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 cultural performances from Hawaii and greater Polynesia show including 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 about joining a Luau and to explain the alternatives:
- Should you visit a Luau?
- List of 7 Luaus (dinner + show) on the Big Island
- Luau history
- Typical dishes served at a luau
- What is Hula?
- Other (free) cultural events related to Hula
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.
Most people are very happy with their experiences but to avoid false expectations / disappointment we describe a typical luau and some things you should know before:
What happens during a luau?
Typically a luau lasts 2.5 hours and include half an hour for of child-friendly and cultural demonstrations / activities, 1 hour of dinner buffet, and 1 hour with the show including hula and fire dancers. You should definitely have a look at our favorite Luau shows if this description sounds good to you!
Good to know:
There are certain things you should know (expect) when signing up for a luau show.
For example, you will be attending a luau together with possibly hundreds of other guests and may have to share a large table with strangers. Access to the buffet happens on a table-by-table basis but most luaus have a ‘preferred seating upgrade’ available to guarantee early access to the line. Another thing to consider is the price. A luau is not cheap (ballpark $100+/person), and, although the food you are served is in general good, you will be able to find better food for a lower price at local restaurants. Some luaus have the option to skip the dinner and only attend the show for ~ half the price.
Finally: parking. All luaus are organized at hotel or resort grounds which means that you need to pay for parking if you are not already staying in said hotel/resort. Sometimes parking is complementary or there is a free parking opportunity close-by, but keep this in mind when making plans.
If your main reason to visit a Luau is to get to know Hawaiian culture and you don’t care about the food, you may be better off choosing the “half price show only” option mentioned above, or you may even choose to forego a luau altogether and instead look for one of the free Hula shows or other cultural events organized all over the Big Island. See our list of cultural events below to see if there is something that fits your itinerary.
If you are still stoked about getting the full luau experience, keep reading for a description of all 7 luaus organized on the Big Island:
Luaus on the Big Island
Most Luau shows are organized by the resorts on the Kohala coast and in Kona on the west coast of the Big Island. The list below contains the most popular Luau choices on the Big Island.
- Haleo luau (Keauhou, south Kona)
- Island Breeze luau (Kona)
- Voyagers of the Pacific luau (Kona)
- Hawaiʻi loa luʻau (Kohala coast)
- Sunset luau (Kohala coast)
- Mauna Kea luau (Kohala coast)
- Legends of Hawai’i luau (Kohala coast)
1: The Hāleo Luau in Keauhou (South Kona)
This is an especially family-friendly luau and includes some interactive parts that are great for kids. The show explores the ancient history of Keauhou, the local district (ahupua’a) through stories, dance and performances. The quality of the dinner buffet, the open bar, and the show, is solid. Outdoor seating at the lawns of the Sheraton resort means that the setting of the show is beautiful.
When? On Mondays and Fridays (with some exceptions).
Where? At the Sheraton Kona Resort at Keauhou Bay in the South Kona district.
Price range: $109 -- $136 (for adults), price depends on possible upgrades such as preferred seating, a group photo or a flower lei.
Have a look at the short video below to get an impression of the show, for more information see the Hāleo Luau Dinner & Show website.
2: Island Breeze Luau (Kona)
The Island Breeze Luau is probably one of the best packages when looking at the quality of the show, the food and the location. It is held on the grounds of the Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, right next to the historic Ahu’ena Heiau.
As most luaus this one also is well-suited for families, and includes child-friendly activities such as learning a hula and getting a Hawaiian tattoo. The show includes an arrival of the “royal court” by an outrigger canoe, the uncovering of the main dish (Kalua pig) from the imu (underground oven), and a dinner buffet and open bar. Entertainment throughout the evening includes live dinner music and a Polynesian show called “He ʻOhana Kakou” (We are Family).
When? On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.
Where? At the Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel in downtown Kona.
Price range: $114 -- $141 (adults, excluding taxes), price depends on possible upgrades such as preferred seating, a group photo or a flower lei.
Have a look at the short video below to get an impression of this luau, for more information see the Island Breeze Luau website.
3: Voyagers of the Pacific Luau (Kona)
Organized at the Royal Kona Resort in downtown Kona this is the most affordable of the Big Island Luaus. It is organized on the oceanfront lawn in front of the hotel and has all the usual features you’d expect: pre-show entertainment and classes including and imu ceremony, an all you can eat buffet, and complementary drinks. The food here doesn’t get the best reviews but the fire knife dance at the end of the show is spectacular.
When? On Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Where? At the Royal Kona Resort in downtown Kona
Price range: $99 (adults, excluding taxes), premium seating close to the state is available as an upgrade on a per person, first-come, first-serve basis at time of luau check-in.
Have a look at the short video below to get an impression of this luau, for more information see the Voyagers of the Pacific website.
4: Hawaiʻi loa Luʻau (formerly the “Gathering of the Kings”, Kohala coast)
This Luau is held at the at the Fairmont Orchid grounds on the Kohala coast and tells the story of how the Hawaiians came to Hawai’i during a 1-hour show given by hula dancers and musicians. Before the show you can take part in / learn about cultural activities and games and enjoy the tasty dinner buffet / open bar.
When? Every Saturday evening.
Where? At the Fairmont Orchid resort.
Price range: $125 to $167 (adults, excluding taxes), price depends on possible upgrades such as preferred seating, a group photo or a flower lei.
Have a look at the short video below to get an impression of this luau, for more information see the Island Breeze Luau website.
5: Sunset Luau at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort (Kohala coast)
Sunset Luau at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa is one of the most popular Luaus on the Big Island for good reason. The buffet has good-quality contemporary and Hawaiian dishes and there is a full open bar.
When? Every Monday and Wednesday.
Where? At the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Beach.
Price range: $117 (adults, excluding taxes), with an option to upgrade for $30 which gets you preferred first row seating, a lei greeting, and a Hawaiian pūpū (gift).
6: Mauna Kea Luau (Kohala coast)
The Mauna Kea Luau is organized at a cozy and secluded part of the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel resort grounds. This luau can feel a bit more festive than the average luau e.g. because of their use of wooden plates (no plastic) and because guests are requested to wear ‘aloha attire‘, which basically means an aloha shirt for men and flowery prints for women. This is of course not mandatory but it does work to make the whole experience seem a bit more festive.
The show is entertaining and food is good, but there is no open bar here (one complementary drink is included, for the rest you’d have to pay).
When? Every Tuesday and Friday.
Where? At the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
Price range: $117 (adult, before taxes), with an option to upgrade to preferred seating for $20 extra. It is also possible to skip the buffet and only see the show for $64.
Have a look at the 5 minute video below to get an impression of this luau, for more information see the Mauna Kea Luau website.
7: Legends of Hawaii Luau (Kohala coast)
The Legends of Hawaii Luau held at the Hilton Waikoloa Village is the most expensive luau on our island. As it is held at the Hilton you are guaranteed to get good food and see a professional performance, but the location of this one is not as good: the show is held in an open amphitheater instead of at an open outdoors setting with good views.
When? Every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
Where? At the Hilton Waikoloa Village resort.
Price range: $140 (adult, before taxes), with an option to upgrade to preferred seating and better access to the food stations for $30 extra. It is also possible to skip the buffet and only see the show for $65.
Have a look at the following promo video of this Luau produced by the Hilton, and find more information on the event website.
The History of the Luau
The history of the Luau traces back to the year 1819 when King Kamehameha II removed the religious requirement 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.
7 Typical Luau Foods:
Good and local food is one of the pillars of any luau and you are bound to get to know some new tastes if you are joining one. Some of these dishes may look strange to you but please try at least a little bit, it’s an experience!
We describe the 7 most typical / iconic dishes below so you can prepare yourself on what to expect:
- Kalua Pig (or Pork) is the centerpiece of the luau and a giant of Hawaiian cuisine. It consists of pork that is cooked in an imu or underground oven and shredded afterwards. Delicious with everything and omnipresent in our local restaurants.
- Poi is a traditional Hawaiian “pudding” that was a main source of carbohydrate for the native Hawaiians. Poi is a thick paste made from the taro root that is either steamed or baked and then pounded into a pulp. It tastes starchy and slightly sour from the light fermentation in the preparation process, and is the most controversial of all dishes on this list. You should definitely give it a try!
- Chicken Long Rice is inspired by the Chinese cuisine. Its main ingredients are chicken soup, clear noodles, chicken and ginger.
- Laulau is delicious! It consists of pork / chicken / fish that is wrapped in luau (taro) leaves and steamed for a long time. The tough taro leaves become soft, almost like spinach, and the meat remains tender and juicy. Traditionally laulau is also prepared in an imu.
- Lomilomi Salmon is a traditional salad / side dish with fresh tomato, salmon, and onion.
- Haupia or coconut pudding is a sweet traditional dessert made from coconut milk and cornstarch.
- Poke is another one of our favorites. Poke is made of raw fish that is marinated typically with soy sauce, onions and lemon (but many other marinades also exist). It has become more popular worldwide because of the rise to popularity of the “Poke Bowl” but is very typical to Hawaii and, honestly, tastes the BEST here on the islands.
You don’t need to go to a luau to taste any of these foods. Many are also available at local supermarkets (KTA for example) or in one of our local L&L Hawaiian BBQ chain restaurants. See our list of hawaiian foods for more local specialties and where to buy them.
What is Hula?
Hula is a form of dance that is accompanies by a chant or song. Hula was first developed here on the Hawaiian islands and is a way of story telling: hula dancers portray the words being sung/chanted with a complex hand motions and a graceful dance motions.
In pre-western-contact Hawaii written language did not exist and hula played an important role in keeping history, genealogy, mythology, and culture, alive. Dancing hula was a way to express culture and has an important place in society. Nowadays hula has become a worldwide symbol for Hawaii culture, and visitors can enjoy Hula performances while they are visiting our Hawaiian islands.
In the following video you can see Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole express the true meaning of hula from a native Hawaiian perspective. Kanakaole is a force of nature: she has won multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards (Hawaii’s highest musical honor), and has traveled the world performing.
Two different styles of Hula:
Modern Hula can be split in two different types: Hula Kahiko and Hula Auana.
Hula Kahiko is the traditional or ancient style and is often defined as those hula composed prior to 1894. Hula kahiko is performed today by dancing to the historical chants without the use of modern instruments and is characterized by traditional costuming, an austere look, and a reverence for their spiritual root. Hula Kahiko is what people refer to when they speak about “traditional hula”.
Hula Auana is a more contemporary form of Hula, where the old histories have been re-imagined with new choreography and music, including more modern instruments such as the ukulele, guitar, steel guitar, bass or piano.
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.
These events include e.g. Polynesian shows, Hula performances, music shows and Hawaiian craft demonstrations such as lei making classes and Hawaiian featherwork.
List of free cultural events on the Big Island:
- Hula performances in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park [link]
- 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]