Across the Islands, places to leave the crowds behind

Haleiwa is considered the social and cultural hub of Oahu's North Shore.
Haleiwa is considered the social and cultural hub of Oahu's North Shore. Photo Credit: HTA/Daeja Faris
Hawaii is a destination that many travelers come back to time and again. More than two-thirds of families that visit the Aloha State have been there previously, and 66% of all visitors who arrived by air in 2016 had come to the islands previously, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

There are only so many times you can visit Pearl Harbor or shop along Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue, and record tourism numbers the last two years means bigger crowds at the most well-known attractions.

Hawaii has many small towns and neighborhoods off the beaten path that are worth visiting and offer alternative activities, experiences, and a little more space to explore. Here are some burgeoning areas to check out on each of Hawaii's most visited islands.


Haleiwa: Once you've filled up on the celebrity-chef cuisine, shopping and entertainment in Honolulu, head toward the North Shore for a slower pace of life. Haleiwa, one of the first stops along the coast, is a historic surf town considered to be the cultural and social hub of the North Shore peppered with hip surf shops, eclectic boutiques, art galleries and eateries. The town holds an art festival every July.

Kaimuki: For travelers staying in Honolulu but eager for a sense of discovery, head to Kaimuki near Diamond Head State Monument. Here you'll find an array of bakeries, health food specialty shops, local shops and buzzed-about restaurants. Try the inventive farm-to-table fare at Town, from chef-owner Ed Kenney, or head to Brew'd, a craft brew pub with 25 taps and more than 100 bottled beers.


Kula: On the western slope of Haleakala volcano, this area is known for its collection of farms and other producers serving Maui's growing culinary scene focused on Hawaiian ingredients. Don't miss the well-known Surfing Goat Dairy that supplies many of the island's restaurants, Ocean Vodka Organic Farm and Distillery, Alii Kula Lavender, MauiWine and other area producers. Oo Farm attracts many visitors to its organic farm tours and farm-to-table meals. Pay a visit to Kula Botanical Gardens to see carnations, orchids and other plants in bloom. The area is also home to adventure activities like a ziplining and paragliding.

Wailuku: At the foot of the West Maui Mountains, this laidback residential area a short drive away from the Kahului Airport draws attention for its bevy of locally owned cafes, restaurants and bakeries, many of which have been passed down through the same family for generations. Among the long-standing establishments, contemporary restaurants, cafes and boutiques are also opening. A good time to visit is during the town's First Friday event each month, with live music, food, and vendors selling crafts and jewelry,


Koloa: Take a walk through history and Hawaii's bygone sugar growing days in this town on the Garden Isle's south shore. Visitors can explore restored, plantation-era storefronts, and the Koloa History Center. The Koloa Heritage Trail is a 10-mile, 14-stop, self-guided tour of both the Koloa and Poipu areas' most significant cultural and historical attractions. In July the town hosts Koloa Plantation Days, an annual event with music, art and numerous activities.

Hanapepe: Dubbed "Kauai's Biggest Little Town," Hanapepe offers historic edifices housing charming cafes and local restaurants. There is a wide variety of cuisines, from Hawaiian plate lunches to Mexican tacos. Once fueled up, wander the numerous artisan galleries dotting the town and traverse the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, a suspension bridge built in the early 1900s with enough swing in it to qualify as a thrill ride. The town is home to an art walk and free community festival every Friday evening.

Hawaii Island

Hawi: This quaint town on the way to the Pololu Valley lookout makes it on national TV each year when the Ironman World Championship comes through. Located on Hawaii Island's northern tip, Hawi offers small boutique shops and restaurants in addition to a host of outdoor activities such as kayak excursions, farm tours, ziplining and ATV tours. Just past Hawi is Kapaau, site of the original King Kamehameha I statue.

Hilo: This bayside city boasts a diverse collection of restaurants and attractions. There are nearby rainforest and waterfall hikes and the Aloha State's largest farmers market. Learn more about the area's history as a commercial center at the Lyman Museum and discover the power of tsunamis at the Pacific Tsunami Museum. The Imiloa Astronomy Center connects Hawaiian culture to the study of the cosmos. The Liliuokalani Gardens feature Japanese-style fishponds and pagodas housed on 30 acres, and Wailuku River State Park boasts 80-foot Waianuenue Falls. The Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, home to two Bengal tigers, is the country's only natural tropical rainforest zoo.
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