Nestled in a remote community of Honolulu, Hawaii, the Kahala Hotel & Resort is an iconic destination that has long been the go-to resort for Oahu’s most high-profile visitors. It seems like everyone, from Queen Elizabeth II to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has stayed at this resort. So, when it came time to visit my home island of Oahu for the first time in over a decade, it only made sense for my first stop to be the Kahala. Over the years, I had heard about the steps the Kahala has been taking when it comes to preserving the land and culture of Hawaii, and I was excited to learn more. I also had a date with some dolphins that was nearly 30 years in the making.

Welcome to the Kahala

Although I grew up in Kailua, on the windward side of the island, I had never been to the Kahala. My parents, however, loved wining and dining at the resort for date night. When driving through the city and nearing the Kahala, the busy traffic and bustling pace gradually slowed until I found myself in what felt like an exclusive gated community. As soon as I arrived and walked into the lobby, I was greeted by the most warm and welcoming receptionist who had been expecting my arrival. She also presented me with a shell lei, which I thought was a wonderful touch for guests – especially since flowers fade, and a garland of seashells makes a perfect souvenir.

After checking into my spacious and well-appointed king-sized room, I had to make a quick change to go meet some friendly faces that I’ve been wanting to see since I was a kid. Taking the elevator downstairs, I was beyond excited to finally meet the Kahala Resort’s biggest celebrities: the Kahala dolphins. These bottlenose dolphins live in the resort’s lagoons with their families, and several were born onsite. Guests can walk around, linger by the lagoons, and watch the dolphins as much as they’d like during their stay. Of course, as the wannabe marine biologist that I am, I wanted a more up-close experience.

The Kahala Dolphins

Operated by Dolphin Quest (a group founded and run by marine mammal veterinarians), my dolphin encounter turned out to be everything I imagined and more. The first dolphin I met was Hoku, who was relaxed and goofy as the trainer talked me through some dolphin facts and showed me how to give hand signals for various tricks and skills. I also had a chance to meet Hua, the youngest dolphin at the Kahala, who is referred to as “The Lisa Frank Dolphin” due to his perfect appearance. We swam together, had a few cuddles, and he even vocalized when our session was over because he wanted to keep playing.

What stood out to me most, was how the dolphins are never forced to do tricks or interact with visitors – something that made me wary of dolphin encounters in the past.  During each dolphin swim, there’s a black slate in the water that the animals can tap with their rostrum (or “nose”) at any time to signal that they want the session to end. There’s such a wonderful dynamic of care and respect between the trainers and the animals, and a Dolphin Quest experience is a definite “must” in my book.

Kissing Point and Wedding Spaces

On the ground level, just past the dolphin lagoons, the Kahala Hotel leads to a beautiful pool area, followed by the most expansive views of the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the ocean is basically the resort’s backyard. There’s no obstructions – just sand, the water, and a horizon that makes for some of the most jaw-dropping sunrises and sunsets in Hawaii. In fact, witnessing the sunrise at the Kahala is one of the few times I didn’t mind waking up extra early. Guests can enjoy the resort’s breakfast buffet (I recommend the mochi waffles and Portuguese sausage) while enjoying the early morning golden hour and the sound of lapping waves.

During my stay, I had the pleasure of meeting Grace Chan, Director of Catering and Conference Services at the Kahala, and she gave me a more in-depth tour of the property. Starting with that oceanfront location, she pointed out Kissing Point, which is one of the most photographed locations on Oahu. From proposals, to sunrise elopements, to wedding photo sessions, it’s an iconic location for all things romance.

Another favorite photo spot is the resort’s orchid wall, which provides the backdrop for a winding staircase. Grace often has her couples do their “first look” on the staircase for a stunning photo op. As one would expect, ceremonies are usually held outside so guests can take in the ocean view. Inside, there are spacious ballrooms available for receptions – my favorite, being the Maile Ballroom. Even when I was growing up, my mom told me about the Maile Ballroom at the Kahala, so it was very special to see it in person. The space can accommodate up to 450 people and features a low ceiling with gorgeous glass chandeliers.

Cultural and Environmental Sustainability

With tourism, property development, and gentrification changing so much of Oahu over the years, it meant even more to see how the Kahala is preserving the land and culture of Hawaii. I learned about KISCA – The Kahala Initiative for Sustainability, Culture, and the Arts – and how the property collaborates with local businesses and partners to reduce their carbon footprint from multiple angles. Food waste is picked up and recycled; cooling towers and low-flow showerheads help significantly reduce water usage; no chemicals are used near the dolphin lagoon or ocean; and Grace even pointed out some incredible water stations that draw humidity out of the air and distills it into the purest drinking water that guests are welcome to use when refilling their water bottles.

The Kahala Hotel & Resort is the epitome of island-style luxury in Oahu, but its history and genuine love for the island is what stands out most. You can feel it as soon as you set foot on the property. For couples wanting to have a laid-back-luxe resort experience that is steeped in Hawaiian culture and practices, it truly doesn’t get any better than the Kahala.

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>Written By: Lauren Malamala