If you’re traveling to Oahu, chances are good that you’ll stay in Waikiki, the busy slice of land between canal and sea where most of the lodging is clustered. Hotel towers shape the skyline, spring breakers zip down Kalākaua Avenue on electric scooters, and beachfront bars sling $15 mai tais. In the heart of the neighborhood lie the island’s historic luxury hotels, including the Moana Surfrider and Royal Hawaiian. But Waikiki is lesser known for a different kind of stay, a more intimate one that is on the edge of the action looking in, rather than smack in the center of it.
Enter the new Kaimana Beach Hotel, formerly the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel since 1963, and before that the Victorian beachfront home of the McIrney family. After a recent change in ownership, the 122-room hotel has undergone a transformation unveiling a brand new look in February 2021. Hospitality company Private Label Collection—also behind Readers’ Choice Award winner Hotel Wailea on Maui—has ushered in another new era for Kaimana.
The bright, sunny lobby is, in a word, joyful. Pastel pinks, canary yellows, soft oranges, and warm turquoises pop throughout the space. There’s vibrant, beautifully mismatched art, presented in a gallery style that fills entire walls with splashes of color. A mix of upcycled and new furniture invites guests to take a seat. It could be the living room of your most fun and fashionable friend’s beach house. The reception area fades into the bar and restaurant, which spills from the indoors out onto the beach and buzzes with locals lunching. The cheerful effect is no accident—Henderson Design Group has responded to a universal desire: happy is the new cool.
The general manager, Ha’aheo Zablan, is at the center of it all. His family has been here for generations and his grandmother was one of Waikiki’s original lei sellers. Guests can communicate with the concierges via the app Ivy, where the hotel team can book reservations, supply beach chairs or surf board rentals, recommend activities, and more. This use of tech is a smart way for staff to stay in touch with guests, particularly while physical distance is at a premium.
Most of the rooms look out through floor-to-ceiling windows on the iconic fin-shaped Diamond Head crater or over the ocean. The room vibe is a continuation of the lobby’s fresh, colorful aesthetic. The top floor suites, with their long wraparound balconies, are worth the spend; the Pacific Suite is the largest at 838 square feet. Guests can indicate whether or not they want their room cleaned with a tag on their door.
After a day in the sea and sun, it’s tempting to call it a night and relax in your room. But it would be a shame to miss out on food and drinks at Hau Tree. The new concept comes from James Beard nominee chef Chris Kajioka (of Honolulu’s hot new restaurant Miro Kaimuki) in collaboration with Alan Takasaki (of Le Bistro). To drink, you can’t go wrong with the 1944 Mai Tai made with Appleton and Kuleana rum. And dinner should be kicked off with the scallops: the beautifully plated dish is served with butternut squash puree and topped with paper-thin prosciutto, crispy kale, and toasted sunflower seeds. For mains, the ginger scallion steamed mahi and the wagyu flank steak are equally good. And the coconut cake is a must.
Actual Hau trees form a lush canopy of heart-shaped leaves that shade the restaurant’s outdoor area. They’ve been there long before the original hotel building was erected; rumor has it that the author Robert Louis Stevenson sat and wrote beneath these very trees more than a century ago.
A visit to Hawaii is really all about the activities. Kaimana gets this. They’ve partnered with Kai Sallas, a local surf legend and the 2018 longboard world champion. His Pro Surf School is located within the hotel. Born and raised in Waikiki, Sallas has identified the area’s ideal beginner break—and it’s right off Kaimana beach.
The concierge can also book a sunset sail around Waikiki or set guests up on the hotel’s bikes for a spin around Diamond Head. Other upcoming activities include outdoor yoga in Kapi’olani Park and lei- and coconut hat-making classes.
Kaimana Beach Hotel marries the old and the new. The historic, sprawling Kapi’olani Park, laden with ancient, twisted Iron Trees and enormous Indian Banyan trees lies behind the property; 200,000 year-old Diamond Head looms large in the distance and the bustle of Waikiki is just far enough away. As Americans begin to travel again, first to destinations like Hawaii, Kaimana Beach Hotel will be an apt stay for the moment. And, if history repeats itself, much longer than that.
Book Now: Doubles from $129 per night, expedia.com.
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