It's no secret that there are lots of resorts to choose from on Oahu, Hawaii's most-touristed island. But there's a new wave of hotels that feels fresher, smarter, and more modern than ever. This new batch of boutique hotels puts art, design, and style in the forefront. The city's rooms offer a combination of urban and beachside living, and the ocean views are suddenly complemented by trendy dining, free passes to local museums, and hip pool scenes. Here are five properties that are making a splash:
Overview: The Parc is the urban-minded sister property of the five-star Halekulani resort, located across the street. From its position, where the sand meets the pavement, you'll experience both the buzz of the city and the slow pace of the beach. You're close enough to walk to the water in bare feet; the same distance in the opposite direction brings you to dozens of bars and restaurants. Rooms have a clean, modern design but still manage to maintain a vintage feel thanks to touches like sliding wooden shutters.
Best Attribute: The views. The Parc’s high-rise structure, located just a half-block from the water, means that ocean view rooms on high floors offer a bird's eye perspective. We recommend taking it all in with a cup of coffee or a beer.
Thing to Know: The restaurant in the lobby of the Parc, Lē‘ahi Concept Kitchen (Lē‘ahi is the local name for Diamond Head), has a unique dinner service. In partnership with Kapiolani Community College, the restaurant lets local students showcase their budding talents in the kitchen. It also offers a BYOB cooking class and dinner where you can learn to process and cook fresh-caught fish. Both are a cool way to get a double-dip of local flavor.
The Modern Honolulu
Overview: The Modern Honolulu is one of the first hotels you see as you cross the Ala Wai canal from Honolulu into Waikiki. Though technically in Waikiki, it sits just outside, rising above the Ala Wai Harbor, a 20-minute walk from Waikiki Bay. The property nails the Hawaiian boutique hotel trend with its combo of city and ocean views, hammocks, pools, and cocktails, and the rooms are the epitome of modern luxury, using soft tones and crisp whites and beiges that feel both high-end and relaxing.
Best Attribute: The pools and nightlife. If you think the luxurious touches and the outsider location mean you’ll be too relaxed to be festive, you’re mistaken. The Modern is home to Addiction Nightclub, two restaurants, two bars, and two pools. Don’t miss an evening cocktail from one of the hammocks at the Sunset Pool, which is decked out with 100 tons of sand.
Thing to Know: The location of the Modern makes it a good option for those that prioritize access to the neighborhoods of Honolulu, providing a more local experience. From the hotel, you can walk to Ala Moana Beach Park, which is free to access and a popular spot for paddling clubs and exercise groups. If you plan to stay put, you’ll appreciate the daily happy hours at the hotel bars.
Overview: Walking into Surfjack is more memorable than most hotels. At its main entrance is an expansive courtyard that includes the pool, front desk, bar, an outside dining area, and a covered walkway making its path around the exposed pool. It has that inclusive feeling of a hacienda, with protective high walls, and its rooms have a clean, sleek layout but boom with personality thanks to bold blue furniture and light-colored wood.
Best Attribute: The event calendar. The Surfjack does a great job hosting events with local flavor, including everything from sunset yoga and jam sessions to local storytelling and short films that dissect home-grown issues.
Thing to Know: The social scene of the hotel revolves around the pool, one of the most photographed in Waikiki thanks to the teasing message written on the bottom, “Wish You Were Here.” Spilling right out next to it is Mahina & Sun’s restaurant, headed by local celebrity chef Ed Kenney, where guests receive a $10 credit and can sip a great selection of local craft beers while they lounge.
Overview: Part of the Marriott Autograph Collection, The Laylow opened in spring 2017 after a $60 million renovation (it was formerly the Aqua Waikiki Wave). The design of the hotel, a blend of Mid-Century modernism with Hawaiian roots, sums up the overall trend we’re seeing with many Waikiki boutiques – an aim to capture the pre-boom days of the city while still offering the latest comforts and a buzzy energy.
Best Attribute: The bar scene. The Hideout is a lounge-like bar and restaurant, with a fully-exposed outdoor seating area. With fire pits and long comfy couches, it's a prime place for a pre-dinner cocktail overlooking Kuhio Avenue but also as a dinner destination itself, serving up Pacific Rim classics.
Thing to Know: You’ll want to snag a seat in one of the partly-submerged, ornamental loungers that line the pool, where you can lay half-in, half-out of the water.
Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head
Overview: The Lotus is on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki Bay – right under Diamond Head, in fact – and adjacent to Kapiolani Park. That means it’s surrounded by green landscape on three sides, with the ocean dominating the fourth. The building itself stands tall like a city hotel, but has the simple, white-washed look of an old beachside resort. Inside, though, things get modern in a hurry with the use of dark wood in the lobby and sandy-colored tile in the bathrooms.
Best Attribute: The pace. The hotel is more than a half-mile from the edge of the Waikiki strip, separated by the sprawling Kapiolani Park. There are other dwellings nearby, but you won’t find the same hustle and bustle of Kalakaua and Kuhio in these parts. If you want to be close to the action but prefer green parks to city streets, this would be your place.
Thing to Know: Premium rooms start at $200 all year long, including Ocean and Diamond Head view rooms. Consider going for the latter when you stay here. A lot of hotels have ocean views – it’s the up-close-and-personal view of Diamond Head that makes the Lotus unique.