Elvis Presley was born in Mississippi and lived in Tennessee, but to many fans this musical legend is known as “the last Hawaiian king”.
As Jerry Hopkins, author of Elvis in Hawaiisays: “Elvis Presley, the son of a Mississippi owner whose Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, is the second most visited home in the United States (behind the White House), may be the individual most identified with Hawaii except those who was born and raised here.”
Presley visited several times for personal vacations, but he is best remembered for his professional appearances. He filmed 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 a benefit for the USS Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor and 1973 Aloha from Hawaii show, the first concert by a solo artist to be broadcast worldwide.
Elvis’ legacy and spirit lives on on the island of Oahu, and music lovers can easily put together their own Elvis-themed tour. I experienced it myself this Christmas when my husband and I put together an Elvis-focused trip for my mother, a huge Elvis fan. Based on our experiences, here’s what you shouldn’t miss.
Honolulu’s Elvis statue
1973 Aloha from Hawaii the concert was a moment of musical history. Up to one billion people across 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 entertainer was broadcast live via satellite.
In honor of this landmark event, a statue of Elvis is located in the Blaisdell parking lot. The rendition is complete with a studded suit, guitar and microphone. More often than not, “Elvis” has a fresh bed of flowers around his neck. During my visit, my family added the blooms and placed our leis on the statue’s hand and microphone.
Visiting Honolulu’s most famous beach is an essential part of any visit to Hawaii, especially for Elvis fans. Waikiki Beach is visible in all three Hawaii-based films Elvis appeared in, and Elvis was photographed here dozens of times during personal and professional appearances.
Waikiki Beach is much more than a beautiful destination with surf and sand. It is filled with rich history and culture and this DIY Waikiki tour will help you explore all the different places.
Ala Moana Beach Park
Just a short drive from Waikiki Beach, this beloved beach park boasts great jogging paths, tennis courts and picnic facilities, as well as fantastic swimming and paddling facilities. Movie fans will be interested in exploring Ala Moana’s west end (at Kewalo Basin) and east end (near AlaWai Yacht Harbor), as scenes from Girls! Girls! Girls! were shot at both.
Tantalus Lookout/Diamond Head
One of the most iconic images from Elvis Presley’s career shows him sitting on a ledge with a ukulele in hand, overlooking the Diamond Head Crater in the background. You can recreate the image for yourself (or at least enjoy the view of Diamond Head) by driving up to Tantalus Lookout. Take care as you walk, as the route involves some sharp turns, but you will be rewarded with some of the best views of the city. Highly recommended at sunset!
Taking a solemn moment to pay respects at Pearl Harbor is an important part of any visit to Honolulu, as Elvis Presley (a US Army veteran, having served from 1958 to 1960) knew well. In fundraising efforts to build a memorial to the USS Arizona was faltering, he stepped in and organized a benefit concert in 1961. Not only did he raise significant funds, but he also raised the project’s profile, paving the way for other fundraisers. The memorial remained an important place for Elvis, who returned for a personal visit years later while 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 list. This is one of Hawaii’s best snorkeling spots. The beautiful area was featured in Paradise, Hawaiian style and had a big cameo in Blue Hawaii, when Presley’s character embraced his love interest by the bay while wearing his military uniform.
Dole pineapple plantation
Fans of the movie Blue Hawaii will remember a scene where Elvis takes the girls on a tour of Oahu and swings by a pineapple plantation. I can’t say for sure which pineapple plantation it is, but the Dole location is a fun place to check out. It’s the perfect place to learn about pineapple production, sample delicious fruit, and perhaps create some dreamy, movie-worthy moments in the garden.
Polynesian Cultural Center
The Polynesian Cultural Center is another Oahu must-do. Visitors visit replicas of Pacific Island communities, participate in cultural lessons (such as hula dancing) and enjoy traditional music. It’s an experience Elvis would be familiar with, since the place was 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 there is a famous palm tree. This is where Elvis sang a scene Blue Hawaii.
Oahu’s North Shore is a fantastic place to watch pro surfers hone their skills and offers incredible scenery, something the crew of Paradise, Hawaiian style knew well. They filmed Elvis at one of the area’s most famous landmarks, the small island of Mokoli’i at Kualoa Regional Beach Park in Walahole. The film set the stage for an important plot point that included a helicopter and a lost key.
Listen to “Elvis” Live In Honolulu
Rock-A-Hula is a nightly Waikiki-based variety show that features a mix of popular music, Hawaiian-inspired dance and rock ‘n’ roll tributes. At times it feels quite cheesy and touristy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun experience. “Elvis” steals the show and gives a solid performance. All his hits are covered and there is a genuine effort to connect with the audience. A highlight of the show was when “Elvis” argued Suspicious minds while walking through the crowd, offering handshakes and kisses, full of charm. Keep an eye out for a copy of the pearls Aloha from Hawaii concert jumpsuit, 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 during personal and professional trips on seven occasions. Today the lovely estate is 22 acres, but during Elvis’s first visit in 1957 the proportions were more modest. In fact, it wasn’t even part of the Hilton until 1961! You can absorb the many changes that Elvis witnessed at the hotel by checking out the history wall at the Tapa Tower. This detailed time capsule shows decades of change and evolution throughout the property and Waikiki Beach (and includes three panels dedicated to you-know-who).
For the ultimate Elvis experience, stay in the resort’s 2,000 square foot King Suite in the Ali’i Tower. This is where Elvis lived. The staff were kind enough to give me a tour of the suite and it was an extremely moving experience. The view is absolutely stunning, the kind of drop-dead gorgeous scenery that every Hawaii vacationer dreams of. But it’s also kind of sad when you imagine how Elvis was essentially trapped by his fame. I took comfort in learning that the hotel staff followed a strict rule of never bothering or fussing over Elvis, and that he would sneak out after dark to enjoy the beach and resort facilities.
The room has a tasteful photo board commemorating Elvis’ history on 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 recognizes Elvis’ important relationship with the room, but also allows you to make your visit your own.
Pro tip: You’ll order a Blue Hawaii cocktail at Tropics, a popular on-site restaurant and bar. This classic local cocktail actually predates the Elvis movie of the same name and was invented on the spot in 1957 when a sales representative from the Dutch distillery challenged bartender Harry Yee to make a drink with their Blue Curacao liqueur.
Eat one of Elvis’ favorite foods at this ’50s-themed dinner
Elvis Presley famously loved peanut butter and banana sandwiches (sometimes with bacon thrown in for good measure). You can enjoy his favorite food with a visit to Rock Island Cafe. This ’50s-themed dining room invites guests 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 fare) are named after celebrities, there’s a long list of soda fountain favorites, and you can enjoy peanut butter and banana to your heart’s content.