Do you feel that warm summer breeze? The sun is setting, palm fronds are gently blowing this way and that, the sound of family and friends’ laughter echoes through the air, mingling with the soft, comforting strumming of a ukulele. Where could you be except a fun-and-food-filled luau party, complete with soft white sand and sparkling blue waters?
If a tropical getaway is out of the question, your next best bet might be hosting a luau party yourself, inspired by the beautiful islands and people of Hawaii. Laid-back and loved by all, a luau is a get-together your guests will be thrilled to attend and will talk about for years. And with just a bit of planning, you can create your very own luau right in your backyard—coastal or not.
From decor ideas to party games and activities, food and drink, party favors, invitations, and more, read on for our complete luau guide—featuring 36 luau party ideas for you to make your own.
What is a luau?
A luau (or lūʻau, in native Hawaiian) is a festive, outdoor Hawaiian celebration traditionally featuring live entertainment and delicious grilled food. Reasons for a luau might include a hearty harvest, a new baby, or a wedding—really, any significant life event. Attendance can be as high as hundreds or even thousands of guests in a single evening. It’s truly a party for all.
The first luau resembling those hosted in modern-day was celebrated in the early decades of the 19th century, when men and women in Hawaii first began dining with one another. (Prior to that, religious rules and cultural norms prevented the sexes from sharing a meal, and women were forbidden from eating most delicacies.) The word “luau” refers to the taro plant, which has a key role in cooking the dishes that make the celebrations so special.
Nowadays, while luaus are still largely considered a Hawaiian tradition, they’re oftentimes a mix of many cultures, with food, music, and dance originating from other Polynesian and island cultures. A typical luau involves hula dancing, live music, tropical drinks, and of course, incredible food. Think kalua pig, lomi salmon, pineapple skewers, succulent meat platters, bowls of poi, poké, and coconut treats. Is your mouth watering yet? Thought so.
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Host a memorable event with these 5 Hawaiian luau party ideas
Now that you know exactly what a luau is, you’re probably wondering what event you can host a luau celebration in honor of. A baby shower? Block party? Retirement party? Below are just a few ideas for luau theme parties.
1. Luau launch party
To celebrate the launch of a new fundraising campaign, company project, or startup, why not host an outdoor luau cookout? Imagine it: Fruity cocktails, a lei-making station, beautiful live Hawaiian music, and hula dancing. A pool will help guests cool off and imagine they’re in the bright blue ocean. Don’t have one built in? Grab a few kiddie pools and a garden hose—we promise no one will mind.
2. Luau wedding reception
A themed wedding reception is a bold and fun move that family and friends will never forget. Go all-in on the decorations at your wedding reception venue, and offer guests colorful custom tropical drinks or fun spins on classic cocktails like a piña colada—piña co-love-a—or a minty fresh mojito. Swap plated meals for a full-on cookout with a traditional slow-roasted kālua pig and delicious poi. You can even invite guests to switch out their cocktail attire for more casual “tourist attire”—think Hawaiian shirts and hula skirts.
3. Celebratory start of summer luau
Who wouldn’t want to spend time in a tropical paradise that’s close to home? Bring that vibe to the city or suburbs with a “Start of Summer Luau” to kick off summer for family and friends, coworkers, or neighbors. Keep it family-friendly and invite guests to bring their friends or have a boozy adults-only barbecue.
4. Birthday luau
A luau birthday party is a perfect way to celebrate your latest rotation around the sun. Rent a Hawaiian BBQ food truck for a blowout bash or just grab a couple of Hawaiian t-shirts for guests to throw on at your home. Fun, themed parties aren’t just for kids either. Celebrate the big birthdays—21, 30, 40, 50, and so on—with a theme party that lets you embrace your inner beach-goer.
5. A “just because” luau
You don’t need a reason to throw a luau theme party. Whatever the season, your family and friends deserve an excuse to celebrate and have fun. Plan the perfect luau and give your guests a chance to kick back and enjoy themselves.
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5 Hawaiian theme party decor ideas
When it comes to hosting a luau, your decor will set the tone of your party. But you don’t have to splurge to create an unforgettable evening. Maximize your budget with DIY decor, creative embellishments, and a little help from your friends.
1. Request full-on luau attire
Why not have your guests wear the theme? Add an attire request to the bottom of your invitation so guests can embrace it wholeheartedly. Thrift a few extra Hawaiian shirts and purchase some hula skirts for guests who need some extra help—or add a grass skirt or lei-making station so busy guests can join the theme.
2. Craft custom cocktails and bring out the grill
Boost your luau theme with a menu that gets guests in the mood. Shake up some tasty tropical favorites like mai tais, mojitos, and piña coladas, and let guests create their own punchy drinks by offering lots of rum and tropical mixers like orange juice, pineapple juice, and more. Fresh chilled coconut milk sipped straight from the shell is another enticing treat on hot nights. For food, you can either splurge on a Hawaiian BBQ food truck or catering, or create your own Hawaii-inspired feast with meat and pineapple kabob skewers, Hawaiian-style hot dogs, grilled mahi-mahi, and roast kalua pig.
3. Tiki torches and tropical flowers
Light your party with festive tiki torches and the glow of the setting sun. Next, visit the florist and order some tropical flowers. Colorful leis made of plumerias, tuberose, or carnations make a perfect party favor for guests to embrace the theme. Looking to go big? Buy or DIY a flower arch or flower wall. Guests will flock to it to take their photos.
4. Palm trees galore
It’s not a luau without a few towering palm trees, but if you’re not quite close enough to the equator for the naturally occurring kind, don’t fret. Slightly cheesy inflatable palm trees will undoubtedly amuse your guests, and you can add palm-like accents elsewhere through little touches like paper palm frond garlands or napkins.
5. Bring on the balloons
Are balloons part of a traditional luau celebration? Eh, not really—but that doesn’t mean that including them won’t make your party that much more fun. Buy big balloon letters to spell out on-theme words and phrases like “luau” and “aloha,” or add cute shaped balloons like pigs and pineapples. You can also add classic balloons in colors that fit the rest of your decor.
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5 fun Hawaiian theme party games and activities
Of course, food and decor alone do not a memorable party make. Choosing the right party games and activities will help pull your theme together and make it a luau no one will forget. Encourage guests to bring along their Aloha Spirit and you’ll provide the rest.
1. Outdoor cookout contest
Bring your Hawaiian BBQ to the next level with a cookout competition that puts those televised versions to shame. Let your guests take turns at the grill to see who can cook the most savory, tastiest barbecue, and have others vote. Throw in some party favors (plus bragging rights of course) as prizes for the winners.
2. Lei-making station
If you want your guests to get decked out in real flowers instead of faux, you can save a bit of money and bring the fun with a lei-making station. Rather than paying for professionally made leis, buy tropical flowers and materials in bulk and let your guests get their DIY on. (You can find a simple tutorial video here.) They make for a wonderful party favor to bring home, and you can add in a competition as well for the best lei, most creative lei, and so on.
3. Themed contests
If you’re a competitive bunch, keep the competition going all night long with contests that both adults and kids will love such as:
–Best Hula Dancer
–Best Hawaiian Dress
–Best Aloha Shirt
–Best Tourist Outfit
–Most Creative Costume
–Most Creative Cocktail
Your guests will love the opportunity to showcase their hidden talents—and to potentially win a prize of some sort.
4. Set the mood with music
If you’ve got the cash, hire live entertainment from a native Hawaiian band to ensure guests will be getting their hula on all night long. On a budget? Create a playlist of chilled-out crowd favorites and throw in some tropical hits and authentic Hawaiian music. It’s also the perfect setting for your ukulele-playing pal to enjoy their moment in the spotlight.
5. Hula dancing lessons
For an authentic and exciting activity, bring in a trained hula dancer to teach your guests how to move and groove, Hawaii-style. It’s a guaranteed way to get everyone on the dance floor—and a fun opportunity to burn off a little of that delectable BBQ that you’ve been stuffing your face with all evening.
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5 Delicious Hawaiian Themed Party Food and Drink
With all those activities and party games, your guests will work up quite the appetite. Here are some luau-themed party food and drink ideas for them to enjoy.
1. BYO apps, desserts, and drinks
Short on time (or cash)? Have guests bring their own appetizers and desserts for an epic mix-and-match finger food party. Offer your guests different categories to choose from and, of course, supply some food and delicious, ice-cold drinks yourself, too.
2. Nuts for coconut
The name of the tropical-themed menu game is coconut. Look for ways to add this tropical fruit into your various food and drink offerings. Piña coladas are a given, but look into other creative cocktails and desserts that can be made with coconut cream or coconut milk. And sure, mini Mounds and Almond Joy bars can totally count. Pro Tip: offer non-alcoholic mocktails, so everyone can enjoy a refreshing drink.
3. Pineapple paradise
And of course, we can’t forget about pineapple! Pineapple juice makes a delicious mixer or base for custom (or large batch!) cocktails, while freshly grilled pineapple kebabs are an irresistible, delectable appetizer. Make pineapple and pulled pork sliders and watch your guests gobble them up. Play a delicious trick on your tastebuds with a sprinkle of chili powder on some chunked pineapple. For dessert, pineapple upside-down cake is a popular and impressive-to-look-at treat. The options are limitless.
4. Smoothie bowls
Fresh fruit is a healthy fan-favorite, making versatile smoothie bowls terrific as either an appetizer or dessert. Combine themes and use blended pineapple as the smoothie base, top the bowl with shredded coconut, and serve it in a coconut shell bowl. There are an endless number of fruit combinations to make delicious smoothie bowls. For a better-for-you spin on a sundae bar, let guests DIY their bowls with a smoothie bowl toppings table with bowls of granola, shredded coconut, mint leaves, pitaya seeds, and more.
5. Hawaiian BBQ cookout
If you haven’t taken the hint yet, a luau isn’t complete without some delicious Hawaiian BBQ. Order catering, hire a food truck, or just grill on your own. Vegetarian guests can enjoy barbecued jackfruit, pineapple, and plenty of tasty luau side dishes like macaroni salad and Hawaiian-style coleslaw. There’s truly a tropical flavor for everyone.
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5 Fun Hawaiian Luau Party Favors
Your guests will never want to leave the tropical paradise you’ve built, but when it’s time to say goodbye, send them off with the perfect luau-themed party favors that’ll help them remember the night long after the last ukulele strings have been strummed.
Whether you created a DIY lei-building station, ordered beautiful, handmade leis, or purchased the shiny faux kind in bulk, these flower garlands are the perfect party favor. Guests can take gorgeous photos adorned in their leis and enjoy the flowers’ beauty, and real flowers can be preserved via pressing and other methods.
2. Grass skirts
Send your guests home with grass hula skirts so they can keep practicing their new dance moves. You can buy synthetic grass skirts or splurge on real ones. Crafty guests can even weave their own at a grass skirt-building station.
3. Hawaiian shirts
Another wearable party favor? Hawaiian shirts! Send guests home with the Spirit of Aloha with a party favor they can pull out at future themed functions—or, really, just to wear anytime since they’re actually pretty cool. For an eco-friendly choice, visit a few thrift stores to find plenty of Hawaiian shirts at a low cost.
4. Coconut cups
If you buy real or faux coconut cups for smoothie bowls, cocktails, or more (we’d highly recommend it), you can offer them to your guests on the way out as a practical and fun parting gift.
5. Paper fans
On a hot summer’s day—whether you’re on a tropical island, or not—a paper fan offers a cool breeze. Buy or DIY your very own paper fans for your family and friends to use all summer. You can even have custom fans made specifically for your luau!
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Best Hawaiian theme party invites
Now that you’ve got your luau fully planned, it’s time to let your guests know and entice them to party all night! Paperless Post has the perfect luau invitations for every affair. Here are just a few:
—A Tropical Walktail: For a safe and socially distanced gathering, a “walktail” invitation will make guests feel eager and comfortable to get out of their house.
—A Summer Fling: A fun, tropical party-ready invitation that gives new meaning to seeing the world through rose colored glasses!
—It’s Tiki Time: Invite guests for a tropical happy hour with this fruity invitation starring a delicious looking pineapple bevvy.
Best Hawaiian theme party invitation wording
Once you’ve chosen an invitation, you’ve got to get the wording just right to whet your guest’s appetite for an incredible party… and all that too-good-to-be-true BBQ. Here are some examples to get your creative juices (and orange juice, and pineapple juice) flowing.
1. For a tropical birthday luau
“Aloha. Please join us to celebrate Eloise’s Birthday, July 15 2011, 8-whenever, 543 Dean Street, Brooklyn, NY. RSVP – Mahalo!”
2. For a kid’s birthday party luau
“Calling all critters for Scout’s 7th birthday, Sunday, July 11th at 2 PM, The Finch Residence, 3 Amasa Drive, Maycomb.”
3. For a very merry tropical Christmas luau
“Please join us for warm wishes and Christmas cocktails. Where: the Porters’ House, 548 Nectarine Road, Melbourne Beach. When: 6 PM, December 12th.”
4. For a 30th birthday bash luau
“Matt King invites you to hang loose at a luau in honor of Joanie’s 30th, Saturday, May 15th at 4 PM, 7 Hemmings Street Hilo, Hawaii.”
5. For a remote Hawaiian brunch
“Join Margo and Bill for a Hawaiian brunch to be hosted remotely Saturday, March 29th at 7 PM. Link and recipe ideas to follow!”
Hang Loose with Paperless Post
Congratulations—you’re ready to host the ultimate tropical luau! Find the perfect invitations elegantly reimagined to match your tropical theme only at Paperless Post.
Featured image illustration by Memoli Ward