Are you searching for a guide to the best Hawaii souvenirs? Well, you’ve found one! This guide from a Hawaii local tells you exactly what kinds of souvenirs from Hawaii are worth it.
Thousands and thousands of tourists come to Hawaii every year. And I always see them going off with the tackiest of souvenirs, like gaudy Hawaiian print shirts (which are locally called “aloha shirts”), plastic flower leis, or dancing hula girl figurines. Instead, I’ve compiled a list of the best Hawaii souvenirs to purchase.
Kukui Nut Lei or Cloth Lei
According to the stories of the Hawaiian ancestors, leis were introduced to Hawaii by Polynesian voyagers. They were made of anything from flowers to seeds to feathers, and they were used as a symbol of distinction. So why not take a kukui nut lei (the round brown spheres on the leis usually given to men) or cloth lei of your own home with you? You could definitely find some at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet! Or, to make this Hawaii souvenir even more special, many hotels offer lei making classes. Why not make your own? That’ll definitely be a Hawaii souvenir to remember.
*Note: Don’t try to take a fresh flower lei home, as you could get fined for taking a plant off of the island. But feel free to enjoy them as long as you stay on the island! If you really want to take a fresh flower lei home with you on the airplane, you can buy one at the airport after you pass through security. But be warned: they are PRICEY.
The ukulele, which means “jumping flea” in Hawaiian because of how fast a player’s fingers can move on the instrument, is a variation of a small, stringed instrument that the Portuguese brought with them to Hawaii. Since then, it has become a symbol of Hawaiian culture.
A ukulele is a great Hawaii souvenir, because it is infused with both culture and entertainment. Not only will you have a souvenir that is so deeply tied to Hawaii’s local culture, but you may also find yourself developing a new skill. Who knows? You may have a hidden music skill.
If you would like to try out an ukulele before buying it, head to The Ukulele Store on the second floor of the Waikiki Beach Walk. There, they offer free ukulele lessons twice a day (10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.). As an alternative, you can also head to the Ukulele Puapua Store in Waikiki for their free lessons at 4 p.m.
If you decide to get a ukulele as a souvenir from Hawaii, be sure to buy one that is good quality. Don’t buy one that is oddly cheap or is painted a bright color. Go for a wooden one, as this will create a smoother sound when you actually learn how to play songs. Consider learning to play some Hawaiian music, like Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Or you can play other popular songs, like Vance Joy’s “Riptide” or Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me.”
When tourists come to Hawaii, they often buy the tourist-version of aloha wear (which the tourists call “Hawaiian shirts”). You know what I’m talking about. The bright blue or red shirts and dresses with blinding white hibiscus flowers slapped all over it. And the whole family is wearing matching outfits. That is not the aloha wear that Hawaii locals wear.
The local version of aloha wear uses muted earthy colors as the background and muted neutrals for the nature prints. And the nature prints aren’t just hibiscus flowers. It can be other flowers, leaves, waves, and sometimes even animals and traditional Polynesian prints.
You can buy both the tourist-version of aloha wear and the local-version of aloha wear at Hilo Hattie. But if you just want to avoid the confusion altogether, consider heading to Rix Island Wear in Ala Moana Shopping Center instead. Personally, I prefer the Halau and Kupu collections, but there are several other options if those aren’t up your alley.
Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry
One souvenir from Hawaii that is often easily overlooked is Hawaiian heirloom jewelry. Queen Liliuokalani, the first queen and the last royal ruler of Hawaii, was the iconic trendsetter for Hawaiian heirloom jewelry. Queen Liliuokalani’s original engraved golden bracelet was actually a gift from Queen Victoria of England, as a symbol of friendship between the Kingdom of Hawaii and England. As a matter of fact, Queen Liliuokalani was so impressed and touched by the bracelet that she requested that more be made for the rest of her family members!
Today, you can still purchase a piece of Hawaiian heirloom jewelry and follow the trend set over 100 years ago by Queen Liliuokalani. While the bracelet is the most traditional version of Hawaiian heirloom jewelry, there are now rings, pendants, and beads made in the same style. Many have names or important phrases engraved onto them. Royal Hawaiian Heritage Jewelry and Philip Rickard are great places to purchase Hawaiian heirloom jewelry. This is definitely one of the coolest, most meaningful Hawaiian souvenirs.
Since you aren’t allowed to leave the island with fresh, local mangoes, go for the dried ones. Then you’ll have two great options: with or without li hing mui powder. The traditional dried mangoes without li hing mui are always a good option. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous though, try some dried mangoes with the local sweet, sour, and spicy powder known as li hing mui.
The easiest place to grab a bag of dried mangoes in Hawaii (with or without li hing maui powder) is at the nearest Costco.
I know that I’ve already mentioned Hawaiian heirloom jewelry on this list, but island-inspired jewelry is a little bit different. While Hawaiian heirloom jewelry is heavily tied to history and heritage, island-inspired jewelry is more about the beauty of Hawaii today.
One example of island-inspired jewelry is Imi Jewelry’s Island Pride Collection. These solid 14-karat gold necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings are shaped like Oahu, Maui, Kauai, or the Big Island. Rise Jewelry takes a bit of a different take on the term island-inspired jewelry, as all of its pieces contain a little gem, like a shell, shark tooth, or sea glass, from the ocean. Use the code BORDERS15 on the Rise Jewelry website for 15% off your order!
If you’d like a few more options, scroll down to the jewelry section of our Hawaii artists article.
Honolulu Cookie Company Cookies
These little pineapple-shaped cookies are a treat that I reserve for myself only on special occasions. Some local Honolulu Cookie Company favorites are Kona coffee, lilikoi (passion fruit), pineapple macadamia, and mango macadamia. They even sell holiday flavors, like pumpkin at Halloween or gingerbread at Christmas. They are definitely a great treat to take home with you.
You can find these Honolulu Cookie Company cookies at one of their many stores located across Oahu and Maui. And in case you’re overwhelmed by the wide variety of flavors offered, all of the Honolulu Cookie Company stores have several cookie samples that you can try! Then, you’ll be able to decide if you like the original, chocolate-covered, fruity, or another one of the Honolulu Cookie Company’s flavor groups.
If you happen to be on Kauai or the Big Island and don’t have access to these delicious cookies, don’t worry! Both of these islands have cookie companies of their own. Kauai is home to Kauai Kookie, and the Big Island is home to the delicious Big Island Candies (which honestly rival the Honolulu Cookie Company cookies).
*Pro Tip: The Honolulu Cookie Company often has a secret codeword that you can say for a free cookie. So keep your ears alert while you’re perusing and sampling in the store!
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts
Out of all of the Hawaii souvenirs that I’ve recommended on this list, three of them are food. And there’s a reason for that. Hawaii has so many unique food products, as can be seen by the Hawaii Food Bucket List. So in my opinion, food is one of the best souvenirs from Hawaii that you can get.
Mauna Loa Macadamia Nuts in particularly are a fantastic souvenir to take back home from Hawaii. My favorite flavor is the honey roasted macadamia nuts, but the Kona coffee one is also very popular. You can find these macadamia nuts at any tourist shop on the island, such as the ubiquitous ABC Stores. But if you want to get the best price, head to the nearest Costco instead. Or, if you happen to be in Hilo on the Big Island, you can head directly to the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut farm!
Something Made of Koa Wood
Koa wood is a rare type of wood that can only be found in Hawaii. It has a warm, shining appearance that you just can’t stop admiring. The ancient Native Hawaiians recognized this and made everything from canoes to weapons from this sturdy, shining material.
Martin & MacArthur is the place to go if you want a Hawaii souvenir made out of Koa wood. It is a Hawaii-based company that focuses on making premier pieces of koa wood accessories and furniture. From handbags to iPhone covers to watches to coffee tables to beds, Martin & MacArthur pretty much has it all.
Many people nowadays claim to be coffee connoisseurs. Everyone has a fancy coffee set-up of some sort in their houses, so perhaps a bag or two of Kona coffee would be a perfect Hawaii souvenir. Kauai coffee and Waialua coffee are both great local alternatives as well.
Do you have any other ideas of great Hawaii souvenirs to take home? Write them below in the comments!
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