Opportunities to catch live music performances in Hawaii are either plentiful or a bit of a scarcity, depending on what it is you’re looking for. If you’re after some traditional, cosy Hawaiian recitals to create a bit of beachside ambience while you sip cocktails at sunset, then you’re in luck – you’ll find that at almost every turn.
However, alternatives can be a little trickier to track down. Other than an obvious penchant for reggae performances and a smattering of bar-room jazz vibes, the hotels on Hawaii’s main drags don’t tend to stray very far from tried and tested, tourist-friendly formulae.
Other types of live performance can be found in Hawaii, though, especially if you’re willing to leave the hotel complexes and head out to the local bars and concert venues. Oahu, and particularly the areas around downtown Waikiki, tends to offer a few more alternative options than most other locales.
In this list, we’ve pulled together a few of our favorite traditional hotel-based live music options, as well as several suggestions for those of you happy to check out some other slightly off-piste venues.
Best Live Music Hotel Venues on Oahu
House Without a Key (Halekulani Waikiki)
A highly regarded restaurant in a gorgeous beachfront indoor/outdoor setting, House Without A Key is always a tremendously popular option for evening drinks and mingling. It offers nightly traditional Hawaiian music and dance from around 5.30pm.
RumFire (Sheraton Waikiki)
A hotel bar and nightclub well-known for its live music menu as well as its lavish cocktail list, all of which are served up alongside spectacular oceanside views. Music styles really depend on the night you visit; there’s often a traditional Hawaiian focus, but you’re just as likely to encounter a club DJ or a pop crooner, so call ahead if you’re in a specific mood!
Kani Ka Pila Grille (Outrigger Waikiki)
Live music is often a focal point for the overall ambience at this popular poolside restaurant and bar, which often features performances by well-known local singers and musicians. Again, the focus is very much on Hawaiian fare, both traditional and slightly more contemporary, often with a bit of a pop slant.
Banyan Court (Moana Surfrider Waikiki)
An open-air bar wafted by gentle ocean breezes, Banyan Court offers great sunset views over Diamond Head. The nightly live music offering focuses on guitar, piano and traditional hula dancing.
Lewers Lounge (Halekuani Waikiki)
A classy jazz bar with a plush yet intimate atmosphere, Lewers offers a nice line in smooth, laid-back performances aimed at generating a sophisticated, somewhat upscale but always welcoming environment.
Duke’s Waikiki (Outrigger Waikiki)
Another perennially popular choice for food and drinks on the beach with a live music backing, Duke’s opts for a fun tiki vibe helped along by local bands and artists like Henry Kapono and Maunalua. Most typically serve up a mixture of traditional island music, reggae and pop covers.
Other Popular Live Music Venues on Oahu
The Republik (Ala Moana)
A dedicated concert venue and bar complex, The Republik is many people’s go-to option on Oahu for catching ticketed shows by bigger touring acts. It offers a wide range of over-21 and all ages shows, and tickets are available from various venues depending on who’s promoting an artist, so check you’ve got all the relevant info in advance if there’s a gig you’re especially keen to see.
Surfer, The Bar (Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku)
Located up on the North Shore’s Turtle Bay resort, this part restaurant, part nightclub venue is a busy spot for live performances and local beers. You can catch everything from karaoke jams to storytelling evenings here, as well as regular performances from a mix of pop, reggae, ska, blues and acoustic bands and soloists.
Mai Tai Bar (Ala Moana)
With a focus on contemporary Hawaiian, reggae and roots performers, The Mai Tai Bar at the Ala Moana Center is very popular with local crowds for a wide range of cocktails – especially during its award-winning happy hour!
Jazz Minds Art & Café (Kapiolani Boulevard, Moiliili)
Voted Hawaii’s best jazz venue for five consecutive years, Jazz Minds Art & Café does exactly what it says on the tin: you’ll find anything from from traditional to avant-garde and free jazz here, as well as occasional forays into funk, soul and contemporary fusion, performed live multiple nights a week.
The Atherton Studio (Ala Moana)
An intimate recital space with theare-style seating facing a simple wooden stage and grand piano, the Atherton is a bit of a hidden gem on Oahu: a serious-looking performing arts venue with a small capacity, it really gets you up close to the acts. Blues, Hawaiian and classical music shows are all regular staples. The best way to see what’s coming up is to check the season listings at the Hawaii Public Radio website.
Hawaiian Brian’s (Ala Moana)
An often joyously rowdy bar and billiards complex with multiple performance stages, Hawaiian Brian’s stages everything from touring rock and metal bands to acoustic open mic sets, stand-up comedy, and late-night house DJs.
The Korner Room (Kaneohe)
An East-side watering hole with a casual ‘dive bar’ atmosphere, Korner Room features plenty of raucous live shows from both local bands and overseas acts passing through. Gets pleasingly rowdy on weekends.
Irish pubs (various)
Oahu’s handful of Irish pubs – including Anna O’Brien’s (Moiliili), O’Toole’s (Downtown), the Irish Rose Saloonand Kelly O’Neil’s (Waikiki) – often serve up lively music nights. There’s usually a traditional Irish focus, as you’d probably expect, but rock and blues shows are fairly common occurrences too.
The Dragon Upstairs (Downtown)
A cool neighborhood jazz spot with a rotating roster of local performers, this cosy venue above Hank’s Café hosts everything from funk-rock to gypsy jazz, bebop to DJ sets. Resident outfit The Chris Yeh Quartet oversee proceedings on Friday nights.
Neal S. Blaisdell Center & Waikiki Shell (Kaka’Ako)
Oahu’s long-established arena, concert and exhibition hall complex is a multipurpose performance space that often features international touring musicians among its regular roster of expos, trade shows and performing arts events. The venue is also responsible for live concerts at the Waikiki Shell, a tropical outdoor amphitheater hosting regular shows and recitals in nearby Kapiolani Park.
Arts at Marks Garage (Downtown)
A collaboratively run not-for-profit gallery, performance and office space, the Arts at Marks can often be found featuring live music shows across its diverse event calendar. What you’ll get on the night depends entirely on what’s booked for that week – you’re just as likely to see poetry slams or late-night film screenings as local bands, so check the listings in advance.