On Hawaii Island, visitors get into the aloha spirit during lei-making classes at The Shops at Mauna Lani. // © 2017 The Shops at Mauna Lani
Feature image (above): Clients of all ages can take part in free hula lessons at Royal Hawaiian Center in Waikiki. // © 2017 Royal Hawaiian Center
The way Kainoa Daines sees it, a simple lesson in ukulele playing or hula dancing can lead to meaningful family memories during a Hawaii vacation.
“While sun, sand and surf are often the draw for visitors, the true essence of Hawaii is found through our people,” said Daines, cultural advisor for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau. “There’s no better way to connect with locals than by sitting with them and learning a craft that has taken them years to master.”
As families get hands-on with hallowed Hawaiian arts, they’re rewarded with a deeper understanding for the host culture and its stories, Daines adds.
“The takeaway is so much more than a freshly strung flower lei or woven bracelet,” he said. “It’s a bonding experience like no other.”
Following are six Hawaii programs that inspire creativity for the entire clan.
Children of the Land, Kauai
The nonprofit Children of the Land Polynesian cultural center encourages travelers to take part in its complimentary classes in the town of Kapaa, located on the island’s east side. The unique local workshops are led by Kauai native Phil Villatora, who instills each gathering with the spirit of aloha. Programs include lessons in Tahitian drumming and dance, Hawaiian language, weaving, fire spinning and traditional medicinals. By advance request, families can even line up lessons in making coconut oil.
Kalaekilohana Inn & Retreat, Hawaii Island
Tucked away on Hawaii Island’s southern coast, the cozy Kalaekilohana Inn & Retreat provides opportunities for everyone — not just its overnight guests — to have a go at two cherished crafts: "lauhala" (pandanus) weaving and feather lei-making. Led by accomplished artist Kilohana Domingo, the two-hour sessions give families the chance to try these skills and learn about their value. Classes cost $45 per person and should be reserved ahead of time.
Kona Historical Society, Hawaii Island
On Wednesdays and Fridays at this historic farm, families can get intimate with activities that filled the daily lives of Kona’s coffee pioneers in the 1920s to 1940s. All ages can try coffee roasting, medicinal herb gardening, calligraphy, Japanese pickling, lauhala weaving, mochi pounding and tofu making. Classes are included in the admission price. Additionally, visitors can chat with costumed interpreters and walk through decades-old orchards of coffee and macadamia nut trees.
Outlets of Maui
Set in Lahaina town, Outlets of Maui is more than a collection of discounted brand-name retailers. It’s also a hub of free cultural activities with multigenerational appeal. Monday afternoons bring demonstrations of old and new coconut-husking techniques, and ukulele lessons take place on Tuesday mornings. On Wednesday afternoons, mom, dad and the kids can explore the world of weaving while discovering its relevance to island heritage. Hula tutorials are a hit on Friday afternoons.
Royal Hawaiian Center, Oahu
As part of its mission to promote local culture, this multilevel mall in the heart of Waikiki presents free, participatory activities six days per week. Clients can take classes to learn hula, lomilomi massage, lei-making, Hawaiian quilting, ukulele and lauhala weaving. Seasoned practitioners of the various art forms lead the sessions, which share the importance of music and crafts in a way that calls to the young and old alike.
The Shops at Mauna Lani, Hawaii Island
At this open-air plaza on the Kohala Coast, families can attend complimentary classes in weaving coconut leaves and stringing flower leis. Classes start at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, and guests are invited to take their creations home with them. A hula show follows the workshops. Visitors who stick around after the show can join in on a free Hawaiian dance lesson with some of the performers.