When White Sands Hotel first opened in 1957, no one had smartphones, Facebook wasn’t a thing, and Hawaii hadn’t achieved statehood (that happened in 1959).
For clients who pine for those simpler times — without sacrificing creature comforts — White Sands stands ready to please. Thanks to a comprehensive renovation and relaunch, the three-story Waikiki walk-up evokes a sense of nostalgia that transports guests to the past while serving the needs of contemporary travelers.
During my recent visit to the 94-room property, White Sands’ general manager Romeo Aguinaldo dubbed its decor “midcentury modern-style.”
“We don’t have to follow the cookie-cutter layout of a big hotel brand,” Aguinaldo said. “Guests are calling us a hidden gem.”
Considering its location, the hotel is surprisingly quiet, a rarity in Waikiki. It takes just five minutes to walk from the property to the shops and restaurants of International Market Place, and eight minutes to Waikiki Beach, but its side-street address makes it an oasis from the bustle of Oahu’s prime visitor mecca.
The hotel’s design adds to its mellow vibe. Three buildings surround a central courtyard with a pool, a hot tub grotto, a waterfall and gardens, with tiki lighting enhancing the throwback mood.
Guestrooms feature 1960s-ish hues of butterscotch, olive and cyan. Instead of standard drinking glasses, accommodations come with playful tiki cups. Clients can relax on their private lanai with its bamboo railing, and they can hang up their bath towels on hooks resembling the shaka, Hawaii’s signature thumb-and-pinky wave.
At the same time, rooms boast 21st-century perks such as free Wi-Fi access, LCD televisions, wet bars, minifridges, microwaves, safes and plenty of plugs.
Although White Sands presents an engaging hideaway, clients are encouraged to explore the destination beyond its front door.
“We want guests to enjoy the hotel but also have unique experiences off-property,” Aguinaldo said. “We’re making connections with the community, and our staff members are quick to recommend activities around the island from an insider’s point of view.”
The daily amenity fee of $25 supports that spirit of adventure, providing use of beach umbrellas, boogie boards, GoPro cameras, portable power banks, yoga classes at Diamond Head park and a $20 credit for massages at a nearby club and spa.
While White Sands’ guestrooms have already been upgraded, several additional changes will be completed by May, including a new poolside bar with tropical overtones.
For its reinvented food and beverage offerings, the hotel is partnering with the chefs behind Fete — a popular eatery in Honolulu’s Chinatown district — to create Hey Day, an open-air restaurant and bamboo bar serving farm-to-table cuisine with nods to old Hawaii. Also on tap: The Green Lady, an intimate lounge reminiscent of a speakeasy, where clients can sip cocktails at once upscale and old-school; and a cafe specializing in Kona coffee, locally made pastries and grab-and-go fare. White Sands further heightens its appeal with affordable room rates, starting at $159 per night. For clients who yearn for yesterday, that’s a real retro deal.
White Sands Hotel