What is a Hawaiian Luau? - Marina Hawaii Vacations

What is a Hawaiian Luau?

Author 05-22-2023

Everything You Need to Know About Luaus on Hawaii

A visit to Hawaii is incomplete without participating in an authentic Hawaiian lūʻau (AKA luau). In essence, a luau is a feast and celebration that features many traditional Hawaiian dishes as well as lively music and cultural performances. Luaus are typically held to mark special occasions such as a wedding or birth of a child.

Today, there are many places across Oahu and the other Hawaiian islands where you can experience authentic luaus. Read on to find out everything you need to know about these special celebrations as well as the best places for you to attend one.

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History of the Luau

Luau-like gatherings have been a part of Hawaiian culture for many centuries, but the first celebrations that were actually called luaus didn’t occur until the early 19th century. The name of a “luau” came about as a reference to the taro leaves used to wrap foods before they were cooked for the feast.

In 1819, the first modern version of a luau took place when King Kamehameha II invited women to eat at the feast with the rest of the group. Before then, women and men dined separately, and women were prohibited from consuming various specific foods from the feast.

People Sitting at a Hawaiian Picnic Feast

What Foods Are Served at a Luau?

At a luau, guests are greeted with a warm and welcoming atmosphere, typically held outdoors in a scenic location like a beach or a backyard. One of the central features of a luau is the imu, an underground oven used for cooking a whole pig, known as “kalua pig.” The pig is seasoned, wrapped in banana leaves, and placed in the imu to slow-cook for several hours, resulting in tender and flavorful meat.

In addition to the kalua pig, the luau feast typically includes a variety of other dishes, such as poi (a traditional Hawaiian staple made from taro root), lomi lomi salmon (a salad made with salted salmon, tomatoes, and onions), haupia (a coconut milk-based dessert), and a variety of fresh tropical fruits. Other popular dishes may include laulau (meat or fish wrapped in taro or luau leaves and cooked in the imu), chicken long rice, and various seafood dishes.

Hula Dance at Hawaiian Luau

What Happens at a Luau?

Entertainment is a significant part of a luau. It often includes hula dancing, which is a traditional Hawaiian dance form accompanied by live music played on instruments like ukulele, guitar, and drums. The dancers tell stories and legends through their movements, and guests are often invited to participate or learn basic hula steps.

Luau attendees may also have the opportunity to try their hand at other cultural activities, such as lei-making (creating floral necklaces), learning to play traditional Hawaiian games, or getting temporary Polynesian-style tattoos.

Fire Dancer at a Hawaiian Luau

Where Can You Experience Luaus on Oahu?

All around Oahu, there are many places where you can find authentic luau experiences with complete Hawaiian feasts, hula dancing, and all the other traditional fare.

One such spot is at the Polynesian Cultural Center on the northeast side of Oahu. The luaus at the here go beyond the typical feast and entertainment, offering a comprehensive exploration of Polynesian traditions and customs. Guests can indulge in a delicious all-you-can-eat buffet, featuring an array of authentic dishes from various Polynesian islands.

A little closer to Marina Hawaii’s home near Honolulu, you can also find fun luaus at Paradise Cove Luau on Oahu’s eastern shore. Paradise Cove offers a gorgeous beachfront setting and a traditional luau experience you won’t forget. Here you can enjoy a Hawaiian feast, participate in cultural activities like lei-making and hula lessons, and watch a Polynesian revue featuring music, hula, and fire knife dancing. All the perfect elements for a wonderful Hawaiian celebration during your vacation.

Local Luau Tip

Plan ahead and leave well in advance of your luau’s start time so that you can beat the traffic. Depending on the day and time, there can be heavy traffic when trying to get out of Honolulu. Drive time from Waikiki to Paradise Cove can vary from as little as 40 minutes around noon to nearly two hours in the late afternoon or evening. The best option is to plan your day so that you’re close-by to your luau destination well before heavy traffic starts up.


Overall, a luau is a festive and vibrant celebration that showcases the rich culture, music, dance, and cuisine of Hawaii. They allow you to immerse yourself in the spirit of the Hawaiian islands’ rich culture, providing a one-of-a-kind experience that will stick in your mind for years to come.

Check out our other blog posts to learn more about Hawaiian culture and things to do on Oahu. When you’re ready to book your dream island vacation, browse our Waikiki vacation rentals and reserve your stay today!