Tucked away beneath the foothills of the Waianae Mountain range stands the quaint town of Waialua and its iconic sugar mill. For nearly a century, this historic mill was responsible for producing a hefty bulk of the state’s sugar export. In fact, at one point, the mill produced almost 10 percent of the state’s sugar and was home to hundreds of plantation workers.
However, as the plantation days of old came to a close in the late 19th century and sugar production gradually moved away from the state, the plantation ceased operations in the mid 1990s. But in the wake of the plant’s shutdown, a new opportunity arose as more than 30 small businesses and manufacturers opened up shop, breathing new life into the mill and attracting leagues of customers searching for locally made products.
Today the mill is home to a quiver of the state’s most esteemed surfboard shapers, including JC Hawaii, Erick Arakawa, and Pyzel Surfboards, just to name a few. Island Fin design, who’s been handcrafting surfboard fins for decades, recently expanded their operation to include clothing and accessories, is also based in the sugar mill. If you’re looking for the perfect custom surfboard, specialized fin, or just want to see where the world’s best shapers do their thing, look no further than the Sugar Mill.
Now that we’ve covered surf, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the other business churning out made in Hawaii products. In fact, there are a plethora of specialty hops like the North Shore Soap Factory and Island X (they produce some mighty fun local coffee) that are definitely worth checking out. Both of these operations are not only working factories, but offer tours to the public as well. And then, of course, there’s Francis’ Huli Huli chicken, which just may be the tastiest bird west of the Mississippi. There’s also the famous Waialua Farmers’ Market, which is perfect for finding fresh fruits and vegetables without the hassle and crowds of other markets.
If you’re looking to step back in time and see the Hawaii of old, we recommend taking an afternoon or morning and exploring all that the Sugar Mill has to offer. It’s all local here and we all know how important it is to support small businesses. So whether it’s a custom surfboard from one of the world’s most revered shapers, perfectly roasted Hawaiian coffee, or some small-batch handmade soap, you’ll find it all and more at the Sugar Mill.