Fave Five Hawaii Souvenirs

Hawaii Editor Marty Wentzel shares tips for incomparable island keepsakes By: Marty Wentzel
Protea Flowers // © 2011 Tor Johnson, HTA
Protea Flowers // © 2011 Tor Johnson, HTA

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Aloha Shirts // © 2011 Tor Johnson, HTA

Aloha Shirts // © 2011 Tor Johnson, HTA

Hawaiian Music CDs // © 2011 Mountain Apple Company

Hawaiian Music CDs // © 2011 Mountain Apple Company

Over There // © 2011 Pegge Hopper, www.peggehopper.com

Over There // © 2011 Pegge Hopper, www.peggehopper.com  

Crackseed // © 2011 Tor Johnson, HTA

Crackseed // © 2011 Tor Johnson, HTA

A trip to Hawaii deserves to be savored long after it’s over, and souvenirs help travelers do just that. While they can’t bring home any rainbows, sunshine or ocean waves, they can certainly find tangible mementos to keep those vacation memories alive. Trouble is, there are so many shops catering to visitors that sometimes it’s hard for clients to sort through all the goods and find bona-fide keepsakes that really sum up what’s special about the islands.

There are certain things that everyone should leave in Hawaii, like lava rocks. According to legend, the volcano goddess Pele frowns on moving rocks and brings bad luck to those who do. In addition, clients shouldn’t try to bring home a grocery bag of fresh tropical fruit, because they will just have to leave it behind at the airport’s agricultural inspection area. That said, there are plenty of other options for distinctive tokens of a singular vacation in the 50th state. Here are the five souvenirs I count as most precious.


Made-in-Hawaii Wearables
Whether it’s an aloha shirt, pareu (sarong) or muumuu, an item of clothing from Hawaii is sure to draw attention and compliments back home. My favorite sources for wearable souvenirs are island crafts fairs, where buyers can actually meet the people who created the garments. Time spent at Hilo Hattie — the quintessential Hawaii souvenir store — can turn up some good deals on apparel and accessories; there are Hilo Hattie locations on all the major islands. For new, used and vintage aloha shirts, tell your clients to head directly to Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts on Kapahulu Ave., just outside of Waikiki. It’s legendary for its huge assortment of colorful garb.


Hawaiian Music CDs
Hawaii’s music is amazingly evocative. No matter where I am, when I close my eyes and listen, I swear I can feel the tradewinds intermingling with the melodies. If visitors are lucky enough to catch some of the better-known recording artists live on stage in Hawaii, they can usually buy a CD of their music after the concert. Otherwise, clients can go to a store like Barnes and Noble or Sam Goody — both in Ala Moana Center in Honolulu — and ask one of the local employees for their favorite picks. In my book, they can’t go wrong with anything by the Brothers Cazimero, whose soaring harmonies epitomize the magic of the islands.


Local Art
For years after the vacation is over, a work of local art can serve as a visual portal back to paradise. I particularly like looking at island landscapes and seascapes, but equally expressive are portraits of locals and local lifestyle past and present, a style epitomized in the paintings of artist Pegge Hopper and Yvonne Cheng. One of the best hubs for viewing and buying art is Lahaina on Maui, home to dozens of galleries. During its Art Night each Friday from 7-10 p.m., visitors can meet some of the artists while listening to live music. Similarly, the studios of Honolulu’s Chinatown stay open late on the first Friday evening of each month. In Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii’s Big Island, one of my favorite sources of originals and prints is the Volcano Art Center, whose works are often inspired by the dramatic surrounding landscape.


Dried Hawaiian Flowers
A lei is always nice, but fresh flowers fade and wilt quickly. Dried flowers, on the other hand, provide a pretty and long-lasting remembrance of the beauty of natural Hawaii. Topping my list of island plants that look great when dried is the protea, a truly exotic genus with an extraordinary diversity of appearances, from pink to purple and from soft to spiky. They grow particularly well in Upcountry Maui, where Sunrise Protea Farm sells bouquets, baskets and wreaths, both fresh and dried. Customized dried floral arrangements often combine protea with the likes of woodrose, eucalyptus and braided palm leaves. Visitors who don’t want to carry this souvenir on the plane can order it and have it sent to their home address.


Da Kine Food
Why fill the suitcase with macadamia nuts and Kona coffee when those products are sold in stores on the mainland? Instead, pick up some unique edibles that really impart a flavor of the islands. Consider Hawaiian jerky, whose tropical overtones come from ginger, sugar, cayenne, pineapple juice and soy sauce. Tops among locals is crack seed, made from different types of fruit like plums and lemons that have been dried and preserved with salt. Another local favorite is kakimochi, a crunchy rice cracker enlivened by soy sauce and sometimes wrapped in seaweed. I always try to keep a jar of Hawaiian sea salt on my kitchen shelves, because it has a fresher taste and texture than ordinary salt. Finally, pick up some jam or jelly made from the rare poha berry, a small yellow round orb whose taste has been likened to pineapple, strawberry and fig. One bite will take you right back to the tropics.

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