Spotlight on Gay Hawaii

Each year, the "Aloha State" welcomes millions of visitors from all over the world. Some even come to Hawaii on vacation and decide to stay after realizing the isolated islands have more to offer than a temporary escape. From beaches to nightlife, local foods to the generous doses of sunny skies, Hawaii offers the GLBT community a unique variety of activities that will have them coming back for more, if not staying altogether!

Oahu, home to most of Hawaii's population, is the best island for visitors looking to pack the most tourist punch into a short amount of time. For the most concentration of Hawaiian GLBT life, for instance, you really don't need to leave Honolulu's tourist Mecca: Waikiki! You can get a local beach outing, authentic Asian/Pacific cuisine and international designer shopping experience all in one day.

For the seasoned "shopaholic," Waikiki is a virtual buffet of boutiques: High-end designers targeting the Japanese market have their best Prada, Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Diesel on display. But Waikiki's best-hidden secret lies in its quirky vintage stores, such as 88 Tees and Spark. They don't always have thrifty prices, but if you're on the lookout for vintage Adidas and Nike not found since 1985, these stores-and Waikiki-should be on your travel agenda.

For bargain-hunters there is the Duty-Free Galleria, where the first two floors are open to the public while the exclusive higher floors are open only to shoppers with international tickets. Visitors also should visit the International Marketplace, home to hundreds of kiosks selling kitchy Hawaiian essentials like beach towels and dashboard hula-girls! Don't leave your bartering skills at home, because you won't be happy leaving this place until you convince a few merchants to bring down their prices.

Choosing from hundreds of hotels sprinkled around town can be confusing, but finding gay-friendly accommodations is a much easier task. The Cabana at Waikiki, located near Waikiki beach, has long been considered a premier gay-friendly hotel. Secluded off main roads, The Cabana's 15 one-bedroom suites (which include kitchenettes) are perfectly situated near Queen's Beach.

Named after Queen Kapioloni, Queen's Beach is the best place to find local gay and lesbian beach bunnies. It is also known as a dependable surf location, so there is never a shortage of hot surf bodies roaming the beach.

Going back toward the hotels you can grab a bite along Waikiki's dense choice of restaurants specializing in everything from seafood and sushi to burgers. If you'd like to visit a gay-friendly eatery, Paniolo Grill - located right in the heart of Queen's Beach - is a perfect place to nibble on snack foods like hot dogs, nachos and ice cream.

Another gay-friendly hotel can be found in The Grand Waikiki. It boasts an ideal location, just across the street from Kapiolani Park and the Honolulu Zoo. The hotel offers affordable rentals that include all the amenities you could ask for. Conveniently housed within The Grand Waikiki is 80% Straight, a gay boutique with the latest in beach wear and club wear. Also located in the Grand is Hula's Bar and Lei Stand, Hawaii's oldest and most famous gay bar and nightclub. Tourists and locals mingle over mai tais while keeping an eye on the panoramic view of Diamond Head Crater and Waikiki beach. If you're lucky enough to be in town Thursday through Sunday, you'll have the chance to see the 808 Boys, a troupe of go-go dancers who rule the stage and have even collected their own group of dedicated admirers.

After you've experienced Hula's, trek over to Angles or Tapas, both located on busy Kuhio Street. There you can catch another drink or perform karaoke before making your way next door to Fusion Waikiki Nightclub. Fusion is the only gay club in Honolulu open until 4 a.m. and is known for its two-story, bass-thumping dance floors where, by the end of the night, most party-goers are still dancing with their shirts off. Fusion features all-male strip shows and drag shows on both Friday and Saturday. Another venue for lovers of drag shows is Venus Nightclub, located just outside of Waikiki, which caters to the gay crowd on Saturdays.

If you need to get on the Internet, a great place to check your e-mail and sip your latte is gay-owned Café G, located on the other edge of Waikiki. While there, don't forget to visit Honolulu's famous gay-owned Diamond Head Video, which is always well stocked with and ready to satisfy any and all of your fantasies.

The Aloha Bears are a big part of the GLBT Hawaii community. Every second Sunday of the month they host their own two-hour Catamaran cruise. Visit alohabear.org for more information on the group and their outings.

To satisfy your artsy side, Honolulu boasts two major film festivals during the year: the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival and the Rainbow Film Festival.

In the last few years, Honolulu's Chinatown has had a major revival with the opening of new bars and clubs. Fridays are the best nights to mingle with the über-trendy young professionals, culture afficionatos, metro-sexuals and power gays after they get off of work downtown. On "First Fridays," the first Friday of every month, the Chinatown streets flood with locals and tourists alike who flock to the open art galleries. Some places not to miss while downtown: Indigos for their cozy ambience and extended wine and martini menu and Club Next Door if you're looking to hear underground house music and dance all night long. Other gay-friendly places in the area include Red Dragon, with its live jazz performances, or nearby karaoke dive, Kekai's.

If you want to check out a more local hangout, go to the Kaimuki neighborhood. Just stay on the main road of Waialea Avenue and you will discover a diversified range in its restaurant row to satisfy any palate. There are many "mom and pop" restaurants that have been favorites for generations as well as newer, trendy ones like Town Restaurant, the only Hawaii entry on this year`s Conde Nast "Hot List" of new restaurants.

The best thing about Oahu is that you can have that relaxing island getaway you were looking for and still have the cultural and party experience seen in other major metropolitan cities. Of course, although there's enough on Oahu to last an entire trip, there's also plenty to see and do on its neighboring islands.

Take Maui, which offers a little more relaxing experience than Oahu. Catching a helicopter ride is the best way to see the entire beauty of this island's lush greenery. And while it is possible to see most of this island without a rental car, it is best to have one so you can take a beautiful scenic drive. Nature lovers can take advantage of guided eco-tours and nature hikes, or go horseback riding along the beach or by waterfalls.

When visiting Maui, visitors should not miss Front Street in historic Lahaina Town, which still preserves much of the charm of its old whaling days. Stop by on of its surf, bath and body shops, then stop in any one of the town's waterfront eateries and catch a great meal and a perfect sunset. Another historical town worth your time is Makawao, an alternative community of cowboys and new-age hippies, with galleries, boutiques and restaurants.

The Maui Sunseeker, located in the south shores of Kihei, is the perfect hotel for any visitor who wants to stay in a gay-owned and operated location. From one of their 16 newly renovated rooms you can stroll along Mai Poina 'Oe La'u Beach. The hotel also is a short drive to "Little Beach" at Makena. Once you get to the beach, make a right and keep going to the end. You may also catch some nude sunbathing, although it's not technically permitted.

The best nightclub on Maui is Hapa's, a straight bar that hosts a gay night every Tuesday.

If you're looking for an even more tropical vacation, Kauai was made for you. The island's waterfalls, sea cliffs, arid canyons and scores of beautiful white sand beaches will take your breath away. You will regret not taking a helicopter ride through the scenic Waimea Canyon, which take you along the waterfalls and sea cliffs of the Na Pali coast and the crater of Mount Waialeale, which are not accessible by road.

The Kauai gay and lesbian community is smaller then on other islands, but it's definitely alive.

Grab a coffee at a local lesbian-owned and operated Small Town Coffee Company in old Kapaa Town in the old Roxy Square. Likewise, Donkey Beach, located North of Kapaa, has a mixed crowd but is also a local gay favorite (sunbathe nude at your own risk).

Kauai, as well as Maui, does a great deal of business each year performing civil ceremonies for gay couples. If you're feeling like taking your relationship to the next level, what could be more romantic than to commit to one another with a tropical or beach landscape as your backdrop?

For what it lacks in nightlife, Kauai makes up with its art. Every Friday is Art Night in historic Hanapepe, "Kauai's biggest little town," where several galleries and retail stores stay open late into the cooler evening hours. Take a mellow stroll while listening to music or take the opportunity to meet local artists and gallery owners.

Hawaii, or the Big Island, is best known for having the world's most active volcano, Kilauea. It constantly enriches the soil, producing the deliciously famous gourmet Kona coffee and macadamia nuts. The volcano also produces the black sand beaches and picturesque waterfalls the state is known for.

The island is one of the most ecologically diverse environments in the world, ranging from the desert plains of Ka'u, to the rain forests above Hilo, to snowcapped Mauna Kea-none of which should be missed on your trip to Hawaii. Just remember to bring a complete wardrobe for the widely varying temperatures.

The Big Island has several GLBT hotels from which to choose. Absolute Paradise B&B is located in the Puna District, along the southeast coast, and its owners are especially proud all of their rooms have ocean views. They're also conveniently located near Kehena Beach, the clothing-optional and gay-friendly beach that has breathtaking black lava rock beaches. Remember to bring your hiking shoes to walk their trails. If you are looking for a getaway more focused on nature and health, check out Kalani Oceanside Resort-Retreat, which offers workshops and classes in yoga and hula, to name a few.

Raw nature is the Big Island's best asset. The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo are some of the biggest draws on the island. Sports lovers may like to know this island is known as the "Golf Capital of Hawaii," with over 20 golf courses and several more scheduled for construction. For the ultra athletic type, the island hosts possibly the most famous triathlon in the world, the annual Ironman World Championship.

If you need a drink to finish off your active day, drop by the Mask Bar. Located in the Kopika Plaza in Kailua-Kona, this is the island's only gay bar and one of its best.

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