Calvinist missionaries from Europe nearly wiped out surfing in the 19th century, when they forced Hawaiian natives, who were the sport’s primary practitioners at the time, to desist from such hedonistic pursuits. A small group of Hawaiians, however, continued the island tradition covertly. The surfers eventually migrated to the turquoise swells of Waikiki Beach, where, in the early 1900s, Duke Kahanamoku and other wave riders revived the pastime, which soon spread like the gospel to the American mainland and beyond.
Nearly a century after Hawaiians reclaimed the ocean from Europeans–whose own surf culture now stretches from southern Portugal to Northern Ireland–Frenchman Yves Garnier landed at La Mer, the flagship restaurant at Waikiki’s Halekulani hotel. Garnier, once a chef for Monaco’s royal family, serves what he refers to as neoclassical French cuisine at the 23-year-old eatery overlooking the famous beach’s sail-specked waters. Highlights from his menu, which has earned La Mer Hawaii’s only five-diamond rating, include sautéed foie gras brioche and roasted Barbary duck breast and thigh confit.
La Mer is housed in Halekulani’s original main building, which dates to the 1930s and was built shortly before a wave of high-rise developments swept through Honolulu. Halekulani has since embraced its urban setting, evolving into a big-city hotel with attentive service and sophisticated perks such as privileges at the Honolulu Symphony and the Honolulu Academy of Arts. Each of the hotel’s guest rooms is decorated crisply (no aloha prints in sight) and outfitted comfortably, with deep soaking tubs, down pillows, and a selection of slack-key CDs to lull you to sleep.
Halekulani accented its urbanity in 2005, when the hotel unveiled a guest suite designed by Manhattan fashion mogul Vera Wang. The 2,135-square-foot space, which includes several of Wang’s signature furnishings, affords astonishing views of Diamond Head and, directly below the hotel, of Hawaiians, Californians, Canadians–even Europeans–riding the waves of Waikiki.
LOCATION Along Waikiki Beach on the south shore of Oahu, a 10-minute ride from the Honolulu Airport. ACCOMMODATIONS The 455 guest units include a 2,135-square-foot suite designed by Vera Wang and a two-bedroom, 3,120-square-foot Royal Suite. Both offer private butler service and views of Diamond Head. FACILITIES A glass-tile pool, a fitness center, and a spa that specializes in Hawaiian and South Pacific treatments. A teak ballroom and two banquet terraces can be reserved for meetings and events. DINING French cuisine at La Mer and casual breakfast, lunch, and dinner at House Without a Key. The hotel makes all of its baked goods and chocolates on site. CONCIERGE RECOMMENDS A visit to Shangri La, Doris Duke’s Iranian-, Syrian-, Moroccan-, Turkish-, and Indian-style estate. The ornate, 1930s-era structure houses the heiress’ extensive collection of Islamic artworks and furnishings. rates Guest rooms from $415 to $670 and suites from $945 to $2,115. Rates for the Vera Wang Suite start at $4,000; the Royal Suite is $5,000.