Honolulu is home to some 47,000 hotel rooms. And while it’s virtually impossible to have a bad time in paradise, some of these establishments are in an elite league of their own. Like the very best wines or a timeless rock ‘n’ roll record, the superiority lies in the details.
The following three hotels in Honolulu not only offer prime locations and unmatched service but also go the extra mile by way of unrivaled experiences like high tea or immersive luaus. Some are teeming with incredible history, while others get bonus points for being highly sustainable. Together, they capture the incredible brand of hospitality genuinely unique to Hawaii and allow visitors to absorb legendary Waikiki and Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest metro area and a delightfully diverse one at that.
The Sheraton Waikiki Beach Resort just completed a massive renovation, and it shows. The $200 million facelift involved upgrades to all 1,636 rooms of the sizable hotel. The hotel is a beehive of activity, home to a sprawling lobby and a great pool with waterslides and a pair of hot tubs. Hungry guests should get brunch at Kai Market, home of satisfying options like paniolo steak and eggs, fluffy kahanamoku buttermilk pancakes, and balanced Mai Tai cocktails.
Highlights of the hotel include the oceanfront infinity pool — the largest of its kind in North America, a relatively quiet little private beach, an expansive, upscale shopping center on the main floor, and four onsite restaurants. Sustainability is a big part of the program as the hotel was the first in the state to offer EV charging stations and has achieved the LEED Gold Certified status. Larger groups or families are advised to book a spectacular Ohana suite, complete with a pair of lanais, a pair of bedrooms, and a roomy floor plan, along with one of the best views of Diamond Head in Waikiki.
The Royal Hawaiian is pure class, a gorgeous mixture of pink and green, and lovely architectural accents. A stroll through this hotel’s lobby is an absolute dream (and film buffs will recognize the iconic archway from Punch Drunk Love). The hotel boasts 528 rooms and 34 suites across the historic wing and Mailani Tower. There’s elegance around every corner, and even the aroma is captivating, a fresh mix of gardenia and jasmine.
The Royal Hawaiian opened in 1927 and has since been deemed “the pink palace of the Pacific.” Seek out the baked goods at the shop on the main floor and take in the grounds in the evening when the pink lights illuminate the relaxing, jungle-like vegetation. Check out the Mai Tai Bar for a namesake cocktail (the first Waikiki hotel to offer the drink back in 1953) and the Surf Lanai for decadent short rib benedict or something healthier like a gravlax bagel and fresh papaya.
The Aha Aina luau is a must, equal parts educational and entertaining. The live band is razor-sharp, the dancers are gifted, and the host tells a mean story. While a lot of luau food tends to be an afterthought, it’s white tablecloth caliber at the Royal Hawaiian, involving dishes like lobster tail and beef tenderloin along with well-made cocktails and beautiful presentation. The luau takes place on Mondays and Thursdays on sacred grounds where Hawaiian royalty once gathered. Like the Sheraton, the Royal Hawaiian is also LEED Gold Certified.
The first hotel in Waikiki, the Moana Surfrider, has an original structure dating back to 1901. The building is a true wonder, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The place is home to the island’s first electric elevator, enormous hallways, towering columns, and eye-catching carpet featuring local flora such as breadfruit.
Skip the beach bar and opt for an authentic tea ceremony. From the airy veranda overlooking a banyan tree as old as the hotel itself, one can do some time traveling in between bites of finger sandwiches and pastries and sips of Hawaiian coconut or passion orange guava tea. The experience makes for a memorable lunch, is even kid-friendly (the little ones get teapots full of juice or milk), and feels like a luxury enterprise plucked straight from the Victorian era.
Be sure to walk around the main lobby and snag a rocking chair on the main balcony above the entrance for world-class people-watching. Historic artifacts and old photographs are peppered throughout the well-appointed original building, and the energy of Waikiki is palpable here.
There is no shortage of hotels in Hawaii, but all of the above stand out in all the best ways. Now’s a great time to escape the droll of winter on the mainland and take in some sun in Hawaii. Check out our adventure guide to Kauai and Oahu feature and our story on how to enjoy Hawaii with kids. You may even want to read our guide to surfing while you’re at it. The wildfires are a thing of the past, and the islands could use some of your tourism.
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