Christmas in paradise
For a city with considerably more sunshine than snow in December, Honolulu’s Christmas celebrations are a popular ritual.
A tropical shirt, a short skirt, and flip-flops are all appropriate wear for the holidays in Honolulu. What sets the season apart locally, however, is the way Christmas traditions have not just been embraced but transformed by island culture. Take Christmas trees, which are transformed with garlands of hibiscus, plumeria, and bougainvillea, or bursting with beautiful flowers and orchids.
The local holiday style extends far beyond ornaments, with special events popping up across Honolulu. One of the best is Honolulu City Lights. As the city’s official celebration, the festivities are based right at the Honolulu Hale (530 S King Street). Out front is a huge Christmas tree, a 50ft-tall Norfolk pine grown in Hawaii. Each year the decorations change, but they’re always bursting with color, and the official ornaments quickly become collectors’ items.
Perched on a fountain near the tree, you’ll find a 21ft-tall statue called ‘Shaka Santa’, which shows him giving the famous two-fingered shaka sign—a Hawaiian greeting of friendship, comradery, and solidarity. At Santa’s side is the equally sizable Tutu Mele (the local name for Mrs. Claus) with a red hibiscus in her hair.
At night, the tree comes alive in a rainbow of colors, while food vendors sell island treats like Spam musubi, a much-loved sushi snack combining local and Japanese cuisine. You can also enjoy free concerts by top local performers and nighttime parades filled with festive floats covered in lights.
Christmas on the water
Elsewhere in Honolulu, don’t miss the ‘Festival of Lights’ Christmas boat parade at the Hawaii Kai Marina (near the 7036 Kalanianaʻole Highway), featuring dozens of decorated and brilliantly illuminated boats bobbing along the channels of this waterfront community. It’s a brilliant spectacle and another local Christmas tradition you can enjoy while sporting beachwear.
Elsewhere in Honolulu, look for other beautiful decorations and special events, like lavish displays in the lobbies and grounds at the The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort, Waikiki. And if you’re on O‘ahu for New Year’s Eve, you can enjoy the biggest fireworks display of the year at the Waikiki waterfront.
Insider tip: Christmas is a popular time to visit Hawaii, so if you’re hoping for a special December 25 meal at a much-loved beachfront restaurant like Duke Waikiki (2335 Kalakaua Avenue), book your table as soon as possible.
Festive picnic spots
On Christmas Day, many families traditionally head to the beach for a big picnic. Here are three beaches located away from the familiar sands of Waikiki where you can enjoy the local holiday atmosphere.
Ala Moana Regional Park
Right across from the famous shopping center of the same name, this park features nearly a mile of golden sand next to a row of iconic palm trees. Huge groups of extended families come here for all-day feasts, highlighted by swims in the surf.
1201 Ala Moana Boulevard
Kapiolani Beach Park
Just south of Waikiki and easily walkable, the highlight here is the huge banyan trees shading the grass along the beach. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the ocean view with merry groups around you.
Pu‘uloa Beach Park
Just west of Honolulu’s airport and the entrance to Pearl Harbor, this park features a beautiful swimming spot away from the crowds. Exchange a gift with someone special and forget you’re on one of the most popular islands in the world.
91-027 Fort Weaver Road