Shopping Finds: Downtown
The practice of sharing lei is a tradition that has spread around the world and endures as an accessory synonymous with the Hawaiian islands. For the freshest, most aromatic flower lei there isn't any place better than Honolulu's Chinatown for its selection of mom and pop lei shops, many which have been an island staple for anywhere from two to four decades.
Strolling through Chinatown you're sure to spot a table full of proprietors deftly stringing flowers into long strands. Here, the bright pops of colors are sure to stop you dead in your tracks - if you aren't seduced first by the soft, sweet scents of orchid, plumeria, ginger, and pikake. Lined up side by side (some as many as three deep) there are as many lei shops to choose from as there are types of Hawaiian lei. Many local favorites are third-generation, family-run Chinatown institutions such as Lin's Lei Shop and Cindy's Lei Shoppe, both on Maunakea Street, and Lita's Leis on North Beretania Street.
Pick up a simple haku lei (a lei strung to be worn perched atop the head) or ti leaf lei intertwined with your favorite tropical flower (ginger and pikake are amongst the most fragrant) to wear as you stroll through Downtown. If you're in the islands for a special occasion or visiting friends or family, a nice Hawaiian lei also makes for a perfect gift.
A tip for travelers: because lei are considered a symbol of affection and aloha, you should never refuse lei. If you must remove lei for whatever reason (such as allergies) do so discreetly.