While Oahu may not attract as many newly-weds as Maui, or as many nature-lovers as Kauai, it’s a destination that has a town and country feel through and through. From the massive waves crashing against the north shore, to the luxe shopping and new high-end restaurants opening along Waikiki Beach, there’s something for everyone on this island.
“You get all the comforts of a great city but with easy access to some very special experiences that can only happen on an island,” says Douglas Chang, general manager of the Ritz Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach.
Chang explains that Oahu isn’t trying to detract from the other Hawaiian islands. Their luxury revitalization instead shows that Oahu is worth adding to your Hawaiian itinerary.
“Waikiki complements a multi-island stay,” says Chang. “You come to Oahu because it’s vibrant and it’s exciting.”
One of the most notable changes to Oahu’s luxury scene is the burgeoning Kuhio Avenue in Waikiki Beach. Kalakaua Avenue has long since been the happening street in Honolulu; It’s home to Luxury Row, and shops like Harry Winston and Yves St. Laurent. In comparison, up until a few years ago, Kuhio Ave was still relatively unkempt.
When the Ritz Carlton Residences opened near the intersection of Kalakaua and Kuhio Avenues, their presence encouraged boutique luxury hotels to start building on the once-forgotten street. “Kuhio has been somewhat of a sleeper,” says Chang. “This side of Waikiki was a little untapped.”
As this resurgence grows, the food and beverage culture is also starting to flourish in Honolulu, attracting Michelin-starred talent to Hawaii, where Michelin has never even bothered to give out stars. As the luxury hotel and dining scene continue this renaissance on Oahu, here are the new spots to visit.
Sushi Sho does two 10-person seatings a night and is booked out months in advance. It’s by renowned chef Keiji Nakazawa and is located on the eighth floor of the Ritz Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach. Nakazawa is arguably Japan’s hottest chef and is bringing intimate Omakase-style dining to Honolulu. “The challenge he wanted was to be able to open the best sushi restaurant in the world outside Japan,” says Chang. Some hotel guests actually book their stay around when they can get a reservation at Sushi Sho.
Chef Mavro is a testament to the fact that Hawaii is clearly piquing the interest of Michelin-starred chefs. Chef Mavro is Hawaiian-French fusion and is run by James Beard award-winning chef George Mavrothalassitis, who trained at three-Michelin-star restaurants in France. It’s Gayot’s highest-rated restaurant in Hawaii.
Vintage Cave Cafe
While it’s relatively casual, a reservation at Vintage Cave Cafe can still be a tough ticket. The Italian restaurant is the “sister” to the exclusive Vintage Cave Club. Decorated with exposed brick and murals hand painted by local artists, it transports you directly to Italy. They offer set three-course meals, including favorites like expertly-crafted beef carpaccio and wagyu steak.
Chinatown in downtown Honolulu is known for some of the most authentic shopping in Hawaii. Chang points out that Chinatown is more of an “indigenous and local” experience. “It’s an eclectic but fascinating collection of shopping that can only be found [here],” he says. In terms of stores that you won’t find anywhere else in the world, Roberta Oaks sells luxe Hawaiian shirts, and Barrio Vintage has clothes and home goods with Hawaiian flair. Visit Smith Street for handmade leis and flower crowns, too.
Kalakaua Avenue is the Rodeo Drive or Champs-Élysées of Oahu. You can find authentic, handmade Hawaiian apparel, and of course, Luxury Row, which is home to brands like Chanel, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, and Hugo Boss. The Royal Hawaiian Center also sits along Kalakaua Avenue, where you’ll find Kate Spade and 7 For All Mankind, among other boutiques. Waikiki Beach Walk is the stretch with more local businesses, including Hawaiian Quilt Collection and Under the Koa Tree, which sells art and jewelry by local Hawaiian artisans.
Ritz Carlton Waikiki Beach
The Ritz Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach opened in 2016. Their second building, Diamond Head Tower, is slated to open in October of this year. They have the highest infinity pool in Waikiki and are just a couple months from opening a second, adults-only infinity pool. Every room in the hotel has an ocean view, and their exquisite spa offers unique Hawaiian treatments, like the Huki Huki treatment that includes a massage and a mud wrap made from Hawaiian volcanic ash.
The rooms at Surf Jack exude mod-surfer vibes, and their rooftop patios have a similar retro charm. They host on-site jam sessions with local musicians and are currently running Talk Story Sessions about art, culture, and architecture in Hawaii. They opened in 2016 as well, and aim to offer their guests a unique Hawaiian experience. They’ll even help set you up with an intimate surf lesson on the south shore of Oahu.
Turtle Bay Resort
It might not be new, but Turtle Bay Resort is the biggest hotel on the north shore of Oahu. You’re not limited to a hotel room here, you can also rent a beachfront cottage or beach villa. Turtle Bay Resort is one of the rare hotels on the north shore of Oahu, the property is set on 800 acres, and the beach cottages sit on “five miles of naked coastline.” On the property, you can try kayaking, outrigger canoeing, stand up paddle boarding, and of course, snorkeling and surfing.