international market place

The newly opened and reimagined International Market Place.

Photo By Tiffany Hill

Inside Waikiki’s International Market Place, a new fancy shopping center

If you’ve been to Waikiki recently, you’ve probably noticed a big change on Kalakaua Avenue.

The last week of August 2016, a new three-story shopping center opened, replacing the iconic International Market Place in the heart of the city.

It’s still called the International Market Place, but gone are the ticky-tacky kiosks, vendors hawking honu pendants, aloha shirts and tikis—and all for cut-rate costs if you had serious price negotiating skills. For many visitors, bargaining for omiyage was half the fun. Gone too is the food court and the koi pond. In its place is a towering shopping center, featuring mostly luxury stores, including a three-level Saks Fifth Avenue. Several of the center’s stores haven’t opened yet and are slated to debut late this and early next year.

international market place
Second floor of the International Market Place designed around the banyan tree.
Photo: Tiffany Hill

The International Market Place opened in 1957, and the faux-Polynesian center, enveloped by lush trees and hanging vines was an immediate hit. Several prominent Hawaii musicians got their start there, including Martin Denny and Don Ho, who performed at Duke Kahanamoku’s lounge, the Supper Club, in the 1960s. It was regular nightlife hotspot for locals and visitors alike.

While the new International Marketplace is unrecognizable to kamaaina and frequent visitors, one part of its legacy was left intact: the 160-year-old banyan tree. Developers took strides to ensure the tree remained undisturbed during the half-a-billion dollar redevelopment.

international market place
Former International Market Place, 2013.
Photo: Daniel Ramirez/Flickr

While the new center is no longer a place to get souvenirs of yore, it’s a great spot in bustling Waikiki for tired feet. There are shaded areas on each level, whether under old monkeypod trees or new umbrellas. The new area also boasts several serene sitting areas surrounded by water features and “grass.” (Turns out, the grass isn’t in fact actual grass; it’s Astroturf.)

If you’re hungry, stop by international acclaimed chef Roy Yamaguchi’s newest restaurant, Eating House 1849. Flanked by Las Vegas favorite Stripsteak by restauranteur Michael Mina and the soon-to-open Herringbone, which has locations hailing from La Jolla and Santa Monica, Eating House 1849 is one of the few local restaurants at the center.

international market place waikiki
Seating area at the International Market Place.
Photo: Tiffany Hill

There is plenty of parking available at the new International Market Place (750 stalls to be exact), but like the expensive shopping options, the parking comes at cost, too. To receive validated parking, you have to spend at least $10. Even then validation is only for one hour, then is $2 an hour for two hours, followed by $6 per hour. Tip: It’s better to just walk over.

Walking around the new center, many will feel a loss for the old International Market Place (I sure did). Sure, it was dated, worn and dingy, but that’s what gave it character amongst the cookie-cutter developments encroaching it. Everyone has an International Market Place story or two. The shopping center that stands there today is mostly devoid of its own history, so a question arises: Is it primed to create a new one?