Shop Hawai'i - 16 Hawaiian Gifts You'll Love to Buy

Updated on December 14, 2017
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Stephanie Launiu is a Native Hawaiian lifestyle & cultural writer. She has a degree in Hawaiian Pacific Studies. She lives on O'ahu.

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Distinctive Island Gifts You'll Love

Nobody can visit Hawai'i and return home empty-handed without gifts or souvenirs. It's just not possible. So before you actually get to Hawai'i, carefully plan your itinerary and where you will go when you hit the islands. If you leave your planning until the last minute or worse yet, don't do any planning at all, you will leave yourself open to tempting displays at stores or the advice of taxicab drivers, tour guides or hotel concierges.

Have a budget for how much you can afford to spend on gifts for yourself and others. Make a list of people you will be buying for while in the islands. Because of the fees that airlines now charge for extra baggage, I've tried to list items that can be packed into your bags without taking up too much space.

There are souvenirs that you may end up buying and taking home with you - Hawaiian calendars, key chains, refrigerator magnets, etc. I haven't included any of those types of souvenirs here.

If you visit the 'neighbor islands' - the Big Island, Maui, Kaua'i, Moloka'i, Lanai - be prepared to be delighted with special mom & pop stores or gift shops you may find there. Stick to your budget, but I would advise against trying to bargain the prices down. That's not normal practice in Hawai'i unless you're at a swap meet or farmers' market. And take cash with you when you shop in rural areas. Not every small shop will accept debit or credit cards.

If most of your shopping will be done in Honolulu, then you've got a lot of places to choose from. To find the best prices and largest assortment, you'll really need to get out of Waikiki. One of the biggest shopping venues is the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. Every tourist should take a few hours and check it out. You'll be amazed at the sheer numbers of vendors selling everything under the sun.

This hub really isn't about where to go shopping in Honolulu, but rather what types of gifts evoke the spirit of Hawai'i and will keep Hawai'i alive in your heart and home.

And if you're not even in Hawai'i when you read this, there are lots of websites and online shopping venues for you to bring Hawai'i home to you.

Some gifts that should be on your Hawaiian Gifts list are:

  • Aloha Wear
  • Artwork
  • Chinese Seeds
  • Coconut Oil
  • Coffee
  • Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry
  • Hawaiian Music
  • Hawaiian Quilting
  • Hawaiian Sea Salt
  • Hawaiiana Books
  • Island Jewelry
  • Koa Wood items
  • Lauhala items
  • Macadamia Nuts
  • T-Shirts
  • Ukulele

Matching family aloha wear is popular in the islands.
Matching family aloha wear is popular in the islands. | Source

1. Aloha Wear – The Aloha Shirt has been around for more than 75 years. The woman’s Hawaiian dress, or mu’umu’u, has origins dating back to the ‘Mother Hubbard’ dresses of the New England missionaries. Aloha Wear has evolved into popular styles made with tropical prints and is available in a wide range of styles and sizes with prices to fit every budget. Family wear is common with matching styles and prints for parents and children. You'll definitely want to buy some aloha wear to relax in while in the islands and if you go to a luau. Easy to roll up and pack in your bags.

You can buy aloha wear in lots of places and in a wide range of prices. WalMart and Target carry aloha wear, and I've found amazing bargains on brand new mu'umu'u's at thrift stores too. A few trending brands of aloha wear are Hilo Hattie's, Manuheali'i, Mamo Howell, Sig Zane, Princess Ka'iulani and Kahala.

Aloha Wear is part of everyday island life.
Aloha Wear is part of everyday island life. | Source
Dietrich Varez is an artist who lives near Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island.
Dietrich Varez is an artist who lives near Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island. | Source

2. Artwork – Perhaps it is the aura of island life that inspires, but there are a lot of extremely talented artisans in Hawai'i. There are a wide variety of very affordable mediums for shoppers to take home with them – posters that roll up, 8 x 10 original oils, reproductions of classic retro-Hawai'i prints. There is also a plethora of multi-cultural handmade crafts that a shopper will find at craft fairs, flea markets, farmers' markets, swap meets, and you may even find some hidden gems at garage sales. If the artwork won't lay flat in your bags, you may want to consider mailing it home ahead of your departure. That might cost less than the added airline fees would be for checking it as baggage.

One of Hawai'i's most unique Hawaiiana artists is Dietrich Varez who came to Hawai'i as a young child. Known mostly for his block prints, Varez lives in a secluded rain forest near Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. He prints and signs each image that is created in reverse from handcarved linoleum blocks; he refuses to number his prints; and he keeps his prices incredibly low for today's market. He focuses his art on bringing to life the Hawai'i of old "when spirits were in every tree and rock, and gods walked the earth".

There are just too many wonderful artists to name them all. A few well-known Hawai'i artists include Kathy Long, Herb Kawainui Kane and Diana Hansen Young. There are also numerous art galleries on every island and most of them have websites where you can browse and buy online.

Pa'u Riders of Old Hawai'i by the artist Herb Kawainui Kane.
Pa'u Riders of Old Hawai'i by the artist Herb Kawainui Kane.
There are still a few "crack seed" stores in the islands.  Most people buy their Chinese seeds from grocery and drug stores.
There are still a few "crack seed" stores in the islands. Most people buy their Chinese seeds from grocery and drug stores. | Source

3. Chinese Seeds – The first foreigners brought to work in Hawai'i’s sugar plantations in the 19th century were the Chinese. The culture they brought with them has become an important part of the local culture of Hawai'i today. Chinese seeds are dried and salted fruit seeds that are beloved by local people in Hawai'i. Many strip malls have ‘seed shops’ that display large glass containers packed full of dried fruit seeds: li hing mui, salt plum, salt lemon, pickled mango, crack seed, and more. They are also sold in grocery stores, drug stores, and even Walmart. Inexpensive and easy to pack, Chinese seeds are a unique taste of Hawai'i.

Coconut oil is used for health purposes, skincare, and cooking
Coconut oil is used for health purposes, skincare, and cooking | Source

4. Coconut Oil – Once you’ve cooked with coconut oil, you won’t want to use anything else. Infused with the delicious nutty flavor of the Hawaiian staple – coconut – the oil can help to make flaky pie crusts, tastes great drizzled on popcorn, and has a myriad of uses. A thoughtful gift for a vegan friend. Be sure to put into a zip lock bag & pack in checked luggage. If you put this into a carry-on, you'll get stopped going through security because it's a liquid.

There are also body lotions, body butter, shower gels, sunscreens, hair products and other beauty items that are infused with coconut. The smell of coconut is one scent that immediately transports you back to the islands.

This is a great resource for making your own lotion using coconut oil.
This is a great resource for making your own lotion using coconut oil. | Source
Kona coffee beans
Kona coffee beans | Source

5. Coffee – Hawai'i is the only U.S. state where coffee is grown and harvested. The best known Hawaiian coffee is Kona Coffee grown in the Kona district on the Big Island of Hawai'i. But if you're a java fan, you'll be pleased to know that there are more than 700 farms in Hawai'i growing specialty coffees that you might want to try as well. Besides Kona Coffee, the Big Island also produces Ka'u Coffee grown on the slopes of Mauna Loa, Puna Coffee grown in the Puna District, and Hamakua Coffee from the Hamakua District. The Kaua'i Coffee Company sells 100% Kaua'i-grown coffee.There are farms growing Maui Coffee as well as Moloka'i Coffee. Waialua Estate Coffee is grown on the North Shore of Oahu.

No need to travel to every island to buy these coffees; all are available in specialty stores in Honolulu or you can buy online as well. All of the individual coffee farms have websites, you just need to surf the web to find them.

100% Maui Coffee
100% Maui Coffee | Source

6. Hawaiian Heirloom Jewelry – With its origins dating back to Hawai'i’s monarchy, 14K gold jewelry with black enamel inlays are known as “Hawaiian heirloom jewelry”. Traditionally, the woman’s Hawaiian name is written in black on gold. Hawaiian bracelets, earrings, and pendants are sought after gifts that every island woman wants in her jewelry box (or under the Christmas tree).

There are several companies that produce Hawaiian heirloom jewelry. Prices can range from under $25 for earrings and pendants, to hundreds of dollars for bracelets and rings. As usual, shop around to get the best price. Warning: I've seen cheaper renditions of Hawaiian jewelry that you can find at swap meets or discount stores. The black enamel that is used to inlay a person's name on gold may peel off in these cheap copies, so beware if prices seem too low.

7. Hawaiian Music CD’s – Traditional Hawaiian music is often characterized by unique falsetto voices and ukuleles in the background. “Ki ho’alu” is slack key guitar played with unique Hawaiian tuning. “Jawaiian” is a modern mix of Jamaican reggae and Hawaiian music. There are dozens of well-known Hawaiian music artists on the local island scene. There is now a Grammy Award category for Hawaiian Music. Traditional Hawaiian music is a stress reliever that can bring the mood of the islands into your home, or into your car on those long work commutes.

8. Hawaiian Quilting – When the New England missionaries came to bring Christianity to the Hawaiians in the 19th century, they brought with them their quilts and comforters to make their newfound homes feel like the homes they would never see again.

The Hawaiians were taught how to quilt, and created a unique form of quilting using appliqué motifs based on tropical flowers, plants and island themes. A handmade Hawaiian “kapa” (quilt) can cost thousands of dollars and take months to complete, but there are many smaller examples of Hawaiian quilted gifts that are affordable and easy to pack: placemats, framed pieces, pillow shams, purses, quilt patterns, potholders and more.

You can buy Hawaiian sea salt varieties at grocery stores in the islands.
You can buy Hawaiian sea salt varieties at grocery stores in the islands. | Source

9. Hawaiian Sea Salt – Sea salt is harvested from the oceans surrounding Hawai'i. Sold in its original flavor along with other sea salt varieties that have been mixed with garlic, hot peppers, and other spices. Mild-flavored sea salt is excellent for meat rubs and in marinades. Inexpensive and easy to pack.

Native Hawaiians have traditionally used 'alaea, uniquely red sea salt, in purification ceremonies and to bless places and events.

For a uniquely Hawaiian gift, the Bible has been translated into the Hawaiian language.
For a uniquely Hawaiian gift, the Bible has been translated into the Hawaiian language. | Source

10. Hawaiiana Books – Books about Hawai'i make a really special gift. Hawaiian history, the Hawaiian monarchy, myths and legends, coffee table books with stunning photos, learning the Hawaiian language, the Hula or Hawaiian dance, Kilauea (the volcano) – just a few of the subjects in the Hawaiiana section of any bookstore.

An excellent source of books written by and about Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Peoples, is Na Mea Hawaii, a wonderful little bookstore and giftshop in Honolulu. They also have a very nice website that you can order from.

Niihau shell leis
Niihau shell leis

11. Island Jewelry – Most island jewelry is either inspired by nature or is a naturally-formed object mounted and worn as jewelry. The Tahitian Pearl has a rare and lustrous gray color. Opihi Shell – the shell of a mollusk – can be made into a large stunning pendant or choker.

The extremely rare and desirable Ni’ihau Shell necklaces or earrings - the necklaces are too pricey for most shoppers but earrings are still affordable for many. Ni’ihau shells are tiny white shells that are only found on Ni’ihau, a privately-owned Hawaiian island where no one can go without an invitation. These shells are so small, it takes thousands to make one necklace.

Lauhala hat
Lauhala hat | Source
Hand-carved koa wood bowl deserves a treasured place in your home or office
Hand-carved koa wood bowl deserves a treasured place in your home or office | Source

12. Koa Wood – Koa trees are endemic to Hawai'i; they are not found anywhere else in the world. Koa wood is a prized hardwood and is carved by skilled craftsmen. An item made from koa deserves a place of prominence in home or office. With its beautiful grain, no two koa items are ever identical. Koa gift items include small bowls and plates, writing pens, picture frames, letter openers, flower vases and more.

13. Lauhala – The hala, or pandanus tree is known in Hawai'i for its leaves. “Lauhala” means ‘leaves of the hala’. Skilled weavers collect the leaves, remove spiny thorns, soak the leaves, and soften them until the leaves are ready to be woven. Items made from soft woven lauhala are especially treasured in Hawai'i; the smaller the weave the more expensive the item. Gift items include hats, wallets, purses, placemats, and even custom items like woven blouses.

Macadamia nut candy is an inexpensive gift from Hawai'i that will delight your friends and family.
Macadamia nut candy is an inexpensive gift from Hawai'i that will delight your friends and family.

14. Macadamia Nuts – 100% of the macadamia nuts grown in Hawai'i are grown on the Big Island of Hawai'i. These luscious Hawaiian nuts are sold unsalted or salted, dipped in caramel and drenched in milk chocolate, or permeated with other yummy flavors like garlic.There are no shortage of retail outlets that sell macadamia nuts and macadamia nut candy. Nobody should leave Hawai'i’s shores without some macadamia nut goodies tucked in their luggage.


15. T-Shirts – Normally, t-shirts would be considered a cheap souvenir gift when time, money and imagination are in short supply. But T-shirts in Hawai'i are part of the island landscape; everybody wears them in this land of sunny weather. T-shirts are a celebration of life in Hawai'i. Adults and children should take home at least one.

16. Ukulele – This four-stringed musical instrument won’t pack into a suitcase, but it is light and easy to carry onto a plane in a hard or soft ukulele case. Made of warm-toned island woods, the sound of an ukulele being strummed will evoke memories of your Hawaiian vacation. You can also mail it home ahead of your departure for less than it would take to check another box on the airplane.

One of the most well-known brands of ukulele are the Kamaka Ukulele, a family business founded by Sam Kamaka Sr. in 1916 when Hawai'i was still a U.S. Territory. Their exquisite craftsmanship in transforming rough koa wood into a superb musical instrument is truly awe-inspiring.

Click to read the Ukulele Buying Guide
Click to read the Ukulele Buying Guide | Source

© 2012 Stephanie Launiu

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    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 6 months ago from Hawai'i

      @Soul Searcher: You can do a Google search for "Hawaiian heirloom jewelry" or "Hawaiian heritage jewelry" and there will be several sources listed. Also, several have websites that you can order from if you live outside of Hawai'i. Mahalo and I hope you find the perfect bracelet you are looking for. Aloha, Stephanie

    • profile image

      Soul Searcher 6 months ago

      Do you have a specific place where I can get the bracelets?

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 2 years ago from Hawai'i

      Thank you @YoLex. I see you live in faraway Scotland. Our beloved princess Ka'iulani was half Scottish so Hawaii's connection with Scotland goes back a long time. I hope you can get your ukulele soon and begin strumming. Aloha, Stephanie

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 2 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi. I loved my trip t0 Hawaii and bought most of the souvenirs you talked about. I mailed my granddaughter her ukulele home and she got it before I got home from the trip. Good hub, stella

    • profile image

      YoLex 2 years ago

      I can't wait to get myself a ukelele from Hawaii! But first i'll have to learn to play it :) Great hub!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 2 years ago from Hawai'i

      Thank you @Thomasjames1992! Let me know when you are heading to the islands. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Thomasjames1992 profile image

      Thomas James 2 years ago from London

      Great hub! Id love to visit there one day!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 3 years ago from Hawai'i

      Enjoy your Hawaiian vacation, and if you have any questions about anything in Hawaii just send me a message. Aloha, Stephanie

    • pmarinov profile image

      Blogger at Best 3 years ago from Detroit MI

      My wife and I will be going on vacation there in less than three months, so these are some great ideas.

      Thanks a lot great hub

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      Iʻm glad you found the hub helpful! Mele Kalikimaka a me ka Hauʻoli Makahiki Hou...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



    • Express10 profile image

      H C Palting 4 years ago from East Coast

      This is an awesome hub. I already had a few items in mind, but you've given me several more wonderful ideas.

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 4 years ago from Hawai'i

      @billybuc - I do hope you get to visit soon enough. It's such a small world. Your father in law lives on Oahu and 2 of my sons live in Puyallup. When we visited last year I was equally amazed at the bounty of the American Northwest. Aloha, Stephanie

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My wife's father lives on Oahu, and we get a care package from him several times a year and believe me, it is always a reason for celebration. I hope to one day visit your fine state.

      Aloha my friend


    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      You're only a 5 hour flight away! Sounds like you're ready for a vacation and I do hope you get to visit soon. Aloha, Stephanie

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      I have never seen Chinese watermelon seeds for sale, but I do think that they were eaten in traditional Chinese culture. So maybe in Chinatown... The best watermelon I ever ate was a few months ago I picked up a "Thailand" watermelon at a farmers market here. Miniature sized and with yellow meat instead of pink. I ate the whole thing myself! It was super sweet and hardly any seeds. Anyway, I hope you get to come on vacation sometime. Aloha, Stephanie

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 5 years ago from Northern California

      Your article makes me want to pack my bags and go shopping in the Hawaiian Islands. I love Aloha wear . The coconut oil idea sounds tasty plus macamadia nuts are a definite item to buy. Oh for some warm weather too!

    • BkCreative profile image

      BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

      Oh there is so much to buy and I want it all. I wonder if the Chinese seeds include watermelon seeds. It's hard now in NYC to buy a watermelon with those big black seeds but I've read about how nutritious they are and also how Chinese people have long enjoyed them. They are filled with nutrition.

      Thanks for many great hubs. I'm going to follow because just reading your hubs makes me feel like I am on vacation. Lovely!

    • profile image

      tindercd 5 years ago

      My dad always brings me home coffee. The coffee is amazing. I plan on going when my vacation fund hits the top so I'll keep this list in mind! I'm especially interested in Lauhala and Koa Wood. I most definitey will have something made out of each! Great hub!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      @chrisinhawaii: Will definitely be looking for your next hub! And if I'm in the area, I'll definitely check out the Kapolei McD. Live on the Waianae Coast and am in Kapolei quite a bit. Aloha!

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 5 years ago

      "secret weapon" haha! That's it! Nothing says "Aloha!" like a big bowl of chili before going on a 6-hour plane flight back to the Mainland.

      I was actually thinking of doing a hub about where tourists should go eat as soon as they get their bags and leave the airport (Honolulu)...Byron's Drive-In comes to mind. And of course, "Next...Stop...Zippy's"

      If you're ever out on the Leeward side, you'll probly find me hubbin' at Ewa or Kapolei McD, sippin' on my 10th free refill. =) Shoots den. Aloha!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      @Angela Brummer: Thank you so much Angela for sparking a 'movement' for sharing of Hubs.I will be much more apt to share hubs I read just because you reminded me to.

      @lovedoctor926: I do hope you'll be able to visit Hawaii soon enough. Keep reading my hubs so that you will feel as if you are in a familiar place when you finally get here. Aloha!

      @bdegiulio: Mahalo for your kind compliments on my Hubs, and would love your ideas on any Hawaiian subject you'd like to read more about.

      @chrisinhawaii: Come on chrisinhawaii, Zippy's was supposed to be our little secret, or at least our secret weapon. OK, maybe I'll do a hub on Zippy's, but then I'll have to eat there first before I start writing, and now you've made me ono for their chili. Mahalo, though, for reading my hub and voting me up! See ya around, no?

    • profile image

      chrisinhawaii 5 years ago

      But auntie, where they gonna pack da Zippy's chili? Even if it opens and spills all over their clothes...still good, right? Just gotta suck 'em...

      Seriously, though, I think this is a very nicely written hub, and I'm happy to vote up, useful, and awesome. And I will click "share" for my facebook friends as well.


    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 5 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi there hawaiian Scribe. Another great informative Hub on the Aloha State. This is great advice for anyone visiting the Islands and wondering what to bring back for gifts and souvenirs. Thank You.

    • profile image

      lovedoctor926 5 years ago

      This is a very well-presented hub. Thanks for sharing.

      Hawaii is beautiful! This is another one of my must see places. I agree with you. It's hard to visit a destination as gorgeous as this one leave empty-handed. It's so much fun to go shopping when you are on vacation and buy souvenirs for family and friends. There's nothing like sipping a cool refreshing drink while listening to some Bohemian rhapsodies.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      I hope I get the chance to visit one day and bring along this article to purchase gifts.

      This article has been shared on Stumble, Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Reddit and my hub following.


      If you can share mine: Margarita pedicure and Corn hole, It would be appreciated. And feel free to contact the others and the list to share article sharing!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      @Sparrowlet: Mahalo for the compliment! I do hope you get to Hawaii for a visit soon! I admire the fact that you are a published poet and look forward to reading over your hubs. Aloha!

    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      This is a wonderful hub! Your suggestions are terrific, and I hope I will be able to use them on a trip to Hawaii one day!

    • Hawaiian Scribe profile image

      Stephanie Launiu 5 years ago from Hawai'i

      @hawaiianodysseus: Mahalo nui! Will be on the lookout for new hubs that you post. We have 2 of our boys living in Puyallup & just went to Washington the first time last summer. We liked it! Happy writing and aloha..

    • hawaiianodysseus profile image

      Hawaiian Odysseus 5 years ago from Southeast Washington state

      Mahalo, Hawaiian Scribe, for the most informative article. Being a transplanted Kauaian who occasionally makes a trip back home to Kapa'a and Wailua Homesteads area, and with a haole wife and hapa-haole adult children with lots of friends here in the Pacific Northwest, I found this Hub very useful in regards to how we can best utilize our limited baggage allotment to pack our island souvenirs. You've taken a simple concept, one that's taken for granted, quite frankly, and created an invaluable Hub for the rest of us to enjoy. Will be linking and sharing with my various circles. Thanks, and continued success!

      Voted up, useful, beautiful, and interesting.