Thanksgiving in Hawaii (Without Your Crazy Uncle)

So, you’re in Hawai‘i for Thanksgiving. Besides the natural and cultural beauty, this is a place that takes dining seriously. It’s a good spot to be for a holiday built around eating. Should you search for a traditional experience or try something new? You’re in luck—both options are available (and the best places combine a little of both). Holidays are big here in the islands and besides food, there’s lots of cultural and shopping experiences. If you’re staying at a resort, many have buffets that offer a (more or less) traditional Thanksgiving spread. If you’re needing to grocery shop, many places will be closed or have limited hours on Thanksgiving itself. (The local news station, KHON2, has compiled a good list of what’s open and what’s not.) Here’s a rundown of some of my best bets on each island for making the most of your Thanksgiving holiday in Hawai‘i.

Dining on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Meals on O‘ahu

The resorts of Waikiki are nearly all offering great dining options. Many are buffets where you get a good mix of traditional dishes and some with Hawaiian flair. (My favorite thing about a buffet is it’s the perfect spot to work on the Hawaiian tradition of eating until you’re tired, rather than when you’re full.) Case in point, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort has The Buffet at Hyatt where they typically serve Korean BBQ-style options. Their Thanksgiving menu brings lots of traditional and island inspired options that are easy to love. The price tag isn’t terrible, considering the amount of options. (You can always camp out at the sushi station if you’re worried about getting your money’s worth.) If a buffet and traditional dishes aren’t what you’re looking for, you could consider the Koko Head Café for their Fall Harvest Dinner for your Thanksgiving feast. While the price is higher here, the included pairings of wine and whiskey might entice you to fork over a few more bucks. The day to day food here is fantastic with lots of complex flavors and unique twists on familiar dishes. They are typically a brunch-only affair, so being open for dinner on a holiday is a treat that’s worth checking out. They book up quickly and lines can often be long—if you can’t get in for Thanksgiving you should still check them out any time you can.

Thanksgiving Meals on Kaua‘i

The Garden Island’s dining options are pretty good, both in terms of menu and price. One of the stand out options along the South Shore is Keoki’s Paradise. For less than $40 you can get their Thanksgiving meal to dine-in or to go. (Get enough for a family of four and it’s like getting a meal for free.) The menu leans more traditional but there’s still a local flavors thrown into a couple side dishes that will make the holiday meal that much more special. My only ding is that the pie doesn’t come with the meal, but it’s hard to quibble when cost is that reasonable. (Have a mai tai for me while your there—they make a pretty good one.) If you’re around the East Shore, Hukilau Lanai has a great, traditional Thanksgiving meal for a similar price. (Still no pie included, though.) If you’re not feeling like the traditional dishes, you can always go for their killer prime rib or a seafood option.

Thanksgiving Meals on Maui

This year there will be many opportunities to give to the Maui community, however most Thanksgiving dinner options on Maui will be found in the resorts. And they ain’t cheap. The Fairmont Kea Lani is offering a pretty good buffet for Thanksgiving, done lu‘au-style complete with hula and dance performances celebrating Hawai‘i and the cultures of Polynesia. It’s $300—just remember it’s a holiday lu‘au and it’s Wailea. (It’s going to be good, just not to your wallet.) Just up the road, Ka‘ana Kitchen at the Andaz Maui has a buffet that drops the entertainment and the price tag. For $175 you get a wider range of options than Fairmont. You’ll find the traditional Thanksgiving options plus a healthy amount of dishes with a Hawaiian twist. 

Thanksgiving Meals on Big Island

Good dining options abound on the island of Hawai‘i. One of the best resort options can be found at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Resort. It’s a Prix Fixe Thanksgiving Dinner and pretty much sticks to the traditional dishes, though you can opt for prime rib instead of the bird. If you’re looking for a more local option, one that is near and dear to my heart is Ken’s House of Pancakes in Hilo. I actually spent Thanksgiving here when living in the area years ago and unable to join family elsewhere in the state. They typically offer a fairly basic Thanksgiving-style option of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, but it’s nothing especially compelling. The food is good overall, not spectacular. But the restaurant is an institution in Hilo and they’re reliable both in terms of quality and being open—open every day, holidays included. That’s why I’ll always think of them on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving Events

Oahu Events

Okay, so it ain’t the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, but the Waikiki Holiday Parade is worth your time (and way less crowded). Created to honor and remember the heroes and survivors of the attack on Pearl Harbor, this parade has been a tradition since 1998. Taking place the Friday after Thanksgiving and starting at 7p.m. the torch-lit parade begins at Fort DeRussy and travels about 1.5 miles along Kalakaua Avenue, ending at Kapi‘olani Park. The parade features numerous local bands, several bands invited from the mainland, military units and dignitaries from across the islands. There’s lots of Hawaiian culture represented here and aspects can be a combination of a hula performance and parade. If you’re lucky enough to be around Waikiki on November 24th, check it out.

Kaua‘i Events

The Garden Island has a few ways to get you ready for the holidays—physically and in spirit. On Thanksgiving, November 23rd is the 5K Turkey Trot and Shoot. The morning starts at 7 a.m. with a 5K run for the most ambitious on the island, and a 9-hole shoot for the more strategically inclined at the Ocean Course at Hokuala. No matter the event you choose, you’ll have earned that second helping of mashed potatoes at dinner time. If you’re staying past the weekend, Tuesday, November 28th marks the beginning of the Kaua’i Festival of Lights. This free event lights up the historic county building and surrounding park with lights. This will be the 27th year of the festival that uses and expands on the curated collection from a beloved community member’s Christmas displays. It’s a cool, living history that shows how motivated people can bring a community together. And who doesn’t like strolling through Christmas lights? The display is up from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night until New Year’s Day.

Maui Events

There is a lot going on around the Valley Isle during the Thanksgiving holiday. While the island comes together and heals from the recent fires, there will be lots of opportunities to donate to various causes. A number of community fairs are taking place, where you can be sure that you’re supporting local businesses and groups. In Wailuku on Saturday, November 26th, Shop the Street features many local shops, galleries and dining options all geared to supporting small businesses on Maui. There’s even some prize give aways for those that do some detective work and visit as many shops as possible. If you’re in the Upcountry area, there are a few options where you can give to the community and maybe knock a few things on your gift list. Hui No‘eau Visual Arts Center between Pa‘ia and Makawao hosts their annual Hui Holidays shopping fair between November 17th and December 23rd. Over 100 local vendors and artists will be there, pretty much guaranteeing you’ll find something more unique than a pack of macadamia nuts to bring back to your loved ones. Also Upcountry, on Saturday, November 25th from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. King Kekaulike High School is holding their annual Upcountry Winter Fest. There will be lots of food and craft vendors, many of which associated with local school groups and clubs.

Big Island Events

Thanksgiving on Big Island is somewhat less eventful than the other islands. (Most events, such as their turkey trot, happened the previous weekend. In cases like this, we recommend picking up one of our guides to the island to help find the activity you’re most interested in. (A beach day on Thanksgiving could be the start of new tradition.) However, if you should also consider a trip to Volcano where the Volcano Village Artist Hui is having their 37th Annual Art Studio and Sale. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday, November 24th through Sunday, November 26th, you’ll find all the galleries in town welcoming visitors. Resident, local and visiting artists will be displaying and selling their creations and wares in a festive atmosphere. (Volcano is a beautiful town just outside the National Park, often shrouded in fog and definitely worth your time for the atmosphere alone.)

There are worse ways to spend your Thanksgiving than being in the Aloha State. Even if you aren’t looking to recreate the feast you’d have back home, our dining options are top notch. Plus, the local businesses are really gearing up for the Christmas season, so you’ll find plenty of souvenirs and gifts to bring back to your loved ones. Even more will be coming in the weeks ahead as everyone’s favorite holiday comes into focus. If you’re visiting Hawai‘i during the Christmas season, be sure to check out our various guides to the islands!


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