This Secluded Hotel is the Perfect Intro to Hawaiian Culture

It’s safe to say that I’m fairly obsessed with Hawai‘i. I grew up going there with my family, for starters, and I’m the co-author of a book about Hawaiian culture, Island Wisdom, which came out in October 2022. I’ve also been to all six of the major islands—Kaua‘i, O‘ahu, Moloka‘i, Maui, Lānaʻi, and the island of Hawai‘i (i.e. the Big Island)—multiple times.

Given my ~expertise~ on the archipelago, people often ask me which island they should visit on their trip. This is a tricky question, as I’m a firm believer in the idea that the right island will find you at the right time, and there’s a little something special for everyone on each one. But because I’m not a total monster—I genuinely understand the need for concrete answers—I often say that Lānaʻi is an extra special treat.

sparkles

All of the sparkles.

Courtesy of Rahul Khosla
beach pic

More of this, please. 

Courtesy of Annie Daly

As the smallest inhabitable island that travelers can visit in the archipelago, Lānaʻi—which is about a 50-minute ferry ride from Maui—is home to just about 3,000 people (O‘ahu’s population, for context, is around one million). There are 18 miles of beautiful secluded beaches, the water is crystal-clear, and the middle of the island is very rocky and remote, with an otherworldly, moon-like feel.

 

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It’s also borderline impossible to talk about Lānaʻi without mentioning the name Larry Ellison, as the Oracle billionaire bought 98% of the island in 2012. While this has given Lānaʻi more of an exclusive feel than it had in the past (it’s definitely a celeb favorite), the island is also home to a close-knit local community whose vibe you can feel when you visit. And doing your best to immerse yourself in said vibe is especially important in Hawai‘i right now, as overtourism is currently having a harmful effect on both the land and the locals. With that in mind, here’s how to do Lānaʻi right—so you can have your dream Hawaiian vacay and respect the culture, too.

(FYI, the writer received comped travel, accommodations, meals, and experiences in order to write this review.)

Stay

Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi: This is one of the best spots to stay on the island, and not just because there aren’t many other options. (Seriously: There are just a couple B&Bs, plus another wellness-based Four Seasons called Four Seasons Sensei Lānaʻi.) The Four Seasons Lānaʻi has all of the tropical trip essentials: It’s right on the beach, with lounge chair service and views for days. There are also two pools, one of which features a pretty waterfall surrounded by bougainvillea. And three delicious, locally-sourced restaurants are on-site, along with a spa, and breezy, open-air hangout zones.

pool fs

A very tropical pool. 

Courtesy of Annie Daly
lushness

Exhale.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi
four seasons lānaʻi

It’s the indoor-outdoor living for me.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort Lānaʻi

Perhaps best of all, though—especially when it comes to being the antithesis of The White Lotus’ entitled Tanya McQuoid—is that the Four Seasons Lānaʻi put some thought into their cultural programming. The hotel employs a few Native Hawaiian cultural advisors who run the “Love Lānaʻi” program, a series of cultural excursions, events, workshops and tours for hotel guests who are interested in learning more about local life. Even the design of the hotel is infused with cultural elements. There are lots of Native Hawaiian artifacts and artworks on display throughout the property, including an outrigger canoe (the traditional canoe of ancient Hawaiians) in the lobby.

hawaiian lobby

The outrigger canoe in the lobby. 

Courtesy of Annie Daly
fsl

So lush! 

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Play

Choose one (or a few!) of the Love Lānaʻi activities: There are tons of daily workshops and demos to sign up for, from hula to lei making to herbal healing to oli (chants), and a holoholo tour, where a guide takes you off-roading in a 4×4 and teaches you about the island’s history along the way. Be sure to check out Keahiakawelo, an awe-inspiring rock garden with so many strange rock formations, it can feel like you’re walking on the moon.

My husband and I especially loved the beautiful self-guided hike to Pu’upehe, nicknamed Sweetheart Rock (note: You can also do this hike with a guide at sunrise if you want). Pu’upehe is an iconic rock close to the hotel that’s steeped in Hawaiian legend. As the story goes, after a young Hawaiian warrior named Makekehau learned that his great love Pehe drowned, he climbed the iconic rock to bury her, and then jumped to his death (80 feet) in the sea below. Witnessing the location of this story IRL is one of the many reasons I love Hawai’i: The land itself is beautiful on its own, but once you learn the stories tied to each place, it becomes even more special.

rocks hike

Pu’upehe. 

Courtesy of Annie Daly
hike fsl

Taking it all in. 

Courtesy of Rahul Khosla

Enjoy a day at Hulopo’e Beach: Be sure to devote at least one full day to the lounge chair life. Located right at the bottom of the hotel, this beach was made for chilling. The water is seriously perfect, the sand is super soft, and there aren’t tons of people there (#perks of a small island). One thing to note: While you can order food to your chair, they don’t allow alcohol on the beach, so be sure to do all of your drinking at one of the pools or restaurants.

the beach

Just gorgeous.

Courtesy of Annie Daly
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A golden hour dip.

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Head up to the Four Seasons Sensei: Even though this hotel is not your home base, it’s worth taking the shuttle up just to get a feel for the wellness-oriented property. Unlike the regular Four Seasons on the beach, Sensei is located higher up and inland, in more of a mountain-meets-rainforest setting—so just walking around the grounds truly feels like you’re in a Garden of Eden screensaver. You can also eat at Nobu while you’re up there; more on that below.

pretty flowers

Bougainvillea beauty. 

Courtesy of Annie Daly
spa life

Spa life.

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Take a sunset catamaran sail around the island: Did you even go to Hawai’i if you didn’t get on a boat? This sunset sail, which lasts about two hours, is the perfect way to relax island style (and get your golden-hour ‘gram, too). The catamaran leaves the harbor, which is just a few minutes from the hotel, around 4 pm, and takes you southwest around the coast, so you’re sailing right into the golden sun the whole time. And yes, there IS unlimited booze. And pupu (appetizers)! Don’t miss the Maui Brewing Co. beers, or spiked seltzers if those are more your thing.

magic hour on the boat

Magic hour at its finest.

Courtesy of Annie Daly
chasing the light

Chasing the light.

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Explore town: Lānaʻi City is essentially centered around one big town square called Dole Square, named because the island was once a pineapple plantation, purchased by the Dole Corporation in 1922. With an assortment of markets and mom-and-pop cafés and galleries, Lānaʻi City is charming and authentic and a great place to observe local life. It’s also worth checking out the Lānaʻi Culture & Heritage Center to learn more about the history of the island. (Note: They are temporarily closed until further notice, but they have lots of great info and virtual exhibits on their website in the meantime.)

blue ginger

The Blue Ginger Café. . 

Courtesy of Annie Daly
flowers in town

Pretty flowers in town.

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Eat

Breakfast and dinner at One Forty: This is *the* spot for breakfast and dinner at the hotel. Named after the island’s 140 square-mile radius, the restaurant is all about fresh bowls, smoothies, and POG (passion fruit, orange, and guava juice—a Hawaiian staple) for breakfast, and delish local catches for dinner (shout to the Hawaiian snapper). I also loved their banana pineapple carrot cake for dessert—such a perfectly tropical end to a salt-on-your-skin kinda day.

breakfast bowl

Tropical breakfast, coming right up.

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Poke bowl lunch at Richards Market: Many locals say that the best poke in Hawai’i is often at the grocery store. Richards delivers on that front! The store sells a couple different kinds of poke, from ahi (tuna), spicy ahi, salmon, tako (octopus), and more. I forgot to take a photo of my bowl, but it was v tasty. Be sure to add all the toppings, especially kimchi and furikake. Trust.

Beers at Pele’s Other Garden Deli: The minute you walk into this place, you’ll know you’ve found a timeless local gem. The checkered black-and-white floors, the vintage Hawaiian license plates on the walls, the old-school plastic Coca-Cola glasses, and the “beer sold here” sign outside all come together to create a VIBE. It also turns into a full-on bar and pizza spot at night—go for the local scene as much as the food!

beers

I think they sell beer here?

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Lunch at Malibu Farm: For lunch with a view, head to Malibu Farm, whose original outpost is in LA. Not surprisingly, the menu is very LA, with all-organic, locally-sourced offerings like fish tacos and grass-fed burgers and chopped salads. FYI, this is also the restaurant that serves the pool and the beach.

malibu farm

So fresh.

Courtesy of Annie Daly

Dinner at Nobu Lānaʻi or Sensei by Nobu: Why yes, there are not one but TWO Nobus on Lānaʻi. And they are both incredible. The one at the hotel has incredible cocktails and views of Hulopo’e Bay, while the one up at Sensei has more of a lush jungle feel, and a tailored, health-oriented “Nourish” menu. My husband and I loved having pre-dinner cocktails at the Nobu bar each evening, and one night we ate at Sensei by Nobu, too, where we were especially into the kohlrabi salad with truffle, the black cod, and the A5 Japanese Wagyu beef.

nobu dinner

Yum.

Courtesy of Four Seasons Sensei

Solid and Striped The Baja Hoodie Marshmallow

Solid and Striped The Baja Hoodie Marshmallow

Farm Rio Colorful Banana Sarong

Farm Rio Colorful Banana Sarong

James Perse Long Jersey Tank

James Perse Long Jersey Tank

Havaianas Slim Flip Flops

Havaianas Slim Flip Flops

Bond-Eye The Mara One Piece Swimsuit

Bond-Eye The Mara One Piece Swimsuit

OMA THE LABEL Bente 2" Medium Hoops

OMA THE LABEL Bente 2″ Medium Hoops

Moscot Gelt Sun Sunglasses

Moscot Gelt Sun Sunglasses

FAITHFULL THE BRAND Arles Midi Dress

FAITHFULL THE BRAND Arles Midi Dress
Headshot of Annie Daly

Annie Daly is a fourth-generation freelance journalist based in New York City. A former editor at SELF, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed Travel, Yahoo! Travel and Good Housekeeping, she has also written about wellness and travel for AFAR, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, Women’s Health, and more. Destination Wellness is her first book.

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