The Best Cultural Experiences

Experiencing the Hula: For a real, authentic hula experience on Oahu, check out the Bishop Museum, which has excellent performances on weekdays, or head to the Halekulani's House Without a Key at sunset to watch the enchanting Kanoelehua Miller dance beautiful hula under a century-old kiawe tree. The first week after Easter brings Hawaii's biggest and most prestigious hula extravaganza, the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival, at Hilo on the Big Island; tickets sell out by January 30, so reserve early. In May, there's the Molokai Ka Hula Piko, at Molokai's Papohaku Beach Park, a wonderful day-long festival that celebrates the hula on the island where it was born.

Watching the Ancient Hawaiian Sport of Canoe Paddling (Oahu): From February to September, on weekday evenings and weekend days, hundreds of canoe paddlers gather at Ala Wai Canal and practice the Hawaiian sport of canoe paddling. Find a comfortable spot at Ala Wai Park, next to the canal, and watch this ancient sport come to life.

Attending a Hawaiian-Language Church Service (Oahu): Kawaiahao Church (tel. 808/522-1333) is the Westminster Abbey of Hawaii. The vestibule is lined with portraits of the Hawaiian monarchy, many of whom were crowned in this very building. The coral church is a perfect setting in which to experience an all-Hawaiian service, held every Sunday at 10:30am, complete with Hawaiian song. Admission is free; let your conscience be your guide as to a donation.

Buying a Lei in Chinatown (Oahu): There's actually a host of cultural sights and experiences to be had in Honolulu's Chinatown. Wander through this several-square-block area with its jumble of exotic shops offering herbs, Chinese groceries, and acupuncture services. Before you leave, be sure to check out the lei sellers on Maunakea Street (near North Hotel Street), where Hawaii's finest leis go for as little as $2.50.

Listening to Old Fashioned "Talk Story" with Hawaiian Song and Dance (Big Island): Once a month, under a full moon, "Twilight at Kalahuipua'a," a celebration of the Hawaiian culture that includes story-telling, singing, and dancing, takes place oceanside at Mauna Lani Bay Resort (tel. 808/885-6622). It hearkens back to another time in Hawaii, when family and neighbors would gather on back porches to sing, dance and "talk story.".

Visiting Ancient Hawaii's Most Sacred Temple (Big Island): On the Kohala Coast, where King Kamehameha the Great was born, stands Hawaii's oldest, largest, and most sacred religious site: the 1,500-year-old Mookini Heiau, used by kings to pray and offer human sacrifices. This massive three-story stone temple, dedicated to Ku, the Hawaiian god of war, was erected in A.D. 480. It's said that each stone was passed from hand to hand from Pololu Valley, 14 miles away, by 18,000 men who worked from sunset to sunrise. Go in late afternoon, when the setting sun strikes the lava-rock walls and creates a primal mood.

Hunting for Petroglyphs (Big Island): Archaeologists are still uncertain exactly what these ancient rock carvings -- the majority of which are found in the 233-acre Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District, near Mauna Lani Resort on the Kohala Coast -- mean. The best time to hunt for these intricate depictions of ancient life is either early in the morning or late afternoon, when the angle of the sun lets you see the forms clearly.

Exploring Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (Big Island): This sacred site on the South Kona Coast was once a place of refuge and a revered place of rejuvenation. You can walk the same consecrated grounds where priests once conducted holy ceremonies and glimpse the ancient way of life in pre-contact Hawaii in the re-created 180-acre village.

Visiting the Most Hawaiian Isle: A time capsule of old Hawaii, Molokai allows you to experience real Hawaiian life in its most unsullied form. The island's people have woven the cultural values of ancient times into modern life. In addition to this rich community, you'll find the magnificent natural wonders it so cherishes: Hawaii's highest waterfall, its greatest collection of fish ponds, and the world's tallest sea cliffs, as well as sand dunes, coral reefs, rain forests, and gloriously empty beaches. The island is pretty much the same Molokai of generations ago.