If poolside cocktails with breathtaking volcano views seems like the kind of vacation you want—or need—to take, head to Honolulu. The 315-room Queen Kapiolani Hotel in Waikiki has recently undergone a $35-million renovation, boasts an ideal location across from the Honolulu Zoo and a block from Waikiki Beach, faces Diamond Head National Monument and offers up subtle charm in the unlikeliest of places.
Take the lobby cafe and bar, for example. Knots Coffee Roasters has everything you might expect from a coffee shop—your vanilla cappuccino, croissants, fruits, etc. But you can also get pupu, which is a tray of Hawaiian appetizers with a mix of seafood and meat, a coffee jelly latte, a Mai Tai or Tokyo-style soft serve with coffee jelly, a cookie and espresso sauce.
And then there’s Aloha Whip, right there in the lobby, too. Serving Dole whip on the daily from 11 am to 8 pm, this kiosk alone is reason enough for guests to cry of happiness. Who knew Dole whip was so readily available anywhere but Disneyland?
But it gets even better. Without leaving the lobby floor, you’ll find that Queen Kapiolani also has a Hans Hedemann Surf School outpost, where guests and locals alike can sign up for private or group lessons or just rent their own board. The hotel’s Greenroom Art Gallery curates all local art for purchase so instead of going to the ABC Store—which you’ll find on every corner of Waikiki—and grabbing something that’s been mass-produced, you can buy a thoughtful gift right in your hotel.
During the 2018 completion of the renovation process, the property chose to put heavy emphasis on its rededication to Hawaiian culture. How else to do this but with a full-time cultural advisor at the hotel? Ikaika Pestana has been the hotel’s Director of Engineering since 2017, but he also has another job that some would argue is even more important.
Through all changes, updates and beyond, Pestana has been around to make sure the hotel represents Hawaiians in the most genuine, authentic way. Take the Royal Art Gallery Tour, for example, where portraits of the Hawaiian royal family are displayed for all to see directly below the pool level, paying homage to the hotel’s namesake.
Speaking of the pool level, that’s where you’ll find DECK, an open-air restaurant with live music—think Hawaiian slack guitar—that opens for breakfast and doesn’t close until 11 pm daily. As food and drinks tend to be pricier in Hawaii than on the mainland, happy hour will save you a pretty penny without having to sacrifice taste, quality or anything else. Order some fish tacos and a housemade Mai Tai. All tiki cocktails are available at a discount during happy hour, too.
It seems like a lot of perks, right? That’s not all, though. The hotel has also made it a point to team up with local artists and makers to offer guests truly authentic programming, Haku lei-making workshops; hula lessons from the hotel’s Brand Ambassador and renowned hula dancer, Aureana Tseu; DIY Hawaiian wellness workshops; fashion shows; and tightly-curated trunk shows where local designers can sell their garments and gain exposure at the same time, are just a few of the numerous activities available.
As for the rooms at Queen Kap, they’re clean, simple and eco-friendly—the hotel discourages single-use water bottles and provides refillable bottles for guests to use and take home with them. The balconies provide the perfect spot for reading, sunning or just daydreaming about all the things you’re grateful for. Hawaiian Tropic bath products and amenities? Yes, please. Didn’t even know that was a thing. Guest rooms and suites with lots of windows overlooking the ocean? Even better.
You can get a real taste of Oahu without leaving your hotel, but when you’re itching to explore, there’s more than enough to keep you busy with hiking, biking, surfing and paddleboarding. For those who prefer to keep it indoors, nearby luxury shops, Japanese food halls and The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina—an upscale food court that serves up poke bowls, burgers, Dole whip (of course), pina coladas, beer and more—are all ideal options.
If you can make it to Waipahu, a trip to Iwalani’s Healing Garden is truly transformational. If you make an appointment ahead of your arrival, Iwalanii herself will show you around her peaceful property. And you can’t leave the area without stopping into Highway Inn for some lunch. Open since 1947, the restaurant, once featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, serves traditional Hawaiian plates like kalua pig with rice, pipikaula, potato-mac salad and liliko’i. Additionally, it will soon be the first restaurant on the island to go completely off the grid and be 100 percent solar-powered.
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