Hawaii will always be my home. It’s where I grew up, made my first friends, went to high school, and therefore remains a significant part of my complex cultural identity. I can’t believe it’s been so long, but I left Hawaii over seven years ago! I’ve been back for holidays and a few summer vacations, but of course, it’s not the same.
After living in California for a few years, I moved to Barcelona, which is literally on the opposite side of the globe from Hawaii! It took some time, but I’ve become accustomed to this new lifestyle. With a new language, traditions, cuisine, and holidays, there was a lot to get used to at first, but I enjoyed every second of the adventure. It wasn’t until a friend from Hawaii came to visit that I realized something, there are so many things that I just can’t explain to someone who hasn’t lived in Hawaii. Things like growing up barefoot, buying snacks from the manapua man or picking lilikoi on a hike that conjure up nostalgic feelings.
Here are 35 things I miss about Hawaii, and a few things I definitely do not:
1. The food
With a diverse mix of cultures in one place, food from all types of cuisines can be found in Hawaii. Some dishes are taken straight from Japanese, Spanish, Filipino, Portuguese, or traditional Hawaiian gastronomy, and given a special local twist.
Living the city life has taken its toll on me. How did I go so long without the gorgeous viewpoints, waterfalls and swimming holes I grew up with?
3. Living in a bathing suit
I remember the days when I used to have more bikinis than clothes.
They’re a big thing in Hawaii and you can expect dishes from around the world (also tons of leftovers to take home). Families cook or pick up platters of fried noodles, chili, shoyu chicken, poke, macaroni salad, sushi, spam musubi, really anything goes.
Maybe I’m biased, but we definitely have some of the best around. Surprising to many, Hawaii has black, red and green sand beaches too.
6. Tropical plants and flowers
Flowers like plumeria, bird of paradise, gardenia, and hibiscus, our state flower, are a common sight in many front yards in Hawaii. If the weather in your area allows, you can even order some cuttings from Hawaii here. The sweet smell always reminds me of home.
7. The feeling of ʻohana
We have a huge extended family and tight-knit community, that may not be blood related, but are important to us. Everyone is “aunty” or “uncle” in Hawaii.
8. Real poke
Not this americanized salad or health food invention, real poke. There, I said it! I usually buy sushi-grade tuna and mix it with
NOH Hawaiian Poke Mix, but nothing is the same as fresh poke in the islands.
9. Hawaiian language
Once critically endangered, Hawaiian is now our official state language along with English, and is in a period of rejuvenation. Besides having my name pronounced correctly for once, it always feels like home when street names are more than just 16th Street and Ocean Avenue.
10. Tropical rain
I never thought that I would ever say that I miss the rain, but after living in Barcelona and Los Angeles, it has become a beautiful rarity. Watching the rain travel in across the ocean, or a sudden outpour that only lasts 20 minutes, there’s nothing like it. It’s no surprise that there are more than 200 words for rain in the Hawaiian language.
11. Watching the winter swells
It’s truly fascinating to see a beach disappear overnight from the pounding surf. The breaks at Waimea, Pipeline and Pe’ahi are legendary, like the big-wave surfers who take them on.
12. Shave ice
You can never go wrong with the classics: Matsumoto’s and Waiola. Forget Strawberry and vanilla syrup, in Hawaii we have lilikoi, papaya, pickled mango, and li hing mui to name a few, not to mention all the extras!
13. Respecting the ‘āina
Respecting, loving and taking care of nature and the land has been ingrained in me from an early age. Ancient Hawaiian culture highlights the important connection between mother earth and the people who live there. Today, we still spend the majority of our time outdoors, making nature an important part of our identities that should be respected at all costs.
14. Aloha print
There’s so many new brands, prints and styles to choose from. It’s not just limited to mens shirts!
15. Living outdoors
I pretty much grew up living outside, running around on the beach, snorkeling, boating and hiking. There’s so many free activities to do outdoors in Hawaii.
16. The Ko’olaus
Looming over the Windward side of ‘Oahu, the Ko’olau mountains, streaked with waterfalls, are a constant reminder of my childhood. Tourists always think of Jurassic Park, but I just think of home.
17. Christmas or Thanksgiving, Hawaiian style
Just like our potlucks, we don’t limit Thanksgiving to turkey, stuffing and ham. Local dishes can always be found at the table too. Check out my other article all about it: Thanksgiving in Hawaii: Locals Celebrate With a Mix of Cultures.
18. Sunrises and Sunsets
Watching from the beach or from the mountains, sunrises and sunsets in Hawaii never disappoint. Look closely on a clear day and you may even see the green flash.
19. Wearing flowers in your ear
Fresh or fake, just remember: left side indicates that you’re taken or married, and the right means you’re single and ready to mingle (or not).
20. Mango season
The best time of the year! I’ve never eaten a mango as sweet or juicy as the one from my own backyard in Hawaii. Also, our avocados, star fruit, lychee, papaya, lilikoi, coconut, apple banana, mountain apple and pineapple are pretty much unrivaled.
The many native and endemic animals such as the nene, Hawaiian Monk Seal and ‘i’iwi, make the islands an extraordinary place to see rare and endangered fauna. I honestly haven’t been anywhere with better snorkeling.
22. May Day
May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii Nei! On May 1, it’s all about lei making, hula and music.
Who needs shoes anyway? And no, don’t call them flip flops.
24. Aloha spirit
We aren’t nicknamed the Aloha State for nothing! It’s such a treat not to hear cars honking and instead see someone throw a shaka.
25. Local desserts
Haole brownies, lilikoi chiffon pie, haupia, guava cake, malasadas, the list goes on and on.
26. Temperature of the ocean
They say the Mediterranean is warm, well not to my standards. Sometimes the ocean in Hawaii can be too warm to cool off on a hot day, but the average year-round temperature of the Pacific is unbeatable. No wetsuit surfing here!
You never really appreciate them, until you haven’t seen one in years!
28. Hawaiian music
There really isn’t anything like it. From traditional Hawaiian, or slack key to modern jawaiian, our music fits right in to our often laid back lifestyle. Thanks to the wonders of the mighty internet, I can still tune in to Hawaiian radio stations, but it’s not the same when you’re not listening in Hawaii.
29. Humpback whale season
I always loved hiking up the Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail with binoculars to spend the morning whale watching. Catching a glimpse of a spout or spotting a breeching mother with her calf is an incredible sight.
30. Hawaiian superstitions
Never take pork over the Pali Highway, or give a lei to a pregnant woman and sure as hell don’t move any lava rocks! Just the other day when I was walking home from a dinner with friends in Barcelona, I heard someone whistling and yelled, “What the heck are you doing?!” Then I realized, oh wait, we aren’t in Hawaii.
31. Pidgin English
And a cheeeeee hooooo!
32. High school rivalries
In Hawaii, we take it very seriously. What high school you attended is more important than your university and is usually one of the first questions locals ask someone they don’t know…IMUA!
…And 3 things I don’t
People don’t believe it, but yes, Hawaii has the worst traffic in the nation! Public transportation, which is literally just the bus (for now), is expensive and inefficient. In comparison to Barcelona, most of my friends here don’t even own a car, in Hawaii every household has multiple vehicles, there’s really no other way.
2. Cost of living
Every time I go back home, I can’t believe how much people spend on basic necessities. Food and housing prices are out of this world. This leads me straight to number three…
Of course, tourism is our main industry, but this is unsustainable. Tourism raises prices for locals and affects our quality of life in many ways. Additionally everything from clothes to food is shipped to Hawaii from somewhere else. Most of the things we do produce like sugar cane, pineapples and coffee are exported. In Barcelona markets with fresh local meat, veggies, seafood and sweets are always in walking distance and affordable! I really hope that there is a future in sight where Hawaii can be more self-sufficient. Remember to buy local!
Are you from Hawaii and living abroad or have you recently visited the islands? What do you miss the most? Leave a comment below.
If you enjoyed this article, visit the Hawaii section here for more.
Just so you know, some links in this post are affiliate links. I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you if you buy something. I only ever link to things I’ve actually tried or would use myself. Your support helps to keep Lost & Abroad up and running.