The Best Hotels in Honolulu
Hawaii’s capital still exudes a laidback surfer vibe amidst its urban buzz. Hotels such as the Halekulani and the Royal Hawaiian harken back to the glitzy glory days of Waikiki Beach, while the storied Kahala Hotel & Resort still affords the privacy that attracted actors, movie stars and U.S. presidents. Budget-minded travelers will love the retro-modern vibe of Coconut Waikiki, but families should book the Polynesian-themed Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach.
2199 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
The most enviable address in Waikiki, the beachfront Halekulani is all about restrained elegance and pitch-perfect service. The hotel dates back a century, though it was entirely rebuilt in the 1980s—and the room decor—fifty shades of white and plantation shutters framing the turquoise sea—complements the scene outside. The beach itself is small and usually mobbed, but the pool is a dream—a giant oval big enough for laps, and quiet enough (few kids here) for a long doze under your chaise’s umbrella. The grassy courtyards and seaside restaurants are just as improbably serene; some might say stuffy, but for others, the reliably hushed atmosphere is a welcome tonic to the hubbub of Waikiki, just outside the Halekulani’s marbled entrance.
450 Lewers St, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
A few blocks up from the beach, the Coconut Waikiki is a bright and cheery budget-minded boutique hotel. The rooms are plenty roomy (197 to 265 square feet for the standard quarters; up to 1,200 square feet for the largest suites), and all have kitchenettes and private lanais. The look is fresh and modern, with light wood, white linens, and pops of color in armchairs and pillows. Amenities are minimal (no restaurant, no bar, and a teeny pool), but there’s free, speedy Wi-Fi, DIY laundry (for a fee), and, every morning, friendly international guests gathering in the lobby to toast their own waffles at the complimentary continental breakfast.
5000 Kahala Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816, USA
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. A number of 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.
2365 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Built in 1901, the legendary “First Lady of Waikiki” blends Victorian architecture with a golden beach and turquoise seas. Putting a luxury hotel in a deserted backwater was a bold move—but one that paid off. Tourism took off here and the Moana remains its ruling monarch. One of the most lovely, historical hotels in Hawaii, it still has Ionic columns supporting an elegant porte-cochère, plus a long shaded gallery along its facade where rocking chairs encourage guests to watch the world go by. A $21-million renovation brought it up-to-date in 2014 and added a new beach club. But an exhibit room still honors its rich past on the second floor of the Banyan Wing, and serves as a jumping-off point for free historical tours (11 a.m., Mondays and Wednesdays).
2169 Kalia Rd, Honolulu, HI 96815, USA
Both of Waikiki’s Outrigger hotels are a good value, but this one is a little bigger and a little quieter. It’s right on the beach, just north of the main resort cluster, and though a short walk to the middle of the action, far enough to feel out of the fray. The hotel itself is a quintessential Hawaiian family resort—big and friendly, with an unmistakable good-time vibe, old-school Polynesian decor throughout, and any number of activities on offer. The pool is set back from the beach and nothing fancy (no waterslides, no swim-up bar, and up against a giant wall), but it’s large enough for a serious game of Marco Polo, and there are plenty of lounge chairs to go around. Perhaps the best reason to stay here is the beach—a fairly narrow but sparkling white strand with more elbow room than its sister beaches; the rocky bottom may have something to do with that, but it’s a good place to learn to surf and a great place to catnap in the sun. One warning: the hotel lobby may feel overly commercial to some, what with a row of gift shops and a hard-to-miss timeshare desk, but it’s easy enough to ignore, if you wish.
2259 Kalakaua Ave Honolulu, HI 96815
Built in the Roaring Twenties, the Royal Hawaiian ushered in the glam age of Waikiki Beach. The so-called Pink Palace, a Spanish Moorish–style confection set on bright-green lawns was, at the time, the priciest hotel project in the Pacific and a fast favorite of Hollywood royalty and East Coast blue bloods (who, in those early years, arrived by steamship, along with their piles of trunks and chauffeured cars). For those first few decades, anyone who was anyone, it seemed, stayed at the Royal Hawaiian; on any given day, you might see the likes of Spencer Tracy autographing a coconut or Joe DiMaggio surfing off the hotel’s beach. Once other luxury hotels sprouted up on Oahu, the Royal Hawaiian’s star faded some, but after a massive renovation in 2008, it became a member of Starwood’s Luxury Hotel Collection and, once again, one of the top spots on the island. The makeover managed to keep those graceful old bones and art deco flourishes (miles of tile, sweeping arches), while giving the whole place a long overdue upgrade. Genteel surroundings aside, the hotel is as lively as ever. But at night, when the oceanfront Mai Tar bar is rocking, guests can still scope out quiet corners. Retreat to the gracious portico lined with rocking chairs or the garden pathways dreamily lit by torches, and you’ll discover that the romance of old Waikiki lives on.
Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa
A Hawaiian fantasyland on Oahu’s more remote leeward coast, about 40 minutes from Waikiki, Aulani is so seductive—for all ages—that many guests are loath to leave the property at all. And who can blame them? The beach is an idyllic cove (albeit a man-made one) stocked with kayaks, boogie boards, and everything else little beach bums could want. Then there are the three pools, including one for adults only and one filled with tropical fish for snorkelers-in-training, two impressive waterslides, and the biggest crowd-pleaser of them all, a 900-foot-long lazy river where guests, big and small, splash around on inner tubes as they meander around a faux-rock grotto. Goofy, Minnie, Mickey, and the rest—all in their vacation outfits—make occasional cameos at the breakfast buffet or by (sometimes, in) the pool. But while Aulani is most assuredly every kid’s dream, it is not every parent’s nightmare. The resort decor is more traditionally Hawaiian than obnoxiously Magic Kingdom; the lobby is built to recall an old canoe house, on a grand scale, and is covered in murals, painted by local artists, depicting island life. Hawaiian storytellers gather around a fire pit at night, and rooms have warm woods, with a single subtle reference to the Mouse King—a wooden carving of Mickey with a surfboard and ukulele that doubles as a desk lamp. Perhaps best of all, the Aulani has an outstanding, supervised kids’ club that’s free to guests ages 3 to 12. Babysitters are available for kids as young as six weeks old.
1775 Moana Blvd., Honolulu
A fairly new addition to the Waikiki waterfront, the seven-year-old Modern was a dream come true for those young urbanites who never quite felt at home in the more traditional Hawaiian resorts. It’s not directly on the beach—the closest is the lagoon and expansive beach in front of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, a quick walk on the hotel’s ramp—and instead overlooks the picturesque Ala Wai Boat Harbor, where many of the island’s boating excursions depart. Designed by George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, celebrities in the world of fashionable hotels, the look is warmly modern, all whites and creams and luxurious wood, and some striking art pieces, including a large surfboard installation in the lobby (titled “Wreck-tangles”). There’s a fun nightclub and some seriously good restaurants, though the real scene is out on the Instagram-worthy two-tiered teak pool deck, lined with lots of cushy chaises and shady corners to curl up. Upstairs is the adults-only pool—less a pool than a shallow water prop for frequent DJ-hosted dance parties. But for as much as the Modern is a hipster haven, the service is surprisingly good at making sure guests never feel like they’re crashing someone else’s party.