There aren’t many overnight oases on Oʻahu that offer an escape from the crowds—a splendiferous sanctuary from the chaos—but there is one.
I have a favorite place to stay on each Hawaiian island—a destination that should never have a vacant room, regardless of the season, or the time of year. It checks all the boxes; in family, fun, romance, golf, and more—every single box. A dream vacation destination sufficing the generational wants and needs of both my 10-year-old and my parents alike.
I’d stayed here and there around Oahu without ever feeling like I’d found “that place”—and frankly doubting I ever would—always viewing the island more as a claustrophobic tourist trap, than the idyllic getaway I longed for. Until now.
I’ve found my Oahu escape: The Four Seasons Resort at Ko Olina.
Where is Ko Olina?
Ko Olina sits exactly 20 miles west of the historic World War II battleground and memorial, Pearl Harbor, of similar distance to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, and only another 20 miles from the famed hotel, dining, surfing, and shopping district of Waikiki. Ko Olina is close enough to the places you have to visit when you come to Honolulu—at least in distance and time. But it’s not too close, at least not in aura. It’s a thousand miles away in sublime.
Drive around the island of Oahu and you’ll discover a plethora of iconic sites and settings, from the famed breaks and ABC Stores in the aforementioned Waikiki to volcanic craters and craggy cliffs with blowholes, hills with lighthouses, Jurassic mountains, massive kayak-friendly sandbars surrounding signature mini-islands, exposed North Shore beaches with massive waves, shrimp trucks and shaved ice stands, fruit and nut plantations, and crystalline coves perfect for swimming and snorkeling. We did the full island lap in eight hours, packed with hundreds of Snaps, videos, and Insta-shots from six active cameras, and every one of us voted the crystalline coves as our favorite environment.
Not coincidentally, Ko Olina is a stretch of shoreline famous for its fish-and-turtle-packed aquarium-like coves, each one hosting a top tier resort or two. The cove at the Four Seasons is shared with another familial paradise—Disney’s only resort in Hawaii—Aulani. The two properties, while divided by a line drawn in the sand—literally—share many of the same amenities, including access to a world-famous character-attended luau. Every sunset cruise, snorkeling excursion, or watersport adventure arrives and departs out the same gap between the rocks of their shared cove. But, when it comes time for a retreat, for privacy and for serenity, that’s when the adjoining properties are suddenly worlds apart.
Welcome to the Four Seasons
The Four Seasons Ko Olina is an immaculate property, loaded with gardens, streams, koi ponds, swimming pools, hot tubs, restaurants, oceanfront sand, and cliffs, embellished by hundred-mile Pacific views. With minimal noise or light pollution along the water, it’s as beautiful at night as it is by day—many of the trees loaded with large wicker string lights. The lobbies are bright, airy and pristine, music floating from floor to ceiling. The rooms and suites are spacious and clean, and those with ocean view balconies make you want to pull your bed out onto them for some serious glamping.
If you’re lucky enough to snag a penthouse suite, you should know that Forbes described it as “the most dramatic of all hotel suites on any of the Hawaiian Islands.” And that is saying something!
There is a large Adults Only area tucked away along the ocean, with a pool and hot tub that are open late—it is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been in Hawaii after midnight. And the staff at the Four Seasons Ko Olina… they get it. They are well-aware this is your vacation, a ginormous splurge for hundreds of mainlanders and internationals daily, and not only do they try to help you maximize your experience, but they intentionally minimalize their impact on it. You’re not there for them, but they are definitely there for you.
Dawn to dusk they have everything you need for food, from the stupendous breakfast buffet at La Hiki to Italian Cuisine at Noe and Award-Winning Chef Michael’s wow-worthy selections at Mina’s Fish House. For the most chill of evening hangouts, the Manalo Lounge has you covered, with cove-and-poolside snacks and drinks, and if you want to hang out in your room after a long, sunny day, you can do so with room service that runs the gamut of tastes.
You never have to leave the property for anything on the food and beverage side, but my family makes it a point to explore when we travel. We like to ask around for advice and follow the locals where they flock. At Ko Olina, there were a lot of flocking people headed to the Monkeypod Kitchen two blocks away. Surrounded by other gift and snack shops, MonkeyPod spread out their best for us, with Roasted Chicken Wings, a hand-tossed Kalua Pork and Pineapple pizza, Saimin Noodles, a Fresh Island Fish Sandwich, the Seafood Special and some Chocolate Cream Pie.
“Why did we wait until the last night to try this place?” My son asked, almost inversely affected by repercussions of sugar and high-calorie foods. “Someday you’ll understand,” I replied. (Then didn’t eat the entire next day.)
You’ve gotta burn it all off somehow. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of exercise amenities at Ko Olina. I’m always quick to seek out the golf options, and the on-property Ko Olina Golf Club satisfies with magnificent landscaping, massive multi-tiered greens, and plenty of scenic water features. My daughters prefer the pools and lagoons, with paddleboarding, hot-tubbing, swimming, and snorkeling for days on end.
At 11:30 PM our last night, when I told them they needed to get out of the lagoon, their first question was, “Can we get in the pool?” What kind of dad do you think I am? “Of course,” I replied, before dozing off to their shrieks and giggles in a poolside cabana.
While there are plenty of boating excursions that depart from Ko Olina, one of the more unique is the retro-style catamaran Ka’aumoana experience that feels straight out of the Disney movie Moana. We cruised up the coast in a boat that was old-fashioned in appearance but newfangled in comfort and style. Our two certified ocean guides highlighted historic and scenic points then led us on a snorkeling expedition where we chased green sea turtles and thousands of fish.
“Dolphins, seals, whales… you run into it all out here,” our guide explained. “What about Hei Hei?” my youngest asked. “The chicken?” Our guide was all over it. “There are chickens everywhere!”
What’s It Really Worth?
For most of the world a Four Seasons vacation could scarcely be described as affordable. Everything is top of the line, no expenses spared on their end. It’s cream of the crop in every category so, yes, it’s a splurge—no doubt—and you have every right to wonder if, taking such a vacation, you get what you pay for. Any regrets? Anything missing? My favorite endorsements to give are the ones like this one, where the “GO” isn’t tepid but enthusiastic, and there’s nothing missing so there’s nothing left out of the story.
Zero regrets. Zero hesitation. Worth every penny.
On every Hawaiian vacation I’ve taken home a soundtrack of favorite songs that have clung to my playlists over the years, mostly from performers at restaurants, street musicians, and creative sunset salutes in tribute to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Leave the Door Open
The Four Seasons Ko Olina makes taking memorable music home easy, as they entertain guests with hundreds of local singers and musicians throughout the different scenic parts of their property each year—mostly for no occasion at all, other than to celebrate life—with an incredibly deep talent pool. The TVs in the rooms cycle through those performances on the welcome page and if you’re lucky you’ll catch a local named Keilana serenading with a song called “Leave the Door Open” that just sums up the welcome, Aloha vibe, and experience of Ko Olina.