afternoon tea at the moana surfrider

Moana Surfrider on O’ahu (Dogbite/flickr).

In one of my past lives, I was a Victorian woman of independent means who loved taking afternoon tea in the Moana Hotel veranda.

There, neath the spreading banyan tree, cooled by gentle ocean breezes, I’d relax in my comfy lounge chair, sip cup after cup of darjeeling, and rejuvenate my body and spirit with dainty sandwiches and sweets.

Side view of the grand porte cochere entrance that welcomes all visitors to the Moana Surfrider.

That’s why I felt so "at home" when my sister-in-law Alison invited my mom and me to join her for tea at the beautiful and historic "First Lady of Waikiki." The Moana Surfrider, which opened its doors in 1901 with just 75 rooms, is Waikiki’s first large hotel. At the turn of the century, long before any of the high rises were built, the Moana welcomed Hawai’i’s first tourists with its "modern" amenities (telephones and bathrooms in every room, billiard room, saloon, first electric elevator in the Islands).

Over the years (with about a dozen different owners), it’s undergone many transformations — wings and adjacent buildings added, stylistic changes, as well as a $50 million restoration to return it to its original Beaux Arts architectural splendor.

Main Lobby staircase (G. Covin/flickr).

The place is absolutely gorgeous, the epitome of elegance and luxury, with its high ceilings, intricate plasterwork, polished wood floors, and extra-wide hallways (to accommodate your steamer trunk ☺). The lobby staircase is the perfect spot for wedding pictures — we saw two different brides striking a pose (one had a backless gown to show off her tattoos).

Banyan Courtyard

Afternoon Tea seating on the veranda.

Walking through to the veranda, we were seated with a perfect view of the beach. Several sailboats yawned lazily out on the horizon; the water was pristine, sparkly, a lovely shade of azure.

Our white gloved server first described 7 varieties of tea, which we sniffed in turn. Alison ordered the Moana Sunset (a signature blend of tangy ‘Ohelo berry and sweet mango), my mom opted for the lemon rooibos, and I, of course, had darjeeling.

m j c/flickr

There was velvety rich clam chowder,

followed by delicate sandwiches (Westphalian ham with focaccia bread,  open-faced smoked salmon, shrimp and egg salad).

I also got a fruit plate!

And then we "attacked" the pastries: buttery scones with Devonshire cream and lemon curd, fruit tarts, mango cream profiteroles, macadamia nut florentines, and chocolate macadamia nut shortbread (to die for).

All was topped off with a dish of Kaffir-lime lemongrass green tea sorbet. Loved the unusual blend of flavors. So refreshing. Yum!


We were thus indulged and pampered — something I could get used to very easily. It was a picture postcard perfect afternoon — all the things that come to mind when most people think of Hawai’i — relaxed, leisurely atmosphere, fresh air, good food, beautiful ocean and sky. 

If you’re from Hawai’i, sometimes you forget what it’s like for visitors who experience it for the first time. Ultimately, it goes beyond the heavenly surroundings to a brand of warmth and hospitality you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

         Many Japanese honeymooners were about.

Thanks again, Alison, for the lovely tea! It was such a pleasure to partake of an 80-year tradition at this magical place. Same time next week? ☺


♥ The Moana was the stomping ground for Olympic champion swimmer Duke Kahanamoku and his Waikiki Beach Boys. 

♥ The Moana’s most famous guest was the Duke of Windsor (later Edward VIII). Other luminaries include Amelia Earhart and Frank Sinatra.

♥ The hotel was also the scene of a famous American murder mystery. In 1905, Jane Stanford (co-founder of Stanford University), was found poisoned to death in her room. After drinking some bicarbonate of soda to settle her stomach, she began going rigid all over — jaws clamped shut, fingers and thumbs clenched in tight fists, etc. Cause of death: strychnine poisoning. Murder remains unsolved today.

♥ The cost of a room in 1901 was $1.50. Today the rates range from $480 per night to $799.

♥ The Indian banyan tree in the courtyard was planted in 1904, and was the first to be included on Hawai’i’s Rare and Exceptional Tree List.

♥ "Moana" means "ocean" or "open sea" in Hawaiian. 

♥ The Captain and crew of the U.S.S. Arizona hosted a dance at the Moana two weeks before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

♥ The Banyan Wing of the Moana Surfrider: A Westin Resort & Spa, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and received the President’s Historic Preservation Award, among several others.

Moana ocean view.

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**More F is for Fall 2010 posts here.

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights