Oahu Revival

Hawaii’s most populated island is shedding its image as a pleasant, but predictable, tropical destination best suited for retirees, honeymooners, and the family crowd. Kate Robertson reports on the transformation.

View Gallery 11 Photos

In the past, Hawaii has been a destination of choice for the blasé traveler not up for the challenge of foreign language and food, in search of sun, serene beaches and a little surf. But with today’s younger, hipper, millennial traveller insisting on more from a destination, Oahu has updated to a 2G version, effectively putting it on the map as an adventure destination.

Leading the pack in this revival is The Modern Honolulu, a luxury cosmopolitan hotel in Waikiki.  With a website that flashes images of tattooed bodies, skimpy bathing suits, and spinning DJs, the name pretty well says it all.  Still, a Backdrop for Girls Gone Wild this is not. The Modern Honolulu, sets itself apart from other hotels with its clean, modern lines, conceived by luxury design architects George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, who were inducted into the Interior Design magazine Hall of Fame when The Modern Honolulu was recognized in its 2011 “Best of the Year” edition. 

TMH Passageway Day (1)

Modern art installations are splashed throughout, including one from surf icon, filmmaker and artist, Herbie Fletcher. Passion Jennison, Marketing and Communications Manager for The Modern, advises, “The Modern traveller is looking for something unique.  They expect the hotel to capture all of their senses and create an experience.”  And that it does.

The Modern Honolulu Room

Choose one of the 353 rooms or suites, all custom designed with the same light, bright color scheme and minimalist design (doubles starting at $279 US). Rooms have oversized windows or terraces offering a view of Waikiki city lights or an ocean and marina view.  Touches like colourful sarongs and teak louvres beautifully tie in the tropical surroundings.

At The Modern there are several restaurants and bars from which to choose, but Iron Chef and James Beard Foundation Award winner, Masaharu Morimoto, steals the show with his Morimoto Waikiki restaurant.  Morimoto does his ubiquitous east meets west thing, while incorporating fresh island ingredients (entrees from $29 to $98 US or try the tasting menu at $120/person and pair it with a saké flight for $30). The contemporary décor with massive lucite hanging boxes containing pieces of coral, live moss, and larger than life painted murals of orchids integrates the natural beauty of Hawaii within the space in an illuminating way.

Suunnittelija Paola Suhonen Los Angelesissa
Suunnittelija Paola Suhonen Los Angelesissa

For a dessert favourite, Morimoto marries classic peanut butter flavours in the Chocolate Peanut Bombe (pictured, $13 US) made with milk chocolate crèmeux and peanut dragée, served with salted peanut ice cream.

The Study at The Modern is the place to go for stellar sips in a laid back atmosphere.  With comfy couches, low tables, and bookshelves scattered around, you might feel like you need to leaf through some pages, but cocktails like Dante`s Inferno and Champagne Haze (cocktails, $13 US), or the Las Vegas style bottle service will remind you, you’re on vacation.  Not ready to go to sleep? Move upstairs to the Addiction Nightclub (voted Honolulu’s best over the past few years) and dance the night away to the beats of A-list DJ’s.

If you’re lucky (of if you’re smart and plan it), you will catch one of the quarterly yoga events Power Yoga Hawaii co-hosts with The Modern.  Originally held in the Addiction Nightclub, a growing number of yogis (200+ now) have forced a change in venue to the ballroom.  Get there early to paint yourself with the luminescent body paints supplied, then head into where the black lights are to participate in the 90-minute class with local teachers leading poses to pulsating beats from a live DJ.

Head up to the second floor to the adults-only Sunset pool (the other pool is the Sunrise pool) and have a seat on the 1500 square foot terrace to catch a panoramic view of the Pacific and the yacht marina below. Any given Friday night, a drink and a bite gets you front-row seats to fireworks from the Hilton Hawaiian Village just down the road.  Fireworks got you all sweaty? Dive into the pool boasting piped-in tunes so you don’t miss a beat even when you’re underwater.

TMH Sunset Pool

But no hotel is an island and you will want to check out what the rest of Oahu has to offer.  With nothing being far away (you can drive around the whole island in a matter of hours), you will find an array of adventure activities to choose from like hiking, biking, or Stand Up Paddling (SUP) classes (the lagoon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village is a good place to start before you hit the open ocean, which takes the difficulty up a notch or two; SUP rental $40 US or $90 for a lesson), and if you’re feeling gutsy, sign up for shark diving for some #extremeadventure.  You won’t want to leave the island without heading over to the rugged North Shore to Climbworks, which has eight world-class dual zip-lines ($169 US) built on a commercial working farm with stunning views of the wild open ocean.  And yoga lovers won’t want to miss the Wanderlust Oahu yoga festival (various price tiers, depending on when you buy your ticket—buy early for discounted prices) which takes place every February at the Turtle Bay Resort.