The 10 Best Luaus on Oahu

From massive bashes in Waikiki to an intimate gathering on a macadamia nut plantation, Oahu’s luau scene has never been more diverse — and there’s a celebration for every appetite.

Photo By: Aaron Bernard

Photo By: DANA EDMUNDS

Ali’i Luau

The celebratory feasts now known as luaus (a word which refers to taro, a plant whose tender young leaves are cooked with coconut and chicken in a popular traditional dish) are related to ancient religious gatherings called 'aha'aina, where Hawaiian men and women ate separately and certain delicacies were reserved for male guests of high standing. Those rules changed in 1819, when Hawaii's King Kamehameha II lifted the prohibition on men and women eating together — and held a massive, coed feast to commemorate the change. Modern luaus aren't quite as massive as the royal bashes held in the 19th century, but they remain a popular (and spectacular) way for visitors to experience traditional Polynesian food and entertainment.

The Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu’s north shore honors the history of the luau by emphasizing the cultural significance of each of its components. The PCC draws inspiration for its buffet from the techniques and recipes that would have been used back in Kamehameha II’s day and entertains its guests with dancing and decorations rooted in tradition -- and unsurprisingly, it’s recognized far and wide as the most authentic luau on the island. Luau packages include admission to the center’s six island villages, each of which celebrates the culture of an island nation. BOOK NOW: Polynesian Cultural Center, starting at $89.95

‘Aha’aina Luau

The Royal Hawaiian Resort draws inspiration for its 'Aha’aina Luau from Helumoa, or "chicken scratch," the spot where, as legend has it, a supernatural rooster flew to Waikiki to challenge Kakuhihewa, the ruler of the island. Kakuhihewa then planted coconuts where the rooster scratched the earth, and the resort now stands on the historic "royal playground" in the grove Kakuihewa established. 'Aha’aina’ honors that history with music, storytelling and dancing—and, of course, a feast fit for Hawaiian royalty. BOOK NOW: The Royal Hawaiian Resort, starting at $169

Te Moana Nui

If your interest in luau is more performance- than pork-related, the interactive pre-show activities (like floral crafts, Hawaiian stamping and tatau pasefika, or Polynesian tattoos — temporary in this case) and intricate storytelling at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani will suit you well. Te Moana Nui translates to "the vast ocean," and visitors enjoy a buffet of prime rib and island-inspired dishes before settling in for a one-hour presentation of Hawaiian and South Pacific stories told through music and dance. BOOK NOW: The Sheraton Princess Kai’ulani, starting at $60

Chief's Luau

Chief Sielu Avela came to Hawaii from Samoa decades ago, and after working at the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Honolulu Comedy Club at Waikiki's Ilikai Hotel, he partnered with the club’s founder to create his own luau. Avela’s larger-than-life personality is unquestionably the star of the show, a Polynesian extravaganza that also features island fare (and special menus for vegetarians and those who follow dairy-, gluten- and peanut-free diets), interactive activities, an imu ceremony (in which kalua pork is removed from a pit oven and taken to the kitchen for shredding). Located at the Wet’n’Wild Hawaii park in Kapolei, the luau offers guests motorcoach transportation from nine pick-up locations in Waikiki. BOOK NOW: Chief’s Luau, starting at $99

Ka Moana Luau

Oahu’s only "east-side" luau is appropriately ocean-themed: it’s part of Sea Life Park (and boasts a gorgeous ocean view), and tickets to the show include admission to the aquarium, redeemable for up to seven days. The evening begins with activities like coconut-headband weaving, ukulele lessons and poi and lomi-lomi (a traditional salmon side dish) samplings, continues with a buffet dinner of Hawaiian favorites like kalua pork and grilled mahi mahi, then concludes with a Polynesian performance that ends in a dramatic fire dance. Transportation from Waikiki is available for an additional $18. BOOK NOW: Ka Moana Luau, starting at $99

Paradise Cove Luau

Located at Ko Olina on Oahu’s leeward (western) coast, pristine Paradise Cove was once a getaway for royalty and is now a hot spot for fishers, surfers, snorkelers and scuba divers. Happily, one can take a full day to appreciate its charms (and work up an appetite for the buffet) by combining the oceanside Paradise Cove Luau with surfing and snorkeling packages. Guests are greeted with mai tais and shell leis, then enjoy arts and crafts, games, a "shower of flowers," hukilau (an ancient form of fishing in which many people cast and retrieve a net together), an imu ceremony... and, of course, a luau buffet and Hawaiian revue. Round-trip transportation from some Waikiki hotels is an extra $16. BOOK NOW: Paradise Cove Luau, starting at $102

Experience Nutridge Luau

Fifteen minutes and a world away from Waikiki in Pu'u Ualaka'a State Park, Nutridge Estate (which earned its name by serving as Hawaii's first macadamia nut plantation) is an idyllic 22-acre property that once hosted luminaries like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Elvis — who was fond of spending time there while filming Blue Hawaii — and now welcomes 48 guests at a time for an intimate evening luau. This luau is a far cry from the massive spectacles you'll find in town: the Nutridge team is dead serious when they say they want to welcome you to their ohana (family). If you fancy an even more intimate event, private luaus can be arranged as well. Round-trip transportation from Waikiki is an additional $14. BOOK NOW: Experience Nutridge, $135

Hale Koa Hotel Luau

The Hale Koa Hotel — a Waikiki property that serves as a retreat for members of the military and their families — prides itself on operating the island’s only full-service luau: family-style appetizers greet guests as they take their seats, and plated entrees and family-style desserts follow. (Translation: No queuing for the buffet to interrupt your appreciation of the entertainment.) You don’t have to be a serviceperson to attend and appreciate the show in the hotel’s lush luau garden (a member of the military can sponsor you, and the hotel occasionally makes unsold tickets available to the public), but it’s especially resonant if you are, as it includes a special tribute to those who serve. BOOK NOW: Hale Koa Hotel Luau, $67.95

Germaine's Luau

The "original backyard-style luau" in Kapolei has entertained and fed more than three million locals and visitors since 1976. The Germaine's experience begins on the bus ride from Waikiki, as hosts keep visitors entertained throughout the half-hour trip. Onsite, the festivities begin with the call of a conch shell and continue with a royal procession, the uncovering of the imu, a Hawaiian-American buffet, and a Polynesian show featuring both Hawaiian hula and dances from Tahiti, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. Round-trip transportation is included with tickets. BOOK NOW: Germaine’s Luau, starting at $88

Diamond Head Luau

The farm-to-table buffet at Diamond Head Luau features delicacies like lychee wood-smoked local marlin dip, Hawaiian fern caprese salad and vegan vegetable curry stew with local tofu and reflects the team's belief in Malama 'ka 'Aina (care for the land). Diamond Head is located at the Waikiki Aquarium (and is a "sister luau" to Sea Life Park’s Ka Moana), and every luau admission ticket grants guests exclusive access to its exhibits from 5:20-6:00 PM. BOOK NOW: Diamond Head Luau, $159

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