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Hawaii, the Aloha State

Hawaii, the Aloha State

Live your pineapple-scented dream vacation.

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When Captain Cook became the first non-Polynesian to arrive in Hawaii in the late 1770s, he discovered a tropical paradise with a surprising queer twist. Bisexuality flourished in the culture and the powerful king openly kept male concubines. All this is reflected in the ships journals, where one sailor commented it was ?a shocking inversion of the laws of nature, they bestow all those affections upon them that were intended for the other sex."

Over a century later, Honolulu was still under the rule of Queen Lili'uokalani, a foreign monarchy with a distinctly South Pacific culture. Today, it remains America's most foreign city.

Known as ?the gathering place,? the island of Oahu is home to 1 million year round residents and about 5 million visitors per year. It?s capital and largest city in the Hawaiian islands is Honolulu. It?s here we begin our exploration of this fascinating, gay friendly island paradise.

Tourism is dominant industry here, and nowhere is this more apparent than on Waikiki Beach, which has the highest concentration of hotel rooms in the world.

Although Oahu is not the island paradise of our pineapple-scented dreams, that Hawai'i still exists. You?ll find it in out of the way places on Oahu as well as in the outer islands, where wide unspoiled beaches and thatched-hut hotel cottages still exist.

Honolulu is a vibrant city, with glittering high-rise towers, expansive shopping malls, traffic problems and a pretty exciting gay nightlife.

Come just about any time of the year for perfect weather. And by all means plan on spending one full weekend exploring Honolulu, soaking in the sites, sunning on Queen?s Beach and carousing the gay bars. But plan on visiting at least one of the other islands during your stay. The paradise islands of Maui, Kauai and the Big Island offer more laid back but less obviously gay experiences.

ACCOMMODATIONS
Accommodations on Oahu can be expensive and bland. And to stay on the beach, even in a modest hotel property can be expensive at high season. But there are still plenty of unique, interesting lodging options to discover.

The best option for gay visitors is The Cabana at Waikiki, an upscale, attractive and professionally run guesthouse with 15 units. The location is very convenient to Hula's Bar, the gay beach, Kapiolani Park and lots of unique shops.

In the mood to splurge? Book at the Halekulani, consistently voted one of the best hotels in the world. You won't find better service anywhere, but note that the hotel has virtually no beach directly in front of it. Don?t worry though: the pool is plenty fabulous.

The Moana Surfrider was Waikiki's first hotel, and remains an elegant and genteel oasis from the surrounding hubbub. Even if you don't stay here, it's worth a visit to imagine what Waikiki was like before the age of jet travel.

Best for the value traveler, the very gay-friendly Waikiki Joy Hotel is a boutique hotel featuring all sorts of amenities in every room like great sound systems and Jacuzzi tubs. It?s pleasantly comfortable, the staff is funny and helpful and it?s very close to gay nightlife.

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DINING
You have to know where to go to avoid the mediocre tourist-trap restaurants. Have lunch at one of the best restaurants on Oahu, Irifune, a little gem and favorite of locals. This purely original Japanese restaurant has been in the same family for years, with rooms filled with snapshots of friends on the walls, fishing nets and posters.

One well-kept dining secret is the dinner buffet served every evening on the terrace of the Moana Surfrider Hotel, where you can enjoy elaborate dinner options in an elegant beachfront setting at surprisingly reasonable prices.

One of the best local dining establishments is Roy's Restaurant, located about 20 minutes from downtown in Hawai'i Kai and serving trans-Pacific cuisine. The restaurant's menu changes every night.

For dinner, Indigo is a spiffy downtown restaurant. The d?cor is contemporary Chinese; the menu is Eurasian, creative and delicious. Enjoy live jazz while you eat.

Gay up at least one night out at Tryst Restaurant and Lanai Bar, a casual gay-popular spot. Don't miss their volcano-fried rice.

ACTIVITIES
Watch the best surfers in the world navigate the giant waves off the North Shore, site of the sport's most extreme competitions. Inspired? You might even want to take a surfing lesson yourself. Many of the hotels offer board rentas and lessons.

For you sun seekers, the main gay beach is appropriately named Queen's Surf, and is located at the Diamond Head end of Waikiki. You won?t miss the rainbow-colored beach umbrellas and gay boys playing volleyball every afternoon.

The beach in front of the Royal Hawai'ian Hotel (the ?Pink Palace?) is a gay popular alternative to Queens Beach. Take a break at The Mai Tai Bar, at the the hotel, where you can sip on that famous cocktail while listening to live island music.

If you can drag yourself away from the beach, there are many sighs to see beyond the pleasures of Waikiki. Diamond Head, with its 760-foot volcanic crater, has hiking trails up to its summit. The Ft. DeRussy Army Museum has an interesting collection of ancient Hawai'ian weapons, weapons captured from the Japanese and newspaper accounts of WWII. The truly remarkable Bishop Museum houses the world's finest collection of Polynesian and Pacific art.

Foster Botanic Garden features an incredible orchid collection.

'Iolani Palace is the only palace ever built on US soil -- its last resident, Queen Lili'uokalani, was imprisoned here.

Go to Pearl Harbor as early as possible in the morning. Once the Japanese tour buses begin to arrive, the wait becomes hours long.

Other must-visits include Honolulu?s energetic Chinatown, the exotic Honolulu Zoo and the North Shore of O'ahu.

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NIGHTLIFE/ENTERTAINMENT
There?s not a whole lot of gay nightlife in Honolulu but the few venues are fun and crowded especially in high season, with happy-go-lucky tourists and seen-it-all locals.

Hula's Bar & Lei Stand is a Waikiki institution, with gorgeous views of Diamond Head and Queen's Surf Beach off in the distance. There's a dance floor, DJ, video screens and a casual lounge feel.

By mid-evening, the Hula's crowd invariably begins to migrate to Angles a more bare-bones bar with a fun lanai, or balcony, overlooking the street action, New Orleans style. They have popular events like amateur stripper nights, and the crowd is always young and energetic.

Everyone then stumbles next door to Fusion Waikiki, the only real gay "club" in Hawaii, with pounding music and a stainless steel dance floor that stays open until four.

SHOPPING/CULTURE
Avoid all the overpriced tacky souvenir joints and head to Island Treasures for everything Hawaii. Then head over to the Royal Hawai'ian Hotel, "The Pink Palace of the Pacific" to check out the gay-owned Newt at the Royal, a classy and distinctive gay-owned shop that specializes in highly-prized Montecristi Panama Hats, as well as retro-print tropical shirts, ties and belts.

Used Hawai'ian shirts can cost hundreds of dollars, having achieved collector status. Bailey's Antiques & Aloha Shirts is the best place to find them.

80% Straight is the local gay outlet for swimwear, underwear, club wear, active wear, books and novelties.

The International Marketplace (2330 Kalakaua Ave; 808-971-2080) is a great place to pick up souvenirs you can be proud to give as gifts.

For a little local gay art and culture, visit the studio of Douglas Simonson (758 Kapahulu Ave, Box 328; 808-737-6275), known for his tasteful yet charged homo-exotic art.

WRAP UP
As crowded and modern as Honolulu feels, traditional Hawaiian culture is still thriving today. Gender roles aren?t so rigid in that system and there?s a liberating tolerance for nontraditional relationships and behaviors. Beyond the intriguing queer sensibility you?ll discover here, Honolulu offers up a vacation that?s as exciting or quiet as you desire. So find your inner Captain Cook and come discover America?s most unusual state.

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