By Rosemary McClure
October 20, 2013
HONOLULU — As the afternoon turned to early evening, I glanced out my hotel window, hoping for a glimpse of the legendary Waikiki sunset. I watched as the sun bathed the hills and hotels of the city in liquid gold before slipping into the Pacific in an orange and red explosion of color.
I couldn't have asked for a better welcome to one of the world's most popular vacation destinations. Especially because I was paying only $89 a night for this view.
Waikiki — where $1,200-a-night hotel rooms are commonplace — is considered unaffordable by many people. But you don't have to max out your credit cards to enjoy this tropical paradise.
We unearthed seven hotels with rates of less than $200 a night — some are even chic little boutiques with surprising amenities and top-end technology — and 10 deliciously inexpensive restaurants where you can eat for $20 a person or less.
Maile Sky Court Hotel
If you're on a tight budget and care more about exploring Oahu than hanging out in a hotel room, Maile Sky Court has a lot to offer. Yes, there are TVs; no, they're not flat screen. Yes, it's in a 44-story Waikiki high-rise; no, it's not on the beach (it's a 15-minute walk). But it's clean, has decent beds and very low prices. Doubles from $89 a night.
2058 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu; (866) 536-7974, http://www.mailesky.com
Aqua Palms Waikiki
This budget hotel has a winning combination: close to the beach, nice amenities, super-low price. With doubles starting at $109, Aqua Palms gives guests a lot for their money. The hotel, next to the Hilton Hawaiian Village, has flat-screen TVs, a fitness center, a small pool and outdoor patio, lanais, free Wi-Fi, mini-fridges and microwaves. The Hawaiian-print décor and rattan furnishings are a bit worn in some rooms, but are being replaced, I've been told.
1850 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu; (866) 970-4165, http://www.aquapalms.com
Vive Hotel Waikiki
Waikiki's newest hotel opened in July, meaning guests can count on a fresh look and new furniture. Also, Vive (rhymes with "five") has had time to work out the kinks, but prices are still low because few people realize it's here. Rooms are small, but the style is contemporary, fun and funky, with a coastal, big-city look. Among the amenities are 37-inch flat-screen TVs and free wireless. Double rates from $149 a night.
2426 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu; (866) 758-4062, http://www.vivehotelwaikiki.com
Waikiki's Shoreline Hotel is where 1970s style meets 2013 technology. This boutique hotel opened in April after a major renovation, so everything is new. It has a minimalist look in a '70s tropical-modernist building. In addition, the hotel has mini lanais, free wireless, iPhone docks, flat-screen TVs, microwaves and fridges. The beach is less than two blocks away. $156-a-night opening special.
342 Seaside Ave., Honolulu; (800) 738-7477, http://www.lat.ms/1932NN2
A spacious, cheerful lobby greets guests at this 10-story building on the banks of the Ala Wai Canal. Coconut-flavored M&Ms, free for the taking, are on the front counter. The rooms are even better at this charmer, with lime-green walls and furniture, 32-inch flat-screen TVs, boutique linens and thoughtful touches such as sterilized remotes, lots of electrical outlets and free wireless. Two small pools and an outdoor patio round out the amenities. Rates start at $159 a night.
450 Lewers St., Honolulu; (800) 738-7477, http://www.coconutwaikikihotel.com
To many people, Hawaii means blue skies, tropical flowers and surfers riding the perfect wave. They expect Waikiki hotels to reflect this sunny look. Not so at Hotel Renew, which caters to a younger crowd; it has an urban feel with lots of black, white and gray. This 72-room Aston hotel has a small lobby with a bar and rooms that sport 32-inch flat-screen TVs and free wireless. Doubles start at $179 a night.
129 Paoakalani Ave., Honolulu; (877) 997-6667, http://www.astonhotels.com
This mega-hotel has some great perks: It's beachfront, offers continental breakfast, has a pool and fitness center and sports a modern Hawaiian look. But it's a giant hotel with 645 rooms, so if you hate long hallways and crowded elevators, it might not be for you. Also, it's at the high end of our scale, with doubles starting at $189.
2570 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; (877) 997-6667, http://www.astonhotels.com.
(Hotel rates change frequently, so those listed here might be not available for dates you wish to travel. But you can still use these rates for comparison. And when you book, ask whether there are resort fees or other charges. Also, try to avoid renting a car overnight, as parking fees range from $25 to $40 a day.)
Wailana Coffee House
Famished at 3 a.m.? Wailana Coffee House has a hot meal waiting for you. This Waikiki old-timer is a staple with locals, who have been fans for more than 60 years. The family-owned cafe, open 24 hours a day, serves breakfast, sandwiches, salads and noodle dishes. Try the all-you-can-eat pancake special with eggs and bacon, $6.65.
1860 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu; (808) 955-1764
The line outside this 2-year-old Japanese fast-food restaurant may be daunting, but it moves fast, and once you taste the fresh noodles, you'll be glad you persisted. Order regular or large bowls of fat udon noodles, a Japanese favorite, then add tempura as a side dish. Prices range from $3.75 to $6.25. Try curry udon, a local favorite, $5.25 for a regular bowl.
2310 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu; (808) 931-6000, http://www.facebook.com/marukameudon
Teddy's Bigger Burgers
This lively fast-food restaurant claims to be reinventing the burger joint. Whatever it's doing is working. Patrons say it's the best burger they've ever tasted. Teddy's has 10 outlets throughout Hawaii and is growing by leaps and bounds. Burgers come in three sizes — 5, 7 and 9 ounces — and are made with 100% chuck, with no fillers or binders. Prices start at $5.59.
134 Kapahulu Ave., Honolulu; (808) 926-3444, http://www.teddysbiggerburgers.com
Tucker & Bevvy
Life's a picnic for the owners of the Tucker & Bevvy sandwich shop. "We want to feed the beach," said Cecily Sargent, who opened the lunch shop last summer with her husband, Tony. Based on a formula they developed in Australia (the name is Aussie slang for food and beverage), the cafe offers fresh, inexpensive salads, sandwiches, breakfast items and beverages. Try the veggie stack with pesto, $8.
2586 Kalakaua Ave.; (808) 922-0099
Diamond Head Market & Grill
Don't leave without tasting a plate lunch, a quintessential Hawaiian experience made up of dishes from the state's various ethnic groups. At the Diamond Head Market & Grill, you can pick up a plate lunch, gourmet takeout, deli foods or fresh-from-the-oven blueberry and cream-cheese scones ($2.40). Grill items from $5.25 to $16.75.
3158 Monsarrat Ave., Honolulu; (808) 732-0077, http://www.diamondheadmarket.com
Heading to Chinatown to shop or sightsee? A fun choice for lunch is Lucky Belly, a hip urban eatery that serves familiar noodle dishes with a modern twist. "We want things to seem familiar to local Asians, but with a new approach," said co-owner Jesse Cruz. Try the Belly Bowl, $12, with pork belly, smoked bacon and sausage.
50 N. Hotel St., Honolulu; (808) 531-1888, http://www.luckybelly.com
Nico's Pier 38
When last I visited this dockside dive north of Honolulu, it was exactly that: a hole in the wall. But Nico's great Hawaiian flavors have made it so popular that a new restaurant has appeared, plus a large seafood market that has plenty of inviting take-home dishes. Try the chicken katsu, $9.40 or furikake pan-seared ahi, $12.95. (Prices slightly higher at dinner.)
1129 N. Nimitz Highway, Honolulu; (808) 540-1377, http://www.nicospier38.com
Il Lupino Trattoria & Wine Bar
Don't limit yourself to fast food to save money; just find an upscale restaurant with a bountiful happy hour. Il Lupino, a trendy trattoria in the chic Royal Hawaiian Center, specializes in old-world Italian food. During happy hour, 4-6:30 p.m. daily, you can dine by candlelight and pay $7 for any one of five entrees or appetizers. Add house wine, $5, or beer, $4. Try the polpettone al pomodoro (giant saucy meatballs) or pizza.
Royal Hawaiian Center, 2233 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; (808) 922-3400, http://www.illupino.com
Chart House Waikiki
Listen to live Hawaiian music as you watch the sun set over the yacht harbor at Chart House Waikiki, a favorite with visitors and locals alike for more than 40 years. Dinner prices are beyond our reach, so be sure to arrive during happy hour (daily until 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. until closing.). Try the ahi wontons, $9.50.
1765 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu; (808) 941-6669, http://www.charthousehawaii.com
You can score awesome cheddar cheese and mac here, but the name actually means Modern American Cooking, served 24/7. The restaurant, in the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio Hotel, offers an eclectic menu in an urban-cool environment. Try the plate-sized pancakes, $12-$14.
2500 Kuhio Ave., Honolulu; (808) 921-5564, http://www.mac247waikiki.com
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