How to host a hawaiian party

No beach? No problem. Channel the Aloha State with these fresh finds.

How to host a hawaiian party

How to host a hawaiian party

Since we’ve had to put travel temporarily on hold, its time to get a little creative about crafting our very own experiential “staycation,” and what could be finer than bringing the Aloha State to your backyard? Thanks to these Hawaiian-themed party ideas, you’ll be sipping libations, strumming your ukulele, and singing “Tiny Bubbles” at your summer yard parties in no time. Leis, hula skirts, and pineapples galore are all must-have motifs, but let’s not forget about easy luau-inspired food and drink ideas, too. Load up your party menu with festive dishes like flip-flop-shaped sandwiches, seaside-inspired cupcakes, fresh summer salads, and plenty of delicious grilled pineapple recipes. As for the tiki bar, the under 21 set will love lemonade infused with pineapple while the adult crowd sips on fruity cocktails like a piña colada (or two!). Trust us, there’s a summer drink that will make everyone happy.

In order to set an extra tropical scene, we found the most adorable dessert toppers, banners, tropical backdrops, and more. Say “aloha”to the best backyard luau party ideas you can use all summer long! And for more ideas for backyard bashes, check out these summer party ideas and outdoor game ideas.

How to host a hawaiian party

Outsource some of the party offerings by ordering these delightful pineapple cake pops.

Set the mood with themed decor, food, cocktails, and music

Donna Pilato is an event planning expert who writes articles on planning parties and other events for over 20 years. She wrote for The Spruce for 16 years, covering entertaining trends from hosting a murder mystery dinner to catering food and drink for a bar mitzvah. Her advice has also been featured in Reader's Digest, Disney Family.com, the New Jersey Star Ledger, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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Celebrate Hawaiian-style by hosting a traditional luau. Luaus are often held in honor of major events in the Aloha State, such as a visiting dignitary or a wedding. In the Hawaiian culture, the feast of food and entertainment could go on for days.

Today, Hawaiian restaurants and hotels offer scaled-down luaus that celebrate the state's culture and cuisine. You'll often find entertainment such as hula dancers and fire dancers offered to guests, along with the traditional roasted pig.

It's easy, however, to host your own luau at home, as long as you pay attention to a number of small details that will help you create the proper atmosphere. Of course, you could always go in a different direction and turn it into a campy party with lots of tacky lights, plastic hula girls, and more. Aloha!

Hawaiian Luau Decorations

You can create the mood for your party with minimal expense. In fact, you can even plan on eating your decorations when the luau is over if you use pineapples and coconuts as elements in your design! As you can see in the simple centerpiece above, a pineapple, coconut, two silk leis, paper parasols, and tropical fish create a simple, colorful design. Other ideas for decor include:

  • Bamboo placemats
  • Flower arrangements with orchids, hibiscus, bird of paradise and any other tropical flowers
  • Seashells scattered around your tables
  • Napkin rings made from seashells glued to raffia rings
  • Palm trees or leaves
  • Real flower leis

For a campy beach party, you can include all of the above, but also add any of these Hawaiian icons:

  • Plastic hula dancers
  • Surfboards
  • Plastic leis
  • Paper drink umbrellas
  • Colorful tropical tablecloths, napkins and party goods in paper or vinyl

Ask your guests to dress in colorful Hawaiian Aloha shirts and straw hats, and welcome them to your luau with a kiss and a flower lei.

If you're setting a campy beach party mood as in the Elvis movie Blue Hawaii, raffia grass skirts can add to the hula dancing mood. Don't forget to organize a limbo contest!

Hawaiian Luau Menu

Read your chosen recipes a day or more in advance of the party to help plan the timing of the meal, paying particular attention to meat recipes that require advance preparation. For example, if you plan to build the traditional pit for roasting a pig, you'll need plenty of time to prepare.

In a traditional luau, pigs are roasted in a pit dug in the ground called an imu in order to make the dish called kalua pig." Realistically, most people won't want to dig a pit in their backyard to roast a pig in the genuine Hawaiian style, so you might want to choose an easier pork dish with a similar feel. Seafood also plays a large part in the luau menu, so consider including several sea-based offerings.

Start the evening with a Polynesian Pupu platter, accompanied by a selection of Hawaiian cocktails. As you might expect, fruit juices and rum play a big part in these cocktails. Take it slowly because these drinks can sneak up on you on a sultry evening!

Coconuts and pineapples are mandatory ingredients for your luau. Another indigenous Hawaiian food you might want to try is Poi. Made from the taro root, Poi may at first seem distasteful to a non-Hawaiian, but it's a nutritious staple food in the state.

  • Cocktails: Blue Hawaiian, Mai Tai
  • Pupu Platter: Rumaki, Ono Ribs, Shrimp Ono Nui
  • Main Course and Sides: Hawaiian Roasted Pork, Hawaiian Grilled Fish Salad. Chicken Long Rice Lomi Lomi Salmon, Aloha Sweet Potatoes, Poi
  • Desserts: Macadamia Coconut Cake, Pineapple Butterscotch Squares

Hawaiian Luau Music

Music for your Hawaiian luau can be either traditional Hawaiian music or fun beach party music; both are festive. Just make sure you’re consistent and design the other details of your party to mesh with the musical. For example, if you select traditional Hawaiian music, choose low-key, natural decorations when setting the stage. However, if you feel like hosting a beach party luau, go with beach party music and pull out the campy decorations such as the plastic hula dolls and cardboard palm trees.

Aloha, partiers! Looking to host your next tropical Hawaiian luau theme party? Whether you’re currently sipping cocktails in island paradise or battling blizzards on the other side of the globe, we think hosting a luau-themed gathering is one of the best ways to celebrate the beauty, traditions and culture of Hawaii.

Want Hawaiian Luau Themed Party Ideas?

From recommendations for the best Hawaiian luau party food, drinks, decorations, music, supplies and more, we’re here to help your next theme party go off without a hitch.

Hawaiian Luau Theme Party Ideas

Luau Decorations • Luau Food • Luau Drinks

How to host a hawaiian party

Luau Decorations

While flamingos should be notably absent if you want to stick to an accurate Hawaiian luau theme, your party supply list can basically only be shorted by the limits of your imagination. Some of our top recommendations for luau decor include:

(Some of the links in this article go to Amazon products, and we may get commission on sales if you buy anything.)

Leis: Whether they’re artificial flower lei or you want to buy the authentic flower leis for each guest, you simply can’t go without them.

Tiki Torches: Set some mood lighting with a few bamboo tiki torches – with citronella oil, for a thoughtful bonus – scattered around the outdoor party area.

Palm Fronds: If you can’t find the real thing, cut a few palm fronds out of green construction paper for an easy, inexpensive place setting or decor around the bar or table areas.

Vintage Hawaii Travel Posters: Stay to the luau theme with a few vintage Hawaii posters about the Hawaiian Islands. You can find several places online to order a few of these for added effect.

Tiki Mugs or Coconuts: For a festive cup idea that will liven up any tropical cocktail, tiki mugs, tumblers, and cocktail cups are an easy way to keep track of your drink and stay on theme. Similarly, coconuts provide a perfect drinking cup or serving dish for fruity cocktail garnishes. If you want to go with the best, check out Rob’s collectible tiki mugs. He makes these by hand on Maui and is a true artist and connoisseur of the tiki. Want cheaper, check out these tiki mug sets.

Drink Umbrellas: Spice up your cocktail-serving skills with bright paper drink umbrellas for each and every drink.

Raffia Skirts: Gather some raffia and place it around the serving table or bar stand to create a unique tiki bar look. Alternately, you can use raffia as a place setting or decor for the back of your chairs.

Pineapples & Flowers: Need an easy way to add some pizazz to your table setting? Gather some pineapples and fragrant flowers, like plumeria or hibiscus, and arrange them for easy table centerpieces.

Grass Skirts: While they likely won’t come close to being authentic, you can easily make grass skirts for your guests from budget-friendly materials like streamers, crepe paper, tablecloths, and even garbage bags. BUT, it’d be better to get some real grass skirts and you’ll have a keepsake that’ll leave your guests feeling prepped for a hula lesson. Coconut bras and plumeria hair clips, while obviously optional, only add to the ambiance.

Lanterns & String Lighting: Add a pop of color to your party with hanging lanterns and even long-lasting string lights throughout the main party areas.

Beach Gear: From basics like sunscreen, slippahs, sunglasses, and swimwear to beach towels, beach balls, and even a sandbox of beach goodies, there is more than one way to transport your guests, however temporarily, to the land of aloha.

Aloha Sign: Find a festive aloha banner, or make your own, for a warm greeting to your Hawaiian luau party.

Music: Head to YouTube or Spotify to download one of many surf, tiki, and luau-themed party playlists, including Hawaiian hits like Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii, Don Ho’s Tiny Bubbles, Hawaii by The Beach Boys, Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, and other hits by local artists like Hapa, Keali’i Reichel, Willie K and more.

Don't: Grill in a grass skirt!
Do: Don an island-print apron ($19). Look for floral half-aprons ($11) or pinafore styles with mix-and match tops and flounces.

Don't: Plop hors d'oeuvres on platters decorated with grass trimmings. 
Do: Line serving platters with large leaves, like banana or palm ($14). Use pineapple tops, slices of citrus, and edible flowers to garnish food.

Don't: Resort to the Mr. Pineapple Head centerpiece.
Do: Whip up a tasteful floral combo that mixes island blooms, fruits, and foliage. Try decorative mangoes ($9), a bunch of artificial anthurium ($11).

Don't: Limbo. (If you do, know that it's not a luau activity; it originated in Trinidad!)
Do: Ask a talented friend to hold a hula lesson. The dance's core step, the kâholo, is sure to get hips swinging to the tunes.

Luau Party Island Menu

From simple snacks to a stunning main course, this menu upgrades your typical backyard spread to something a little more exotic.

Appetizers

Poke Bites

Give your guests a taste of island living with these delicious tuna snacks.

Tropical Shrimp Salsa

Break out the chips and salsa!

Pineapple Upside-Down Bites

Who says you can't serve dessert first?

Peppered Pineapple-Beef Kebabs

Grilling pineapple amps up the fruit's natural sweetness. Pair it with ham or beef and it's a party win!

More quick app ideas:

Grilled Shrimp with Cool Cucumber Salad: Hot and cold play well together in this refreshing salad. Bonus: it also tastes great room temp, so your guests can eat it whenever. Recipe: Try our Grilled Shrimp with Cool Cucumber Salad

Mini Hawaiian Sandwiches: Make a simple chicken salad and pop it on a cocktail roll for the easiest-ever slider situation. Recipe: Try our Mini Hawaiian Sandwiches

Surfin' Nacho Boards: Add some heat and sweetness to nachos with jalapeños and peaches. Recipe: Try our Surfin' Nacho Boards

Main Dishes

Tuna Poke

Poké bowls are super trendy right now – and for a good reason! They're healthy, easy to make, and pack major flavor. Set it up so guests can serve themselves. 

Hawaiian Dog

Grab some hot dogs and pile on the pineapple goodness. 

Grilled Pork with Macadamia Rice

Fire up the grill and make this party-ready main.

Hawaiian Pork Burgers

Top these burgers with pineapple salsa!

Drinks

Mai Tai

Made with orange, mint, lime, gold rum, and curacao, this drink will make anyone want to do the hula.

Blue Hawaii Cocktail

Blue curacao gives this drink its fun hue. Tiki umbrella not optional. Buy a 12-pack of coconut cups (that come with umbrellas, of course) on Amazon for $18.

Aloha Fashion

Hawaiian shirts aren't just those things you talk your dad out of wearing on vacation. The classic shirts and dresses are full of artistry. We asked Dale Hope, author of The Aloha Shirt, what features will keep you looking classically cool.

Fabric: Buy garments made of fabrics woven from cotton, silk, rayon or a blend. "Polyester is bad," Hope says. Plus, it wasn't yet invented in the aloha shirt's heyday.  

Design: Seek clean lines and detailed motifs: Hope's favorite iconic prints include canoe and surfing themes. Ladies, take inspiration from traditional Tahitian pareos, featuring white flowers on red or navy backgrounds. 

Fit: Look for a body-conscious fit in shirts and dresses — despite the cliché, a mu'umu'u should hug a woman's curves. And say yes to coordinating his-and-hers sets! 

Buttons: Faux wood ultimately prevailed, but good vintage shirts often have buttons made of natural materials. "In the '40s, it was coconut shell," Hope says. "The '60s brought bamboo from Japan."

AHH. Kick-Back Tunes

An authentic soundtrack—replete with ukuleles, marimbas and, yes, Elvis—means instant island atmosphere. DJ Mark Riddle, host of the Polynesian—and Hawaiian-centric Quiet Village podcast—told us how to make a luau sing.

Vintage: Channel 1950s and '60s Americana, Riddle says. Hence Elvis Presley: "The movies Blue Hawaii and Paradise, Hawaiian Style are considered time capsules. They were filmed at famous Hawaiian locations that no longer exist. 

Mellow: You might not know it by name, but the exotica genre is what you hear when you think of all things tiki. Try Hawaiian Sunset, Volumes I and II, by vibraphonist Arthur Lyman — one of exotica's pioneers — to lend "that dreamy Hawaiian feel." His music "represented a romanticized version of the tropics," Riddle says.

Modern: Modern Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiw'ole is most famous on the mainland for his ukulele-kissed version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," but Riddle favors his more vintage tunes, like "'Ulili E.".