Hawaii

Have you been a tourist in Hawaii? What’s top on your list to do when visiting?

9 reasons it's worth being a tourist in Hawaii

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  1. Love this! I feel like being a “tourist” gets such a bad reputation, but things are popular for a reason. You owe it to yourself to find out if you think they’re worth it or not.

    My recent trip to Hawaii was my 9th and I’m still finding new things to do, and I still enjoy doing many of the “touristy” things.

    I tried Hanauma Bay for the first time, and I honestly wasn’t that impressed. But maybe I was there on a bad day. I felt like there was way too much sand churn up and couldn’t see much. Although I didn’t feel comfortable heading out into the deeper waters towards the rocks in the middle, so maybe I was just in a bad spot staying in the shallows. I did see three Humuhumunukunukuapua’a chasing each other and they’re my favorite fish, so that alone made it worth the $7.50.

    • I totally agree! Wow, I’m so jealous you’ve been to Hawaii that many times. I already can’t wait to go back again! I can see what you mean about Hanauma Bay. Snorkeling in the shallow waters was pretty difficult. But when we got out in the deeper waters, it was so much easier and a lot of fun. We saw loads of school of fish and there were much less people in those areas.

  2. I completely agree! I was a tourist in Hawaii and I loved it, I done most of these things too! I visited the Polynesian Cultural Centre too, it couldn’t have been any more of a tourist trap but it was such a fun experience!

  3. After reading this, I want to visit Hawaii even more!
    I wish it wasn’t so far from me but geography works this way…
    Anyway thank you for this lovely article!

  4. We wanted to go to Hawaii for our honeymoon and in the end we settled for the Seychelles. But now, we made it into a priority to check out these beautiful islands in 2017. I can’t wait! Your pictures gave us the wanderlust!

  5. I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii, especially for snorkeling and hiking. I’ve been snorkeling a few times off the coast of Florida and it was a great experience every time. Hawaii looks so beautiful in your photos – I’m especially jealous sitting here freezing in the winter!

  6. Totally agree with this, I think being a tourist is definitely under-rated (and experiencing a place like a local over-rated – if you wanted to live like a local in London, you’d need to stay outside the city and spend hours commuting on a sweaty, overcrowded tube to get the full experience).

    I had a surf lesson in Hawaii and it was fantastic – where better to learn to surf, after all!

  7. We were tourists in Maui and I don’t regret it one bit. The whole traveler vs tourist is kind of crazy anyhow. In my mind, the touristy things to do and see are popular for a reason. And although I like to get off the beaten path and experience other things as well, I don’t tourist-shame!

  8. If you’re interested in American and world history, make sure to visit Pearl Harbor. In addition to the Arizona Memorial, there are several museums there, including the battleship, Missouri, aboard which the Japanese surrender was signed in Tokyo Bay.

  9. I have my own thoughts on the tourist-traveller debate and since this topic is close to my heart, I have even dedicated a full post on it, but that apart…your Hawaii holiday seems like fun all along. I was surprised by some of the food items, specially the shaved ice and the doughnuts.

  10. A content with awesome pictures on Hawaii is perfect to include in our “things to do”. That said apart, very well written article and equally importance given to the destination & on what to do.

  11. I have never been one of the snobs who throw shade at tourism. While I seek out quirky and offbeat attractions when I travel, each place also has some essential sites and experiences such that your experience is lesser if you avoid them just because they’re “touristy.” For example, I haven’t been to Hawaii yet, but when I get there I absolutely intend to attend a luau. By the way, when you were sipping mai tais on the beach, did you run into Milton from “Office Space”?

  12. I LOVE this, as I feel the exact same about Hawaii. Many of the greatest adventures lie in the touristy activities, and Hawaii is a favorite of ours for the simple fact that both worlds are at your fingertips. Besides, you cannot go to Oahu without a surf lesson, or a day on Waikiki Beach followed by a drink at Duke’s, it’s a right of passage! Embrace being a tourist every once in a while, it’s good for you!

    • Yep, I couldn’t agree more! I really enjoyed getting a drink (or a few…) at Duke’s. Honestly, what’s better than looking out over a sunset on Waikiki Beach with a cocktail in hand and a Hawaiian band playing?

  13. This makes me want to go to Hawaii sooooo badly! I went once many years ago and totally forgot about all the delicious foods and pupus. I definitely need to take a surf lesson and go hiking again on that tropical paradise!

  14. Great post, we loved being tourists in Hawaii too! We loved it so much that we are going back again in April. Hawaii has so much to offer. You are right the snorkelling is the best! Those turtles!!! And the hiking and food and Mai Tai…

  15. I’m so glad you loved it here! I’ve lived here for a few years and absolutely love it! Everyday is a new adventure and the views are amazing! And the best shave ice is in Haleiwa at Matsumoto’s!

  16. I went to Hawaii with the same goal of being a tourist and it was the best trip ever!! Sporting a lei is a must do! Great post and makes me miss the beautiful island!!

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