The best places to stay in Hawaii

Say ‘aloha’ to Hawaii Island’s most storied stays, where historic royal towns, ancient ruins and a landscape carved by raw volcanic power offer a backdrop every bit as enticing as the accommodation…

Jeanne Cooper
31 October 2023

Courtyard King Kamehameha’s, Kona Beach Hotel

Beautiful views from Courtyard King Kamehameha’s (Courtyard by Marriott)

King Kamehameha the Great, who unified the Hawaiian islands in 1810, held councils by Kamakahonu Cove in Kailua-Kona – the small beach in front of the hotel – until his death in 1819. Today, performers dressed in royal attire arrive via outrigger to the hotel’s luau, while the lobby has portraits of Hawaii’s ali‘i (royalty) and paintings by revered cultural historian Herb Kawainui Kāne. Some of the 452 recently renovated rooms have views of the Mokuaikaua Church (the first in the islands), Hualalai volcano and the Hulihe‘e Palace, a summer palace-turned-museum that reflects the decline of Hawaii’s royalty in the 20th century. The two hotel restaurants offer good value, but the coffee bar and shaved ice stand are tastier.

More information: Rooms from around £319 per night, excluding breakfast;

Holualoa Inn

Holualoa Inn is one of the last B&Bs (Jumping Rocks Inc)

One of few B&Bs left on the island, this lodge lies south of Kailua-Kona and sits high above the ocean on a 12-hectare farm filled with 5,300 coffee trees and lavish foliage. Owners Paul and Cassandra Hazen sell their Kona coffee under the Brazen Hazen label, and you can get a custom cup every morning with your garden-sourced breakfast in the ocean-view dining room. Check out the art in the Great Room, then make the most of the vistas from the hilltop pool and gazebo. Guest rooms have ocean, garden or pool views, but be prepared for the nightly chirp of tree frogs. When you’re not gazing out to sea, visit the nearby HN Greenwell Store Museum, one of the oldest buildings on the island, which delves into the area’s agricultural history.

More information: Rooms from around £460 per night (minimum two nights), including breakfast;

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai is not far from bustling Kailua-Kona (Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts)

Considered one of the planet’s finest luxury hotels – and a definite Wanderlust ‘Dream Sleep’ – this peaceful compound in North Kona sits a few kilometres from the airport and bustling Kailua-Kona, yet it is a world apart from both. It sets a high bar with its exquisite dining, abundant cultural activities and excellent spa with fitness and wellness facilities. Spacious guest rooms in muted and natural tones reside in a series of unobtrusive, two-storey buildings amid winding walkways and extensive tropical landscaping; most ground-floor rooms include private outdoor showers. Swim in the aquarium-like King’s Pond snorkelling lagoon and come face to face with over 30 different species of fish. In total, you have a choice of seven pools, including an infinity masterpiece overlooking the King’s Pond.

Yet what makes this Four Seasons truly exceptional is its profound sense of place and the obvious care that it shows Hawaii’s environment and people. The museum-like Ka‘ūpūlehu Cultural Center offers an assiduously curated dive into Hawaiian culture, with dozens of free activities available each week, including weaving and Hawaiian language classes. The concierge can further connect you with some unique immersive experiences, such as making your own knife or ukulele, or learning to freedive, all with a local master. Among many sustainability initiatives, the resort’s herb garden and oyster pond help supply its restaurants, which source more than 75% of their ingredients locally.

More information: Rooms from around £1,280 per night, including breakfast;

Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort

Kona Village was recently rebuilt after being destroyed in a tsunami (Kona Village, A Rosewood Resort)

The tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011 also managed to destroy Kona Village, which first opened in 1965 on 32 beachfront hectares of black lava softened by tropical landscaping. The resort developed an avid following, despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of phones and TVs – the late Apple guru Steve Jobs was a regular. This summer, the rebuilt hotel reopened under new owners (including Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell Jobs), this time with an eco-luxury sensibility. All of its 150 thatched-roof bungalows come with natural furnishings and spacious lanais (decks). A pair of Pacific Rim restaurants, a spa and four outdoor pools ups the relaxation factor, but the knowledge that the resort is 100% solar-powered and committed to zero waste is arguably comfort enough.

More information: Rooms from around £1,346 per night, including breakfast;

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

Mauna Kea first opened in 1965 (Mauna Kea Beach Hotel)

Opened in 1965, the island’s first resort bagged the perfect location on a white-sand beach on the Kohala Coast. Hawaiians dubbed the area Kauna‘oa, after the native pale-orange vine, but developer and oil heir Laurance Rockefeller named this stay after the snow-capped mountain in the distance. The 252-room hotel’s mid-century architecture remains an impressive showcase for its benefactor’s collection of Asian and Pacific art, while the acres of green lawns, Copper Bar and open-air lounge (with nightly hula) draw an affluent crowd. The hillside Manta restaurant takes its moniker from the rays that perform evening acrobatics around a rocky point below. The hotel is also a great base to explore the nearby Lapakahi State Historical Park, home to a 600-year-old fishing village and short trail.

More information: Rooms from around £625 per night, excluding breakfast;

The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls

View waterfalls from the windows of The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls (Inn at Kulaniapia Falls)

Visitors often give short shrift to the windward side of Hawaii Island, due to its frequent showers and paucity of sandy beaches. Yet you’ll also find waterfalls, lush gardens and fertile farmland, as well as the island’s largest town, Hilo, where the Lyman House Memorial Museum offers a nice cultural primer in a converted 19th-century mission house. West of town, this hotel compound and its namesake cascade lie in a river-formed cleft in the green hillsides. Its four off-grid buildings provide 12 guest rooms and suites, each decorated with Balinese furnishings, plus there are also five stylish farm cabins. Best of all, breakfast is served on the lanai of the main residence, which has the finest view of the falls.

More information: Rooms from around £166 per night, including breakfast; farm cabins from £83 per night, excluding breakfast;

Kamuela Inn

The cosy interiors of Kamuela Inn (Sarah Anderson)

Those staying on the arid Kohala Coast are often surprised that within a 20-minute drive lies a misty landscape of emerald-green cinder cones and cattle country. Around the town of Waimea, where the Kamuela Inn lies on a quiet side street, are small farms growing tomatoes and strawberries, while the nearby Parker Ranch burnishes a local paniolo (cowboy) heritage that predates even that of Texas – find out more at Waimea’s Paniolo Heritage Museum. This 30-room stay near the island’s landmark farm-to-table restaurant, Merriman’s, certainly leans into the area’s cowboy past: bathrooms feature horseshoe fixtures and sliding barn doors, while the local-style breakfast (eggs, rice, Portuguese sausage) would delight any cowpoke.

More information: Rooms from around £199 per night, including breakfast;

Lava Lava Beach Club

A porch with a view at Lava Lava Beach Club (Lava Lava Beach Club)

These four ‘surf shacks’ – each a contemporary one-bedroom cottage including a well-stocked kitchenette and covered lanai (deck) – are about as close to the ocean as you can get in Hawaii. They sit just steps from the waters of Anaeho‘omalu Bay, nicknamed A-Bay by tongue-tied non-Hawaiians. Watch green sea turtles nibble at algae-covered rocks shaded by hau trees whose blossoms change from yellow to burgundy in a single day. You’re also just steps from its ‘toes in the sand’ restaurant, which has live music until 9pm nightly. During the day, borrow a stand-up paddleboard to explore the bay, or bag a bike to pedal to Hikinaakalä Heiau, the remains of an ancient place of worship next to the mouth of the River Wailua.

You may also like: Cottages from around £747 per night, excluding breakfast;

Kilauea Lodge

Beds are covered in Hawaiian quilts at Kilauea Lodge (Kambria Fischer Photography)

When you visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, plan on spending at least one night in the vicinity. If lava is burbling in Halemaumau Crater, you’ll be rewarded with an entrancing glow under starry skies; if not, you’ll still avoid a long round-trip. This low-key hotel and restaurant in nearby Volcano Village opened as a YMCA camp in the 1930s. Spread across two buildings and a cottage, its 12 guestrooms sport retro touches such as stained-glass windows and Hawaiian quilts, and its lack of TVs and phones lets you focus on your surroundings. The fern-filled garden hides a gazebo with hot tub, which is ideal after hiking in the national park, or take a trip to the nearby ‘green sand’ beach, which is formed by tiny crystals (olivines).

More information: Rooms from around £239 per night, excluding breakfast;

Volcano House

View an active volcano from the windows of Volcano House (Janice Wei)

Set in Hawaii Volcanoes NP, the massive crater that this vintage hotel overlooks may not always be illuminated by fountains of lava, but it makes for a singularly impressive backdrop even when Kīlauea volcano isn’t erupting. The Rim restaurant and adjacent Uncle George’s Lounge offer the widest panoramas, so the substantial up-charge for a crater-view room isn’t necessary. Its 33 rooms are comfortable but by no means plush, since the hotel’s historic status and the park’s rules limit renovations. The real benefit is being able to wake up and explore this UNESCO-listed park, with its walkable lava tube and gushing steam vents, before the tour buses pull up in the morning. The hotel also has rustic cabins and campsites in a nearby forested area of the park.

More information: Rooms from around £222 per night; cabins from £62 per night, excluding breakfast;

Fairmont Orchid

Guests at the Fairmont Orchid can paddle on a complimentary outrigger canoe (Trevor Clark/Clarkbourne Creative)

Entering the vast black lava fields of the Mauna Lani Resort complex on the Kohala Coast is an exercise in faith that a lusher oasis awaits. Validation comes in the form of the landscaped grounds of numerous condos, the two 18-hole golf courses, a shopping centre and a pair of beachfront hotels: the Auberge-managed Mauna Lani to the south and the Fairmont to the north. Although the latter holds 540 guestrooms in its two wings, the hotel’s U-shaped layout, set around a large green yard with meandering walkways to its oceanfront attractions, means it never feels crowded. Instead, the atmosphere is one of intimacy, gracious service and tranquil beauty.

Green sea turtles frequently bask along the pebbled shoreline, which includes a safe, sandy cove for swimming and snorkelling. Paddle on a complimentary outrigger canoe ride and hear the stories and legends of Hawaii, as narrated by local team members. The Fairmont’s Spa Without Walls intersperses its thatched treatment rooms amid a rainforest setting, with waterfalls and tropical foliage providing serenity as well as privacy. Just outside the hotel’s arrival area, take a short hike to one of the island’s largest sites of ancient petroglyphs, boasting more than 3,000 carvings, then refresh yourself with a liliko‘i (passion fruit) margarita at Hale Kai restaurant.

More information: Rooms from around £389 per night, including breakfast;

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