Aloha! Hawaiian Culture, Heritage, and History Come to Life in Oahu: The Heart of Hawaii

Sponsored content: The Hawaiian culture and rich history for families to discover.  Know Oahu through her sense of place, culture and history as a benefit to clients.

Engage clients with the Hawaiian culture for a more enjoyable and enriching travel experience. // © 2013 Prince Lot Hula Festival
Engage clients with the Hawaiian culture for a more enjoyable and enriching travel experience. // © 2013 Prince Lot Hula Festival

More than just a breathtakingly beautiful Pacific paradise, Oahu is unique because of the many places, attractions, activities, and experiences that showcase the rich and varied Hawaiian culture and history. Create itineraries that immerse your clients in the culture of aloha and they will understand why Oahu is The Heart of Hawaii.

Oahu: The Heart of Hawaii
Did you know that Hawaii was once a royal kingdom or that surfing originated here? These are just two fascinating facts that families will learn on beautiful Oahu. In fact, experiencing Hawaiian culture, heritage, and history on Oahu is as easy as saying aloha, paddling an outrigger canoe, or learning to dance the hula. 

Hawaiian Traditions: Aloha and Ohana
Among the first things your family clients will experience on Oahu are the Hawaiian concepts of aloha and ohana. And both will make your clients feel welcome and right at home.  

Aloha means more than just hello. This universally known greeting can also signify love, friendship, closeness, compassion, kindness, and grace. The Aloha spirit or living with aloha mean treating other people with love, kindness, and goodness. Your clients will hear aloha throughout their trip and will soon be using the term themselves!

Family groups always feel welcome in Hawaii where ohana (family) is an important, revered, and respected social unit. Ohana can mean your core family as well as the different communities you may belong to such as your work ohana, your school ohana, or your team ohana. 

Pacific Voyaging
Ancient Polynesians used the stars to navigate across the Pacific in outrigger canoes and settle the Hawaiian Islands as early as 400 CE. A visit to the J. Watumull Planetarium at Bishop Museum reveals how these legendary seafaring explorers voyaged across the Pacific using the night skies. Today, outrigger canoe racing is Hawaii’s #1 sport. Families can enjoy outrigger canoe rides right on Waikiki Beach. 

He‘e Nalu: Riding the Waves
Surfing may be a worldwide phenomenon, but it was born in Hawaii. Ancient Hawaiian royalty—Alii in Hawaiian—rode the waves which is why surfing is often called the “Sport of Kings.” Outstanding outfitters offer surf and stand up paddle lessons and rental equipment across the island. Many offer special family-oriented surf and stand up classes.  

Oahu is the global epicenter for championship surfing. The world’s best surfers gather on the island’s famed North Shore every November and December for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, a trio of the sport’s most prestigious events, where pros challenge themselves on epic waves at Hale‘iwa, Sunset Beach, and Banzai Pipeline.

Ali‘i: Hawaii’s Revered Royals
From Kamehameha I who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1795, to David Kalākaua, one of Hawaii’s last monarch, Hawaiians have great reverence for the royals who ruled the archipelago until the late 19th century. Today, visitors flock to ‘Iolani Palace, the only official royal residence in the U.S. Completed in 1882, King Kalākaua built the opulent palace to enhance the prestige of Hawaii overseas. Just across from the palace is a statue of Kamehameha I.  

A drive up Pali Highway leads to Queen Emma Summer Palace, a charming Hawaiian-Victorian home that served as a retreat for Queen Emma, King Kamehameha IV, and their son Prince Albert in the 1800s. Further along up Pali Highway is the Nu‘uanu Pali Lookout, home to spectacular Windward Coast views, and the site of the Battle of Nu‘uanu which enabled Kamehameha I to unite the Hawaiian Islands under his rule. 

Lively festivities honor the Hawaiian royals. The annual King Kamehameha Floral Parade each June honors this monarch. In July, the yearly Prince Lot Hula Festival—Hawaii’s largest non-competitive hula event—honors Prince Lot Kapuāiwa who reprised the once forbidden hula in the district of Moanalua. 

Ahupua‘a: Ancient Self-Sustaining Hawaiian Communities
Ancient Hawaiians lived for centuries in an ahupua‘a, a self-sustaining, mountain-to-sea land division. Up on the North Shore, Waimea Valley, one of Oahu’s partially intact ahupuaa, is a sacred and scenic place where visitors can tour the grounds and gardens, hike the forests, and learn how ancient kahana nui (high priests) lived in the restored Kauhale (village). Before leaving, visitors can cool off with a swim and splash under the waterfall. Polynesian Cultural Center, also on the North Shore, inaugurated a revitalized Hawaii Village last year which reflects an authentic ahupua‘a. 

On Oahu’s Windward Coast, non-profits are engaged in the restoration and preservation of the ancient ahupuaa of Heeia. Paepae O He’eia is an organization dedicated to restoring He‘eia Fishpond, which dates back 600 to 800 years. Hawaiian fishponds are unique, advanced forms of aquaculture. These walled ponds along the shorelines enabled Hawaiians to both capture and cultivate fish, providing a steady source of nutrition independent of ocean fishing conditions. Visitors can join locals in restoration efforts the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month which entails include moving rock and coral, removing invasive mangrove and limu (seaweed), and rebuilding the wall.

Hawaii’s Rich Multicultural Legacy
A visit to Oahu reveals Hawaii’s rich multicultural heritage and history. Immigrants from China, Japan, Russia, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, and the Philippines came to the Hawaiian Islands to work on plantations beginning in the late 19th century. Today, their influences and traditions live on in the diverse foods, attractions, and festivals on Oahu.  

In Waipahu, Hawaii’s Plantation Village explores how more than 400,000 immigrants who worked the island’s plantations contributed to making Hawaii the contemporary vibrant multi-ethnic community it is today. These plantation workers brought their foods and cooking traditions with which mingled and influenced native Hawaiian dishes. Many traditional Hawaiian dishes are rooted in the foods and cooking styles that people brought from their native lands. 

Nearly a quarter century ago, 12 Hawaii chefs banded together and launched Hawaii Regional Cuisine—HRC—an inventive fusion of traditional Hawaiian and international cooking traditions prepared with products from island farms, ranches, and seas. Today, Oahu is a global culinary hotspot where a new generation of innovative chefs takes traditional ingredients and prepares extraordinary dishes that are both familiar and different at the same time. 

Honolulu’s historic Chinatown was the gateway for immigrants from Asia and the Pacific Rim. Today, visitors head here to shop for authentic lei along Maunakea Street, visit bustling Maunakea Marketplace and Oahu Market, discover incredible Japanese and Chinese temples, and eat at traditional noodle shops. Chinatown is also a cutting edge arts district that hosts First Fridays, an opportunity to visit artists’ studios and art galleries, enjoy live entertainment, and experience trendsetting eateries, bars, and boutiques.


  • Engage clients with the culture and history on Oahu. Select attractions can arrange for private tours or arrange for docents to focus just on your family group. This personalized attention can involve all members in the experience. Include hands-on activities as part of their suggested itinerary. These can range from voluntourism type experiences of working in an ancient Hawaiian fishpond to lei making or lauhala bracelet making. 
  • Encourage family members to pick out lei for each other at the lei stands on Maunakea Street. The act of lei giving is a Hawaiian value that brings friends and family together in the act of sharing aloha. Suggest that each family member give the other member the lei at a special dinner to remember their trip.
  • Many families travel looking for cultural connections. Determine your family client’s ethnicit(ies) and look for possible cultural connections on Oahu. A melting pot of cultures, your client may be impressed with your attention to their family. Japanese-Americans may appreciate the recommendation of visiting Byodo-In Temple, a replica of a revered temple in Japan built by the Japanese immigrants when they first came to Hawaii. German-Americans may be interested to take advantage of the free Friday entertainment by the Royal Hawaiian Band at Iolani Palace. In 1836, King Kamehameha III commissioned German born Henry Berger to organize and lead his royal band that continues playing today.


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