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The Ultimate Hawaii Shave Ice Guide

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Shave ice is a popular Hawaii dessert made from shaving blocks of ice and topping it with fruit syrups. Here's how to eat it, make it, and where to get it!

Pineapple shave ice with li hing mui powder at Kaimana Shave Ice (Oahu)

First things first: it's Shave Ice not Shaved Ice.

Li hing mui and wet lemon peel shave ice at Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice (Maui)

What is Shave Ice?

Shave Ice (along with malasadas and butter mochi) is a popular Hawaii dessert. It's especially dreamy on a hot day (of which we've been having many).

The ideal shave ice texture is soft and fluffy, you want it to melt in your mouth. No hard scratchy ice bits. The ice shouldn't be packed tight in the bowl/cup, you should only mound the ice enough so that it barely holds shape.

Making shave ice at at Monsarrat Shave Ice (Oahu)

To make shave ice, get a block of frozen ice and use a shave ice machine to shave it (more about the machine below) into a bowl. And then top with syrup (usually a fruit-based syrup). Then you eat!

Matcha and yuzu shave ice at Monsarrat Shave Ice (Oahu)

You eat shave ice with a spoon and a straw. You start with the spoon, and because some of the ice will have melted by the time you finish eating the ice, you then use the straw to suck up the rest.

Shave ice is abundant in Hawaii. You will see it everywhere. Some places do it better than others (I have a list of my favorite spots below). Most shave ice prices range from $3 to $10 depending how simple/fancy you want to get.

Strawberry dream shave ice at Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (Oahu)

Shave Ice vs Shaved Ice

In Hawaii, we call it Shave Ice. If you say, Shaved Ice everyone will just know that you don't know ^_^

The only other acceptable name option is Ice Shave, which is what they call it on the Big Island. But on all other islands, it's Shave Ice.

Li hing mui and lilikoi with snowcap at Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu)

Hawaiian Shave Ice

How is Hawaiian shave ice different from:

  • Snow Cones - Snow cones use crushed ice. Shave ice has ice that's been shaved.
  • Japanese Kakigori - Kakigori is lighter, way more gentle in texture and very delicate. Note: the shave ice we have in Hawaii originated from the Japanese (when they came to work in the sugar plantations in the 1800s). Out of all the ice desserts from different countries, Hawaii shave ice bears most in common with Japanese kakigori.
  • Taiwanese Snow Ice - With Taiwanese ice, the milk and flavors are mixed into the ice before it is frozen. 

Matcha shave ice at Matcha Cafe Maiko (Oahu)

Shave Ice Syrups

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The coolest part about Hawaii shave ice are the syrups and toppings. You can get all the usual strawberry, vanilla, orange, etc flavors. But to do that (especially in Hawaii), would be such a waste...

Menu board and ordering window at Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu)

Why? Because this is your chance to try all the flavors that are unique to Hawaii! These are several popular must-try flavors:

  • Li hing mui (I like that brand)
  • Lilikoi (passion fruit)
  • Haupia
  • Lychee
  • Wet lemon peel
  • Guava
  • Pickled mango

Shave Ice in Hawaii Azuki bean shave ice bowl (with mochi and ice cream) at Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu)

Shave Ice Toppings

Shave ice toppings in Hawaii are also essential! Here are the ones you need to know:

  • Mochi balls - Most places make their own mochi balls, fresh and chewy. So important to have mochi with your shave ice!
  • Azuki beans - A natural pairing if you get mochi balls.
  • Snow cap - This is a sweetened condensed milk drizzle over the top.
  • Ice cream on the bottom - This is when they put a scoop of ice cream in the middle of the bowl, then cover it with the ice, and then the syrup.
  • Haupia cream topping - It's like sweet coconut cream! How could you say no?
  • Li hing mui powder - A dusting of li hing mui powder just amps up the flavor. So good to pair with tropical fruit flavors.

Menu board at Wailua Shave Ice (Kauai)

Set Combos

Things can get overwhelming with all the possible syrup and topping combinations. If you can't decide, order one of the preset combos (it's usually a list of their popular flavor combos or signature creations) which all the shave ice places have. 

Syrups at JoJo’s Shave Ice (Kauai)

Can you Make Shave Ice at Home?

Yes! You can even buy a small shave ice machine for home use (we had a similar version growing up). It's fun to make shave ice at home, especially if you have kids. Shave ice birthday parties! My sister and I also made many different fruit syrups at home...sometimes with fresh fruit and sometimes canned (canned lychees make especially good shave ice syrup). Endless possibilities!

If you're in Hawaii, you must try some of our popular local shave ice spots...

Details at Shimazu Store (Oahu)

Best Shave Ice in Hawaii

All Hawaii shave ice spots can be divided into two general categories: Classic and Modern. These are Hawaii's best shave ice spots from each category. 

Shave ice with friends (one for each!) at Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu)

Classic Shave Ice

There are the classic, iconic Hawai spots. Many are family run businesses that have been around for decades.

Friday afternoon at Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu)

  • Waiola Shave Ice (Oahu) - Everyone in Hawaii has "their" shave ice spot. It's the spot you grew up frequenting (before shave ice became cool and trendy). For me, that spot was the original location of Waiola Shave Ice (on Waiola Street, easy to remember). They've been open since 1940! Waiola's was walking distance from school, so I often went with friends after school (and got treats at McDonald's afterwards haha). I don't know how Waiola's gets the ice so light and fluffy (someone told me their secret is mixing sugar into the water before they freeze and shave the ice!)

POG and li hing mui shave ice at Island Snow Hawaii (Oahu)

  • Island Snow Hawaii (Oahu) - Part shave ice shop, part surfer clothing store. And also known as the shave ice spot Obama likes to visit (Obama's shave ice order includes melon, cherry and lime syrup).

Li hing mui and lilikoi shave ice at Shimazu Store

  • Shimazu Store (Oahu) - Shimazu is a local treasure. Make sure to visit the original location on North School Street (they have a second location called Shimazu Shave Ice on Castle Street, but the original feels more special). Note: even the "small" size shave ice here is gigantic!
  • Matsumoto Shave Ice (Oahu) - Local classic since 1951. There's always a long line, but that's almost part of the fun when you're spending the afternoon in Haleiwa town. 
  • Aoki's Shave Ice (Oahu) - When it comes to shave ice in the town of Haleiwa, you're either a Matsumoto's person or an Aoki's person. Only way to find out is to try both. (Scroll down to the "Modern Shave Ice" section to check out Kaimana Shave Ice, the new spot in Haleiwa!)

Gotta get the right amount of syrup! Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice (Maui)

  • Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice (Maui) - Ululani's is a Maui favorite and luckily they have locations all over the island. I like to keep it clean and simple here with lilikoi, wet lemon peel, and lychee syrup. 

Lilikoi, lychee, and li hing mui shave ice at JoJo’s Shave Ice (Kauai)

  • JoJo’s Shave Ice (Kauai) - Make sure you get the li hing mui syrup here!! It's super intense. All classic shave ice places offer li hing mui syrup but Jojo's is on another level. It's the usual li hing mui syrup plus pureed wet li hing mui all over the top. Heaven for li hing mui fans.

Menu board at Kaimana Shave Ice (Oahu)

Modern Shave Ice

These are the modern and hip spots. They all use natural, real fruit syrups and often feature inventive twists like fun toppings.

Sweet corn, mango, and pineapple shave ice (with macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom and sweet cream drizzle on top) at Kaimana Shave Ice (Oahu)

Kaimana Shave Ice (Oahu)
Kaimana is the new kid on the block, and one that I'm obsessed with. We've driven from town all the way to Haleiwa (a very long drive) just for this shave ice on several occasions. On our first visit my dad devoured the first shave ice and then went right back and ordered a second one! A love for sweets runs in the family. My favorite flavor here is the sweet corn shave ice (with flavors reminiscent of the Filipino sweet, maiz con hielo). It's quite special and you won't find that flavor anywhere else on the island.

Kula Shave Ice North Shore (Oahu)
Kula Shave Ice is just a few minutes drive from Kaimana. Their original location is in Hilo (on the Big Island / Island of Hawaii) and they just opened this Oahu location not long ago. It's a little stand and there's lots of picnic tables where you can sit and eat (bring a hat, it is sunny!) My go-to order is called "Poi In Sai" which is soursop shave ice with fresh poi on the bottom. It's topped with haupia cream and drizzle of lilikoi butter. Sooooooo delicious.

Strawberry shave ice at MW Restaurant (Oahu)

MW Restaurant (Oahu)
My friend Michelle and her husband Wade own MW, which is one of my favorites restaurants in Hawaii. Michelle is an amazing pastry chef (I could make a whole meal of all desserts!) and one of her signatures desserts is the strawberry shave ice. What makes her shave ice special? It's not just ice that's frozen and shaved...but fresh strawberries that are frozen and shaved. It's like shave ice, all fancy and to the nth degree. She serves it with tapioca and homemade mochi ice cream. It's beautiful, and most important, onolicious!

MK Special at Monsarrat Shave Ice (Oahu)

Monsarrat Shave Ice (Oahu)
A tiny little stand right next door to Pioneer Saloon (go there for lunch). Monsarrat is all about natural syrups. Note, the fruit syrups here are on the thicker side (think fruit puree thickness), which some people love and other's don't. I like to order the MK Special which has: kuromitsu syrup, azuki beans, mochi balls, kinako powder, and vanilla ice cream. Also, no charge to add condensed milk on top of any order.

Island Vintage Shave Ice (Oahu)
You want the kiosk location on Kalakaua Ave in Waikiki (it's surprisingly hard to find great shave ice in Waikiki!) I love the lilikoi syrup (passion fruit, complete with those super crunchy fresh seeds), housemade mochi, and haupia cream. 

Matcha shave ice at Matcha Cafe Maiko (Oahu)

Matcha Cafe Maiko (Oahu)
This is my other Waikiki spot (though you'd really think there would be a ton more great shave ice spots in Waikiki). Only at their Hawaii location can you get matcha shave ice! It comes topped with their super good matcha soft serve, homemade mochi, azuki beans, and chestnuts. 

Menu board at Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (Oahu)

Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha (Oahu)
Located in Aina Haina, Uncle Clay's is a cute and comfy spot with housemade syrups, mochi, and ice cream...all of which get layered over bowls of shave ice. I usually order the Strawberry Dream (which comes with their secret "dream sauce") or the Uji Kintoki with matcha syrup and housemade mochi. Look out for their seasonal specials like the Pumpkin Shave Ice, complete with pumpkin purée, cinnamon condensed milk, pumpkin ice cream, and pumpkin mochi!

Berry and acai shave ice at The Fresh Shave (Kauai)

The Fresh Shave (Kauai)
Hipster? Yes. Tasty? Yes! It's a shave ice truck in Kauai (parked in a complex with several local gift/clothing/food shops - definitely check those out as well). I like "The Professor" which has berries and acai syrup, topped with Kauai honey, bananas, and coconut.

Ube special at Wailua Shave Ice (Kauai)

Wailua Shave Ice (Kauai)
Located on the east side of Kauai. Look out for any flavors that involve fresh lilikoi (passion fruit) and the monthly special. I tried the ube (purple yam) special last month which had sweet-and-salty whipped ube cream (super lush!) and toasted coconut all over the top.

Ok, go eat! Enjoy and report back ^_^

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SynA

Tuesday 4th of May 2021

I'm dying to try Kula Shave Ice. Island Vintage is our favorite but lately the lines have been SO LONG! But if we're going to Haleiwa, we stop at Wicked Hi Cafe first & get full on pizza & slush, so no room for shave ice! DOH!

Brent

Thursday 25th of July 2019

Original Waiola Store is closest to my grandparents house, when I am in Hawaii this is a daily stop. Last time we were there we had to be at airport by 11 AM, this was the last thing we had and we were there at 10 AM sharp, despite a pouring rain. Of course it was the usual tropical rain so it was sunny again in 15 minutes.

The last time I had Matsumoto it was just okay. I think we felt it compulsory between garlic shrimp and Ted's since we were already out there, but I would really like to try Kaimana next time.

Kathy Chan

Friday 26th of July 2019

So lucky to be near Waiola's! Yes, please try Kaimana next time, would love to know what you think. They're my new shave ice stop on the "north shore trio" (shrimp, ted's, shave ice) ^_^

- Kathy