Mauna Kea Resort Boasts Two of America’s Top Beaches

By Karen Rose
top beaches Photo:  Scott Wright.

Photo: Scott Wright.

Here’s a Pop Quiz.

Question: How many Big Island Beaches have been awarded the title “Top Beach in America” by Dr. Beach?
Answer: Two.
Question: What are the names of these top beaches?
Answer: Kaunaʻoa Bay (2000 winner) and Hapuna Beach (1993 winner).
Question: What is the only resort to border both top beaches?
Answer: Mauna Kea Resort, home to Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, otherwise known as “Dr. Beach” is Professor and Director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University. His claim to fame is objectively appraising our country’s beaches to determine which ones take top prize.

Two Big Island beaches have garnered that sought after spot – Hapuna Beach and Kaunaʻoa Bay. Mauna Kea Resort is lucky enough to be the only resort to border both of these award-winning beaches. Boasting both the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel to the North and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel to the South with golf courses and resort amenities making up the middle ground, Mauna Kea Resort rests alongside the warm blue waters and silky white sands of two of America’s top beaches.

top beaches

Google Earth map of Mauna Kea Resort with Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Kaunaʻoa Bay to the North and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Hapuna Bay to the South.

Guests at either hotel, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, have reciprocal privileges. Guests have the option to travel freely back and forth between adjacent properties.

Kaunaʻoa Bay

top beaches

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel nestled along Kaunaʻoa Beach. Courtesy Mauna Kea Resort.

Kaunaʻoa Bay is also known as Mauna Kea Beach because it graces the front of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel. The grounds of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel are beautifully manicured, and on a clear day, Kaunaʻoa Bay provides a stunning view of Mauna Kea Volcano. One of the prettiest white sand beaches in Hawaiʻi, Kaunaʻoa Bay is perfect for sunbathing or lounging under the palm trees.

top beaches

Manta Ray Point at night. Courtesy Mauna Kea Resort.

In the evening, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel turns on floodlights over the water to attract plankton, which in turn attract the graceful and beautiful manta rays. There is a lookout called ‘Manta Ray Point’ where you can view these majestic ‘Ballerinas of the Ocean.’

Hapuna Beach

top beaches

Aerial view of Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and Hapuna Beach. Courtesy Mauna Kea Resort.

Hapuna Beach is about half a mile long and 200 feet wide, with Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel tucked away on the north end. Hapuna Beach is perfect for swimming and various beach activities like frisbee, volleyball, or building sand castles. It’s also a great beach for bodyboarding when the surf isn’t too high. It’s the perfect place to spend the day relaxing and enjoying the pristine view.

Just What the Doctor Ordered

top beaches

South end of Kaunaʻoa Bay at sunset. Courtesy Mauna Kea Resort.

Dr. Beach rates the nation’s beaches using 50 criteria, to provide an objective appraisal of his “patients”, aka the 650 public beaches along the U.S. coast. He rates the quality of every beach on a sliding scale from 1 to 5 to determine not only the best swimming beaches, but the best beaches for walking, sports, and scenery.

Since 1991, Dr. Beach has released the list of America’s Best Beaches on Memorial Day weekend every year, with Mauna Kea Beach Resort nabbing both of the coveted Big Island beaches.  Hapuna Beach was the winner of “Top Beach in America” in 1993.  Features that qualify Hapuna Beach to carry this title are clean white coral sand, flat and spacious areas, a gradual slope to the water, and excellent swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving.

top beaches

Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. Courtesy Mauna Kea Resort.

Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel opened in 1994.  Some were concerned that the opening of the hotel would diminish the beach’s quality.  However, according to the Los Angeles Times, the hotel has not altered Dr. Beach’s opinion of Hapuna.  “The hotel is off the beach on the cliff side, which to my way of thinking is the way to go,” Dr. Beach says. “It doesn’t crowd the shoreline.”

Kaunaʻoa Bay was the winner of “Top Beach in America” in 2000.  Though not as large as Hapuna, crescent-shaped Kaunaʻoa also boasts clean white coral sand, a gradual slope to the water, and excellent swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving.  Public access to Kaunaʻoa Bay is limited which means  it never gets crowded.

Kaunaʻoa Bay in the early 1960s.  Courtesy of Mauna Kea Resort Archive Collection.

Kaunaʻoa Bay in the early 1960s. Courtesy of Mauna Kea Resort Archive Collection.

In 1960 Laurance S. Rockefeller fell in love with Kaunaʻoa Bay, and selected it as the site of Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.  At the time of its opening in 1965, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was the most expensive resort in the world as well as the very first resort on Hawaiʻi’s Big Island.  The opening of Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in 1994 was the completion of Rockefeller’s vision for Mauna Kea Resort.  The wonderful result of this iconic vision is that resort guests find themselves at a world-class resort amidst two champion beaches.

Click here to see a list of other Hawaiʻi beaches that have been awarded “Top Beach in America.”

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