Artisans sell their wares at Festival of Aloha. // © 2015 Anianiku Chong
Feature image (above): Kona Coffee Cultural Festival offers hands-on coffee-picking. // © 2015 Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
Ancient Hawaiians took time each fall to honor the annual harvest through dance, song, food and athletic competition. Today that tradition lives on, as the Aloha State regales visitors with dozens of special events from September through December.
While it’s common practice for destinations to pad the slower tourism season with extra lures for travelers, Hawaii stands apart by adding a sense of place to its autumnal activities. From street parties to hula performances, these annual celebrations salute the state’s fascinating blend of cultures.
Following are some of Hawaii’s best free or inexpensive events coming up this fall.
Sept. 4-Oct. 10: Festivals of Aloha, Maui Nui Style
Maui, Molokai, Hana and Lanai join forces to showcase Hawaii’s heritage. Along with the expected parades and pageantry, clients can catch more unique festivities, such as a male-falsetto singing contest, a fishing tournament and an aloha-attire competition for kids. Most events are free, although some require a $5 festival ribbon for entry.
Sept. 5-26: Aloha Festivals
Since 1946, this yearly affair has immersed visitors in all things Hawaiian. At the hoolaulea (block party) on Oahu, Waikiki’s main avenue turns into a pedestrian-friendly forum for food, fun and entertainment. During the grand finale, crowds cheer for a parade of marching bands, floats and horseback riders adorned in flowers.
Sept. 6-Dec. 27: Na Mele No Na Pua Sunday Showcase
Twice each month from 5 to 6 p.m., free concerts enliven the plaza stage at Oahu’s Waikiki Beach Walk, an al fresco promenade lined with shops and restaurants. It’s a casual, engaging setting for admiring the talents of top island entertainers such as Robi Kahakalau, Kapena, Ipo Kumukahi, Maunalua and Jeff Rasmussen.
Sept. 12: Wiliwili Festival
The focus here is the wiliwili, a flowering tree endemic to the Hawaiian Islands. At Waikoloa Stables on Hawaii Island, guests attend workshops, go on forest tours, peruse the plant sale, listen to live music, sample local foods and try hands-on activities, all in the name of conservation. An added bonus: If you ride your bicycle to the event, you’ll receive a free T-shirt.
Sept. 25-27: Kauai Powwow in Paradise
An exchange between Native American and Polynesian cultures, this event promises an upbeat immersion in traditional drumming, dancing, storytelling, art and food. All ages can stop by for the free festivities, which take place at Kapaa Beach Park on Kauai’s eastern coast.
Oct. 10: Emalani Festival
The forests of Kokee State Park on Kauai surround this tribute to Queen Emma, beloved for her many contributions to the islands and their people. Visitors witness a reenactment of the queen and her royal entourage riding into the meadow on horses. Hula dancers honor Emma’s humanitarian spirit, and craft exhibits enrich the affair.
Oct. 3-4: Coconut Festival
Coconut-themed crafts, food and contests draw clients to Kapaa Beach Park on Kauai. Island chefs demonstrate their skills, and entertainers — including taiko drummers and hula dancers — energize attendees. Kids keep busy with games, a petting zoo and inflatables. Entry is $5 per person and free for ages 12 and younger.
Oct. 11: Maui Ukulele Festival
Plucky tunes fill the air during this outdoor celebration of Hawaii’s famous musical instrument. Clients can enter to win door prizes, including their own ukulele to take home. Admission to the event, held at Maui Arts & Cultural Center, is free, and island art, crafts and food will be available for purchase.
Nov. 7-8: Talk Story Festival
At Hawaii’s largest storytelling event, yarn-spinners from around the state captivate the audience as they weave stories about their island home. Dramatic lighting and videos enhance the performances at Oahu’s McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Beach Park.
Nov. 6-15: Kona Coffee Cultural Festival
This eye-opening fest on Hawaii Island shares the culture, history and artistry of Kona’s renowned brew. Among its events are a lantern parade, a coffee and art stroll, the Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship pageant and a hands-on coffee-picking. Most activities are free with a $3 festival button.
Sept. 20: Festival of Aloha
Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on Hawaii Island invites the public to this fourth annual celebration in the resort’s courtyard and ballroom. Food booths feature island favorites such as huli huli pig, poke (fresh, raw, seasoned seafood) and haupia (coconut dessert). Vendors tout handmade crafts and clothes, and local performers serenade the masses.
Sept. 5-6: Okinawan Festival
Okinawa’s customs take the spotlight at this colorful gathering on Oahu in Kapiolani Park. Visitors browse cultural displays, learn age-old dance steps, dress in traditional garb for photos, play games and taste novelties such as pig’s feet soup and andagi (Okinawan doughnut). A $5 festival pin provides perks such as free shuttles to the park and T-shirt discounts.