A trip to Oahu isn’t quite complete without tasting a perfect Mai Tai. Nor is it complete without a chance to see hula dancers and experience the beautiful music of the island. A visit to the Royal Hawaiian Center is the start of this perfect day in Waikiki. You’ll find Hawaiian culture and heritage, a beautiful free hula show as well as great shopping and wonderful restaurants!
Exploring the Royal Hawaiian Center; Hula, Sushi, Shave Ice & a Mai Tai
The Royal Hawaiian Center has the best free hula show in Waikiki and is home to great shave ice and the best sushi restaurant in Oahu.
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Best Free Hula Show in Waikiki, Oahu
You can spend lots of money on one of the many luau’s offered on the island or head to the Royal Hawaiian Center (2201 Kalakaua Ave Honolulu, Hi 96815) for one of their free shows.
The four-level, open-air commercial retail complex extending across three blocks of Kalakaua Avenue offers more than high-end shopping. Every Monday thru Saturday from 4-6 p.m. in the courtyard garden called The Royal Grove there is a live performance of Hawaiian piano music. The space features a beautifully landscaped garden and a bronze statue of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, great-granddaughter of King Kamehameha. When the music ends at 6pm, stay for the hula show.
Kaulani Heritage Room
After the show, wander a short distance over to the Kaulani Heritage Room to watch beautiful movies that share information about Hawaiian culture, Hawaii’s history, and the role which the Royal Hawaiian Center plays in its support of the Kamehameha Schools. The movies share history dating back to the 16th century, stories of the Island’s famous royalty King Kamehameha I and Princess Pauahi, and today’s resurgence of enthusiasm to teach youngsters their native language.
There is an abundance of food choices as the dinner hour rolls around. One superb choice is Restaurant Suntory. Located on the third level of the center, the restaurant offers multiple dining rooms to choose from and serves authentic Japanese dishes, from shabu-shabu to sushi, teppanyaki and elegant kaiseki dinners. Need a translation?
- shabu-shabu (The primary ingredient is thinly sliced meat, usually beef or pork and sometimes chicken, which is brought to the table raw for the diners to cook themselves in the nabe cooking pot)
- teppanyaki (where chefs cook at your table Benihana style)
- kaiseki dinners (The contemporary kaiseki is a multi-course meal of small plates of food or a tasting menu as well as a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food.)
The service at Restaurant Suntory is phenomenal and the food is fresh, delicious and memorable. During my visit, I dined in the traditional Japanese dining room. The menu is extensive making decisions complicated because I simply couldn’t order everything.
Start with some green tea or cold sake and the locally caught Ahi (tuna) sashimi. Another wise choice would be the assorted sashimi plate. The sushi was tasty and fresh; we sampled the black pepper ahi, unagi (eel), hamachi (yellow tail) shake (salmon) and uni (sea urchin). Our next course was an order of vegetable tempura followed by the gindara misoyaki (miso butter fish) that was beyond delectable and the highlight of the meal.
There are only five other Restaurant Suntory locations; three in Mexico City, one in Acapulco and one in Taipei. I am seriously tempted to book my next vacation based on these restaurant locations. The bottom line is dinner at Restaurant Suntory is one you will be talking about long after you head back to the mainland or wherever your final destination may be.
Island Vintage Shave Ice
After dinner, take time to explore the shops in the center. If you saved room, a light and refreshing dessert can be found at Island Vintage Shave Ice on the main level of the center. Their delicious Hawaiian Shaved Ice desserts start with a scoop of shaved ice, topped with fresh fruit of choice like mango, papaya, or pineapple, and then topped with a scoop of freshly made sorbet.
Royal Hawaiian Hotel Mai Tai
End your evening with one of the best Mai Tai’s found on the
Island. The Royal Hawaiian Hotel (2259 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu) is two-minute walk from the Royal Hawaiian Center. The hotel was built in 1927 and is affectionately known to locals as the Pink Palace.
The original Mai Tai cocktail was created by Trader Vic’s owner, Victor Jules Bergeron, Jr in 1944 and brought to Hawaii in 1953, where it was first served at The Royal Hawaiian hotel. It is considered the most revered and enjoyed of all Hawaii cocktails and is the signature cocktail at The Royal Hawaiian’s oceanfront Mai Tai Bar.
Located beachside, the bar offers great views of the ocean and Diamond Head. It’s a perfect place to relax and enjoy the essence of Waikiki Beach and feel the spirit of the Island. The Mai Tai Bar also features daily live music from 6 – 10 PM.
Original Mai Tai Recipe
Can’t make it to Oahu anytime soon? You can always make the cocktail at home as you plan your Hawaii vacation!
Mai Tai Ingredients
1oz Old Lahaina Light Rum
1oz Old Lahaina Dark Rum
½oz Orange Curacao
½oz Orgeat (or Amaretto)
2oz Pineapple Juice
1oz Orange Juice
Garnish for the Mai Tai
Whaler’s Dark Rum
parasol with cherry
What & Where:
Royal Hawaiian Center (2201 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu; 808.922.2299; Go here for a full listing of events)
Restaurant Suntory (2233 Kalakaua Ave, Bldg B, Third Level, B307 in the Royal Hawaiian Center; 808-922-5511
Island Vintage Shave Ice (Building B, Level 1, B-1 Kiosk in the Royal Hawaiian Center, Honolulu; (808) 922-5662)
Royal Hawaiian Hotel (2259 Kalakaua Ave Honolulu; 808-923-7311 or for Reservations: 866-716-8110)
WHEN TO VISIT OAHU
There is no bad time to visit any of the Hawaiian Islands as far as finding beautiful weather. The temperature typically varies from 68°F to 87°F on the island of Oahu. You’ll find days are mostly warm or hot with cooler evenings. Oahu is known for quick bursts of rain, but rarely will it ruin a day on the island. The best time to visit Oahu is from mid-April to early June or between September and mid-December. During these shoulder seasons, attractions are less crowded, festivals are plentiful and airfare and room rates are at their lowest.
If you enjoyed this article about The Best Free Hula Show and Where to find a Perfect Mai Tai in Oahu, you’ll also love Five Off-the-Beaten-Path Places on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Traveling To Oahu Soon? Here are a few tips:
How to get there: Oahu’s major airport is in Honolulu (airport code HNL). It’s by far Hawaii’s largest airport and hub. If you aren’t arriving by cruise ship, this is how you’ll arrive to Oahu.
Where to stay: There are many places to stay in Oahu Hawaii. There is a wide range of hotels, from budget to luxury. For a luxury hotel that won’t break the bank, I recommend The Kahala Hotel & Resort, which is currently the #1 hotel on Tripadvisor. For a mid-level hotel, I suggest the Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort. Finally, for a budget hotel, try the Shoreline Hotel Waikiki. You can also check HotelsCombined for the best Oahu Hotel Rates.
What to pack: The weather is tropical on the Hawaiian Islands with lovely northeasterly trade winds. Dress is smart-casual on Oahu, but do bring a light sweater or wrap, Water shoes, and a sun hat no matter what!
>> I also have a free printable Hawaii packing list guide.
6 Additional Items to Pack for an Oahu, Hawaii Vacation
- Get Fodor’s Oahu 2022: with Honolulu, Waikiki & the North Shore (Full-color Travel Guide).
- Bring a good-quality mirrorless camera for getting those beautiful Oahu beach landscape shots. I use the Sony Alpha a6000 .
- It’s always either warm or hot in Oahu, so make sure to bring Reef Safe Sunscreen.
- You will find mosquitos on Oahu, especially if you do some hiking, so bring Insect Repellent. I like Murphy’s DEET FREE Lemon Eucalyptus spray as well as these pre-moistened insect repellent towelettes, which are very convenient for carrying in a purse or backpack.
- Don’t forget sunglasses for the beautiful sunny days. A.J. Morgan Unisex Sunglasses are a great choice and very affordable!
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Read More About Hawaii
Five Off-the-Beaten-Path Places on Hawaii’s Big Island
Oahu’s Eco-Friendly Cruise for Dolphin Lovers
The 52 Supernatural Places of Oahu
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.
Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.