Kahala Hotel & Resort
During its half century in Honolulu, the classic Kahala Hotel & Resort has hosted movie stars and moguls, presidents and princes, royals and rockers. From Mick Jagger to the Dalai Lama, from Presidents Nixon to Obama, the famous (and infamous) have enjoyed a bit of down time along the shore in the shadow of Diamond Head. To celebrate its 50th Anniversary Golden Jubilee Year, this iconic symbol of Hawaiian hospitality is returning to its mid-century roots.
Built by local developer Charles Pietsch and hotelier Conrad Hilton in 1964, the resort’s modernist architecture reflected the space age optimism of the day. Iconic chandeliers, each weighing more than a ton, crown the 30-foot-high lobby, and glitter with more than 26,000 pieces of colored glass inspired by beach glass found on Hawaii’s shores.
An enduring tradition is afternoon tea in The Veranda, where one can sample such local sweets as the Blue Hawaii Macaroon, Kahala Coconut Cake, and Mai Tai Tart. In the evening, sip classic cocktails, from the Scorpion to the Hawaiian Cooler, in the Maile Lounge. At Hoku’s, executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi is putting his own twist on dishes that were popular back in the day: Oysters Rockefeller Tempura, Beef Short Rib Consomme, Tournedos Rossini. Also delicious, the wok-fried whole fish (that looked as if it could swallow an army.) In the Plumeria Beach House, the bountiful breakfast buffet includes Kahala specialties: Portuguese deep-fried donuts dusted with sugar and thin, rolled pancakes smothered with maple butter.
To kick off its 50th anniversary, the Kahala revived the Hukilau (derived from “huki” meaning pull and “lau” for leaves), a traditional way of fishing. Friends and family cast nets from the shore, all sharing in the catch. Also an occasion for Hawaiian music, hula dancing, and feasting, the Hukilau featured a buffet of fresh island fish, Kalua pig, Pulehu beef with grilled Maui onions, and a delicate salad of Pohole fern shoots (among many others.) For dessert: Okinawan sweet potato tart, macadamia nut brownies, and mango mousse cake. Throughout its Golden Jubilee year, the Kahala is celebrating with monthly beachside barbecues, clam bakes, and wine dinners.
For exercise, be sure to experience sunrise SUP (stand up paddleboard) yoga. Anchored in shallow water, the boards serve as yoga mats, while instructors lead you through a series of poses. (If not balanced, you could take an unexpected dip in the sea.) While spa treatments are nothing new for resorts, the Kahala’s lomilomi massage, truly, is transcendental. Meaning “to blend,” this vigorous Hawaiian rub and scrub combines flower essences and organic oils to release tension and stress. Warm stones, a “foot ritual,” and scalp massage turn your body into butter and, just as important, clear your mind.
For exploring close by, the KCC Farmer’s Market has dozens of booths offering fresh fruit, flowers, and local fare including Hawaiian honey and hibiscus, papaya and sea asparagus, fried green tomatoes and fresh ahi poke. Try the Pho French Dip at the Pig & the Lady booth. Or hit the Paradise Drive-In, where the locals line up six deep for hearty take-out, including the “Loco Moco Plate” — two scoops of rice topped with hamburger patties, eggs and gravy. Hike nearby Diamond Head, or explore the beautiful Manoa Falls Trail that winds through a lush rain forest. The bustling beaches and shops of Waikiki are also within an easy drive. But if those diversions are just too much effort, retreat to the Kahala, the classic Hawaiian hideaway, where for a time, at least, time stands still. (800.367.2525, www.kahalaresort.com) Andrea Naversen