One of Hawaii's lasting afflictions is the penchant tourists have for wearing loud, matching aloha shirts and muumuus. We applaud such visitors' good intentions, but no local resident would be caught dead in such a getup. 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-50s) found in collectibles shops and at swap meets, our 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 the 1950s.
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 line of silk shirts and dresses in authentic retro patterns. 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 (www.sigzane.com), found in many department stores (with one dedicated outlet on the Big Island, in Hilo). 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 and Kahala Mall. 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 Princess Kaiulani and Bete for the dressier muumuus, sold along with many other lines at Macy's and other department stores. Hilo Hattie's Ala Moana store (tel. 808/973-3266) is a goldmine for affordable aloha wear. Hilo Hattie also offers free daily shuttle service from Waikiki to its retail outlet, 700 N. Nimitz Highway (tel. 808/535-6500). 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.
The Gallery Scene
Like restaurants, galleries come and go in Chinatown, where efforts to revitalize the area have moved in fits and spurts. The Pegge Hopper Gallery, 1164 Nuuanu Ave. (tel. 808/524-1160; www.peggehopper.com) is an exception, housed in a historic Chinatown building that's been renovated and transformed into a stunning showplace. Pegge Hopper, one of Hawaii's most popular artists, displays her widely collected paintings (usually of Hawaiian women with broad, strong features) here; the gallery has also 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.
The Gallery at 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.
Art lovers now have a wonderful new resource: a 34-page full-color 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, which represents 11 major Honolulu cultural organizations. For current info download the brochure from the website (www.artswithaloha.com).
Haleiwa Art, Gifts & Crafts-- Haleiwa's shops and galleries display a combination of marine art, watercolors, and sculptures, as well as a plethora of crafts trying to masquerade as fine art. This is the town for gifts, fashions, and surf stuff -- mostly casual, despite some very high price tags. Haleiwa Gallery in the North Shore Marketplace displays a lot of local art of the non-marine variety, and some of it is appealing.
We recommend Executive Chef, in the Ward Warehouse (tel. 808/596-2433), and Islands' Best, in the Ala Moana Center (tel. 808/949-5345). Both shops contain wide-ranging selections that include Hawaii's specialty food items.
Haleiwa -- Haleiwa is best known for its roadside shave-ice stands: the famous Matsumoto Shave Ice, with the perennial queue snaking along Kamehameha Highway, and nearby Aoki's. Shave ice is the popular island version of a snow cone, topped with your choice of syrups, such as strawberry, rainbow, root beer, vanilla, or passion fruit. Aficionados order it with a scoop of ice cream and sweetened black adzuki beans nestled in the middle.
Tiny, funky Celestial Natural Foods, 66-445 Kamehameha Hwy. (tel. 808/637-6729), is the health foodie's one-stop shop for everything from wooden spine-massagers to health supplements, produce, cosmetics, and bulk foods.
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' 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.
Although Haleiwa used to be an incense-infused surfer outpost, where zoris and tank tops were the regional uniform and the Beach Boys and Ravi Shankar the music of the day, today it's one of the top shopping destinations for those with unconventional tastes. Specialty shops abound.
Top-drawer Silver Moon Emporium, North Shore Marketplace, 66-250 Kamehameha Hwy. (tel. 808/637-7710), features the terrific finds of owner Lucie Talbot-Holu. Exquisite clothing and handbags, reasonably priced footwear, hats straight out of Vogue, jewelry, scarves, and a full gamut of other treasures pepper the attractive boutique. The entire line of chic Brighton accessories -- shoes, handbags, fragrance, belts, and jewelry -- are a prized addition.
Other highlights of the prominent North Shore Marketplace include Patagonia (tel. 808/637-1245) for high-quality surf, swim, hiking, kayaking, and all-around adventure wear; North Shore Swimwear (tel. 808/637-6859) for excellent mix-and-match bikinis and one-piece suits, custom-ordered or off the rack; and Jungle Gems (tel. 808/637-6609), the mother lode of gemstones, crystals, silver, and beadwork.
Nearby Oogenesis Boutique, 66-249 Kamehameha Hwy. (tel. 808/637-4422), in the southern part of Haleiwa, features a storefront lined with vintage-looking dresses that flutter prettily in the North Shore breeze.
Flowers & Leis
At most lei shops, simple leis sell for $10 and up, deluxe leis for $25 and up. For a special-occasion designer bouquet or lei, you can't do better than Michael Miyashiro of Rainforest Plantes et Fleurs (tel. 808/738-0999). He's an ecologically aware, highly gifted lei maker -- his leis are pricey, but worth it. He custom-designs the lei for the person and occasion. Order by phone or stop by the Kilohana Square shop, 1016 Kapahulu Ave., 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, Isenburg Street at S. King Street (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, Gerbera 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; 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 and firecracker combinations, as well as everyday favorites like ginger, tuberose, orchid, and pikake. "Curb service" is 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 (also owned by the Academy of Arts), 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.
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.
Surfers say Haleiwa's ubiquitous surf shops are the best on earth.