The best places to shop in Hawai'i

18 July 2017

Because even the most dedicated sun-worshipper can only spend so much time on the beach, here's a guide to Hawai'i's best shopping, in Honolulu and beyond.

Waikele Outlets, O'ahu. Photo: supplied

Bargains

Forget what you think you know about outlet shopping – US outlet stores are miles ahead of those you'll find at home. Not only will you find a much bigger range, from basics to luxury brands, you'll save a heck of a lot more too. The huge Waikele Outlets mall is the top choice for bargain hunters in Hawai'i, with more than 60 outlet retailers including Calvin Klein, Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade, plus an open-air food pavilion. It's open until 9pm Monday-Friday (to 6pm on Sundays) so you can head there after a day at the beach, but be aware Waikele is around half an hour from Waikiki. Drive yourself, or hop on the Roberts Hawaii shuttle (approx US$18 round trip) which leaves from hotels along Waikiki Beach at 9am and 10am every morning. Another good bargain shopping option is Ward Village Shops in the Kaka'ako area of Honolulu. This huge complex isn't solely devoted to outlet shopping, but it's included here thanks to its popular discount stores like Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx and Ross Dress for Less. For more on Ward Village, read on.

The Ala Moana Center, Honolulu. Photo: supplied

Shopping malls

Luckily for dedicated shoppers, the two best shopping malls in Honolulu are placed right next to each other. Ten minutes' drive from central Waikiki is the Ala Moana Center, Hawai'i's largest shopping mall – and the largest open-air shopping mall in the world. Even for non-shoppers, Ala Moana is a pleasant place to while away a couple of hours, with plenty of shady trees, two large koi carp ponds and daily hula dancing performances. Among the centre's 340 stores and restaurants are retailers like Gap, Forever 21 and Foot Locker; the huge Makai Market food court serves everything from pizza and subs to Hawaiian poke (raw fish salad) and shave ice dessert. 

Across the road from Ala Moana are the Ward Village Shops, a sprawling open air retail complex. You'll find major retailers here, but most stores are independently owned and operated, making this a great place to pick up souvenirs. Don't leave without checking out the newly opened South Shore Market, a stylish mix of fashion stores and eateries modelled on places like Auckland's Ponsonby Central and New York's Chelsea Market.

Waikiki. Photo: Pixabay

Waikiki

If you're visiting Honolulu, you're almost certainly staying in Waikiki. And if you're staying in Waikiki, you're going to go shopping. With every major US brand from Apple to Zara arrayed along Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki's main drag, how could you not? Pick up those 'not available in New Zealand' cosmetics at Sephora or, if your wallet can handle it, drop some serious cash on Luxury Row, the stretch of Kalakaua Ave that's home to Miu Miu, Chanel, Tiffany, Hugo Boss, Gucci and more. Past visitors to Honolulu may be disappointed to learn that the charmingly tacky International Market Place, a Waikiki mainstay since 1957, has been replaced with a new three-level shopping centre featuring mostly high-end brands. Yes, it's another big shopping mall – and Honolulu isn't short of those – but this one has (Astroturf) lawns and lots of seating and outdoor shade, a godsend on a hot day. 

Nā Mea Hawaiʻi, Honolulu. Photo: supplied

Quality souvenirs

Anyone serious about finding quality locally-made goods should try to visit Honolulu's Na Mea Hawai'i. This bookstore, gift shop and community hub at Ward Village Shops is dedicated to authentic products designed and made in Hawai'i, from brightly coloured Ni'ihau shell jewellery to local crafts, clothing and food. Another great place for authentic souvenirs is the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet, held three times a week at the Aloha Stadium, a 20-minute drive from downtown. Here you'll find hundreds of stalls – lots of standard cheapo market fare, but also handcrafts and other local products. This is a good place to buy a ukulele (top tip: the super-cheap ones you can buy at ABC stores in Waikiki are only good as children's toys, not musical instruments). If you'd rather buy a ukulele from a bricks-and-mortar store, try Hawai'i Music Supply or Ukulele Pua Pua.

The Front Street shops at Lahaina, Maui. Photo: Hawai'i Tourism Authority

Beyond Honolulu

Farmers and craft markets are always a good bet for authentic souvenirs and gifts. On O'ahu, two of the best are the Sunday market in Kailua township and the Thursday market at Waimea Valley on the North Shore. These charming markets are a good reason, should you need it, to get out of Honolulu during your Hawai'i visit – you don't even need a car for beautiful, laidback Kailua, which is easily accessible by bus.

If you're staying on Maui, try the independently run stores along Front Street in Lahaina, or ferret out a bargain at the Maui Swap Meet, held every Saturday morning in Kahului. Maui is also home to plenty of brand name stores: for hardcore retail therapy, try the 100-store Queen Ka’ahumanu Center or the luxury names at The Shops at Wailea.

Catherine McGregor

Catherine McGregor is a New Zealand-born, New York-based writer and web editor. She is the former digital editor at Auckland's Metro, where she managed the magazine's online presence while writing about food, culture and travel. Her travel bucket list includes Petra, Jordan; Yosemite National Park, United States; and Kyoto, Japan.