These are the top 5 Hawaiʻi souvenirs WE would take back home (even inter-island) in no particular order.
1. BAG(S) OF 100% KAʻŪ COFFEE
Buggah is Strong!
We know you were expecting Kona coffee to headline this list, but we're giving the edge to Kaʻū coffee which grows on the sun parched southern flank of the Big Island. Kaʻū coffee has a stronger, richer taste and hits hard. Plus, you can pick up a bag at any of the locations near South Point while you visit the turtles there.
We Suggest: JN Coffee Farms 100% Kau Coffee - as seen above. We tried some in an affogato and it blew our minds. Pick it up at any local store or online!
2. A HAWAIIAN UKULELE
Not the plastic ones with turtle stickers on them.
Ukuleles are unique to Hawaiʻi and celebrated in local culture - they're not just a novelty act. There's something beautiful about the simplicity of 4 strings on a tiny wooden box, and it can even play songs! Instead of buying "Hawaii Brand" ukuleles on Amazon.com, consider picking one up from a local artisan. Chances are you'll get a much higher quality ukulele that you wouldn't be embarrassed to bust out at the next impromptu jam session.
We Suggest: Big Island Guitars and Music Supply - mainly because we actually bought one from there and the owner was nice enough to explain the differences between ukuleles for 30 minutes while we made a purchase. Check them out here.
3. KOA WOOD ITEMS
Still the royal highness of wood.
Koa wood represents the most beautiful locally occurring material in all of Hawaiʻi (although some swear it's milo wood). It's endemic to Hawaiʻi, has a unique chatoyance - a fancy word for a cat's eye reflection effect - and can be made into both decorative and useful items! In fact, do you want a chance to win the Honu Koa stainless steel bottle opener show above? Just email us and mention you read this.
We Suggest: KoaWood Ranch - they locally source all lumber from native trees toppled by storms or selectively culled. Their amazing woodworkers transform that wood into bowls, ornaments, watches, jewelry, pens, books, and basically anything your mind could conceive. Check them out here.
A Japanese custom that's morphed into a local tradition.
The Japanese word Omiyage actually means "souvenir" but it has evolved in Hawaiʻi to mean a regional food that you take back with you. Locals love to eat, and there is a lot of exclusivity that still exists between the islands. For example, on the Big Island that would be Two Ladies Kitchen strawberry stuffed mochi. Or manapua from Chun Wah Kam on Oʻahu. We've even seen several overhead bins filled with Jollibee's.
We Suggest: Consulting a local on their favorite omiyage.
5. A FRESH HAWAIIAN LEI
This specifically excludes the ones made out of silk.
Another uniquely Hawaiian gift on this list is the venerable Hawaiian lei. Always handmade and usually from locally grown flowers, leis can commemorate any memory. Interislanders can benefit from the amazing fragrance of more delicate flowers like pua kenikeni - but there are many that can survive a longer trip. "Everlasting leis" made out of dracaena and ginger, for example, can be sprayed with polyurethane and dried, lasting forever as a keepsake!
We Suggest: Lin's Lei Stand - they've been in business for 40+ years and continue to deliver locally and to the continental US. Give them a call and they'll custom make you whatever you want if it's in season. Plus they're Hawaiian & woman owned, so why not? Check them out here.
AND THOSE ARE OUR TOP 5 HAWAIʻI SOUVENIRS YOU CAN SAFELY TAKE BACK HOME WITHOUT LOOKING SILLY.
As an added bonus, here are the things you should avoid like the plague:
- Actual lava rocks or sand - you will be stopped at the airport.
- Anything involving grass skirts - please don't.
- Cutesy figurines / tchotchkes that say "Made in China" on the back.
- Hawaiian shirts - these are ugly, uncomfortable, mass-produced caricatures. What you're looking for are aloha shirts, or Hawaiian print.
- Non-omiyage Snacks - for example, "Hawaiian Brand Sweet Maui Onion Chips" are manufactured in Seattle, so 🤷.