I can’t believe that I’ve been to Oahu approximately 15 times in the past 15 years. Each time I visit I usually end up hitting one of the neighboring islands first (this trip, my wife and I went to Kauai). But no matter which island I go to, I always find myself spending at least a night (or 10!) in Waikiki on the way back home.
I think that subconsciously, Oahu slowly prepares me for my return to the fast pace of the mainland. I know what you’re going to say: Honolulu and Waikiki are so crowded and touristy. I know they are but I can never get enough of that view of Diamond Head and being surrounded by lush green palm trees, white sandy beaches and the crystal blue Hawaiian waters – ooh! There’s something about those vistas, all the people, the shops and restaurants that excites me … and I’m not even a shopper. But I love it!
I’ve stayed at a wide variety of Waikiki hotels. But I had never spent the night at The Modern Honolulu. Mainly because it’s not right on the ocean. However, after four nights there, I realized that was a mistake and fell in love with the place the moment I walked through my room door.
The hotel was built in 1964 as a second tower to the neighboring Ilikai Hotel. In September 2008, Marriott opened it up as an Edition Hotel with boutique hotel pioneer Ian Schrager. A few years later, in a made-for-TV drama, the hotel owners broke Marriott’s 30-year management lease in the middle of an August night, and not only changed management, but the name. There was all kinds of drama but that’s all been settled and it’s back to being one of the premier places to stay in Waikiki.
If you’re looking for a fun, chic Honolulu hotel, here are 10 reasons to choose the Modern Honolulu:
The Modern is considered an oceanview hotel, not an oceanfront one. The hotel is on the outskirts of Waikiki and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just far enough away (about a 25-minute walk) from Waikiki’s center and its crowded beaches but only a 90-second walk down a sidewalk until your toes are in the sand. The sand closest to the Modern is part of the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s family-friendly lagoon. It’s an ideal spot for kids to swim and paddle board since it’s shallow. However, just on the other side of the lagoon is the ocean but there are a lot of coral so it’s not ideal for swimming. I suggest walking a few hundred yards down the beach if you want soft ocean sand.
As my wife pointed out on her blog, the hotel’s got a great location for shopping as well. The Ala Moana Center is a 10-minute walk away and it’s a shopper’s paradise, featuring mostly high-end designer shops in a breezy open-air complex. There’s a food court and other restaurants like Goma Tei, a ramen noodle shop that we discovered and loved (get more restaurant recommendations here LINK). There are also the shops and restaurants at the Hilton Hawaiian Village—a 10-minute walk in the other direction.
2. The rooms
The Modern has 353 rooms, including 26 oceanfront suites. We were in one of the suites and I could easily live there. The suites have two balconies, two flat screen TVs, a couch and a working desk. The rooms are an exquisite example of modern minimalism. My favorite part, besides the incredible water pressure in the shower, is that all the rooms have a colorful ukulele and three sarongs hanging on the wall. They serve as artwork but you can also use them!
Besides the ukulele and sarongs, one piece of art that shouldn’t be overlooked is the art installation above the check-in desk. It’s a collage of broken surfboards that comes together to create a unique focal point in the lobby. It was designed by local surfer Herbie Fletcher and the piece features surfboards that were ‘broken-in-action’ and are all signed by the riders—including legendary surfer Kelly Slater.
4. The study
Just off the lobby, you’ll find a bookcase. But come 5 pm, the hotel staff pushes it a few yards so it becomes an entryway to a speak-easy inspired bar. It’s fun, classy and a bit retro.
5. Live music
Although I didn’t appreciate the club music by the pool that’s pumped out all day long, I did love their live musicians. Each night, they had someone playing a guitar and singing. The musicians can be found either in the Study or out by the pool bar.
First and foremost, the hotel is home to Morimoto Waikiki. That’s Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s restaurant where he creates divine dishes featuring a Hawaiian/Japanese flair. Make a reservation for a table outside just like President Obama did two nights before we dined there. I was told that the staff set up a private table along the side of the restaurant so he had privacy. He’s a big raw fish kind of guy but not me. I had the ramen soup ($16) and the chicken.
The Modern also has two casual dining places called the Grove and Passageway. They are both outdoor restaurants, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Standard fare: pizzas, sandwiches and tacos. For breakfast, don’t miss getting the Eggs Benedict ($16) but don’t get a banana on the side or to-go as they charge $4 for a single piece of whole fruit! Tip: If you want a banana, go to one of the many ABC stores in Waikiki and stock up—they’re well under $1 there.
7. Free coffee and tea station
The hotel makes up for the overpriced banana with its daily free coffee and tea station. It’s set up in the lobby from 6am to 10am. The only thing it’s missing is honey for tea.
8. The stars stay here
Besides President Obama eating at Morimoto’s (twice on his last trip) I also spotted Reese Witherspoon at a table near us. The next day I looked at her Twitter and Instagram accounts and was shocked to see that she’d tweeted a picture of herself on the hotel balcony and that she’d tagged the hotel. Of course, I had to do a similar pose and tweet it back to her.
You have to love a hotel that has two pools—one for families and one for adults 21 and over. The adult pool isn’t topless or anything like that—it’s just a quiet retreat surrounded by soft white sand.
I was impressed with the overall service of The Modern. Everyone I met seemed generally happy to work there and had a smile on their face. But then again, they are living in paradise.
Good to know
- The first Tuesday of every month is movie night at The Modern. They show a family-friendly movie out by the adults-only pool. Natalie and I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory under the stars and a blanket since it was an unseasonably chilly January night.
- The hotel has a popular nightclub open Thursday to Saturday. We missed it so I’m not sure how loud it can get.
- The hotel has a small spa and their signature treatment is The Lomi Lomi Massage. Unfortunately, because of the proximity of the pool, they have to play the mustic quite loudly to drown out the noise.
- The hotel’s common areas have a beautiful fragrance and we later learned that the aroma is plumeria and the scent is specially manufactured for the Modern Honolulu.
- Yabu Pushelberg was the design architect firm. They also designed the new Four Seasons Toronto and the St. Regis San Francisco.