Paradise, Elvis Style: Your Guide to the King’s Hawaii
No non-native Hawaiian is more closely associated with the islands than musical icon Elvis Presley. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll couldn’t help falling in love with Hawaii and frequently vacationed on Oahu throughout the 1960s and ‘70s. He even filmed three movies here: Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (2963, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966). During his time here, Elvis also soaked up the relaxing sounds of Hawaiian music and helped to popularize ukuleles and steel guitars on the mainland by incorporating them into his songs.
Whether you’ve been stuck on Elvis for years or just feeling lonesome tonight and looking for a good time, we’ve got your insider’s guide to Elvis’s Hawaii.
Hilton Hawaiian Village
Forget the Heartbreak Hotel—the Hilton Hawaiian Village was Elvis’s go-to accommodation on Oahu. Fans swarmed the hotel every time Elvis’s private helicopter touched down, hoping to get a glimpse of that guitar man. Several scenes from Blue Hawaii were also filmed at the Hilton’s covered driveway, enormous pool, and Hau Tree Bar. Want to walk a mile in Elvis’s blue suede shoes? Book your stay in the 2,000 square-foot King Suite, where Elvis racked up an impressive seven stays. Located on the 14th floor and boasting magnificent views of Waikiki Beach, the King Suite will make you regret staying for just one night.
Want to recreate some Elvis memories? Hike or drive to the Tantalus Lookout in Puu Ualakaa State Park. From the top of an ancient cinder cone, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of southern Oahu, with Honolulu’s signature Diamond Head crater on the horizon. It was on this spot in the 1960s that a photographer snapped one of Elvis’s most iconic photographs, posed in a bold Hawaiian shirt and lei, holding an ukulele, and looking every bit the hound dog. It’s a long trek up switchback roads, so make sure to hydrate and bring a snack—or you’ll be feeling way down on the way down.
The 1973 concert Aloha from Hawaii was the first show by a solo artist to be broadcast globally via satellite. More than 1 billion people in 40 countries tuned in to hear Elvis croon and shimmy. A statue of Elvis, complete with his signature rhinestone jacket, now stands outside the concert venue to commemorate the historic event. You’ll find our bronze Elvis near the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, not far from Hana Koa Brewing. Don’t forget to bring a good luck charm: visitors often bedeck the statue with fresh leis.
USS Arizona Memorial
At the peak of his fame in 1958, Elvis was drafted into the military and stationed in Germany. His two years of service made him a lifelong patriot and U.S. male, and he generously contributed to several military and veterans’ benefits, including the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. Intended to honor the more than 1,000 crew members who lost their lives when the Arizona sank in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Memorial plans were almost scrapped when less than half of the required funds were raised by 1960. Elvis stepped in and performed a benefit concert in March 1961, donating $60,000 in ticket sales plus a personal contribution to the cause. Today, the USS Arizona Memorial remains a moving monument to Hawaii’s military history.
Rock Island Café
Although the Rock Island Café only opened in 2000, decades after Elvis’s untimely death, it captures the spirit of the 1950s that the King personified. Calling themselves “a pawn shop in the middle of a retro diner,” this retro tiki bar and restaurant is decked out ‘50s memorabilia, including tons of Elvis collectables. The best part? The décor is all for sale, so you can take home your favorite piece and keep Elvis’s Hawaii always on your mind.
Written by Chris, a local expert guide for Waikiki Crawling. A historian on the lam from the world of academia, Chris enjoys gardening, hiking, and playing at open mic nights after one too many beers. Want to learn more about Honolulu’s hidden history? Join us on an Aloha Pub Crawl—as Elvis would say, it’s now or never!