A tale of three lodgings on Oahu
Lodgings for all on Oahu: Sampling a Waikiki high-rise hotel and, on the island’s North Shore, a secluded deluxe resort and laid-back bungalow.
Seattle Times NWTraveler editor
If you go
To find places to stay in Hawaii, I check travelers’ online reviews (mostly on TripAdvisor.com); hotel ads for deals; and Wizard Publications’ “Hawaii Revealed” series. For each island there’s a guidebook and online info, at hawaiirevealed.com, with excellent hotel and vacation-condo recommendations plus aerial photos so you can really see a hotel’s overall layout. For Oahu, the guidebook is “Oahu Revealed” by Andrew Doughty (Wizard Publications, $18.95).
— Kristin Jackson / Seattle Times
Northwest travel guides
Location, location and luxury. That’s what I got when I hotel-hopped my way around Oahu recently, overnighting in three very different places which, together, offered something for everyone.
I stayed at a Waikiki high-rise hotel, a secluded deluxe resort and a laid-back bungalow. The common denominator: All three of these Oahu lodgings were oceanfront because, really, that’s the best way to stay in Hawaii, within sight and sound of the magical, warm ocean.
Being oceanfront, however, meant none were budget stays. For cheaper sleeps, look for chain hotels back from the beach or vacation rentals through agencies such as Airbnb.com . Still, I was able to nab decent discounted prices at two of the three places (and at rates available to the public since, yes, The Seattle Times pays its own way for travel stories).
Here’s a look at each place, with pros/cons and tips for finding similar places on other Hawaiian islands.
1. WAIKIKI BEACH HIGH RISE
The place: Dozens of high-rise hotels and condos are packed into Waikiki, along the famous stretch of white-sand beach that offers excellent swimming, people-watching and surfing.
Beyond the beach, Waikiki is full of restaurants, bars and stores, from outdoor markets to luxury designer shops. If you like urban bustle and convenience in a tropical beach setting, Waikiki is your place.
The hotel: I stayed at the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel, an older 645-room hotel that’s been recently refurbished. Watch for online sales. I got a Cyber Monday (post-Thanksgiving) sale rate of $158 a room, a good deal since rooms easily can cost $200-$250 a night and up. It included a room upgrade and parking; my 27th-floor room had a stunning view of the Waikiki cityscape and of surfers bobbing in the waves.
Pros: Excellent location on the beachfront Kalakaua Avenue, at the somewhat quieter southeast end of Waikiki Beach where there’s a breakwater that creates a protected swimming area. Reasonable rates compared with other Waikiki beachfront hotels. Comfortable, although not fancy, compact refurbished rooms. Continental buffet breakfast included (plus an insulated lunch bag so you can take it back to your room).
Cons: Expensive parking, $27 a night (so I was glad to get it included in a special rate). Little, no-frills pool. Daily amenity/resort fee of $23 (for things like, hmm, using in-room safe and coffee maker as well as breakfast and Wi-Fi).
Tips: Ask for a high-floor, quiet room (not a standard-category room) to get a better view and get away from the loud music of the hotel’s open-air restaurant and breakfast buffet.
More info: astonwaikikibeach.com
General Waikiki info: See the state’s tourism website, gohawaii.com/oahu.
Similar place, another island: It's certainly not as urban as Waikiki, but the Kaanapali Beach area of Maui is full of amenities and resorts that stretch along three miles of beach. I’ve enjoyed the Sheraton Maui for its big pools and idyllic stretch of beach.
2. NORTH SHORE LUXURY RESORT
The North Shore of Oahu is the island’s surfer-life epicenter, blessed with seven miles of beach and massive waves in winter where world-class surfers play. Low houses hug the beach — there are just a few places to stay and a scattering of shops/restaurants — and many locals want no further development. Go here for the laid-back beach life and beauty, not for entertainment or nightlife.
The hotel: Turtle Bay is the only big hotel on the North Shore, a luxury 452-room destination resort that’s recently undergone a massive (and much-needed) renovation of guest rooms and public spaces. The resort has new owners after cycling through Hyatt and Hilton management and facing foreclosure and local controversy over possible major expansion.
With its main building just yards from the ocean (you could build that close to the water back in the 1970s when the hotel opened), Turtle Bay is a place you could hide out for days, with miles of undeveloped shoreline to walk; tennis courts; two golf courses; horseback rides; a reef-protected swimming beach; several restaurants; and a spa.
I got an oceanview room for about $250 a night, thanks to a buy-in-advance rate and an upgrade (offered at check-in, and, no, they didn’t know I was from a newspaper). Such rooms usually cost about $325 and up a night, although rates vary widely.
Pros: Spacious, comfortable and calm rooms (in many shades of beige), with big balconies. Lovely, peaceful oceanfront location with classic views of sun, surf, palm trees. Self-parking is included (or pay for valet parking).
Turtle Bay’s Ola restaurant is a casual but serious-about-food restaurant right on the beach, with some tables planted in the sand and lit by candles and the moon. You’ll pay for the romantic beauty, with dinner entrees starting around $30 (but the melt-in-your mouth butterfish was worth it).
Cons: Very slow and balky in-room wireless when I was staying there. (Why do the more luxurious hotels seem to have the worst and most expensive Internet access?) A hefty resort fee of $32 a night. Hotel’s restaurants, while good, are pricey, and it’s about a half-hour drive to restaurants in the little North Shore town of Haleiwa.
Tips: If you can afford it, get a room in the east wing for the best views (the hotel has three wings).
Stock your room’s minifridge with soft drinks and snacks to avoid the high hotel prices (breakfast oatmeal from room service was $12).
More info: turtlebayresort.com
Similar place, another island: The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel on Hawaii’s Big Island is, like Turtle Bay, a big and comfortable beachfront hotel. It’s peaceful, far from any town, with golf, tennis, pool and an excellent beach — it fronts the broad and half-mile-long Hapuna Beach, a state recreation area and one of the best beaches on the Big Island. Like Turtle Bay, it’s a very comfortable destination resort without the stratospheric $500-a-night prices of some luxury Hawaii resorts. Hapuna rooms start around $235 a night, but vary by season. Packages such as the current fourth-night-free offer cut costs. princeresortshawaii.com
3. NORTH SHORE BUNGALOW
For a completely different way to stay on the North Shore, Ke Iki Beach Bungalows are in the heart of the North Shore residential area, tucked between the beach and a narrow two-lane road — the main drag on this side of the island.
If you’re looking for a low-key, get-away-from-it-all vacation where you can spread out, make your own meals (units have full kitchens) and where the biggest excitement is watching the sun go down, then this is the place. Don’t expect hotel amenities or service; this is more like having your own vacation cottage once you’ve checked in at the manager’s in-home office. A one-bedroom beachfront unit is around $200; a two-bedroom around $230; not many deals are available, as Ke Iki is small and popular.
The hotel: Ke Iki has 11 units spread through 1.5 acres in small, single-story or two-story buildings. Some are oceanfront; other units are garden-view, amid a lawn and shade trees. The one- and two-bedroom units have living rooms and full kitchens.
Pros: Units are spacious and simply but comfortably furnished. Barbecues, picnic tables and hammocks are outside.
The bungalows are just a few steps above the lovely, white-sand Ke Iki beach, which adjoins Sunset Beach. Walk the beach for miles or watch the expert surfers play in the curling waves of what’s called Banzai Pipeline. Swimming can be lovely in summer (although in winter, massive, dangerous waves can pound the North Shore beaches).
Cons: Soundproofing was lacking in the main garden-view building where I stayed; I could hear my upstairs neighbors rather too clearly.
A cleaning fee is additional, roughly $60 to $75 per visit.
Tips: Get a beachfront unit for the stunning views (and sounds) of the waves. And sunsets.
Book well ahead, or watch for cancellations, since Ke Iki has devoted repeat visitors.
More info: keikibeach.com
Similar place, another island:
It’s a bigger operation, and more polished, but Waimea Plantation Cottages on Kauai have a similar down-home feel. Dozens of former plantation-worker cottages have been refurbished and are set amid an oceanfront 27-acre coconut grove on Kauai’s quiet and relatively untouristed western shore. The one- and two-bedroom and larger units have full kitchens.
Like Oahu’s Ke Iki, it’s a low-key place, although it has a pool (the ocean is murky for swimming) and small restaurant. Prices vary depending on time of year and the cottage; rates of about $160 a night can be found, but it’s mostly in the $200s and up. astonhotels.com
Kristin Jackson: email@example.com