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Halekulani Offers a Welcome Spot of Tranquility in the Midst of Busy Waikiki

Halekulani Offers a Welcome Spot of Tranquility in the Midst of Busy Waikiki

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The bustle of Waikiki is just steps behind you. But when you cross the threshold of Halekulani (“House Befitting Heaven”), you feel like you’re stepping into a different, more tranquil world. A sense of calm pervades the atmosphere as you make your way to reception, are escorted to your room, and take in the expanse of ocean that you see through your window. It’s time to settle in on your lanai with your favorite drink in hand and take in the spectacular view.

There’s been a hotel on this site since 1907 when it was known as the Hau Tree, a main building surrounded by small bungalows. When author Earl Derr Biggers checked in during a visit to the islands in the 1920s, he was bemused by the response when he asked for the key to his bungalow: “What key?” The exchange inspired the title of his 1925 mystery novel “The House Without a Key,” which introduced detective Charlie Chan to the world (whose exploits were inspired by real-life Honolulu detective Chang Apana). In a case of life imitating art, House Without a Key is now the name of one of Halekulani’s restaurants, with its adjacent bar, Earl’s, named after Biggers.

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


In the early 1980s, the hotel underwent a complete transformation. The bungalows were gone, though the historic main building was restored, complete with its Polynesian-style Dickey roof, initially designed by architect Charles Dickey. Though the property has 453 rooms and suites, the expansive layout over the 5-plus acres makes it feel more like a smaller boutique hotel, with low-rise steps and lush green courtyards. Like many resorts in Hawaii, there are no doors; entryways are left open to the cooling ocean breezes.

Halekulani’s staff is known for their attentive service; “I feel I’m treated like royalty here,” a fellow guest told me one day as we sipped our drinks by the pool. It’s the result of having a staff with a strong bond with their place of employment; when you speak to an employee, it’s not unusual to find people who have worked at the hotel for 20, 30, or even 40 years. Consequently, they take exceptional pride in their work, translating into a superior guest experience. “We know that our guests could stay anywhere in the world, and they have chosen to stay with us. We will do our best to meet or exceed their expectations,” said Rage Day, a longtime server at House Without a Key.

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


When the 129-year-old Kiawe tree in House Without a Key’s patio fell over in August 2016 due to erosion, it was front-page news in the state. Arborists managed to save the tree, with the remnants appropriately repurposed; you’ll find a planter made from the fallen branches in Halekulani’s lobby. It’s an example of how the hotel continues to honor its past as it moves into the future — which is also what makes staying here such a timeless experience.  

Read on for Travel + Leisure’s full review of Halekulani.

Halekulani Hotel

  • The property’s airy, elegant layout is supremely relaxing.
  • No resort fees is a pleasant surprise in Hawaii.
  • Don’t miss the signature coconut cake — it’s a must try at least once.
  • There is no better place to watch the sunset in Waikiki than cocktail seating at House Without a Key.

The Rooms

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


My oceanfront room felt spacious and had a spectacular view. Sit on your lanai in the early evening, and you’ll hear music wafting from House Without a Key. The subdued white and beige decor was tastefully accented by the color “Halekulani Blue” on the pillows, bedding, and towels. My generously sized bathroom featured a deep-soaking tub, separate shower, and toilet; other in-room amenities include a mini-fridge, coffeemaker, and tea kettle.

Arriving guests are welcomed with a fruit plate of papaya and bananas, and when you return to your room in the evening, you’ll find that the nightly turndown service also includes a small item (like a bookmark) left on your pillow, along with a card featuring an inspiring quote — such as “From what we cannot hold the stars are made,” by author William S. Merwin.

Food and Drink

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


House Without a Key and Orchids serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Greet the morning with a splendid view of Diamond Head (a volcanic “tuff cone” that provides a dramatic backdrop in pictures of Waikiki Beach) at House Without a Key while enjoying the buffet, or opt for the more formal setting of Orchids (its Sunday buffet brunch is highly popular and reservations are recommended). There are also poolside breakfast offerings for early risers, including the lush acai bowl, filled with local tropical fruits, and the bakery basket featuring freshly baked croissants and muffins.

If you’re partial to pastries, check out the Halekulani Bakery just across the street, which is only open in the mornings. The “Everything Croissant,” with a dollop of creamy cheese in the middle, quickly became a favorite. You can also buy the hotel’s famed coconut cake by the slice. And consider treating yourself to afternoon tea, served on the Veranda of the hotel’s main building, Tuesday through Saturday.

At 5 p.m., House Without a Key’s cocktail seating begins, the patio coming to life with the lovely sounds of a Hawaiian music trio. Be sure to catch renowned hula dancer Kanoe Miller (a regular at the hotel since 1977), who appears most Fridays and Saturdays; her graceful performances are mesmerizing.

The cocktail menus at all of Halekulani’s restaurants and lounges have been revamped by the hotel’s director of mixology, Tuda Sarian, and at House Without a Key, the drink names reference the hotel’s history; Table 97, a frothy gin-based drink, is named after Ernest Hemmingway’s favorite table at the restaurant. But the Mai Tai remains the signature drink, based on the original 1944 recipe, sans extraneous juices. “I don’t think that you can find another place in Waikiki that does a Mai Tai that doesn’t have orange or pineapple juice in it,” says Sarian. “We use fresh lime juice, and it’s very rum-forward; it’s the way I think it was intended to be as a cocktail.” (I entirely agree.)

There’s also a tempting selection of appetizers: the delectable ahi tataki, the lightly sweetened hoisin coconut ribs, and the always popular kabayaki fries (French fries with furikake, garlic, and kabayaki sauce).

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


The cocktail menu at Lewers Lounge reflects the sophisticated setting of this jazz venue, with the drinks named after such classic numbers as “I Get Along Without You” (a rum-based drink with smoked pineapple cordial) and “Moonglow” (another rum drink, given an extra fizz with prosecco). “I wanted the menu to read like a compilation,” Sarian explains, “to mimic the feeling of being a jazz record.” Appetizers are also available.

La Mer offers an exceptional dining experience, from the elegant, romantic setting to the impeccable service to the menu of neoclassic French cuisine. The tasting menu is an indulgent delight designed to dazzle your tastebuds: plump, roasted scallops, succulent poached lobster, and tender filet of beef with foie gras. Be sure to leave room for dessert, the most decadent choice being the vanilla soufflé with Grand Marnier crème anglaise, chocolate sauce, and spiced caramel. It’s worth adding the wine pairing; sommelier Kevin Tomaya is happy to explain why the specific pairings were chosen. And don’t overlook La Mer’s lounge, L’Aperitif, where you can relax before or after your meal, sampling such creations as the Pistache Gouteuse (vodka, pistachio syrup, and the effervescence of champagne).

Activities and Amenities

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


During the day, Halekulani’s pool is the main center of activity. At 82 feet long, it’s a larger pool than at other Waikiki resorts. At the bottom, an impressive mosaic of a Cattleya orchid (the flower used as Halekulani’s logo) fashioned from 1.2 million glass tiles adorns the pool. Beverage and food service are available throughout the day; the grilled fish tacos — featuring smashed avocado — are recommended.

Brandon Barre/Courtesy of Halekulani Hotel


Though a beachfront property, the pocket-sized Gray’s Beach adjacent to the hotel is small — but don’t worry; there are more expansive beaches just a short stroll away from either side of the hotel. (The sand in front of the “Pink Palace,” the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, is exceptionally soft). Gray’s Beach is used for the free daily surf demonstrations offered to guests, and you’ll see catamarans landing on the beach throughout the day, taking guests on short cruises. Tours can be booked through the concierge. An art gallery, fitness center with yoga studio, and business center are also available.

The Spa

During my visit, SpaHalekulani was in the process of renovation, though limited services were still available, including massages, facials, and hair and nail services.

Accessibility and Sustainability

Halekulani has a range of accessible guest rooms and suites that are ADA-compliant. The hotel has discontinued the use of single-use plastic water bottles in the guest rooms and now offers Aloha Water, packaged in cartons made from recyclable materials. Other sustainability efforts include changing bed linens only every three days (though more frequent service can be requested). Halekulani was also the first U.S. luxury hotel to offer meals free from GMO foods.

Location

Halekulani is located in central Waikiki, about 8 miles from Honolulu International Airport. With its wealth of shops, restaurants, and attractions, the neighborhood is highly walkable; you won’t need a car unless you want to go outside the area.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

Halekulani guests are offered complimentary admission to some of Honolulu’s top attractions, including Iolani Palace, the Bishop Museum, and the fascinating Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design, a special favorite of mine to visit. Be sure to take the complimentary “Heart of the House” tour, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the hotel, including a peek at what the deluxe suites look like. During the holiday season, the “12 Days of Christmas Countdown” program offers special daily activities, including gingerbread house and cookie decorating, craft cocktail classes, caroling, and, on Christmas Eve, a visit from Santa.

The hotel’s website offers a variety of packages with special rates.



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