For every friend or relative who would love nothing more than if you would bring back one of those wiggling hula girl dashboard ornaments as a souvenir, there is another whose discriminating taste makes shopping for souvenirs a nightmare. Here are some suggestions to help you find the perfect gift for each and every person on your list.
Repeat after me. Hilo Hattie is not your friend. I know the ads look tempting, with their free shuttle buses, complimentary puka bead necklaces, and kona coffee samples at the door. Look if you must, but don't succumb to that tourist temptation! You can do a lot better elsewhere, either on price or quality, for just about every category of gift.
The place to buy candy, coffee, and macadamia nuts is Long's Drugstore. There's one in the Ala Moana mall - I'm sure your concierge can help you find another. They have the same Hawaiian Host chocolate-coated macadamia nuts as the ABC stores and the gift shops at 2/3 the cost. Their coffee is less than half the price of the identical coffee at Hilo Hatties. They also have cute, cheap little doodads, like post-it notes in the shape of Hawaiian shirts.
What is it about Kona Coffee?
Kona Coffee really does have a unique, identifiable taste that is unlike any other coffee I've ever tasted. I hope my husband will forgive me for admitting publicly that I am hopelessly in love with it. Interestingly, though, it actually tastes better when blended with the regular stuff. One brand I really enjoyed is Hawaiian Isles Kona Coffee Co. Their "Kona Classic" blend comes in regular and decaf, and is reasonably priced. I wouldn't bother with their flavored coffees. The very thought is heresy to my ears! If you are buying gifts for a really discriminating coffee drinker, you could bring home the pure stuff, but expect to pay 3-4 times as much for the same 10oz. bag. The really good stuff is Kona Peaberry, so named for a growing phenomenon in which only one bean forms in the coffee "cherry" instead of the usual two. The lone bean is thus twice as flavorful, and so is the coffee.
Stuff You can Wear
There aren't many wearable bargains to be had in Honolulu, so you may as well splurge and get something really nice. Tommy Bahama sells expensive but well-made items, specializing in silks. We picked up a necktie with a very small, subtle hula dancer pattern and a gorgeous silk scarf with a palm and floral motif there. They also sell clothing, sandals, and bathing suits galore. (one location is the Hilton Hawaiian Village shopping center).
Perhaps my favorite store in all Hawaii is Crazy Shirts. Their stores can be found in every city and major shopping mall on the islands. They're not cheap, but the shirts are very good quality and absolutely bursting with creative, interesting, stylish designs. Each store has a slightly different sub-set of their vast inventory. Many designs will include the name of the island somewhere, so you can get one for each island you visit on your trip! I really loved Crazy Shirts because of their womens' section, where you can find cute, feminine tank tops and "mini crews": shorter t-shirts that fit snugger and have thinner hems and collars than their male counterparts. (sample locations: Hilton Hawaiian Village shopping center, Ala Moana mall, Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki).
Music to Go
As I mentioned in my Pearl Harbor journal, the gift shop there has wonderful CDs of 40's era music for sale. They weren't cheap, but the money went to a good cause. You could also stop by the Ala Moana mall and pick up a copy of Keali'i Reichel's Kawaipunahele, an immensely popular collection of both traditional and contemporary songs. If you can get past his predilection for wearing loincloths on his album covers, you'll enjoy his hauntingly beautiful voice - at least when he's not singing in English. Trust me, just hit the "skip" button if you happen to recognize an English word. You won't regret it. Also available on Amazon.com if you can't be bothered to hit a record store during your vacation! (I bought mine in the airport.)
The musician in your life might appreciate the gift of a ukelele. There are some really beautiful ones in a shop in the lobby of the Hilton Hawaiian Village's brand new Kalia Tower. And what's more, the staff actually know the difference between the $50 ukelele and the $300 one, and can help you decide which one to buy. The Aloha Tower Marketplace also has a ukelele store, but it's not as nice.
Pineapples and More
A really fun place to shop for souvenirs is the Dole Pineapple Plantation. It's quite a ways out of town, but if you're heading toward Haleiwa (remind me to add a link to that entry when I write my Oahu journal), it's a great place to stop, cool off, and shop till you drop. They have a vast collection of nostalgic designs on everything from golf towels to postcards to baseball caps. Many are based on old Hawaiian postcards - others feature old Dole logos and can labels from years gone by. You can also have pineapples shipped just about anywhere. While you're there, there's a wonderful (but crowded!) snack counter, where you can taste just about any combination of pineapple, sugar, and macadamia ever invented by the human mind. My favorite is Dole Whip, a creamy fat-free non-dairy soft frozen yogurt which literally melts in your mouth. Delicious!