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Tuesday, January 22, 2013


My introduction to Hawaiian tourism:

Hilo Hattie
The biggest shirt ever made by Hilo Hattie

  1. Chances are you will fly into Oahu and Honolulu International Airport before leaving for another island.
  2.  Honolulu is often a stopover for tourists—two or three days before continuing on to another island, and each tourist type can have a great experience.  We stayed on Oahu for a week before moving on because we wanted to see and do it all!
  3. There are basically three types of tourists on Oahu: the shopper, the beach goer, and a less definable kind who wants it all!  Rob and I fall into that third category.  That’s the impossible one.

Before you head to Oahu, know thyself. You have more possibilities on this small island than you have in many other places, and you will have lots of choices to make.   Have a good idea which kind of tourist you are.  Know your choices, and choose wisely.

Let me first address the shopper. As our hotel was two blocks from the beach, we cross Kalakaua Ave.—just one block from the beach—to get there each time.  360° of shopping temptation.  Most likely your hotel will be within a block or two of Kalakaua Ave.  Most are!

Shopper, you have died and gone to heaven.  Kalakaua Avenue, named after King David Kalakaua, is the Worth Ave., the Rodeo Drive, and the Fifth Ave. of Oahu.  Luxury stores including Tiffany, Coach, Gucci, Chanel, and Hugo Boss are a hop, skip, and a jump from the beach and/or your hotel, so load up and drop of the packages with ease.

But that’s not all.  The DFS Gallery (Duty Free) is the place for Godiva, Vera Wang, Prada, and Armani, to name a few. (and conveniently a pick-up spot for many bus tours so you cannot miss going there)

But that’s not all.  The Royal Hawaiian Center in front of the Sheraton and Royal Hawaiian Hotels hosts over 100 shops including Fendi, Bulgari, and Cartier.

But that’s not all.  The International Market is an open air market of artisans, carts, and shops.  You can talk to the craftspeople in a bustling friendly atmosphere.

But that’s not all.  Remember you are in Waikiki.  The Waikiki Beach Walk is eight acres of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues that feature such stores among its 50 shops as Under the Koa Tree, and Hawaiian Quilt.  Entertainment in the plaza includes Hawaiian music and dancing, and the more than 16 dining establishments assure you will not starve. 

I haven’t even mentioned the many shops that are located in all the hotels along the beach!

If you like malls, the Ala Moana Mall is only a short bus/taxi/car ride and contains all the stores + Hawaiian shops that you could possibly wish for.

And there are several other malls as well out beyond Diamond Head.

You might ask how to get to the malls if you choose not to rent a car.  The Bus, Honolulu’s system makes sure that almost every bus it runs finds its way past Ala Moana.

Tour companies run special Shopping busses to make sure you don’t feel left out.  They stop in front of the major hotels and along Kalakaua Ave. as well as each of the malls.  The hotel stops guarantee you won’t have to worry about lugging unwieldy packages.  A shopper will definitely find Honolulu a paradise.

Along Kalakaua Ave., you will see an amazing number of Asian tourists, in particular, with loaded shopping bags from these stores.  Honolulu is an Asian-influenced city and a major destination for Asian visitors.  Japanese companies run shopping junkets to Hawaii.

My favorite store, however, is Hilo Hattie.  She did get me under her spell.

Hilo Hattie
Hilo Hattie was founded by Clarissa Haili (1901-1979), a schoolteacher turned actress turned entrepreneur whose company today is the largest retailer, manufacturer, and wholesaler of Hawaiian fashions and gifts.  Did you ever hear her hit songs, “Hilo Hattie Does the Hula Hop” or “Princess Pupule Has Plenty Papayas”? I giggle at these titles, but this lady used some of her money to give scholarships to the University of Hawaii for students to continue their education in Hawaiian Studies and Music.  Right there she gets my vote and piques my interest.

Hilo Hattie

More than 60,000,000 visitors have come to Hilo Hattie since 1963—and the store runs its OWN FREE BUS throughout Honolulu to bring shoppers!  Hilo Hattie is a destination in itself, and I fell under the Hilo Hattie spell at both the flagship store in Honolulu and then again on The Big Island!

As you enter, you are greeted by a lovely young woman who welcomes you with a shell lei.  Inside there are complimentary tastings, Kona coffee, sarong demonstrations, a snack bar featuring Dole Pineapple Whip (yummy) and Nathan’s franks (haha), historical displays, and customer lounges and chairs (this place is big).  Outside the women’s dressing room, for instance, there are plush chairs for the men—most tapping away on phones, iPads, etc. Hilo Hattie will ship your purchases World Wide at reasonable fees. (certainly cheaper than airline luggage overweight charges)  If you buy even a postcard, you can also buy the stamp.  All the tourist magazines have Hilo Hattie specials and discounts to lure us in.  The flagship store is on the way to the airport, but there are smaller Hilo Hattie stores in the malls and on the other islands as well.

While you can pick up the little inexpensive expected souvenirs, you can pay dearly for some lovely Hawaiian outfits.  The choices are many and for all budgets and for all sizes.  Come with your family, for instance, and everyone from the baby to the grandparent can buy matching outfits and make a heck of a family portrait.  

We bought several beautiful Aloha shirts as well as some other Hawaiian clothing including a dress I later wore for a special night out.  We met helpful staff, looked at the exhibits, picked up some postcards and some gifts for people back home, and we had a grand old time.

Hilo Hattie
In tour guides I’ve read both complimentary and derogatory comments about Hilo Hattie; the plusses were about the selections and fun, and the negatives blasted the incredible marketing, but the truth is I AM A TOURIST.  I want to see and do things I cannot do elsewhere.  If you have access at home to the other shops and malls I’ve mentioned, skip them in Honolulu and enjoy the Hawaiian experience.  I recommend Hilo Hatti above every place but one I’ve mentioned in this article.  On Kalakaua Ave., don’t miss the International Market Place because that, too, is unique.
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