best of Kauai’s “Hawaiiana” (Kauai)

During our Fall 2012 trip to Kauai, we spent a lot of time and energy looking for vintage Hawaiian goods - only to realize that the majority of “Hawaiian” items on sale were modern, and made in either the Philippines, Indonesia or of course, China!

Yes, my friends, don’t bother scouring local thrift stores for that ultimate vintage Hawaiian tiki shirt.  These shops have already been completely picked over by hipsters and/ or Japanese tourists long ago!  (In fact, during our visit to the Smith Family Luau - see “sights” - one of the dancers stopped Doug to comment on his vintage all-in-one tropical print leisure suit from the early 70s.  She had not seen anything like it since her grandfather wore one similar back in the day.  According to her, vintage pieces of this caliber now fetch upwards of $1,000 a pop - if you can even find ‘em!) 

But if you’re still a-hunkerin’ for that retro Hawaiian vibe, there are a few spots we can recommend.  The Yellowfish Trading Company in Hanalei is one of them (see below), while two others are located only a hop, skip and a jump away from each other on the south end of Kapa’a.  Together, they make for a perfect appetizer for your tour of the nearby Coco Palms, the kitschy resort that once played host to the “Who’s Who” of Hollywood back in the 50s and 60s  (see “sights”). 

Bambulei is your first stop for its choice vintage men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry and housewares.  (Are some of these shirts actually deadstock?)  Whether you are looking for 1930s lamps with a tiki motif or ceramic figurines depicting indigenous Polynesian peoples, Bambulei’s collection of “chic antiques” is among the best we’ve seen... (though we’re still not sure why they also sell Spanx?)  As for ourselves, we’re saving up for that painted statue of the “United Airlines menehune” out front.  Oh yes!

Just across the parking lot from Bambulei lies Pagoda.  This beautiful boutique picks up where former left off with a unique assortment of stationary, Japanese dolls and tea sets, retro travel bags and even vintage furniture!  (We loved the quirky "Michelle Obama" boho bags the best!)  Almost like a mini-museum of retro-kitsch, merchandisers at Pagoda are geniuses at mise en scène.  Just try not to swoon.

While we suppose it’s always possible the items found at Bambulei and Pagoda are being shipped in from the mainland just to satiate hip travelers en route for vintage “Hawaiiana,” it’s still always fun to bring something back from your holiday no matter where it actually originates from.  Once home, that special pillow or lighting fixture will remind you of your vacation for years to come!

Bambulei (located within the Kinipopo Shopping Village) - 4-369 Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a, HI  96746, (808) 823-8641,

Pagoda (located within the Kinipopo Shopping Village) - 4-369 Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a, HI  96746, (808) 821-2172,

Hanalei is for shoppers (Kauai)

In case you hadn’t yet noticed, Hanalei is your Set of Drifters’ faaaaavorite spot on Kauai.   But it’s not just the town’s proximity to a plethora of activities that makes Hanalei so special.  Nor is it the bounty of great restaurants, watering holes or staggering natural beauty found nearby.  You see, though South Shore’s Poipu certainly tries, it is Hanalei that offers the island’s best concentration of unique stores in which to find that special travel memory!  And thus, without further adieu, we present you with our four Hanalei must-shops:

Yellowfish Trading Company:  Prepare to spend some time (and money) in here.  This decent-sized shop is packed to the gills (no pun intended) with some really beautiful Hawaiiana products that are both special - and useful!  Though an assortment of tiki print towels and bed linens certainly caught our eyes, our favorite collection at Yellowfish had to be its trove of vintage barware glasses, many coming in complete sets of two, four or six!  The quality and quantity of highball, collins and whiskey specimens is among the best we’ve ever seen.  (And don’t worry.  Even if you’re not a tiki aficionado, there are plenty of other non-Hawaiiana themed glasses to go around.) 

Elsewhere, Yellowfish impresses with a wide assortment of vintage salt & pepper shakers, hula girl lamps, dolls and figurines - and even modern-day replicas of classic Mid-century rattan furniture!  But if even if kitsch is not your thing, there are still some really nice gift ideas to take home to the family.  We promise that beautiful exfoliating lava stones, tropical-themed stationary and recycled floral print pillows will brighten any mother’s day!  Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure you look out for resident cat Frances, the two-tone black-and-white lovely who purrs just outside Yellowfish while listening to local entertainment provided by Hanalei Center.

Yellowfish Trading Company (located within the Hanalei Center) - 5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, HI  96714, (808) 826-1227

On The Road To Hanalei:  Just across the street from Yellowfish lies On The Road To Hanalei.  (Me thinks that sentence won’t pass the spelling/ grammar check.)  This tightly-packed outlet may not look like much from the outside, but don’t let those New Agey spinning rainbow mobiles stop you.  Inside, On The Road To Hanalei boasts a surprising array of art and artifacts from around the world.

From hand-blown glass vases to vintage Japanese kimono quilts, the quality on display here is a bit higher than most places in town.  And while vintage Aloha shirts and antique African masks may set you back a few hundred $$, there’s plenty to be had on a budget as well.  We loved the assortment of Asian kitchenware and lanterns and presume any gal in their right mind would froth at the mouth after browsing the shop’s collection of handmade jewelry and sass bags. 

True, you may end up mesmerized by some of On The Road To Hanalei’s impressive one-of-a-kind artifacts, but we recommend you sifting through some of their smaller gift treats.  Colorful stationary, journals and origami gift paper always make for good stocking stuffers, or last-minute gifts for that birthday you forgot was coming! 

On The Road To Hanalei - 5-5190 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, HI  96714, (808) 826-7360,

Ola’s Hanalei:  Located at the eastern end of town near Postcards Cafe, Ola’s Hanalei is one of the better places to indulge in local Kauai art, if that’s your sort of thing.  Here, vibrant hand-blown glass and ceramic objects d’art compete with oceanic-inspired jewelry, clever’n’classy greeting cards and artwork by 30-year Hawaiian resident Doug Britt.  Themes of Britt’s paintings and woodworkings seem to center on travel - both nautical and aviation - and cats, to which we can’t complain. 

Ola’s was established way back in 1982.  Check it out, particularly if you are looking for some unusual glassware for your kitchen or veranda coolers back home!  

Ola’s Hanalei - 5-5016 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, HI  96714, 96754, (808) 826-6937,

Havaiki Oceanic and Tribal Art:  Ah, finally!  For an island actually located within Polynesia, there seems to be quite a drought of similarly-themed tribal art on Kauai.  But this all changes with one step inside Hanalei’s treasured Havaiki.  Here, a plethora of authentic tikis, ceremonial bowls and jeweled headdress are bound to impress even the most jaded world traveler.

Purchasing of said objects, however, is not quite as pleasing.  Prices for these one-of-a-kind pieces are right in line with their scarcity.  That traditional Hawaiian canoe paddle made from acacia koa wood will set you back only $750, and that Dayak shield from Borneo?  Only a smooth $2,500 smackers!

Perhaps more attainable as a special momento are a pair of Uli Uli (priced at $245), the brightly feathered gourds used by traditional hula dancers to add extra rhythm to their story.  Also up for sale are a variety of groovy black-and-white prints by local artist Tihoti (at $25 a pop), and some rather stunning shell jewelry handcrafted by the people of nearby Ni’ihau ($300 - $400).  Still, no matter what your budget is, visiting Havaiki is almost like stepping into a museum.  See for yourself daily from 10:00 AM until 6:00 PM.

Havaiki Oceanic and Tribal Art (located within the Hanalei Center) - 5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, HI  96714, (808) 826-7606,

hunting and pecking for souvenirs in Kapa’a (Kauai)

Since we tend to have friends or family house-sitting our cat Grovey while we’re gallivanting across the world, we always like to pick up little trinkets along the way to repay their time.  And thus, it’s off to the souvenir shops we go!

Now this might sound a bit jaded, but when you travel as often as we do, you start to realize that not all souvenirs are created alike.  The majority of tidbits you’ll find in touristy areas are typically overpriced, poorly-made (in China) and/ or utterly useless.  And while sometimes this is exactly the echelon you want to hit in order to stay within your budget, if you look hard enough, you’ll undoubtedly find a handful of shops that sell items uniquely representative of where you are visiting. 

One of the better places we discovered on our last day in Kauai was the “Kauai Fair” in Kapa’a.  Luring us off the road by a series of colorful flags, Kauai Fair could be described as a small village of individual vendors.  Our favorite was a gentleman who sold hand-carved tikis that were, get this, actually MADE IN HAWAII!  What a concept.  His prices were actually quite reasonable for tikis measuring well over two feet tall!  (Set of Drifters tip:  If you can’t manage one of these beasts on the plane ride back home, the woodcarver will ship it to you for about $30 USD, not too bad when you consider that an airline baggage charge is usually around $25 USD anyway.)  As per usual, we tried to keep it tasteful by only purchasing only a dried puffer fish ornament, a number of shells and some Hawaiian Kona coffee. 

Another spot that might be worth checking out is the Coconut Market Place on the south end of town.  Strolling through this outdated mall that literally bakes in the sun, we did find some cool reproduction tikis awash in day-glo colors, as well as some rather odd wine-bottle holders in the shape of horses, dolphins and the ubiquitous Kauai rooster (see “essentials”).  Trust us, these you just gotta see to believe.  And, if we were smart enough to include one in a photo that accompanies this blog entry, than you are doing so right about now.  How about that?

Kauai Fair - 4-1613 Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a, HI  96746, (808) 246-0988,

Coconut Market Place - 4-484 Kuhio Highway, Kapa’a, HI  96746,

The Shops at Kukui’ula/ Poipu Shopping Village (Kauai)

If you are still looking for a nice trinket from Kauai, or some fashions that will translate well back home, the “Hawaiiana” and cheap souvenirs listed above may not be enough.  Nevertheless, Kauai still has you quality-hounds covered, particularly with the Shops at Kukui’ula and the Shopping Village found in Poipu.  Both “outdoor malls” are located only a mile or so away from each other (and the beach), and make for a nice afternoon reprieve from the hot Hawaiian sun.

While you’ll find scads of retailers at both locations, we’ll run through just a handful of the ones we liked best...

Hawaiian Salt:  This spot had us at its Brady Bunch-inspired logo.  Perhaps likened to a “Crazy Shirt” for the new Millennium, Hawaiian Salt looks pretty basic at first glance.  But with shelves stocked with clothes and accessories “inspired by art,” there’s a bit more than meets the eye.  Aside from a wide variety of funky T-shirts, wraps and caps, be sure to check out Hawaiian Salt’s walls as well.  They’re filled with paintings and photographs by local creative types, many of which might be available in greeting card form!  Set of Drifters tip:  Hawaiian Salt is named after the local tradition of village “salt trading.”     

Hawaiian Salt (located within the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center) - 2829 Ala Kalaikaumaka, A-101, Poipu, HI  96756, (808) 742-6030

Honolua Surf Co.:  When our cat-sitting friend back home was asked if there was anything she wanted as a souvenir from Kauai, she mentioned only one thing - well actually, anything from Honolua Surf Co.  We don’t blame her.  Though we are not lasses ourselves, we imagine that any young fashionista would have a field day at their “Wahine” store inside the Poipu Shopping Village.  Part surf girl-chic/ part retro beach hipster, the threads on display at Honolua were colorful, diverse - and surprisingly unique.  A Set of Drifters MUST-SEE for the gals.  (Other shops located throughout Hawaii sell men’s boardshorts and other wave-running apparel as well.)

Honolua Surf Co. Wahine (inside the Poipu Shopping Village) - Kiahuna Plantation Drive, 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive, Poipu, HI 96756, (808) 742-2831, and

Lappert’s:  A long-time favorite found throughout the islands, Lappert’s Ice Cream is so much more than its name implies.  Aside from tantalizing tourists with “Super Premium” scoops of sorbet and ice cream, Lappert’s “Ambassadors of Aloha” provide locals with their daily fix of Kona coffees and baked pastries!  (Their main kitchen is only a hop, skip and a jump away in Hanapepe - see “sights.”) 

It all started back in the 1980s when Mary and Walter Lappert came to Hawaii from San Francisco to escape the rat race.  Sure, they loved paradise, but there was something missing - gourmet ice cream!  Testing the waters with versions of Macadamia Nut and Vanilla, their brand would eventually grow to over 200 flavors!  Our favorites were the Kona Lava Java (kona coffee ice cream with swirls of chocolate sorbet) and the Kauai Pie (kona with bits of chocolate fudge, coconut flakes and vanilla cake crunch).  Mouth watering yet?   

Lappert’s (located within the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center) - 2829 Ala Kalaikaumaka, Poipu, HI  96756, (808) 742-1272,

Bungalow 9:  Offering the local Kauai population “modern island” design, Bungalow 9 uses just the right amount of restraint in their presentation of high-concept art, housewares, clothing and jewelry.  Though you’ll you pay a bit more than you might expect, many of the items here are unique to the islands!  Perhaps this is where you’ll find that ultimate (selfish) souvenir?

Bungalow 9 (located within the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center) - 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka, G-141, Box 39, Poipu, HI  96756, (808) 742-1961,

Set of Drifters tip:  After shopping until you drop, we recommend a hard-earned drink at Keoki's Paradise.  Located inside the Poipu Shopping Village, this spot is always hopping.  (See "eats" for more information.)  Laying down your hard-earned money at the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center instead?  That stylish Tortilla Republic sure looks nice.

Tortilla Republic
(located within the Kukui’ula Village Shopping Center) - 2829 Ala Kalaikaumaka, Poipu, HI  96756, (808) 742-8884,

We also recommend:

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park gift shop (Big Island) - 1871 Trail, Honaunau-Napoopoo, HI 96704, (808) 328-2326,

Volcano House Hotel gift shop
(Big Island) - 1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii National Park, HI  96718, (808) 756-9625,

Donkey Balls Store
(Big Island) - 79-7411 Hawaii Belt Road/ Māmalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI  96750, (808) 322-1475,

Vintage Avenue
(Big Island) - 79 -7401C Hawaii Belt Road/ Māmalahoa Highway, Keauhou, HI  96739, (808) 324 0707

King’s Daughters Ministry Thrift Store
(Big Island) - 79-7401 Hawaii Belt Road/ Māmalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI  96750, (808) 322–0797,

Mutiara Boutique
(Big Island) - 81-6641 Hawaii Belt Road/ Māmalahoa Highway, Kealakekua, HI  96750, (808) 323-3888,

Kona Farmer’s Market
(Big Island) - along Alii Drive near Hualalai Road in Kailua-Kona, HI  96740,

Hilo Farmer’s Market
(Big Island) - 400 Kamehameha Avenue, Hilo, HI  96721, (808) 933-1000,

The Gallery at Bamboo
(Big Island) - 55-3415 Akoni Pule Highway, Hawi, HI  96719, (808) 889-5555,

As Hawi Turns
(Big Island) - 55-3412 Akoni Pule Highway, Kapaau, HI  96755, (808) 889-5023,

Hawi Gallery
(Big Island) - 55-3406 Akoni Pule Highway, Hawi, HI 96719, (206) 452-3697,

Pura Vida O’Kohala
(Big Island) - 54-3885 Akoni Pule Highway, Kapaau, HI 96755, (808) 889-0562,

Old Hawaii Trading Company
(Big Island) - 54-3885 Akoni Pule Highway, Kapaau, HI 96755, (808) 927-0115

Tropical Dreams/ Kohala Coffee Mill
(Big Island) - 553412 Akoni Pule Highway, Hawi, HI  96719,