During our last installment of “Visiting Hawaii On The Cheap” we talked about lodging, rental cars, and airfare. This time we’re going to talk about one of my favorite subjects: Food!
Food in Hawaii is significantly more expensive than you’ll find on the ‘mainland’. If your idea of a vacation is going out to eat at a restaurant every night, your food bill is going to be astronomical. After a couple different trips to Hawaii over the years, I’ve realized that eating-like-a-king on the Islands doesn’t have to cost a fortune.
As we mentioned in our Packing for Hawaii post, a great way to save money in Hawaii is to cook your own food. When we travel to place like Hawaii, we rent lodging with a kitchen, so preparing a meal is quite easy with a well equipped kitchen.
Acquiring food itself can be done for either budget busting prices, or downright affordable prices. It all depends upon how and where you shop.
Tourist Grocers Vs. Local Grocers
Grocery Stores in Hawaii can be roughly broken down into two categories: Tourist Grocers and Local Grocers.
Tourist Grocers are going to be the stores closest to the large tourist resorts (or frequently located on the resort property). They are filled with food that caters to visitors; small portion sizes and prepared food that requires little to no effort to prepare. Exactly what a resort tourist needs, right?
This convenience laziness comes at a high cost. Check out the price of this chicken breast I found at a tourist grocery store on Hawaii:
How about other food items? Are they just as horrendously over-priced? Here’s a couple examples I took pictures of:
In contrast, Local Grocery stores cater to ‘local’ residents. They’re typically located further away from the resort property, which is OK! We try to avoid the resort areas, so we actually end up staying closer to the local grocery stores.
Local residents won’t put up with the stupid prices at the tourist grocers, so prices are much more affordable at Local Grocers:
Costco Is Your Friend
In many ways, Costco is your friend in Hawaii. Not only do they have the same great goods as a “mainland” costco, they frequently have very similar prices! For example, pineapple typically sells for $2.99 at my local Costco in the Pacific Northwest. On a recent visit to Hawaii’s Costco, a local Hawaiian pineapple went for $2.49. Obviously, the fresh Hawaiian pineapples tasted better than the ones back home!
How about Costco’s famous $4.99 rotisserie chicken? It’s still $4.99 in Hawaii!
Want a fancier example? A package of New York steaks normally goes for $8.99/lb at my local Costco. The Costco I just visited in Hawaii, had NY steaks for….wait for it….$8.99/lb. Exactly the same price!
It was a pretty fantastic price, so we splurged and bought New York steaks! I fed the whole Tako family troop on a package of these humongous steaks…all for less than $30. Try doing that at a “steak house” restaurant.
Of course, not everything is priced the same as the mainland; a lot of produce is more expensive. Milk for example, cost about 2X what we would pay at home. Costco had the cheapest milk we saw on our entire trip at $4.69/gal.
Hawaii’s Costco also has unique items that I haven’t seen at any other Costco before, like this sashimi platter:
Next time you visit Hawaii, I high recommend stopping by the local island Costco. In comparison to tourist grocery stores, Costco is a fantastic deal!
This brings us to one of the most important tips to traveling to Hawaii on the cheap: local food. Eat what the locals eat. Where possible, don’t eat what you’d eat at home. That’s just a recipe for high costs. Instead, eat what’s grown locally and in-season to save yourselves tons of money.
In our case, pineapple and papaya were in-season and plentiful. We also found the prices to be significantly cheaper than what we were used to at home, and the quality far better.
Apparently, there’s a huge number of avocado varieties available in Hawaii. They literally grow on trees here.
Poke goes with Hawaii like bread and butter. Every grocery store sells poke, and there’s even dedicated shops selling just poke. Heck, even Costco sells poke on the islands.
If you haven’t tried poke before, it’s a lot like sashimi, but usually comes mixed with a sauce and other ingredients. Usually ahi tuna is the main component, but different kinds of fish, shrimp, and (of course) octopus are options. Typically poke isn’t cheap, at prices exceeding $10/lb.
I should note however, that samples at the grocery store counters are free. With a little sampling (and careful portion control), poke can be an excellent (and frugal) addition to any Hawaiian vacation meal!
Cheapest Isn’t Always Best!
No matter how you slice-it chop-it or chew-it, keeping food costs down on vacation is a large part of saving money while traveling. But that doesn’t mean we should eat rice and beans on vacation! No, in fact the Tako family splurges a little on vacation!!
As you can see from the pictures in this post, we have fun trying new “local” food, and enjoy tasting local delicacies….we just happen to do so in a way that keeps the costs down!
Do you have any money saving Hawaii food tips? Share them with us!