Elvis: Tracing the King’s Footsteps

Hawaii, Elvis-style

By Connie Maria Westergaard

Elvis has done it all in the Five-O state, from making three movies to telecasting the first-ever concert to a worldwide audience. The King loved Hawaii. So why not let Elvis be your tour guide to the island of Oahu?

Statue of Elvis the King, outside the Neal Blaisdell Center in downtown Honolulu. Photos by Connie Maria Westergaard.
Statue of Elvis outside the Neal Blaisdell Center in downtown Honolulu. Photos by Connie Maria Westergaard.

When you arrive on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in Honolulu International Airport, you should know that on March 25, 1961, Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, arrived on the very same spot prior to giving a benefit concert for the memorial fund for the 1,102 sailors who died on the USS Arizona in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

At the airport, he was greeted with flower leis by 3,000 Hawaiian fans.

Stay in style

Post-arrival take a taxi or shuttle bus to Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Elvis stayed at this luxurious hotel resort for most of his visits. On his first trip to Hawaii on November 9, 1957, he stayed in room 14A.

He also held several press conferences here, in the Carousel Room on 10 November 10, 1957, and again on 25 March 25, 1961, and in the Rainbow Rib Room on November 20, 1972. It was also his base in Hawaii while filming Girls, Girls, Girls in 1962.

Hilton Hawaiian Village is home to today’s famous Friday night firework show over Waikiki Beach. On several occasions, The King also stayed at the Ilikai Hotel, adjacent to the Hilton. He stayed here while filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style in 1965 and again while on vacation in 1968 and 1969.

Pearl Harbor and the King

Start your vacation on the island of Oahu with a visit to the historic Pearl Harbor Naval Base, located just outside downtown Honolulu. In the early morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 – a date that will live in infamy – Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.

The fatal attack hit America right in the heart, and it was due to this attack that the United States a few days later declared war on Japan and Germany and officially entered World War II.

The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor
The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

Elvis, who enlisted in the United States Army himself and was on active duty from 1958 to 1960, gave a benefit concert in Pearl Harbor’s Bloch Arena on March 25, 1961, to raise money for a memorial for his countrymen killed on the USS Arizona – one of the eight battleships which were either sunk or damaged during the attack.

Elvis performed alongside a number of fellow American and local Hawaiian artists before 4,000 people. The concert raised more than $54,000. You can see the result of the donation at the beautiful and moving USS Arizona Memorial above the sunken battleship in Pearl Harbor.

Years later, while he was filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style Elvis came back to visit the memorial and pay his respects to those who lost their lives. You can spend a whole day at Pearl Harbor with or without a personal guide.

Watch a documentary film at the theater, visit the exhibit galleries, the bookstore, and the amazing Pacific Aviation Museum, and walk onboard the Missouri battleship or inside the USS Bowfin submarine.

The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor
The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor Waikiki

Elvis is not as present in Honolulu and Waikiki as one might expect. But you will find traces of him in a few places. Stop by the Hard Rock Café in Waikiki and see Hawaii Five-O actor Jack Lord’s guitar, which his good friend Elvis used to play.

Another awesome sight –- although it has no relation to The King — is the huge wave of guitars across the wall and ceiling.

Between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu is AlaMoana Park –- a public park and stretch of sandy beach, which you might recognize from some of the scenes in Blue Hawaii.

At the western end of AlaMoana Park is the Kewalo Basin and at the eastern end, not far from Hilton Hawaiian Village, is the AlaWai Yacht Harbor. Both places were used as movie locations in Girls, Girls, Girls.

Jack Lord's guitar at the Hard Rock Cafe in Honolulu. Elvis the King used to play it, too.
Jack Lord’s guitar at the Hard Rock Cafe in Honolulu. Elvis used to play it, too.

If you fancy a whole lot of shopping, walk across the road from AlaMoana Park to AlaMoana Shopping Center — the world’s largest outdoor shopping center with 290 stores.

Other scenes from Blue Hawaii were shot near Diamond Head Lighthouse on Diamond Head Road at the far eastern end of Waikiki. The original lighthouse was built in 1899, whereas the lighthouse of today dates back to 1917. Diamond Head is an extinct volcano and is perfect for a scenic hike overlooking Waikiki.

Downtown Honolulu

In Honolulu, there are two sights you want to see if you are an Elvis fan. The first one is the Punchbowl Crater, which is a so-called tuff cone of another extinct volcano. The crater is now the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Around the crater are the nine-mile scenic Round Top Drive and Tantalus Drive. More scenes from Blue Hawaii were shot here, and the view of Honolulu from the top is fantastic. Try to be up here at sunset. The view of the city lights coming on is amazing.

Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background
Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head in the background

The second sight is located just outside the Neal Blaisdell Center -– the former Honolulu International Convention Center — where Elvis’ famous Aloha from Hawaii concert took place on January 14, 1973. It is a life-size bronze statue of Elvis erected in 2007 on the 30th anniversary of his death.

You will find the statue near the box office facing Ward Avenue. Aloha from Hawaii was the world’s first concert telecast worldwide. Millions of people in 40 countries watched as Elvis wrote history.

The day before the concert the mayor of Honolulu declared 13 January 1973 to be Elvis Presley Day.

Tour the island with The King

Do you remember the scenes in Blue Hawaii, when Elvis’ character takes the girls on a guided tour of Oahu island? One of his stops is a pineapple plantation.

The Dole Pineapple Plantation
The Dole Pineapple Plantation

It is not really known which one he is supposed to have stopped at, but a good place for you to stop is Dole Pineapple Plantation located approximately in the center of the island.

Here you can see pineapples in all shapes and sizes and taste just about anything with a pineapple flavor from sweets and pies to chocolate and ice cream. The ice cream is delicious.

The next stop on your island tour should be the Polynesian Cultural Center on the northern shore. The Center is a large theme park showcasing seven different Polynesian cultures through a living outdoor museum.

Inside, near the Rapa Nui exhibit, under the bridge between Samoa and the Hawaiian Mission Settlement is a famous palm tree, where Elvis supposedly shot a scene singing in Blue Hawaii. Many of the scenes from Paradise, Hawaiian Style were also shot inside the Center.

The famous palm tree at the Polynesian Cultural Center
The famous palm tree at the Polynesian Cultural Center

Continue down the eastern shore to Kualoa Regional Beach Park in Walahole. From here you will get a great view of the small island of Mokoli’i – also called Chinaman’s Hat because of its shape.

The island is the backdrop from Paradise, Hawaiian Style. Notice one particular helicopter scene about a lost key next time you watch it.

Further along the coast on your way back to Honolulu and Waikiki, you can stop at several other movie locations from Blue Hawaii such as Kaneohe, Makapu’u Point, and Lighthouse as well as Hanauma Bay, where some of the early beach scenes from the movie were shot.

Aloha from Hawaii!

The trip to Oahu was conducted with the assistance of the Oahu Visitors Bureau. For more information about Oahu go to www.gohawaii.com/oahu

Elvis the King enjoys the view from Ali‘i Tower. Photo courtesy of Elvis Australia.
Elvis enjoys the view from Ali‘i Tower. Photo courtesy of Elvis Australia.

Useful links:

Hilton Hawaiian Village: www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com

Ilikai Hotel: www.ilikaihotel.com

Pearl Harbor: www.nps.gov/valr/planyourvisit/index.htm

Hard Rock Cafe Honolulu: www.hardrock.com/

AlaMoana Park: www1.honolulu.gov/

AlaMoana Shopping Center: www.alamoanacenter.com

Diamond Head: www.hawaiistateparks.org/

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific: www.cem.va.gov/cems/nchp/nmcp.asp

Neal Blaisdell Center: www.blaisdellcenter.com

Polynesian Cultural Center: www.polynesia.com

Elvis in Hawaii: www.elvisinhawaii.com

General Oahu Movie Locations Drive: http://www.discoveringhawaii.com

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4 thoughts on “Elvis: Tracing the King’s Footsteps

  1. How many hours or days takes to visit all the places Elvis was? Can you do it in one day? Where do you suggest to start the trace of Elvis in Honolulu?

  2. If Hard Rock Cafe isn’t open right now, check out the similarly named Rock Island Cafe on Waikiki which has a great collection of memorabilia on display, including a larger-than-life statue of Elvis and Marilyn on their front lanai, and an Elvis fortune teller booth.

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