These days it’s my job not only to keep up on what’s new in the world of books, but also in the world of small farms, arts and independent craft makers. I recently used my knowledge to create a short shopping guide for the global readers of United Airlines’ Hemispheres Magazine, giving them a peek of what’s hot in the Islands. The first thing I had to tell them about was of course a book, but after that I touch on jewels, soaps and gourmet treats.

Let’s Talk Stories: Read up on Hawai‘i before your trip.

A truly comprehensive portrait of Honolulu awaits in the 1000 plus-page anthology Honolulu Stories: Two Centuries of Writing, edited by historian Gavan Daws and local publisher Bennett Hymer.

This first-of-its-kind story collection features short glimpses of the city through the words of nearly 250 contributors from famous to unknown, such as deposed Queen Lili‘uokalani, classics by Twain and London, songs and chants, local treasures like comedian Rap Reiplinger, and modern works that give voice to Honolulu’s history and cultural landscape.

Tropical Treasures

Shopping opportunities abound in just about every puka (hole) in the Islands, including open markets, small boutiques, and luxury retailers. But beyond big brands and souvenir trinkets lies a thriving independent crafts industry quietly modernizing Island cultural style. Look for creative takes on traditional Hawaiian jewelry; body products made by hand using ancient practices and healing ingredients; or the delicious fare of local farmers, beekeepers, and candymakers. In Hawai‘i, there’s a sea of extraordinary goods to discover and make your own.

Exceptional Accessories

A common uniform of jeans or a jean skirt paired with a dressy shirt or casual tank top pervades Island women’s fashion, so to set themselves apart and transition their wardrobes seamlessly from day to night, women turn to accessible jewelry that reflects an easygoing, outdoor lifestyle. Independent designers continue to embrace sea and environmental motifs like shells, coral, branches, leaves, and pearls, but elevate the pieces with 14-karat gold, sterling silver, and such new twists as metal castings, infusions of semi-precious stones and beach glass, as well as vibrant colors and textures.

The result is stunning interpretations of nature made for a woman’s body, like Catherine Weitzman’s handcrafted pieces, found at boutiques and galleries throughout the Islands (even at major resorts). Her jewelry is designed or cast from found objects, such as sea urchin spines fashioned into a gold cuff bracelet, flower petals transformed into pendants. The jungle cuff and seahorse bangle are pictured above.

And everyone’s talking about Noelani Designs’ chic and feminine yet unexpected combinations—like a luminous abalone shell circle necklace threaded with fresh water pearl strands, or watery-green turquoise drops suspended from delicate gold loop earrings. They never fail to get noticed.

Some designers sell only online or in person to keep prices reasonable, but still have no shortage of clients, like O‘ahu’s Lauren Hewett Caldiero. She brings the beach to life with her bold, handcrafted Pua Jewelry, such as in hand-forged gold and silver bangles dripping with Tahitian black pearls, a gold cast cowrie-shell choker, and a gorgeous 1 inch-diameter gold or silver cast puka shell cocktail ring. For years, enameled gold Hawaiian bracelets sold at such retailers at Na Hoku ( have been popular mementos. Caldiero has created a nouveau take on the theme, with desired words hand-stamped onto a hammered-gold bangle.

And even though “Hawai‘i time” often means show up any time, Bathys Hawai‘i men’s and women’s watches are more than a fashion statement. They are designed on Kaua‘i and made in Switzerland to stand up atop Mauna Kea or in the depths of Molokini. Waterproof to 100 fathoms and unstoppable at high elevation, they sport scratch-proof sapphire crystal faces, military-spec illumination, and waterproof leather straps.

Bath and Body

The vibrant Hawaiian artisan-soap business is rooted in nature, and it builds on Island aromas by drawing from ancient knowledge of Hawai‘i’s healing plants. Country soapmaker North Shore Soap Factory is the first to leap into the mainstream, as all Hawai‘i Whole Foods locations will soon stock its soaps made of kukui and macadamia nut oil.

Also at the forefront is Indigenous Soap. Each high-grade bar incorporates Hawaiian water, essential oils, and Hawaiian healing plants, such as ‘Aina soap made with purifying ‘olena root and healing limu (Hawaiian seaweed), and the sage bar with purported metabolic and nerve stimulating ingredients.

Many companies extend the integration of therapeutic elements to a full body product line. Big Island company Ola uses pure plant hydrosols and wild-crafted ingredients in body butters, sea salt scrubs, and trios of wood, fruit, and floral-scented handmade soaps arranged on coconut wood trays.

The Bubble Shack line proves that natural doesn’t have to mean boring. It offers 120 soap varieties with inventive appearances, like the chunky and colorful Rocky Point Rumble bar, and delectable scents, like Chocolate Malasada or Shave Ice, each invoking different landmarks and amusements.

Gourmet Goodies

Marathon days of sightseeing and shopping call for a sweet reward of fresh gourmet treats. For an easy introduction to Hawai‘i’s multicultural cuisine, try the traditional Japanese New Year rice dessert mochi, a local favorite that reflects the state’s rich cultural history. Most impressive are such updated sensations as a fresh strawberry dipped in smoky azuki-bean paste then wrapped in soft, chewy mochi. The best spots are Hilo’s Two Ladies Kitchen and O‘ahu’s Saturday Grandma’s Mochi. Two Ladies Kitchen, 274 Kilauea Ave., Hilo, Hawai`i. Tel: 808.961.4766 / Saturday Grandma’s Mochi. 98-718 Moanalua Rd., Pearl City, O`ahu, Tel: 808.484.0052. Or KCC Saturday Farmer’s Market, 4308 Diamond Head Rd. O`ahu;

A taste of Hawai‘i in its purest form can be found in the wilds of small country farm operations. It’s no secret that Hawai‘i is the only U.S. source of premium coffee, but it’s not yet common knowledge that Ka‘u Coffee may soon match esteemed Kona beans. Rustic estate coffees like Rusty’s Hawaiian and award-winning Will & Grace Farm’s Rising Sun are the region’s aromatic, full-bodied and flavorful rising stars. Rusty’s Hawaiian, 16 Pa Au Au St., Pahala, Hawai‘i; Tel: 808.928.8916 / Will & Grace Farm’s Rising Sun, 95-5657 Mamalahoa Hwy., Hawai‘i; Tel: 808.557.4441

Around the corner is Ka‘u’s small-scale Artemis Smiles Honey Company, whose rare, raw single blossom honey—either astoundingly clear and floral glysine (tropical clover), golden Christmas berry, or prized pure-white Lehua—is something even residents feel lucky to know about.

One of the most surprising facets of Hawai‘i’s burgeoning specialty agricultural industry might be the premium Hawaiian chocolate sourced from local cacao plantations. The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory and Waialua Estate Chocolate package bars and truffles under their own labels, and local chocolatiers are increasingly using Hawaiian chocolate alongside Venezuelan, Belgian and other fine cacao in delectable alternatives to chocolate-covered Mac nuts. The Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, 78-6772 Makenawai St., Kona, Hawai`i, Tel: 808.322.2626 or / Waialua Estate Chocolate, Dole Plantation, 64-1550 Kamehameha Hwy., Wahiawa, O‘ahu;

The popular Big Island Candies can always be counted on for inventive treats with locally grown ingredients, whether they’re chocolate-covered coconut brownies, macadamia rocky road chocolate bars, or a suite of chocolate-dipped macadamia shortbreads. This month, the shop debuts caramel almond brownies and chocolate mints. 585 Hinano St., Hilo, Hawai`i; Tel: 808. 935.8890 or

And Sweet Paradise Chocolatier’s award-winning artisan chocolates are raising the bar, entwining luxurious local flavors like strawberry guava, lychee, and Hawaiian chili pepper with local and global cacao, hand-shaped into works of art that won’t be gazed at for long.

For Hemispheres Magazine