The sun, sand, and endless surf that Hawaii is famous for may not exactly inspire images of turkey, football, and leftover stuffing from Thanksgiving dinner. Traditions are made to be broken, however, so spend the holiday in Hawaii with your family this year. Book a stay at one of many Hawaii vacation rentals that dot this island paradise, and look forward to creating the kind of memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime. Here are nine cities that attract tens of thousands of offbeat Thanksgiving observers to Hawaii every November.
Like many other American cities, Honolulu celebrates Thanksgiving Day with a parade through the middle of town. Unlike most other holiday parades, this one features hula dancers and one of Santa’s helpers wearing shorts and sunglasses on the simulated snow of his rooftop float. Wave to him from the crowd, then take your nice children (no naughty ones, please) to meet him and ask that he not forget to stop at your vacation rental on the beach.
Preemptively burn off a few Thanksgiving calories with a quirky Thanksgiving turkey trot that begins and ends in beautiful Waikiki. Every Thanksgiving morning, the Honolulu Marathon Clinic stages this 10k race through the cool morning air around the southern tip of Oahu to soak up some sun and a bit of citrus air from the nearby pineapple plantations. One thing that makes this race unique is that it isn’t competitive in the traditional sense; instead of trying to get the best time overall, participants start by guessing their final time and writing it on a popsicle stick. The winner is the runner who gets closest to his predicted time. Timing devices are not allowed, however, so check your smartphone with race officials before the starting gun.
The U.S. military has had a huge presence on Oahu since the Spanish-American War, so it makes sense that a military base figures into your 21st-century Thanksgiving plans. Try to make time for the 17th Operational Weather Squadron’s Holiday Party on the grounds of the military base in Waimanalo, in the far southeast of Oahu. Guests get live entertainment, delicious traditional turkey and fixin’s, and if you’re very lucky, an all-service member performance of “South Pacific” that nearly brings down the house each year.
Wahiawa is smack in the middle of Oahu, about as high up as you can get on the capital island, and it’s in this rarefied air, which can almost feel frosty if you’re from Florida, that the Ilahi School welcomes all to its annual Fall Festival. Admission is free, and adults and kids alike can enjoy live shows, presentations about the history and communities of Hawaii, and more food than you can truck home. This event runs in the evenings a few weeks before Turkey Day itself.
Humpback whales, being smarter than your average sea life, have the same ideas about holiday travel you do. That’s why they spend much of November gorging themselves on krill in the warm waters around Maui. You can join them – in the water, not eating krill – by booking a Thanksgiving cruise out of Lahaina. This trip sets off in the afternoon, when the whales are usually active near the surface, and gets you close enough for great selfies against the side of the ship with a spouting whale in the background. After the sightseeing, everybody gets to eat their fill of turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and all the other accouterments of a successful Thanksgiving.
Celebrate Thanksgiving the old-fashioned way in Lihue, on the western island of Kauai. Students at the Kauai Community College observe Thanksgiving, and hopefully earn passing marks from their cultural studies professors, by cooking ham and other delicacies in the traditional Hawaiian way: in an underground imu oven. This technology is as simple as a hole in the ground, filled with something flammable, and topped by flat volcanic stones that can get pretty hot. The process of cooking this way is supposed to leave every morsel, from bits of fish to hunks of pork, soft and succulent while imparting a rich, smoky flavor.
If trekking uphill and eating food that’s been cooked in the dirt are less your speed than dining in an elegant ballroom in evening wear, then you might consider taking the ferry over to the Big Island, where the Hilton Waikoloa Village stages an annual Thanksgiving dinner in the Water’s Edge Ballroom. Prices are reasonable enough for a family with older kids, and they’re inclusive, covering dinner and live music that keeps everyone on the large parquet dance floor for hours.
Another special event on the Big Island takes place just across the vast basalt plain from Waikoloa, in Waimea. Here, at the Merriman’s Hotel, you and your party can enjoy a fusion Thanksgiving. Chefs work throughout the morning to marinate and prep dishes for the guests, which include pineapple ham, native Hawaiian fish courses, and macadamia nut-and-sage stuffing. Service is “Hawaiian casual,” which is a term most tourists grasp within half an hour of landing here and getting their first “aloha.”
Everything is better with coffee, and Kona is one of the best coffees in the world. It just happens to grow exclusively on the Big Island, and from the start of November through the middle of the month, it’s ready to harvest. When you get to the coastal plantation where the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival is being held, you can enjoy presentations on how coffee is made and prepared, enjoy samples of pure, freshly roasted Kona coffee, and even head out to the fields with your children to try harvesting a few beans yourselves. Organizers swear it isn’t as easy as you think, though technically, you’re free harvest-season labor, so take as long as you like finding the elusive beans.
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