Having not had a vacation since way before Covid, we were so happy to finally get out of town, on an airplane, and to our favorite place: Honolulu. Why do we love HNL? It is America so no borders to cross, it’s a relatively easy direct flight, it’s exotic, they are super strict about testing and mask-wearing, the food is awesome, and I get to surf. Bingo; hits all the check boxes for a perfect week away. There are a bazillion hotels there, and we have stayed in most of them, but our fav is the uber-cool, hidden gem of a hotel, The Halepuna. Every time we are there I think, can we just stay and never leave?
What’s so special? Well, the Halepuna Hotel in Waikiki is this refuge of refined comfort: you get old-style aloha welcome, lovely, highly-super-pro staff, and the sort of design aesthetic that is a joy for the eyes. It brings on a visceral reaction of total body ahhhhh. Upon entering the chill lobby, there is attention to detail everywhere, from the color of the walls to the soft tones in your ears. If you have ever been to a hotel in Japan, how they think of everything, this is like that: global, modern, sophisticated hospitality, demure and totally on point.
There are a flock of other hotels on Waikiki, ranging from vast, charmless establishments reminiscent of an airport terminal, to noisy theme-park types and wanna-be-cool nightclub-inspired hotels. There are the big American chains, which try their best, but the sheer scale of the multi-thousand room massives make any personal attention more or less impossible. Then we have the counterpoint: the quiet comfort of the Halepuna. We get it why Architectural Digest highlighted it, and Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ survey rated it #1. This is how hotels should look and feel.
Unlike virtually all the other hotels on Waikiki, The Halepuna does not charge a resort fee. These mandatory resort fees, one of my personal hot buttons, are a way of adding another $40-$50 per night to the room rates that doesn’t show up in the price rankings of the main travel sites. Come on, get real; just call the price what it is and don’t try and be sneaky. The Halepuna does not do this; the price is what it is, no bill trickery here.
Waikiki is really something and, truthfully, it is not for everyone. One can surf the waves where Elvis learned to hang ten, and then walk dripping wet directly onto a sidewalk lined with the world’s most glamorous brands. Gotta love some amazing high/low action in what is, in reality, a modern Asian city that happens to be part of America. Waikiki can also get pretty full-on, which is a gas when you are into it. The key is to have a place to escape to and just chill.
Just across the street from The Halepuna is its sister hotel, the venerable Halekulani, with the absolute best place to have dinner on the island: The House Without a Key restaurant. The food rocks, but that view down the beach to Diamond Head, wow, that is next-level special. Staying at The Halepuna, one has easy access to all the amenities directly across the street at the Halekulani, including the restaurants and their amazing spa. (The Halekulani just reopened after a year-long renovation.)
The Halepuna itself has an in-house bakery, which is temporarily closed, but was thankfully open when we were there. We had breakfast there daily, and although we are not normally big bread eaters, there was some seriously yummy stuff here. Get the avo toast and, pro tip, you can order it poolside.
Our room had a terrace and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out to the ocean. You want one of these rooms. This was the view we would wake to in the morning for some quiet reflection before heading down to the gym. Having a proper gym is one of the non-negotiables for us these days. This one was just the right scale with the right equipment to keep our bodies on track. You can tell a lot about a hotel by how much thought they put into their gym and, having spent many a session in windowless basement gym after-thoughts, having a workout looking at the Honolulu skyline is the way to do it.
There are other amenities such as a reflexology path, an outdoor yoga terrace, and parking on-site run by some very fun and thoughtful parking attendants. These guys are hysterical; love them.
Then of course, there is Waikiki beach itself, which is steps away, and probably the easiest, most chill place on earth to learn to surf. Ever wanted to learn? This is that place to go. Surfing is a tough sport on beginners, and here there are surf instructors that will actually tow you out and push you into a wave. It is a no-fail proposition. Hey, Gidget learned here, so can you.
Having written this, now a month or so after returning to the mainland, I am already checking my calendar…return in January? Maybe?
Thanks for this article! I usually stay at the Alohilani when I visit Waikiki and was hesitant to break that habit out of fear of getting a dud hotel. Your article gives me an option to consider when I plan my next visit. As long as it’s close to Leonard’s!