The word aloha rolls off the tongue like a tropical breeze at sunset, wafting through palm fronds - lifting the sweet smell of plumeria off its pink and white flowers and sending it tumbling down the street. In Waikiki, Honolulu’s world-famous neighborhood, aloha is everyday. An attitude, a lifestyle: casual elegance at its finest. Oahu as a whole is just that way, with its pristine beaches and iconic bookmark in the pages of U.S. history. So it didn’t take too much convincing to get my husband and kids on board for a vacation on island time at the Alohilani Resort (www.alohilaniresort.com).
This luxuriously modern oceanfront property resides on land held in the Queen Lili’uokalani Trust - the location was previously the site of the beachside residence of the islands’ last reigning monarch. 'Alohilani Resort, meaning “heavenly brightness,” pays homage to Lili’uokalani by bringing her love for the outdoors in - floor-to-ceiling windows flood the neutral-toned guest rooms with natural light and spectacular views of the crystal blue ocean, Diamond Head and city skyline. All rooms have free Wi-Fi, private lanais and the option of one king or two queen beds.
Situated within walking distance to the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium, the resort has no shortage of activities to keep the entire family occupied. There are many popular tourist attractions on Oahu - including the Dole Plantation and the Polynesian Cultural Center - but if you’d rather stay in, you only have to go as far as the two-story lobby Oceanarium. 28,000 gallons of saltwater house an incredible variety of native Hawaiian reef fishes, fed daily at 10:30am and 2:30pm. If you’re a diver or just a girl who can’t get enough of Nemo, like our daughter, you’ll be glued to the glass indefinitely.
That is, if it weren’t for the Monkeypod Kids Club. My husband and I stole away to the rooftop Swell Pool. With views of the iconic Waikiki Beach, the elevated infinity pool was named one of the "10 most Instagram-worthy pools in America” by Instyle.com. Fashion meets function here as the decor is defined by insanely comfortable teak lounge furniture, tiered daybeds, cabanas, a hot tub and firepits. Our kids had just as much fun sans parents, making new friends and enjoying hands-on indoor and outdoor play, games and activities that reflected the cultural beauty, traditions and diversity of the islands, including making leis and arts and crafts (the schedule changes day to day including half-day adventures to nearby attractions).
Open to children aged 5-12, the Monkeypod Kids Club is the perfect solution for a family-friendly vacation. The kids pool keeps ‘em splashing and happy until Mom and Dad are ready to tear themselves away the aloha chic ambiance (Swell Bar offers an all-day menu including poke and kalua pork. Don't miss their signature cocktail, Ka Huna Kai, a frozen Mai Tai named for a song written by Queen Lili’uokalani).
Each morning, our family enjoyed an exceptional - and extensive - breakfast buffet in the property’s casual eatery, Lychee. Committed to sourcing products from the islands, chefs here prepare standard breakfast fare (eggs, omelettes, bacon, sausage, pancakes, etc.), but the local specials and seasonal favorites make this dining experience truly stand out. Think sunrise papaya, sugarloaf pineapple, mango and rambutan, as well as locally produced honey, breakfast sausages and preserves.
If you can bear to leave the storied and gorgeous walls of the resort, just down the way is what just might be one of Honolulu’s best-kept secrets: The Street Food Hall (www.thestreetfoodhall.com), located in the bustling International Marketplace in the heart of Waikiki, is basically a nightly street fair-cum-food and wine festival. Created by Celebrity Chef Michael Mina as a tribute to his mother, The Street is infused with a sense of excitement and creativity celebrated in a curious kitchen, with chefs who aren’t afraid to dig in and take risks. Be it a casual lunch or the indulgence of a serious craving, The Street is there for the gathering. When you join The Street Party Hawker Crawl, you have the opportunity to visit up to seven of the 10 hawker locations and three bars to create your own custom dining experience and you have 30 days from the time you use initially use the card to come back time and again (think food festival without the one-day limit).
Sandwiches to seafood. Cocktails to coffee. Ramen to burgers and back with a side of superb music and some savory conversation makes for the cherry-on-top of a destination vacation that just won’t stop rolling out the alohas.
Stairway to Heaven
If you’re looking for a memorable way to work in a bit of exercise on your trip, try hiking the Diamond Head Crater. I have to say, there’s something rather empowering about walking up the inside slop of an extinct volcano. More than 3,500 feet in diameter with a 760-foot summit, Diamond Head is a lasting remnant of a volcanic explosion that occurred about a half a million years ago. Ancient Hawaiians called it Laeahi, which translates to “brow of the tuna.” The name “Diamond Head” has more recent roots in the 1800s, when British sailors mistakenly believed that the glistening calcite crystals embedded in the lava rock were diamonds lodged in the lodged in the crater’s soil.
It takes 45 minutes to an hour to reach the summit, and half that time for the trip back down. The trail is a switchback with the mountain on one side and a railing on the other. After a lookout point that doubles as a rest stop, the trail takes a steep upward ascent through a series of stairs and tunnels carved into the mountain. The last set of stairs is a 99-step climb that my husband and kids clamored up with little effort while I took the slow and steady - and decidedly less “in shape” approach - that eventually ends at a World War II bunker. From there, you step out to one of the best panoramic views of the island. We lucked out with the weather which meant that once we summited the crater, we were rewarded with a spectacular view of Oahu’s entire leeward side (the side to which the wind is blowing). Entry into the state park is $5 per vehicle or $1 per pedestrian.
Sea Life Park
Situated just 15 minutes from Waikiki along a scenic stretch of coast called Makapuu Point, Sea Life Park (www.sealifeparkhawaii.com) is a family-friendly marine-attraction that focuses on educational and interactive programs. Small enough to enjoy on foot, but diverse enough to spend the better part of a day, the park is home to dolphins, seals, stingrays and (small) sharks and features a 300,000 gallon reef aquarium, a breeding sanctuary for the state’s endangered sea turtles, habitats for Hawaiian monk seals and penguins, touch pools, an aviary and seabird sanctuary.