Hawaii Gears Up for Same-Sex Marriage
I joined a group of about 80 people who had packed the gay-friendly Ambrosia bar on Maui two weeks ago to toast victory in the hard-fought battle for same-sex marriage. Just hours earlier, Governor Neil Abercrombie had signed the bill into law that made Hawaii the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage. Maui has long been one of the most popular wedding destinations in the world and business leaders on the island hope that will translate into gays flocking to the Aloha State to tie the knot.
Wedding planner Kevin Rebelo was among those attending the celebration. He has arranged gay marriage ceremonies for nearly 20 years in Maui but those ceremonies had lacked any legal recognition. His company, Gay Hawaii Wedding, is already fully booked with same-sex wedding ceremonies on the first day, Monday, December 2. One couple getting married that day has been together for 40 years. They were among the first to enlist in Hawaii's civil unions last year and the couple will be among the first to be married on the first day of legal same-sex weddings.
But there is plenty to do in Maui for LGBT tourists not interested in getting married. The single most popular attraction for gays visiting the island may be a beach called Little Beach right next to a much larger beach called -- you guessed it -- Big Beach. Little Beach is clothing-optional and it is a social focal point for the island's LGBT community. Musician Steven Tyler can sometimes be seen there leading the traditional Sunday drum circle, a remnant from the beach's roots as Maui's hippie beach. The first two people I met there were from San Francisco, not surprising considering the popularity of Hawaii for Bay Area residents.
On my first full day on Maui, I had the pleasure of a getting a tour of the island by Wade Holmes, a gay man who specializes in tours for LGBTs through his tour company No Ka 'Oi Adventures. I traveled from the south side of the island to secluded waterfalls, a hidden lava tube, Red Sand Beach and other attractions that are sometimes missed by bigger tour companies. If you haven't been to Maui before, an organized tour is a good idea.
After a day of hiking through Maui, I had worked up an appetite. And what better way to satisfy that hunger than a dinner cruise? I met up with Michael Waddell the manager of the gay Sunseeker resort for a voyage on the Alii Nui catamaran. We sat next to a straight newlywed straight from the East Bay. Undoubtedly the voyage will include many gay newlyweds very soon.
By the way, the Maui Sunseeker LGBT Resort is a perfect place to stay on the island. The 23-room oceanfront property will be expanding into a new building next month that will add another three rooms, with plans to open a breakfast deli sometime next year. Amenities include a clothing optional hot tub, heated saline pool, and a rooftop sundeck. The manager estimates that about half of the hotel's clientele are gay men, about 30 percent lesbian, and the remainder straight and transgender. The hotel is situated in very gay-friendly Kihei, on Maui's south side. Maui Sunseeker also operates Sunseeker Activities, a full service concierge for booking the many adventure activities available on Maui and even tours to other islands from Maui. LGBT guests are already booking their weddings and honeymoon stays on the island.
If you prefer to stay in an even more intimate gay-owned accommodation, the two-room Tutu (Two) Mermaids on Maui Bed and Breakfast is owned by a couple who used to live in the Bay Area. Life and business partners, Judee and Miranda Kawaiola moved from Alameda to the island 13 years ago. Judee is licensed to perform marriages in the state and you can arrange one by contacting her through Two Mermaids. Amenities include a swimming pool and on-site concierge service. The inn has already heard from gay guests who plan to return to Maui to get married.
There are not any full-time gay bars in Maui but the aforementioned Ambrosia bar hosts a gay night on Sundays and is very gay-friendly every day.
Maui Pride is held over the first weekend in October and includes a festival and series of events from Friday to Sunday. The organization awards scholarships annually to deserving youth and focuses on community involvement and education. (More information at www.MauiPride.org.)
The Big Island
Maui is the second-largest island after the Island of Hawaii, a.k.a. the Big Island, famous for its most active volcano, Kilauea, which is part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a must-stop for any visitor to the island. The park covers more than 330,000 acres and grew by 550 acres over the past 30 years after the eruption of Kilauea. Visitors can stand on the rim of the volcano and be bathed in the steam from the hot lava flowing under the surface. You won't be able to get close enough to see the lava but if you can stay until dark, you will be treated to the red glow of the lava from crater's center.
The park is adjacent to the Puna district on the island, popular with LGBTs. The gay-owned Kalani is a combination bed and breakfast and retreat center. Holmes, the Maui tour guide, is helping to organize a gay men's retreat at the center, April 15-21. (More information at www.Kalani.com.)
The four-unit gay Absolute Paradise Bed and Breakfast is a little more than a mile from Kelani and amenities include a clothing-optional pool and hot tub. It is the place to stay if you prefer a more intimate and even gayer accommodation choice.
The Big Island is so big that it is serviced by two major airports, one in Hilo and the other in the Kailua-Kona area. Most tourists stay in Kailua-Kona because the weather is much drier than the other side of the island. But Volcanoes National Park is much closer to Hilo, about a 45-minute drive away. The drive to the park will take you about 2.5 hours if you are coming from Kailua-Kona.
Besides being the drier side of the island, the Kona Coast is also the only place in the U.S. where coffee is grown commercially. Coffee is to the Kona what grapes are to the Napa Valley. The area around the district is dotted with coffee farms and coffee tasting opportunities.
Kailua-Kona is also home to the Big Island's only full-time gay bar, Mask-querade. The bar is in a strip mall and used to be called the Mask. The big sign over the business still has the shorter name. Mask-querade is known as the Cheers of gay Hawaii. The regular locals who hold court there daily are very welcoming to visitors and can point you in the direction of the best things to do and see on the island. If you are in town on Sunday, be sure to stop in for the barbecue between 6 and 9 p.m.
The Big Island may soon be home to a second full-time gay bar. My Bar is in an industrial area about a five-minute drive from Mask-querade and is about to become the area's second gay watering hole. My Bar was bought out by a gay male couple, Rocco Carbone and his partner, and their straight male friend, Kit Carver, last month. They told the Bay Area Reporter that they plan to market the bar as a gay bar, while continuing to welcome its established clientele. My Bar has always been very gay-friendly and hosts the island's gay Pride celebration each year.
One of the newest accommodation choices on the Big Island is the gay-owned Lava Lava Beach Club, which opened just last year but is already drawing rave reviews. The oceanfront property consists of four cottages complete with a private outdoor shower. The adjoining and very popular Lava Lava restaurant is worth stopping by even if you are not staying there.
The Sheraton Kona is an established oceanfront resort that is well known for the view of the manta ray fish that can be seen from the ocean overlook near the restaurant. The Sheraton is also steeped in history. The hotel offers a complimentary tour of ancient stone ruins that give a glimpse into how native Hawaiians once lived.
Beach 67, part of the Waialea Bay Beach, is a clothing optional unofficial gay beach on the Big Island. To get there from Highway 19 at mile marker 71, turn onto Old Puako Road, then turn right on Puako Beach Road. Keep going to pole marker #67 and turn onto the dirt road to the parking area. The trail leads to the beach.
Oahu is the third largest Hawaiian Island but it is where about 80 percent of the state's population lives. Most tourists stay in the Waikiki section of the island known for high-rise hotels and its postcard views of the extinct Diamondhead volcano. If you are staying in Waikiki, you will pass through downtown Honolulu on the drive from the airport. That's where you will find state government offices and the former Hawaii royal palace, which is now a museum.
Waikiki is also where you will find the state's most abundant nightlife, including Hula's bar and Lei Stand, which may be one of the world's most beautiful gay bars with its sweeping views of Diamondhead.
Hula's runs a gay catamaran cruise on Sundays for just $20, including a free drink. The other gay mainstays include the LoJax bar and neighboring late-night Fusion nightclub. The In Between bar is just a short walk from LoJax and Fusion. The casually upscale Bacchus is also centrally located a block from In Between. Bacchus has ties to San Francisco. The owner and manager of San Francisco's 440 Castro are among the partners who own Bacchus. Waikiki is very walkable and you can barhop on foot between all the establishments.
Queens Beach is on the far Diamondhead side of Waikiki beach near Hula's and is Oahu's unofficial gay beach. It got its name from the island's royal past, not its current patrons. But unlike Maui's Little Beach, Queens Beach is not clothing optional.
Oahu Pride is the first weekend of June and includes a parade and festival.
Kauai is the fourth largest Hawaiian Island and known as the garden island because of its lush surroundings and breathtaking foliage. The island's gay-friendly beaches are the beach at Lydgate State Park and the clothing optional Donkey's Beach and Kauapea Beach (a.k.a. Secret Beach).
The gay-owned Mahina Kai Ocean Villa bills itself as the gayest bed and breakfast on Kauai. While most of its guests are gay men, the Japanese-style bed and breakfast is all-welcoming. The two-acre property close to Donkey Beach includes an eight-person hot tub and pool surrounded by a lush garden.
If you would prefer to stay at a larger full-service hotel, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa is the top of the line. Just after the same-sex marriage bill was signed into law, the 50-acre 602-room property issued a press release applauding the decision and inviting gay couples to get married at the resort.
The Hyatt noted that the first three weeks of December are a slow time on the island so if you can get away then, you can not only be among the first to marry in the Aloha state, but you will be able to get good deals on rooms. The Hyatt is offering a fifth night free special and a free buffet breakfast.