5 Things I Always Do When I Visit Hawaii

It sounds weird to me to say that I "visit" Hawaii, especially since I was born and raised there and still consider it my home. But that seems to be my current reality. I pay rent elsewhere, most of my things aren't there (except my book collection - shout out to Mom and Dad for keeping my babies safe for me!), and I've spent the majority of the last five years away from the islands. I used to say that I couldn't wait to leave and that I didn't think I would ever move back once I left for college. I was mistaken, clearly. It just wasn't until I moved away that I realized how good I had it, and I'm determined to make Hawaii my permanent home and raise a family there, eventually.

But until then, I'll have to settle for my once or twice yearly visits and make the most of what little time I do have there. And while my visits definitely include stopping in at whatever trendy, new place that's popped up and exploded on social media since I was last there, there are always a few constants that I make sure to hit every time.

1. Sunrise Hike

I've made it a point to do a sunrise hike the day after returning home ever since I first left for college. There's just something about watching the sun come up over the Pacific that screams "You're in paradise!" and I can't think of a better welcome back. 

Two of my favorite spots are among the most #instabasic, but for good reason! Naturally, I'm talking about Lanikai and Makapu'u Lighthouse. They're both fast and easy, they offer great views, they're near the water (pro tip: the water is actually really warm just around the morning golden hour), AND they're in close proximity to several brunch places, which makes for easy refueling after that grueling half-hour trek.

2. Acai Bowls

I understand that acai bowls are pretty recent imports, but I feel like Hawaii's really made them its own. Plus, they really bring together the best of the delightful, fresh, succulent, magical fruits that Hawaii is lucky to have in abundance. Sure, you have the basic Jamba Juice acai bowls with their strawberries and blueberries and bananas, but you've also got local places making them with local ingredients like mangoes, coconuts, papayas, raw Hawaiian honey and bee pollen, and even pounded taro! 

So if you're interested in trying an acai bowl with a Hawaiian twist, skip the big, tourist-focused places like Jamba and Hawaii Coffee Company, and head to Diamond Head Cove Health Bar, Wow Wow Lemonade, or Haleiwa Bowls (to name just a few of the many local gems!).

3. Beach (duh)

Among Hawaii residents, the beach seems to be pretty divisive. You've got the people who say that all there is to do in Hawaii is go to the beach, and then you've got the people screaming back at them, "What more could you want??" I like to think of myself as being in the latter group. I grew up in the water, I did water sports all throughout middle and high school, I spent summer nights camping on the beach under the stars. And while I don't surf, I'm happiest when I'm out in open water with nothing but my fins (or monofin) and goggles. 

I'm at home in the water, so when I'm home I've got to go to the water! And the great thing about Hawaii is that even in the middle of winter, as long as it's sunny, it's comfortable to sit on the beach and swim without needing wetsuits or anything. Though the places I prefer to go definitely do change depending on the season. During the summer, without a doubt, the best place to dive is on the North Shore. During the winter, however, the North can see waves up to 20 feet, so the south and east-facing shores tend to be better for swimming during that time. 

4. Taste Tea

This is definitely more of a nostalgia point for me rather than a cool, Hawaii-specific thing. I'm sure it's the same for teenagers everywhere, but somehow my friends and I started going to this one place, and it kind of just became our go-to place to drink boba, sit, gossip, and just be together outside the confines of our parents' houses. Even as the number of Tawiwanese-styled boba places increases (praise!), we always find ourselves back at the one that started it all. 

And although milk tea/boba/bubble tea is pretty easy to find in most places, apparently Japan hasn't quite caught up yet. The places that they do have are over-sweetened, under-sized, over-priced, and just plain not good. So this next time I'm home, I'll savor my tea just that much more!

5. Concert/Rave/EDM Event

Ask anybody who's been there long enough - nightlife in Hawaii is basically nonexistent (like, you know it's bad when the most lit places are Dave & Busters and cosmic bowling), which has definitely contributed to the mainstreaming of EDM events in the islands in the last few years. There's pretty reliably a show going on every other week, if not every week. And the great thing about Hawaii is that although we do have big events attended by thousands fairly regularly, we also have a ton of smaller shows that are pulling in festival headliners to play at venues that can only hold maybe 800. I guess it helps that even big name producers and DJs are constantly looking for an excuse to visit paradise. 

My experience of Hawaii is in no way everyone's experience, but these are just a few of the things that make the islands (specifically Oahu!) home for me. If you've never been to Hawaii before, and you're looking to plan an itinerary, I won't tell you to completely skip all of the normal tourist things (those are an important experience, too!), but if you can add in just a couple things that the locals do and get outside the Waikiki bubble, you might get a little more out of your visit.