To Oahu, with Love: Part 1 The Kahala Hotel + Resort

By Leslie Westbrook   |   July 9, 2024
Lay by the pool while staring out at the ocean (photo by Leslie A. Westbrook)

I traveled to the Hawaiian Islands for eight nights and visited four hotels this past spring for three reasons:

1. To see my dear friend of half a century – the amazing octogenarian artist, Dr. Masami Teraoka and his family who live on the island of Oahu, while reporting on my tourism stops.

2. To give Maui some love after the devastating Lahaina fire.

3. To give ME some love… on the island of Lanai.

The Veranda at the Kahala Hotel and Resort (photo by Leslie A. Westbrook)

My first two nights were happily spent at the lovely, elegant Kahala Hotel and Resort, highly visited by numerous luminaries over the years. The mid-century building, opened in 1964 in Oahu’s tony Kahala neighborhood (the Montecito of the state’s capital), was photographed at the time by noted architectural photographer Julius Shulman. His black and white photos line a wall of images of guests over the decades ranging from royalty (Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana), politicians (Senator-turned-President/Oahu native Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even Richard “Tricky Dick” Nixon) to actors Adam Sandler, Sammy Davis Jr., George Clooney and our town’s very own Carol Burnett and Kenny Loggins

The hotel’s original sea glass chandeliers and light fixtures in the lobby are stunning. At the open air Veranda restaurant, just off the lobby, singer/guitarist Johnny Valentine (aka “Bruno Mars’ uncle”) crooned standards from “The Girl From Ipanema” (Montecito’s Norman Gimbel, 1927-2018, penned the English lyrics) to “Moon River” while I visited with the resort’s super welcoming sales director Brian Lynx who, over white wine and smoked Kona fish rillette, clearly expressed his love of this property (rightly so). Lynx has spent many years working in the travel industry in the islands, including a stint at Hawaii’s Tourism Authority, but has found his métier. The congenial native of Yorkshire, England, alerted me to a decline in tourism dollars across the islands, especially from Japanese and Australian tourists, due to foreign currency’s weakness against the U.S. dollar. This makes this a great time to travel to the islands, with flight prices (at least at the time of this writing) across the board being super reasonable.

I was exhausted from my long travel day, but my elegantly decorated oceanfront room provided calm and lovely yellow silk curtains covering the sliding glass doors that opened to a stretch of lawn rolling down to the Pacific Ocean. What writer doesn’t love a room with a mahogany writing desk and hotel stationery? I soaked in the elegant bathroom’s deep tub (there’s also a walk-in shower), unpacked for my too-short two-night stay, and settled in for a comfortable night’s sleep. 

I woke up early due to the three-hour time difference, and ordered 6:30 am room service breakfast – papaya (my “go to” when in the islands), fresh muffins, a healthy green drink called Ōma’oma’o in anticipation of my 9 am Dolphin Quest adventure – nose-to-nose/cheek-to-jowl encounters in the hotel’s dolphin pond!

Coastline Car Cruise

The next morning, the short drive to Waimānalo was a gorgeous one, and my new friends – art book publishers Susan Chun, head of publishing at LACMA who was my seatmate on the LAX flight, and her congenial husband Johan – offered to drive me to visit my dear friend Masami. They pointed out sites along the way, including former President/Oahu native Barack Obama’s house set on the beach. We toured Masami’s study and enjoyed delicious “to go” plate lunches in the garden. (I had ono, one of my fav Hawaiian fish.) The afternoon drive back to the hotel was equally stunning – and educational – with Oahu native Susan sharing generational family history on the islands.

Kudos to Chef Jonathon Mizukami

A taste of the sea at Kahala’s restaurant, Hoku (photo by Leslie A. Westbrook)

Back at the hotel, dinner at the resort’s upscale dining room Hoku exceeded expectations. A double rainbow through the windows in the air-conditioned dining room with Pacific views through swaying palm trees greeted me and my longtime friend/local artist Lynda Hess. And I was happy to hear jazz piped through the speakers. We ordered the seven-course fixed menu and the four-course (with choices), so we could try – and share – a variety of exquisitely prepared dishes, including a great kick off amuse-bouche of ahi in crispy seaweed accompanied by vichyssoise. I did not indulge in the wine pairing (which I’m certain was stellar) but enjoyed a lovely Sancerre with mainly seafood choices. We did gobble up fab desserts – a special chocolate molten cake created in honor of the hotel’s 60th anniversary and a reconstructed “banana cream pie.” 

Early rain and an early 6:30 am buffet breakfast at the Veranda, I went Japanese style: grilled fish, miso, soba noodles, green salad, my obligatory papaya and some heavenly lilikoi juice. Prime rib, custom omelets, pastries galore, and other temptations are also on display. A massage a bit later at the spa on Sunday morning (my kind of church) from Sean, perhaps the best masseur on Oahu, if not all the islands topped off my stay.

The Kahala manages to be classy, elegant, and traditional, but with a comfortably hip mid-century vibe set in an upscale neighborhood that offers tranquility and some of the best ohana on the island. 

I bid a sad farewell to many of the wonderful staff who exude the aloha spirit as it was time to move on to wacky Waikiki – for another two nights of my Oahu explorations.

Sumptuous Digs

The Kahala Hotel and Resort:thisfive-star resort, celebrating its 60-year anniversary located on the quiet side of Diamond Head, features superb service and a free shuttle to shopping malls, in a lovely setting and with top-notch accommodations and dining experiences. Dolphin Quest and Italian restaurant Arancino are independent businesses within the hotel that also hosts 350 weddings annually. 

Getting There

United Airlines First Class: I used airmiles on United Airlines on my LAX-Honolulu flight and upgraded to uber comfortable First Class thanks to a $250 airline credit for a flight I never boarded last year from SBA to New York that was cancelled five times over two days! Seats were comfy, the food was actually very good: a cauliflower entrée, tasty salad, and a roll that did NOT resemble a hockey puck and was soft as a pillow. However, my luggage arrived damaged – look for a full luggage report in a future column.

Santa Barbara Airbus: The smart way to travel to LAX ($110 round trip) and we all loved our delightful driver Walter. Phone agents are also extremely helpful. Visit or (805) 964-7759.  


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