Ever come across an incredible hotel that stops you mid-scroll and makes you think, Wow, wouldn’t it be something to stay there? We do, too—all the time. Welcome to Friday Fantasy, where we highlight amazing hotels, lodges, cabins, tents, campsites, and other places perched in perfect outdoor settings. Read on for the intel you need to book an upcoming adventure here. Or at least dream about it.
My first steps into the open-air lobby of the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort on Hawaii’s Big Island were overwhelming in the best possible way.
From the check-in counter, my eyes were drawn to what awaited outdoors: towering 60-foot palm trees, a white-sand beach, and shimmering aqua waters of the Pacific, all visible from the lobby. The softness and greenery of the scene were a welcome contrast to the jagged mountainscape of my home state of Colorado. While I’m generally more at home in a tent, I was sure glad I’d made an exception to visit the Westin—and so was my wife.
It wasn’t only the natural beauty that stirred my senses. The hotel’s magnificent architecture takes on a unique aura, depending on the time of day. Soft lighting and spacious lounges create a sensual, relaxing atmosphere as twilight fades into night. On our first evening there, as I sat under the stars in one of the poolside chairs, my stress melting away, I could hear music and laughter humming above. At dawn, I watched the sun slowly illuminate the blue horizon from our room. As my wife and I went downstairs for a buffet breakfast (which was excellent—more on that later), the calming interior’s soft white walls reflected morning light. It was the perfect ambiance to ease into the day.
The namesake Hapuna Beach, located on the northwestern side of the island about 30 miles from the main town of Kailua-Kona, was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit this hotel. Much of the Big Island’s beaches are craggy with igneous rocks. The only soft sand is often found in small coves peppered with pebbles. While those beaches have what I’ll call a “cozy” appeal, Hapuna’s long, white shores and gentle surf are what most of us envision when conjuring up the ideal tropical retreat. Wandering out to the beach and staking our claim under one of the hotel-provided umbrellas made us feel like we were really starting prime relaxation on our vacation.
If you tend to enjoy spending time on-site, though, the Westin doesn’t disappoint. Fragrant, colorful plumera bushes line the walkways to the pool area beyond the lobby. There’s an adults-only infinity pool with a hot tub on the top level and a family pool with a hot tub on the bottom. Both pools were fully handicapped accessible with lift chairs. We dabbled in the pools a bit more so at night, opting to spend most of our daytime hours adventuring in or near the water.
The Westin houses three restaurants, ranging from casual eateries to fine dining. I was especially intrigued by the vegetarian dishes and those made with Hawaiian ingredients. Island spices, like Alaea red salt, and native fruits, like limu, are best appreciated when fresh. You’ll taste flavors and textures unlike anywhere else in the world. It wasn’t long before I wondered how I ever lived without eating macadamia nut sundaes with warm kulolo (taro pudding) and lilikoi (passionfruit) sauce.
After dark, the Westin Hapuna takes on an elegant glow. The softly illuminated infinity pool was alluring and spacious, so I opted to float there while my wife soaked in the hot tub, sipping a mango mai tai. Thick breezes occasionally nudged the pliant palm trees, carrying the scented bouquet of beach and flora. Waves echoed in the distance, and stars sparkled in the ink-black sky. Shut your eyes for a moment, and it feels like a peaceful, lucid dream. I had to admit, I could get used to this.
Even though sitting on the beach or sipping a cocktail at the hotel bar is a great way to chill out, it’s easy to get antsy—even in paradise. Fortunately, the Westin Hapuna has a nice set of mini adventures right out of your room, both on-site and off.
The Westin Hapuna provides complimentary snorkels, masks, and flippers, ideal gear for exploring a cove just north of Hapuna Beach that’s perfect for beginners. The fish seem on board with the plan. When I was there one morning, they showed up in droves. We saw a school of yellow tang, their deep lemon-yellow scales glowing in the clear water. We were pleased to spot a few reef triggerfish, the official state fish; their streaks of iridescent blue are eye-catching, but perhaps more interesting is their native name: humuhumunukunukuapuaa. More experienced swimmers can head out farther and explore a rocky outcrop rich with sea life, including the occasional sea turtle or parrotfish.
When we visited in September, the ocean waves were calm, which locals told us is typical for that area most of the year. This makes the water suitable for kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. You can rent equipment for both at the resort for a modest charge, though we opted to invest more time snorkeling and swimming during our visit.
Another fun mini adventure is to walk or swim down the beach to its southern end (left of the resort when facing the ocean), then wade through waist-deep water to discover an easily accessed sea cave. It’s an easy, enjoyable walk that takes 10 to 15 minutes one way. We explored this humble cave twice since. It was exciting to watch the swells crash into the rocks around the cave entrance, which is about 25 feet wide, and wander inside—not something to fear, as it’s only about 30 feet deep, with a high ceiling.
A 0.7-mile hiking trail connects the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort with its sister resort, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The path heads over volcanic outcrops (so go barefoot), takes about 40 minutes, and is a great way to move your legs and start your day—it’ll warm you up nicely for all that relaxing you have ahead. If you’re seeking a more significant hike, good news: this small section is part of the larger Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, a 175-mile seaside route that passes many historical Hawaiian sites.
Mauna Kea Volcano
Like to go big? Hawaii’s highest point, 13,803-foot Mauna Kea, is roughly an hour’s drive from the resort. If you’ve rented a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can motor all the way to the summit area, where a surreal collection of astronomical observatories are positioned amid the volcanic red dirt, their white domes contrasting with the blazing blue sky. Hikers up for a tough trek can head out on the Humuula Trail from the visitor center (elevation 9,200 feet); this 13.2-mile out-and-back will test your mettle, with a whopping 4,500 vertical feet of elevation gain, and should be taken seriously. The potential for altitude sickness is real, especially if you’ve been at sea level for a few days. If you haven’t planned for the hike in advance, the drive up is still a worthy excursion and one less likely to cause a pounding headache.
I did this hike on my visit (check out my guide to hiking Mauna Kea on Backpacker), which was one of the highlights of my Hawaiian adventure. Coming from Colorado, the elevation wasn’t a big issue—though I did have to delay my hike for two days due to an invasive-species cleanup operation, something done several times each year. The long hike is nonetheless amazing. Most days you’ll be above the clouds from the start, and the looming dome of Mauna Loa dominates the southern sky. The Humuula Trail traverses terrain that compares quite favorably to the surface of Mars. The “big reveal” on the summit is the 13 observatories. The sci-fi vibe is unlike any other mountain I’ve hiked, combining ancient geography and cutting-edge technology. If you can make time for this hike, do it! The round trip, including drive time, took us about ten hours.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii Volcanoes is a more ambitious day trip, but one that can be done from the resort if you don’t mind a bit of driving. It’s slightly over two hours from the Westin Hapuna one way. It’s worth it, especially if you catch one of the random eruptions of Kilauea, an active shield volcano whose immense crater is a hotbed, no pun intended, for lava flows. But even if the volcano is calm, there are lava tubes to explore, gorgeous flora, exotic birds, and ancient petroglyphs. The Volcano House Lodge has two restaurants, and it would be wise to make reservations on the day you plan to visit.
Zip Lining at Botanical World Gardens
Botanical World Adventures is a 75-minute drive from the resort and takes you over to the eastern side of the Big Island. There you can zip down eight separate lines over the dense forest, cross a delightfully wobbly suspension bridge, and wrap up your tour with a speedy half-mile zip line over a deep ravine replete with a gorgeous waterfall. The Botanical World Gardens would be worth exploring even if you weren’t zipping around a hundred feet off the ground. The guides are excellent, good-natured, and put safety first. The entire tour takes about two hours.
Our outing was a blast. The first few zip lines are short, about 250 feet, but glide over ravines thick with twisting vines, chunky mango trees, and dense pockets of flowery shrubs. The shaky suspension bridge was giggle-worthy fun, bringing to mind countless old-time movie scenes. Between zip lines, we got to indulge in the rich gardens themselves. We sampled star fruit and sugarloaf pineapples, a white, less-sweet pineapple that has a robust pineapple taste. Out guides cut the bountiful fruit right off the plants—as fresh as it gets. On the penultimate zip line, my wife and I zipped side by side and “raced,” though since I outweigh her by at least 40 pounds, gravity was on my side and gave me a convincing win. The final half-mile zip line is incredible, though I won’t spoil it. It’s one of those things you must do yourself to fully appreciate.
Check out Botanical World Adventures for current pricing and details here.
The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort has 249 oversize guest rooms and 17 suites—there isn’t a bad room in the house. All are ocean-facing, so you’ll get a private balcony with a view of the Pacific no matter what floor you’re on. Ground-level floors have a lanai and walk-out access to the grounds. Ocean View and Premier Ocean View rooms are both excellent choices (premier rooms are on higher floors). We booked the latter. The beds are ridiculously comfy, the balconies feature lounge-a-riffic daybeds, and guests have the option of using a screen door for two-way ventilation or the A/C. It must be mentioned that all rooms come equipped with a modern bidet, a true mark of the civilized world.
Eat and Drink
The Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and nearby Mauna Kea Beach Hotel are both Marriott properties, which means guests have access to both locations’ dining options, great news for foodies. A free shuttle service runs between the two, but if you feel the need to work off your meal, you can always bring a headlamp and walk the aforementioned Ala Kahakai Trail as a post-dinner constitutional.
On-site options at the Westin Hapuna Beach include:
- The Meridia, an oceanside fine-dining establishment that combines Mediterranean dishes with many creative Hawaiian twists, such as Plancha Hawaiian Ahi (an ahi salad with a touch of Kona-harvested Hawaiian salt) and Island Mushroom Risotto.
- The Naupaka Beach Grill punches way above its namesake as a mere grill. All the usual pub suspects are here but raised a notch, thanks to the addition of Hawaiian elements (I mentioned its Hawaiian banana split at the start of this article). The Naupaka Grill is on the resort’s ground floor (below the Meridia), so all the beachside sounds and sites enhance the experience.
- Piko Coffee and Bar serves up delicious, distinct cups of warm Kona coffee by day, strawberry-guava mai tais and assorted snacks by night. Piko is set in the spacious hotel lobby, with excellent views of the entire grounds. Live music is available most nights.
- Finally, ’Ikena Landing is the place to grab a hearty breakfast with a great panorama. Like Piko, this restaurant is set on one of the tiered levels connected to the hotel lobby. The incredible Moku Nui Breakfast Buffet is one of the absolute best we’ve been to, seemingly offering the whole menu—from salmon and eggs to fresh Hawaiian fruit—in one place.
When to Go
There’s really no bad time to visit Hawaii. The temperature is consistent (between 75 and 83 degrees), with only minor fluctuations in rainfall. September to October and April to May are Hawaii’s shoulder seasons, so the crowds will be lower than during the peak-visitation months of July and December.
How to Get There
Fly into Kona International Airport (Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole, or KOA) and grab a rental car. From there, it’s a 35-minute drive north to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort.
The art collections at both the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel are worth a closer look. There are also cultural classes scheduled year-round at the properties if you want to learn more about Hawaiian history and art.
Finally, the koi feeding (7 A.M. on most days) at Westin Hapuna Beach is a satisfying way to start your day, kind of like ASMR in real life.
To Book: Westin Hapuna Beach Resort
Price: From $326, plus a $37 daily resort fee
Address: 62-100 Kauna’oa Drive
Waimea, HI 96743