The grande dame of the Kohala Coast has long been regarded as one of the state's premier vacation resort hotels, and it borders one of the island's finest white-sand beaches, Kaunaoa. Bathrooms are large and luxurious and come with L'Occitane bath amenities, and beds are plush, but outside the rooms has much to offer, too, including an 18-hole championship golf course, a top-rated oceanfront tennis club, and a fitness center. If all you want to do is relax, there's the Mandara spa, an outdoor swimming pool, and lots of comfy lounge chairs on the beach, which, incidentally, is a perfect crescent of sand and sea, or rent a stand-up paddleboard or canoe on-site. The hotel has two wings: the Main Tower and the Beachfront Wing. The latter's ground-floor units allow you to wake up and go right out to the beach.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The actual building that provides the framework for the hotel is a bit dated, clearly built in the 1960s, so it doesn’t look like what you’d expect in a luxury hotel, but it gives it a lot of personality that sets it apart from the rest.
Guests can choose between tower rooms, with beautiful panoramic views of the ocean and the hotel’s championship golf course or beachfront rooms that have stunning views and easy beach access (along with some connecting rooms). There are also suite options in both wings. Each room features a large lanai for lounging, a built-in entertainment center that closes into the wall so that guests can enjoy modern amenities or shut them all out like the early days of the hotel, free Wi-Fi, mini-fridges stocked with water, and coffee maker. The decor in the rooms is bright and contemporary, though still manages to pull in a bit of the ‘60s feel to it.
If you want sand on your toes as quickly as possible, you’ll want to spring for a first floor beach room -- though the views won’t be as expansive as a higher floor, you’ll get to walk almost directly onto the beach from your room.
The bathtubs at Mauna Kea are downright divine--the incredibly deep and luxurious tubs are limited to the deluxe rooms and suites, but are absolutely worth the extra cost, as many have ocean views. The deep tubs have adjacent rain head showers in the open room and the upgraded bathrooms have their own lanais. The standard bathrooms are nothing to sneeze at either, also with deep tubs (and rain shower head in the tub), large vanities, and L’Occitane products.
The open-air lobby area isn’t particularly opulent, but it does give guests the chance to start relaxing and enjoying Hawaii from the minute they walk in by offering seated check-in, a drink, and cold towel with a view of the ocean. Women receive a flower lei and men receive a kukui nut lei upon arrival, and children also receive a welcome gift.
The large, round pool with ocean view is ringed by loungers with umbrellas, lush foliage, swaying palms, and a few cabanas. The hot tub is adjacent to the pool. Guests have use of the Mauna Kea beach towels, which are huge and pocketed to slide ride over the back of lounge chairs.
The Mauna Kea Spa by Mandara uses Balinese and Hawaiian-inspired therapies to meet the needs of guests and transform their vacations into a relaxing experience. The spa offers massage, aromatherapy, skin care, and body treatments in five treatment rooms, as well as their couples suite. In addition to the spa, the hotel’s salon offers nail, hair, and makeup services.
The enormous fitness center holds a variety of cardio and weight machines by Life Fitness, with personal training services available. In addition to the gym, guests can enjoy the world-class 18-hole golf course with an incredible over-the-ocean 3rd hole, as well as an 11-court tennis club (both with pro-shops).
Breakfast, dinner, and Sunday brunch can all be enjoyed with open-air seating and beautiful bay views at Manta, with Pacific Rim inspired dishes and a magnificent breakfast buffet. Enjoy live music with dinner and drinks on Wednesday and Saturday evenings.No dinner at Manta is complete without a visit to the restaurant’s namesake -- walk down a short path to the ocean to visit the hotel’s manta ray viewing deck for a real treat.
Guests can enjoy sweeping ocean views and casual, beachy charm over a craft cocktail, beer, or wine and tapas or a full entree at Copper, which offers coffee and grab and go service in the morning (as Copper Bar Cafe), then lunch into evening bar and food service throughout the day. For on the beach dining with light fare, guests can dine at Hau Tree for lunch and dinner, with special seasonal clambakes on Saturday evenings. More light fare, cocktails, and smoothies can be found at Number 3 Restaurant for those looking to grab a bite while on the golf course. Finally, the hotel offers a memorable luau dining experience, complete with show, every Tuesday and Friday.
Between the bar at Manta and Copper Bar, guests have plenty of choices between handcrafted cocktails, beers, and wines (Manta boasts an expansive, impressive wine list).
You’ll need a car to reach your accommodations and explore the rest of the island.
Pueo’s Osteria (20-min drive) offers farm to table Italian-inspired fare that, while it isn’t what you’d think of as Hawaiian food, includes some local favorites like Hamakua mushrooms and lilikoi cheesecake. A lovely wine menu and a late-night happy hour with limited food menu for night owls from 9:30 p.m. to midnight make this a great spot to wine and dine.
At Lava Lava Beach Club (17-min drive) find a menu that includes happy hour specials, daily fish preparations, and island twists on classic foods like hamburgers and ribs all right on the beach. The bar is also a huge draw, with delicious and strong cocktails (the “Big Bamboocha” will definitely get your vacation started well) and a nice wine menu.
Get drinks and a show at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar (44-min drive), an open-air jazz bar with great beer and wine selections, plus a few decadent desser-tinis to complement their cocktail list.
Kona Brewing Company (43-min drive) has some of the best pizza you’ll find in Hawaii, paired with a fun atmosphere and the chance to taste a variety of their famous brews.
WHY WE LIKE IT
In many ways Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is the kind of luxury resort you picture in your head when you think of Hawaii, set right along a gorgeous white sand beach. Its updated rooms and look brings luxury a bit more contemporary, featuring the resort’s signature white and orange colors.
Having on-site shops for sundries (Accents) and jewelry (Hildgund), as well as the Mauna Kea Market with food and alcohol, all add to the dining and activity options, making Mauna Kea a resort you never need to leave. We also love that it has so much history, as the oldest resort on the island, which gives it a bit more personality than others. And if we’re being really honest, the bathrooms at this hotel make you want to never leave your room. Good thing there’s room service!