Birthdays, graduations, greetings, weddings, celebrations of life — every special occasion calls for a lei in Hawaii. For locals, that means plenty of visits to their favorite lei stand, shop or auntie who strings the pua (flowers) with extra love. And we’re happy to share some of those go-to spots with you, too.
You can find readymade lei at shops across the Islands — including airport stands like Harriet’s in Honolulu.
Flower lei for on the go
If time is of the essence, set your sights on downtown Honolulu of Oahu, where you’ll find a large selection of lei, from plumeria and pikake to maile and hala, at Nita’s Leis & Flower Shoppe and decades-old community staples like Cindy's Lei Shoppe and Lin's Lei Shop in neighboring Chinatown. Hawaii airports can also meet your lei needs, with Ah Lan's Lei Stand at Hilo International Airport (ITO) offering lei of seasonal flowers and ones made of ribbon. Across the street from Terminal A at Honolulu International Airport (HNL), Harriet’s and Sophia’s offer discounts for residents, while Pua Melia gets the attention for its fresh flowers flown from Hilo. (Of course, you can always reserve a lei greeting through Hawaiian Airlines, too.
Choose a lei made just the way you like, haku measured for your head size and braided with a variety of flowers.
Contemporary lei made to order
Modern lei makers elevate the tradition with uncommon flora and techniques, made specially for those who order ahead. The paniolo (cowboy) town of Makawao is prime for artisan lei makers, with Haku Maui offering customized foliage, floral and even silk flower lei. Nearby Hawaii Flora + Fauna specializes in ‘wearable botanical art’ and incorporates colorful foraged plant materials into its unique strands. In Honokaa of Hawaii Island, Grace Flowers Hawaii sources its materials locally, including the otherworldly blue jade flower. You can order lei of tuberose, cigar, hala, pikake (and more) made by renowned lei makers at The Pua Bar of Lihue, Kauai. Oahu’s lei makers also love to showcase their creativity, from the sustainable floral tiaras from Eco Mindful Lei in Waikiki, to half-carnation and half-shell lei by Pua Hana of Kaimuki, to those worn by champion surfers from Lulu's Lei & Bouquets in Haleiwa.
Peruse the traditional and fashion-forward styles of lei hulu at Na Mea Hawaii in Ward Village on Oahu.
Feather lei to honor tradition
Once reserved for royalty, lei hulu (feather lei) remains a revered artistry of Hawaii. No longer made with the feathers of native honeycreepers, which were oftentimes caught and released for just a couple plumes, the modern lei hulu is now mostly crafted with dyed goose, pheasant and peacock feathers. Luckily, this means a lot more vibrant and diverse colors. In Waikiki of Oahu, Na Lima Mili Hulu Noeau carries on the legacy of Mary Louise Kaleonahenahe Wentworth Peck Kekuewa and Paulette Nohealani Kahalepuna, expert lei hulu makers and authors of “Feather Lei as an Art." Now ran by Mele Kahalepuna Chun, the shop specializes six styles from traditional to contemporary to flower-inspired shapes. Also on Oahu, Na Mea Hawaii at Ward Village has a collection of fashionable lei hulu as well as books on Hawaiian featherwork. Maui Feather Lei showcases the intricate featherwork of Marianne Vaquez and Kaliko Kaleohano, offering readymade and custom-order lei from its Wailuku gallery. Just two blocks away, Native Intelligence sells wili poepoe and kamoe styles. Other Hawaii lei hulu makers may be online only like Kahailimanu.
Proudly crafting lei pupu for 55-plus years, expert lei maker Randy Lee can be found at the Hilo Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Shell lei as a prized possession
Shell lei Few have acquired the skill of making lei pupu (shell lei), for good reason. The tradition, seeped in centuries of practice, requires an extraordinary amount of time and patience. Expect to pay thousands of dollars for the coveted Niihau lei, which can take decades to complete, as each tiny shell is sourced from the Island’s shores, hand-drilled and strung precisely. Look for authentic lei on Kauai, just miles south of Niihau, where JJ Ohana of Hanapepe and Hawaiian Trading Post of Koloa proudly showcase large collections. Those on Hawaii Island should seek out skilled lei maker Randy Lee at the Hilo Farmers Market or stop by Harbor Gallery in Kawaihae. On Oahu, you might find the prized lei at Na Mea Hawaii in Ward or the gift shops of Bishop Museum and Honolulu Museum of Art, depending on availability. It’s also worth trying your luck (and finding other treasures) at the Made in Hawaii Festival, held in September. You’ll have good odds with the four locations of Maui Hands, which feature pieces from acclaimed Niihau lei makers like Kaleialoha Roback, plus a variety of styles, from shell lei and necklaces to bracelets and earrings.