Hawaii is known for its beautiful beaches, world-class resorts and breathtaking scenery, but it is also a place where many ethnic groups have come together to create a rich and diverse culture. Hawaii’s multicultural society has roots in Polynesia, China, the Philippines, Japan, Europe, North America, its indigenous population and many other countries. Museums, music, art, food and the language have been influenced by Hawaii’s melting pot of culture, and this can be seen across the Hawaiian Islands.
It goes without saying that outdoor activities are easy to come by in Hawaii. International visitors can hike volcanoes, go mountain biking, surf, kayak, swim, fish, scuba dive, snorkel, walk through rainforests – the list goes on and on. Hawaiians are proud of their state and its history, making cultural activities easy to find too. It may be hard to pull yourself away from the beach, but be sure to experience all that Hawaii has to offer – from its friendly people to its diverse history to its cultural heritage. Learn more below or visit gohawaii.com.
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Lahaina, Maui. Photo via Flickr.
Add some local history to your cultural exchange experience by visiting a nearby historical site or tourist attraction when living and working in the U.S.
Hawaii Tourist Attractions
Humpback whales migrate to Hawaii from December to May, with peak numbers arriving to Hawaii between January and April. Visitors can take humpback whale watching tours in winter from any of the Hawaiian islands. Visit the Go Hawaii website for more information on tours.
Once a whaling village, Lahaina is a historical town that was once the capital of the whaling industry in Hawaii. A self-guided tour of the Lahaina Historic Trail brings visitors to many National Historic Landmarks on Front Street and throughout the town.
Makawao is in “Upcountry Maui”, a largely agricultural area on the island and the home to Hawaiian cowboys known as paniolo. An active art community has also developed in Makawao.
‘Iolani Palace in Honolulu is the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy and now a public museum. Visitors will learn about the royal heritage of Hawaii on guided or self-guided tours, and can experience special cultural events, if available.
Diamond Head State Park (Le’ahi) is located on the site of a crater formed about 300,000 years ago. The area is known for its military history in Hawaii and the historic hiking trail that runs through the park. Visit the Hawaii State Parks website for more information on Diamond Head and to plan your visit.
Pearl Harbor is located in central Oahu and is the site of an aerial attack that pushed the United States into World War II. Today, there are several historic sites at Pearl Harbor, including the Battleship Missouri Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, the Pacific Aviation Museum, the USS Oklahoma Memorial and the USS Arizona Memorial.
The Big Island
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park is on the east coast of Hawaii Island. Learn how past Hawaiians learned to survive in this area and see ancient petroglyphs (rock carvings) and fish ponds throughout the park.
Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park is one of Hawaii’s most sacred historic sites. The park is home to many archeological sites, carved statues and sacred grounds, and can now be explored by foot on self-guided walking tours.
Tour Companies in Hawaii
Ocean Project offers whale watching and island excursions in Maui.
Tom Barefoot’s Tours take place in Maui, Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island, and include activities like helicopter tours, downhill bike tours, sightseeing, volcano tours, fishing charters, snorkeling and more.
Discover Hawaii Tours have a comprehensive list of tours throughout the state, including eco-tours, dolphin and whale tours, water activities, volcano tours and more.
Try Viator for a large list of tours and reviews in Hawaii.
Hawaii Tourism Websites
- Official Hawaii Tourism
- Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau
- Hawaii J1 guide from Go4Less - Transportation, travel, accommodation and job resources
Fireknife dancer. Photo by Mynameisben123.
The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to learn more about the U.S. and its culture.
Art Night is an ongoing event in Lahaina that allows visitors to see dozens of art galleries and special exhibits, meet artists and enjoy refreshments on Friday nights.
Hana Cultural Center is a museum and information center that teaches visitors about the history, culture and traditional way of life in Hana.
Maui Arts and Cultural Center is a performing/visual arts center where performances, exhibits, films and cultural programs are presented to the public in spaces like an outdoor amphitheater, 1200-seat indoor theater and intimate black-box theater.
Ulalena at the Maui Theater tells the story of Hawaii’s people through dance, acrobatics, costumes and traditional theater.
Hawaii Opera Theatre is the only professional opera company in the state. Based in Honolulu, HOT performs on all major islands.
The Hawaii State Art Museum in Honolulu has four galleries and often hosts educational and public events like First Fridays and Second Saturdays.
The Honolulu Museum of Art has collections of Asian art, European/American art and textiles, various exhibitions, events and workshops, and educational programs at the museum’s various locations.
Kuma Kahua Theatre in downtown Honolulu stages plays about the culture and lives of Hawaii’s various local communities. The theater also supports Hawaiian playwrights.
The Big Island
East Hawaii Cultural Center is dedicated to preserving the cultural, creative and traditional arts of the community. The center has three galleries and a performance space/art studio for local and international artists to share their work with the public.
The Lyman Museum and Mission House in Hilo has a collection of artifacts, fine art, natural history exhibits and archived material. Events, lectures and special exhibits are also held throughout the year for museum members and the public.
Many Americans are passionate about sports – and not just baseball and football! Get a glimpse into this part of American culture by watching or participating in a favorite U.S. sport or recreational activity in your local area.
Hawaii is the birthplace of modern surfing, making it a popular year-round destination for international visitors looking to catch a wave on one of Hawaii’s islands.
In winter, “big wave surfing” is a popular activity on the north shores’ of Hawaii’s islands. From November to February, large waves attract professional surfers to annual surfing competitions.
Golf is also a popular sport at the many island resorts throughout the state. There are over 70 golf courses in Hawaii, including independent courses that are not associated with any resorts.
The Hawai’i Bowl is a college football sporting event held on Christmas Eve or Christmas day in Honolulu.
Visitors can watch college-level sports throughout the year at one of the University of Hawaii campuses.
The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.
Hawaii’s beautiful landscapes provide the perfect backdrop to any number of outdoor activities for visitors and residents alike. Hiking, swimming, water sports, snorkeling, scuba diving, boating and biking are only some of the ways cultural learning participants can enjoy the beauty and culture of Hawaii.
Beaches are an iconic part of Hawaii, and they serve as the perfect setting for many outdoor activities. Whether you’re looking to surf, paddle board, snorkel or just lay back and escape the crowds, there is a Hawaiian beach to suit your needs.
Haleakala National Park is connected to ancient and modern Hawaiian culture, and many parts of Haleakala are part of Hawaiian song and legend. Visitors can learn more about Hawaii’s history and culture, see native wildlife and participate in outdoor activities on any day of the year.
Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve is a Marine Life Conservation District and popular snorkeling spot. Visitors can also learn about the delicate ecosystem in the area at the Marine Education Center.
The Big Island
On the Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park can be explored by foot or by car, giving visitors a feel for the diverse landscape, history and Hawaiian culture. Considered sacred ground by Native Hawaiians, the park contains archeological sites, cultural landscapes and active volcanoes – including Mauna Loa, the largest active volcano on Earth.
Waimea Canyon is called “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Visitors can enjoy the beautiful views at lookouts throughout the park or try beginner to advanced hiking trails.
One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.
Hawaii Regional Cuisine
Hawaii’s cuisine is a true melting pot that has been influenced by a blend of ethnicities and cuisines, including Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and American. When eating in Hawaii, there is often an emphasis on fresh and local foods and produce, like tuna, poke, lomi lomi salmon and taro, a staple food of Hawaii often used to make poi.
A culinary movement called Hawaii Regional Cuisine was established by a group of 12 chefs to highlight the diversity of Hawaiian culture and its ingredients.
- Spam Jam Hawaii, April
- Maui Onion Festival, May
- Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, June
- Hawaii Fishing and Seafood Festival, October
- Taste of the Hawaiian Range, October
- Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, September
- Wailea Wine & Food Festival, December
For a unique and local perspective on American culture, be sure to check out festivals and events near your cultural exchange program location. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about American culture by experiencing it firsthand.
Maui First Fridays highlight the historic towns of Maui Island with a different Friday celebration each week. These events bring together the community for music, dancing, food and cultural events.
The Hawaii International Film Festival in October presents films from Asia and the Pacific to help advance cultural exchange and raise media awareness of the art and film being produced in the region.
The Ukulele Festival celebrates Hawaii’s iconic instrument, the ukulele. The event is held across multiple locations, including Maui, Oahu, Kauai and Waikoloa, and features free concerts from local and international artists, food booths and ukulele lessons.
The Night in Chinatown Festival and Parade celebrate the Lunar New Year in Honolulu with food, cultural events, street performances, shopping vendors and much more.
The Big Island
Celebrate hula and Hawaiian culture at the Merrie Monarch Festival in March and April. The week-long festival in Hilo was named after King David Kalākaua, who restored many cultural traditions, like hula, to Hawaii in the late 19th century. Visitors can enjoy free events like arts and crafts, parades, live music and hula performances.
The Kona Coffee Culture Festival is a 10-day event in November featuring art exhibits, contests, historical tours, coffee farm tours and concerts.
Employers may be able to assist with housing during your time in the United States, but this is not always possible for all participants. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.
It's also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.
General Housing Information
- Housing information for Work and Travel USA participants
- Housing information for Career Training USA interns and trainees
Hawaii Housing Resources
Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Hawaii participants include:
- Craigslist - Honolulu
- American Homestay Agency
- Hostelling International
Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options. Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in your local community.
The Maui public bus system serves communities in Central, South, West, Haiku and Upcountry Maui.
Ferry service is available between Maui and Lana’i.
Travel between Maui and Molokai by ferry. Tours are also available.
The Bus is Oahu’s public transportation system, used by visitors and residents alike.
The LOTMA Commuter Express is a bus service between Central Oahu and Honolulu. Single-ride tickets or monthly passes are available.
The Mililani Trolley is an affordable transportation option for the Mililani Mauka and Makai area.
The Waikiki Trolley is aimed at tourists visiting historical, cultural and scenic attractions in Waikiki and Honolulu. Multiple tours and multi-day passes are available and often include discounted admission to top attractions.
The Kauai Bus is a public bus service between Hanalei and Kekaha running Monday to Saturday. For fares, schedules and route maps, visit the Kauai County Government website.
The Big Island
Hele-on-Bus is the public bus system for the Big Island.
Participants in Hawaii can use the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:
Emergency Management Agencies
- Hawaii State Civil Defense
- Twitter updates @HI_CivilDefense
- Honolulu Department of Emergency Management
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov
- Washington FEMA updates on Twitter @femaregion9
Interact with others and expand your skill set by volunteering in your local community. Volunteer organizations are often looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a great option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.
United Way in Hawaii categorizes volunteer opportunities by area of interest, like helping the environment, teens, families or senior citizens. You can also browse by agency or search based on your requirements (e.g. Location, time commitment).
Honolulu Habitat for Humanity asks for volunteers to help build homes, perform administrative work in their offices and to help out at events. No experience is needed to help with home building, and both individuals and groups are welcome!
Preserve Hawaii has an extensive list of environmental organizations looking for volunteers.
If you are studying law or just have an interest in law, consider volunteering for Legal Aid Hawaii.
Hawaii State Art Museum in Honolulu needs volunteers for events, to work the reception desk, to work with children and other tasks.
The Hawaii Opera Theatre in Honolulu asks for volunteers to help with events, to produce shows and for other tasks.