It’s June, which means weddings — and honeymoons. That gets me thinking about Hawaii, a perennial favorite for that post-nuptial getaway, as well as a classic family vacation spot.
Hawaii may well be the most exotic destination in America; it’s undoubtedly one of the more expensive. Planning early is essential, both for honeymooners and for families eyeing next winter’s holiday.
So if “aloha” is in your future, here are some tips to get you started. (Many of these tips come courtesy of my sister, a longtime Californian who — like so many Left Coasters — jets off to Maui the way we New Yorkers weekend in Florida.)
For starters: When to go? Devotees swear that Hawaii, with its subtle seasons, is fabulous any time of year. Late winter is the peak for tourism; in February, Hawaii’s famous humpback whales frolic and spout just offshore, so whale watching is a major draw.
Summer is hotter but still pleasant. Hawaiian microclimates can vary dramatically, and rain tends to concentrate in particular areas rather than in a single wet season. Tropical downpours are usually short and sweet, though — and as any Hawaii visitor quickly learns, rainbows are a magical side effect.
Next question: Where to go? If you’re short on time or traveling with kids, consider flying directly into one of the larger islands, which saves a lot of time and money. Those looking for the widest variety of resources and activities — Jewish and otherwise — should head to Oahu, home to two-thirds of the state’s population, its capital, Honolulu, and historic Pearl Harbor.
If you love to dress up and go out, head for Ibiza; nature, not nightlife, is the Hawaiian strong suit. Hawaii gets up early, a habit that owes as much to an agrarian past as to a desire to sync with the mainland.
Oahu (home to the fabled Waikiki Beach district) and Maui (with abundant resort options) are the best bets for after-dark action. Both islands are popular precisely because they offer plenty to do — shopping, dining and culture, especially on Oahu — along with spectacular beaches and natural beauty.
Across the islands, resorts fill the nightlife gap, with most larger hotels offering evening entertainment. This can range from low-key Hawaiian music and mai tais to hula shows and all-out luaus — cultural spectacles featuring everything from torch runners on the beach to smorgasbords of local fare.
The Big Island, also called Hawai’i, is great for kosher eaters and volcano lovers. It is home to Chabad of Hawaii, which sells souvenir Hawaiian-style kippot, hosts weekly Shabbat dinners, and coordinates kosher meals for vacationers. As the only island to host an active volcano, Hawai’i is also the place to explore lava flows and craters at Volcanoes National Park.
With a larger budget and a sense of adventure, you can escape to two harder-to-reach spots: Lanai, a quaint isle of 3,000 inhabitants recently bought by the Oracle executive Larry Ellison, and the “Garden Island” of Kauai, a natural paradise largely untouched by development (though it does have a small Jewish congregation). These destinations are best for people who want to explore craters by helicopter, snorkel in secluded coves and go off-road through jungles and surf in a setting lost in time.
Anywhere in Hawaii, you’ll want to rent a car. Wheels are essential for exploring the islands properly, and certain scenic routes — along ocean cliffs or through waterfall-dotted rainforests — are destinations in their own right.
Pack carefully. Hawaii has particularly stringent entry requirements regarding the importation of plants, animals and foodstuffs, and going through controls can feel akin to entering a foreign country. With a unique, fragile ecosystem to protect, Hawaiian officials have tightened inspections for those entering the islands.
Now for the classic Jewish vacation question: How’s the food? The farm-to-table movement has lately put a sophisticated twist on Hawaiian dining, with upscale new eateries — especially in Honolulu — that exploit the local bounty. Island cuisine still relies on Asian staples like fresh fish, white rice, sweet flavors, and fruits: mango, pineapple and papaya. Vegetarians do better than ever in a region long given to meat-heavy dishes (a luau is essentially a pig roast); there’s even a Vegetarian Society of Hawaii, with a website full of resources and ideas for the herbivore visitor.
Kosher vacationers also have more options than ever, mostly on Maui, the Big Island and Oahu. Chabad of Hawaii organizes a kosher meal-delivery service for those staying locally, and coordinates with several hotels throughout the islands; check the website for more information.
Chabad can also help direct Oahu vacationers to local kosher options — including, on a recent visit, kosher meal providers and an online Israeli kosher supermarket with delivery service for many staples.