Five Oahu Hotels with a New Look and Old Heart
History, Hawaiian foods, and where to rest your head: A four-part series exploring Oahu
By Natalie Compagno and Greg Freitas April 25, 2023
The is the third story in our series on travel to the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
From Duke Kahanamoku holding court at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Mai Tai Bar to Don Ho singing “Tiny Bubbles” at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, Oahu is known for its legendary hotels and iconic surf culture. When you stay at these big kahunas and others — Moana Surfrider, Halekulani, the list goes on — you relive the “Golden Age” of Hawaiian travel.
There are now even more places to experience Oahu’s warm hospitality. For something beyond the classic list, check out these five happening hotels. These properties bustle with hipster Hawaiian charm and that hang loose vibe, with infusions of art and culture. Each has received a multi-million-dollar renovation within the past few years and is ready to welcome the next generation of visitors with aloha.
Outrigger Reef Hotel
Vibe: Renew and revive with a deep respect for Hawaiian people and customs
Location: Beachfront Waikiki in the middle of the action, yet feels like an oasis
Dream Big: After an $80 million renovation was completed in 2022, the Outrigger Reef opened to great fanfare. The restaurant and cultural center received major upgrades, with the cultural center moving from a kiosk in the lobby to its own showcase space. The outdoor Voyager Club Lounge is an ideal spot to meditate on Waikiki’s serene sunsets. For the royal treatment, stay in the Grand Navigator’s Suite with a wet bar, dining area, plus complimentary breakfast and sunset pupus as well as drinks at Voyager 47 Club Lounge.
Splash & Play: Explore Hawaiian culture from luaus to lei-making to local tastings. Embrace the spirit of malama (to care, preserve, protect) at the new A‘o Cultural Center. Learn about ancient Hawaiian voyaging from resident “Ambassador of Aloha” Aunty Luana Maitland. Experience the carefully curated lineup of Hawaii’s top musicians. They play original music every night at Kani Ka Pila Grille, which means “let’s play music” in Hawaiian. Plunge in the sea between activities; this oceanfront hangout is humming from sunup to stars out.
Ono Food & Umbrella Drinks: Enjoy happy hour drinks that fade into dinner while meeting visitors from all over the world at the convivial outdoor pool bar. The beautifully crafted wooden, A-frame hale (house) atrium is a backdrop to the bar, with warm rattan hanging lights for a mellow evening glow.
Kaimana Beach Hotel
Vibe: Style out at this design diva on secluded golden sand
Location: Just south of Waikiki; if you’re lucky you could have the beach to yourself
Dream Big: Boho modern meets Hawaiian classic — Kaimana Beach Hotel is a design gem. The 122-room hotel unveiled its new look after renovations in 2021. The onsite restaurant Hau Tree is loaded with local lore. Ernest Hemingway and Robert Louis Stevenson are said to have written under the ancient tree during their sojourns on Oahu. The penthouse ocean one-bedroom suite is romantic, chic, and the wraparound balcony is delightfully dizzying.
Splash & Play: Take a surf lesson from Moniz Family Surf School, or just stroll the endless shops of Waikiki. Seattle Elks take note! Use your card for entry into Honolulu Elks Lodge No. 616 just two doors down. Their happy hour is fantastic, and the private pool and ocean entry are a bonus.
Ono Food & Umbrella Drinks: Order a lilikoi tiki fizz for sunset but be ready to return the next morning. Hau Tree has the most decadent brunch in Waikiki. Your taste buds will say mahalo.
Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina
Vibe: Luxury mega-resort; think White Lotus on Oahu, yet the staff makes it feel like home
Location: West coast, just 20 minutes from the airport
Dream Big: The former JW Marriott Ihilani reopened under the Four Seasons umbrella in 2016. Their keiki club/kids program is thoughtfully executed so parents can feel good about me-time. The penthouse suite is breathtaking with a sweeping outdoor balcony and settee that hovers over the ocean. Rooms are beautifully designed, with that extra touch of comfort that makes guests daydream about moving in permanently.
Splash & Play: Swim in the lagoon-style pool, play tennis, pickle ball, or basketball on one of the resort’s courts, and wallow in a spa treatment at the six-story Naupaka Spa & Wellness Centre. The massive fitness center must be experienced to be believed. The resort also offers a variety of water sports, including paddle boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling. The lobby and property double as art gallery and mini-museum. Be sure to ask about the sculptures and art. Take home a souvenir by artist-in-residence Nick Kuchar. You can choose your favorite Oahu beach scene from displays throughout the lobby.
Ono Food & Umbrella Drinks: Enjoy happy hour at Mina’s Fish House or slip into the adults-only infinity pool for a cocktail at Dr. Mai Tai’s swim up bar. “Prescriptions” are sold in many flavors. For dinner, indulge your palate in the romantic garden atmosphere at Noe. Rich flavors like truffle tagliatelle, king crab campanelle, and whipped ricotta with truffle honey on house made focaccia end a perfect day.
Queen Kapiolani Hotel
Vibe: Young, active, and fun with a noteworthy vintage surfboard collection
Location: One block from the beach on peaceful Kapiolani Park
Dream Big: The “Queen Kap” finished a $35 million renovation in 2019 that updated the decor to retro-chic, paying homage to Waikiki’s Golden Age. The hotel promotes health and activity with yoga classes, a running club, a state-of-the-art fitness center, and easy access to Honolulu’s numerous bike paths. Stay in the Junior Suite with private lanai and stunning views. Bring the pooch! Queen Kapiolani is dog friendly and even provides dog sitting and walking.
Splash & Play: Take a surf lesson from Hans Hedemann Surf School, located in the lobby. The friendly, former top five pro surfer is on-site to show the way.
Ono Food & Umbrella Drinks: Enjoy spectacular views of Diamond Head at pool-level restaurant DECK. Brunch begs for leisurely dining and alternating dips in the pool, while enjoying loco moco and Hi I’m Tom: Green Bloody Marys. Add in a generous Happy Hour starting at 2 p.m. every day and you just might not leave the pool, or hotel.
Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club
Vibe: Hip, chic digs at wallet-friendly prices
Location: Quiet side street in the heart of Waikiki
Dream Big: Surfjack opened in 2016 as a sister hotel to the White Sands. Both properties are committed to providing all the amenities of the older resorts at better prices for younger visitors. Grab a friend, or five. Surfjack has killer events already organized for you. From “Silent Disco by the Pool” to “Sip and Shop Market” supporting local Hawaiian businesses, you will look like that party planning queen, without the work. Then take the after-party back to your three-bedroom suite for a bird’s-eye view of the pool and festivities.
Splash & Play: Loll around the swimming pool and let your cares drift away. Then snap a photo of the bright script along the pool bottom and put it on Instagram. The message? “Wish You Were Here!” #makeyourfriendsjealous
Ono Food & Umbrella Drinks: On-site eatery Mahina & Sun’s was opened by six-time James Beard Award semifinalist Ed Kenney along with “local boy” Erik Leong. Tucked inside the lobby and serving elevated Hawaiian comfort food, it’s a great place to hang. Enjoy inventive promotions such as “Tiki Wik” with simple, slam-dunk pairings like “gin & oysters.”
Natalie and Greg have written for Travel + Leisure, Fathom, Food52 in addition to Seattle magazine. They’ve been to 117 countries combined. Inbetween trips they live in a houseboat on Seattle’s Lake Union.
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