What’s New On Oahu – From Waikiki to Wai Kai, Recommendations for Every Kind of Traveler

by Amanda Eyre Ward on August 3, 2023 in Travels,

The island of Oahu, Hawaii, is many things at the same time: a sun-drenched paradise, a multicultural city bursting with art and innovative cuisine, a cheezy tourist trap…and most importantly for Texans, a place you can reach via direct flights. My children go to camp on the North Shore, and I have spent the last few summers writing from rentals around the island. (My next novel, Lovers & Liars, is set in a British castle…but after that, I’m dreaming of a novel set in Hawaii.) Yet every time I visit, I see new facets of the most populated Hawaiian island.


Waikiki Beach is known around the world for its clear blue waters, bright sand, and waves just right for beginning and advanced surfers. Photo courtesy The Twin Fin Hotel.

This year, I visited two reimagined properties in Waikiki, the busy, waterfront section of Honolulu where locals bike to the beach after work with a surfboard under one arm; tourists (like me) laze blissfully on the sand; and the food runs the gamut from the highest, high end delicacies to my daughter’s favorite meal in the world: a veggie dog from the Hula Dog truck, located in a dingy parking lot behind fancy resorts. No matter what kind of traveler you are, read on for my recommendations.


At La Bettola Waikiki, you can enjoy watching fish swim in a tableside aquarium. Courtesy photo.

For those with a more sophisticated palette than my veggie dog girl, you’ll want to make a reservation at La Bettola Waikiki, the first and only restaurant outside of Japan spearheaded by world-renowned Chef Tsutomu Ochiai. My husband and I were able to get a sneak peek into the stunning space, which is anchored by a 280,000-gallon, two-story saltwater Oceanarium teeming with marine life. We tried Spaghetti ai Riccio di Mare, pasta flavored with local sea urchin, and it was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted—in a good way! (I also highly recommend the Macadamia Tiramisu!)

Another favorite—a must-try at sunset—is the glam Hau Tree Restaurant, where I feasted on hamachi crudo and squid ink campanelle as the sun set over my favorite stretch of Waikiki Beach.


Take in a glorious view of Diamond Head mountain from your room. Photo courtesy ‘Alohilani Resort.

‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach is a newly transformed, upscale hotel located in the heart of Waikiki. Soaring, bright interiors feature rich Hawaiian cultural touches. I loved the 17,000-square foot seascape pool deck with cabanas and rooftop fitness experience Fit Waikiki, which offers sunset yoga, batting cages, and tennis courts. Drip Hawaii, Waikiki’s first IV lounge and med spa, is a new feature of the ‘Alohilani. I had an insane plate of poke nachos and a divine ginger mocktail at the vibrant and elegant SWELL Restaurant and Pool Bar.

Swell Pool & Bar at the ‘Alohilani serves fresh and delicious poolside treats. Photo courtesy ‘Alohilani Resort.


Surfers and those who want to learn to surf will love the hip vibe at The Twin Fin Hotel, a sleek beachfront property that is rapidly becoming a hub for discovering local music, art and a lasting connection with the local community. Accented with hints of midcentury modern design, the updated guest rooms and suites feature a contemporary aesthetic that celebrates the energy and attitude of modern surf culture, with a playful nod to the timeless charm of surfing’s past.

It’s easy to catch the waves or just watch them roll in when you stay at an oceanfront hotel. Photo courtesy The Twin Fin Hotel.

Fun aspects of the Twin Fin include access to Surfline, which streams real-time surf conditions throughout the hotel and in-room, and an emphasis on sustainability, from its free beach rentals to its partnership with Parley for Oceans to help protect Hawaii’s treasured beaches. It’s even the first resort in Hawaii to carry Mananalu’s aluminum water bottles, saving more than 200,000 plastic bottles from going in the ocean.


Surfers of all levels get their shred on at The LineUp at Wai Kai. Courtesy photo.

The newest, out-of-Honolulu attraction is Wai Kai, a new surf-centric activity hub in Ewa Beach. The LineUp at Wai Kai includes Hawaii’s first deep-water standing wave, a 52-acre lagoon for water sports, three amazing restaurants, and its version of a luau with live performers surfing. Wai Kai is the perfect day trip excursion for active travelers visiting Oahu, and the wave offers an unrivaled experience for surfers of all levels from beginner to pro, and hands-on instruction is available from the sport’s best (like partner Shane Beschen, former world No. 2 ranked surfer and X-Games Champion). 


Waikiki comes to life after dark. Photo courtesy The Twin Fin Hotel.


After-dark experiences light up the night in Waikiki, from my new favorite shop, Beachside Luxe (where a henna artist was in residence), to sipping a cold drink and creating my own artwork with Paint Paina. I will treasure my painting of the Waikiki waterfront, and gaze at it longingly when my Hawaiian vacation is over, and I am dreaming of my return.


Cover photo courtesy The Twin Fin Hotel

Amanda Eyre Ward loves to travel and write about food, design, and architecture. She has been published in the New York Times, Travel + Leisure magazine, Texas Monthly magazine, Garden & Gun magazine, PaperCity magazine, the Austin American Statesman, and many others.