At the Hotel Renew, a 72-room boutique hotel on the quieter, eastern end of Waikiki, you get a lot for your money -- designer rooms, free breakfast and proximity to the beach -- with budget-friendly room rates.
Formerly part of the Aston Waikiki Beach (the building was its overflow tower), and once part of the Aqua hotel chain, Hotel Renew was created in 2008 after a thorough renovation of both the building and the brand. Jiun Ho didn't just design the guest rooms and the lobby, he also fashioned other details like the staff uniforms. As a result, the hotel has a consistent stylistic approach throughout -- relaxing continuity that's pleasantly surprising given the reasonable rates.
Of course, you can't have everything. There's no pool, on-site restaurants, business center, or fitness facility, but the hotel's clientele, mostly twenty- and thirtysomething singles and couples, don't seem to care. They'd rather discover a hole-in-the-wall ethnic eatery or head into Honolulu to dine at Alan Wong's. With such reasonable room rates, why not splurge on dinner?
One block from the beach on the quieter, eastern end of Waikiki
The hotel is a block away from both the beach and Waikiki's main drag, Kalakaua Avenue, a touristy, milelong stretch of shops, restaurants, and high-rise hotels that runs along Waikiki Beach on Oahu's southeast coast and offers a curious blend of mainland creature comforts and local flavor. On the sidewalks, Japanese tourists intermingle with tanned locals, surfboards under their arms, on their way to the beach to catch a few waves after work. On both sides of the street, high-end retailers -- Tiffany, Cartier, and yes, even an Apple store -- are interspersed with indoor malls and streetside vendors hawking cheap seashell jewelry and T-shirts. Seemingly every mid-market chain restaurant can be found here -- Cheesecake Factory, California Pizza Kitchen, Tony Roma's -- along with more than a handful of Starbucks and fast-food joints. And towering above it all: 40-story, thousand-room hotels dotting the landscape like pins in a cushion.
Wide variety of shopping, dining, and drinking -- all within walking distance
Kapiolani Park, an oasis of (relative) calm for people-watching and local flavor, is seven blocks away.
A three-minute stroll to one of the world's most famous beaches; Kuhio Beach, aka "the wall," is the closest subsection.
Loosely speaking, the entire 1.5-mile stretch of sand alongside Kalakaua Avenue is known as Waikiki Beach. In reality, it's more like three separate beaches, the borders of which vary depending on whom you ask. Hotel Renew is located a block from the Kuhio section, known to some as "the wall," for the 50-yard concrete pier that juts out from the sand at the corner of Kapahulu Avenue. (The kids who jump off the pier are known affectionately as "wall rats.")
Kuhio Beach is broader and far less crowded than its more famous neighbor to the northwest, Queen's Beach. The water's shallow and warm, and because the wall creates an artificial cove of sorts, it's also calm, making Kuhio the best place for kids to swim, according to the lifeguards there. On the other hand, the ocean bottom is a bit rocky, so tread gingerly.
Ocean bottom is rocky, unlike neighboring Queen's Beach.
Lifeguards monitor the beach throughout the day.
Free towels, provided by the hotel
Umbrellas and lounge chairs must be rented from one of the many Star Beach Boys stands.
Water sports equipment, like surfboards and boogie boards, available for rental at Star Beach Boys stands
Fashioned by San Francisco designer Jiun Ho, the small, tech-friendly rooms are some of the most stylish on the island in any price range. With dark woods, shoji screen window treatments and mood lighting, even in the bathrooms, they have a relaxing, urban Zen feel -- though they're not all that Hawaiian and most lack balconies.
Standard rooms, City View with Double, are small -- just 280 square feet -- and have only one double bed, no queen (higher categories have either one king or two doubles and are only slightly larger); by contrast, standards at the Lotus at Diamond Head, just outside of Waikiki, boast 455 square feet (though they don't include a free breakfast and are a bit more expensive).
32" Philips flat-screen TV or an 80" projection TV (typically in rooms with two doubles, though they are to soon be replaced by 50" flat-screens); more channels offered (about 70) than many Waikiki hotels
Free Wi-Fi, but no iPod docks, though there are plans to add them (for now, the hotel lends them out, but doesn't advertise the fact)
Great beds -- Serta mattresses atop wood platform frames topped with down featherbeds, 350-thread-count sheets, and down duvet offset by stunning orange blankets and poly-filled pillows.
In some rooms, beds are pushed against a wall, less than ideal for two people sharing a bed.
Beverage cooling units and separate recycling bins -- not common, and a nice touch
Significant (half off when I visited) discount at Enterprise Rent-a-Car along with transportation to pick-up -- a far better deal than those offered at rental-car desks within nearby mega hotels like the Marriott Waikiki
For the most part, the chic rooms feel clean and fresh, thanks to a complete renovation in 2008. However, a few minor housekeeping issues led to rooms that were streaky, not squeaky, clean. There were significant streaks across my flat-panel TV, as well as the glass door leading out to the lanai (balcony), and the walls in the bathroom had odd streaks, suggesting some sort of water damage.