Exploring West O'ahu: Where to Eat, Stay, and Get Pampered
Far beyond the hustle of Waikiki lies the little town of Ko Olina. This lesser known island oasis—with two mega resorts, white sand, and turquoise waters—is the perfect place to get in an aloha state of mind.
The brand-new Four Seasons O‘ahu at Ko Olina opened in 2017 after a $250 million overhaul. The property has 370 rooms and suites, panoramic ocean views, and a white, airy design with colorful work by local artists, surrounded by tropical landscapes, waterfalls, and koi ponds. The service is impeccable and immediate. Even the sunscreen is five-star (they have Sun Bum on tap at all the pools). Room rates start at $625 per night.
Right next door stands Aulani. The Disney resort and spa is a few years older than its neighbor, but what it may lack in brand-new luxury, it makes up for in imagination and family fun. If you’re traveling with your keiki, the five waterslides, 900-foot-long lazy river, and O‘ahu’s only private snorkeling lagoon in Waikolohe Valley will keep the little ones entertained for days on end. The property was thoughtfully designed by Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, who paid careful attention to the cultural details. It also houses one of the world’s largest collections of contemporary Native Hawaiian art. Aulani’s spacious one-, two-, and three-bedroom villas have kitchens, which make traveling with families easier and more affordable. There’s also a Costco less than 10 minutes away in the nearby town of Kapolei. Room rates start at $484.
Food + Drink
Dining options are limited to the resorts and a little shopping center across the street. The newest restaurant is Mina’s Fish House, which reopened at the Four Seasons last month under the direction of award-winning chef Michael Mina, following the success of his new concept in Waikiki, The Street. Standouts of the seafood-centric menu include the Louie salad, seared Hawaiian snapper, and poke—done right, without all the mainland fuss. Also at the Four Seasons is the Southern Italian restaurant Noe. All the pasta is made in-house. Try the baked paccheri, described as a deconstructed lasagna.
Equally decadent is the famed Sunday brunch at La Hiki Kitchen, rumored to be the best on the island, with poke and seafood stations, a DIY bloody mary bar, and more. On Friday to Tuesday from 5 to 6 p.m., La Hiki also offers a Shake It Up happy hour with a $20 hamburger and milkshake special. At the shopping center across the street, the casual Monkeypod Kitchen offers craft beer on tap, regional Hawaiian cuisine, and nightly live music.
The Four Seasons’ 35,000-square-foot Naupaka Spa uses Ola Tropical Apothecary products that are handmade in Hawai‘i with local natural ingredients. Indulge in the 110-minute No Ka ‘Oi (“the best”), which combines a sugar scrub, coconut oil wrap, hair and scalp treatment, and lomilomi massage.
At Aulani, Laniwai is the only spa in the world designed by a Disney Imagineer, featuring Kula Wai, a 5,000-square-foot hydrotherapy garden with vitality baths, soaking tubs, and six waterfall rain showers designed to boost the immune system and increase circulation. The signature lomilomi massage is outstanding, with great care taken to ensure a relaxing and truly Hawaiian experience.
From stand-up paddleboarding to kayaking to boat charters, water activities abound at the white sandy beach shared by the two resorts. The protected cove has calm water, which means no surfing, but it’s perfect for younger children. Guests can also easily walk to one of the less-trafficked turquoise lagoons nearby, ideal for sea turtle sightings and snorkeling. The Four Seasons has three pools: a serenity, a family, and an adults-only infinity-edge. The latter faces west and is “the” place to be during sunset, offering deluxe cabanas for rent that come with a high-roller suite of amenities. Find the perfect outfit for a dip or dinner at the resort’s designer boutique Caprice, which boasts two Missoni-fabric dressing rooms.
One of the resort’s more unique elements is its #FSWayfinders series, which allows guests to experience the ancient arts and culture of Hawai‘i, Four Seasons–style. These are not the hokey hula lessons held at other hotels. They are authentic, intimate experiences. Favorites include Ni‘ihau jewelry making with Ha‘aheo Hawaiian Crafts, hula lessons with the award-winning La’akea Perry, and weaving workshop with lauhala artisan Aloma Wang—who makes woven bracelets and clutches stylish enough for everyday wear on the mainland. While most experiences are free, some classes, like jewelry making, require a small fee.
At Aulani, it’s all about the pool, but there are also character sightings and interactions, including fireside story time with Disney’s newest super-popular princess, Moana. The property’s Ka Wa‘a luau takes guests on a journey through Hawaiian history, with incredible dancing, music, and food.
Both resorts offer free childcare programs for ages three and up. At Aulani, Aunty’s Beach House has closets full of princess dresses, an arsenal of Disney movies, and a playground. At Four Seasons, the Kids For All Seasons program offers canoe lessons, kid yoga, and more. Although it may seem weird to schlep the littles all the way to Hawai‘i and then drop them off with strangers, these programs can be a lifesaver for parents who prefer to dine without the screaming, spaghetti-flinging, and excessive electronics usage.