The Best Hotels on the Island of Hawai’i, “The Big Island”

With luxury resorts, quaint motels, condo rentals, and campgrounds, the Big Island offers a wide variety of accommodations. If you’re looking for high-end resorts, the Kona area on the west side of the island is your best bet, while travelers who prefer a low-key condo or B&B will be better off on the eastern Hilo side. Be sure to book in advance, especially during events such as the Ironman Race in September and the Merrie Monarch Festival in April.

1 N Kaniku Dr, Waimea, HI 96743, USA
In many ways, the Fairmont Orchid is the quintessential Hawaiian luxury resort. Its big, elegant lobby is blooming with purple orchids and birds of paradise, its enormous, 24-hour swimming pool wends its way around black rock islands, and its 32 lush acres include tropical gardens and a white-sand beach that frames an aquamarine cove. The 540 guest rooms and suites, located in two six-story towers, all have lanais; half have ocean (or partial water) views, the others overlook the spotless grounds. It’s the dream Vacationland, and as such, the mood is jolly round-the-clock. Cheerful staff oversee the long list of activities—canoe excursions, petroglyph hikes, stand-up paddle-boarding, and about a zillion other options are available both on property and off (some activities are complimentary, others cost extra)—and the crowd tends to be a fun-in-the-sun bunch. On any given day, there might be a Canadian family in a heated volleyball game on the beach, or a group of Silicon Valley execs soaking in the hot tub.

Carve out a day to spend at the award-winning Spa Without Walls, where the Hawaian-influenced treatments are performed in 17 treatments rooms, some with ocean views and private outdoor spaces. Them, fuel up on Japanese meats and sushi, fresh seafood, robatayaki (grilled) items, beachside classics, and more at the numerous dining outlets. Along with repeat guests, the hotel’s most frequent visitors are the giant sea turtles that regularly hang out at the Orchid’s beachfront. They’ve become such an integral part of the property that even guests at other hotels drop by for a peek.
72-100 Ka'upulehu Drive, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740, USA
A favorite among Hollywood royalty, the Big Island’s Four Seasons is more secluded than its sister property on Maui. It sits on 863 acres of palm-fringed coastline, with little else for miles in any direction, other than two exclusive golf courses and some of the most expensive vacation homes in the state. Yet, conveniently, the hotel is only a 15-minute drive from Kona International Airport, and it isn’t uncommon for guests to fly in, park themselves at the resort, and never leave. Why would they? It’s an immaculate, ingenious playground, shamelessly verdant against the area’s prodigious black lava. There are seven pools to choose from, including one rock-walled rectangle in the ocean, and another man-made lagoon stocked with thousands of reef fish for guaranteed snorkeling success. Kids can camp overnight in a rock amphitheater. Lovebirds can have candlelit dinners on the beach. Even the accommodations are a Polynesian fantasy, with tropical woods and large headboards. All that, along with a tiki torch–lit beachfront, a French head chef, a swank sushi bar, a staff that treats every guest like Hollywood royalty, and honest-to-goodness cultural cred (the on-site museum and cultural center are well worth visiting), and it’s easy to understand why one would happily pay a king’s ransom to spend a few days here.
11-3968 Hale Ohia Rd., Volcano, Island of Hawaii
In the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it village of Volcano, on the slopes of Mauna Loa and just outside of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, are a handful of B&Bs and cottage rentals (see also Volcano Rainforest Retreat). Among the oldest—but no less charming for its 25 years—is Volcano Village Estate (previously known as Hale Ohia).

It’s a small cottage colony, with guest quarters scattered around a two-acre estate thickly carpeted in emerald-green moss and shaded by stands of soaring sugi (Japanese cedar) trees. The main house, a quirky Queen Anne style Victorian with a miniature turret and stone chimney that make it look like it was lifted right out of a children’s storybook, dates back to the 1930s when the manager of a sugar plantation built it as a summer holiday home. The gardens were planted by the same master landscape architects responsible for the Liliʻuokalani Gardens in Hilo (at one time the largest Edo style garden outside of Japan).

All guest quarters are sweetly decorated, in a largely Craftsman style with ceramic tiles and soft woods; some have pretty, stained-glass windows. But on a chilly Volcano night—and most of them are since the town sits at 4,000 feet—nothing is quite as romantic as curling up by the fireplace in one of the three stand-alone cottages, unless, of course, it’s sitting in the garden and watching the dazzling night sky, which is reason enough to stay on this side of the island.
250 Lokahi Rd, Kapaau, HI 96755, USA
A clifftop eco-hotel surrounded by 50 barely touched acres on the bucolic North Kohala coast, Hawaii Island Retreat feels as far away as it gets. There are no TVs in the guest rooms, no air-con, and Wi-Fi only in certain spots. Solar and wind power provide all the electricity, while much of the fruit and vegetables are grown right on the property. Resident goats and bees supply the cheese and honey. The inn has 20 simply-furnished bedrooms in the main house, overlooking groves of cedar and pine trees, plus seven yurts a stone’s throw away, so it’s possible—likely even—that a guest might spend days here and rarely see another soul. The owners, a local spa therapist and natural healer and her physician husband, opened the property in 2009 with the express purpose of creating a wellness-focused retreat, which is why guests can sign up for classes in yoga, tai chi, and meditation, as well as facials and massages. Outdoor massage tables, placed under a tent, overlook a deep green valley. There’s also a mediation rock. So health-minded is this little retreat that it’s become a popular spot for guests recovering from serious illness or simply in search of a detox. Various packages have a wellness or spiritual theme.
62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr, Waimea, HI 96743, USA
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.
11-3832 12th St, Volcano, HI 96785, USA
Turning off the highway into Volcano Village, the one-street town leading into Volcanoes National Park, first-time visitors might think they just made a right turn into Oregon. Cool, misty, and thick with giant ferns, this corner of the Big Island is a small but serious rain forest, nourished mightily by eons of volcanic soil and abundant rainfall. Well concealed down one of the quiet side streets, in their rainforest property, are the four one-bedroom cottages that make up the Volcano Rainforest Retreat. Each is unique—one has a sleeping loft, another is a perfect hexagon, a third has a full kitchen. But with their cedar walls and ample windows and shoji screens, they bring to mind Japanese country houses.

A stone pathway even leads to a Japanese soaking tub sitting outdoors beneath a moss-covered pergola. Interiors have eclectic, tasteful furnishings (leather club chairs, farmhouse-style quilts, handmade ceramics) that make each one feel like the guesthouse of a good friend. Though kids are allowed, and futons are available for extra guests, the setting is best for quiet twosomes, rather than families or boisterous groups of friends, as guest quarters are fairly close to one another. That, and in the hush of the rain forest, loud voices just won’t do.
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