Honolulu Festivals

Honolulu Festivals

Chinese New Year (Feb.)

The Chinese New Year Festival lasts four days with pageants, entertainment, food booths, singing and dancing, feng shui presentations, martial arts demonstrations, and Chinese fortune readings among others. The celebration takes place in Chinatown Cultural Plaza at Beretania and Maunakea Streets. Events are free.

Chinese arrived in Hawaii in 1789 and their community grew quickly. The community became a cluster of family stores. In 1852, contract laborers were brought from China to work the sugar plantations. By the 1880’s the Chinese left plantation work and set up their own businesses. They concentrated their efforts in the 25 acres of downtown Honolulu that turned into restaurants, temples, retail stores, and clubhouses. Even though two fires, in 1886 and a larger fire in 1900, burned down much of Chinatown, the shops and shopkeepers returned and nourished their community and the traditions that persist to this day.

Honolulu Festival (March)

Hawaii’s premier cultural event began in 1995 to promote ethnic harmony and understanding between people of Hawaii and the Pacific Rim. The festival is held over three days, from Friday to Sunday with traditional art demonstrations, dance performances and craft fairs held at various locations. Live performances happen at four different venues: Hawaii Convention Center, Ala Moana Shopping Center, Waikiki Beach Walk, and Waikiki Shopping Center. There is a grand parade through the streets of Waikiki to conclude the festival. Admission is free to all festival events.

Waikiki Spam Jam (April)

The largest SPAM festival in the world? Is there any other? Hawaiians consume more SPAM than anyone else on earth, in excess of 7 million cans of SPAM a year. Well, there are people who actually celebrate the tinned food . In 2009, in fact, 24,000 devotees congregated on Kalakaua Avenue for a block party with free concerts, SPAM merchandise and “SPAMTASTIC Food,” to benefit the Hawaii Food Bank. Mouthwatering (?) dishes served by 13 restaurants, providing such delectable fare as : SPAM nachos, SPAM loco moco, SPAM lettuce wrap, SPAM hot dogs, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM, SPAM lau lau and SPAM!

There were even prizes like a year’s supply of the pink stuff. I mean, can you ever have too much SPAM? Well, yeah. spamjamhawaii.com

May Day Celebrations (May)

May 1, 1928 was officially designated May Day or as writer Grace Tower Warren christened it, “May Day is Lei Day.” It had been suggested by that Hawaiians needed a holiday to honor the lei, the symbol of welcome, the symbol of Aloha. When May 1st was designated, Hawaiians wearing leis gathered in Kapiolani Park to listen to music, watch lei-making demonstrations and compete in lei-making contests. The tradition continues . Music, hula dancing and lei-making are still part of the May Day celebration, which is statewide. The leis made in Kapiolani Park are displayed at the Royal Mausoleum in Nuuanu the next morning.

As the Honolulu Star Bulletin reported on the first May Day, so it is today: ”Lei recaptured the old spirit of the islands (a love of color and flowers, fragrance, laughter, and aloha.)”

Wahiawa Pineapple Festival (May)

Everything pineapple is celebrated at this festival held in May. Special pineapple-themed dishes are created and served by famed Honolulu restaurants like Alan Wong’s, Roy’s and Ola at Turtle Bay. This is an all-day festival held in the central Oahu community of Wahiawa, in a high plateau where the Dole Food Company was founded in 1851. (The popular tourist attraction, Dole Pineapple Plantation is located in Wahiawa.)

Since 2003, the Wahiawa community has celebrated its agricultural heritage and association with the spiny fruit in its district park by giving free narrated trolley rides through town, educational and historical displays, live entertainment, old plantation games, and of course, the fabulous food creations of chefs like Alan Wong who grew up in Wahiawa. Learn More: 808.227-8229

Honolulu Triathlon (May)

The Honolulu Triathlon has been held since 2004. The Olympic Triathlon consists of a 1.5k swim in the ocean off of Ala Moana Beach Park. ( In 2009, the triathlon became a duathlon (run-bike-run) when the swimming portion of the race was canceled due to swarms of box jellyfish at Ala Moana Beach.) It’s followed by a 40k bike course which leaves from Magic Island to Ala Moana Boulevard and west to Nimitz Highway and then to Kamehameha Highway, out to Honolulu International Airport, and then to the famous Reef Runway, which is also an alternate landing site for the USA Space Shuttle. The course loops back to finish at transition area at Magic Island. The last portion of the race is the 10k run which covers three of Waikiki’s waterfront parks: Kakaako Waterfront Park, Kewalo Basin Waterfront Park and Ala Moana Beach Park. The race starts at 6 a.m. in staggered waves and has up to 1500 participants. Read More: honolulutriathlon.com

Waikiki By Moonlight (June)

Waikiki’s block party, Waikiki By Moonlight, was held in June between Kaiulani and Kealohilani Avenues. Top Hawaiian entertainment appeared and featured Waikiki restaurants provided the cuisine on a culinary stage. Note: Waikiki by Moonlight was cancelled in 2009 due to funding cuts with no promise of its return. Learn More: 808.923-1094.

King Kamehameha Festival (June)

The State holiday is celebrated on all islands and was established by royal proclamation in 1871. The biggest celebration is on the Big Island in North Kohala on June 11th, the birthplace of King Kamehameha, who united the Hawaiian Islands in 1795.

This holiday is marked by a floral parade made up of 6000 marchers, 50 vehicles, 10 floats, and 8 bands. The parade begins at King and Richards Streets and ends at Queen Kapiolani Park. Learn More: 808.586.0333

Korean Festival (July)

Korean food, art, dance, music, and martial arts are presented to honor Korean culture of the past and the present at Kapiolani Park. The two-day event, described as the premier Korean community cultural event, began in 2001, as a way to share, promote, and raise awareness of Korean culture in the community.

Demonstrations of Korean martial arts, cooking lessons from Korean chefs, youth singing contests, Korean fan and drum dances, and a Kim Chee eating contest, are just a few of the many activities from past festivals. Read More: koreanfestivalhi.com

Haleiwa Arts Festival (July)

This arts and crafts celebration is held at Haleiwa Beach Park in Haleiwa Town on the North Shore of Oahu. 140 juried artists display and offer their art for sale at this 2 day event. Original music and dance are also presented and audience participation is encouraged. Arts demonstrations and children’s activities are part of the arts festival. Free admission, free parking, all activities are free. Read More: haleiwaartsfestival.org

Hawaii Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival takes place in Ala Moana Park in June. The evening before, there is a movie night at the park. Festival events include a carnival, crafts, food booths and Dragon Boat Races with teams from Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, China, and the U.S. Mainland. Long colorful boats with dragon heads carved into the bows, cut through the water to beating drums as screaming crowds cheer on their favorite teams. The tradition started in China as a way to drive off evil spirits. It’s associated with the summer solstice and is another fun Honolulu tradition among many in a city that loves to party.

Duke’s OceanFest (Aug.)

Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, the Waikiki Beach boy who became a legend, was the father of modern surfing. The native Hawaiian swimmer entered three Olympics (1912, 1920 and 1924) winning three gold and two silver medals. He was so influential in his day that he’s credited with introducing surfing and Hawaii to the world.

Today, the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation awards $191,000 in scholarships to scholar/athletes who excel in water sports and volleyball. Duke’s Oceanfest is four days of ocean sports competitions taking place in August on his birthday beginning with a sunrise blessing at the Duke‘s statue on Waikiki Beach. Some of the events include the Duke’s Legend Surf Classic, Surf Paddleboard Championship, Duke’s Waikiki Ocean Mile Swim, Surf Polo Tournament, and the Waterman Challenge. The competitions end with a sidewalk surfboard parade and the draping of leis on Duke’s statue. Read More: dukefoundation.org

Aloha Festivals (Sept.-Oct.)

The Aloha Festivals comprise more than 300 events across six islands, in celebration of Hawaiian music, dance and history. Up to one million visitors participate in festival events every year. On each island, a king, queen, prince, princess, and attendants of Hawaiian descent in traditional costume are selected to begin the festivities. Floral parades, sports competitions, dance, and music are among the many events that are held. The Aloha Festivals have reinforced cultural traditions, perpetuated Hawaiian rituals and helped to instill pride in native heritage and customs. For a schedule or to learn more: 800.852.7690.

North Shore/Triple Crown (Nov.)

Top surfers in the world face the biggest waves for over $1 million in prizes. It’s man ( or woman) against the sea every year from November through December on the North three events for men and three events for women. For men, the three events are the Reef Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park, the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset Beach and Billabong Pipeline Masters at Bonzai Pipeline. The women’s events are Van’s Hawaiian Pro at Haleiwa, Roxy Pro at Sunset Beach and Billabong Pro Maui.

The Triple Crown is the culmination of surfing’s world tour which is fitting for a sport which began in Hawaii. Learn More: 808.638.7266

Honolulu City Lights (Dec.)

Honolulu City Lights has been celebrated for 25 years in Honolulu. The city’s Christmas celebration features a 50 foot Christmas tree, exhibits, live entertainment and appearances by St. Nick himself in his Santa House at the Honolulu Hale, the City Hall Courtyard.

The celebration lasts from the beginning of December through the beginning of January. The first night is marked by food booths, a concert in the Kawaiahao Church, tree lighting, and a holiday concert. Downtown Honolulu puts on its best Christmas decorations and becomes even more beautiful on those festive evenings in December. Read More: honolulucitylights.org