Diamond Head Luau: Non-traditional in all the right ways
by Suzanne G.
After many forgettable Luau meals, I couldn’t wait to review Diamond Head Luau. Buffet food is bland by design, and luaus are not immune to this. Besides, there are so many other things to take delight in at a luau like the music, costumes, dancers, and games. It’s a party and no one really cares about the meal, and most guests go in with low expectations. However, Diamond Head Luau is trying to turn this assumption on its head with a brand-new “food festival” dining concept that no other Luau has ever tried, with delicious results.
Diamond Head Luau reopened in June 2023, after closing during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was excited to snag a ticket just a few weeks after they reopened. While their dining concept is brand new, they returned to their previous location at the Waikiki Aquarium. And why wouldn’t they? The location is ideal, at the foot of Diamond Head Crater, right on the east side of Waikiki. The luau is outdoors, oceanfront, and easily walkable from many of the resorts in Waikiki. The Aquarium was closed during the luau, but luau guests were given a 14-day pass to visit another time.
The “Food Festival”
Instead of the same old boring luau buffet, Diamond Head has partnered with eight local food vendors to create a food-tasting experience. When I arrived, I found vendor booths scattered about the lawn and was given tickets in my check-in packet, one for each booth plus my complimentary drink tickets. Some of the vendors I recognized, like the Chart House a long-time Waikiki establishment, but many were up-and-coming restaurateurs. I was excited to see what they all had to offer.
I didn’t know where to start when dinner time finally rolled around, perhaps because it was such a new concept. Although there was some awkwardness at first, eventually things loosened up. Maybe too much so, because I got caught up chatting with vendors, my table mates, and other luau guests. It’s a perfect setting to mingle, what can I say? Meanwhile, the clock was ticking down because they only gave us an hour to eat! I missed three vendors, but I was stuffed anyway and the food I did try was excellent. I had Poke nachos, macadamia-crusted mahi, Kahlua pork sliders with a lilikoi aioli, and Canales with a Hawaiian twist for dessert. The food was so great that I visited two of the restaurants later in the week, based on the good experiences I had at the luau.
But how was the rest of the luau?
Happy to say that although the food was great, I didn’t have to sacrifice quality elsewhere. The oceanfront setting was lovely. The staff was friendly and helpful. There was a full band playing live music all night long. The luau show was spectacular, from the witty emcee to the graceful hula dancers and especially the thrilling fire-knife performance. There were also several cultural activities available for the kiddos that coincided with the dining hour. There was no imu (in-ground oven) on site, however, which I expected given their location on the Aquarium’s lawn.
Diamond Head Luau: Pros & Cons
- Pros: The food was excellent, and the festival concept was fun. Location in Waikiki Beach and walkable from most resorts. Small-sized luau, maybe the smallest in Waikiki. The unique dining experience lets you connect with local businesses and scope out some of the local restaurants. Excellent show. Friendly and helpful staff. Cool location, outdoor, oceanfront and you get a pass to the aquarium to use later.
- Cons: I wish there was more time for dining and cultural activities. No imu demonstration. It’s one of the more expensive luaus out there, though the savings on transportation costs do offset this somewhat.
Diamond Head Luau Review: Final Thoughts
Overall, I enjoyed this luau a lot. I thought the food was delicious and interesting and such a better quality than typical luau buffet food. The atmosphere was light and fun and everyone (guests, staff, vendors, etc.) seemed to be having a good time. I do wish the window for eating was longer, and I would probably not recommend it for families with small children (seemed like a logistical nightmare). It’s not the most educational luau out there, but it is far from being the least. There’s no imu, and that might be a dealbreaker for some luau first-timers. It is more expensive than many luaus, but you also have the added savings from being able to walk there. And the food is actually good, as opposed to most luaus, where it is usually “just OK”. If you love great food and don’t want to settle for just okay, this is the luau for you, though I would have loved to see some craft beers and cocktails to bring the “foodie” vibe full circle. Also, if you want a small-sized luau in Waikiki I think it is worth the extra cost to escape the big crowds and long lines.
If you need a luau to pretend to pull a pig out of the ground, this is not the luau for you, but in my opinion, Diamond Head Luau is non-traditional in all the right ways!
Bonus tips for getting there and parking: Diamond Head Luau at the Waikiki Aquarium is located on the east side of Waikiki. It’s walkable from most resorts, but if you are staying at resorts on the far west side (Prince, Illikai, Hilton Village) it is about two miles each way. If that seems too far to walk, ride shares are readily available and reasonably priced. You could also take the Waikiki Trolley’s Pink Line ($5/day pass) there and get off at the Duke Statue (.7 miles away), though you will have to find a different way back. If you drive yourself, there is metered parking along the street in front of the aquarium, but it can be hard to find an empty spot. The metered parking at the Honolulu Zoo (.7 miles away) will be your next-best option if you cannot find street parking closer.