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When Kainoa Daines was growing up, he loved walking through Waikiki’s International Market Place.
“I was mesmerized by the candlemakers,” said Daines, director of sales for the Oahu Visitors Bureau. “I could have watched them carve their multicolored creations forever.”
Travel agent Staci Blunt also holds fond memories of the old marketplace, which opened in 1956.
“I went there many times and loved it,” said Blunt, owner of Vacation Visions in Chandler, Ariz. “It made me feel like I was really shopping in Hawaii.”
In its 1960s heyday, the open-air mall was a tropical oasis where entertainer Don Ho performed and surfer Duke Kahanamoku ran a trendy nightclub. But in subsequent decades, the mall fell into disrepair and closed for demolition in 2014.
Hints of the original marketplace remain in today’s version, which reopened in August after a $500 million renewal. Former kitschy carts and tiki statues have been replaced by 75 contemporary retailers in upscale environs. At the same time, the marketplace honors the history of its location, once an ancient royal retreat.
During a recent tour, I was keenly aware of the mall’s sense of place. I studied its 25 cultural markers and marveled at a three-story water feature evoking island waterfalls. I relaxed in a koa wood chair above a courtyard honoring Hawaii’s Queen Emma, where free Hawaiian shows take place nightly.
The 160-year-old banyan tree, a marketplace hallmark, looks healthier than ever in its roomier setting. Inside its reconstructed treehouse are displays about the mall’s colorful past. Nearby, a video booth invites visitors to record their marketplace memories to share via social media.
While the past prevails in the marketplace, it also offers modern amenities such as touch-screen digital directories. National tenants include Anthropologie, Tesla and Hawaii’s first Saks Fifth Avenue, with local retailers like Kona Coffee Purveyors and Island Art & Sole. The mall’s Grand Lanai features great restaurants such as Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi and famed chef Michael Mina’s Stripsteak. The Street, a ground-level gourmet food hall that Mina also helms, will open in March 2017.
The renovated International Market Place symbolizes how Waikiki is evolving while staying true to its roots. For travelers who love shopping, dining and a touch of nostalgia, it’s a must-see.