1 Hotels Hanalei Bay in Kauai: A New Favorite Destination
In surfing culture, there’s this thing about keeping mum when you find an amazing and uncrowded break—a place that lifts your spirits, clears your mind, works your body, and insists you return for more. Locals, understandably, want their piece of undiscovered paradise unspoiled by the masses. And when an outsider stumbles upon the hidden treasure, they too can’t help but think, “I’m keeping this to myself.”
As I experienced 1 Hotels Hanalei Bay for a week in April, I thought of my surfer buddies who clam up when they find paradise. Similar thoughts entered my mind: “Maybe it’s best to keep this place a secret?” Fortunately for our readers, I will do nothing of the sort. Hanalei Bay is no unknown location after all. The beach, town, and surf break, are legendary. But this 1 Hotels property that opened in March 2023 after a $300MM structure renovation (formerly the St. Regis Hotel), deserves trumpeting at the highest decibels.
Nonstop flights from San Diego to Lihue airport in Kauai made our morning travel to the tropical island a breeze. On time, good AV entertainment, and professional service caused the 6-hour Alaska Airlines flight to fly by, pun intended. Unfortunately, the 2-hour rental car wait (for a reserved vehicle) delayed our hotel arrival and dampened the family mood. (The airport’s resident chickens and roosters are entertaining for only so long. And, the nibbles from the airport vending machine only go so far!)
After 45-minutes of driving and enjoying glimpses of the ocean and lush hillsides, we arrived at 1 Hotels’ security gate. The friendly guard verified our check-in and welcomed us with aloha. Valet personnel likewise greeted us with smiles and Leis as we pulled around the circle-driveway. We stopped, surrendered our car keys, and were shepherded into the reception area for a week of bliss. (Valet parking is complimentary.)
Luxury hotels, in general, have tried to upgrade the guest welcoming experience and 1 Hotels is no different. A traditional front desk is nowhere to be found. Instead, we relaxed on cushioned seats with a fresh-tasting rum spirit while property details were pleasantly explained. After five minutes or so, a walking tour began.
1 Hotels’ most unique feature is its location. The picturesque views of the deep blue ocean water surrounded by jagged, lushly green, waterfall-laden, mountains are one-of-a-kind. Yes, we’ve all seen mountains, and oceans, and waterfalls, but I can’t think of another inhabitable place where the peaks are so close to the beach that they just seem to wrap around the bay. The hotel constantly reminds what’s outside with its two-story glass wall of windows perched on a hillside overlooking nature’s beauty. It’s the first thing you notice while walking through the indoor/outdoor property and the last thing you’ll forget.
Since we’re athletic-minded travelers, we prioritize workouts. Fortunately, so does 1 Hotels Hanalei Bay.
Stairs descend from the lobby level to the attended fitness facilities. Guests will take delight in what they find. A 60ft x 60ft well-lit room houses more than twenty new cardio pieces, including Peloton bikes and a VersaClimber (rare for hotel gyms) and another twenty strength machines. Free weights are in the house as well. And, a wide assortment of accessories, including a rack of battery-operated Theragun percussive massagers and recovery air compression boots! Come at any hour because the facility is open 24/7 via hotel key. Moreover, a variety of classes are held here or in the studio across the hall. Check the website for their class calendar.
For your post-workout recovery session, consider the previously mentioned massagers and/or boots, cryo-chamber (yes, they have one), sauna, or a massage inside the enormous and luxurious Bamford Wellness Spa. The services menu is three pages long. We chose traditional massages and a facial. Both were heavenly. The spa lobby area also has an upscale retail area where locally sourced items can be found.
Of course, workouts are not limited to the indoors. Our favorite activity was surfing the legendary Hanalei Bay reef break. Paddling out requires good muscle endurance and some precision, especially at low tide to avoid knuckle scrapes on the reef. But once in the lineup, surfers soon realize the waves were worth the price of admission. Depending on the season, Hanalei can get big…dangerously big. In the beginning of April, one might not expect to see powerful surf, but one of our days brought 6-8ft crests. (Hanalei waves can rise to 20ft+.) When the waves are that big here, beginner surfers (and those who don’t like getting rolled and held under) should head to the beach break near Hanalei Pier. It’s a fun wave with “shoulders” and a relaxed crowd. Trust us, you’ll tire out or get hungry before the waves stop arriving. We rented boards from Hanalei Surf Co. in town and give them 5-stars. A third-party equipment outfitter also rents boards, snorkel equipment, and other items on 1 Hotels’ sand beach.
Hiking options abound near the hotel, including the most popular Kalalau and Hanakapiai Falls Trails where you need to purchase permits in advance if interested. We decided to buck the trend and skipped those hikes. With such good surfing and other activities just beyond our hotel, an entire day hiking muddy trails for a few waterfall photos didn’t seem worth the time. That’s one of the benefits of staying on the North Shore—you’re already in the midst of the jungle-like setting with lesser-known trails and beaches nearby. Travelers staying on the island’s south side make a daytrip out of a drive to the North Shore and tie in the Kalalau hike as an activity. But if already staying on this side, there are better ways to spend your time. For example, we hiked down and up the steep Hideaways Beach trail which begins a parking lot away from 1 Hotels’ security gate. We snorkeled and relaxed on that uncrowded beach, and the mud didn’t ruin our shoes (unlike our friends on the Kalalau Trail).
1 Hotels offers two swimming pools: An adult-only infinity rectangle overlooks the larger main pool a few levels below. Several hot tubs border the pools. So, take your pick. Plenty of cushioned lounge chairs and umbrellas make finding a place to rest easy. Beach cabanas and seating are also plentiful. We never felt like we had to compete with other guests for spots with the annoying “leave a towel on the chair” saving method! A wooden bench and weight set can also be found on the beach, but we recommend the far superior equipment inside the fitness facility.
We golfed 18 holes at the neighboring Makai Golf Course which sports several oceanfront holes and plenty of challenge. Greens were a little slower than we typically play in San Diego, possibly due to the passing rains. The round wasn’t fast, but five hours is about average these days for public courses.
The hotel offers beach-cruiser type bikes which we rode several times to Princeville Center mall for a lunch, a dinner, and a yoga class at Waves Yoga Kauai. The ride there takes somewhat more effort as it’s uphill and often against a headwind—about 20-25 minutes. Coming back is mostly downhill—a very enjoyable 15 minutes. A bike/pedestrian path keeps cyclists, joggers, and walkers, out of the street for most of the route.
Let’s face it, a stay here doesn’t come cheaply. If you’re already planning to spend $1,000/nt. for the room, you might as well pay an extra $300-$500/nt. for the ocean views. As mentioned above, the property’s most unique feature is its surroundings—the beach, the bay, and the lush mountains. Seeing, hearing, and smelling it 24/7 from your room (instead of a garden) makes a BIG difference. The view is so good, that it’s hard to even describe. Our images don’t do the justice it deserves.
The guestrooms are tropical cozy. We’d like higher ceilings and possibly more space, but given what there is, it’s done really well. There’s a nice little couch at the foot of the soft bed that allows for more view gazing. The windows slide open to welcome fresh Kauai air and the slide-able screens keep the insects OUT. The shower features both rain and standard heads. Probably the rooms’ most useful feature is a filtered water station. Metal bottles are provided to refill throughout your stay.
One small criticism we have are the room keys. Instead of typical credit-card-sized rectangles, 1 Hotels provides little wooden circles (think poker chips). While unique and green-friendly, they are much easier to lose or misplace. "A" for creative effort, however.
Our crew’s favorite hotel meal was the 1 Kitchen daily breakfast buffet. Fifteen plus stations of food, made-to-order omelets, an entire table of pastries, and the fresh fruit…OMG, delicious. If you’re lucky, you can get a table outside overlooking the beautiful bay. We brought huge appetites here every morning after surf sessions. Service matched the high-quality food and IG-worthy views.
Beyond 1 Kitchen, our kids enjoyed flatbread pizzas and mocktails poolside via the Sandbox Cafe while Mom and Dad enjoyed real alcoholic beverages along with ceviche, street tacos, guacamole, and other tasty snacks. Service throughout the hotel experience is best-in-class.
A completely full booking for the week prevented us from trying 1 Hotels’ highly-rated dinner venue, Welina Terrace. If your intent on eating here, we suggest a reservation before landing on the island. The place is in high demand, and for good reason. We ate a dinner at 1 Kitchen, felt it was good, but enjoyed other restaurants in Hanalei and nearby towns more, given the high price point.
One of the most unique eating options is the completely free fruit stand in the lobby. From 8am to 2pm guests can help themselves to papaya, baby bananas, and other seasonal fruit—all delicious and locally-grown.
1 Hotels Hanalei Bay is my new favorite hotel in the World. Yes, I said it…the World. There’s something magical about the place that calms the mind, stimulates the body, and inspires the soul. Even a seasoned travel author can’t explain it. You must experience it for yourself. I’ve traveled to many places that are relaxing, or adventurous, or promote introspective thought. But, all three in one place? Not on this scale. A week after returning home, I still felt the same peaceful vibe. Now, that’s powerful.
It’s my new happy travel place, and I shared.