Elvis Presley was born in Mississippi and lived in Tennessee, but to many fans, this musical legend is known as “the last Hawaiian king.”
Like Jerry Hopkins, author of Elvis in Hawaiistates: “Elvis Presley, son of a Mississippi sharecropper, whose Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, is the second most visited home in the United States (behind the White House), may be the personality most closely identified with Hawaii, except for those born and raised here.
Presley has visited several times for personal vacations, but is best remembered for his professional appearances. He shot three films in Hawaii: blue hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), and Paradise, Hawaiian style (1966). He also made history with several concerts. They included an advantage for the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor and the 1973 Aloha from Hawaii show, the first concert by a solo artist broadcast worldwide.
The legacy and spirit of Elvis is alive and well on the island of Oahu, and music lovers can easily organize their own Elvis-themed tour. I experienced it myself this Christmas when my husband and I organized an Elvis-focused trip for my mother, a huge Elvis fan. Based on our experiences, here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
The Honolulu Elvis Statue
The 1973 Aloha from Hawaii concert was a moment in musical history. Up to a billion people in 40 countries watched the show, a benefit for a local cancer fund honoring Hawaiian artist Kui Lee. Presley’s performance from what was then the Honolulu International Center (now the Neal S. Blaisdell Center) was the first time a solo artist was broadcast live via satellite.
In honor of this milestone event, a statue of Elvis is located in the Blaisdell parking lot. The rendering is complete with a studded jumpsuit, guitar and microphone. Most often, “Elvis” has a necklace of fresh flowers around his neck. When I visited, my family added to the flowers and left our necklaces on the statue’s hand and microphone.
Visiting Honolulu’s most famous beach is an essential part of any Hawaiian visit, especially for Elvis fans. Waikiki Beach can be seen in all three Hawaiian films in which Elvis appeared, and Elvis has been photographed here dozens of times in personal and professional appearances.
Waikiki Beach is much more than a beautiful surf and sand destination. It’s filled with rich history and culture, and this walking tour of Waikiki will help you explore all the different sights.
Ala Moana Beach Park
This local-favorite beach park is a short drive from Waikiki Beach and offers great jogging trails, tennis courts, and picnic facilities, as well as great swimming and paddling conditions. Movie buffs will be interested in exploring the western end of Ala Moana (at Kewalo Basin) and the eastern end (near AlaWai Marina), as scenes from Girls! Girls! Girls! were shot on both.
Tantalus Lookout / Diamond Head
One of the most iconic photos of Elvis Presley’s career shows him sitting on a ledge with a ukulele in his hand, a view of Diamond Head crater in the background. You can recreate the photo for yourself (or at least take in the view of Diamond Head) by heading to Tantalus Lookout. Be careful as you go, as the route involves some tight turns, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the best views in town. Highly recommended at sunset!
Taking a solemn moment to pay your respects at Pearl Harbor is an essential part of any visit to Honolulu, something Elvis Presley (a US Army veteran, having served from 1958 to 1960) knew well. While raising funds to build a memorial to the USS Arizona hesitant, he stepped in and organized a benefit concert in 1961. Not only did he raise significant funds, but he also raised the profile of the project, paving the way for other fundraising efforts. The memorial remained an important site for Elvis, who returned for a personal visit years later during filming Paradise, Hawaiian style.
Hanauma Bay Beach Park
Even if you’ve never heard of Elvis (impossible!), Hanauma Bay Beach Park should be on your Oahu travel bucket list. It is one of the best snorkeling spots in Hawaii. The pretty region has been featured in Paradise, Hawaiian style and made a big appearance in Blue Hawaii, as Presley’s character kissed his love interest by the bay while wearing his military uniform.
Dole pineapple plantation
movie fans blue hawaii will recall a scene in which Elvis takes the girls on a tour of Oahu and swings near a pineapple plantation. I can’t say for sure which pineapple plantation this is, but the Dole location is a fun place to visit. It’s the perfect place to learn about pineapple production, try some delicious fruit, and perhaps create some dreamy, movie-worthy moments in the gardens.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is another must-see on Oahu. Visitors visit replica Pacific Island communities, take part in cultural classes (like hula dancing), and listen to traditional music. It’s an experience Elvis would know well, as the location featured in both blue hawaii and Paradise, Hawaiian style.
For photo ops, ask the staff to direct you to the spot near the Rapa Nui Exhibit, under the bridge between the Samoa Exhibit and the Hawaiian Mission Settlement, where a famous palm tree is located. This is where Elvis sang a scene in blue hawaii.
The North Shore
The North Shore of Oahu is an incredible place to watch professional surfers hone their skills and offer incredible scenery, something the crew of Paradise, Hawaiian style knew well. They filmed Elvis at one of the region’s most famous locations, the small island of Mokoli’i near Kualoa Beach Regional Park in Walahole. In the film, it is the setting for a major plot point which included a helicopter and a lost key.
Listen to “Elvis” live in Honolulu
Rock-A-Hula is a Waikiki-based nighttime variety show that features a mix of popular music, Hawaiian-inspired dance, and rock ‘n’ roll tributes. At times it seems quite cheesy and touristy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun experience. “Elvis” steals the show and puts in a solid performance. All of his hits are covered and there’s a genuine effort to connect with audiences. A highlight of the show was when “Elvis” sang suspicious minds while roaming the audience, offering charming handshakes and kisses. Keep an eye out for a replica of the pearl Aloha from Hawaii concert suit, which is on display in the lobby.
Stay at this Elvis-approved hotel
The Hilton Hawaiian Village was Elvis Presely’s hotel of choice in Honolulu. He stayed there on personal and business trips seven times. Today, the magnificent property spans 22 acres, but when Elvis first visited in 1957, its proportions were more modest. In fact, it wasn’t even part of the Hilton until 1961! You can absorb the many changes Elvis witnessed at the hotel by checking out the wall of history near the Tapa Tower. This detailed time capsule showcases decades of change and evolution across the Waikiki property and beach (and includes three panels dedicated to you-know-who).
For the ultimate Elvis experience, you can stay in the resort’s 2,000 square foot King Suite in the Ali’i Tower. This is where Elvis stayed. The staff was kind enough to show me around the suite and it was an extremely moving experience. The view is absolutely stunning, the kind of breathtakingly beautiful scenery that every Hawaii vacationer dreams of. But it’s also kind of sad when you imagine how essentially Elvis was trapped by his fame. I was reassured to learn that the hotel staff had a strict rule of never disturbing or attending to Elvis and that he would sneak out after dark to enjoy the beach and the resort amenities.
The bedroom has a tasteful picture board commemorating the history of Elvis in the property, but if you stay here you won’t be bombarded with rock ‘n’ roll or tons of memorabilia. I like this approach. It acknowledges Elvis’ important relationship with the venue, but also allows you to take ownership of your visit.
Pro tip: You’ll want to order a Blue Hawaii cocktail at Tropics, a popular restaurant and bar on the property. This classic local cocktail actually predates the Elvis movie of the same name and was invented on the spot in 1957 when a Dutch distiller’s sales representative challenged head bartender Harry Yee to create a drink using their liquor. Blue Curacao.
Eat one of Elvis’ favorite dishes at this 50s-themed restaurant
Elvis Presley loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches (sometimes with added bacon for good measure). You can enjoy his favorite food by visiting the Rock Island Cafe. This ’50s-themed restaurant invites diners to “step back to a time when Elvis was king, Marilyn was queen, and they both drank Coca-Cola.” Menu items (mostly burgers and fast food) are named after celebrities, there’s a long list of soda fountain favorites, and you can feast on peanut butter and bananas to your heart’s content.