Travel news direct from paradise: beginning September 1, travelers with a negative COVID-19 test (taken within 72 hours prior to arrival) will not be subject to Hawai'i's 14-day mandatory quarantine. We don't need to sell you on Hawai'i's perennial 80-and-sunny weather but the island state is giving guests even more reasons to enjoy it all now. Hawai'i has recently opened a handful of thoughtfully designed hotels, resorts, and restaurants and here, we give you the intel on the best new spots to let off some quarantine steam.
When it comes to conversations about Hawai'i, Oahu tends to divide the room in half. Some shy away from it for its hustle and high-rises; others appreciate its combination of urban and outdoor lifestyles. The most populous and cosmopolitan of all the islands, Oahu is home to the ritzy beachside enclave of Waikiki, featuring some of the area's best fine dining and high-end shopping. On the other end of the island you'll find the North Shore, a surfers paradise known for its postcard-worthy beaches and the charmingly boho neighborhood of Haleiwa. Take an afternoon stroll and pick up a classic shave ice before going for a dip at Waimea Bay.
Where to stay:
The Halepuna Waikiki by Halekulani (sister property of the legendary Halekulani) reopened in October 2019, after a year-long transformation by New York City–based designer Alexandra Champalimaud and her namesake firm. The hotel's 284 rooms emphasize a light and airy feel, while the common areas include an ocean view infinity pool with cabanas, spa treatments, and a roof-top garden sanctuary. Unlike many beach-side stays, there are no bad rooms at Halepuna; rooms either provide stunning views of the Pacific Ocean’s blue waters or look out over the glimmering lights and towering mountainscapes of Waikiki. As part of Halepuna's public arts program, you'll find artworks by local artists in many of the shared spaces and guests can visit The Honolulu Museum of Art and Bishop Museum for free by showing their room key.
The newly opened Espacio (in the location that once housed the Aston Waikiki Beachside) takes boutique luxury to the next level. With only nine stories and just one suite per floor, the accommodations feature expansive suites, ocean-view balconies with jacuzzis, indoor dry saunas, dining tables crafted from slabs of Carrara marble, and handmade chandeliers from Morocco. The price of a 2,250 square foot three-bedroom suite with a private kitchen, an on-site butler, and a SUV rental will set you back $5000 per night.
The kitschy 1950s White Sands Hotel recently reopened after a lengthy makeover by the team behind the trendy Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club. And Hotel Renew, one of Waikiki's first boutique spots, is back after a summer 2019 renovation with a tropical mid-century aesthetic.
Where to eat:
Tbd by Vikram Garg, opened in June 2020 at the Lotus Honolulu Hotel, is a two-year pop-up from the former executive chef at Halekulani. Garg has created a menu that uses premium local products in a deft reimagining of dishes from around the world. Try the lobster hotpot in a Makrut lime-scented bisque, or go big with a tomahawk steak cooked in a tandoor oven.
Halekūlani Bakery & Restaurant, located in the Halepuna Waikiki, features uniquely yummy treats like edamame loaves, curry pan, painted truffles, banana-coconut kouign-amann, and liliko‘i (passion fruit) brioche. Overseen by pastry chef Mark Freischmidt and head baker Tatsuhiro Kaneshiro of the Imperial Hotel Tokyo, the bakery also offers an expanded menu for lunch and dinner. Just don't leave without tasting the coconut cake, available by the slice, and the blood orange lychee creamsicle.
Mugen, housed in Espacio, is an intimate Japanese-French fusion restaurant led by chef Jason Yamaguchi, nephew of famed Hawaiian chef Roy Yamaguchi. He combines locally sourced ingredients—Kona lobster, Big Island honeycomb, local goat cheese—with high-end delicacies—Sasanian Osetra caviar, uni flown in from Hokkaido, and fish arriving daily from Toyosu Fish Market in Japan—to create an eight-course tasting menu priced between $120 and $150 a person.
The Island of Hawai'i (The Big Island)
The Island of Hawai'i is nearly double the size of all the other islands combined and has attracted “seekers” for its healing energy since the 1960’s. The island features some of the most picturesque and varied beach landscapes in the world. From white sand, to black sand beaches (and a few other colors in-between), visitors can see first-hand how volcanic activity has shaped and influenced the beauty of Hawai'i. Whether it's watching the sunrise from Hawai'i National Volcanoes Park near Halemaumau Crater, hiking the Pololū Valley, or snorkeling at Kahalu’u Beach Park, the Big Island is a place where anyone can unwind regardless of how often you visit.
Where to stay:
Mauna Lani, Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Mauna Lani.
Mauna Lani, an Auberge Resorts Collection resort, just emerged from a $200 million renovation. Its location relative to five major Hawaiian volcanoes is considered an important center of energy to locals—and it's also a convenient 40-minute drive from the Kona airport. The 32 oceanfront acre property features an open-air lobby with cedar floors, 300 redesigned rooms accented with natural materials and blonde stone bathrooms, and several restaurants including HaLani, an open-air casual dining eatery serving fresh acai bowls topped with banana poi.
Once the heart of the Dole pineapple empire, Lanai is Hawai'i at its most private and exclusive. Since Oracle founder Larry Ellison bought up 98 percent of this island 7 years ago, the island has increasingly become a low-key luxury getaway for well-healed movers and shakers who crave a vacation paradise out of the spotlight. To take in Lanai's wild beauty, take a jeep out to reach Hulopoe Beach, or enjoy a hike to Lanaihale, an inactive volcano which also happens to be the highest point on the island.
Where to stay:
The Four Seasons Resort at Koele, Lanai, Hawaii. Photo: Four Seasons.
The Four Seasons Resort at Koele, a Sensei Retreat, is a new adults-only, all-inclusive wellness resort (a first for the Four Seasons) with customized science-based program itineraries for your mind and body. Surrounded by lush foliage and pine-covered mountains, the Retreat offers 96 light-filled rooms with private lanais, a Sensei by Nobu restaurant, the Koele Garden Bar, multiple wellness facilities, and an 18-hole putting course. The pricing is not exactly gentle, but includes all dining, unlimited fitness classes, spa treatments, wellness consultations featuring thermal body mapping and sleep analysis, and airfare from Honolulu.