Where’s the best mai tai in Hawaii? What’s the best island? Best place to stay? Readers share their favorites

Life doesn’t get better than this, at least according to Hawaii Magazine readers. They voted Maui the state’s No. 1 island.
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Want to know where to find the best hotels, best restaurants and even the best mai tai in Hawaii? Hawaii Magazine’s Readers Choice Awards features places locals like to eat, stay and play, creating an insider’s guide for anyone planning a trip to Hawaii.

The scenic drive to Hana is a must-do on Maui.
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Maui was voted the best island in Hawai. Readers gave the Valley Isle glowing reviews, with one respondent saying it has “the best mix of quiet, natural scenery and crazy fun activities.”


Oahu finished second and Kauai third in the poll.

Lahaina in West Maui was chosen as the No. 1 city or town.
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Lahaina, the former whaling center on Maui’s west coast, was selected best city or town. Now a charming town full of galleries, inns and a wealth of restaurants, it’s a fun diversion for folks staying at the beachfront resorts to the north and south. Much larger and touristy Honolulu/Waikiki came in second.

Waikiki Beach was voted Hawaii's top beach.
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

It’s probably no surprise that world-famous Waikiki Beach was voted the state’s top beach. Tourism to this now-bustling destination began in the early 1900s when the area was marshy wetlands full of taro. Beyond the beach, there are attractions such as Diamond Head and the Honolulu Zoo.

Fireworks explode each Friday evening beside the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Waikiki Beach.
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Oahu has plenty of other winners in various categories. Along the beach, the sprawling Hilton Hawaiian Village is ranked as the state’s No. 1 hotel. A couple of neighbors, the Moana Surfrider and Outrigger Reef Waikiki Beach Resort, finished second and third.

Waikiki’s famous “Pink Palace,” the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, has been selected the top luxury resort on Oahu.
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Oahu has plenty of luxury hotel choices, but for readers, the island’s No. 1 is its grande dame, the Royal Hawaiian, which turned 90 last month.

Rounding out the island’s top three are the Moana Surfrider and Turtle Bay Resort, located in an idyllic location along the North Shore, about an hour’s drive from Honolulu.

The Royal Hawaiian also gets top honors in another category: best mai tai. While the drink apparently originated in California in the 1930s, the rum-based drink is widely associated with the islands. The magazine’s readers prefer to sip theirs at the hotel’s Mai Tai Bar.

Bartenders are happy to share the recipe too:

1 oz. Bacardi rum

1 tsp. cherry vanilla puree

½ oz. Amaretto di Saronno

½ oz. Cointreau

1 oz. Fresh Govinda orange huice

2 oz. Fresh Govinda pineapple juice

½ oz. Whaler’s Dark Rum Float

Mahina & Sun’s at the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club in Honolulu was voted the state’s best new restaurant for 2017, followed by Tin Roof in Kahului, Maui, and Ai Love Nalo in Waimanalo, Oahu.

Burgeoning West Oahu is becoming an alternative to Waikiki, and the Four Seasons Resort Oahu was selected as Hawaii’s best new hotel. (The property used to be a J.W. Marriott.) The top three include two other Oahu choices, Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club and the Ritz-Carlton Waikiki.

Waimea Canyon State Park, on the island of Kauai, is often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
(Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Head to Kauai for the best park: Waimea Canyon State Park. With its towering red cliffs and tumbling waterfalls, it is sometimes called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and one of the top sights in the state.

Maui’s Waianapanapa State Park, just off the Hana Highway, was the runner-up in this category.

While on Kauai, head to the Kalaheo area for a taste of the state’s best coffee. In addition to selling its wares, Kauai Coffee offers free guided and self-guided tours of its plantation. The Kauai grower and roaster obviously gives better-known Kona brands a run for their money.

The annual Merrie Monarch Festival on the island of Hawaii.
(Lehua Waipa AhNee / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Cultural celebrations around Hawaii occur almost weekly, but readers preferred the annual Merrie Monarch Festival, which will be held in Hilo from April 16 to 22. The event honors King David Kalakaua, a 19th century monarch known for his love of the arts.

For the first time, Hawaii Magazine readers ranked not only their favorite places statewide, but also island-by-island, including the less-visited Lanai and Molokai.

On Lanai, the No. 1 choice for lodging is the tantalizingly-secluded Four Seasons Resort Lanai. With an enviable oceanfront location and killer views from many rooms, it’s a great base on Lanai, where the lodging choices are very limited. The modest Hotel Lanai in Lanai City finished second.

The ocean-side Hotel Molokai is the only hotel on the island.
(Dana Edmunds / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Choices of where to stay are even fewer on Molokai, where the charming Hotel Molokai was voted best hotel, an easy choice since it’s the island’s only hotel.

In addition to its stunning, and often empty, beaches, Molokai is also known for what many consider a shocking piece of history, the former leper colony at Kalaupapa. Despite its lovely setting, the town was built to isolate those with leprosy (now called Hansen’s disease) from the world.

Visitors to Molokai ride mules up a mountainside after their visit to Kalaupapa National Historic Park. The seaside community is where lepers were once isolated from society.
(Dana Edmunds / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Now a national historical park, Kalaupapa is reached either by small plane or mule. The Kalaupapa Mule Tour, a harrowing trek down the cliff face, was voted the best land activity or adventure tour in the state.

Info: Copies of the magazine may be ordered online or by calling (800) 788-4230.


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