Millions of tourists flock to Hawaii each year, packing the beaches and attractions at hot spots such as Oahu’s Waikiki and Maui’s Kaanapali.
Yet it’s easy to escape the crowds at off-the-beaten-track places around the islands and see some of Hawaii’s heritage or simply enjoy a blissfully empty beach. Three places to consider, scattered across Oahu, Molokai and Kauai:
Plantation Village, Oahu
Sugar once was king in Hawaii, the economic linchpin of the islands. This outdoor heritage museum tells the stories of the people who lived and worked at the islands’ sugar plantations from 1850 to 1950, toiling in the sugar-cane fields and sugar-processing mills and living in tight-knit plantation villages.
A half-block of small wood buildings, from family homes and single men’s rooms to shared bathhouses, has been grouped at the edge of a brilliant green taro field.
Hawaii’s modern multiethnic mosaic was shaped by generations of such sugar-plantation families who originally came from China, Japan, the Philippines, Portugal and beyond to work on the plantations. Visitors can wander through family cottages adorned with Japanese Buddhist household shrines; see a single man’s bedroom with its movie-star photos; wander past a Chinese social hall and the outdoor Portuguese bread ovens, beehivelike stone ovens for making traditional sweet bread.
Low-key tours last about an hour and are offered about five times daily. If you’re lucky, the tour may end with a sweet taste of fruits, such as star fruit and pomelo, from the trees that shade the re-created village.
Details: Hawaii’s Plantation Village is about 15 miles west of Honolulu on the outskirts of the town of Waipahu. Adult admission, $13 (hawaiiplantationvillage.org).
Halawa Valley, Molokai
The island of Molokai is the least touristed, and least developed, of the main Hawaiian islands. No giant beachside hotels, no fancy restaurants, no traffic; not even a stoplight (a temporary road-construction stoplight last year caused some consternation). Locals, many of whom are Native Hawaiian, want to keep it that way.
What Molokai does have is slow-going peace and quiet, a feeling of Hawaii before mass tourism. To get a taste of the past, drive along Kamehameha V Highway (Hwy. 450) for 27 miles from the little town of Kaunakakai to Halawa Valley, at the island’s east tip, where the road dead-ends.
It’s a very Molokai type of “highway.” Few cars travel the two-lane road that hugs the ocean; it becomes increasingly narrow and winding (and single-lane in places). For the last half-mile it switchbacks about 750 feet down the steep sidewall of the Halawa Valley. Hawaii’s Polynesian settlers lived in this narrow valley for more than 1,000 years; these days taro farms and a little wood chapel dot the remote area.
For visitors there’s nothing much at Halawa — except peaceful, natural beauty. Go beyond a small grassy park (with picnic tables and restroom) and follow a dirt road to a beachside parking area. Or walk a few minutes to a more sheltered white-sand beach.
Locals surf (mostly in winter) and swim. Visitors unfamiliar with the ocean currents should be cautious; there are no lifeguards, and help is far away. Take a stroll. Nap under a tree. Listen to the waves.
Details: General island info, including Halawa, is at gohawaii.com/en/molokai.
Waioli Mission House, Kauai
Tucked away on Kauai’s lush north shore is Waioli Mission House Museum, built in 1836 as a home for American missionaries and their families who were bringing Christianity to Hawaii, then still an independent kingdom.
It’s a bit of New England transplanted to the tropics, a two-story white wooden house with a shingle roof, paned windows and a massive stone chimney. Run as a heritage-house museum, it’s furnished with Shaker-style and antique furniture, rag rugs and shelves of books.
The house is just a block off the main north-shore road near the little town of Hanalei, with still-in-use church buildings nearby. But stroll through the mission house’s peaceful rooms, gaze out the windows over emerald-green fields to the steep, waterfall-draped peaks and you’re taken back in time.
The Waioli Mission House is run by Grove Farm Homestead & Museum, a sugar-plantation homestead in Kauai’s main town of Lihue, 32 miles away. Visit both to learn about sugar plantations and missionary life in the Hawaiian islands.
Details: Waioli Mission House is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donation of $10 per person is requested (grovefarm.org).