A team of Oyster reporters spent weeks exploring 92 top hotels in Hawaii. We slept in the beds, ate in the restaurants, tested the service, and scoped out the neighborhoods, all with an eye toward selecting the most distinguished properties. Here’s a list of our favorite boutique hotels.
The Hotel Hana-Maui overlooking Hana Bay delivers rustic luxury in the middle of Maui's lush, secluded east coast. It's got incredible service, a top spa, excellent food, and only 77 rooms on 14,000 acres of uncrowded property. You'll encounter a remote natural setting, a faithfulness to the local Hawaiian culture, freedom from modern conveniences -- and spiffy clean suites that are as big and well-furnished as those at any luxury Maui hotel. Guests who tire of natural beauty will find plenty to do at the hotel's two pools, tennis courts, a fitness center, shops, and excellent spa.
A celebrity retreat since 1964, the 338-room Kahala is quite possibly the best hotel on Oahu. Yet its vibe is more "family fun" than "pretentious glitz" -- think swimming with dolphins, not posing in lounges. Attentive service and a quiet locale separate the Kahala from its few luxury competitors in Oahu. Throw in four superb restaurants, a quasi-private beach, and the only swim-with-the-dolphins experience on the island and you have a unique Oahu experience.
This 121-room Poipu boutique hotel offers five-star features -- rooms with fine Egyptian linens, Italian marble bathrooms, and personal espresso machines, and a free fitness center with individual cable-TV monitors. Koa Kea is for those seeking a lavishly stylish but intimate experience that's less overwhelming than staying at one of the area's mega-resorts. The hotel also offers much more personal, attentive service.
A top pick for those who want more than a budget hotel but less than a mega resort, this independent, recently renovated, 72-room affordable boutique a block from the beach is high on style. A small, but beautiful lobby, classy touches like fresh pineapple juice and a cold towel at check-in, free breakfast, extremely stylish, Zen-chic rooms by San Francisco designer Jiun Ho, and a bar with a happy hour and top-shelf booze create an upscale feel.
Formerly the W Waikiki, this scenic and stylish 50-room boutique hotel is about a block from the beach and a half-mile from Waikiki's crowds. Kapiolani Park, Honolulu's equivalent of New York City's Central Park, sits both across the street and adjacent to the hotel. The big, beautiful volcanic cone called Diamond Head looms over the hotel (in a good way). The standard rooms (renovated in 2012) are huge, and though they still have the W's chic decor and incredible beds, they now cost much less. For the price, you get more space and style in these rooms than you could ever find in central Waikiki.