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Frommer's shopping in Oahu

It's a no-brainer: Honolulu is a shopping destination. Shopping competes with golf, surfing, and sightseeing as a bona fide Honolulu attraction.
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It's a no-brainer: Honolulu is a shopping destination. Shopping competes with golf, surfing, and sightseeing as a bona fide Honolulu attraction. The proliferation of top-notch made-in-Hawaii products, the vitality of the local crafts scene, and the unquenchable thirst for mementos of the islands lend respectability to shopping here. More than 1,000 stores occupy the 11 major shopping centers on this island.

From T-shirts to Versace, posh European to down-home local, avant-garde to unspeakably tacky, Oahu's offerings are wide-ranging indeed. Nestled amid the Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Tiffany boutiques on Waikiki's Kalakaua Avenue are plenty of tacky booths hawking airbrushed T-shirts, gold by the inch, and tasteless aloha shirts.

But this chapter won't help you discover cheap souvenirs or tony items from designer fashion chains; you can find these things on your own. Rather, we offer a guide to finding the special treasures that lie somewhere in between. Be aware that small shops and boutiques have their own hours. Some don't open until 10 a.m., some close for lunch, and some close their doors at 5 p.m., while others are open until 9 p.m. To make sure, call the store before you go.

Aloha Wear

One of Hawaii's lasting afflictions is the penchant tourists have for wearing loud, matching aloha shirts and muumuus. I applaud such visitors' good intentions (to act local), but no local resident would be caught dead in such a get-up. Muumuus and aloha shirts are wonderful, but the real thing is what island folks wear on Aloha Friday (every Fri), to the Brothers Cazimero Lei Day Concert (every May 1), or to work (where allowed). It's what they wear at home and to special parties where the invitation reads "Aloha Attire."

Aside from the vintage Hawaiian wear (1930s-1950s) found in collectibles shops and at swap meets, my favorite contemporary aloha-wear designer is Hawaii's Tori Richards. Tommy Bahama, which never calls its shirts "aloha shirts" but claims, instead, a Caribbean influence, is another Hawaii shirt icon, and so is the up-and-coming Tiki brand, quirky and distinctive, with elements that hark back to 1950s bowling shirts and Jimmy Dean charisma.

The best aloha shirts are pricey these days, going for $80 to $125. For the vintage look, Avanti has a corner on the market with its stunning line of silk shirts and dresses in authentic 1930s to 1950s patterns. The shirts ($55-$90) boast all the qualities of a vintage silk but without the high price or the web-thin fragility of an authentic antique. The dresses and other styles are the epitome of comfort and nostalgic good looks. The line is distributed in better boutiques and department stores throughout Hawaii. In Waikiki, the major retail outlet is Avanti Fashion, at 2229 Kuhio Ave. (tel. 808/924-1668); Waikiki Shopping Plaza, 2250 Kalakaua Ave. (tel. 808/922-2828); 307 Lewers St. (tel. 808/926-6886); and 2160 Kalakaua Ave. (tel. 808/924-3232). Online, visit

Kahala Sportswear, a well-known local company established in 1936, is also popular. Kahala has faithfully reproduced, with astounding success, the linoleum-block prints of noted Maui artist Avi Kiriaty and the designs of other contemporary artists. Kahala is sold in department stores, surf shops, and stylish boutiques throughout Hawaii and the mainland.

For the most culturally correct aloha wear, and for a graphic identity that is rare in the aloha shirt realm, check out the shirts, dresses, and pareus of Sig Zane Designs, available at his Hilo (Big Island) and Wailuku (Maui) stores. Zane, an accomplished hula dancer married to one of Hawaii's most revered hula masters, has an unmistakable visual style and a profound knowledge of Hawaiian culture that brings depth and meaning to his boldly styled renditions. Each Sig Zane pareu and aloha shirt, in pure cotton, tells a story. No wonder it's the garb of cultural connoisseurs, who also buy fabrics by the yard for interior accents.

Reyn Spooner is another source of attractive aloha shirts and muumuus in traditional and contemporary styles, with stores in Ala Moana Center, Kahala Mall, and the Sheraton Waikiki. Reyn has popularized the reverse-print aloha shirt -- the uniform of downtown boardrooms -- and has also jumped aboard the vintage-look bandwagon with old-Hawaii cotton prints, some of them in attractive two-color pareu patterns.

Well-known muumuu labels in Hawaii include Mamo Howell, with a boutique in Ward Warehouse, and Princess Kaiulani and Bete for the dressier muumuus, sold along with many other lines at Macy's and other department stores. Hilo Hattie's new Ala Moana store (tel. 808/973-3266) is a gold mine of affordable aloha wear. Hilo Hattie's also offers free daily shuttle service from Waikiki to its retail outlet on Nimitz Highway (tel. 808/537-2926), and to Aloha Tower Marketplace, Ala Moana Center, and Waikiki. You'll also find macadamia nuts, Hawaiian coffees, and other souvenirs at these Hilo Hattie's stores, as well as live Hawaiian entertainment. Quality and selection have improved noticeably in recent years.

International Market Place

"What it once was, it can be again," said Mark Hastert, president of the Queen Emma Foundation and owner of the International Market Place, on the renovations and resurrection of this once proud and famous shopping area.

In the past few decades, this 4.5-acre open market, squeezed in amongst the high-rises of Waikiki, became a sea of small carts selling trinkets (most, cheaply made overseas), shoddy T-shirts, and lots of junk.

Those days are gone. At the end of 2005, the International Market Place and all the vendors were shut down and a $150 million total restoration began that is expected to be completed at the end of 2007. The Queen Emma Foundation is bringing back the stream that used to run through the area (albeit as a water feature), and building an amphitheatre and a hula mound. Surrounding the area will be clusters of 8 to 10 buildings, from one to three stories tall, featuring shops and restaurants.

"We want it to once again be an exciting place, a central gathering place for Waikiki," said Hastert. "The aim is to re-create this once historic spot were visitors and residents can come for ceremonies and performances, to shop and eat and enjoy Waikiki."

Oahu's Vibrant Gallery Scene

Like restaurants, galleries come and go in Chinatown, where efforts to revitalize the area have moved in fits and spurts. Two exceptions are the Ramsay Galleries, Tan Sing Building, 1128 Smith St. (tel. 808/537-2787), and the Pegge Hopper Gallery, 1164 Nuuanu Ave. (tel. 808/524-1160). Both are housed in historic Chinatown buildings that have been renovated and transformed into stunning showplaces. Nationally known quill-and-ink artist Ramsay, who has drawn everything from the Plaza in New York to most of Honolulu's historic buildings, maintains a vital monthly show schedule featuring her own work, as well as shows of her fellow Hawaiian artists. A consummate preservationist, Ramsay has added a courtyard garden with an oval pond and exotic varieties of bamboo.

Pegge Hopper, one of Hawaii's most popular artists, displays her widely collected paintings (usually of Hawaiian women with broad, strong features) in her attractive gallery, which has become quite the gathering place for exhibits ranging from Tibetan sand-painting by saffron-robed monks to the most avant-garde printmaking in the islands.

Newcomer Bibelot, 1130 Koko Head Ave., Suite 2, in Kaimuki (tel. 808/738-0368), is small and smart, with an impressive selection of works from new and emerging artists, as well as those well established. More than 30 artists, almost all from Hawaii, are represented. Jewelry, ceramics, glass, and Japanese tansu and antiques are among the treasures here.

The Gallery at Ward Centre in Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd. (tel. 808/597-8034), a cooperative gallery of Oahu artists, features fine works in all media, including paper, clay, scratchboard, oils, watercolors, collages, woodblocks, lithographs, glass, jewelry, and more.

Hawaii's most unusual gallery, listed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places, is perched on the slopes of Punchbowl. The Tennent Art Foundation Gallery, 203 Prospect St. (tel. 808/531-1987), is devoted to the oeuvre of artist Madge Tennent, whose paintings hang in the National Museum of Women alongside the work of Georgia O'Keeffe. Tennent's much-imitated style depicts Polynesians from the 1920s to the 1940s in bold, modernist strokes that left an indelible influence on Hawaiian art. Open limited hours and by appointment, so call before you go.

Art lovers now have a wonderful new resource: a 34-page brochure offering an overview of the music, theater, history, and visual arts of Oahu. The free brochure, which includes a map, phone numbers, websites, and more information, is put out by Arts with Aloha, representing 11 major Honolulu cultural organizations. Send a legal-size, self-addressed, stamped (55¢) envelope to Arts with Aloha, c/o Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St., Honolulu, HI 96814, or call the 24-hour hot line at tel. 808/532-8713.


In addition to the local stores, Waldenbooks has six branches on Oahu, including Kahala Mall, 4211 Waialae Ave. (tel. 808/737-9550); Windward Mall, 46-056 Kamhameha Hwy., Kailua (tel. 808/235-8044); and Waikiki Shopping Plaza, 2250 Kalakaua Ave. (tel. 808/922-4154).


We recommend Executive Chef (tel. 808/596-2433), in the Ward Warehouse, and Islands' Best (tel. 808/949-5345), in the Ala Moana Center. Both shops contain wide-ranging selections that include Hawaii's specialty food items.

Bakeries -- If you're looking for a bakery, Saint-Germain, in Shirokiya at Ala Moana Shopping Center (tel. 808/955-1711), and near Times Supermarket, 1296 S. Beretania St. (tel. 808/593-8711), sells baguettes, country loaves, and oddball delicacies such as mini mushroom-and-spinach pizzas. The reigning queen of bakers, though, is Cafe Laufer, 3565 Waialae Ave. (tel. 808/735-7717). Nearby, old-timers still line up at Sconees, 1117 12th Ave. (tel. 808/734-4024), formerly Bea's Pies. Sconees has fantastic scones, pumpkin-custard pies, and danishes. For warm bread, nothing can beat Foodland, 1460 S. Beretania St. (tel. 808/949-4365 for the bakery department), where R. Field is located. The Foodland bakery flies in dough from Los Angeles's famous La Brea bakery and bakes it fresh at this location, so you can pick up fresh-from-the-oven organic wheat, rosemary-olive oil, roasted garlic, potato-dill, and other spectacular breads.

Fish Markets -- Safeway on Beretania Street has a seafood counter with fresh choices and a staff that takes pride in its deftness with prepared foods. (Don't be shy about asking for a taste.) The prepared foods (fresh ahi poke, seaweed salad, marinated crab) are popular among busy working folks heading home. Foodland on Beretania Street occasionally offers good buys on live lobster and Dungeness crab, fresh ahi and aku poke, ahi sashimi and steaks, and a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish, including whole snappers and oysters when available.

Fashion Boutiques

For those looking for unique, personal style, the following are the "hot" new boutiques guaranteed to offer exclusive (and somewhat unexpected) fashions that you won't find anywhere else.

Flowers & Leis

At most lei shops, simple leis sell for $3 and up, deluxe leis for $10 and up. For a special-occasion designer bouquet or lei, you can't do better than Michael Miyashiro of Rainforest Plantes et Fleurs (tel. 808/942-1550 or 808/591-5999). He's an ecologically aware, highly gifted lei-maker -- his leis are pricey, but worth it. He is the consummate lei designer who custom-creates the lei for the person, occasion, and even destination. (Many of his original designs have been adopted by the Chinatown lei-makers.) Order by phone or stop by the Ward Warehouse, where his tiny shop is an oasis of green and beauty. Upon request, Miyashiro's leis will come in ti-leaf bundles, called pu'olo; custom gift baskets (in woven green coconut baskets), and special arrangements. You can even request the card sentiments in Hawaiian, with English translations.

The other primary sources for flowers and leis are the shops lining the streets of Moiliili and Chinatown. Moiliili favorites include Rudy's Flowers, 2722 S. King St. (tel. 808/944-8844), a local institution with the best prices on roses, Micronesian ginger lei, and a variety of cut blooms. Across the street, Flowers for a Friend, 2739 S. King St. (tel. 808/955-4227), has good prices on leis, floral arrangements, and cut flowers. Nearby, Flowers by Jr. and Lou, 2652 S. King St. (tel. 808/941-2022), offers calla lilies, Gerber daisies, a riot of potted orchids, and the full range of cut flowers along with its lei selection.

In Chinatown, lei vendors line Beretania and Maunakea streets, and the fragrances of their wares mix with the earthy scents of incense and ethnic foods. Our top picks are Lita's Leis, 59 N. Beretania St. (tel. 808/521-9065), which has fresh puakenikeni, gardenias that last, and a supply of fresh and reasonable leis; Sweetheart's Leis, 69 N. Beretania St. (tel. 808/537-3011), with a worthy selection of the classics at fair prices; Lin's Lei Shop, 1017-A Maunakea St. (tel. 808/537-4112), with creatively fashioned, unusual leis; and Cindy's Lei Shoppe, 1034 Maunakea St. (tel. 808/536-6538), with terrific sources for unusual leis such as feather dendrobiums, firecracker combinations, and everyday favorites like ginger, tuberose, orchid, and pikake. Ask Cindy's about its unique "curb service," available with phone orders. Just give them your car's color and model, and you can pick up your lei curbside -- a great convenience on this busy street.

Hawaiiana & Gift Items

Our top recommendations are the fabulous, newly expanded Academy Shop, at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St. (tel. 808/523-8703), and the Contemporary Museum Gift Shop, 2411 Makiki Heights Rd. (tel. 808/523-3447), two of the finest shopping stops on Oahu -- worth a special trip whether or not you want to see the museums themselves. (And you will want to see the museums, especially the recently expanded Honolulu Academy of Arts.) The Academy Shop offers a brilliant selection of art books, jewelry, basketry, ethnic fabrics and native crafts from all over the world, posters and books, and fiber vessels and accessories. The Contemporary Museum shop focuses on arts and crafts such as avant-garde jewelry, cards and stationery, books, home accessories, and gift items made by artists from Hawaii and across the country. We love the glammy selection of jewelry and novelties, such as the twisted-wire wall hangings.

Other good sources for quality gift items are the Little Hawaiian Craft Shop, in the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, and Martin and MacArthur, in the Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Surf & Sports

The surf-and-sports shops scattered throughout Honolulu are a highly competitive lot, with each trying to capture your interest (and dollars). But we can't live without them.

For a complete listing of Frommer's-reviewed stores, visit our .

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