On our annual ten-day adventure to Waikiki this year, my friend and I decided to splurge and stay for a few days on the beach at the luxurious Sheraton Waikiki. From our spacious 29th floor oceanfront room, we enjoyed a breathtaking view of Diamond Head and of the early-morning surfers. During the day, our coveted wristbands gave us entry to the Infinity Edge Pool, one of the world’s best infinity pools, where we relaxed for hours as the turquoise waves of the Pacific Ocean broke dramatically in front of us. The abundance of fresh towels and the frozen grapes provided to us poolside were additional treats, as was conversing with our friendly fellow guests from Australia, New Zealand, and beyond.
All that time in the pool made us quite hungry, so our first night at the hotel, we decided to take full advantage of the inviting dinner buffet at the Sheraton’s Kai Market where from the restaurant’s patio we could continue to gaze out at the gorgeous water as the soft strains of live Hawaiian music drifted over from the bar. We were fortunate to spend some time that evening with Executive Chef Darren Demaya, who talked about the farm-to-table approach that is so popular now. Basically, farm-to-table means that, as much as possible, restaurants serve local food acquired directly from its producer, whether it be a ranch, a fishery, or a farm. This approach helps support local industries and also results in fresher food.
Chef Demaya explained how years ago the restaurants imported most of the fruit, vegetables, meat and fish from the mainland. Then Hawaiian chefs started to work more closely with local farmers, fishermen and ranchers. Demaya noted that both the farmers and the restaurant take great pride in this utilization of local products, and, thus, at Kai Market place cards indicate when a particular dish is “created from local inspiration.” Featured Asian and Hawaiian dishes may contain Molokai sweet potatoes, Maui onions, Ho Farm tomatoes, beef from the Big Island, or locally caught ahi or tako while the dessert table offers delicious cakes and pies from Ted’s Bakery on the North Shore.
As our three-night stay at the Sheraton Waikiki evolved, we wanted to experience another of its restaurants, RumFire Waikiki, which also has a beautiful view of the ocean and of the dramatic, fiery Hawaiian sunsets. RumFire offers interesting choices of appetizers, like fried edamame, spicy ahi poke, mahi tacos and kalua pork nachos. The kimchee fried rice has been on the menu from the very beginning, and it remains there because it’s so good. Of course, there are also plenty of tropical cocktails to choose from. You may want to try the popular lava flow—rum with strawberry and banana puree, crème de coconut and pineapple juice. With its lively music, later in the evening RumFire definitely becomes one of the hot spots for the younger crowd.
One night when you are nearby, be sure to walk over to the Sheraton Waikiki Helumoa Playground (the children’s pool area on the Diamond Head side of the building) at 8 p.m. and/or 9 p.m. to see the wonderful Liquid Light 3D show, which lasts for about five minutes. Colorful digital animations of erupting volcanoes, ocean life, hula dancers, and more are projected onto rocks, plants, deck chairs and the pool. You do not need to be a guest of the Sheraton Waikiki to see this delightful free show.
For a touch of history and to take in another spectacular sunset, one evening we strolled next door to the sophisticated Mai Tai Bar at the world-famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Enchanting live Hawaiian music greeted us, and once again we chose from an intriguing selection of appetizers—coconut shrimp, chicken satay skewers, firecracker Thai chili shrimp, and seared rare ahi tuna. For an extra special occasion, private cabanas are available here. Per their website, for up to 10 guests, there is a $350 charge plus a minimum spend for two hours.
If this is your first time at the Mai Tai Bar, then I’m going to suggest you order one of their famed Mai Tai’s. The origin of this drink is disputed. According to Wikipedia, Victor J. Bergeron claimed to have created it in 1944 at his restaurant Trader Vic’s in Oakland, California, while Trader Vic’s rival, Don the Beachcomber, claimed to have invented it in 1933. The way the Trader Vic’s story goes is that Bergeron fashioned a special new drink for some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. One of his friends tasted it and exclaimed, “Maita’i roa ae!” or “the best,” and so accordingly Bergeron named his drink the Mai Tai. Although I can’t really vouch for this story, it is fun to enjoy sipping one of these tropical concoctions at the Mai Tai Bar.
If you are a foodie and plan to visit Honolulu this December, you might consider making a reservation for the Royal Feast, one of the Luxury Collection Epicurean Journeys offered quarterly at the Royal Hawaiian. An intimate dinner celebrating the 90th anniversary of this elegant, historic hotel will be held on December 15 at 6:00 p.m. in the Kamehameha Suite (The Royal Hawaiian’s Presidential Suite) and will be “fit for a king and queen.”
For a hands-on experience, the next day an interactive cooking class is offered at 10:00 a.m. Chefs featured at the prestigious James Beard House will guide you in the making of local dishes, and then, of course, you’ll be able to eat the fruits of your labor for lunch. Epicurean Journeys are the latest in a series of landmark culinary events that the Royal Hawaiian’s Executive Chef Colin Hazama has created in collaboration with Chefs Chris Kirksey, Shaymus Alwin, and Carolyn Portuondo. For more information on these special events, go to http://www.royalhawaiian.com/dining/epicureanjourneys/.
I must say that, personally, the Sheraton Waikiki is my favorite hotel on Oahu. The balance of our trip was spent at a timeshare, The Imperial Hawaii Resort on Lewers. Having a two bathroom, one bedroom condo with a kitchen and dining area there, plus a small deck, also has its advantages. We are thinking next year to do our three-night stay at the beginning of our trip at the Royal Hawaiian so will have to report back then on what it’s like to stay at the “The Pink Palace of the Pacific.”
If you want to consider a stay a little further out past Diamond Head, I highly recommend The Kahala Hotel & Resort, which overlooks both Diamond Head and Koko Head. It’s another beautiful setting and is situated away from the hustle and bustle of Waikiki, yet with a rented car, Uber, or a cab (bus if you’re adventurous), you can be in town in about 15 minutes. Additionally, the hotel does offer a complimentary shopping shuttle to all guests, which provides transportation to Waikiki, the Ala Moana Shopping Center and the Kahala Mall.
One of the great benefits of staying at The Kahala is being able to observe six dolphins cavorting in the pond at the hotel. Dolphin Quest, a partnership that was formed by two world-renown marine mammal veterinarians, Dr. Sweeney and Dr. Stone, offers the opportunity to interact with these playful creatures and is open to non-guests. Programs start at $149.
The Kahala offers five restaurants: Plumeria Beach House, Seaside Grill, The Veranda, Hoku’s, and Arancino at the Kahala. In keeping with the fresh food, farm-to-table concept, their executive chef often fishes in the morning and then brings his catch in to be served in the hotel’s restaurants. We chose to have lunch at the lovely open-air Plumeria Beach House with its fabulous 180 degree ocean view. I thoroughly enjoyed the portobello mushroom panini with seasoned fries. My friend ordered the six-variety poke bowl, which is also a great choice.
As an update to last year’s story, I am happy to report that the Seaside Bar & Grill on Kuhio in Waikiki (not related to the Seaside Grill at the Kahala) is still in business. In fact, our favorite server, Cisco, is also still working there and we, of course, asked to sit in his section where we enjoyed their still available $4.95 breakfast special.
With its wonderful view of Diamond Head, another of our other favorite places for breakfast is the Hula Grill at the Outrigger Waikiki, where we love their delicious acai bowl and have a very difficult time choosing between the banana macadamia nut and the tropical (with pineapple, strawberries and coconut) pancakes. Both are amazing!
On Kalakaua Avenue the renovation of the International Market Place has been completed. Thankfully, they managed to keep the iconic century-old giant banyan tree. Although we really miss the tradition of visiting the old market place, progress does go on. In the same spot that was originally opened in 1956 as a commercial retail and entertainment center, there is now an open-air, three-story shopping and dining center with about 100 stores including everything from Burberry, Christian Louboutin, and Saks Fifth Avenue to Trina Turk/Mr. Turk. For dining, there are many options, such as the Eating House 1948 (Roy Yamaguchi), Stripsteak (Michael Mina), b. Patisserie (San Francisco pastry chef Belinda Leong), Flour & Barley Brick Oven Pizza, Herringbone, The Street, and more, several of which we plan to explore next year.