The Shopping Isle

Linda Burton posting from Honolulu, Hawaii – “What did you buy?” is the question most often asked in Honolulu, frequently followed by “How do I look?” In case you think most people come here to lie on the beach in the peaceful shade of the palm trees, you are wrong. More people come to Honolulu to shop. High-end merchandise costs less in Honolulu than it does in Japan, we were told. The Waikiki Trolley Pink Line, departing every 10 minutes for a 16-point Stop and Shop run, has special Japanese language trolleys; in fact on every trolley signs give information and directions in both English and Japanese. The Aussies and the Mainlanders do their fair share of shopping too; if you aren’t toting a shopping bag, you are considered to have wasted your day. Temptation doesn’t miss a beat; the ticket office for the trolley line is in the DFS Galleria, once of the glitziest shopping arenas you are likely to see in a lifetime. That’s where they sell “luxury brand-name products duty-free.” “Wow” was what granddaughter Kayla said at the sight of the high-tech mod display by the escalator. “Let’s check it out.”

DFS Galleria. 330 Royal Hawaiian Avenue,

Exquisite chocolates wrapped in gold boxes were downstairs; upstairs we found the real gold, and diamonds, and leather handbags. Charles Feeney and Robert Miller started this duty-free galleria concept in Hong Kong in 1960; now Louis Vuitton owns with Miller. Still headquartered in Hong Kong, there are stores in 14 countries around the world today, from Auckland to Singapore, Honolulu to Bali. Luxury is the operative word; focus is on beauty items, fine leathers, and fashion; they spread joy with champagne receptions and personal shopping services. Kayla and I were content to gawk, before we boarded the Pink Trolley.

Royal Hawaiian Center. 2201 Kalakaua Avenue,

The Trolley’s first stop is an interesting spot, although Kayla and I didn’t get off. The Center is owned by Kamehameha Schools and all profits go to the education of Hawaiian students. There are 110 shops and restaurants here in four three-tiered buildings; designer apparel, jewelry, even sporting goods and crafts shops. It’s two blocks from our hotel, we can come back another day.

Next stop is the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, which we’ve already admired; then stops at three hotels for pickups, the Aston, Hilton, and Ohana West. Zip on past the King Kalakaua Plaza, the Waikiki Beach Walk, Hilton Hawaiian Village, Aqua Palms & Spa; finally we reach our primary destination, where everyone is required to “Get Off.” We’re at Ala Moana.

Ala Moana Center. 450 Ala Moana Boulevard,

We wanted to see the “biggest outdoor shopping mall in the world” and we wanted to eat lunch at Zippy’s, a Honolulu institution known for its greasy fried chicken. Ala Moana has 290 shops and restaurants in an open-air setting with koi ponds and tropical landscaping  (it sprinkled rain on us for a while as we wandered around). Every kind of store from Armani to Williams-Sonoma is there, even a little corner slot that sold nothing but souvenir magnets of palm trees. Kayla and I enjoyed the LEGO store (did you know that LEGO is a combination of the Danish words leg godt, meaning play well?). Other than lunch, we didn’t buy a thing. (Zippy’s fried chicken deserves its greasy reputation, we agreed.)

A long wait for that Pink Trolley to return; the shopping bag toters looked even grumpier than Kayla and me as we stood in the long line in the bright sun. Stops at Ilikai Hotel, Hilton Hawaiian Village (again!), down Saratoga Road past the Hard Rock Café. Oh no! We missed the stop for Teddy Bear World; but hey, we’re too tired today. The Trolley is moving on.

Teddy Bear World, 2155 Kalakaua Avenue,

Teddy Bear World is a “family activity” spot with more than 800 animatronic bears; bears are for sale, of course; you can find yourself somebear to love.

Back to the Terminal at last; it’s a two-block walk to our hotel. Just across the street from the DFS Galleria, next door to McDonalds, is an open-to-the-street shop selling toy ukuleles and Hawaiian print handbags for $7. And right beside our hotel (in fact, our balcony overlooks it) is the International Market Place with the incredible banyan tree centerpiece, which we’ve already explored.

International Market Place. 2330 Kalakaua Avenue,

The International Market Place is a maze of kiosk stands selling inexpensive aloha wear, Hawaiian carvings, macadamia nuts, leis, pukashell wares, jade Buddha statues, jewelry and almost anything you can think of, such as Tshirts with music chips in the design. Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, aka Don the Beachcomber, founded the Market Place back in the 60’s; he had a tree house in the banyan tree! There is a hula show and Hawaiian music every night on the center stage; we don’t even have to go down; we can watch, and listen, from our balcony.

Hilo Hattie. 700 North Nimitz Highway,

Another colorful Hawaiian character turned retailer was “Hilo Hattie,” who started out as a school teacher but became known for her singing and dancing. She popularized “comic hula” with songs like “When Hilo Hattie Does the Hula Hop.” She opened her first store in 1963; now the chain of seven stores is Hawaii’s largest retailer, manufacturer, and wholesaler of Hawaiian fashion. Buy your muu muu at Hilo Hatties! It’s not close to our hotel; I hope we can get out there for a browse around before we leave.

We plop down in our room after a day on the Pink Trolley, amazed at our lack of purchases after such high-powered exposure. “You know,” I reminded Kayla, “my Dad used to say there is fishing and there is catching and they are not necessarily the same. I say there is shopping, and then there is buying!”

Curious to see just how many shopping areas were within four blocks of our hotel, I did some internet checking; here’s what I found.

Waikiki Town Center. 2301 Kuhio.

This small open-air shopping complex is next door to our hotel (on the other side from the Market Place); it has 30 specialty shops and restaurants and an ABC store where we bought our sunscreen, and our postcards. ABC stores, by the way, are convenience stores selling everything from groceries to souvenirs; Sidney Kosana, a pharmacist who already had a chain of drug stores, opened the first one on Waikiki Beach in 1964;  he offered a simple name (ABC) and low-priced items every visitor might need. Today there are 39 stores on the island of Oahu alone; a total of 78 stores located as far away as Saipan and Las Vegas; they sell more macadamia nuts than anybody in Hawaii.

Waikiki Shopping Plaza, 2250 Kalakaua Avenue,

Kalakaua Avenue is the street that is beachside; the block behind our hotel. This plaza has 100 stores and restaurants and is home to Tanaka of Tokyo.

Luxury Row. 2100 Kalakaua Avenue,

Still on Kalakaua right behind us, this isn’t called a mall or plaza, it is called a “row.” The word “luxury” fits here; international retailers including Chanel, Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Coach, Tiffany & Co., Tod’s, Bottega Veneta, and Hugo Boss take up about 111,000 square feet.

Kings Village. 131 Kaiulani Avenue,

This one, just around the corner from our hotel and right next to the Princess statue, caught our eye the first day; in fact, it’s where we bought the $4.95 chocolate milk! Cobblestone paths; 45 shops and restaurants; thousands of items from Hawaii and imports from around the world; even Elvis Presley bobble-head dolls. It’s meant to look like it might have looked in 1875; the uniforms are replicas of those worn by the Hawaiian Royal Palace Guard for King Kalakaua. There is a “changing of the guard” ceremony every evening at 6:15; it’s free, whether or not you buy a thing.

Now, that’s my kind of shopping.

Waikiki Trolley Line.