FOR OVER A CENTURY, travelers have flocked to Hawaii for luxury vacations, but it took until 1965 for similarly upscale lodgings to take root on the Big Island, thanks to the vision of Laurence Rockefeller. He saw potential in the sprawling lava fields and white sand beaches of the sunny Kohala Coast, creating the iconic Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and its equally renowned golf course. Today, most luxury accommodations on the island of Hawai‘i Island are still in South Kohala or North Kona, green oases bracketed by black lava. Here are our favorites, heading north to south:
TIP: Most hotels have 4 pm check-in. Ask for an early check-in.
If they can’t accommodate, they will let you store your bags so you can head to the beach!
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel
- Spacious rooms with large baths and closets sport a Japanese-inspired aesthetic, with natural wood and lots of the hotel’s signature orange. Take advantage of the free beach services, from lounge chairs to stand-up paddle boards. Don’t miss sunset hula and cocktails at the Copper Bar, or dinner at Manta restaurant, named for the graceful manta rays that can be observed below it at night.
Mauna Lani, an Auberge Resort
- Don’t miss one of the frequent cultural experiences offered by the resort’s revered expert, Danny Akaka Jr., who also supervises the long-running monthly concert and storytelling series (virtual during the pandemic era) amid the resort’s historic, oceanfront fish ponds. A rare outpost of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop retail collection stands next to the Market, an excellent gift shop, deli and cafe. Golfers have their choice of two engagingly scenic courses.
- The upscale, open-air Brown’s Beach House overlooks the Fairmont’s sandy swimming cove, while the casual, thatched-roof Hale Kai sits on the shoreline next to the pool; both make full use of the Big Island’s bountiful seafood, beef and produce. Expected to reopen after the pandemic ebbs are the lively Luana Lounge, perfect for sunset cocktails, and equally vibrant Binchotan, a Japanese-themed bar and grill named for its specially sourced charcoal.
Lava Lava Beach Club
- Complimentary bikes and stand-up paddle boards are at the ready for you to explore the resort or the bay, while lunch and dinner at the restaurant with your toes in the sand make restoring your energy easy and delicious. Sunsets are gorgeous here, especially accompanied by a cocktail on your private lanai.
Four Seasons Hualalai
- Ground-floor rooms boast large, outdoor showers with lava rock walls and tropical foliage. Snorkeling amid rays and tropical fish inthe saltwater-fed, carefully monitored King’s Pond is a magical experience, which you can now extend by basking in the new infinity-edge pool next to it. Learn more at an interactive educational session held in the new Kumu Kai Marine Center, also adjacent to the pond. Golfers will want to hone their game using the virtual technology in a new 3,000-square foot instruction facility that also doubles as a family lounge and group entertainment venue.
- Book the stand-alone vintage Darrell Hill Cottage or newly renovated Red Barn for ultimate privacy and even more space. At a cooler 1,400-foot elevation on the slopes of Hualalai volcano, the 30-acre grounds include 5,300 coffee trees; naturally, the estate’s Brazen Hazen coffee (named for founder Cassandra Hazen) is served with the gourmet tropical breakfast. After a day exploring, savor the vistas from the hillside hot tub or gazebo.