19 Reasons Why Hawaii Costcos Are the Best in the Country
When Costco opened the first warehouse store on Oahu in 1988, the Washington-based members-only retailer stocked its shelves with Hawaii-made products, including Kona coffee, locally grown produce, and books written by Hawaiian authors. With four locations on Oahu alone and one on each of the main islands, it’s safe to say that Hawaii residents love Costco just as much as the rest of the country — and not just for bulk-size dish soap and $1.50 hot dogs.
Over the decades Costco has become almost like that neighborhood grocery store, where you run into former coworkers, high school classmates, and surf buddies. The employees here are incredibly nice, down to the big-haired women with the big glasses and even bigger smiles who hand out samples. And just the other day someone in front of me in line hadn’t renewed his Costco membership and the cashier paid the renewal fee with her own money. Talk about the aloha spirit.
As an Oahu native, I may be a little biased, but I think Costcos in Hawaiʻi are better than any on the mainland. Here are 19 reasons why.
1. Punalu’u Bake Shop Traditional Sweetbread, $7.49 for 24 ounces
This Hawaii Island bakery — geographically the southernmost bakery in the U.S. — has been known for its signature sweet bread loaves since it opened more than three decades ago. The long unsliced loaves are great for French toast and PB&Js and are so satisfying to rip into as is or cut slices as thick or thin as your heart desires.
2. Big Island Bees Organic Hawaiian Honey, $22.49 for 42 ounces
This family-run operation located in Captain Cook on Hawaii Island (about 24 miles south of Kailua-Kona), was started in 1972 by veteran honey producer Jim Powers. He moved to Hawaii Island from Georgia and opened his eighth honey operation, which is now run by his stepson and his family. This particular honey has a delicate flavor, pale color, and creamy texture, courtesy of the native ohia lehua flower. The giant jar will last a long time — and it makes great gifts for honey-lovers.
3. Fresh Poke, starting at $20.99 for 16 ounces
Poke is everywhere, even outside of the Islands. But you’d be hard-pressed to find better poke than in Hawaii with all our fresh seafood, and Costco serves fresh poke every day. On a recent visit, I found three different kinds of poke — fresh shoyu, spicy ahi (yellowfin tuna), and ahi wasabi — all caught fresh and ready to eat with a bowl of hot rice.
4. Mauna Loa Macadamia Milk Frozen Dessert, $14.99 for 4 pints
I cannot get enough of what Mauna Loa calls “nice cream,” its line of non-dairy ice creams made with rich macadamia nut milk. This box contains four pints in my two favorite flavors: Molokai Sea Salt & Caramel and Rocky Road to Hana. (The latter is made with sustainably sourced chocolate and vegan marshmallows.) You won’t miss the dairy, I promise.
5. Hanalei Poi Company Poi, $9.99 for 16 ounces
Kauai is the largest producer of taro in the state, and the poi — a traditional starchy staple made by steaming taro root and mashing it into a paste — from this island is unbeatable. The family-run Hanalei Poi Co. makes a poi that’s slightly sweet and perfectly thick. If you’re going to try poi for the first time, try this brand alongside some kalua pig, the Hawaiian version of pulled pork.
6. Honolulu Beerworks Hop Island IPA, $10.99 for 6 (12-ounce) cans
Hawaii is home to lots of great local craft breweries, and a few of them sell their brews at Coscto. Find six-packs of Hop Island IPA from Honolulu Beerworks, a popular neighborhood craft brewery in Kakaako on Oahu. This light-bodied IPA has notes of tangerine, grapefruit, and pineapple.
7. Cooke Street Aloha Shirts, $19.99
In addition to its bulk groceries, Costco carries a fashionable variety of board shorts, swimsuits, and comfy loungewear that fits the leisurely vibe of the islands. All Hawaii Costcos boast a wide selection of aloha shirts by the popular Cooke Street brand, which feature perfectly cheesy designs that blend in with the island aesthetic.
8. Maebo’s One-Ton Chips, $11.29 for a 20 ounces
9. Hilo Fish Co. Dried Aku Chips, $19.99 for 6 ounces
These chips, made out of dried aku (skipjack tuna), are the ultimate Hawaii pupu (appetizer). The wild-caught tuna is machine-dried and lightly peppered, and is best consumed with a cold beer. Hilo Fish Co. also sells bags of dried and smoked octopus, which you can also find at Costco.
10. Nutrex Pure Hawaiian Spirulina Powder, $34.79 for 16 ounces
Nutrex Hawaii grows its spirulina, a type of algae and one of the oldest microorganisms in the world, on the pristine coast of Kailua-Kona on the Big Island. One three-gram serving of this supplement, often mixed into smoothies for a vibrant blue-green color, provides 60% of your daily protein and is an excellent source of B12, among other vitamins.
11. Watanabe Floral Lei, $18.99
In business for 75 years, Honolulu-based Watanabe Floral is the go-to florist for locals for flowers, bouquets, and lei, the decorative flower necklaces used during Luau ceremonies. You can find several kinds of floral garlands at Costco, but Watanabe Floral makes its beautiful leis from orchids.
12. Hawaiian Chip Co. Sweet Potato & Taro Chips, $13.99 for 12.75 ounces
Honolulu-based Hawaiian Chip Co. is known for crispy snacks made from Okinawan sweet potatoes, taro grown on Oahu, and golden sweet potatoes from Molokai. The chips are lightly salted, so the flavors of the sweet potato and taro really shine through. The bag may look big, but you’ll finish it sooner than you think.
13. Aloha Soy Sauce, $9.99 for 1 gallon
We use a lot of soy sauce in Hawaii, so I often buy 1-gallon jugs of the stuff. Aloha is my favorite brand; it’s lighter and not as salty as some others brands. The Oahu-based company has been around since 1946, started by five local Japanese families right after World War II. Shoyu, the local term for soy sauce, adds a nice umami flavor when added to fried rice, omelets, and pork adobo. It’s also the base for teriyaki and kalbi sauces.
14. Kaua’i Shrimp Frozen Shrimp, $17.99 for 2 pounds
You can find Kaua’i-grown shrimp in most high-end restaurants across the Islands, but it’s also in the freezer aisle at Costco. The shrimp are raised in an efficient and sustainable shrimp farming facility on former sugar cane fields on Kauai’s west end. The shrimp has a sweet flavor and great texture, even when cooked from frozen.
15. Kawamata Farms Kamuela Tomatoes on the Vine, $7 for 2 pounds
There’s nothing better than vine-ripened tomatoes, but many of the tomatoes you’ll find in Hawaii supermarkets are shipped underripe from mainland so they can ripen during the trip. At Costco you can find fresh, hydroponically grown tomatoes from the family-run Kawamata Farms on Hawaii Island. The third-generation farm, which started in 1952, grows cucumbers and tomatoes in state-of-the-art hydroponics systems. Costco also sells the company’s locally grown bananas, cucumbers, and pineapples, which is great for Hawaiians, as the state still imports around 90% of its food.
16. Anahola Granola Bars, $16.99 for 18 (25.4-ounce) bars
These bars, made by Kauai-based Anahola Granola, are fairly new to Costco. The box features three varieties: Original, Tropical, and Chocolate Chip. The tropical bar, with honey-sweetened oats mixed with dried pineapple and papaya, is my favorite. The original has coconut, walnuts, and sunflower seeds; the chocolate chip is a nice blend of chocolate, macadamia nuts, coconut, and brown rice crisps.
17. Honolulu Cookie Company Chocolate Chip Macadamia Mini Bites, $8.99 for 16 ounces
Honolulu Cookie Co. is known for its signature pineapple-shaped, hand-dipped shortbread cookies, but I’ve always prefered the company’s mini chocolate chip cookie bites. These little cookies — which are also pineapple-shaped — are buttery and sweet with a subtle macadamia nut crunch and rich chocolate chips. These are great in lunch boxes, either for kids or yourself, and are fun to serve at parties and potlucks.
18. Koolau Distillery Old Pali Road Whiskey, $37.99 for 750 mL
The veteran-run Koolau Distillery in Kaneohe on Oahu specializes in bourbon-style American whiskey, using primarily local corn and malted barley. The end result is a light, smooth whiskey that pairs well with Hawaii’s tropical weather. A bottle makes a thoughtful gift for the whiskey-lover in your life, or for those who couldn’t take off from work to travel with you to Hawaii.
19. Gerry Lopez 8-Foot Foam Surfboard, $129.99
Yes, you can buy surfboards at Costco — and they’re not bad, either. Legendary surfer Gerry Lopez shaped this 8-foot soft-top surfboard that’s sold exclusively at the warehouse store. It comes with fins and a surfboard leash. This board is light and easy to paddle for beginners, but is also super fun for wave-riding veterans. I recently convinced my friend to buy this — most longboards cost more than $800 these days — and she has zero regrets.
Do you shop at a Costco in Hawaii? Tell us about your favorite groceries below.