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Where's the best mai tai in Hawaii? What's the best island? Best place to stay? Readers share their favorites

Want to know where to find the best hotels, best restaurants and even the best mai tai in Hawaii? Hawaii Magazine’s Readers Choice Awards features places locals like to eat, stay and play, creating an insider’s guide for anyone planning a trip to Hawaii.

Maui was voted the best island in Hawai. Readers gave the Valley Isle glowing reviews, with one respondent saying it has “the best mix of quiet, natural scenery and crazy fun activities.”

Oahu finished second and Kauai third in the poll.

Lahaina, the former whaling center on Maui’s west coast, was selected best city or town. Now a charming town full of galleries, inns and a wealth of restaurants, it’s a fun diversion for folks staying at the beachfront resorts to the north and south. Much larger and touristy Honolulu/Waikiki came in second.

It’s probably no surprise that world-famous Waikiki Beach was voted the state’s top beach. Tourism to this now-bustling destination began in the early 1900s when the area was marshy wetlands full of taro. Beyond the beach, there are attractions such as Diamond Head and the Honolulu Zoo.

Oahu has plenty of other winners in various categories. Along the beach, the sprawling Hilton Hawaiian Village is ranked as the state’s No. 1 hotel. A couple of neighbors, the Moana Surfrider and Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, finished second and third.

Oahu has plenty of luxury hotel choices, but for readers, the island’s No. 1 is its grande dame, the Royal Hawaiian, which turned 90 last month.

Rounding out the island’s top three are the Moana Surfrider and Turtle Bay Resort, located in an idyllic location along the North Shore, about an hour’s drive from Honolulu.

The Royal Hawaiian also gets top honors in another category: best mai tai. While the drink apparently originated in California in the 1930s, the rum-based drink is widely associated with the islands. The magazine’s readers prefer to sip theirs at the hotel’s Mai Tai Bar.

Bartenders are happy to share the recipe too:

1 oz. Bacardi rum

1 tsp. cherry vanilla puree

½ oz. Amaretto di Saronno

½ oz. Cointreau

1 oz. Fresh Govinda orange huice

2 oz. Fresh Govinda pineapple juice

½ oz. Whaler’s Dark Rum Float

Mahina & Sun’s at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Honolulu was voted the state’s best new restaurant for 2017, followed by Tin Roof in Kahului, Maui, and Ai Love Nalo in Waimanalo, Oahu.

Burgeoning West Oahu is becoming an alternative to Waikiki, and the Four Seasons Resort Oahu was selected as Hawaii’s best new hotel. (The property used to be a J.W. Marriott.) The top three include two other Oahu choices, Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club and the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki.

Head to Kauai for the best park: Waimea Canyon State Park. With its towering red cliffs and tumbling waterfalls, it is sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and one of the top sights in the state.

Maui’s Waianapanapa State Park, just off the Hana Highway, was the runner-up in this category.

While on Kauai, head to the Kalaheo area for a taste of the state’s best coffee. In addition to selling its wares, Kauai Coffee offers free guided and self-guided tours of its plantation. The Kauai grower and roaster obviously gives better-known Kona brands a run for their money.

Cultural celebrations around Hawaii occur almost weekly, but readers preferred the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, which will be held in Hilo from April 16 to 22. The event honors King David Kalakaua, a 19th century monarch known for his love of the arts.

For the first time, Hawaii Magazine readers ranked not only their favorite places statewide, but also island-by-island, including the less-visited Lanai and Molokai.

On Lanai, the No. 1 choice for lodging is the tantalizingly-secluded Four Seasons Resort Lanai. With an enviable oceanfront location and killer views from many rooms, it’s a great base on Lanai, where the lodging choices are very limited. The modest Hotel Lanai in Lanai City finished second.

Choices of where to stay are even fewer on Molokai, where the charming Hotel Molokai was voted best hotel, an easy choice since it’s the island’s only hotel.

In addition to its stunning, and often empty, beaches, Molokai is also known for what many consider a shocking piece of history, the former leper colony at Kalaupapa. Despite its lovely setting, the town was built to isolate those with leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) from the world.

Now a national historical park, Kalaupapa is reached either by small plane or mule. The Kalaupapa Mule Tour, a harrowing trek down the cliff face, was voted the best land activity or adventure tour in the state.

Info: Copies of the magazine may be ordered online or by calling (800) 788-4230.

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