Updated: September 12, 2016
Hawaii Tips and Recommendations
- The best hotels are: Four Seasons Hualalai (for luxury) • Aulani (for families) • Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club (for style) • Travaasa Hana (to get away from it all) • Holualoa Inn (for romance).
- Weather in Hawaii is great year-round, but ocean activity does vary. Waves tend to be bigger in the winter, especially on the northern shores of the islands – sometimes up to 50 feet. This is excellent for pro surfers, but not great for beginning swimmers. For calmer waters, come in the summer.
- Whale watching is best in winter. Though you can sometimes spot whales from the shores, it’s best to take a boat tour. Travelers who get motion sickness should choose a larger boat for a smoother ride. (Remember, in winter waves will be bigger.)
- The best islands for foodies are Oahu and Maui; the best for nature lovers are Big Island and Kauai. For honeymooners and romance, Maui offers a great mix of beaches, resorts, food, activities, and quiet escapes.
- Inter-island flights are usually under $100 and around 30 minutes, except to and from Lihue. It’s worth considering a flight to Hilo on Big Island just to see the volcano, even if staying on another island.
- See Also: The Best Things To Do on Hawaii • The Best Beaches on Hawaii
The 20 Best Luxury Hotels in Hawaii
- Four Seasons Hualalai • Big Island
(Hotel phone: 808-325-8000)
Oceanfront, luxury bungalows with nature-inspired décor. Spacious rooms, suites, and villas are available, all with balconies and many with outdoor, lava rock showers. Grounds feature seven pools, including one stocked with wildlife for snorkeling. The resort sits on a stunning white sand beach with manmade coves. Six restaurants and lounges offer casually elegant dining and sunset views.
- The Modern Honolulu • Oahu
(Hotel phone: 808-943-4161)
A cosmopolitan and contemporary high rise on the harbor. On the edge of Waikiki and downtown, the Modern is only steps away from the beach, as well as some of Hawaii’s best shopping. Chic rooms and suites are available here, with textures of the beach worked into their design: weathered wood, sand colors, and sailing rope. There is a hidden bar behind a bookshelf in the lobby, Iron Chef Morimoto has a restaurant here, and the Ian Schrager-designed nightclub serves until 3 a.m.
- Holualoa Inn • Big Island
(Hotel phone: 808-324-1121)
This elegant plantation home in the mountains of Kona offers a variety of accommodations, from rooms to suites to a cottage, in a tasteful fusion of Polynesian and Southeast Asian décor. The property includes a mosaic tile pool and a hot tub overlooking the Pacific. The estate grows thousands of coffees, nuts, and fruits, which all become part of the gourmet, daily breakfasts here. An intimate experience with top notch service. Walking distance to art galleries, coffee farms, local fruit stands, and just a short drive to the coast.
- Hotel Wailea • Maui
(Hotel phone: 808-874-0500)
At this trendy, all-suite, adults only Relais & Chateaux resort, guests can borrow a roadster for an Island Safari in search of secret beaches or dine in a private treehouse. Electric bikes and Mercedes limo services transport guests around town or down to the beach. Onsite classes in mixology and aerials are offered regularly. Suites are all one bedroom and well-appointed with coral fossil walls and ohia woods.
- Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club • Oahu
(Hotel phone: 808-923-8882)
A brand new boutique hotel with rooms and suites in an elite surfer chic theme, blending contemporary Honolulu style with ‘60s surf nostalgia. Bright murals, surf and graffiti art installations, and a hand-painted swimming pool make this little hotel a hub for local trendsetters. Onsite events include live music, DJs spinning vinyl, kids’ dance parties, and open discussions with artists, filmmakers, professors, and more. Dining is divine here at Chef Ed Kinney’s fourth restaurant.
- Montage Kapalua Bay • Maui
(Hotel phone: 808-662-6600)
An all-suite, beachfront, luxury resort, the Montage offers modern elegance with subtle, island details. Graceful suites range from one to four bedrooms. All include full kitchens, private lanais, and marble bathrooms. Sumptuous dining onsite, tiered infinity pool, and large guest rooms make this a perfect stay.
- Aulani • Oahu
(Hotel phone: 808-674-6200)
This family-centric Disney resort offers luxurious, Hawaiian-themed rooms, suites, and villas; some with kid-sized Murphy beds built into the TV stands. The main attraction here is the extravagant pool area with two waterslides, lazy river, aquatic playground, and private snorkeling lagoon. Little ones love the Disney character breakfasts and complimentary kids club activities. This beachfront property also features great restaurants and bars.
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa • Kauai
(Hotel phone: 808-742-1234)
This sprawling oceanfront resort blends classical design with plantation accents. Chandeliers hang from vaulted ceilings with exposed beams; breezy rooms feature coral and jewel tone accents with marble bathrooms. Lush florals bloom around freshwater pools and saltwater lagoons right up to the sparkling white sands of Shipwreck’s Beach. Some of the finest dining on island is available onsite.
- Andaz Maui at Wailea • Maui
(Hotel phone: 808-573-1234)
Stylish resort on Mokapu Beach with a young vibe. Clever design elements include a lobby sandbox with columns and wrought iron beams, glass showers with ocean views, and four infinity pools cascading toward the Pacific. They offer a great cocktail program, where fruits are squeezed daily for housemade syrups and bitters. Walking distance to luxury shops and dining.
- The Inn at Mama’s Fish House • Maui
(Hotel phone: 808-579-9764)
Posh, boutique inn with a nautical feel, attached to the single best restaurant on Maui. Gorgeous rooms, suites, and cottages are each a little different, with all featuring upscale tropical décor in vibrant colors. Some have full kitchens, some boast oversized showers, and some include a wall of windows that can be opened entirely to create an indoor/outdoor space. Close to surfer chic Pa’ia town and several beaches.
- Halekulani • Oahu
(Hotel phone: 808-923-2311)
Subtle luxury for the cultured traveler, featuring tranquil and spacious white palette rooms and suites. Halekulani is an exquisite oceanfront, high rise resort on Waikiki Beach, with onsite haute cuisine and upscale boutiques, set close to Honolulu’s best shopping and nightlife. Guests receive complimentary admission to several arts and cultural events, including the Honoululu Museum of Art, Iolani Palace, and Hawaii Symphony Orchestra.
- Grand Wailea • Maui
(Hotel phone: 808-875-1234)
Neoclassical luxury with tropical touches, perfect for families. Each generous room, suite, and villa has a private balcony and plush furnishings. It is located on a sandy beach, perfect for swimming, and also houses a pool complex that includes nine pools connected by a lazy river and complimentary scuba lessons. Outstanding food and drinks here, especially at their signature restaurant Humuhumu’s.
- Travaasa Hana • Maui
(Hotel phone: 808-359-2401)
Luscious accommodations in a remote spa retreat. Suites and bungalows are serene, beachy, and breezy, relying on trade winds and panoramic sliding doors rather than air conditioning. Situated at the end of the Road to Hana, the gated grounds make Travaasa popular with families, as kids can run free with no worries. The only luxury resort in Maui that offers all-inclusive packages with meals, spa services, and activities.
- Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort • Kauai
(Hotel phone: 808-828-8888)
The amenities of a huge, luxury resort, scaled down to a boutique size. Ko’a Kea’s décor thoughtfully blends modern sophistication with beachy textures. Rooms and suites showcase the island with sheer curtains and private outdoor spaces. View rooms come with telescopes. This little beachfront resort is home to Red Salt, one of the best restaurants on the island, as well as an organic spa, pool, and hot tub.
- Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina • Oahu
(Hotel phone: 808-679-0079)
Brand new luxury resort, blending classical sophistication with modern Polynesian style. Rooms feature playful accents, such as banana leaf headboards. This opulent oceanfront property has manmade lagoons, four pools, and two hot tubs. Complimentary beach amenities include Sunfish sailing boats. Onsite dining is superb and plentiful, with Fish House offering an outstanding happy hour and La Hiki serving up six different types of Asian cuisine.
- Moana Surfrider • Oahu
(Hotel phone: 808-922-3111)
This historic, plantation-era resort is the embodiment of classic luxury. Featuring stately columns, rich hardwoods, and graceful archways, the Moana Surfrider stands in impressive contrast to the surrounding high rises. Built in 1901 and located in the heart of Waikiki, this distinctive gem sits just feet from the ocean and within walking distance to Honolulu’s best shopping, dining, and nightlife.
- Hilton Waikoloa Village • Big Island
(Hotel phone: 808-886-1234)
Family-friendly, luxury resort with a busy vibe. With three waterfall-enhanced swimming pools, giant waterslide, and lazy river, this spacious beachfront hotel is ideal for water-lovers. The property’s four acre ocean-fed lagoon has its own private beach, shielded from waves and safe for beginning swimmers. Interactive dolphin swims are offered on site, and boats and trams serve as transportation for guests within the resort.
- The St. Regis Princeville Resort • Kauai
(Hotel phone: 808-826-9644)
The St. Regis boasts breathtaking, sunset views of Hanalei Bay in a lavish setting built in three tiers. Rooms and suites are spacious and feature marble baths, but not all include outdoor space; be sure to book an ocean view room with a terrace to take advantage of the scenery. This resort is the perfect spot for a variety of water activities, since it has direct access to both the beach and the Hanalei River.
- Fairmont Orchid • Big Island
(Hotel phone: 808-885-2000)
This resort blends timeless luxury in common areas with crisp, modern décor in rooms and suites. Accommodations are spacious and family friendly with a broad range of sizes and amenities. An expansive, 10,000 square foot pool fronts the ocean. Located at the north end of Waikoloa Village, this resort is close to dining and shops, yet removed from busy downtown.
- The Lodge at Kukui’ula • Kauai
(Hotel phone: 855-939-3131)
A collection of brand new luxury homes built on expansive grounds of lush, rolling hills, a huge farm and orchard for guest and restaurant use, a truly exquisite spa, and world-class golf. Spacious and private one to four bedroom homes accommodate families of all sizes. Their property includes several cascading pools, a waterslide, and a game room with pool tables and more. The Lodge is only a short drive to Kukui’ula Bay, Po’ipu Beach, and the finest shopping and dining on Kauai.
The Big Island
The Big Island is the youngest in the Hawaiian chain and the only one with active volcanoes. As such, it has a very different feel to it than the rest of the islands. The landscape is rugged and sparse on much of the island with lava rock stretching for miles under a layer of volcanic fog (“vog” for short). There are fewer beaches here, and many of them are rocky; however, some of the clearest water in all of Hawaii is located off its western coast. Because of this, most of the island’s resorts are clustered here, in Kailua-Kona and Waikoloa Villages. The Big Island, though, is big! It is bigger than all of the rest of the islands combined and home to eight distinct microclimates. In around 90 minutes, travelers can leave the arid west coast behind for the lush rainforests of the east, near Hilo and Volcano. The east side offers some incredible boutique lodging, as well as some budget hotels, but no luxury resorts. Though Hilo is the largest city on the island, it retains a small town feel and is a wonderful spot for cycling, as long as you aren’t deterred by rain. Tons of volcano tours begin here, especially to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world, erupting nonstop since 1983.
The Best Big Island Hotels
- Four Seasons Hualalai • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-325-8000
Refined luxury bungalows on the Kona coast.
- Holualoa Inn • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-324-1121
Luxury B&B in the Kona mountains.
- Hilton Waikoloa Village • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-886-1234
Fun, active resort, popular with families.
- Fairmont Orchid • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-885-2000
Graceful design in a quieter part of Waikoloa.
- Lotus Garden • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808 936-5212
Funky, bohemian boutique stay in downtown Hilo.
- Bay House Bed and Breakfast • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-961-6311
Ocean view, cliff side B&B, walking distance to downtown Hilo.
- Lava Lava Beach Club • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-769-5282
Surfer cool cottages with an outstanding bar and nightly live music.
Consistently rated one of the world’s best islands, Maui offers a little something for everyone. For sheer variety of activity, this island is a great choice. Maui is best known for its long stretches of white sand beach, each with a distinctive mood, from big wave surfing to coral reef snorkeling, from beaches packed with partiers to secret coves where travelers can swim alone. This is the best island for winter whale watching, too; humpback whales especially like the channel between Maui and Lanai – sometimes they can be seen from the shore, but a boat tour is ideal for getting a good look at these magnificent creatures. Fantastic hiking and biking trails are here, for exploring remote waterfalls, ancient petroglyphs, or the crater rim. Dining on Maui is outstanding, with an emphasis on locally sourced and fresh ingredients. You’ll find great eateries island-wide, but they’re most abundant in Pa’ia, Lahaina, and surprisingly Kahului (this is where Chef Simeon’s Tin Roof is, as well as Sam Sato’s Inc., the source of the island’s dry mein craze). There are Luxury resorts and boutique lodging spread across the island, but each area has a different atmosphere, and choosing the best place largely comes down to personal preference: Ka’anapali and Kihei are bustling with activity, Lahaina is historical and hip, Pa’ia is surfy and artistic, while Hana and the Upcountry region are filled with rustic charm.
The Best Maui Hotels
- Hotel Wailea • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-874-0500
Stylish, adults-only resort focused on unique experiences.
- Montage Kapalua Bay • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-662-6600
Modern luxury with outstanding food and pools.
- Andaz Maui at Wailea • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-573-1234
Trendy resort with clever design elements and a fantastic bar.
- The Inn at Mama’s Fish House • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-579-9764
Luxury inn in Pa’ia, attached to Maui’s best restaurant.
- Grand Wailea • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-875-1234
Family friendly classical resort, a water-lover’s paradise.
- Travaasa Hana • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-359-2401
Remote resort, famous for its spa, and all-inclusive options.
- Lumeria Maui • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-425-9726
Upscale boho boutique stay, plantation era building with southeast Asian decor.
- Ka’anapali Beach Hotel • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-661-0011
Family friendly hotel that emphasizes Hawaiian culture.
- The Modern Honolulu • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-943-4161
Chic, cosmopolitan luxury on the harbor.
- Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-923-8882
Mecca of cool in the heart of Honolulu.
- Aulani • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-674-6200
Luxury, family-centric, Disney resort.
- Halekulani • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-923-2311
Elegant oceanfront luxury on Waikiki Beach.
- Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-679-0079
Stunning luxury resort on Oahu’s leeward coast.
- Moana Surfrider • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-922-3111 historic, plantation-era glam on Waikiki Beach
- Shoreline Hotel • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-219-0674
Retro, hipster vibe in the heart of Waikiki, attached to an amazing restaurant.
- Coconut Waikiki Hotel • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-219-0728
Sunny, kid-friendly hotel overlooking Ala Wai Canal in Waikiki.
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-742-1234
Classic luxury with plantation details on sunny Po’ipu Beach.
- Ko’a Kea Hotel & Resort • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-828-8888
Boutique luxury resort with a fantastic restaurant.
- The St. Regis Princeville Resort • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-826-9644
Lavish resort with beach and river access.
- Fern Grotto Inn • Reviews • Hotel phone: 808-670-1336
Boutique inn on the Wailua River, with fruit trees and superb amenities.
The most urban and populous of all the Hawaiian islands, Oahu is the best spot for travelers who prefer lively, active vacations over tranquility and calm. Skyscrapers line up on busy Waikiki Beach, where Duke Kahanamoku ushered in the era of modern surfing. Honolulu is the state’s capitol and cosmopolitan hub, bustling with a broad mix of arts, culture, food, shopping, and nightlife. Foodies, in particular, will love Honolulu’s neighborhoods, which showcase an eclectic range of cuisune from many cultures. The Kaimuki and Kapahulu areas brim with the area’s most exciting local farm-to-table restaurants, while Downtown has the best fine dining. Food trucks are cheap, delicious, and everywhere, but some of the best are at the Pau Hana Market in Waikiki. Live music is available every night of the weeks, and DJs keep the clubs hopping. Shop or window shop in luxury row or Ala Moana. In spite of all this activity, travelers are never far away from nature. Diamond Head park offers fun hiking with views of the city from the peak. Less than an hour’s drive north in Hale’iwa are the world’s most famous surf spots, Banzai Pipeline and Waimea Bay. This quiet surf town serves as a laid back, casual contrast to the bustling south side.
The Best Oahu Hotels
For rustic charm and striking landscapes, Kauai can’t be beat. The oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, it’s been around long enough for erosion to create stunning landscapes. This is the best island for nature lovers. Miles of beaches circle the island, many of them accessible only by hiking the sheer cliffs of the Na Pali coast or paddling around by kayak. Verdant rainforest and thick clouds cover the peak of Mount Waialeale, the world’s rainiest spot, while only a few miles west, colorful Waimea Canyon opens up, arid and dusty. Its breathtaking terrain has long attracted Hollywood’s attention: over 70 movies have been filmed here, including Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Almost three quarters of the land is inaccessible by foot and can only be seen by helicopter, which makes heli-tours the most popular attraction island-wide. There are no freeways on Kauai, and much of the island is rural or undeveloped. Chickens are everywhere, and the wild rooster has become the unofficial state bird here. A few luxury resorts can be found in the Po’ipu and Princeville areas, but most of the accommodations here are boutique inns, B&Bs, and budget hotels concentrated on the eastern Coconut Coast. The island is small, though, so no matter where visitors stay, the furthest attractions are only about an hour’s drive away.