A Luau (Hawaiian: lūʻau, pronounced as “LOO-ow”) is a traditional Hawaiian party usually including food and entertainment. For most visitors to the Big Island, going to a Luau means joining many other tourists at a Luau experience including a buffet with food traditionally served at such events accompanied by a Polynesian show with music, dance, and stories.
A Luau show is a fun way to spend your evening but is probably not liked by everyone. It is also by no means the only way to experience Hawaiian culture. We break this page in the following subjects to help you decide whether to join a Luau and to explain the alternatives:
- Luau history
- Should you visit a Luau?
- Luaus on the Big Island
- Other cultural events on the Big Island (Hula, Lei making, etc.)
The History of the Luau
The history of the Luau traces back to the year 1819 when King Kamehameha II removed the religious law mandating that men and women ate their meals separately. Soon after, the king performed the symbolic act of eating together with women thus holding arguably the first Luau. This means that the Luau as we know it today was created almost 200 years ago and as such represents part of Hawaiian history.
If you are interested in the history of the Luau, you can read more about it here.
Should you go to a Luau?
Many people think that visiting a Luau while vacationing in Hawaii is a “must-do” event. This is by no means true. A luau is a memorable and fun dinner show with local food and island entertainment. They are often held in a gorgeous setting and if you like a good show you will make good memories, but attending a luau can also have its downsides compared to other options.
For example, you will be attending a luau together with possibly hundreds of other tourists and also may share a large table with strangers. Another thing to consider is the price. A Luau is not cheap (think on average around $100 / person), and although the food you are served is in general good, you will be able to find better food for less money at specialized restaurants.
If your main reason to visit a Luau is to get to know Hawaiian culture, you may be better off at one of the free Hula shows or other cultural events organized throughout the Big Island. You can find resources about these events below the list of Big Island Luaus.
Luaus on the Big Island
Most Luau shows are organized in the resorts on the Kohala coast and in Kona. The following list contains the most popular Luau choices on the Big Island:
Luau shows in Kona
- The Island Breeze Luau at the Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel [link]
- The Royal Kona Luau at the Royal Kona Resort [link]
- The Haleo Luau Dinner & Show at the Sheraton Kona [link]
Luau shows at the Kohala coast (resorts)
- Gathering of the Kings Luau at the Fairmont Orchid [link]
- Sunset Luau at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa [link]
- Mauna Kea Luau at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel [link]
Free Hula and other cultural events on the Big Island
Some of the national parks and shopping centers on the Big Island organize free cultural events. Most of these events are organized on a weekly or monthly basis, so it is very likely you will be able to attend one during your visit to the Big Island.
The free events include Polynesian shows, Hula performances, music shows and Hawaiian craft demonstrations such as e.g. lei making classes and Hawaiian featherwork.
List of free cultural events on the Big Island
- The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park calendar [link]
- The Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Park calendar [link]
- The Pu`ukoholā Heiau National Historic Site calendar [link]
- Weekly events at the King shops [Waikoloa resort, link]
- Upcoming events at the Queens marketplace [Waikoloa resort, link]
- Events calendar at the Mauna Lani shopping center [Kohala coast, all events link or the bi-weekly free hula shows]
The following video offers an impression of the Island Breeze Luau at the Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. This video is produced by the organization of that show: