The trend in Honolulu shopping of late has been toward luxury brands, catering to Japanese (and increasingly, Chinese) tourists and leading to the demise, at the end of 2013, of the International Marketplace. Truthfully, the open-air Waikiki marketplace had become a maze of kitschy junk, but it had a 56-year run, long enough for many people to feel sentimental about it. In its place the high-end International Marketplace mall anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue opened in 2016.
You can also find plenty of luxury goods at the new Ala Moana Center wing. But just as the luxury market is growing, so is Honolulu’s boutique culture and the vitality of the local crafts scene, as artisans endeavor to capture what makes Hawaii so unique. You’ll find the best boutique shopping in Chinatown and Haleiwa, but you’ll find gems even at the malls.
Shopping In and Around Honolulu and Waikiki
The aloha shirt is alive and well, thanks to a revival of vintage aloha wear and the modern take, which features more subdued prints and slimmer silhouettes.
Vintage 1930s to 1950s Hawaiian wear is still beautiful, found in collectibles shops, such as the packed-to-the-rafters Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts, 517 Kapahulu Ave. (808/734-7628). Of the contemporary aloha-wear designers, one of the best Oahu-based ones is Tori Richard, who creates tasteful tropical prints in the form of linen and silk shirts for men and flowy dresses for women. Reyn Spooner, Ala Moana Center (www.reynspooner.com; 808/949-5929; with four other Oahu locations), is another source of attractive aloha shirts in traditional and contemporary styles; the new Modern Collection appeals to younger tastes, combining more fitted sleeves and a 1960s preppy look with some of Reyn Spooner’s classic prints. Also check out Kahala Sportswear, Ala Moana Center (www.kahala.com; 808/941-2444; with two other Oahu locations in Waikiki and Haleiwa), which has been designing aloha shirts since 1936 and remains an island favorite.
The hippest guys and gals go to Roberta Oaks, 19 N. Pauahi St. (www.robertaoaks.com; 808/428-1214), in Chinatown, where a slew of trendy boutiques has opened in recent years. Roberta Oaks ditches the too-big aloha shirt for a more stylish, fitted look, but keeps the vintage designs. Plus, she even has super-cute, tailored aloha shirts for the ladies. New to Chinatown, but a fixture in Hilo on Hawaii Island and in politicians’ closets are Sig Zane aloha shirts. At the Honolulu outpost, Sig on Smith, 1020 Smith St. (www.sigzanedesigns.com), you’ll find Zane’s designs inspired by native Hawaiian culture, such as plants significant to hula and patterns based off of Hawaiian legends. The Chinatown location also features limited-release capsule collections: visit the shop’s Instagram (www.instagram.com/sigonsmith) to see the latest.
Just two years after its launch, Manaola, Ala Moana Center (www.manaolahawaii.com; 808/944-8011) debuted to an international audience with its own runway show at New York Fashion Week. Native Hawaiian designer Manaola Yap creates clothing for both men and women, with prints that rely on repetition and symmetry to convey Hawaii’s natural beauty and oral stories.
Shopping in Chinatown
In the 1840s, Honolulu’s Chinatown began to take shape as many Chinese brought in to work on the sugar plantations opted not to renew their contracts and instead moved to Chinatown to open businesses. Fronting Honolulu harbor, Chinatown catered to whalers and sailors. It reached its zenith in the 1920s, with restaurants and markets flourishing by day, and prostitutes and opium dens doing brisk business at night. As its reputation as a red-light district began to eclipse everything else the neighborhood slowly declined. That is, until recent decades. Fresh boutiques and restaurants are filling in previously abandoned storefronts—which retain much of their original architectural details from the 1900s—as Chinatown once again attracts the entrepreneurial.
At the original location of Fighting Eel, 1133 Bethel St. (www.fightingeel.com; 808/738-9300, multiple locations on Oahu), you'll find bright, easy-to-wear dresses and shirts with island prints that are in every local fashionista’s closet—perfect for Honolulu weather, but chic enough to wear back home. Owens and Co., 1152 Nuuanu Ave. (www.owensandcompany.com; 808/531-4300), offers a colorful selection of housewares and accessories, including candles, stationery, jewelry, and totes, many of which are locally made or island inspired. Go treasure hunting at Tin Can Mailman and the funky Hound & Quail, 1156 Nuuanu Ave. (www.houndandquail.com; 808/779-8436), where a collection of antiques and curiosities, from a taxidermied ostrich to old medical texts, make for a fascinating perusal. Find nostalgia in a 1950s tiki print dress or red silk kimono at Barrio Vintage, 1161 Nuuanu Ave. (www.barriovintage.com; 808/674-7156), one of the island’s best shops for vintage clothing. At Ginger13, 22 S. Pauahi St. (www.ginger13.com; 808/531-5311), local jewelry designer Cindy Yokoyama offers a refreshing change from the delicate jewelry found all over Hawaii by creating asymmetrical styles with chunky stones such as agate and opal.
Farmer's markets have proliferated on Oahu—there’s now one for every neighborhood for every day of the week. Unfortunately, the number of farmers has not kept up. In fact, some of the markets have vendors that sell repackaged Mainland produce. The best farmer's markets are those run by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation (HFBF; www.hfbf.org/markets) and FarmLovers (www.farmloversmarkets.com), which mandate locally grown meats, fruits, and veggies. Check their websites for detailed information. Here are my favorites:
* Kapiolani Community College: The original and still the biggest and best. Unfortunately, you'll have to deal with crowds—busloads of tourists get dropped off here. But you’ll find items unavailable at any other market—endless varieties of bananas and mangoes, tropical fruit you’ve never seen before, persimmons, and local duck eggs. Pick up cut, chilled pineapple or jackfruit to snack on, yogurt from Oahu’s one remaining dairy, perhaps some grilled abalone from Kona, and corn from Kahuku. And with a healthy dose of prepared-food vendors serving everything from fresh tomato pizzas to raw and vegan snacks, you won’t go hungry (4355 Diamond Head Rd.; 808/848-2074; Sat 7:30–11am; TheBus: 23 or 24).
* Honolulu Farmer’s Market: This HFBF market is less crowded and has more locals stopping by to pick up groceries after work, plus some of the same vendors as the Kapiolani Community College market (777 Ward Ave.; 808/848-2074; Wed 4–7pm; TheBus: 13).
Flowers & Leis
The best place to shop for leis is in Chinatown, where lei vendors line Beretania and Maunakea streets and the fragrances of their wares mix with the earthy scents of incense and ethnic foods. My top picks are Lita’s Leis, 59 N. Beretania St. (808/521-9065), which has fresh puakenikeni, gardenias that last, and a supply of fresh and reasonable leis; Lin’s Lei Shop, 1017-A Maunakea St. (808/537-4112), with creatively fashioned, unusual leis; and Cindy’s Lei Shoppe, 1034 Maunakea St. (808/536-6538), with terrific sources for unusual leis such as feather dendrobiums and firecracker combinations, as well as everyday favorites like ginger, tuberose, orchid, and pikake.
Hawaiiana & Gift Items
Visit the Museum Shop at the Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St. (808/532-8703), for crafts, jewelry, and prints, including Georgia O’Keefe’s illustrations from her time in Hawaii. You’ll find gifts to bring home, such as lauhala clutches, macadamia nut oil soaps, and color-saturated screenprints. I’m a fan of the local artists’ limited-edition T-shirts and collection of beautiful ceramics.
Shopping in Kailua
Befitting Oahu’s favorite beach town, many of the boutiques in Kailua offer plenty of swimsuits, breezy styles for men and women, and T-shirts from homegrown brands. In addition to the shops below, also make sure to stop by Manoa Chocolate (see “Specialty Tours”).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.