Hawaii Island’s First Resort

It was while swimming in the turquoise waters of Kauna‘oa Bay, surrounded by a wide landscape of lava rock and ranchland with clear views of the Mauna Kea summit, that American conservationist and venture capitalist Laurance S. Rockefeller decided to build Hawaii Island’s first resort. His inspiration to capture the spirit of this special place and ensure the hotel conformed to, rather than intruded upon, these beautiful natural surroundings, became today’s Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

1960: Experimenting on the beach

Rockefeller’s original concept was a cluster of individual cottages along the beach, with no televisions or air-conditioning to interfere with the natural environment of the Kohala Coast. Architects Skidmore Owings Merrill produced a dome-shaped model that was almost washed out by a tropical storm, so a single-building design was next refined by lead architect Charles Bassett. Air-conditioning proved to be crucial in the warm, nearly always sunny South Kohala climate. But from 1965 to 1995, the hotel operated contentedly without guestroom televisions as Rockefeller had always intended.

1964Golf First

In 1964, a year before the hotel was ready to receive guests, Mauna Kea Golf Course opened and became Hawaii Island’s first course. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, who had pioneered a technique to create soil from lava rock, the course debuted with a televised “Big 3” match between Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

1965: Great beginnings

When it opened in July 1965 with 154 guestrooms after a $15 million build-out, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was the most expensive hotel ever built. Praised by travel writers and critics worldwide, it was named one of the “three greatest hotels in the world” by Esquire magazine, one of the “10 best buildings of 1966” by Fortune, and presented with an honors award by the American Institute of Architects in 1967. What were viewed as exorbitant room rates started at $43 per night, including breakfast and dinner in the Pavilion, which featured international cuisine.

1968: The New Wing

A new Beachfront Wing was added in 1968, designed by Honolulu architects Wimberly, Whisenand, Allison, Tong and Goo, with interior design by Phyllis Brownlee. Original paintings by John Young were commissioned for the guestrooms, and the Batik restaurant and Lounge was also added.

1994-95: A Sister Property

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel closed for renovation in 1994, a few months before the opening of adjacent Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel that August. Designed by Beachfront Wing architects Wimberly Allison Tong and Goo, Hapuna delivered a contemporary resort experience at the other end of the Mauna Kea Resort property, featuring all ocean-facing rooms, meeting and business facilities, and an exclusive villa. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened in December 1995 and the two hotels in tandem comprised a world-class resort and residential experience on the beautiful Kohala Coast.

2008: Next Generation

Following a damaging earthquake in October 2006 and an unprecedented two year, $150 million renovation, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel reopened in December 2008. In classic Mauna Kea style, the hotel continues to welcome generations of guests to reconnect with life’s most authentic pleasures.

2015: Marriott’s Autograph Collection

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel became Hawaii’s first Autograph Collection Hotel through a marketing partnership. The Autograph Collection is an ensemble of strikingly independent hotels across the country. Each destination has been selected for its quality, bold originality, rich character and uncommon details.

2016: Historic Hotel

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was inducted as a member of Historic Hotels of America. HHA is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which recognizes and celebrates the finest historic hotels across America.

The Best Hawaiian Food at the Mauna Kea Luau

Best Hawaiian FoodVisitors from across the globe fly to the Island of Hawaii to sunbathe on beautiful beaches, explore the world’s most diverse natural habitat, experience the unique culture, and try authentic Hawaiian cuisines. You simply cannot leave Kaunaʻoa Bay without indulging in a luau dinner & show at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. Not only will you have the pleasure of witnessing talented island dancers performing hula accompanied by traditional Hawaiian music, but you’ll be able to taste your way through a variety of authentic, island-inspired dishes alongside contemporary favorites. Discover the diverse tastes of the Hawaiian islands with family and friends at a magical luau outdoors under the stars near the sandy shores of the Pacific Ocean. Then after dining on some of the best Hawaiian food on the island, complete your evening inside your elegant and relaxing ocean-view suite with a bottle of Dom Pérignon or other fine wine. Here are six delicious Hawaiian favorites available at every Mauna Kea luau.


Some say that poi is an acquired taste. That’s only true if you’re not correctly pairing it with other Hawaiian food. Poi is a nutritious, thick, pasty traditional starch dish made from taro root, which isn’t overly different from a potato. It’s starchy, faintly sour taste pairs tastefully with lomi-lomi salmon, kalua pig, and many other local proteins.


Most of our Mauna Kea restaurants, including in-room dining, serve fresh poke bowls. Many guests may have already tried poke, pronounced poh-kay, or have seen it on a menu at a local restaurant. Poke is, quite simply, cubes of raw fish combined with seasonings and onion. Every establishment has their own “secret” way of making this island favorite. Mauna Kea offers housemade ahi (tuna) poke that is seasoned lightly with soy sauce, Hawaiian sea salt, and onions.


The best Hawaiian food, to some, is laulau. Laulau is small chunks of pork and often a small piece of fish, wrapped in taro leaves and an outer ti leaf and then cooked in an underground oven heated with hot rocks, called an imu, for hours. The slow pressure-cooker-like steaming helps earn its tenderness and smoky flavor. The taro leaves resemble cooked spinach or kale after smoking for a few hours.

Kalua Pig

Best Hawaiian FoodFor true pork lovers, one can never get enough. Kalua pig is slow-cooked in the same underground imu oven as laulau after the pig is stuffed with red-hot lava rock and topped with ti and banana leaves. Kalua pig perfectly pairs with a bed of steamed rice, Portuguese sweet bread and butter, Island stir-fried vegetables, and of course poi.

Chicken Long Rice

While chicken long rice is technically not a traditional Hawaiian delicacy, it’s part of Hawaii’s culinary diversity, said to have originated from Chinese plantation workers. It is often a side option at a luau. Chicken long rice is clear mung bean noodles that are cooked in chicken stock. The result is a tasty stew of clear noodles and chicken with a hint of ginger.

Lomi-Lomi Salmon

Many locals believe lomi-lomi salmon is the very best Hawaiian dish, mainly because of its pairs perfectly with poi. Lomi-lomi is raw, cured salmon that is diced and tossed with tomatoes and diced sweet onions. It resembles pico de gallo in many ways without the kick.

Best Hawaiian Food

Take a peek at the Mauna Kea luau menu to see culinary extravaganza available to every guest. Mauna Kea Beach Hotel also has beautiful beachside and ocean view restaurants, one of the best golf courses in Hawaii, and guestrooms and suites that provide laid-back luxury and understated elegance. For more information about our twice-weekly luau, visit our detailed website!

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