Long considered one of the top hotels on Oahu, the Kahala has always been a particular favorite among the type of guests who travel with their own security detail. Eight past U.S. presidents, plus kings, queens, princesses Grace and Di, a handful of Nobel Peace Prize winners, rock stars, and movie stars, all have slept under its venerable roof at some point during the hotel’s 50-year history. The see-and-be-seen set moved on long ago, but privacy seekers still make a beeline here. They’re drawn less by the property’s fabulous beach (though that’s reason enough to stay here) than by its exclusive location—in a well-fortified cul-de-sac in the ritzy Kahala neighborhood. But there’s a warm and fuzzy side to the hotel, too. A pod of dolphins has full-time residency in the hotel lagoon, and visitors of all ages can swim with them (for a fairly steep fee). Rooms have a preppy beach house vibe—raffia ceiling fans, linen loveseats—and many come with heart-stopping sea views.
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A 15-minute drive from Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, the Kahala hood is Oahu’s Gold Coast, home to the priciest real estate in the state. There’s a large shopping mall nearby but not much in the way of restaurants. Both Diamond Head and some of the island’s prettiest beaches are a short hop away.
Need to Know
Rooms: 338 rooms, including 61 suites. From $445. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: There are five restaurants, including a formal Asian-Hawaiian mash-up, a formal Italian, and the more relaxed Seaside Grill, set under the palm trees. But the locals favor the hotel’s Verandah restaurant, just off the hotel lobby, where afternoon tea attracts the ladies-who-lunch crowd, and in the evening, friends and neighbors meet up for cocktails and fancy bar food like tempura short ribs and Maui onion soup. Spa and gym details: The spa, fashioned after a traditional ryokan, couldn’t be more private. Instead of a group locker room and relaxation lounge, each of the nine treatment rooms is concealed behind sliding wooden doors and furnished with its own soaking tub, shower, and chill-out area. A well-equipped fitness center is open 24 hours with personal trainers on call. The gym is often empty, as the most appealing exercise options are available outside on the bay (kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, yoga on a stand-up paddleboard, and so on).
Who's it for: Families with young kids, discerning beach bums, and the rich and famous. Our favorite rooms: Any of the “ocean front” category rooms will do nicely, but the “Ocean Front Suites” have even more dazzling views—of the sea and the dolphin lagoon, as well as of Diamond Head and Koko Crater. For little ones:The Keiki Club—kids’ club—offers creative and varied activities including hula lessons, lei making, and bamboo pole dancing. Families will enjoy evening clam bakes.