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.


Kauna’oa Bay

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel sits on one of the few white-sand beaches on the Kohala Coast – Kauna’oa Bay. Unlike most beaches on the island, which are formed from coral or lava, the sand here is silica.

The shape and terrain of the bay make it a perfect haven for relaxing, swimming and paddling. There is also a raft moored mid-bay. Mornings are often the best time for ocean activities, while the wind is light and the waters calm. Summer months don’t usually see much surf, but on a big swell during winter months, the waves sometimes break across the entire bay. Both points have fun surf spots and when a sandbar forms, it makes for great bodysurfing and boogie boarding.


As with most Hawaiian words, Kauna’oa refers to several different things, any which the Hawaiians could have been referring to when naming the bay. First, and the most likely origin of the name, is the yellow-orange vine (Cuscuta Sandwichiana) that sprawls along the coastline and is the official lei vine of Lanai island; next is a mollusk (Vermetidae) found in the area that solidly fixes itself to rocks; and finally is a coarse seaweed (Galaxaura Rugosa) that is yellow and gold in color. Coincidentally, the yellow-orange color of the Kauna’oa compliments Mauna Kea’s orange plumeria logo and could well have been its inspiration.

Beach Club Activities and Price List

Equipment Rental

We have everything you need for a memorable day at the beach!

  • Stand-Up Paddle Boards (SUP)
  • Prone Boards
  • Snorkeling Equipment
  • Boogie Boards
  • Laser Sail Boat
  • OC1 (1-Man Outrigger Canoe)
  • OC2 (2-Man Outrigger Canoe)
  • 1-Person Kayaks
  • 2-Person Kayaks

For inquiries or to make reservations, please email or call (808) 882-5336.

Beach Adventures

Whether paddling along the coast in a sleek outrigger canoe or starting your day on a Stand-Up Paddle Board, we offer a wide range of ocean adventures for all to enjoy!

  • Stand-Up Paddle Board Lesson
  • Distance Canoe Paddle
  • Sailing Canoe Adventure

For inquiries or to make reservations, please email or call (808) 882-5336.

Manta Moonlight Snorkel

Join us for a private snorkel tour with the Mauna Kea Mantas and enjoy the manta rays in their natural habitat. Don’t miss the opportunity to be guided by the researcher that has studied these gentle giants for 26 years.

  • Join researcher James Wing for a private tour with the Mauna Kea mantas. Experience and understand what you are seeing and learn interesting and educational information you’d never have thought to ask!
  • Tours available Monday through Saturday.
  • To book your reservations, visits Manta Moonlight Snorkel

Bullet’s Ocean Adventures Sunset Paddle

As the sun sets on Kauna‘oa Bay, learn about the history and culture of Hawai‘i while paddling an outrigger canoe.

  • Guests of all ages can have the experience of a lifetime with ocean enthusiast Bullet Obra.  He not only incorporates Hawaiian history and culture with stories of the Kohala Coast, but this outrigger canoe activity also provides the best views of Kauna’oa Bay during sunset.  If you’re lucky you may even see the legendary Mauna Kea Manta Rays during your time on the water.
  • Tours available daily at 5:30pm.
  • To book your reservations, email our Concierge or call (808) 882-5707.

Beach – one of the best on the island. Silky white sand hugs your feet. Turquoise water with white beach sand creates a secret paradise spot.

Anna M. |  Yelp

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