Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Hawaii Vacation Blog

Waikiki International Marketplace: Then and Now

a person riding on the back of a boat

What is the Waikiki International Marketplace? Let’s discuss this interesting cultural center and the ways it has changed throughout the years. 

Hawaiian shirts available for purchase at the marketplace.
Hawaiian shirts are one of the items for sale at the Waikiki International Marketplace

Waikiki International Marketplace: Origins

The old fashioned view of Hawaii as a Polynesian retreat from the world came to life in the International Marketplace when it opened in the 1950s. Picture a tree house, looping banyan branches, and Don Ho singing from one of the marketplace’s nightclubs. 

As time passed, the location earned its international name, with small villages from Korea, Japan, and the South Seas dotting the market. Visitors would enjoy Hawaiian music broadcast from the tree house radio station to the airwaves. 

International Market or Older Relic?

Over time, the appeal of the Waikiki International Marketplace became the sale of uniquely Hawaiian keepsakes. Visitors could purchase Hawaiian hula dancer dolls, flowered Aloha shirts (you can also shop on Amazon), and woven hats. 

Additionally, live music and interesting restaurants served delicious foods that tourists may not have sampled before.

However desirable the open air market was to tourists, it began to decline, falling into disrepair and losing the charm it may have once had. 

Queen Emma and a Charitable Legacy 

Let’s talk about the marketplace’s positive impact on Hawaii.

The marketplace was built on land gifted to Hawaiian humanitarian Queen Emma. As a result of her commitment to charity, the Queen’s Hospital in Honolulu shares her name. 

The Queen Emma Land Company now owns the land, and leases it to the marketplace. This means that revenue from the marketplace continues Queen Emma’s legacy of good deeds. Operations at Queen’s Hospital and the hospital system throughout Hawaii benefit from this support. 

In other words, the Queen’s Hospital system throughout Hawaii is supported financially by the Waikiki International Marketplace. Making sure the marketplace thrives is good for the hospital. Eventually, it was decided that keeping the marketplace attractive to people meant changes. These changes would bring the marketplace into the 21st century.

Renovations brought an entirely new concept and fresh shopping opportunities to the marketplace. Saks Fifth Avenue and Rolex are two of the new stores, creating a more upscale shopping experience.

Change and What is Left Behind

Some argue that the change from open air marketplace to shopping center has had a cost to Oahu.

After all, there is something unique about booths selling flowered dresses, bracelets, and tiki statues. Now department stores and chain restaurants occupy the space. Do they bring the same island feel? A few say no.

Sure, the banyan tree branches still grow into the air, and the tree house is there— with a fresh appearance of course. 

Visitors and residents alike may be nostalgic for the past, but the new-and-improved marketplace does retain the original sign welcoming shoppers and diners. Embracing the new while celebrating the past will keep Oahu’s future looking bright.

If you still haven’t fulfilled your need for nostalgia, the original marketplace has been replicated— in Las Vegas, Nevada

Stop by the International Marketplace when you visit Oahu— you can grab a taste of the past and shop till you drop.

The banyan tree is a fixture at the Waikiki International Marketplace
A banyan tree rising to meet the sky.