WHY WE LOVE IT
- Empty beaches, quiet hikes and remote coasts—all just a short walk from civilization.
- A last glimpse of old Hawaii: no glitz or neon of any kind, and not even a traffic light.
- Only about 30 miles of paved roads (and a top speed limit of 45 miles per hour) but plenty of bumpy red-dirt trails to explore via jeep, with magnificent views and secluded beaches to break up the drive
- A setting good enough for one of the world's richest men, Bill Gates—who, when he married Melinda French on New Year’s Day 1994, rented out all the rooms at his hotel so they could tie the knot in privacy
WHEN TO GO
Lanai sits downwind of Maui, and Maui hogs all the rain. That positioning makes Lanai one of the driest Hawaiian islands year-round and gives it the kind of gin-clear water that snorkeling fantasies are made of—no rain, no run-off, no murk. You can get the best deals during spring and fall, when kids are in school. The first weekend in July is the annual Pineapple Festival, when Hawaii’s best musicians turn out in droves to celebrate the little island and its favorite fruit. Whenever you plan to travel, be sure to book way ahead because Lanai has a very limited number of hotel rooms.
WHAT TO PACK
Lanai's beaches are warm and sun-soaked, but the upland areas can get chilly, so pack something warm. Around the resorts, smart casual is the name of the game; the days when jacket and tie were required in the Four Seasons’ most formal dining room are long gone. Nowadays collared shirts and closed-toe shoes for men are as strict as it gets.
WHAT TO BUY
Island-made soaps and bath products, in pineapple, plumeria and other scents; wind chimes and "Hawaiian slippah" jewelry from the whimsical Dis ’N Dat Shop; bold and bright dresses and shirts from the Local Gentry and Gifts With Aloha from Lanai; dreamy, soft-focus visions of Lanai by painter Mike Carroll, from his eponymous gallery.
For information, contact the Lanai Visitors Bureau (431 7th St., Suite A, Lanai City; 808-565-7600, 800-947-4774; visitlanai.net).
GETTING MARRIED ON LANAI
Hawaii’s wedding requirements are minimal—present a marriage-license application, government-issued photo ID and $60 in cash (along with the divorce or death certificate if you've been previously married) to a licensed marriage agent and you’re in. Download applications at hawaii.gov/health. For a seaside ceremony at the Four Seasons Resort Lanai Manele Bay, you can recite your vows in a big ballroom, atop a rugged red-lava sea cliff or along a perfect stretch of white-sand beach. The resort’s Lodge at Koele offers a tranquil upland setting where you can stage an outdoor wedding amid manicured lawns, English gardens and towering Cook pines. (For information on facilities and providers, contact Jill Hamasaki, wedding sales manager, at 808-275-2147; firstname.lastname@example.org.)
PELE’S OTHER GARDEN
811 Houston St.
A New York–style deli by day, Pele’s turns into an intimate Italian bistro at night. At lunch you can sit on the patio beneath shade-giving umbrellas and enjoy gourmet pizza with whole-wheat crust, organic salads or custom-built sandwiches on fresh-baked bread. In the evening, don't miss the garlicky bruschetta, accompanied by Lanai-grown tomatoes and fragrant basil. Follow up with a substantial serving of fettuccine with smoked salmon, or bow-tie pasta with butterflied garlic shrimp and prosciutto. Save room for the tiramisù or the crème brûlée cheesecake.
BLUE GINGER CAFÉ
409 7th St.
Every small town has its favorite morning hangout, and this is Lanai City’s. (Keep in mind that "city" is a stretch.) At breakfast this friendly cafe specializes in homemade pastries, omelets, breakfast burritos and scrumptious banana pancakes. Island residents while away their mornings with coffee and sugary ensemadas at the handful of outdoor tables. Lunch features such island faves as fried saimin and mahimahi sandwiches, along with burgers, fish and chips, and surprisingly tasty grilled-cheese sandwiches. Dinner specials, which change nightly, include the likes of shrimp stir-fry, grilled pork chops and teriyaki chicken. The local crowd mixes with resort guests seeking something casual and affordable.
408 8th St.
For pizza in the "565" (that’s Lanai’s sole telephone prefix), this friendly and utterly casual restaurant in an old plantation home next to Dole Park is the only game in town. Before Lanai went upscale and changed its name to Hawaii’s Most Enticing Island, it was known as the Pineapple Isle, home of the largest pineapple plantation in the world. Where better, then, to have a pineapple topping on a bubbly pizza? The hot and cold sandwiches (the Kula veggie sandwich with goat cheese is a winner) come on fresh-baked rolls or focaccia. Sit outdoors beneath shady umbrellas or, better yet, grab some takeout and make a picnic of it.
LANAI CITY GRILLE
828 Lanai Ave.
When the Hotel Lanai decided to reinvent its Cajun restaurant, it brought in the celebrated Bev Gannon, one of the 12 founders of Hawaii regional cuisine, and turned her loose. The brilliant result is an intimate country-chic place glowing with warm wood tones and Hawaiian charm. Generously portioned entrees include pan-seared loin of venison, pecan-crusted catch of the day, free-range rotisserie chicken and Gannon’s signature meat loaf with mashed potatoes (hey, she's from Texas). The bar has an impressive wine list, a fine assortment of beers and a mean "Lanai Tai-tini." Seeing as it’s the biggest bar in Lanai City, it’s everyone’s favorite watering hole. The place is busy every night but especially on Fridays, when Hawaiian musicians jam.
Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay
1 Manele Bay Rd.
This fail-safe date spot offers romantic ocean views, contemporary Italian cuisine and a wine list so deep it sets the hearts of even the most discerning connoisseurs aflutter. The Hawaiian name means "heavenly splendor," which gives you a hint of what to expect. Dinner is a multicourse affair, with starters such as the sirloin carpaccio with white-truffle remoulade setting the bar high. Next, perhaps, the lobster risotto or the homemade spinach gnocchi, followed by, say, the grilled mahimahi on parsnip "pasta" or the slow-braised osso buco. All are splendid. And the desserts—like chocolate mousse with Hawaiian-grown cacao—are heavenly.
Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay
1 Manele Bay Rd.
Manele Bay’s second dining room is named after its view: dolphin-filled Hulopoe Bay and its immaculate-white sand Hulopoe Beach. The 145-seat restaurant has an exquisite breakfast buffet, complete with an omelet chef standing by. Dinner reflects the multicultural influences of contemporary Hawaiian cuisine. Local favorites with broad appeal fill the menu. Think grilled opakapaka with Lanai greens, crispy snapper with stir-fried vegetables, giant prawns stuffed with Dungeness crab, huli huli chicken with roasted potatoes, and Hawaiian-style short ribs with sweet-potato fries. For something distinctly Hawaiian, try the seafood laulau—a big, steamed ball of banana leaves stuffed with mahimahi, sea bass, shrimp, scallops, veggies and purple Molokai sweet potatoes. It’s "onolicious," as the locals say.
THE DINING ROOM
Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the Lodge at Koele
1 Keomoku Highway
When you and your guy get the urge to splurge, the Lodge at Koele’s more formal restaurant is the place to go. The octagonal Dining Room, with its warm sienna walls and big wood-burning fireplace, is as elegant and intimate as a country-estate living room. The discreetly arranged tables allow for quiet conversation. Among the starters are Sonoma foie gras torchon and lava-rock-seared venison with Granny Smith apple salad. Main dishes include butter-poached Big Island lobster with caviar, and Maui lavender honey-roasted duck. The sotto voce servers are deft, and they know their wine.
Four Seasons Resort Lanai, the Lodge at Koele
1 Keomoku Highway
The Lodge at Koele’s "informal" dining room (think upscale casual) is still plenty swank, with its leather armchairs, damask tablecloths and floor-to-ceiling glass wall overlooking decorous English gardens. The menu is contemporary American with a rich infusion of Hawaiian ingredients. Start the day with a smoothie spiked with a shot of espresso, then tuck into a big serving of eggs Benedict on blue crab cakes. For dinner you might have the seared diver scallops on a mushroom risotto cake or the roasted pork loin with Molokai sweet-potato cassolette. Afterward you can repair to the adjacent Great Hall, a cavernous yet oddly homey space with a 35-foot beamed ceiling, a manorial fireplace and a piano player filling the air with soft jazz and contemporary Hawaiian tunes each evening.
There are only three hotels on Lanai, and two of them are Four Seasons resorts. There are also scattered budget-style B&Bs and occasional vacation rental homes for large groups. It's good to have a vehicle for exploring, but you don’t absolutely need one, as a shuttle runs between both resorts and the Hotel Lanai.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT LANAI AT MANELE BAY
1 Manele Bay Rd.
Tel: 800-321-4666, 808-565-3800
This is the island’s sole beach resort, and what a beach! Hulopoe Beach is a perfect band of white sand on an aquamarine bay known for its exceptional snorkeling and swimming and its resident pod of spinner dolphins. The resort is Four Seasons posh—Evian spritzers, kilim rugs and 40-inch LCD flat-screen TVs. Service is tops, starting with the greeters who drape leis around your neck and put refreshing wet towels in your hands. The 215 rooms and 21 suites have huge marble baths, an elegant blend of tropical and Asian decor and feather-pillowed beds with hand-carved pineapple motifs on the headboards. Some have knockout ocean views; others look onto the lotus ponds and waterfalls of the resort’s exquisitely designed tropical gardens. The golf course is among the world’s best (see Play). Among several dining options, Ihilani and Hulopo'e Court (see Eat) are both excellent.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT LANAI, THE LODGE AT KOELE
1 Keomoku Highway
Tel: 800-321-4666, 808-565-3800
No faux tiki culture here: The vibe is gracious country manor, complete with wood paneling, leather furnishings and a long veranda with wicker chairs for watching sunsets through the Cook pines. Rather than sipping frilly drinks on the beach, guests ride horses into the mountains, knock croquet balls across the lawns, practice archery, shoot skeet, golf on another of the world’s premier courses (see Play) and lose themselves on ambling hikes through woods and fields. For those who still crave the beach, there's a shuttle to Manele Bay. The 92 huge rooms and eight suites feel like the bedrooms on a tropical country estate, brightened with art by local painters. Some have stone fireplaces, which come in handy—believe it or not—on Lanai’s cool central-highland evenings. The high-end Dining Room (see Eat) is worth the splurge.
828 Lanai Ave.
Back when pineapples—rather than tourists—dominated Lanai’s economy, this was the only game in town. Built in the 1920s by James Dole (as in Dole pineapple) for his guests, the 10-room inn was recently refurbished, but it hasn’t lost any of its plantation-era appeal. Expect lauhala mats, ceiling fans, Hawaiian quilts and lots of historic photographs. The Hotel Lanai is popular with travelers who appreciate its intimate size, historic charm and affordable rates (rooms start at $139 per night). Though the walls are thin, the perfectly private and cozy little cottage addresses that concern. Guests can hop the shuttle to the resorts (for a fee), just as resort guests flock to the Hotel Lanai for its trendy restaurant, Lanai City Grille (see Eat).
THE VACATION RENTAL ALTERNATIVE
Vacation Rentals by Owner
For couples seeking a homier honeymoon on the Pineapple Isle, Lanai has a sprinkling of vacation rentals. The most complete list—and it’s not a long one—is online at Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com). Like Lanai society, Lanai vacation rentals have an upmarket tier, a down-market tier and a screaming vacuum in between. At the top you’ll find swanky estates with four-digit nightly rates, like the designer digs with ocean view and gated pool on the fifth hole of the Experience at Koele golf course (see Play). On the flip side, you’ll find vintage plantation homes in Lanai City, with far more reasonable rates, such as a cozy two-bedroom bungalow with bamboo floors and authentic island decor—not the designer interpretation.
GOLF IN PARADISE
Golfing couples will go nuts over Lanai’s two famous courses: the Experience at Koele (1 Keomoku Highway, Lanai City; 808-565-4653; fourseasons.com/koele) and the Challenge at Manele (1 Challenge Dr., Manele; 808-565-2222; fourseasons.com/manelebay), ranked No. 1 and No. 3 of the top 100 golf courses by Condé Nast Traveler (concierge.com/bestof/golfpoll) in 2007. The Challenge at Manele, laid out atop the lava sea cliffs beside the Four Seasons seaside resort, has the largest water hazard on earth—the Pacific Ocean. Three holes require tee shots over the waves. (Whales frolicking offshore sometimes disrupt play.) The Experience at Koele is that rarest of Hawaiian golf treats, a cool uplands course. Along with smashing views, it has wooded ravines, streams, waterfalls, seven lakes and a doozy of a 17th hole at the bottom of a 250-foot gorge.
SHOOT TO NOT KILL
At the popular rustic shooting range Lanai Pines Sporting Clays (Keomoku Highway, two miles north of the Lodge at Koele; 808-559-4600), you get the thrill of the hunt and no animals get hurt. Under the watchful eye of the well-trained staff, you stroll among 14 shooting stations spread through a scenic 200-acre pine-wooded valley. Targets take off like small game on the run or birds in flight, and—blam, blam—you bag ’em. It’s a blast and greener than you might think: Although the targets are called clays, they’re actually made of compressed fertilizer, which goes straight back into the earth. Beginners get plenty of safety instruction and lightweight shotguns with minimal recoil. Experienced shooters can opt for the heavier artillery.
HIKE UP TO THE SKY OR DOWN TO THE SEA
Rural Lanai has plenty of trails where you can stretch your legs, dirty your boots and get to see what this little island is all about away from the golf courses and fancy resorts. Your first hiking choice is mauka or makai—toward the mountain or toward the ocean. If you decide on mauka, try Koloiki Ridge, a five-mile trail that starts right behind the Lodge at Koele and climbs through lovely Maunalei Valley to an expansive top-of-the-island view. If your preference is makai, consider the easy trail to the lookout at Puu Pehe (a.k.a. Sweetheart Rock), a 100-foot-tall islet just off the south shore. It’s right at the heart of a tragic legend involving an impassioned warrior, the accidental death of his sweetheart and a suicide leap.
VIEW THE ISLAND FROM HORSEBACK
Hawaiians and horses have gotten along tremendously since they were introduced to each other in 1803, and the Stables at Koele (Highway 440, just past the Lodge at Koele; 808-565-4424) reflect that two-century-long love affair. The stables offer something for everyone, from quick pony rides to full-day treks into the mountains (with gourmet picnics) to pony walks for kids. On horseback you can find all sorts of secluded parts of the island, from hidden valleys to unpeopled beaches. You may see axis deer, mufflon sheep, pheasant, quail, partridge and turkey along the way. Among the many options are Sweetheart romance rides for two.
DISCOVER THE MUNRO TRAIL
If the weather’s clear and you can see the top of Mount Lanaihale, the highest point on the island, rent a 4x4 from Dollar Rent A Car (1036 Lanai Ave.; 808-565-7227) and head on up. (Hard-core hikers can skip the 4x4.) The seven-mile Munro Trail leads through abandoned pineapple fields, pine stands, canyons and rain forests and up along the island’s razorback spine to a 3,370-foot summit. It's the only point in Hawaii where you can see six islands at once: Molokai, Maui, Kahoolawe, Molokini, the Big Island and—on a really clear day—the faint outline of Oahu. Pack a picnic, bring your camera and take lots of honeymoon snaps along the way.
BEACHCOMB OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Hold on to the 4x4 and head out to Shipwreck Beach, a rugged and remote stretch on the northeastern shore. The first thing you’ll notice as you descend through the series of scenic switchbacks to the shore is the sad hulk of a 1940s Liberty ship embedded in the reef. It’s not the only vessel that came to a bad end in the unpredictable waters here. While this is most definitely not the spot for a swim, it’s a great place for beachcombing. (Local fishermen once used the beachcombed material in their buildings and shacks; you might be able to fashion a driftwood shack for the day.) Trails from the beach lead to ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs and the ruins of a lighthouse.
VISIT THE GODS
The dramatic, spooky lava-rock formations in Lanai’s barren red-dirt badlands call to mind certain desert parts of the American southwest—or Mars. In Hawaiian legend, the battling priests created this eerie garden by dropping fireballs from the sky—and when you find yourself in this otherworldly landscape, that explanation makes about as much sense as any. You’ll need to rent a 4x4 to get out here. It’s a bumpy ride, so be ready for adventure. The best time to see the area is at dawn or sunset, when the shadows grow long and mysterious and the golden rays of the sun mix with the garden’s shades of red, ochre and lavender in a most magical way.
Picture the two of you in masks and fins, snorkeling hand in hand through Lanai’s aquamarine waters. Crystal-clear visibility, pristine coral reefs and intriguing underwater lava formations are what you can expect on the undersea side of the island. In many spots you can slip into world-class snorkeling right from shore. The Four Seasons’ Hulopoe Bay, for instance, is a protected Marine Conservation District teeming with watery life. Even better is boarding one of the catamarans from Trilogy Excursions (888-225-6284, 808-661-4743; sailtrilogy.com) for a sail and a snorkel, complete with lunch and drinks. Trilogy also offers scuba-diving sails for certified divers, as well as sunset cruises that you can enjoy even if you can’t swim. Be sure to reserve in advance.
MIKE CARROLL GALLERY
443 7th St.
The dreamy oil paintings of Mike Carroll, a medical and commercial illustrator turned plein-air artist, convey a romantic yet familiar vision of island life and landscapes, from lush gardens to palm trees dancing under stiff trade winds to the legendary 17th hole at the Challenge at Manele golf course. The gallery, which occupies a vintage plantation-era building, sells both his oils and his prints, in various sizes, along with the work of two dozen other top island artists and artisans. Lanai Cook pine bowls (as thin and elegantly wrought as china), fine-art photography, one-of-a-kind jewelry and fish-print tapestries are among the wonderful selections you're likely to find.
THE LOCAL GENTRY
363 7th St.
At first blush you don’t expect a sleepy backwater like Lanai City to have a boutique as chic and trendy as this one—yet here it is, right off Dole Park, the central square. Islanders and mainlanders alike love the fun mix of urban and island clothing and accessories that owner Jenna Gentry Majkus has packed into her treasure chest of a store. There's apparel for any occasion you could possibly encounter on Lanai, from T-shirts, men’s swimsuits and beach skirts to active wear and dresses for evenings around the resort. There are also fashionable shoes and bags, along with jewelry, bath products, unique sandals, mahogany lamps and other surprises.
DIS ’N DAT SHOP
418 8th St.
This jungle-green shop fringed with whimsical wind chimes, mobiles and year-round Christmas lights is packed with thousands of art, gift and jewelry items in a minuscule space enlivened by a glittering crystal ceiling. The cheery owners, Barry and Suzie (he’s "Dis" and she’s "Dat") Osman, comb the world to stock their eclectic inventory. Among the riches are exotic wood sculpture, carving and furnishings; Asian antiques, stained glass, unusual T-shirts, pottery, ceramics, batik scarves, basketry, hula-girl and dragonfly lamps, and perhaps the largest selection of "Hawaiian slippah" jewelry—miniature flip-flops in necklace, earring, anklet and bracelet form—you'll ever see. The fanciful garden ornaments and serene Buddhas everywhere you turn add to the charm.
GIFTS WITH ALOHA FROM LANAI
363 7th St.
This is a must-stop for authentic Hawaiian gifts and souvenirs and an excellent place to find casual resortwear, like bold and bright Jams World shirts and dresses and Lanai-designed Stone Shack shirts. Almost everything is made somewhere in Hawaii, with an especially strong showing by Lanai residents. The E&G Ingenuity body scrubs, soaps and candles are the work of a local mother-and-daughter team. The jars of unheated, certified organic rare white honey come from a grove of kiawe trees on the Big Island. Soaps and bath products with island scents—pineapple, plumeria, pikake—are made on Maui. There’s also a good selection of island music, books and DVDs on Hawaii, hand-blown glass, watercolors and jewelry made by island hands.
LANAI ART CENTER
339 7th St.
The art center is at once classroom, gallery and store. Residents and visitors alike can take workshops and classes in variety of media, including painting, drawing, ceramics, calligraphy, silk-screening, digital arts and traditional Hawaiian crafts. The gallery/gift shop is filled with the works of Lanai artists; it’s also a great place to find deals on everything from koa-framed originals to pocket-size ceramic keepsakes. You can also pick up art supplies, such as charcoal pencils, sketch pads and starter sets of acrylics, oils or watercolors.