Honolulu, Hawaii

Photo: ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach

It’s been a while since you’ve stopped in Honolulu. The Hawaiian capital is famous for its historic buildings, open-air shopping centers, unique art museums, and food-centric Chinatown. But as the entry point to not only Hawaii but, for many, the whole United States, it can be overwhelming. So, after landing west of the city, you started heading to other parts of O’ahu or leaving the island altogether.

You miss Waikiki, though. The Honolulu neighborhood lures visitors with its golden-sand beaches. Half of Waikiki Beach, its most-famous stretch of sand, is reserved for surfers. It keeps visitors with its high-rise hotels, which were built where Hawaiian royalty used to vacation. It creates return visitors with its stunning views of Diamond Head and perfect sunsets.

The opening of a new hotel made you reconsider Honolulu. ‘Alohilani Resort sits on land that’s part of Queen Lili’uokalani’s Trust. “Royal light” was named after a beach cottage of the last Hawaiian monarch. It gave a much-needed facelift—and name change in the process—to a landmark hotel from the 1960s. It pledged to plant thousands of indigenous trees to restore them to the island. Plus it hired ambassadors, who will help visitors learn about everything from coconut-frond weaving to hula, in an effort to preserve Hawaiian culture. So far, so good.

Photo: ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach

You gave ‘Alohilani Resort a year. Most hotels need time to work out the kinks after all. This one opened with soothing white and beige tones, a nearly 300,000-gallon Oceanarium in the lobby, and views of the sparkling ocean. It had an infinity pool and rooftop tennis courts. It added two restaurants by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, a bar with ocean-inspired craft cocktails, and tiered daybeds around the pool. The resort gave Waikiki a more sophisticated vibe.

After you were satisfied that ‘Alohilani Resort was worthy of your vacation time, you booked another flight—this time without another connection—to Honolulu. The resort is large, much bigger than what you usually look for, but it’s laid out well. Your room is airy with pops of blue and green. The balcony looks out to Diamond Head. Morimoto Asia Waikiki (with its glass-enclosed kitchen) and casual Momosan integrate local and traditional Japanese ingredients. It’s the pool that truly wins you over, though.

Swell Pool & Bar sits on the fifth floor of the resort overlooking Waikiki Beach. The heated infinity pool has salt water. There’s a reflecting pool and a separate family pool, too. The tiered daybeds feature custom teak furniture. Driftwood sculptures, flickering lanterns, and glowing fire pits litter the rest of the space. The bar’s happy hour—start with an ‘Alohilani Mai Tai— begins at 2 pm. Appetizers (you can’t go wrong with ahi nachos), nightly live music, and that brilliant sunset always follow. Just don’t forget the famous beach below you.

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