The Best Independent Bookstores in Hawaii

Books | © Tom Hermans / Unsplash
Books | © Tom Hermans / Unsplash
Photo of Wailana Kalama
15 November 2017

For a place that loves its mom-and-pop stores, bookshops are no exception. Independent bookstores in Hawaii are a fantastic resource for books on local history, language, and culture. After all, what better way to enjoy sunbathing on a tropical beach than with an old classic or the latest bestseller?

Talk Story Books – Kauai

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Kauai’s Talk Story Books has a lot to boast about; it’s the westernmost bookstore in the United States and has a whopping 150,000 titles in its massive selection of new, used and out-of-print books. The Hanapepe location also keeps a healthy collection of Hawaiian LP, vinyl records, sheet music and ukulele courses that will have you coming back again and again. Bring in your used books to exchange for store credit, or link up online to the shop’s Amazon page for a chance to tackle this impressive inventory head-on.

BookEnds – O’ahu

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BookEnds in Kailua is an ideal place to cozy up with a good book—likely because you’ve lost your way out among the stacks. Organized chaos seems to be their modus operandi, with unlabeled, ceiling-high shelves stuffed so much that they’ve poured out into piles on the floor. On an island of Barnes and Nobles, BookEnds, a small family-run bookstore, stands out like a refreshing tropical island: messy, chaotic, and just waiting to be charted. If you love getting lost in a tangled maze of ceaseless titles—maybe finding that jewel of a book you’d otherwise never thought to pick up in a million years—this is the place for you.

Na Mea Hawai'i Native Books – O'ahu

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If you’re interested at all in Hawaiiana—that is, Hawaiian culture and history—head over to Na Mea Hawai’i Native Books, one of O’ahu’s prime bookshops that’s all about the islands and greater Polynesia. Part gift shop, part bookstore, Na Mea offers everything from koa wood carvings to shell jewelry to mu’umu’u. Their shelves are lined with books on diverse subjects, from folklore from the Marshall Islands, Filipino recipes, and sea turtles to Hawai’i Plantation Pidgin guides and biographies of the Hawaiian monarchy. The store also hosts crafting classes and live music events.

Kona Bay Books & Hilo Bay Books – Big Island

Kona Bay Books is Hawaii’s biggest used bookstore, with over two miles of books, CDs, and DVDs at affordable prices. Browse through sheet music, science fiction, rare finds, local folklore, and more. Bring your old books to trade in for some valuable store credit! Their sister store, Hilo Bay Books on the Big Island’s east coast, also offers a huge selection.

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Kona Stories – Big Island

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Founded in 2006, Kona Stories does local on the small-scale, specializing in Hawaiiana and children’s books, with a dash of fanciful gifts thrown in for tourists wandering Ali’i Drive. They’re the definition of a community bookstore, offering consignment for local, self-published writers looking to promote their work. Kona Stories also hosts book clubs and wine events for book lovers to mingle and socialize over the written word.

Still Life Books – Big Island

This basement bookshop undersells itself with the simplest front sign imaginable: a simple “Used Books” on Hilo’s Historic Bayfront. Enter the cave, and you’ll be rewarded with titles such as travel, religion, sci-fi, and old poetry of Hawaii, as well as CDs and records. If you’re looking for a random, old guidebook on Hawaii, stop here first and ask owner Royce Wilson if he’s got a copy to recommend.

Still Life Books, 58 Furneaux Ln, Hilo, Big Island, HI, USA, +1 808 756 2919

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Maui Friends of the Library – Maui

This nonprofit, cash-only bookshop has three locations in Maui staffed by volunteers. Prices are donation-based, and all proceeds are used to fund programs for Maui County Public Libraries. What does this mean for you? A fantastic bookshop where you can find a rare title and support the community, with an average of 25 cents a book. Just a word of note: books are sometimes covered in dust—but the staff will dust your book purchases for you and provide you with your very own wet wipes.

Maui Friends of the Library, Queen Kaahumanu Shopping Center, Kahului, Maui, HI, USA, +1 808 877 2509

Maui Friends of the Library, 658 Front St, Lahaina, Maui, HI, USA, +1 808 667 2696

Maui Friends of the Library, E Camp 5 Rd, Pu’unene, Maui, HI, USA, +1 808 871 6563

Hakubundo – O’ahu

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Everyone’s favorite Japanese book and stationery store in downtown Honolulu, Hakubundo is for all of your Japanese paraphernalia. With a wealth of manga graphic novels, washi tape, Totoro toys, anime drawing books, Japanese language textbooks, kawaii crafting supplies, and other authentic materials made in Japan—this bookshop was practically made for the Japanophile, or folks just looking for a cute, cartoonish pencil.

Kalele Bookstore & Divine Expressions – Moloka’i

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The only Moloka’i entry on this list, Kalele Bookstore & Divine Expressions is a niche bookstore, specializing in books on spirituality and local art pieces. The owner Teri has curated an eclectic collection of old and new Hawaiiana books, light beachside titles, Moloka’i-made souvenirs, handmade jewelry, crystals, and ukulele. Billing itself as a “healing place of knowledge,” with free coffee and high-quality, local art, it’s definitely worth stopping by and checking out one afternoon.

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