1 Hotel Hanalei Bay: First In

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay
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Source: cntraveler.com

Why book?
This beachfront location overlooking the iconic Hanalei Bay, with the waterfall-striated Hihimanu, Nāmolokama, and Māmalahoa mountains in the distance, has to be one of the prettiest on the planet. 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay has all the ingredients you might want to cook up a truly magical Hawaiian getaway—a swimmable beach right out front, a legendary surf break a short paddle away, a stunning main pool (and a sleek adults-only one), great onsite bars and restaurants, a cute town nearby for exploring, and easy access to excellent hiking. But what makes this property truly stand out in an archipelago dotted with luxe oceanfront resorts is that it’s also a legitimate wellness destination, with cutting-edge spa and medi spa offerings as well as serious fitness and mind/body programming. Against the backdrop of 1 Hotels' sustainability DNA, this property feels like the 2.0 lifestyle hotel we’ve all been waiting for.

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay

Set the scene
One of the first things that jumps out at any of 1 Hotels' locations is the biophilic design. The living wall in the lobby of the Brooklyn location is a lovely foil to the bustling urban surroundings, the ivy-cloaked facade of the Nashville outpost is a refreshing burst of green in the heart of the city’s downtown. But here, on the fecund North Shore of Kauaʻi where almost everything grows, it feels like the brand finally has the space and climate to realize all its green dreams. Endemic plants—ferns, palms, Kukui nut trees, birds of paradise, grasses—make up the bulk of the lush landscaping, and rooftops pull double duty as kitchen gardens (bonus: this keeps the buildings cooler, meaning less need for A/C).

There’s no way around it—luxury beachfront hotels on Hawaiian islands are expensive, and this property pulls a casually well-heeled crowd. This is Kauaʻi, however, not St. Barts, and while guests clean up for dinner, the point of this place isn't to be seen but rather to see and do. It’s swimsuits and snorkels, workout gear, and hiking boots by day; stylish but low profile (think Ulla Johnson sun dresses, white jeans and chambray shirts) by night. Active families, newlyweds, solo travelers, fit friends, long-together couples, locals meeting for drinks—there’s a lovely mix of guests staying at (and just visiting) the property.

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay Pool

The backstory
This hotel has lived several lives since opening in 1985 as Sheraton, and then being rebranded as the St. Regis Princeville in 2009. The hotel was acquired by Starwood Capital Group in 2018, and opened under the 1 Hotels aegis in February 2023 (Barry Sternlicht–Starwood Capital co-founder and chairman, and 1 Hotels founder and chairman, has a longstanding love and respect for this part of the island from vacationing here with his family for decades; he saw the magic years ago). There have been so many changes—millions of dollars worth—to turn it into the sustainable, well-designed retreat it is today.

For those who knew it as the St. Regis, two biggies will stand out. For starters, the exterior color was bright white when it was a St. Regis; set against the cerulean of the bay and the rain forest-green of the nearby hills, the hotel was highly visible from air, land and sea. It's now been painted a shade somewhere between beige and a soft army or olive green—a color that bridges the sand and surrounding vegetation. When floating on my back in the bay, it almost disappeared into the landscape, which I’m sure is the point, and in lockstep with the 1 Hotels ethos. The second major change is that a swath of the roof was removed, creating an expansive courtyard and open-air entrance and lobby area, which feels right for the location and, again, cuts down on the air conditioning. 1 Hotels is known for its mission-driven hospitality; for really walking the sustainability walk and demonstrating that luxury and eco-awareness can truly coexist. This plays out in numerous ways across this property, from the design choices to the cocktail menu to the products used in the spa.

1 Hotel Hanalei Bay Room

The rooms
I’m always a little wary when visiting a new property in a location that has a longstanding design vernacular, like Hawaiʻi does; the decor tropes often prove too irresistible. That did not happen here. The Hawaiiana, if you can even call it that, throughout the public spaces and the 252 guestrooms, including 51 suites, is highly restrained. Rather than the usual island suspects, design firm NICOLEHOLLIS created a sense of place through materials, tones, and textures. Guest rooms are a study in neutrals—sand-hued walls, reclaimed teak ceilings and furniture with rope and reed accents. Potted plants live in woven baskets and stag ferns are mounted on the walls, dried grass skirts are hung like pieces of art, the bathroom walls are lined with lava stone, and the island’s seafaring history comes through in the most subtle of ways—sconces that almost resemble fishing nets, or a single conch shell displayed on a shelf. The effect is soothing. You know exactly where you are, you just haven’t been hit over the head with it. I stayed in an ocean-view king suite, which had a huge bathroom and plenty of living space to lounge and work (if one must). Every morning I would open the louvered wood shutters and get back in bed and watch the light change over the water. The design of the rest of the hotel follows a similar brief; lots of wood and neutrals. There’s beautiful art throughout the property; again, place-specific but quietly so—a painted wood surfboard, a woven-grass wall hanging.

Hanalei Bay Welina Terrace

Food and drink
There are three main restaurants at the hotel. Neighbors Café, a breakfast and lunch counter spot, skews healthy with wellness drinks like a supershroom latte, fresh juices and smoothies, and overnight oats (there are also tasty pastries and breakfast sandwiches). If you just want to grab a coffee or something fast before starting your day, this is the place. 1 Kitchen is the hotel’s signature restaurant, open for breakfast and dinner; it doubles down on local ingredients with plenty of salads and dishes like a half chicken with pineapple fried rice and grilled kanpachi with green papaya salad.

Welina Terrace, which is only open for dinner, feels a bit fancier; low-lit with live music and epic views of the bay. I had dinner and drinks there on opening night and the place already had a vibe; it felt like it had been open for months. The menu spotlights locally sourced Japanese dishes—the nigiri and the sushi rolls are excellent—as well as sake and a solid selection of Japanese whiskey. The cocktails at both 1 Kitchen and Welina Terrace are fantastic, and my favorite—I admittedly tasted a few—was the Kaua’I-Tai, a sort of tart take on the Mai Tai with Hawaiian rum, pineapple yuzu syrup, and passion-fruit foam. There’s also poolside bars and restaurants that serve the sort of things you want when you’re swimming and sunning—like poke bowls and fish tacos. There's a shaved-ice stand as well as a juice bar adjacent to the gym with smoothies, fresh pressed juices, and kombuchas for pre- and post-workout sustenance. The hotel does an excellent job of tapping local producers and purveyors; just about everything you see on the various menus is sourced from Kauaʻi or one of the neighboring islands, and the dedication to partnering with local businesses, like Kauaʻi Juice Co. and Hanalei Coffee Roaster, shines through.

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