the urbanist: honolulu

Where the Locals Would Stay in Honolulu If They Weren’t Local

The Royal Hawaiian in Honolulu.

A standard hotel room in Waikiki usually costs around $200 a night, with rates skyrocketing in winter and early spring. But whether you’re pinching pennies or eager to splurge on a corner suite, the beach is never far away. Here, a gaggle of in-the-know locals tip us off to their favorite places to bed down in Honolulu and beyond, from tropical boutique hotels to stately legacy resorts.


Camping on Oahu is never a bad idea. Photo: Linka A Odom/Getty Images

Outdoor Junkiez (from $17)
“Many people wouldn’t think of camping on Oahu, but why not? There are plenty of great hikes and places to park your ride, hang a hammock, and have a picnic and a nap. There are a few choice campgrounds on the island, including Malaekahana State Park or Kahana Bay. Rent a van or camping equipment from Outdoor Junkiez and just stock up at a store in town before setting out.” —Roberta Oaks, owner and designer behind Roberta Oaks

Aston at the Executive Centre Hotel (from $179)
“A room at the Aston is less than $200 a night and you’ll be right downtown, near all the nightlife of Chinatown and a lot of live music venues for jazz and indie rock. The building is part-residential, part-hotel and it has the Hukilau restaurant in the lobby, which serves the best ahi nachos on the island. It’s also great for people traveling for work because it’s close to the downtown offices; there’s a Longs Drugs pharmacy on the ground floor, where you could pick up a toothbrush if you forgot to pack one; and there are restaurants, bakeries, and coffee shops all within walking distance. The hotel even has a special rate package for Biki bike rentals, which you can ride to Chinatown in three minutes.” —Amanda Frazier, singer/songwriter in Amanda Frazier and the Keepers

Queen Kapiolani Hotel (from $132)
“This property has been around for many decades; the late-’60s façade is covered with breadfruit leaves, known as ulu in Hawaiian. The large lobby has massive chandeliers and a huge portrait of our Queen Kapiolani, who was married to King Kalakaua. The pool has great views of Diamond Head and is located a block away from Waikiki Beach. A 15-minute walk and you’re at Kaimana Beach; that’s where the beautiful, in-shape locals like to tan! It’s next to the Waikiki Natatorium War Memorial, an outdoor swimming complex where [the widely recognized father of surfing] Duke Kahanamoku trained for the Olympics. He was the first Hawaiian to win medals there.” —Mark Pei, co-owner of Hound & Quail, a vintage-furniture shop in Chinatown

Hotel Renew (from $169)
“This is a gem for the traveler who just wants a no-frills place to stay, with a comfortable bed and a chill atmosphere, less than a block away from Waikiki Beach. Guests are welcomed with a complimentary glass of pineapple juice and a cool lemon-scented towel at check-in. There is a small bar located in the lobby for grabbing a drink on your way out for dinner. Bonus: This hotel is pet-friendly!” —Nicole Iglesias, owner of Notted Nest, a macrame-accessories shop

Paradise Bay Resort (from $163)
“This hotel is in Kaneohe, outside Honolulu and near Kualoa Ranch on the east side of Oahu. It’s in a residential area, so it feels like you’re going to a friend’s house and then all of a sudden you’re at this cool little hotel. Rooms come with a kitchen or kitchenette, and some of the bungalows are right on the river that leads into Kaneohe Bay. They have a buffet dinner and fire-dancing performances, plus live Hawaiian music a few times a week.” —Kamea Hadar, artist and founder of Pow! Wow!, an international art festival

Seaside Hawaiian Hostel (from $30)
“This is a nice hostel on Seaside Avenue in Waikiki. It’s best suited to backpackers in their 20s, with dorms, a hammock in the courtyard, and a small dog that sits on the front desk and belongs to the woman who works behind it.” —Carter Churchfield, a tour guide for Honolulu Exposed, a walking tour in Chinatown focused on the red-light district circa WWII


The Laylow, Autograph Collection. Photo: Ramon C Purcell Photography/Courtesy of The Laylow

The Laylow (from $239)
“The hotel is the perfect blend of local flair and mid-century modern. There are traditional lauhala mats used in the rooms and beautiful wicker hanging chairs adorning the lobby and pool area. They serve complimentary shave ice every afternoon, which guests can enjoy poolside in one of their cabanas or from a sandy fire pit overlooking busy Kuhio Avenue. All the amenities are conveniently located on the lobby level, which makes it easy to grab your cuppa joe at Hideout on your way to explore Waikiki. Weeknights offer live music by local artists ​jamming out to everything from traditional Hawaiian to acoustic covers. ​And on weekends you’ll find a DJ keeping it lively; don’t be surprised if things get a little hype!” —Nicole Iglesias

The Surfjack (from $209)
“The Surfjack is folksy, with surf-shack interiors — think hand-painted signs and a Southern California woodie car. It’s a mellow vibe, and they’ve got their famous pool that says ‘Wish You Were Here’ at the bottom. The restaurant is called Mahina & Sun’s and it’s run by a famous chef, Ed Kenney. There is a portrait in the restaurant that I did of his mom, Beverly Noa; everyone called her Auntie Bev. She was a famous hula dancer and a former Miss Hawaii, and she was [Aloha shirt maker] Alfred Shaheen’s muse. The restaurant also has cool wallpaper; it’s a pattern of graphic shakas.” —Kamea Hadar

Waikiki Parc (from $218)
“Waikiki Parc’s rooms are calming and peaceful yet modern, with splashes of sea-foam green and pops of orange and tropical florals. The entrance to the hotel feels very urban — as you walk in, you’re greeted with what feels like a modern art museum with cool-toned lighting in blues and greens and displays of cased art pieces, including sculptures lining the hall. The pool has very sleek outdoor furnishings to lounge, sunbathe, or finally finish that book you’ve been meaning to dive into.” —Amanda Frazier

The Modern Honolulu (from $299)
“The Modern has a clean layout and design, pristine white walls, and two pools. The upstairs pool is a wading pool; it’s not deep enough to do laps but it’s perfect to cool off and relax. The downstairs pool is more for swimming. If you want to keep it mellow and don’t have the energy for Addiction, a loud and crowded nightclub inside the Modern, go to the bar in the lobby. The official name is The Study, but locals just call it Lobby Bar. People stay at The Modern because it’s hip; it’s not a traditional Hawaii hotel where people wear bright, tacky Aloha shirts. A lot of the POW! WOW! artists stay here.” —Kamea Hadar


The Royal Hawaiian. Photo: Courtesy of The Royal Hawaiian; a Luxury Collection Resort

The Royal Hawaiian (from $360)
“This iconic hotel was the second hotel to be built in Waikiki to accommodate guests coming via passenger ships running from the West Coast to Hawaii; this was before the age of the jetliner. It opened in 1927 and still retains its Art Deco roots. The mai tais are the best in town and are worth every penny as you listen to live Hawaiian music and watch the sunset on the beach. I like the mural painting of the Hawaiian islands in the entryway, the long plush rugs that line the main hallway, the classic arches that frame the plants and coconut trees outside, and of course the iconic pink exterior.” —Mark Pei

Moana Surfrider (from $322)
“The décor is a mixture of new and old Hawaii. It’s elegant, with white columns at the entrance, a huge banyan tree in the courtyard, a baby grand piano in the lobby, and complimentary wine for guests to enjoy while lounging. If you book a spa treatment, you can use the spa all day long; it includes a sauna and multiple hot tubs with views of the ocean. It’s so close, in fact, you can smell the saltwater breeze. Brunch at the lanai restaurant is also nice because it’s right on the beach. But one of my favorite things about this hotel are the wooden rocking chairs with a view of the Waikiki strip, where all the action happens. There’s a coffee shop on the corner, so you can grab a latte and relax in those chairs morning, evening, or night.” —Amanda Frazier

Kahala Hotel & Resort (from $362)
“The mid-century design is stunning, with super-high ceilings and a wide, open lobby that allows the island breeze to flow through. The vintage, colored-glass chandeliers add a sculptural element by day and warm-colored light in the evening. Just outside the lobby is a relaxing lounge where you can sip on cocktails and listen to jazz. Take the stairwell downstairs, and you descend along a lava-rock wall covered in orchids. The breakfast and dinner buffet at the Plumeria Beach House is also a must. Grab an outside table for views of the lawn and ocean. After dinner, walk the grounds and check out the waterfall, fish ponds, and dolphin pool. My family and I have been coming here for decades during the holidays. Although removed from the busy streets of Waikiki, you’ll find no reason to leave the hotel.” —Mark Pei 

Four Seasons Ko Olina (from $589)
A real vacation for me is being able to escape from the busy city vibes. The Four Seasons at Ko Olina is a newly renovated hideaway located on the west side of Oahu; it’s a definite change of pace from Waikiki. ​Two new pools — one for families and one for adults only — were added during the renovation, along with newly conceptualized restaurants. ​With direct beachfront access to the lagoon, you’re just steps away from a dip in the ocean! Four Seasons also supports our local small businesses by hosting a quarterly Moonlight Market with apparel and accessories vendors such as Jana Lam and Coco Moon.​ And its FS Wayfinders program​ offer​s ​native arts-and-crafts education and workshops such as stargazing and haku lei (flower crown) making.” —Nicole Iglesias

The Best Hotels for Every Budget in Honolulu