7 Wonderful Places to Stay in Hawaii With a Unique Ambience

A big thanks to Hawaii resident and travel writer Sunny Fitzgerald for penning this wonderful piece ~ Susan

By Sunny Fitzgerald

Although you’re probably not planning to spend much time indoors while visiting Hawaii, your accommodations will be your home away from home. So rather than opting for a cookie-cutter room in a towering hotel, why not choose unique places to stay in Hawaii with plenty of Hawaiian ho`okipa (hospitality) where you can connect to the local culture and history?

Here are some amazing hotels and other places to stay in Hawaii that are worth a visit or three.

(Looking for things to do? 10 Cool Experiences in Hawaii Learning From a Local.)

A colorful lounge at Kaimana Beach Hotel, Oahu. One of 7 unique places to stay in Hawaii.
Photo: Courtesy of Kaimana Beach Hotel

Kaimana Beach Hotel, Oahu

If you didn’t know any better, you could easily pass right by the recently renovated Kaimana Beach Hotel without giving it a second glance. The unassuming, sand-colored exterior and vintage signage of this nine-story property, located between iconic Diamond Head Crater and Kaimana Beach, don’t immediately grab your attention. But it’s what’s inside that shines — and I’m not just talking about the sunlight streaming in through the open-air lobby. 

Before you’ve even brought both feet and your luggage through the front door, you’ll be feeling the beach house vibe. The decor is bright and inviting, the ho`okipa is warm and unforced, and the smiles are contagious.

You’ll see locally-made art, surfboards, and photos of old Waikiki hung from the walls, marrying past with the present. You’ll find visitors and locals dining beachside on fresh-caught fish at Hau Tree restaurant.

And, like me, you’ll probably find yourself asking for a late check-out or extending your stay because you simply won’t want to leave this little locally-owned and operated oasis on the edge of Waikiki.

Beach view from the Kaimana Beach Hotel in Hawaii, one of 7 places to stay in Hawaii
Photo: Courtesy of Kaimana Beach Hotel

Make the most of your stay by striking a balance between chilled-out experiences and high-energy activities on land and sea. Kick back on your lanai and enjoy the panoramic views of paradise, or grab complimentary beach chairs and head down to the sand. Hike up Diamond Head Crater, or make like the locals and take a jog to the nearby Diamond Head Beach lookout.

A surf lesson with pro surfer Kai Sallas is a must and no transportation is required; the surf break is just a few steps and a short paddle out in front of Kaimana Beach Hotel.

Sustainability initiatives include: No single-use plastics in the restaurant, preservation of the hau tree, tote bags and reusable water bottles available for purchase, Electra Cruisers available for rent so you can bike around the neighborhood rather than drive

Room in the Puu o huko boutique hotel one of 7 cool places to stay in Hawaii

Pu’u O Hoku Ranch, Molokai

Gain an appreciation for aloha `aina (love of the land) when you spend time at Pu’u O Hoku Ranch on the east side of the island of Molokai.

Surrounded by 14,000 acres of protected land, this rustic property set on an organic and biodynamic farm and working ranch make it easy to unplug from the outside world and fully focus on what’s in front of you: pristine ocean and forests, star-filled skies, and endemic and culturally significant plants and wildlife.

Female sitting outside in front of french doors and the entrance to a suite at the Pu’u O Hoku Ranch, Molokai - a very cool place to stay in Hawaii
Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Spend some time wandering the black sand beach, snorkel at the nearby white sand beach, or take a refreshing dip in a waterfall. No need to leave this idyllic place for meals; you can request local produce and fresh beef or venison delivered to your adorable Hawaiian ranch-style cottage.

Sustainability initiatives include: conservation efforts to keep the coastline plastic-free, protect the endangered Nene Goose, and grow native plants around the lodge and in Kanaloa’s Garden. Try these fun things to do in Molokai when you visit!

View of one of the balconies with a hammock at the O' Louina (The Longhouse), Kauai
Photo: Courtesy of O’ Louina (The Longhouse), Kauai

O’ Luina (The Longhouse), Kauai 

To escape to this eco-luxury bungalow in the hills of Kalaheo on Kauai’s southern shore, you’ll only need to travel a few miles from popular Poipu town. But when you arrive, you’ll feel worlds away. 

Although the decor is primarily Asian-influenced and inspired by the owners’ travels, the property is built into the hill and designed to exist in harmony with the environment, allowing Kauai’s natural beauty to take center stage.

So, whether you are lounging in the lanai hammock above the treetops, rinsing in the outdoor shower, or soaking in the stone-crushed tub, the open plan creates minimal barriers between you and your surroundings, inviting you to slow down, tune into your senses, and connect.

View of a large full tub next to a beautiful window at the aO' Louina (The Longhouse), Kauai. One of 7 unique places to stay in Hawaii
Photo: courtesy of O’ Luina (The Longhouse), Kauai

And while you’ll be the only guest during your stay at Ka Hale O Luina, you likely won’t be alone. Local wildlife loves this serene space, too. Keep an eye out for the endemic pueo (a subspecies of short-eared owl that, unlike most owls, is active during the daytime) that can sometimes be seen soaring above while you take a sunset swim in the 30-foot saltwater pool. 

Sustainability initiatives include: Efforts to minimize impact such as preserving the original 100-year old kiawe pasture posts, wabi-sabi approach to garden, cultivating and protecting native species of plants including kukui nut, native palms, and ohia trees

View of the bar at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, Oahu - a very cool place to stay in Hawaii
Photo courtesy of Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, Oahu

Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, Oahu

A stay at The Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club will have you feeling the vintage Hawaii vibes. Locally crafted art compliments the retro, mid-century design, and poolside activities, such as the silent disco, showcase the playful, quirky character of this boutique hotel, located just a couple of blocks from the beach. Feast on locally-sourced fare at on-site restaurant Mahina & Sun’s while enjoying live local music in the evenings. 

Sustainability initiatives include: Complimentary reef-safe Raw Elements sunscreen dispenser, no plastic bottled water, no styrofoam or single-use plastic at Mahina & Sun’s and Chef Ed Kenney’s “local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always” ethos.

Volcano House Hotel in Volcanoes National Park
Volcano House Hotel in Volcanoes National Park | Photo: Volcano House Hotel

Volcano House, Island of Hawaii

Book a stay at Volcano House and live life on the edge — of an active volcano. The restored historic property is located on the rim of Kilauea, an active shield volcano, UNESCO Heritage Site, and home of the Hawaiian goddess Pele.  

Whether or not lava is flowing while you are here, the mana (energy) in Volcanoes National Park is undeniable and the views of Halemaumau crater from Volcano House are incomparable. 

Volcano House Hotel in Volcanoes National Park- a unique place to stay in Hawaii
Overlook at Volcano House Hotel | Photo: Volcano House Hotel

As the only hotel in Volcanoes National Park, Volcano House offers an unparalleled opportunity to sleep alongside one of nature’s most powerful creations.

Guestrooms are quaint and comfortable, but if you’re feeling adventurous and seeking something a bit more rustic, Volcano House can help you arrange a cabin or camp (tents are available for rent) in a nearby eucalyptus grove. 

Sustainability initiatives include: Environmental Management System certification, locally-sourced foods, artisan-made products, recycling program, and bicycles available to borrow.

Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oahu - a very cool place to stay in Hawaii
Photo: Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oahu

Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oahu

Waikiki was once the playground of Hawaii’s ali’i (royalty), and you can still get a bit of that royal treatment and connect with some local history with a stay at Royal Hawaiian Hotel

The “Pink Palace” and its surrounding gardens occupy the space where King Kamehameha I had a home and where Queen Kaahumanu had a summer palace. Built in 1927, the Royal Hawaiian still retains the original Spanish-Moorish style — a reflection of the times and a nod to the elevated hospitality expected by guests of the ali’i. 

Walk the halls and grounds with a local guide on a historical tour (Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1 PM), then melt your worries away with a lomi lomi massage in the tropical garden. In the evening, follow the sound of the ukulele or the slack-key guitar out to the beachfront Mai Tai Bar where you’ll find live music daily from 6-9 PM. 

Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oahu
Photo: Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Oahu

Arrive in time for sunset and you might be lucky enough to catch the last rays of the day painting Diamond Head pretty in pink too. And if you get the feeling that everyone here knows someone it’s because they do; locals and repeat visitors return to this cheerful spot again and again — not just for the signature mai tais made with fresh pineapple juice and Old Lahaina rum, but for the genuine aloha and laughter shared here. 

Sustainability initiatives include: energy efficient appliances, rooftop solar thermal system, LEED Gold certification, one of the first locations in the state to install electric vehicle charging stations, and partnership with the Malama Hawaii program and Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative to arrange reforestation experiences for guests

An wide-angle view of the property of theKaanapali Beach Hotel, Maui
Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Maui | Photo: Ka’anapali Beach Hotel

Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Maui

If you’ve always wanted an extended ohana, here’s your chance. From the moment you arrive at Kaanapali Beach Hotel, named “Most Hawaiian Hotel” by the Waiaha Foundation, you’ll be treated as if you are already family and you’ve just come home… you know if your home were a beachside property located on 11 acres of tropical gardens. 

The team takes their commitment to sharing culture and history seriously; they have a staff of full-time Hawiian cultural advisors, and you will see Hawaiian culture woven into every aspect of the experience here — from the Hawaiian artifacts and handcrafted decor to the complimentary Hawaiian language, hula, and ukulele lessons. And, of course, you can learn more about the islands through your taste buds as well.

The on-site gardens and Tiki Terrace restaurant showcase important local ingredients such as taro and sweet potatoes. 

If you decide to visit Maui, here are some fun things you don’t want to miss!

Kaanapali Beach Hotel, Maui | Photo: Murphy O'Brien
Photo: Murphy O’Brien

While you won’t be eager to leave, the kukui lei ceremony on your day of departure is a lovely send off and reminder that your new ohana will be ready to welcome you back. In Hawaii, it’s never goodbye. It’s “A hui hou” (until we meet again).

Sustainability initiatives include: Recyclable and biodegradable straws and to-go containers, a recycling program, rooftop solar panels, reusable water bottle refill stations, and native vegetation planted on-site.

Sunny Fitzgerald is a Hawaii-based writer covering travel, sustainability, culture, health, wellness, and more. You can find her work in National Geographic, The Washington Post, Travel+Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, BBC, and elsewhere. 

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