Hawaii is a magical place. I spent a week there last spring, splitting my time between Waikiki Beach and Maui. Sitting on my balcony at Sheraton Waikiki, I watched a golden sunset over the Pacific in one direction and a rainbow shimmering over the mountains in the other. This week, I want to share some of my Waikiki experiences with you. Check back next week for my adventures in Maui.

The view of Diamond Head from my room at Sheraton Waikiki. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

The view of Diamond Head from my room at Sheraton Waikiki. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

My four days in Waikiki offered up plenty of breathtaking sunsets, magical walks on the beach, great food—and one of the best spa treatments of my life.

Sheraton Waikiki sits right on the beach with Diamond Head as the backdrop. Photo courtesy Sheraton Waikiki

Sheraton Waikiki sits right on the beach with Diamond Head as the backdrop. Photo courtesy Sheraton Waikiki

Flying Hawaiian Airlines

My trip to Hawaii began the moment I checked in for my flight from Phoenix. This was my first flight on Hawaiian Airlines and I loved the customer service and friendliness of everyone on the ground and onboard the plane. We started the trip off with sparkling wine and guava juice and ended it, just before our decent into Honolulu, with a guava and rum drink and Hawaiian potato chips. What a fun way to start a trip!

Guava and chips

Welcome to Hawaii! Guava, rum and Maui onion chips onboard Hawaiian Airlines.

The Sheraton Waikiki, one of several Starwood properties in Hawaii, arranged for a driver to meet me at the airport. There's something about a personal greeting and the sweet smell of the lai around your neck that lets you know you have arrived in paradise. Walking outside, I realized the air was unlike anything I'd ever smelled before. It was a fragrant mix of flowers, salt air and the breeze blowing across the Pacific.

Hibiscus blooming in Hawaii

Hibiscus blooming in Hawaii. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

It is less than ten miles from the Honolulu International Airport to Sheraton Waikiki, but the drive takes about a half hour with traffic along the beach. I didn't mind the drive, because it was fun for me to catch sight of spots I had seen over the years in various television shows. It was hard to believe that I had traveled all over Europe, Asia and even into Africa but had never before visited Hawaii.

I was aching to put my toes in the sand by the time we checked in and made our way to our room. We spent a few minutes watching surfers, paddleboarders and boaters in the water below our balcony before I threw off my “mainland” clothes, pulled on shorts and flip-flops and headed for the sandy beach below.

Waikiki Beach

Surfers at Waikiki Beach. Photo by Susan Lanier-Graham

Sheraton Waikiki

The Sheraton Waikiki is a huge complex, filled with restaurants, pools, shops, walking paths—and a beautiful beach right outside. Sitting at The Edge Bar, with the sun reflecting off the infinity pool and waves lapping just beyond it, was like a scene out of Hawaii Five-0. In fact, they filmed an episode of the popular television show while I was there and it was great fun catching a peek at the stars.

Sheraton Waikiki Infinity Pool with ocean view

Sheraton Waikiki Infinity Pool with ocean view. Photo courtesy Sheraton Waikiki

Dinner our first night was at a table on the patio at Kai Market. We sat under the stars, sipping Mai Tais, the water breaking on the sand below us. We watched cruise ships take to sea, vacationers set out for evening boat rides and caught sight of a shooting star as the sun dipped into the Pacific.

Table at Kai Market

Table at Kai Market. Photo courtesy Sheraton Waikiki

Spa Treatments on Waikiki

My readers know I love great spa treatments, so it comes as no surprise that I was eager to experience some of Hawaii's spas. I scheduled two visits for the time I was in Waikiki and they were both among my most memorable and best treatments anywhere.

My first treatment was at Abhasa Spa at Royal Hawaiian. The Royal Hawaiian is another Starwood property that sits adjacent to Sheraton Waikiki. We found ourselves wandering the gardens at Royal Hawaiian quite often during our stay. The iconic Pink Palace was built in 1927 and the spa takes full advantage of the indoor-outdoor living that defines Hawaii.

Abhasa Spa Outdoor Cabanas

Abhasa Spa Outdoor Cabanas. Photo courtesy Royal Hawaiian

Abhasa Spa opens onto a tropical garden with outdoor cabanas under the trees. And yes, I booked my treatment for one of the cabanas. Walking along the narrow paths under the tropical canopy relaxed me before the massage even began.

My treatment was the Pohaku, a hot stone massage that included Hawaiian Lomi Lomi, a Polynesian treatment that uses long, slow strokes on the body along with pressure from the therapist's elbows and forearms. The sound of birds chattering in the nearby trees, fresh salt air and sweet smell of plumeria lulled me into Neverland.

My second treatment was one of the best spa treatments I've ever had. This time I headed just a bit farther down the beach to the Westin Moana Surfrider. This historic hotel, opened in 190,1 is often called the “First Lady of Waikiki.” The hotel transports you back in time. This world-class resort honors the history, while offering all the latest amenities.

The oceanfront Moana Lani Spa, a Heavenly Spa by Westin, has an amazing relaxation room. After a soak in a hot tub with waves crashing outside the window, I stretched out on a chaise lounge with massive windows open to the beach below. As the ocean breezes played with my hair, I gulped in deep breaths of fresh air.

Moana Lani Spa Relaxation Room

Moana Lani Spa Relaxation Room at Moana Surfrider. Photo courtesy Westin Hotels

I had the Na Mele signature treatment (mele means song in Hawaiian) that includes beautiful “Hawaiian Lullaby” music and a combination Lomi Lomi and pressure point massage. My therapist was a jovial Hawaiian man with a voice almost as lilting as the music. I drifted away during the treatment and I can still close my eyes and imagine myself back in that room with the gentle pressure on my back and the sweet music enveloping me.

Moana Spa whirlpool

Moana Spa whirlpool. Photo courtesy Westin Hotels

Culinary Delights of Waikiki

As expected, the food of Waikiki was fresh and full of flavor. Even the “bar food” that I had at The Edge Bar was memorable. A local favorite is garlic shrimp, popular on food trucks around the island. At The Edge Bar, I had a basket of the garlic shrimp served in the signature spicy sauce.

Our next night featured some of the freshest fish I've ever eaten at Azure Restaurant at Royal Hawaiian. The chef buys the day's catch at 5:30 each morning at the Honolulu Fish Auction. It was so fresh, you could still taste the ocean. I love seafood and it's one of the things I struggle with finding in my adopted desert home of Phoenix. I was in seventh heaven with the seafood in Hawaii.

Royal Hawaiian Azure

Seating on the outdoor patio at Azure Restaurant. Photo courtesy Royal Hawaiian

We were seated on the patio at Azure, with the ocean just a few feet from our table. I started with the Azure Sashimi of Hawaiian Yellowfin Ahi, Japanese Hamachi, avocado, watermelon radish and a ginger vinaigrette. My main course was the Ocean Risotto with lobster tail, prawns, clams, scallops, soffrito, saffron, aborio rice, sugar peas and Hamakua tomato.

One of the most memorable meals of the entire trip was the next night at Beachhouse at the Moana Surfrider. We ate on the wide beachfront veranda of this Victorian hotel with live music playing in the background. The food was a perfect match for the breathtaking sunset.

Moana Surfrider - Beachhouse Veranda with ocean view

Beachhouse at the Moana. Photo courtesy Westin Hotels

We had the Signature Tasting menu and it was such a memorable meal. I have to admit that the restaurant had me when they served warm, delicious Vietnamese bale rolls that are made in Honolulu.

Our meal started with a seafood sampler: we substituted scallops for the oysters that was served with a sesame encrusted ahi and a shrimp cocktail. Next up was foie gras toast with caramelized onion and blackberry jam. The foie gras was seared to perfection and the sweetness of the jam was ideal with the fat of the duck. Our main course was a tasting of American Wagyu Snake River Farms New York strip, an Australian rack of lamb, and a Maine lobster tail. Dessert was a pairing of chocolate peanut butter crunch bar and Kona coffee cheesecake.

Moana Surfrider - table on the veranda

Table on the Veranda at Beachhouse at Moana. Photo courtesy Westin Hotels

We walked back along the beach to the Sheraton Waikiki, water tickling our toes as we made our way over the sand. As we passed the gardens of The Royal Hawaiian, the sweet smell of plumeria floated on the air. There is a magical draw to the islands that comes from this amazing connection to the water and land.

We toasted the moon shimmering over the Pacific that night, thankful that our lives brought us to this place at this time. Our experience in Maui was equally as magical, but in a very different way than what we experienced on the busy beaches of Waikiki. Check back next week for our off-road adventures in Maui. Aloha!

Susan Lanier-Graham is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad offering tips and inspiration to fellow travel enthusiasts. This post was sponsored by Travelocity and Starwood Resorts. For more information on the Travelocity #Gnomads, visit www.travelocitygnomads.com.

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