The Big Island Hawaii Guide
It’s true that every Hawaiian island has something different to offer—but it’s also true that there a lot of different experiences to be had even on a single island. And despite all the arguments to be made for the superiority of any given destination—visitors tend to be overwhelmingly loyal to either the place they went on family vacations growing up or their honeymoon spots—“the best island” is, like most things, a matter of opinion. The Big Island is cool because it’s home to the majority of the world’s climate zones; you can see snowcapped mountains, black and white sand beaches, jungles, and active volcanoes. It’s also great for families and easily accessible by direct flight from Los Angeles. Not your cup of tea? We also have a guide to the more luxurious Maui, a guide to the more urban Oahu (which is home to Honolulu), and a guide to the lovely and low-key Kauai.
Fairmont Orchid1 N. Kaniku Dr., Kohala Coast | 808.885.2000
Set on 32 acres along the Kohala Coast, the Fairmont Orchid spills onto a white-sand lagoon beach and the bright blue-green waters of Pauoa Bay. Every room here comes with its own lanai, many with lovely views of the ocean, or the island’s waterfalls and the Fairmont's tropical gardens. The most luxurious rooms and suites are on the sixth floor of the resort’s North Tower, known as “Fairmont Gold.” The spa here has several private oceanfront huts (hale) adjacent to cascading waterfalls (not a bad setting for a massage), as well as indoor treatment rooms, a sauna and a steam room. The resort also plays host to 10 quality tennis courts (with lights for night). And next to the Fairmont is the Francis H. I'i Brown Golf Course, which encompasses two different 18-hole courses.
Mauna Kea Beach Hotel62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr., Puako | 808.882.7222
When Mauna Kea opened in the mid-1960s as part of Laurance S. Rockefeller's hotel group, it was said to be the most expensive hotel ever built, at $15 million. Designed by architect Edward Charles Bassett of the firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the hotel itself is a stunning modernist masterpiece. In the decades since, it’s remained a favorite Big Island hotel—thanks in part to a $150 million renovation in the mid-2000s that helped Mauna Kea keep pace with the newer luxury resorts on Hawaii. The beach here (white-sand Kauna‘oa) is one of the best hotel beaches you’ll find on the island. Mauna Kea is also known for its famed golf course, which was built by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and debuted in 1964 with the Big Three (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player) on the course. Like the hotel, Mauna Kea Golf Course underwent a thoughtful renovation (overseen by Rees Jones, son of Robert Trent Jones) that maintained all its beauty (and challenges). For those who favor tennis, there’s an also an 11-court seaside club at Mauna Kea. The restaurant to dine at here is Manta though they also put on an intimate and excellent laua two nights a week that's great for families with kids in tow. (You don't have to stay at the hotel to make reservations.)
Four Seasons Resort Hualalai72-100 Ka`upulehu Dr., Kohala Coast | 808.325.8000
The seven varied pools at the Four Seasons on the Kona-Kohala coast provide ample opportunity for R&R, as well as fun and games for the kids. The adults-only pool faces the ocean and has a swim-up bar with bench seating. The lagoon-shaped family pool has an infinity edge that seems to bleed into the ocean and is dotted with cabanas big enough for the whole gang. (Next to this is a smaller, freshwater kiddie pool with a sand bottom. And for kids ages 5 to 12 who might enjoy more organized activities, the Four Seasons offers a camp-like program at their Cultural Center—shell necklace making, star navigation, Ukelele lessons, Hawaiian classes are all on offer.) There’s also “King’s Pond,” a 1.8-million gallon pool that combines fresh and ocean water and is home to 4,000 tropical fish for those who feel too timid to snorkel in the open ocean. Plus, a lap pool, an incredible spa, and a fitness complex where they even stage occasional Iron Man workshops. The rooms here, needless to say, are well-appointed, but the private two- and three-bedroom villas are on another level: set in secluded bungalows, they've got gorgeous oceanside views, generously sized lanais, private hot tubs, and are tastefully outfitted with local Hawaiian artwork. There are several on-site restaurants, like Beach Tree and Ulu's Sushi lounge, which are only available to guests, though they occasionally take outside reservations during the off-season. While you don't really need to leave, there are several on-site concierges to make adventure reservations, whether you want to do an all-island helicopter tour, zip-lining, or swimming with the dolphins—you can also snag a car from the on-site Hertz to go and explore the island yourself.