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Resort History

In January 1964, a ten-story resort in the exclusive enclave of Kahala opened its doors to the world. The rest is history. Five decades of memories cherished. Join us as we stroll down Memory Lane.

About the Resort

In January 1964, a ten-story resort in the exclusive enclave of Kahala opened its doors to the world. The rest is history. Five decades of memories cherished. Join us as we stroll down Memory Lane. In a few months, the resort capitalized on its relatively removed location, thanks to its entrée to the Hollywood community. Not long after the resort’s opening, the management of NBC booked every room for its annual affiliates meeting and brought in a bevy of Hollywood stars. Recognizing its potential as a celebrity hideaway, ownership launched an advertising campaign targeted at film and television luminaries. Word quickly spread of this elegant and exclusive resort and the Kahala soon placed on the map for discriminating world travelers. By 1967, it achieved a remarkable 90 percent occupancy rate and sealed its reputation as a watering hole for the extremely wealthy and hugely famous.

The Kahala resort attracted countless film and television stars with its exclusive setting, exemplary service, and its regard for protecting the privacy of its guests. Weekend afternoons around the pool were a veritable who’s who of the silver screen, with the like of John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Eva Gabor and Julie Andrews languishing in chaise lounges with sunglasses and cool drinks.

Notables such as Jack Lemmon, Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Tony Bennett and Carol Burnett signed their names to the register and Burt Reynolds, Bob Newhart, Bette Midler, and Liza Minnelli all took up momentary residence.

When Hawaii Five-O began filming in 1968, actor Jack Lord arranged for guest stars to stay at the Kahala, including Helen Hayes, Martin Sheen, and William Shatner. In the 1980’s, Magnum P.I., guests enjoyed the same relationship; the resort and its beach bar were even features in many of the series’ segments.

The Kahala also became the hotel for royalty, heads of state, and legends of the sporting, musical, and literary worlds. Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip stayed at the resort when coming through the islands, as did Emperor Hirohito, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace, Juan Carlos and the Queen of Spain, Indira Gandhi, and the Dalai Lama. Prince Charles and Princess Diana once booked 100 rooms for their party’s stopover and Imelda Marcos often stopped in for lunch. And every U.S. president since Lyndon Johnson has made it a point to be a Kahala guest. President Barack Obama visited The Kahala in August 2008 as a Presidential candidate for his Hawaii fundraiser.

Sports heroes from Joe DiMaggio to John McEnroe have walked the Kahala’s sandy beach and writers James A. Michener, Phillip Roth, Joan Didion, and John Gregory Dunne sought inspiration in its solitude. Concert stopovers found the Rolling Stones, The Who and The Beach Boys seeking refuge from autograph hounds and photographers, and Stevie Wonder swam with and touched the resort’s famous dolphins. Merv Griffin conducted an impromptu sing along one evening at the lobby piano with Helen Reddy, Eydie Gorme and Jim Nabors.

Despite its reputation for attracting the rich and famous, the resort also became a legendary gathering place for Honolulu’s local society. Its restaurants became O’ahu dining institutions for celebrations and quiet dinners alike, and entertainers cultivated loyal fans with their nightly lounge shows. O’ahu school children looked forward to their turn to visit with the resort’s dolphins through the daily educational programs. Local residents would make sure they had their cars washed before making the drive up to The Kahala's port cochere. And The Kahala was often the choice for holiday weekends away from home, thanks to its welcoming nature. The resort’s caring employees attended to all of their guests with passion and pride, whether serving the Sultan of Brunei, Luciano Pavarotti, or guests from every state of the union, including Hawaii.

The Kahala Hotel & Resort is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and will continue the landmark’s privileged position among celebrities and islanders. Returning guests count on such preserved familiarities as the performing dolphins, the lobby’s multicolored chandeliers, and the many familiar employees, while enjoying revitalized guest rooms, spectacular dining facilities, and The Kahala’s signature service. And the resort’s poolside has once again become a favorite for entertainment stars such as Sir Elton John, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Nicolas Cage, Cameron Diaz, Billy Joel, Alec Baldwin, Sean Penn, Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Kahala Facts

The groundbreaking of The Kahala was in 1962. The resort cost $12 million to build. Architects were Edward Killingsworth, Jules Brady and Waugh Smith of Long Beach, California. Both Mr. Brady and Mr. Smith were former Honolulu-based architects.

  • The resort site is 6.5 acres
  • The resort used the post-and-beam construction on a grand scale that has since become one of Killingsworth’s hallmarks
  • More than 100 coconut palms were planted. 18,000 yards of fine sand were barged from Molokai island to pad the 800-foot stretch of beach.
  • Two man-made peninsulas were created at each end of the resort beach. They acted as devices to keep costly sand from being lost to tidal action as well as giving a picturesque tropical touch to the sun-soaked vista.
  • The dolphin lagoon is four feet above sea level
  • The waterfall is not only used as a picturesque backdrop but is used to cool The Kahala’s air conditioning system
  • The resort was almost named “Waialae Hilton” but it was changed due to the difficulty in spelling the name
  • The Kahala was the first major resort to have air-conditioning in all the rooms
  • The resort opened on Wednesday, January 22, 1964
  • Room rates at the newly opened Kahala Hilton were US$26 a night. A night in the Presidential Suite cost US$150.
  • To this day, the resort has one of the largest rooms in Hawaii with more than 550 square feet (55 square meters) each and his-and-her bathroom vanities and walk-in closets
  • There are 28,000 multi-colored pieces of Italian fused glass used in the Lobbby chandeliers
  • Three acres of Thai-teak parquetry were placed on the hotel’s floors
  • Baseball great Joe DiMaggio was one of the first guests who dined at The Maile restaurant on opening day
  • The first Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to inhabit the lagoon were named Uku, Nihoa and Kui. They were flown in 4500 miles from Gulfport, Mississippi.
  • Entertainer Danny Kaleikini began performing in the Hala Terrace in 1967. His long-staying run at the Kahala would net him a nomination in the Guinness Book of Records.
  • Every U.S. President from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush have stayed at the resort since its opening. President Obama stays at a private residence when he returns to Honolulu, where he grew up.
  • Former Honolulu Advertiser columnist Eddie Sherman referred to the resort as “The Ka-hollywood” due to the frequent number of celebrities spotted lounging at the pool and restaurants. Star Bulletin writer Ben Wood called the Kahala “the bunkhouse of the stars.” Author Joan Didion had written in an Esquire magazine piece in which she described The Kahala as the place where “Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show guests go to rest.”
  • In the 1970s, the Maile Restaurant had the only Tibetan wine steward in the world.
  • Two penguins came to spend the day as guests of the dolphins on their birthday in 1984, and remained at the resort until 1995.
  • A beach bar was opened and used expressly as the location for “Rick’s Bar” in the TV series “Magnum P.I.” The bar is now The Kahala O Ke Kai,a beautiful oceanfront function room perfect for intimate wedding receptions.

Grand old hotel. So much character

Such a lovely grand old hotel. So much history and character. Rooms are very well kept and lobby is lovely... Dolphins on the grounds add to the whole experience. Love it.

~ littlemissT13 (singapore) June 2014

Distinguished Guests of The Kahala *

  • Adam Sandler
  • Alec Baldwin
  • Angelina Jolie
  • Arnold Palmer
  • Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Burma
  • Bette Midler
  • Bill Aliiloa Lincoln
  • Bill Cosby
  • Billy Joel
  • Bob Hope
  • Bob Newhart
  • Bruno Mars
  • Burt Reynolds
  • Cameron Diaz
  • Cameron Diaz
  • Cary Grant
  • Charles Lindberg
  • Chi Chi Rodriguez
  • Christopher Walken
  • Clare Booth Luce
  • David Wolf
  • Dean Martin
  • Don Rickles
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Emma Veary
  • Emperor Akihito
    and Empress Michiko of Japan
  • Emperor Hirohito
    and Empress Nagako of Japan
  • Ernie Els
  • Eva Gabor
  • Frank Sinatra
  • Glenn Ford
  • Harry Belafonte
  • Haunani Kahalewai
  • Helen Hayes
  • Henry Fonda
  • Hume Cronyn
  • Hunter S. Thompson
  • Igor Stravinsky
  • Jack Lemmon
  • Jack Nicklaus
  • James A. Michener
  • James Stewart
  • Janet Jackson
  • Jerry Bruckheimer
  • Jerry Lewis
  • Jim Nabors
  • Jim Sturgess
  • Jimmy Buffett
  • Jimmy Kaopuiki
  • Joan Crawford
  • Joe DiMaggio
  • Joe Frazier
  • John McEnroe
  • John Travolta
  • John Wayne
  • Johnny Carson
  • Joseph Wambaugh
  • Julie Andrews
  • Justin Timberlake
  • Kelly Preston
  • Ken Watanabe
  • Lee Trevino
  • Leopold III
    former king of Belgium
    and wife Princess Liliane
  • Lionel Richie
  • Liza Minelli
  • Loretta Swit
  • Louis L’Amour
  • Luciano Pavarotti
  • Lucille Ball
  • Lulu
  • Martin Sheen
  • Merv Griffin
  • Michael Jackson
  • Muhammad Ali
  • Nalani Olds
  • Nicolas Cage
  • Paul Conrad
  • Penny Silva
  • Philip Roth
  • Prince
  • Prince Hitachi
    and Princess Hanako of Japan
  • Queen Elizabeth II
    and Prince Philip
  • Reggie Jackson
  • Rex Harrison
  • Robert Redford
  • Rod Stewart
  • Rolling Stones
  • Rosalind Russell
  • Rush Limbaugh
  • Sammy Davis Jr.
  • Sean Penn
  • Shaunne Gallipeau
  • Sidney Poitier
  • Sir Elton John
  • Sir Michael Caine
  • Stevie Wonder
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Ted Williams
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Dalai Lama
  • The Osbournes
  • The Rolling Stones
  • The Sultan of Brunei
  • The Who
  • Tom Seaver
  • Tony Bennett
  • Tony Curtis
  • Vince Scully
  • Whitney Houston

* Not a comprehensive list