The very first luxury hotel in the state, the Moana Surfrider opened in 1901, followed by many more including, Kahala Resort, Royal Hawaiian and Halekulani were the top luxury hotel choices. While these are still favorites, newer properties have also enriched the scene. Here are our favorite opulent oases:
TIP: Hotel check-in is usually 4pm. Ask for early check-in. Most hotels will oblige.
The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach
Urbanites, posh travelers and homebodies alike will delight in these exquisitely appointed, residential-style high-rise lodgings with luxury hotel services and a convenient location to shopping, dining and nightlife. The views from its two towers of the parklike Fort DeRussy, Waikiki’s glistening waters and Friday-evening fireworks are also exceptional.
- Everything is on an elevated scale here, literally and figuratively.
- The eighth-floor pools, though compact, have an undeniable wow factor, while having Dean & DeLuca with its second-story wine bar and the 16-seat, $300-a-dinner Sushi Sho (led by Tokyo’s renowned Keiji Nakazawa) onsite give ample reason to ignore the Miele and Wolf appliances in the condominium villas.
- Work off the calories in the 24-hour fitness center created by celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak.
Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa
Like many a grande dame, Waikiki’s first hotel (opened in 1901) has undergone several expansions and facelifts over the years. Now part of Marriott’s Bonvoy program (yes, you can use points), the 793-room Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, offers award-winning restaurants, nightly Hawaiian entertainment in the courtyard, and beachfront access to the moana (ocean).
- It’s a toss up between the elegant public areas—including the courtyard around its famed banyan tree, formerly the site of the iconic “Hawaii Calls” radio show—and the luxurious Moana Lani Spa, the only oceanfront spa in Waikiki.
- Hawaiian healing traditions and innovative spa rituals inspire the spirit in this tranquil oasis filled with history, letting mind and body become one.
The Royal Hawaiian
Now a Luxury Collection Resort (and part of Marriott’s Bonvoy points program), this beachfront, Moorish-inspired pink palace has lost none of its lustre since opening in 1927 in a once-royal coconut grove. Instead, it has only gained a reputation for excellent mai tais, fine dining and a modern tower that’s a luxury hotel-within-a-hotel.
- While it shares a seaside fantasy pool with the neighboring Sheraton Waikiki that kids will enjoy, this vintage beauty makes a perfect adult playground, thanks to its center-of-everything location and focus on culinary pleasures.
- Unwind after a day on the beach or shopping in the adjacent Royal Hawaiian Center at the hotel’s lively open-air Mai Tai Bar, or settle in for a superb dinner at its oceanfront Azure restaurant.
The Kahala Hotel and Resort
Tucked between the Pacific and a private golf club east of Waikiki, this 6-acre, midcentury-modern hideaway boasts U.S. presidents and world leaders among its most famous guests and local luminaries among its spa and dining clientele. Hands down the hotel’s most popular residents: the bottlenose dolphins in the Kahala’s lagoon.
- One of only three programs in the state where children and adults can swim with dolphins safely and responsibly, Dolphin Quest at the Kahala offers an engaging variety of encounters with the (nonnative) mammals supervised by marine biologists.
- Those who prefer dry land shouldn’t miss the sumptuous afternoon tea or evening jazz and expert cocktails at the hotel’s Veranda restaurant.
- The spa’s traditional lomilomi massages are also among Hawaii’s best.
The subtle palette of its elegantly understated rooms, breathtaking views of Diamond Head and curling waves, and an illustrious spa lead to “serenity now” at this iconic bastion of oceanfront luxury. Shielded from Waikiki’s hustle and bustle, Halekulani shines as a center for gourmets and arts aficionados.
- Lounging by the shimmering pool with its orchid logo is a treat, although retreating to one of the rooms or suites with private lanais—and in some cases, butler service—is equally indulgent.
While guests enjoy complimentary admission to Iolani Palace, the Bishop Museum and the Honolulu Museum of Art, the nightly performance by an artful hula dancer with a Hawaiian music trio at the hotel’s House Without a Key is truly unforgettable.
Wākea Waikīkī Beach (Trump International Hotel)
Fans of luxury but not of the former president will be glad to hear this 38-story hotel overlooking Fort DeRussy will change its name and management company in February 2024. The soon-to-be Wakea Waikiki Beach, named for the sky father of Hawaiian lore, will keep its sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, Diamond Head and the city skyline and the staff who have helped it nab numerous awards.
- The long infinity-edge pool on the sixth floor has a large deck to soak up the sun as well as the views.
If the menus in Wai‘Olu Ocean Cuisine or In-Yo Cafe don’t meet your approval, an in-suite private chef is also available.