Explore Oahu

O'ahu's Top Cultural Celebrations

Oʻahu is affectionately known as the “Gathering Place”—and for good reason. Each year, thousands of people visit our tropical shores for sun and sand, but they also come for our cultural events. These are must-attend events, from SPAM Jam Waikīkī and Mele Mei to Lantern Floating Hawaiʻi and Aloha Festivals. Mark your calendars and get ready to celebrate.

Water enthusiasts compete in several events during the Duke Kahanamoku Beach Challenge. (Courtesy Duke Kahanamoku Challenge)

Hail to the Duke
It’s been nearly half a century since the beloved Olympic surfer Duke Kahanamoku passed, yet his footprints still seem to linger along the sandy shores of Waikīkī. Kahanamoku, his nine siblings and 31 cousins grew up and played on the shoreline that has since been aptly named Duke Kahanamoku Beach, where the Hilton Hawaiian Village now stands. As a way to honor and remember the gentle giant, the Waikīkī Community Center (WCC) stages an annual Duke Kahanamoku Beach Challenge—a community event that features friendly competitions in canoe paddling and stand-up paddle boarding, ancient Hawaiian makahiki games, delicious food and live entertainment. April 15.  

Visitors and locals alike attend the popular Waikīkī SPAM Jam. (©Simplicio Paragas)

Celebrating SPAM
Now in its 16th year, Waikīkī SPAM Jam has become a destination event with many visitors planning their vacations around this annual street festival. Wrapped in nori, stir-fried with noodles, plated with eggs, SPAM knows no culinary boundaries when it comes to the local palate. And while SPAM is much mocked on the mainland, the canned meat is often referred to as Hawaiian steak. In addition to food booths, the street festival showcases live entertainment and a host of local crafters. April 28.

Melodious Medleys
Meaning “music month” in Hawaiian, Mele Mei features an extensive lineup of culturally rich Hawaiian music performances and concerts statewide. More than 70 events are scheduled, featuring globally recognized musicians— including multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano award-winning and Grammy-nominated artists—who will perform at various venues around Hawai‘i. April through June.

Mangoes at the Moana
Now in its 10th year, Mangoes at the Moana is a daylong event that celebrates the nutritionally rich tropical fruit. All restaurants and bars highlight mango on their menus, and the art-and-craft stores give a nod to mango wood and other mango-related crafts. The county fair-like atmosphere at the Moana Surfrider’s Banyan Courtyard will feature a Farmer’s Market where guests can talk story with local growers who are all willing to share their pruning and grafting techniques, as well as their fresh, ripe mangoes. Beginner and advanced seminars on how to grow trees are also held, along with a friendly throw down among chefs, and cooking and “best mango” contests. July 14.

Steel Guitar Strums
Waikīkī Steel Guitar Week celebrates Hawaiian music and the Hawaiian steel guitar. The annual event is held at the Royal Hawaiian Center's Royal Grove stage in mid-July, immediately preceding the annual ʻUkulele Festival Hawaiʻi. The scheduling of the festival provides opportunities for fans of either instrument to expand their music experience by participating in both events. Mid-July. 

Joy of Sake
Rice wine enthusiasts won’t want to miss The Joy of Sake, which showcases an extensive line of premium sake styles in the junmai, ginjo, daiginjo and kimoto categories, many of which are not typically available in the U.S. These include sakes that have received silver and gold awards from the U.S. National Sake Appraisal, a rigorous blind tasting conducted by 10 judges from the U.S. and Japan, held every year in Honolulu prior to The Joy of Sake. July 27.

Lantern Floating Hawai'i is a solemn event that attracts thousands of attendees. (Courtesy Lantern Floating Hawaii)

Lighting the Way
An emotional ceremony, Lantern Floating Hawai‘i is both a tribute to loved ones who have passed away and a communal prayer for a more harmonious future. Lighting candles for the departed is a tradition that is embraced and practiced across most cultures and religions to illuminate the way, convey warmth, and create hope and a sense of connection. You’ll not soon forget the sight of 3,000 candlelit lanterns set afloat at sunset. May 28.

The Pan-Pacific Festival features dancers and musicians from the Pacific and Asia. (Courtesy Pan-Pacific Festival)

Cross-Cultural Gathering
One of the larger events of the year, the Pan-Pacific Festival is an international ceremony that brings various cultures and people together in order to create a more global community through the sharing and celebration of cultures. Event highlights include a Waikīkī block party and colorful parade along Kalākaua Avenue. June 8-10.

The Prince Lot Hula Festival is the largest non-competitive hula event in Hawai'i. (Courtesy Moanalua Gardens Foundation)

Body + Spirit
Established in 1978, the two-day Prince Lot Hula Festival features both kāhiko (ancient) hula and chant, and ‘auana (modern) hula performances. July 21-22.

Cultural Celebration
More than just “hello” or “goodbye,” aloha is a way of living and being in Hawai‘i. And each year, Aloha Festivals shares this through Hawai‘i’s music, dance and history with the intent of perpetuating our unique traditions. The month-long celebration begins with the investiture and opening of the Aloha Festivals Royal Court, as the ali‘i members (king, queen, prince and princess) receive the royal cloak, helmet and head feather lei. The festival’s highlight is the Waikīkī Ho‘olaule‘a, the island’s largest multi-block party. Early September.

‘Tis the Season
Since its humble beginning in 1985, the Honolulu City Lights has attracted thousands of onlookers, who gather to see the towering Shaka Santa and Tutu Mele dip their feet in the fountain. The month-long display of everything Christmas is a yearly attraction, featuring interactive displays, keiki (children) rides and thousands of strung lights throughout the area. Guests can purchase a commemorative ornament. Through December.