Aloha Relaxation: A Fun & Flavorful Escape to Oahu’s Waikiki
Soft sand between your toes, a lei around your neck as you look out across the coruscating turquoise sea and you know you’re in Hawaii. The most vibrant place on the island of O’ahu to enjoy the wind and sun playfully kissing your face? Waikiki, of course. It’s been that way for more than a hundred years, but here’s how to enjoy Waikiki now.
Where to Stay
Kalakaua Avenue on Waikiki Beach is lined with hotel after hotel. Your choices are endless, but the two most interesting properties that blend history with luxury are the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa and The Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort.
Moana is the oldest hotel in Waikiki, completed in 1901, before tourism exploded on O’ahu. Today it is affectionately known as the First Lady of Waikīkī and boasts a lively beach bar scene with daily live music. Just down the street is The Royal Hawaiian, opened in 1927 in the midst of the 1920’s art deco glamour, and nicknamed the Pink Palace of the Pacific. Shirley Temple loved the hotel, since pink was her favorite color, and the non-alcoholic Shirley Temple mocktail was created for her here. Both properties have been restored to their former glory while retaining their heritage through artifacts displayed throughout the property. The Moana Surfrider even has a Moana Memories Museum and you can take a free historical walking tour at either, even if you’re not a guest.
Where to Spa
On Waikiki, the Moana Lani Spa is a welcome oasis from the crowds, shopping and selfie sticks outside. Soak in the hot tub overlooking the crowded beach below before your Lomi Lomi Ola massage, which consists of deep, long kneading strokes, and gentle loosening of tight muscles.
Every spa treatment begins with a sea salt ritual of throwing your worries away with a handful of salt into the ocean. Like the salt in the endless seas, they’ll melt away and seem insignificant in the scope of the vast world. And to end, your therapist surprises you with a dark chocolate truffle, custom-made for the spa, along with the requisite spa water.
Where to Dine
The locals love Helena’s Hawaiian Food for no-frills authentic dishes like poi (taro-polenta), kalua pig, lomi salmon, and butterfish collar. The portions are generous for very reasonable prices and you can easily order a full meal for less than $12. If you order a combo meal, you’ll get a square of haupia too, a refreshing gelatinous coconut pudding. Come here for lunch in your beachware or on your way into Old Honolulu to explore museums or historical sites.
To enjoy a gorgeous sunset and the best beachfront dining on Waikiki, head to Azure, where the spectacular views of Diamond Head are only matched by Chef Shaymus Alwin’s equally incredible seafood. The fish here is some of the best on the island, thanks to the restaurant’s great relationship with Pier 38’s Honolulu Fish Auction, similar to Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market. Each evening a special menu of fish caught just that morning are prepared simply with caper lemon butter and fresh herbs or a togarashi seven spice blend, so you can best appreciate the succulent, unadulterated fish flavor. Veggie sides are just as local and fresh as the fish, including Molokai purple sweet potato and Chinese flowering cabbage topped with garlic soy. There are meat and vegetarian main courses too, but you’d be remiss not to order the fish.
What to Do
If you’re in O’ahu on a Monday evening, head to the ‘Aha‘aina at The Royal Hawaiian, a sumptuous spin on a luau that’s actually a royal feast. You’ll dine on kalua pork, garlic fried rice, steamed monchong, tuna and tako poke, mojito mango and the hotel’s signature pink haupia cake while watching entrancing hula and fire dance performers tell the story of Hawaii’s colorful history. The strangers next to you will become fast friends as you bond over your experiences and embrace the Aloha spirit.
There’s tons of shopping on Waikiki – mostly national brands that you can find on the mainland, but poke around and you’ll find little independent boutiques selling Hawaiian scrimshaw, jewelry, quilts and cookies. There are many cookie companies, including the ubiquitous Honolulu Cookie Company, The Cookie Corner and Big Island Candies. Skip them all in favor of Royal Hawaiian Cookie, where thin florentines in various fruit and nut flavors are the specialty. This small shop is the only storefront for the company, which used to make private label cookies for Neiman Marcus before demand there grew too quickly for them to keep up. Instead of outsourcing to a large factory, they chose to keep production small.
Where to Sweat
In Waikiki, as part of Westin’s commitment to wellness, the Moana Surfrider offers complimentary yoga class for all guests each morning at 7:30 am on the diamond lawn. It’s the ideal outdoor location to stretch and energize your body, where you can hear and smell the sea breeze, but are shaded by the hotel. There are typically around a dozen guests, and instructors like Matt Meko help you open your heart, spirit, mind and body to receive all Hawaii has to offer. Matt’s class in particular was so well-suited to guests of all levels and offered different poses and stretches than other yoga classes I’ve attended.