The island of Molokai is still wild. Still rugged, untamed, undeveloped. Here, you find two-lane roads free of traffic lights, frill-free and unfussy accommodations, locally run restaurants and bars, and a culture enriched by a close-knit community — fewer than 8,000 Hawaiians call this place home.
Because it’s so far off the tourist radar, the island lacks what outsiders typically bring with them: a sense of urgency. Locals like to take their chill attitude to the extreme, which makes visiting Molokai unlike any other Hawaiian island experience. Stepping foot here is like stepping back in time, a time more reminiscent of “Old Hawaii,” one where creating moments and memories takes priority over everything else. Below are six ways to do just that.
1. Hunting for bread down a dark alley
If you mention to someone in the know that you’re visiting Molokai, you’ll inevitably be told about this famous nighttime, dark-alley bread hunt. Regardless of your relationship with carbs, listen up. This quest is a Molokai tradition.
The 80-year-old Kanemitsu Bakery is in the central town of Kaunakakai, with its back door — out of which the hot bread comes flying — located down a back alley. Don’t picture it like a crime novel — it tends to get crowded around 8pm when the bakery begins taking orders, so you’re in good, bread-loving company. You’ll hear the commotion and know you’re in the right place.
Kanemitsu’s famous hot breads are heaped with butter, strawberry, blueberry, cinnamon, cream cheese, or the latest seasonal, local flavor, and they come out large and piping hot. Pro tip: Get a combo, and don’t be afraid to ask the locals for their suggestions!
2. Attending a Friday night jam session — by elders
Whenever and however you visit Molokai, it’s important to both respect and engage in local traditions. So after your hot bread quest on Friday night, follow it up with a kanikapila (jam season) at Paddlers Restaurant and Bar. Sit back and experience an evening with the resident elders, affectionately known as aunties and uncles — monikers that come from knowing that whether or not you’re related by blood, you’re related by community.
These local legends arrive at Paddlers with their songbooks and instrument cases, and they play what they feel, typically showcasing the music of “Old Hawaii,” telling tales of the island’s colorful past, and sharing their own stories of Molokai. Spend an evening singing along and chatting with the aunties and uncles, and you’ll be forever welcomed to the island.
3. Stringing your own plumeria lei
The plumeria is Hawaii’s aloha flower, and just a few miles west of Kaunakakai is a massive orchard filled with gorgeous yellow (sometimes pink) plumerias enjoying the year-round sunshine. The scent alone is worth the visit — and the selfies, let’s be honest — but learning about the history of the lei and why it’s such an important island symbol makes a visit to Molokai Plumerias a long-lasting memory. Getting lost in 10 acres of flowers isn’t a bad afternoon, either.
You can purchase leis here, and even ship some home to your loved ones. But don’t miss the opportunity to learn how to string your own lei — how cool will it be to go home with your own little strand of Molokai? Call ahead and arrange a time for a plumeria-picking afternoon.
Fun fact: The plumeria scent is unique to each nose. You might find it sweet and a little spicy, while your travel partner registers it as jasmine-like.
4. Getting historied in Halawa Valley
For an immersive experience unlike any other on the island of Molokai, get to Halawa Valley — it’s the largest of six valleys strung along Molokai’s north coast and the only one accessible by road. The Solatorio family, longtime resident caretakers of the area, continues Halawa’s centuries-old tradition of taro farming. But they bring it into the present day with guided tours that provide access to their private lands, its cultural sites, the stunning 250-foot Mooula Falls, and, of course, all the history they know and have lived.
Spending the day with locals and hearing stories of their past — all while taking in the beautiful sites of the valley — is a Molokai experience that shouldn’t be overlooked. Private tours can be booked directly on the family’s website.
5. Climbing ancient sand dunes to scan for seals and turtles
Yes, Hawaiian beaches are always great — bar none. But when you get two miles of untouched dunes, wave-carved and wild, dotted with more coastal shrubs than people, you won’t forget it anytime soon.
Moomomi Preserve — home to dozens of rare and endangered plants, seabirds, and turtles — is one of Hawaii’s last intact sand dune ecosystems, a remnant of how the islands looked pre-development. Stop by the Nature Conservancy office before visiting to make sure you know what not to miss. Bonus if you’re able to plan in advance and register for one of their monthly guided hikes (they’re limited to eight people and always fill up fast). They’ll take you along the lithified formations, help you spot wildlife, and give you some one-on-one time with Mother Nature.
When you get here, prepare for the amenities list to be nonexistent. It’s just you, the ocean’s salty breezes, Hawaiian monk seals, and sandy views for days. The way Molokai is meant to be.