This Surf-Inspired Hotel Celebrates Waikiki’s Creative Spirit and its Midcentury Roots
On Oahu’s South Shore in Honolulu, the Surfjack was created in collaboration with local artists and designers who live and breath the modern aloha lifestyle. The midcentury-inspired boutique hotel is now leading a movement to revive the authentic spirit of Waikiki—and the creative energy there is contagious.
Written by me for Dwell...
Just a short 10-minute stroll from the shockingly clear waters and sandy shores of Oahu’s Waikiki Beach will lead you to the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club, where you’ll take a step back in time to Waikiki’s midcentury heyday. Along with its retro, quirky character, a laid-back surf vibe radiates throughout the open-air property. Ever since it opened in March 2016, it’s become a cool destination where both locals and visitors can come together to celebrate the culture of the bustling beach neighborhood. To foster this community, they regularly host poolside film screenings, workshops led by local businesses, talks, pilates classes, live music, and farm-to-table dining.
When you first approach the low, midcentury facade of the Surfjack, a handmade copper sign by local jewelry designer Jason Dow welcomes you into the lobby, which is open to an enticing pool and bar. Photo by Vincent Ricafort
Though the hotel opened just about a year ago, the building itself has roots that are deeply connected to the midcentury era. Originally designed by architect Roy Kelley, it was created as the Hokele Suites in 1961. Kelley’s friend and fellow architect Edwin Bauer convinced him to build a courtyard pool, which was actually a wild idea at the time. Kelley ended up becoming the first hotelier in Waikiki to build swimming pools on his properties. Today, the pool sits at the center of the Surfjack and features a "Wish You Were Here" message that was hand-painted by artist Matthew Tapia. The cheeky pool—that’s surrounded by old-school lounge chairs that are each equipped with small blue detachable sun canopies—creates a charismatic and nostalgic atmosphere that can be spotted from the rooms above.
While checking in, you’re welcomed into an open-air space with a pitched wooden roof that has glossy surfboards hanging from them. You’ll also see custom Surfjack crates that were created by Retrospect Designs and a surfboard skeg installation designed by The Vanguard Theory. Photo by Mariko Reed
Along with the pool club that sits at the heart of the property, the hotel also houses Olive & Oliver—a curated boutique and artisanal coffee shop—and Mahina & Sun’s—a hyper-local restaurant and bar that’s led by chef Ed Kenney. Mahina & Sun’s and the rest of the public spaces throughout the hotel were designed by Honolulu-based studio The Vanguard Theory, while the North Shore bungalow-inspired guest rooms were designed by Studio Collective. In addition to the space being filled with furnishings, lighting, and artwork by a range of local designers, every little detail was thoroughly thought out and branded to fit seamlessly with the Surfjack ethos. The Honolulu-based agency Wall-to-Wall was responsible for these elements—everything from the retro logos and postcards to the beach totes and towels that can be used throughout your stay.
In the covered cabana area by the pool, a hand-painted mural by Brendan "The Blob" Monroe creates a funky backdrop that's inspired by the flow of water. Local artist, illustrator, and curator Jasper Wong co-curated the mural artwork dispersed throughout the property. Photo by Mariko Reed
Self-taught graphic artist Matthew Tapia hand-painted the illustrated text on the bottom of the pool. Photo by Mariko Reed
At Mahina & Sun’s, chef Ed Kenney believes in, "local first; organic whenever possible; with aloha always." The picnic tables next to the bar were hand-painted by local artist Jeff Gress. Photo by Mariko Reed
The aloha spirit runs deep in Mahina & Sun’s, where the walls are covered with a shaka wallpaper by Andrew Mau. The banquette seat cushions were made with archived prints by Tori Richard, which were also used to create the headboards in the guest rooms and the men’s uniforms. Photo by Mariko Reed
Chef Ed Kenney supports local farms as much as possible when sourcing the fresh ingredients for the restaurant, which can also be experienced in your own bungalow via room service. Photo by Laura La Monaca
When you make your way from reception to the elevator, this covered patio space is filled with midcentury-inspired furniture and offers fruit-infused ice water to enjoy on your way to your room. The original details of the midcentury structure are clearly highlighted in this space where many guests can be seen catching up on their emails with a complimentary coffee in-hand. Photo by Mariko Reed
Olive & Oliver catches your eye on the left as soon as you enter the property. Founded by husband-and-wife team, Ali McMahon and Parker Moosman, the coffee shop is accompanied by a boutique that boasts a curated collection of fashion and home goods that are inspired by iconic surf culture. Photo courtesy of the Surfjack
Studio Collective designed the 112 rooms and took inspiration from the bungalows that can be found on Oahu’s North Shore. They feature reed ceilings, batten walls, local art, and bespoke coffee tables that are topped with ceramic tiles. Photo courtesy of the Surfjack
The bedrooms are graced with headboards that Studio Collective created with vintage Tori Richard prints. The dreamy framed surf photography on the wall is by She Hit Pause Studios Photo courtesy of the Surfjack
The bathrooms boast custom ceramic floor tiles and an organic-feeling stone flooring in the shower. Andrew Mau, who designed the shaka wallpaper in Mahina & Sun's, also created the Moana Vanity Mirrors. Photo courtesy of the Surfjack
On each of the 10 floors, the balcony rooms have private lanais that are divided by woven screens for privacy. While sitting on the brightly-hued outdoor chairs, you’ll look out to other midcentury buildings while planning your tropical adventure ahead. Photo courtesy of the Surfjack
If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful Hawaiian island of Oahu, get ready to immerse yourself into the local creative culture—because the Surfjack will treat you like you’ve always been part of their world.
Mornings at the Surfjack start with perfect coffee, papayas, and bomb ham sammies by the midcentury-inspired pool.
Mahina & Sun's serves the best ham sammie in the world—hands down.