Forget serial killers and cheesy Hollywood plotlines; Hawaii is an oasis
A trip to Hawaii requires a greater investment of time and money than to just about any other U.S. destination, but when planned carefully, the rewards are unrivaled. The natural beauty of this rugged archipelago is unique in the Western Hemisphere, and each of the four major islands that make up the chain has its unique character.
The creature least likely to enjoy a visit to Hawaii is the gay single traveler with high expectations of finding romance. While hooking up isn’t unheard of, it happens more by accident than by design. Honolulu has only a smattering of gay bars. Waikiki, its resort community, has a handful of gay bars, but overall gay nightlife is far mellower than in most cities this size. The island of Hawaii, the "Big Island," has one small gay bar. But for gay couples seeking romance, it’s a paradise.
Home to about 900,000 people (70 percent of the state’s population), many visitors base themselves on this island. The ideal time to see Oahu is during the first few days of your visit, as Waikiki is walkable and downtown Honolulu offers the kinds of cultural attractions — Iolani Palace, Chinatown, Doris Duke’s Shangri La Foundation for Islamic Art, the Bishop Museum — you might be most in the mood to appreciate having just arrived from the mainland.
No visit to Oahu is complete without a drive around the island’s splendid Windward Coast and North Shore, which can be managed easily in a day (the only day you might consider renting a car, which is unnecessary unless you plan to leave Honolulu and Waikiki).
In terms of scenery, the one Hawaiian island that comes closest to living up to the expectations of many first-time visitors is Kauai, a relatively small but magnificently lush isle of rainforests, towering seaside cliffs and secluded beaches. Hikers flock to Na Pali Coast State Park, which is on the remote northwestern tip of the island, just beyond the picturesque village of Hanalei.
The eastern side is dominated by the waterfalls of the Wailua River Valley (home to several gay-friendly B&Bs), and the southern side by Poipu’s beaches and grand resorts. Kauai remains largely unspoiled and slow-paced, an ideal spot for devotees of the outdoors; loyal admirers often vacation here exclusively and skip the other islands.
Hawaii — The Big Island
The Big Island is about twice the size of the other islands combined. There’s considerable resort development along the western (Kohala) coastline, distinctive for its arid and beautifully desolate terrain and massive black fields of lava rock. Ideally, try to spend at least three days here: one to drive to the verdant tropical eastern coast, one dedicated to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, and one driving north into the upcountry ranching community of Waimea.
Diverse and dramatic Maui is the second-most populous of the islands. Its resorts are sophisticated and relatively new, and fine restaurants and shops abound along the west coast, which is also where you’ll find the best and sunniest beaches. The island’s must-do activities are a drive to the 10,023-foot Mt. Haleakala, a dormant volcano whose peak offers unrivaled views of the Pacific Ocean; and an all-day drive to the sleepy village of Hana.
Hawaii is rife with gay-friendly accommodations, from luxurious full-service resorts to modest upcountry B&Bs. Distinguishing the duds from the winners can take a bit of research, so spend a little time perusing both gay and mainstream books and Web sites. Among the best: the Embassy Suites Waikiki, Oahu; the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui; the Four Seasons Hualalai, Big Island; the Four Seasons, Maui; the Grand Hyatt, Kauai; Hale Ohia Cottages, Big Island; Horizon Guest House, Big Island; and JW Marriott Ihilani, Oahu.
If you’re planning to visit all four islands, consider staying with Hawaii’s gay-friendly Outrigger Hotels chain, which has about 25 hotels and condos throughout the state, most in Waikiki (the beachfront Reef and Waikiki properties are the best on Oahu, and the Outrigger Aina Nalu on Maui is also a standout). You can book comfortable and moderately priced accommodations across the island state.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 21, 2009.