I’m a Southerner who visited Hawaii for the first time. Here are 9 things that surprised me.

We honeymooned in Hawaii and explored the islands’ food and drink scene.Matthew Wilson

  • My wife and I traveled to Honolulu, Oahu, and Kauai for our honeymoon.

  • The Hawaiian islands’ beaches were lovely, but I still prefer the ones in Alabama, where I grew up.

  • The food in Hawaii was very expensive. Fast-food meals there cost the same as nice meals at home.

My wife and I wanted to have a relaxing honeymoon, so we packed our bags and flew to Hawaii.

matt and his wife smiling in matching t shirts in hawaii

We split our time between Oahu and Kauai.Matthew Wilson

When I was growing up in the South, Hawaii always felt like a mythical far-off land. So when my wife and I decided to tie the knot, we knew we wanted to go there for our honeymoon.

Blasting Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” and The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo,” we headed to the tropical paradise. However, Hawaii wasn’t exactly what I expected.

Here are 10 things that surprised me, a Southerner, the most about my first visit to the 50th state.

The food was vastly more expensive than I anticipated.

fried meat on top of fries (left) and chips and guac in a to-go container (right)

The food in Hawaii was even more expensive than we expected.Matthew Wilson

Before we ventured to Hawaii, people warned us that our trip would be expensive. However, we didn’t realize how expensive it would be to eat. Hawaii imports more than 85% of its food, which may contribute to the high prices.

At Hulu Grill in Waikiki, we spent $105 on two meals and two drinks, and that bill wasn’t an outlier. We spent $35 on two small combos at a Burger King in the Honolulu International Airport. For reference, we usually spend about $30 to $50 for our meals at a nice restaurant in South Carolina.

Honolulu felt like a tropical version of New York City.

honolulu city center (aerial view on left, car with tall building behind it right)

Honolulu’s streets and energy reminded me of New York City.Matthew Wilson

We wanted to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life on our honeymoon.

After hearing about Honolulu’s numerous sites and tourist attractions, like a volcanic cone called Diamond Head, we decided to venture to the heart of the capital city for a few days.

When I arrived in the Waikiki neighborhood, just a 15-minute walk from the beach, I felt like I was standing in a tropical version of New York City.

Having lived in the Big Apple for three years, I recognized similar traffic and stores lining the streets in Honolulu. Peddlers tried to stop us on our way to the beach, and a performer played a ukulele version of “Sweet Caroline.” Apart from the island’s palm trees and birds, I felt like I’d landed on the East Coast.

Each island that we visited had its own distinct feel and offered a unique experience.

coastal view on hawaiian island

We enjoyed exploring the islands’ diverse landscapes.Matthew Wilson

We decided to break up our time between the islands of Oahu and Kauai.

Oahu is famous for Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and Kualoa Ranch, where movies including “Jurassic Park” were filmed. Oahu had a busy city center, very blue water, and two major mountain ranges.

Kauai had more of the small-town lifestyle I was used to. As a less developed island, Kauai’s residential areas were connected by a main road that ran along the island’s edge. Mountains, jungles, and farmlands made up much of the center of the island.

The Hawaiian islands imported a of food, but they also grew a wide variety of fresh produce.

two little fruits in hand

The Hawaiian islands grow an array of fresh fruit and vegetables.Matthew Wilson

Hawaii may import the bulk of its food, but the state is known for its diverse crops as well. Everything—from pineapples to mangoes to macadamia nuts—grows there.

Our tour guide at Kualoa Ranch mentioned that many farmers plant their crops with the philosophy that they have both culinary and medicinal purposes.

There was nothing quite like eating strawberry guavas straight off the tree or enjoying guacamole made from fresh avocados.

The beaches didn’t live up to our expectations, and I actually left the trip preferring the ones in Alabama.

beach in hawaii at sunset

We’d heard so much about the beaches in Hawaii before we arrived, but they didn’t wow us the way we hoped they would.Matthew Wilson

Controversial as our opinion may be, we didn’t quite understand the hype surrounding Hawaii’s beaches. They were beautiful and scenic, but we didn’t see the life-changing views that we’d heard people wear up and down about.

Many of the beaches in Hawaii lacked sprawling sand banks. Given the number of tourists, we ended up rubbing shoulders with strangers quite a bit, especially in Waikiki.

I grew up only 30 minutes away from the Gulf Coast and found Alabama’s beaches to be better than those in Hawaii.

We saw more mountain ranges than we could count.

mountains in hawaii

We saw so many mountains when we visited the islands.Matthew Wilson

The beaches didn’t completely wow us, but there was no denying that Hawaii’s landscape looked like it came straight from a postcard. The islands featured various landscapes, but we were most surprised by the number of mountains we encountered.

The mountain ranges offered gorgeous views, especially when they combined with the coastline in the distance. It was easy to understand why so many film sets are in Hawaii, and a local told us that Kauai has been an on-screen stand-in for locations like Costa Rica and Africa.

Hawaiian cuisine had a lot of Asian influence.

shaving ice and barbecue meat

We at shave ice and flavor-packed barbecue during our trip to Hawaii.Matthew Wilson

Prior to our journey, I knew that Spam (canned pork) was popular and suspected that seafood would be a big hit due to land’s proximity to the water. But we didn’t really know a lot about Hawaiian cuisine, and neither of us anticipated finding so many Asian influences in the islands’ foods.

Hawaii has a large Asian population, and Waikiki featured popular dishes such as Korean barbecue and Vietnamese pho. Some dishes blended Asian flavors into Hawaiian staples, like poke bowls.

Wild chickens roamed freely around Kauai.

A chicken.

My wife and I spotted chickens everywhere we looked.Kara Williams

We knew we’d see wildlife in Hawaii, but we didn’t expect chickens to be the animal we’d encounter on a daily basis.

Wild chickens roamed around Kauai, entering businesses and restaurants alike. As we listened to the roosters crow and strut across the parking lot, we found them both adorable and strangely hilarious.

The South is known for its hospitality, but the people we met in Hawaii were next-level mellow and nice.

matt and his wife standing on road in front of water

My wife and I went to Hawaii for the first time on our honeymoon.Matthew Wilson

The South is known for its hospitality, but Hawaii offered another level of friendliness. Almost everyone we met during our trip was nice and friendly.

During our stay, we met a number of locals and tourists who we’ll always remember. And for that, we’re very thankful.

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