Experience authentic Hawaii on Molokai

Experience authentic Hawaii on Molokai

Tour a plumeria farm, hike lush valleys, ship a coconut and more.

The beaches tend to be less crowded in Molokai.
The beaches tend to be less crowded in Molokai. Photo Credit: The Cooper Union

Known as the “Friendly Isle,” Molokai is unlike any other Hawaiian island. The pace is slower and buildings are no taller than the coconut trees; there are no fast food chains, traffic signals or mega resorts.

Nature is boundless; instead of luaus on crowded beaches, find ancient fish ponds, snoozing monk seals on pristine beaches, the world’s highest sea cliffs and the longest continuing fringing reef in Hawaii. A high percentage of the population is Native Hawaiian, who maintain a strong connection to their roots.

This lush paradise has much to offer those seeking an authentic Hawaiian escape.

Pick your own plumeria and take a lei-making class at Molokai Plumeria Farm.
Pick your own plumeria and take a lei-making class at Molokai Plumeria Farm. Photo Credit: Hawaii Tourism Authority / Dana Edmunds


Combine culture with adventure on a guided hike of the sacred Halawa Valley ($60; halawavalleymolokai.com), with its lush mountains and cascading waterfalls, on the island’s east end. It is the location of one of Hawaii’s earliest settlement, which was wiped out during a 1946 tsunami. Descendants of the original inhabitants lead the 3.4-mile hike, sharing stories about its history, their traditions and way of life.  

Pick your own blooms at Molokai Plumerias ($25; 1342 Maunaloa Hwy., Kaunakakai, 808-553-3391, molokaiplumerias.com), the largest grower in Hawaii of the fragrant flowers used in leis. Spend an afternoon walking among the rows of yellow and pink blossoms on the 10-acre farm and take a lei-making workshop.  

Experience the ancient Hawaiian tradition of canoeing at the Wa’akapaemua Canoe Club (808-553-3530) at Kaunakakai Harbor. Paddle a 40-foot outrigger canoe with a group of four or more, or join the club’s team for their weekly practice in the early hours. Venture out to spot sea turtles and admire the mist-covered, neighboring islands of Maui and Lanai.  

Send someone special a unique souvenir at the Hoolehua post office (2 Puupeelua Ave.), which has free coconuts you can decorate and pay to ship as part of its Post-a-Nut program.


For your libation fix, the island has but a few options. They include Hiro’s Ohana Grill (1300 Kamehameha V Hwy., Kaunakakai, 808-660-3400, hotelmolokai.com/en-us/dining), the bar and restaurant at Hotel Molokai on Kamiloloa Beach, and the happening Paddlers Restaurant & Bar (10 Mohala St., Kaunakakai, 808-553-3300, paddlersrestaurant.com), which offers live music and a diverse menu.

No trip to Molokai is complete without trying its famous hot bread from the family-run Kanemitsu Bakery (79 Ala Malama Ave., Kaunakakai, 808-553-5855). Visit the alley behind the bakery at night to get fresh baked, giant round bread slathered with strawberry or blueberry jam, cream cheese or butter.


Getting there: Molokai is a 30-minute flight from Maui on Mokulele Airlines and from Honolulu on Ohana (operated by Hawaiian Airlines).

Getting around: Rent a car from Molokai Car Rental in Kaunakakai or Alamo by the Molokai Ho’olehua Airport, or use a taxi.

Where to stay: The island’s only hotel, Hotel Molokai (1300 Kamehameha V Hwy., Kaunakakai, 877-553-5347, hotelmolokai.com), offers beachside bungalows, a swimming pool and a bar and restaurant with al fresco dining. Vacation rentals are available on the west end of the island at Paniolo Hale, Ke Nani Kai and Kaluakoi Villas, as well as Molokai Shores in central Molokai.

Lavanya Sunkara