Waikiki is hard to describe. There’s a feeling that one is alternately wandering through an episode of Hawaii 5-0 and the Dole Tiki room at Disney; in South Beach; surrounded by Japanese tourists. The hotels generally support that (alternate) reality. There’s a theme, a copious amount of ‘local’ color, and of, course, the beach. If you just need a Mai Tai and a fire dance, you have plenty of options. If you’d like something a little more laid back and sophisticated, The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club is the place to be.
Local Fashion designers, DJ’s, and filmmakers have made the Surfjack a creative hotspot in an otherwise kitschy and predictable tourist destination. Kevin Serai of Cool Hunting noted that “This community co-sign is largely due to the fact that so many locals actually had a hand in building the Surfjack’s vintage vibe. Honolulu-based design studio The Vanguard Theory—who took the lead on the hotel’s public spaces—called in over a dozen island artists to help gut-renovate and redesign Hokele Suites: a budget hotel originally built in the ’60s.
Inspired by the existing structure’s mid-century modern architecture, their objective was to reimagine old Waikiki (think slack key guitars, Duke Kahanamoku, and a pastel-hued VW Bus hoisting a longboard) through the lens of these modern creatives. “We wanted to share with visitors an authentic story about Honolulu.”
This mix of past and present is felt in all the details. Matthew Tapia’s “Wish you were here!” mosaic gracing the swimming pool floor is reminiscent of old postcard messages. The shaka wallpaper in the downstairs restaurant Mahina and Sun’s is a tropical, art deco-like design by Andrew Mau.
For the guest rooms, Los Angeles-based interior designers Studio Collective went for a laid-back beach house feel. Wooden art panels and framed vintage postcards line the walls while archival prints from O’ahu-based aloha wear company Tori Richards dress the bedroom headboards.” Beyond design, the rooms were chic, well-appointed and spotlessly maintained. We were welcomed with a basket of local goodies, which was appreciated. Our ‘bungalow’ was a bit snug, so you might check into larger room options, they have a variety.
The local vibe can also be felt in the hotel’s restaurant, Mahina and Sun’s, helmed by four-time James Beard Award nominee, Ed Kinney. The focus here is “local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always”. The menu changes with availability, and, as the only restaurant on O‘ahu certified by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, it only offers sustainably caught or farmed fish.
The restaurant offers all meals and a wide selection of pupus which can be enjoyed poolside in the cabanas. We tried the avocado tacos ($10) with hot shishito peppers and pickled red onions, Shinsato Farm pork pâté ($11) with sweet-spicy mango mostarda to spread on buttered pao doce, and beignets ($9) with chèvre, beet ketchup and arugula. The chèvre was notably from Sweet Land Farm in Waialua, the only certified goat dairy farm on O‘ahu.
If you’re around from 6-9, there’s an adult-only swim session / cocktail party. The evening we were there, there was a singer and guitarist playing mellow Hawaiian tunes. Other evenings we saw film screenings scheduled, artist lectures, a trunk show and even a rooftop Pilates session. Casea Collins-Wright, the Surfjack’s Director of Experience, told CH. “The goal of developing these offerings and experiences is to elevate our local creative community, support important movements, and to bring in creators from around the world to experience Hawai’i,”
You can book your stay at The Surfjack Hotel and Swim Club through Best Coast Surf and save 30% off travel and accommodations via our partnership with Expedia.com.
Check out Identity Designed for an enlightening look at the brand development of the Surfjack.