Retail therapy in O'ahu, Hawai'i


The idea that the Hawai’ian Islands only follows the tourism grail of holiday resorts, sandy bars and tropical pursuits, rolled out with the high tide on Waikiki Beach a long time ago. Far removed from the sunshine and surf (well almost) is another pleasure activity – shopping, especially on the island of O’ahu. These days, the beat of Waikiki is all about retail reinvention and rejuvenation, where great dining venues and designer boutiques now fuel the credit card excitement as much as the hibiscus-print shirts, flip flops, macadamia nuts and rows of coconut oil of yesteryear.

In fact, one of the hallmarks of the Hawai’ian Islands is the freedom of design and taste in everyday things. Anything and everything is considered de rigueur in this tropical paradise.

From Waikiki to Nirvana

Of course, Waikiki’s famed Kalakaua Avenue remains a shopper’s paradise of sensibilities and island kitsch, but the rush to improve the oceanfront boulevard’s retail line up has transformed this sun-kissed strip into the soul of insignia shopping for jetsetters.

For diehard fashionistas, the hottest ticket is found at Luxury Row – and not just for the tourists. With more than 10,312 square metres of retail therapy – Chanel, Hugo Boss, Bottega Veneta, Miu Miu, Saint Laurent and Tiffany & Co.,for starters, many visitors will be more than intent on leaving their stamp at the cash registers.


Another great shopping venue is located at the Royal Hawaiian Center, a massive complex that wraps around four floors. Here you can leave your zinc cream on and shop at one of the sporting or surf stores, purchase island gifts at Beach Cabana, browse at Apple (or use their WiFi), toss away the Pucci shirt in favour of a hot pink caftan or chevron knit at Calypso St. Barth and Tory Burch, buy a signature Karl Lagerfeld dress from Fendi’s ready-to-wear rack, ogle the bags at Hermès or the eye-popping baubles at Harry Winston or Cartier – even the lads’ penchant for chrome isn’t forgotten at Harley Davidson. But don’t think the Center is all about retail therapy. When the sun melts into Waikiki Beach’s blue horizon, you can learn a few hula moves amid tiki torches and beating drums during the nightly Polynesian festivities as you enjoy a taste of the local cuisine or hear the soft Hawai’ian songs by recording artist Ku’uipo Kumukahi at her Friday Aloha performances.

The Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa has opened the Pualeilani Atrium Shops, and has expanded its offerings with the Waikiki Farmers Market on Tuesday and Thursday from 4pm, selling everything from fresh fruits to exquisite products from local artisans. On Fridays, don’t miss the Aloha Friday activities, with lei making, hula lessons and the Samoan Fire Knife dance.

Regardless of where you shop in Honolulu, you will still have plenty of opportunities to hunt down some great bargains.

A great place to soak up some Hawai’ian bazaar culture and succumb to something kitsch is at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet every Wednesday and on the weekends. But the real buzz is found at the Maunakea Marketplace, an outdoor bazaar that will keep you entertained and fed for hours – everything from Japanese delicacies to plates of Filipino tapas and tropical fruits.


You can also rub shoulders with other shoppers along the newly revamped, Waikiki Beach Walk along Lewers, a lush, upscale plaza that’s home to a slew of shops and iconic eateries including Roy’s Waikiki. And along Kalakaua, shop till you drop at the new International Market Place, a multi-level complex that’s home to Saks Fifth Avenue and a stellar line-up of uber-chic brands including BCBG MaxAzria, Michael Kors and the soul of designer shoes, Christian Louboutin.

But some of the most inventive shopping encounters are best experienced beyond Waikiki’s golden stretch of sand.

Far removed from the bustle of the crowded beachfront is Ala Moana Shopping Center, an open-air complex that not only catches the ocean breeze but nearly every fashion label west of New York. A perennial favourite for any visitor to Hawai’i’s capital, the recent addition of its new, multi-million “Ewa” wing has seen Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and 34 new stores set up camp. Also joining the ranks will be a new Shirokiya store – one of the oldest store brands at the centre. And when you’ve finished pawing through the desirable merchandise at Macy’s, J Crew, Sephora, Burberry, Jimmy Choo, and Gap, you can stroll beneath the cherry blossom trellis of the Shirokiya Japan Village Walk and splash out on a tantalising Japanese dish with the money you think you have saved.


A short stroll away from Ala Moana is Ward Centers including Ward Village Shops at Kaka’ako, a more gentle persuasion towards colourful muumuus, Brookstone and a great selection of sports attire and restaurants. But the big money is on Waikele Premium Outlets, a mega-centre west of Honolulu – a jaw-dropping experience for any reactionary shopper. Daytime is a relatively calm experience but by night, you will be whipping yourself into a credit-card frenzy at its designer outlet stores. Think AX Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, Barneys New York, Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren and Coach. And if you’re too tired to head across by foot to the nearby Waikele Center for more retail therapy, you can always ride a trolley car.

Blue Hawaii

On your way to Ala Moana, stop off at Antique Alley on Kapiolani Boulevard, a place where you can fish out some eclectic Hawai’ian curios and rare collectables – even vintage steamship menus, Japanese screen prints and old postcards of Pan Am clippers touching down in Hawai’i’s palm-fringed paradise.

There are also several roadside stalls selling a kaleidoscope of patterned sarongs located on O’ahu’s rugged north shore; while Hawai’ian paraphernalia and old world ‘silkies’ – pre-war and Blue Hawai’i-era aloha shirts (think Elvis) are a good bet if you rummage around in the antique stores, Tin Can Mailman and Bailey’s Antiques in Honolulu, and at The Only Show On Town in Kahuku, another panoramic seaside town that lies between Laie and Turtle Bay. They’re rare so be patient in your hunt. And if you’re hankering for fresh shrimp and a cold, tropical punch after the drive to the old sugar mill town of Kahuku, tuck in at Giovanni’s, a local haunt for the many surfers who come to the north shore for its legendary breaks.


For a more upscale, Hawai’ian look without the gawdy prints, go on a shopping spree at the Aloha Beach Club’s Kailua Outpost. Here you will find curated apparel including cool board shorts and tees; and prerequisite surf gear, surfboards and board bags. The best part of the experience is quenching your thirst on handcrafted shaved ice in a Kona Orange flavour at The Local – which shares the same floor space.

A fleeting visit to Honolulu’s now-sprawling suburbs is all people need to cut loose from the luxury lockdown along Waikiki. Yet nothing could be further from the truth in the upscale neighbourhood of Kahala, home to Macy’s, Banana Republic and a host of independent specialty stores and restaurants – light years and several hundred dollars away from the iconic Hilo Hattie and ABC Stores that still remain a favourite pit stop for pleasure seekers keen to purchase souvenirs and a shot of classic, Blue Hawai’i.

Keeping on trend with the outdoor theme in Hanauma Bay is Koko Marina Shopping Center, where water enthusiasts can purchase myriad water gear along with beach and surf wear. And when you’re through shopping, dine at the popular Kona Brewing Co along the waterfront.

A good place to end your Honolulu shopping excursion is at T Galleria by DFS Hawaii, designed solely for you to make your duty free pilgrimage. You can indulge in a frenzy of stockpiling; from every conceivable luxury brand that sells watches, scarves, perfume, cosmetics and other desirable goods.

But don’t despair if the balmy Hawai’ian sun and tropical breezes beckon; you can always hit the airport T Galleria store with equal gusto as the gentle background rhythms of slack-key guitarist, Gabby Pahinui, bids you aloha’oe.



Hawaiian Airlines is Hawai’i’s largest and longest serving airline and operates direct, daily non-stop services from Sydney to Honolulu and four times weekly from Brisbane. For passengers visiting the outer islands, the carrier offers nearly 160 connections daily from Honolulu.

Walk the Waikiki district by foot. There are also regular shuttle services to Ala Moana from downtown Waikiki.
Waikele Premium Outlets is located 24 kilometres from Waikiki Beach and has regular shuttle services.

• Royal Hawaiian:
• Hyatt Regency Waikiki:
• Aston Hotels & Resorts:
• Disney Aulani:

• Waikele Premium Outlets:
• Ala Moana Center:
• Royal Hawaiian Center:
• International Market Place:
• DFS:
• Luxury Row:
• Waikiki Beach Walk:
• Hyatt Regency Waikiki:

Hawaii Tourism Oceania:

This article was published in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2016 edition of Vacations & Travel magazine. If you would like to subscribe to receive Vacations & Travel magazine by mail and save A$29.45 off the cover price, please visit

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