There are certain advantages to being the first resort on the Big Island’s sun-soaked Kohala Coast. Or, rather, one big one: the Mauna Kea sits on the best beach on the island, a sugary white-sand crescent that gently slopes into the azure waters. Laurence Rockefeller, the financier-turned-conservationist who built the hotel in the 1960s, first spied the beach from above as he and Hawaii’s then-governor flew over the barely developed island looking for a site for an eco-luxury resort. There were no roads back then, just a vast lava desert and a few horseback trails. But after trekking in and taking a dip in that pristine bay, Rockefeller was sold.
Some 50 years later, the Mauna Kea still feels like the secret lair of a billionaire. It’s set back a good mile from the highway, past the undulating greens of the hotel’s golf course. The main building, painted the exact color of the sand and tiled in a cerulean-blue to match the sea, is filled with Rockefeller’s gold-leafed buddhas, centuries-old Burmese rain drums, Indian hope chests, Maori carvings, and a thousand-plus other precious artifacts from his private collection. But while the art and open-air architecture infuse the place with a retro-chic vibe, the guest rooms, still fresh from a recent renovation, feel as bright and modern as a California beach house. Even the locals rave about the tennis programs and golf course, and there’s fine snorkeling right off the beach.
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Like most other Kohala Coast resorts, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is deliberately secluded, with nothing much in the immediate neighborhood. But since it’s the northernmost of the resorts, it’s closest to the ranch town of Waimea, with its clutch of restaurants, shops, and galleries (about a 20-minute drive inland).
Need to Know
Rooms: 252 rooms, including 9 suites. From $405. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options: The hotel has four restaurants, including the lunch-only Number 3 on the golf course. Elaborate breakfast buffets and dressy dinners are held at the hillside Manta & Pavilion Wine Bar, while cocktails, fancy burgers, and pizzas are the mainstay at the dinner-only Copper Terrace. The beachside Hau Tree serves up hot dogs and BLTs for lunch, and heartier fare, such as BBQ-glazed pork loin and prawn brochettes, for dinner. But the meal that returning guests plan their trip around is the Saturday night clambake—a lavish, all-you-can-eat seafood feast set up steps from the beach. Spa and gym details: There’s a big, well-equipped gym, but the spa is small and dark (luckily, guests can arrange for outdoor treatments).
Who it's for: Honeymooners (nighttime on the tiki torch–lit grounds is shamelessly romantic); families with older children looking for lazy days and quiet nights; tennis and golf nuts. Our favorite rooms: The beachfront rooms in the newer wing open right onto the lawns that front the beach. The Beachfront Deluxe Suite is ideal for a splurge, but the better bargain might be the deluxe golf vista—no sea view, but the golf course is awfully pretty, the room is spacious, and it has a gorgeous bathroom. Not to be missed: Every Saturday morning, local art historian Patti Cook leads a complimentary tour around the hotel.
Nightly turn-down service. Mini refrigerators stocked with bottled water replenished daily. Coffee maker and Kona Blend coffee service. In-room safe.
Private lanai in rooms.
Robes and slippers. L'Occitane bath amenities: shampoo, conditioner, soaps, and body lotion. Hair dryer.
Built-in entertainment center with large flat screen TV, media hub for internet access, iPod, movies on demand and more. Bedside iPod clock-radio.
Writing materials and a selection of popular magazines and visitor information. The Art of Mauna Kea, a beautiful coffee-table book about Laurance Rockefeller's art collection, to enjoy during your stay.
Complimentary use of the fitness center.
Reception and Concierge
Fresh flower lei greeting at arrival. Relaxed, seated check-in service with refreshments. Lobby hostesses to assist and escort you to your room. Welcome gifts for keiki (children).
Enhanced beach service: thick orange towels, padded chaise lounges, cabanas, umbrellas, new water sports, and activities. Valet and self-parking available (daily fees apply).
590 square feet, on floors 2 to 4. Views of lawn and ocean, with direct access to beach. Separate tub and shower room included in newly configured bathroom floor plan. Availability of connecting rooms make this category ideal for families.
Same views and floor plan as Beachfront rooms but with the added benefit of ground floor accessibility to adjacent lawn and beach.
Floors 3&4, north end, 1268 square feet. Views of pool, lawn, and ocean with direct access to beach. Newly configured, suite features separate living area, bedroom and ensuite bathroom with separate shower and tub.
Beachfront Deluxe Suite
Floors 1-4, south end, 1562 square feet. Views of lawn and ocean, with direct access to beach. Newly configured, features separate living area, bedroom and ensuite bathroom with separate shower and tub, and bonus garden view foyer.
Floors 5-8, north end, 589 square feet. Views of front lawns, golf course and Kohala Mountains. Bathroom features tub/shower combination.
Golf Vista Deluxe
Floors 5-8, south end, 880 square feet. Same views as Golf Vista rooms, but with oversized bathroom equipped with private, walk-out balcony, soaking tub, and separate wall-less shower.
Golf Vista Suite
8th floor, north end, 1252 square feet. Top floor with views of Kohala Mountains, Kawaihae Harbor, and golf course. Features separate living area, Bose stereo system, espresso machine, bedroom and ensuite bathroom with private, walk-out balcony, soaking tub and wall-less shower.
Floors 5-7, north end, 589 square feet. Panoramic views of beach and coastline. Bathroom features tub/shower combination.
Ocean View Deluxe
Floors 5-7, south end, 880 square feet. Same views as Ocean View, but with oversized bathroom equipped with private, walk-out balcony, soaking tub, and separate wall-less shower.
Premium Ocean View
8th floor, north end, 547 square feet. Top floor with unsurpassed panoramic views of beach and coastline and slightly smaller balcony than Ocean View rooms below. Bathroom features tub/shower combination.
Premium Ocean View Deluxe
8th floor, south end, 904 square feet. Top floor with unsurpassed panoramic views of beach and coastline and oversized bathroom equipped with private, walk-out balcony, soaking tub, and separate wall-less shower.
8th floor, mid-tower, 1252 square feet. Top floor with unsurpassed panoramic views of beach and coastline. Features separate living area, Bose stereo system, espresso machine, bedroom and ensuite bathroom with separate soaking tub and shower.
Mauna Kea Suite and Mauna Loa Suite
Both these top floor locations on either end of Main Tower are 1,610 square feet and have unsurpassed panoramic views of beach and coastline. Each features separate living area, dining room, Bose stereo system, espresso machine, bedroom, and ensuite bathroom with walk-out balcony, soaking tub and wall-less shower.
The sweet smell of plumeria floats on gentle trade winds into each guest room at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. When entering the room, you may be surprised that floor-to-ceiling picture windows and a beautiful private lanai (patio) beckon you to step back outside—closer to the rhythmic surf and paradise in nature. In the hotel's main building, each morning you can wake up to warm accent colors in your room that recall the previous evening’s sunset. Natural light fills the entire space and you can brew a lovely cup of Kona coffee before leaving your room to face the world. A 2009 remodel of the main building rooms along with a 2013 beachfront wing renovation enable guests to unwind in the comfort of updated interiors that still remain true to Laurance S. Rockefeller’s original vision.
Imagine soaking in your own private spa while listening to the surf roll in or viewing the sun’s last light over the horizon under a rain-shower. Natural light, modern fixtures, and pampering toiletries make entering your spacious bath area a luxurious retreat at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and one of the most enjoyable and distinctive aspects of your stay.
Under the morning shadow of the Mauna Kea volcano, tucked away from the nearest towns, and overlooking the idyllic Kohala Coast at Kaunaoa Bay, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a timeless treasure. Inspired by Laurance S. Rockefeller’s vision to create a resort that blended in with Hawaii's natural beauty, the peaceful Big Island getaway is fragrant with sea-salted plumeria-kissed air and alive with aloha. Reminiscent of days gone by, the resort lacks very little—except the hustle and bustle of city life. For those who can leave it all behind, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel enables you to indulge in sand so soft your feet will feel like they are in slippers. On the magnificent award-winning golf course you can perfect your swing or choose to rejuvenate in your recently updated room that includes a gorgeous spa bath and rain-shower with a secluded view to the ocean. No matter where you find yourself on the hotel’s property, island air will fill your lungs and you will undoubtedly know you have arrived in Hawaii.