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.

Aerial View of Mauna Kea's Hawaii Island Beach, Just Steps from the Ala Kahakai Trail.

The Island of Hawaii is lush with beaches, waterfalls, tropical rainforests, stark lava landscapes, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, plus rich history and culture, which makes it the best Hawaiian island to visit. Stay at the beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and experience the wonders of Hawaii while you’re here. These are the 10 reasons to visit the Island of Hawaii this summer. 


Hawaii Island is known for its multitude of colorful beaches, so it can be difficult to decide which ones to visit. Choices include the coal-black sands of Punalu’u Beach or the island’s longest white sand beach, Hapuna Beach State Park. Check out this beach guide for more options.


Among the island’s wonders are the waterfalls, including ‘Akaka Falls, which cascades a whopping 422-feet! If you’re looking for a less-visited waterfall, try Nanue Falls on the Hamakua Coast. There are also guided tours if you don’t want to find the waterfalls on your own that can be reserved here.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is full of amazement at every turn.  More than 150 miles of hiking trails is a great way to see many of them. Different trails can take you past steam vents, craters, petroglyphs, and volcanic “glass.” Another highlight is the Nahuku Lava Tube, a cave where molten lava long ago flowed. 

Helicopter Tours

Exploring the island from the air is the best way to get a sense of the island’s enormous size and diverse landscape. Helicopter tours are available to see volcanoes, waterfalls, or the island as a whole. Explore the best tours available here. 

The Mauna Kea Luau

Photo of the Mauna Kea Luau. Welcome to the Best Island to Visit in Hawaii.

The Mauna Kea luau, outdoors, under the stars, is a way to experience Hawaii’s culture and traditions. The family-style dinner includes delicious traditional foods and the lively show is a performance of music, dancing, and storytelling. 


Snorkeling is a popular activity but be sure and check in with lifeguards and be aware of ocean conditions before exploring Hawaii’s underwater world. Sea Quest Hawaii offers an opportunity to explore sea caves and lava tubes. There are dozens of adventures to choose from, depending on your skills and interests. 

Explore Quaint Towns and Villages

Many of Hawaii Island’s small communities were once thriving sugar cane plantation towns. Nowadays, you’ll find vibrant art scenes, craft boutiques, and farmer’s markets in communities such as Honoka’a, Holualoa, and Volcano Village.


While on the Big Island, it’s essential to spend a night stargazing. Mauna Kea Summit has a telescope open to the public for the best stargazing experience. You can drive to the summit yourself or choose to take a guided tour there. 

Historic Hawaii

The Island of Hawaii is rich with history to be explored. These sites include ancient fishponds, petroglyphs, and temples. The island’s historical parks include Kaloko-Honokohau, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, and Lapakahi. 

Coffee Plantations

If you’re visiting the south Kona region, make sure to tour one of the many coffee plantations. The coffee grown here is rare, delicious, and a must-try for coffee lovers! 

There are endless varieties of ways to experience the wonders the Island of Hawaii has to offer. Whether you want to enjoy the beaches or explore a farmer’s market, the island’s adventures are endless. Book your stay at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel or make a reservation by calling 877-880-6524.

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