From Oahu’s Chinatown art district to Kauai’s red dirt-tinged small towns, you’ll find unique gifts and products grounded in Hawaii while appealing to the worldliest of travelers. Here are some of our favorite neighborhoods across the Islands sorted by style for your next shopping trip.
Honolulu’s Chinatown is known for more than good food; it’s also home to a variety of eclectic shops.
For the artsy: Chinatown, Oahu
One of America’s most diverse Chinatowns, this neighborhood also has Honolulu’s densest concentration of shops at the intersection of hip and cultural. Take Sig on Smith where Sig and Kuhao Zane offer modern-styled aloha shirts that ditch designs based on outsider’s impressions of Hawaii in favor of celebrating Native Hawaiian traditions. Themes have included rain prints — the Hawaiian language has more than 200 words for rain — and kinolau, plants significant to hula. Arts & Letters Nuuanu is part gallery, part bookstore, focusing on books on Native Hawaiian culture and those written in or translated into olelo Hawaii, or Hawaiian. You’ll find everything from the Bible in olelo Hawaii to a cookbook of Hawaiian seaweed. At the Downtown Art Center, you can purchase pieces from local artists showcased in the exhibitions, while a store on the ground floor offers work by local ceramicists, sculptors, painters and more.
Oahu’s windward beach town of Kailua is walkable and filled with unique shops.
For the free spirits: Kailua, Oahu
Befitting its beach town reputation, independent boutiques throughout Kailua evoke relaxed vibes, such as the bohemian Island Bungalow with breezy dresses and linens block-printed with papayas or banana leaves. The Lauren Roth Art gallery features the artist’s vibrant and lively watercolors, conjuring tropical flowers with a touch of psychedelia, as prints or home goods. At one of the newest shops, Gillia, racks of gauzy kaftans and other beachwear seem to just float off their hangers.
Kailua is also home to Manoa Chocolate, one of Hawaii’s largest bean-to-bar chocolate makers, where bars are made with Hawaii-grown cacao or infused with mango or local rum. Sign up for a tour to learn how chocolate is made, and before choosing which bars to take home, taste the single-origin chocolates side by side to fully appreciate the differences between regions, such as the fruitiness in a bar made with beans from Mililani, Oahu, and the caramel and hazelnut notes in a bar with Kona, Hawaii Island beans.
A stone’s throw from the North Shore’s best surf spots, Haleiwa has shops to satisfy every wave-seeker.
For the surfers: Haleiwa and Wahiawa, Oahu
Haleiwa serves as the hub of the North Shore surfing community — browse its surf shops and boutiques for all things surf. Stop by Surf ‘N’ Sea Hawaii’s oldest surf shop, dating back to 1965, for logo wear like a tank imprinted with “Happiness Comes in Waves,” plus leashes and wax and everything you need to get your board in the water. Polu Gallery features local and international artists with works inspired by surf culture, from dreamy watercolors of the perfect left to manga-inspired, whimsical wave-riding. The Clark Little gallery showcases the O‘ahu ocean photographer’s photographs of the power and grace of Hawaii’s shorebreak.
On your way to Haleiwa from Honolulu, make sure to stop in Wahiawa. The main strip of the once sleepy town is now home to cafes, vintage stores, and an excellent surf shop, SantoLoco. You’ll find surfboards in retro-styled shapes, including single-fin longboards shaped close by, plus stylish fins made on the north shore of Oahu.
After your shopping spree, check out the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge on the west side of town.
For the treasure hunters: Hanapepe, Kauai
Charming Hanapepe, with its tin-roofed wooden houses and swinging bridge, is home to Talk Story Bookstore packed with Hawaiiana titles, vintage, out-of-print island cookbooks and even “The Little Prince”, translated into Hawaiian. Blu Umi stocks easily packable tchotchkes, like limited-edition pins of endemic and endangered birds, including the elepaio, said to be the first bird (among the native species) to sing in the morning and the last to cease at night.
Hawaii Island’s creative minds have storefronts in the walkable downtown of Hilo.
For stylish locavores: Hilo, Hawaii Island
The Locavore Store in the laidback downtown Hilo fronting Hilo Bay doesn’t look like any other grocery store anywhere. Where elsewhere there would be only one type of banana, here there are bananas in shades of the sunset and some a dusty, pale blue. You’ll likely see tropical fruit you’ve never seen before. The store sources from more than 100 farmers and food makers, primarily on Hawaii Island— take home local goat cheese, loaves made with ulu (breadfruit), dried tropical fruits, macadamia nut flour, cocktail syrups and so much more. Hilo is also home to the original Sig Zane Designs, which opened in 1985, among the first to showcase Native Hawaiian culture in modern aloha wear. Sig Zane paved the way for newer designers, such as Sharayah Chun-Lai, whose Ola Hou Designs boutique includes jumpsuits patterned after Hawaiian quilts and takes hue cues from the pueo, Hawaii’s endemic owl. Hana Hou keeps the old traditions alive by showcasing the craft of skilled Hawaii and Pacific weavers in woven goods such as papale (crownless hats) made with Hawaii-grown lauhala.
Shopping in Wailuku has extra perks, with Iao Valley State Monument just around the corner.
For the curious wanderers: take some detours on Hawaii Island
Not many visitors wander into Wailuku, near the airport — most people are eager to go straight from the tarmac to the beach. But in recent years, Wailuku has sprouted new restaurants, bars, and boutiques. The gallery-like Native Intelligence sells crafts by native Hawaiian artisans, from delicate feather and fragrant flower lei to ipu heke (an instrument used in hula) to soaps inspired by traditional Hawaiian medicine and redolent with white ginger or olena (turmeric). Refuel at Wailuku Coffee Company and also pick up locally grown coffee, Hawaiian honey and mamaki leaf tisane, made with the endemic plant used in Native Hawaiian medicine.
Note: Due to web limitations, the use of diacritics in the Hawaiian language are omitted from this article.