The Aloha State is a tropical paradise that you’ll want to remember after you return home and can no longer smell the orchids in the air or hear the waves lapping the golden sand. The best way to keep your vacation memories fresh is with an only-found-in-Hawaii memento, but as many exceptional items as there are to choose from, there’s also a glut of foreign-made, schlocky souvenirs around that you might wind up grabbing in a hurry.
Here are a few authentic Hawaiian gift choices that are as unique as the islands themselves. You may even want to share these authentic bits of Hawaii with your friends and family to inspire them to visit the Aloha State.
Locally grown macadamia nuts have been produced in Hawaii since the late 1800s and are one of the delicious perks of spending time on the islands; you’ll find them gracing everything from breakfast pancakes to dinner entrees. Take a taste home with you with in candy form (you’ll see Hawaiian Host and Mauna Loa treats in most grocery shops and the ubiquitous ABC Stores -- including versions dipped in chocolate or combined with coconut), plain or salted in jars, or mixed into spreads, coffee, or cookies, with prices starting at around $5 for a box of chocolate and nut candy.
The gold standard for coffee aficionados, these rich, flavorful beans are only grown on the volcanic slopes of the Big Island, making them both rare and pricey. Expect to pay a premium for any 100 percent Kona variety (about $22 for half a pound), or choose a blend in which Kona is combined with other varietals for a more affordable option (about $7 for half a pound).
Koa Wood Carvings
Koa trees only grow in Hawaii at high altitudes, and local carvers use the deep chocolate- and cherry-colored hardwood to craft everything from delicate chopsticks to large wooden bowls that are both decorative and useful. Due to its rarity, Koa products can carry large price tags. The KoaWood Ranch on the Big Island of Hawaii sells heirloom quality koa housewares; a handcrafted medium bowl carved by a local artisan cost around $300, while wood wine stoppers are around $50.
As a visitor, you’ll most likely receive a lei -- either one of fragrant flowers or polished kuikui nuts -- as a lovely welcome gift when you arrive at the airport or your hotel. Traditionally, leis are also used as tokens of appreciation and affection throughout the Hawaiian islands, and they make a fabulous gift to bring home to friends and family (or just keep one for yourself, we won’t tell anyone)! Leis start at about $12 for simple, single strands and can go as high as $80 for specialty items crafted from ti leafs and ginger flowers.
If you’re on Oahu, be sure to shop on Maunakea Street, which is known for its accomplished lei crafters. (Note that citrus flowers and a few others are not allowed to enter the mainland U.S. per the USDA).
Bring this handcrafted cereal made in Kauai and sold in gourmet stores around the state ($14 for 12 ounces) home with you and it will make it feel like you’re still eating breakfast in Hawaii every day, even though it might not be quite as sunny. The secret to this super delicious granola are its locally sourced ingredients, including Hawaiian honey, macadamia nuts, coconut, papaya, and pineapple.
There’s no better way to guarantee that you’re purchasing authentic and unique items than to go directly to the source -- in this case, the artists who created them. Lahaina Town on Maui is full of galleries and is a particularly good destination to source original artwork, whether you’re after paintings, ceramics, or jewelry. Start at the Lahaina Galleries, which house multiple artists to get a taste of what’s available, then wander around the banyan-tree filled plaza to discover other galleries. Although original paintings can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, note that you can often buy prints of popular works starting at $20.
If you’re thinking “authentic” island clothing, forget about loud prints on polyester “Hawaiian” shirts. Authentic aloha wear, the preferred name, is graced by images that are associated with Hawaii -- think orchids, waves, volcanoes, surfboards -- on clothing, and (this is the important part in a tropical climate) that breathes and is comfortable in the heat. Hilo Hattie has stores on all four of the major islands (Oahu, Maui, Big Island, and Kauai), and is known for its gorgeous fabrics and stylish options, including lovely pareos ($25) and sundresses (from $25) for women, and vintage-inspired short sleeve, button-down, collared shirts for men (from $35) all made in Hawaii.
Still trying to decide where to go in Hawaii? These are the best things to do along Maui’s luxurious Wailea Beach, plus how to do Hawaii’s Big Island in one day.