8 Hawaii Resorts Where You Can Experience Authentic Island Life

From local foods to Hawaiian chanting and healing traditions, Hawaii has a vibrant host culture. Get to know it with these 8 resorts, which can give you a taste of local-style experiences

The best way to get a local vibe when exploring any destination is with a friend who lives there. But what if you don’t have a buddy in Hawaii to show you around, to help you explore and find out what really makes the Islands special? Look inward – to the resort you’re staying at, that is.

Many resorts in Hawaii have a wide range of unique local activities; so whether you want to ride in a traditional outrigger canoe, learn a few hula steps, or snorkel with incredible sea life, you don’t need to roam too far. Here are eight Hawaii resorts where you can experience aspects of local life—from the quirky to the quintessential.

Resorts in Maui

A true paradise on Earth, say Aloha to Maui. A stay in the Kaanapali Beach area will have you swimming with the fishes and strumming the ukulele with the best of ’em.

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Book a Lomi Lomi at the Royal Lahaina Resort

The Royal Lahaina Resort offers many a fun experience that will have you living like a local on the stunning island of Maui.

Stiff from your flight in? Book a lomi lomi treatment. In the Hawaiian language, lomi means “to rub, press, knead or massage.” The style is similar to some other forms of massage, but has deep cultural roots in Hawaii, serving as a healing technique that comes from a long lineage of practices and focuses on the mind and spirit, as well as the body. Expect a treatment to involve tension relief, range-of-motion work, and the release of blocked energy. Try a lomi lomi for yourself at the Alana Spa.

For tennis fans, the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch is only a quick stroll from the lobby (and rents racquets, so no need to pack one). The complex includes 10 courts, plus one that’s surrounded by a 3,500-seat stadium, so you can channel your inner Serena. The tennis complex offers daily instructional clinics, performance-boosting tennis workouts, and lessons; a great time to play is at night, as five of the courts have lighting for after-dark matches.

Royal Lahaina Resort & Bungalows

8.0 Very good (8966 reviews)

Strum the Ukulele at the Sheraton Maui

To make more of a racket than a racquet, a ukulele lesson is just the thing. The Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa has a rotating bevvy of cultural activities, taught by artisans as one-hour lessons. Ti leaf lei making, ukulele lessons, haku lei (a crown of flowers) creations—the schedule and offerings change every month.

Here, you’ll be in the Kaanapali Beach Resort area, on the west side of Maui. That means you’ll be on a three-mile-long swath of sand that’s routinely named as one of Maui’s best beaches.

Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa

7.7 Good (2780 reviews)

Resorts in Hawaii Island

If you fly into the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), you’re on the Kona side of Hawaii Island, also called “The Big Island.” The area is filled with things to do, from touring a working coffee farm to exploring the royal residence Hulihee Palace.

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Speak Kaiapuni at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa

Hawaii Island has three kaiapuni schools—schools where instruction is given exclusively through the Hawaiian language. It’s a beautiful language—ancient, expressive and filled with nuance—that nearly died out, but now it’s spoken by thousands of people in the state. Get a sense of the basics at the free ‘Olelo Hawaii class at The Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay.

For a different kind of immersion, book a snorkel or scuba dive trip to commune with the manta rays in the ocean. At night, these gentle, harmless rays congregate in the waters just offshore at Keauhou, where they feast on plankton. Watching them swoop through the water feels like you’re in outer space, weightless alongside a graceful alien.

Outrigger Kona Resort and Spa

8.3 Very good (5708 reviews)

Hawaiian Cuisine and Samoan Knife Dancing at the Royal Kona Resort

To taste traditional island foods—like haupia pudding, kalua pork and Waipio Valley poi—try the Royal Kona Resort‘s Voyagers of the Pacific luau. In addition to the food, there will be tales of Polynesian history and performers doing heart-stopping Samoan knife dancing. Insider’s tip: Book this far in advance, as it is hard to get tickets.

While staying at the Royal Kona Resort, also take advantage of the outdoor yoga classes, offered twice-daily, for Sunrise or Sunset Flow (all levels). And if you happen to be there on the third Thursday of the month, then yes, that is Hawaiian music legend and Grammy Award nominee Henry Kapono up on stage at the resort’s Don’s Mai Tai Bar.

Royal Kona Resort

8.2 Very good (9191 reviews)

Resorts in Oahu

Do as the Hawaiians do on the island of Oahu. After taking part in local garden projects, tackling the surf and toasting at the bar, you’ll never want to leave.

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Eco-Adventures and Surfers in Residence at the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort

They say, “leave behind nothing but footprints,” but voluntourism lets you leave behind positive progress. During a two-hour eco-adventure via the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort, you will help on the 4,000-acre Kualoa Private Nature Reserve in the wetland taro farm. Eco-volunteers help protect the island’s precious natural resources and learn about kalo (taro), the plant that is so essential to the spiritual, dietary and political aspects of Native Hawaiian culture.

The honi—a greeting where two people touch their noses and breathe together—is another sacred part of Polynesian culture. During an Outrigger’s Hawaiian Vow Renewal ceremony, you’ll be guided through the tradition and can celebrate your union with Hawaiian chanting and meaningful mele (songs).

OUTRIGGER Waikiki Beach Resort

Top rated
9.1 Excellent (10965 reviews)

Surf School and Outrigger Canoe Rides at the Moana Surfrider

It’s hard to believe now, but Oahu hasn’t always had so many hotels and resorts to choose from. Time travel to 1901, when the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort and Spa was the only hotel in Waikiki, with a veddy proper afternoon tea on the Veranda at the Beachhouse. Nibble on Mango Passion Mousse Cake while sipping tea and gazing out at the Pacific.

Waikiki has long been a surfing mecca, due to its nearly constant, exciting-but-not-overwhelming waves. Aloha Beach Services is based right in the Moana Surfrider and has been teaching lessons since 1959— the same year Hawaii became a state. In addition to surfing lessons, they can take you out for outrigger canoe rides.

Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach

Top rated
8.9 Excellent (8952 reviews)

Resorts in Kauai

For a relaxing Hawaii vacay, look no further than Kauai. Local delicacies and hula lessons make for an experience to remember.

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Local Ingredients and Hula Lessons at the Koa Kea Hotel and Resort

Lush, sleepy Kauai might tuck in early at night, but it’s certainly going to eat well beforehand. To try local flavors, head for dinner at Red Salt restaurant at Koa Kea Hotel & Resort. The executive chef there, Noelani Planas, is a native of Kauai. Her cooking style lets local ingredients—like greens from Kailani Farms on the island’s North Shore and gnocchi made with Kona lobster meat—take center stage.

Local ingredients also show up on the menu at the Spa at Koa Kea Resort, with locally grown sugar, coffee, nuts and clays incorporated into wraps, facials and massage treatments. The resort is popular for babymoons, so if you or your partner are hapai (the local word for pregnant), enjoy a special pregnancy massage after a nice stroll on Poipu Beach—only steps from the resort.

Koa Kea Resort on Poipu Beach

Top rated
9.2 Excellent (4658 reviews)

Family-Owned Authenticity at the Kauai Inn

For something truly secluded, The Kauai Inn has a sleepy, vintage vibe. Located on the east side of Kauai, it’s small (only 48 rooms), unique, and family-owned. The mountain views are fantastic, but if it’s the beach you’re craving, it’s only a few minutes to reach Kalapaki Beach—ideal for swimming and stand-up paddle boarding.

The Kauai Inn

Top rated
8.8 Excellent (2098 reviews)