Hawaii Travel Is a Go This Summer: How to Travel Safely, and Things to Do When You Get There

Hawaii travel and best spots

For people who live in Hawaii, going with the flow has long been a way of life. Now visitors returning there after a year or more away are finding that the best approach is to roll with the waves too, or risk a vacation wipeout. That means accepting that local rules governing air travel, social distancing and mask wearing are inflexible, while itineraries need to remain flexible.

Prepare for Your Trip

Your airline should alert you to the current rules when you book your ticket, but at press time, the state’s Safe Travels program was still in effect. This program allows passengers to bypass a mandatory 10-day quarantine by taking a Covid-19 test from one of a specified set of testing partners within 72 hours of departure, and uploading results to the state’s online platform before you arrive. There are other forms to fill out, too, so be sure to read the fine print early. If you’re thinking of just saying you’ll quarantine but plan to skip it — don’t. Besides that being unsafe and illegal, rental car agencies can’t rent to you and, on most islands, short-term vacation rentals aren’t allowed to host you. Only children under age 5 can avoid quarantine without pre-travel testing. (The same rules currently apply for most interisland travel, too, unless you’re a resident of Hawaii who can prove you’ve been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks.)

If you’re traveling to Maui, you may also be required to take a second Covid-19 test upon arrival, this time for free; don’t plan a swift exit from the airport. Maui also requires you to show you’ve downloaded the AlohaSafe Alert app on your mobile phone, which notifies you of any Covid-19 exposure by others using the app. Once in the islands, expect to wear a face mask in public except when eating, drinking or exercising, including in parks and on beaches, especially when you can’t maintain 6 feet distance from people who aren’t in your traveling party. Social distancing is still required in stores, restaurants and other public places. Each county has slight variations on the rules, so click on the “While in Hawaii” link on the hawaiicovid19.com/travel for details.

Not all restaurants have reopened, and sadly a number have closed for good. Some hotel restaurants, like Number Three at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, have been open during holiday weeks, then shut back down as soon as visitor numbers dropped. Especially given varying occupancy restrictions, it’s best to make reservations as far in advance as you can for your favorite spots. Admission and parking fees have been introduced or increased at a number of state parks, including Iao Valley and Makena on Maui; Kokee, Waimea Canyon and Haena on Kauai; Akaka Falls and Hapuna Beach on Hawaii Island; and Diamond Head and Nuuanu Pali on Oahu. See dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/ for details. Hanauma Bay on Oahu has raised admission for nonresidents to $12 and limited the number of daily visitors and reduced its days and hours of operation.

Although the parks are open, at press time, visitor centers remained closed at Haleakala and Hawaii Volcanoes national parks. However, the latter’s famed lava tube has reopened, featuring new lighting and oneway foot traffic, while the glow from a new eruption in nearby Halemaumau Crater can be seen at night. Check nps.gov./havo for the latest updates.

Surf’s Up! Surf With the Pros

Surfer Hawaii Outrigger

Outrigger Waikiki is coming up with some creative ways to connect guests to local pro surfers. These include the Surfer In Residence program, their relationship with Faith Surf School, and the onsite Sunrise Shack, serving possibly the best açai bowls in town — created by surf influencers Koa Rothman and the Smith brothers: Alex, Koa and Travis. Surfers who drop in for the program include Kelly Slater, Bill Kemper and more. This summer the lineup includes Carissa Moore, Kai Lenny and Mark Cunningham, just to name a few. Not only will guests have the opportunity to talk shop with these pros, legendary board shaper and surfer Pohaku Stone is on site to discuss the history of how Hawaiians shaped the early surfboards. There are some Covid-19 adjustments to the program for safety. For those looking to just chill and work on their glide, the Duke’s Package includes daily breakfast or lunch for two, a discount board rental with Faith Surf School and the fourth night free.

Happy-Open Air-Hour: New (or) Improved Options

The Birdcage Bar, Hotel Wailea, Maui

Hotel Wailea Lobby
Photo by Travis Rowan

The pandemic gave the McManus group, owners of Hotel Wailea on Maui, a chance to pause and consider the best use of their existing lobby. It boasted 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and was naturally a popular roosting place for adorable lovebirds at sunset. Enter a whimsical avian-inspirwed concept perfected by Philpotts Interiors, an open-air space where guests can enjoy handcrafted cocktails and Japanese-inspired izakaya-style bites. Weekly sashimi specials, along with classics such as gyoza and yakitori, will be available for guests to enjoy in a casual environment with comfortable lounge seating for small groups.

Champagne Bar, Fairmont, Hawaii

Fairmont Orchid Pau Hana Bar

Enjoy bubbly outdoors at the new champagne pop-up bar, Pau Hana, featuring Veuve Clicquot champagne cocktails. Pau Hana’s dedicated al fresco lounge space with oversized cushioned chairs offers a front-row seat to panoramic ocean views. Honeymooners will swoon, sipping signature cocktails paired with a rotating daily selection of gourmet popcorn. Two popular signature cocktails include the Queen Bee, which is infused with a rare kiawe honey made onsite mixed with bourbon and Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, and the Bellini in Bloom, made with seasonal farmer’s market fruit puree and Veuve Clicquot Rich Rosé. Open every Friday an Saturday night from 5 p.m. through sunset.

Maui Brewing Co, Oahu

Don’t let the line out the door deter — it moves fast, and once you get in, there are plenty of places to sit in this hip open air space at the newly renovated Waikiki Beachcomber. Top picks on the menu include Bikini Blonde beer with fish and chips, and the harvester pizza, topped with locally grown kale, caramelized onions, roasted garlic and white sauce — and the pizza is dough made with Bikini Blonde Beer. Sunshine Girl golden ale is a new fresh brew, and the new Maui seltzers are excellent — the POG flavor is a favorite of many. For drinks, we recommend doing a beer flight to taste a variety. Happy hour is 3:30 to 5:40 p.m. daily, and live music from 6 to 8 p.m.


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Mimi Towle

Mimi Towle is a Marin-based writer and editor. Currently the editor of Marin Magazine, she enjoys the various perks of her job, which include meeting chefs, winemakers, and inspiring characters. As a volunteer philanthropic advisor for the EACH Foundation, she focuses on needs in her home state of Hawaii. Some of her favorite nonprofits include City BeatHawaii Land Trust, and University of Hawaii Cancer Center.