Skip to Content

Pride in Hawaii: LGBTQ Travel and the Aloha Spirit on the Big Island

Pride in Hawaii: LGBTQ Travel and the Aloha Spirit on the Big Island

We get to visit Hawaii more often than most, and for that we’re really grateful. Visiting Hawaii as an LGBTQ family has always been a very welcoming experience. Whether we’re exploring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with the kids or having beach time on Kauai, we have always felt welcome. We haven’t gotten to visit for Pride either in Honolulu or Kona, but our friend Joey has.

Give a read and see how Joey explored the Big Island of Hawaii since he travels without kids, and see how it’s different than our usual visits. The Big Island is always my favorite, so I really enjoy getting to see it through somebody else’s eyes. Be sure to check out more of our Hawaii travel guides and tips. It’s a very special place and we love getting to visit.

If you have any questions about things to do on the Big Island, about how to visit with responsibility and consideration in mind, or if you have something specific you’re wondering about our experiences on any of the islands, please leave a comment or send us a note. We’re always happy to share openly!

Statement on being a tourist in Hawaii

From Joey Amato, founder of Pride Journeys

Joey in Kona

Kona Coast Pride and Things to do Without Kids

In 1987, I visited the island of Hawaii for the very first time. My mother and I decided to join other family members on the vacation of a lifetime. Hawaii had always been my mother’s dream vacation, so she was eager to go. Being seven years old at the time, I don’t remember much about that trip with a few exceptions. One notably was having to wrap a hula skirt around my neck because I was too short for it to go around my waist.

36 years later, I finally had the opportunity to travel back to the island of Hawaii. This time, I asked my boyfriend Dylan if he would like to join. As a travel journalist, I get to experience so many wonderful things but often I don’t have anyone to share them with, so I was excited to share these moments with someone. It was Dylan’s first time visiting the island of Hawaii and his longest trip to date.

A bit tired from traveling nearly 12 hours, we began our journey in Kailua-Kona at King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort. The beachfront property is centrally located to almost all of Kona’s beautiful attractions and was also home to the annual Kona Pride festival, which was headlined this year by RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Anetra and Jessica Wild.

Manta Ray Snorkeling – Great for Adults (and brave kids too)

After a quick power nap, we headed out for our first excursion, an evening swim with manta rays organized by Anelakai Adventures. A small group of 8 of us paddled about 10 minutes off the coast to an area known for its abundance of manta rays. Although sightings aren’t guaranteed, the team had heard the chances of seeing some rays were pretty good that day. Sure enough, as we anchored down and jumped into the warm Hawaii water, we looked down and saw over half a dozen manta rays swimming under our boat. For nearly an hour, we watched these gentle giants play in the water. What I enjoyed most about this tour was the fact that we had to paddle to the site rather than take a motorized boat, adding to the authentic experience. This will definitely go on my top 10 list of most memorable experiences.

Note: we’ve done snorkeling with manta rays with our kids and it’s actually a safe, amazing experience with kids. Getting to do a nighttime snorkel without kids though is great because it’s less stressful and you really get to focus on just enjoying the mantas. We have gone with Kona Style multiple times and recommend it.

Manta Rays with Fish Nighttime Snorkel with Kona Style Kailua Kona Big Island Hawaii 5

Experiencing Hawaiian History and Culture

The next morning, we woke up early and drove to Puʻukoholā Heiau National Historic Site. Pu‘ukohola Heiau NHS is open all year round and shares the history of the beginning stages of the Hawaiian Kingdom. A socio-political hierarchy, deeply rooted in spiritual beliefs developed in Hawaii. This rigidly ordered class system gave power to a small number of ali‘i nui (high chiefs) who controlled different parts of an island, a whole island, or several islands. Alliances through bloodlines and marriage further complicated and enhanced the relationships among rival chiefs. The site became a National Historic Site on August 17, 1972.

To get a glimpse into Hawaiian (and Polynesian) cultures, I recommend getting tickets to the Island Breeze Lūʻau. It is also conveniently located on the King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Resort grounds (get tickets here!). The lū‘au begins with the Royal Court arriving on stage and mo’ʻolelo storytelling. Guests can feast on a variety of cuisine ranging from locally caught fish and poke to kālua pork. The court will teach guests the art of hula dancing before they begin their ceremonial dances from different parts of the world. The dinner culminates in a breathtaking traditional fire dance.

Joey at Island Breeze Luau - med

Kona PRIDE Celebration

Back at the hotel, Kona Pride was in full swing. Dozens of vendors lined the lū‘au grounds of our hotel, while entertainers performed on the main stage to a crowd of thousands. Although Kona Pride isn’t one of the largest pride events I’ve attended, the setting is the most unique. Where else can you celebrate LGBTQ culture while standing on sacred grounds adjacent to the ocean? In addition to the festival itself, Kona Pride offers festivalgoers a variety of activities throughout the weekend including Pride Yoga, Drag Brunch, Tea Dance, and a Pride Pool Party.

If you are looking for a more relaxing experience, rent a kayak from Kona Boys and paddle around the ocean for a few hours. The company offers standard kayak rentals, guided tours, paddle boards, snorkeling equipment as well as surfboards if you are more adventurous. If you’re doing Pride in Kona with friends, you can all head out on the water together!

Joey at Courtyard in Kona- med

Coffee Experience in Kona and and LGBTQ Owned Farm

Of course, one can’t visit the island of Hawaii without tasting some of their world-renowned coffee. We visited Ueshima Coffee Company where we were able to roast our own beans and create a unique coffee as well as learn the process creating the perfect roast. Big Island Coffee Roasters in Hilo offered us a wonderful 11-course coffee tasting of a wide variety of beverages including a delicious affogato that almost tasted like a creamsicle. Listen to our podcast episode about Coffee and the Kona Coast!

At Kona Pride, we met a local gay couple who owned a farm not too far from our hotel, so we decided to visit Tony and Louie the following afternoon. They graciously welcomed us into their home and toured us around their farm, where they not only grow coffee, but a variety of fruit as well as cacao.

Hilo Side of the Big Island Activities

If you haven’t been to the Big Island before, the Kona Coast is very different from the Hilo side of the island. Once you head east it becomes less resort-ish and much more local living. There are lots of things to do on the Hilo side without kids or with, and you’ll find that just visiting the National Park and city will take up plenty of time. You’ll need an extra day or two to explore the Hamakua Coast or the Saddle Road.

Day Trip to Hawaii Volcanoes NP

On the way to Hilo, we visited Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. The entry fee to the park is a bit steep at $30 (standard NPS fee), but it gives you access for a few days so be sure to keep your receipt. The park encompasses the summits of two of the world’s most active volcanoes – Kīlauea and Maunaloa – and is a designated International Biosphere Reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out our guide to Lava Glow and Hawaii Volcanoes at night!

For the next few hours, we explored Kīlauea, hiking around the edge of the volcano which had been erupting a few days prior to our visit. For dinner that evening, we dined at The Rim, a wonderful restaurant overlooking the volcano. We shared a few appetizers including lobster crab cakes, edamame, and a tuna poke stack. Everything was delicious and the service was wonderful. I would definitely come back to this restaurant on my next visit.

Kiliuea Crater from Volcano House Lodge Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Big Island Hawaii 2

Two Days in Hilo

For the next stop on our Hawaii holiday, we drove to Hilo, located on the island’s east coast. After checking in to SCP Hilo, we drove to the downtown area which contains dozens of quaint boutiques and restaurants. It was here that we had more encounters with the locals and embraced their ‘ohana (family) mentality. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming to the point where Dylan and I were ready to relocate to Hilo. The Hilo Airport offers inter-island flights to Honolulu International Airport so travel to and from the city is pretty simple. Check out our review of the SCP Hilo Hotel (we have stayed here 3 times)

Hilo contains a few black sand beaches that are free and accessible to the public. As relaxing as Kona was, Hilo has an even more relaxed and holistic vibe. I felt like I was among the locals more so than in Kona.

The next morning we drove a few minutes to Wailuku River State Park, home to Waiānuenue (Rainbow) Falls, an 80 foot waterfall located just a few minutes outside of downtown Hilo. It was crazy to see a natural wonder located that close to the city. During our visit, we were just 2 of 3 people at the site. We passed a few more people on the trail leading to the top of the falls, but it was great to visit without any crowds. We then stopped by Ken’s House of Pancakes for breakfast. The prices seemed a bit high at first, so we decided to split an omelet which came with a side of their famous pancakes. Luckily, we only ordered one item as the omelet was the largest I’ve ever seen. It was overflowing with a variety of vegetables and the pancakes came with three types of syrup: coconut, guava, and passion fruit. It was well worth the extra calories.

Rainbow Falls in Hilo - med

As we drove back to Kona (a beautiful Big Island scenic drive!), I thought about all the experiences we had on the trip. One Hawaii experience that we had not seen yet was their picture-perfect postcard sunset. The sky that afternoon was pretty clear, and I thought to myself today will be the today and sure enough, it was. We pulled over to an overlook about 15-minutes north of Kona to a westward facing field of black volcanic rock that ran into the ocean and spent the next hour watching the sun sink over the horizon. It was the memory I was hoping to achieve before our departure from paradise. Enjoy the Journey!

Sunset in Kona

Before Visiting Hawaii, Understand It

As you consider visiting the Big Island, or even just visiting the islands in general, know that it’s a complicated place. Just like how ALL OF THE USA was taken from the indigenous people (including our direct recent ancestors) Hawaii is the same, and most of it much more recent than many mainland Americans relate to. There are a lot of native Hawaiians who have stories and memories from their grandparents and great grandparents around the colonization of the Kingdom of Hawaii. With this comes a lot of hard feelings against tourism, but that is balanced with most people being exceptionally welcoming and ready to share their homeland. The Hawaiian people are gracious stewards who are willing and able to both educate visitors and work to preserve their homeland. If anything about any of this doesn’t sit right with you, stop considering a Hawaii trip now.

Visiting Hawaii is a privilege and should be treated as such. We return to Hawaii because we have friends there and we want to share more about how to be a responsible visitor. Hawaii isn’t our go-to vacation destination, but a place we can learn and have new experiences, and do it with efforts of not having a negative impact or plundering the culture and resources of the islands.

Note: yes, Hawaii is a state in the USA and yes, it’s become very reliant on tourism, but that doesn’t mean it’s a land for tourists to run rampant. As you plan a visit to the islands, consider the choices you make and what you can give back to the Hawaiian communities you visit, and not just “sipping mai tais on a beach.” (Tips for making travel decisions that positively give back to Hawaii below).

Locals Only Kapu Sign on Road to Hana Maui Hawaii 1

More Big Island and Hawaii Travel Information

Because we do get to spend quite a lot of time in Hawaii we have lots of information to share. The Big Island is our favorite and we spend the most time here, both with and without kids. Kauai is our second favorite and it has the best hiking. Next favorite is Oahu for the beaches and getting to spend time with friends, and then Maui is our least favorite. We found Maui to be more developed than the other islands and not as tourist friendly away from resort spaces.

So, what can we help you find? Here are some of our most popular Hawaii articles:

Thinking of visiting the Big Island of Hawaii without kids? We've got travel tips, itinerary ideas and Kona Pride information for planning a kid-free Hawaii trip.