One great way to experience "the real Hawaii" more like a resident would is to attend a local festival.

On Oahu (particularly in Honolulu), this is not a difficult thing to do, as there is always something going on. So no matter when you're visiting the island, there is bound to be some kind of festival, celebration, parade, fair, carnival, competition, or other special event that you can check out during your stay.

If you have some flexibility in scheduling your trip to Oahu, the following are a few of Oahu's biggest and most popular festivals, and are worth timing your trip to coincide with them!

John Derrick
Published on: 04-14-2016
Published by: John C. Derrick

If you have some flexibility in scheduling your trip to Oahu, the following are a few of Oahu's biggest and most popular festivals, and are worth timing your trip to coincide with them!

February: Punahou Carnival

Held during the first weekend in February on the campus of Punahou School in Honolulu, this huge event is a major fundraiser for scholarships to the prestigious private school. So while the cost of rides and food may not be cheap, you can be assured that the money you spend is going to a very worthy cause. Since its inception in 1932, the carnival has developed a huge following among Oahu residents. In addition to carnival rides, there's an art gallery offering works from some of the island's best local talent, a silent auction, a white elephant tent for thrift shoppers, and the ever-popular food booths — the malasadas (Portuguese donuts) and Portuguese bean soup are not to be missed! Parking is limited and expensive, so take The Bus (Oahu's public bus system) if you can.

May: Lei Day Celebration

This festival is always held on May 1, which is known as May Day to the rest of the world. But in Hawaii, it's Lei Day! Join the celebration at Kapiolani Park, which is conveniently located at the far eastern end of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. There, you can see the crowning of the year's new Lei Queen, and an exhibit of elaborate leis that have been entered in the annual lei contest. Enjoy performances by Hawaiian music artists and hula dancers, and then browse the many offerings of craft and food vendors. Kids (and kids at heart!) can listen to storytellers, learn Hawaiian games and songs, and try their hand at making a lei of their own.

July: Ukulele Festival

The largest festival of its kind in the world, Oahu's Ukulele Festival showcases the talent of ukulele performers from all over the world, including an inspiring orchestra of 800+ local schoolchildren led by festival founder Roy Sakuma. Vendor booths display and sell some of the most beautifully crafted and unique ukuleles available. Don't miss the tent offering free ukulele lessons for beginners! The festival is held at Kapiolani Park, on the eastern end of Waikiki Beach. If you're not already staying in the Waikiki area, you should take advantage of the free parking at nearby Kapiolani Community College — there's a free shuttle service that takes festivalgoers to and from the college parking lot.

September: Okinawan Festival

Every Labor Day weekend, Oahu residents flock by the hundreds to Kapiolani Park (on the eastern end of Waikiki Beach) to take part in one of the year's most popular festivals. The food booths are undoubtedly the biggest draw: the andagi (Okinawan donuts) and yakisoba (stir-fried noodles) are always crowd favorites. Once you've had your fill, check out the cultural tent featuring glassblowing and calligraphy demonstrations, and the remarkable bonsai and orchid exhibits. Further experience the unique Okinawan culture through performances by taiko drummers, singers, martial artists, and — one of the festival's highlights —the Bon dancers on Saturday evening. Avoid parking hassles by parking at nearby Kapiolani Community College and take the free shuttle to/from the festival.

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