Celebrating New Year’s Eve In Hawaii: Festivities And Activities

Fireworks on New Year's Eve.

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If you don’t know anything about what happens in Hawaii when we ring in the new year, you are in for a spectacular treat! The islands light up with fireworks and you can count yourself lucky if you have a view of the suburban areas. Instead of the large bar crowds and parties in town (although we have these, too), local residents head home to shoot aerial fireworks for the rest of the night, and end with a big bang at midnight.

I highly encourage you to plan out your New Year’s evening if you find yourself staying in Hawaii for the new year. Some tour companies will arrange special outings or activities, but you can just as easily find someplace with a great view if you’re on a tight budget.

Aloha with love,

NOTE: Aerial fireworks are illegal in Hawaii, but the tradition of aerial fireworks is so strong in the islands that I don’t foresee them disappearing any time soon. You’ll need to purchase a permit if you want to do any kind of non-aerial fireworks or firecrackers though!

My memories of New Year’s Eve

As a kid, I remember my parents buying my brother and I sparklers and pop pops. We’d write our names in the air and throw the pop pops on the ground and scream with glee. At midnight the whole family (and the rest of the neighborhood) stood outside and began the countdown. When 12:00 AM hit, the sky would light up with aerials and the traditional firecrackers were so loud that you had to cover your ears so they wouldn’t ring.

My brother’s oden in a slow cooker lasts us 2-3 days.

Before COVID-19, our family would end the night with a hot bowl of Aunty’s ozoni – a traditional Japanese soup with mochi (rice cake) in it, some wine or cider, and greet each other and our neighbors with hugs, kisses, and a “happy new year!”. Since then, my immediate family have ended the night with my brother’s oden – a Japanese hot pot with homemade mochi thrown in.

3 of my mochi got stuck together so I had to bake them all at once. Still delicious though!

The mochi usually falls to me each year. When we were little, my Mom would pound the mochi rice with my (very clean) softball bat. Luckily, we invested in a mochi pounding machine so all I have to take care of are reading the Japanese directions and taking measurements. Mochi is eaten all the time in Hawaii, but it’s a Japanese cultural tradition to have it for the new year. Our family will often add it to soups and hot pots, but our favorite way to prepare it is to brown it in a toaster oven or fry pan, then dip it in a shoyu and sugar mix. So good!

Many tour companies in Hawaii set up special holiday activities for celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Some popular tour ideas are:

  • New Year’s eve cruise: Cruise along the coast and enjoy the view of the island and fireworks from sea. This is one of my favorite New Year’s Eve activities and being able to see hundreds of fireworks all at the same time is spectacular.
  • Luaus and Shows: They might not advertise it, but entertainment-based activities may adjust their show to include a New Year’s theme in their performance. It’s best to call in advance to see if anything special will be arranged.
  • Concerts: Buy tickets for musical performances that are specifically held on New Year’s Eve. Hawaii has many local bands and singers that will celebrate the evening together with their audience. It’s a great way to get to know some of Hawaii’s local music.
  • Countdown and celebrations in downtown: Research ahead of time and pick out your favorite restaurant or bar that will host a countdown. My neighborhood town center hosts a “pineapple drop” on New Year’s Eve early in the evening since it’s a kid-friendly event.
  • Restaurants: Some bars and eateries will host a special menu for their patrons on this special night. If you can find one with a great view or has access to large windows or outdoor seating, that’s a plus!
Fireworks from USS Missouri
Fireworks display in Pearl Harbor.

Free New Year’s Eve activities

  • If you have a view of the city, you’ll probably have a great view of fireworks. Larger firework displays will also sometimes go off from larger structures such as hotels and shopping malls.
  • If you don’t have a good view from your accommodation, a wide and open park in the city or suburban area is another good spot.
  • You can also try a sightseeing spot off the side of the road. Hawaii has quite a few of these where there’s a large shoulder lane where you can stop or park your car.
Playing with sparklers is what we often did as kids on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s Eve on the different islands

Oahu always wins on New Year’s Eve because the sheer number of people living on Oahu and popping fireworks vastly outnumbers the other islands. Almost every direction you look, you’ll see Oahu suburbia, which is where much of the firework action happens. In fact, it’s a good idea to look for fireworks in the older sections of Oahu where there are less tourists and more local residents whose families have lived in Hawaii for several generations. Fireworks have to be done outside, so neighborhoods with plenty of driveway and road space are a prime spot for fireworks.

Maui is the next best island for fireworks on New Year’s Eve in my opinion. If you can get a good vantage point, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of aerial fireworks shooting up into the sky. Big Island is okay if you know where to look, but the firework displays tend to be more spaced out.

For the other islands, you’ll have better luck finding a professional fireworks display done by a shopping mall or hotel. Keep in mind though that some of the smaller islands will not even have that.

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