Experiencing Old Hawai‘i: Our Stay at the Historic Manago Hotel

The Manago Hotel provides a no-frills hotel experience on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, perfect for those that just need a place to unwind and recharge in-between adventures.

manago hotel japanese room interior

If you’re looking for a place to stay on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, it isn’t hard to find expensive, luxury accommodations.

But if you’re willing to venture off-the-beaten-path and stay somewhere with a no-frills experience, then the Manago Hotel couldn’t be a better option.

Right off the Mamalahoa Highway in the center of Captain Cook, the Manago Hotel is perhaps the most unassuming place we’ve ever stayed at.

Once you enter the hotel, you’ll be transported back in time to relish the days of old Hawai‘i.

We stayed at the Manago Hotel’s “Japanese Room” to experience its authentic Japanese-style accommodations – and found that the hotel’s cozy atmosphere made it the perfect place to unwind and recharge!

Our Stay at the Manago Hotel’s Japanese Room

chloe traveler at the manago hotel japanese room

Staying at the Manago Hotel isn’t for the luxury traveler.

Instead, if you’re looking for a simple place to stay, then the Manago Hotel fits the bill.

Here are a few things that you should know that make the Manago Hotel different than other places:

  • There are no televisions or telephones in the rooms.
  • There are no elevators in the hotel – so it’s not recommended for those with mobility issues (however, some rooms are accessible without climbing stairs).
  • There is no air conditioning in the rooms (but the weather is quite mild in this area of the Big Island, so we didn’t feel like we needed it anyway).
  • No walk-ins or same-day reservations are accepted.
  • No pets are allowed.
  • All rooms are non-smoking.

The Manago Hotel has a simple form that you can fill out for reservation requests.

However, we wanted to book the unique Japanese Room – so we called them to inquire about the availability of the room.

It turned out that there was only one night that the room was available in the next couple of months, so we reserved that night and planned our entire Big Island trip around our stay at the hotel!

Upon arriving at the Manago Hotel, we parked on the side of the hotel. There are ample parking stalls on both sides of the building so parking was not an issue.

Upon entering the hotel’s lobby, we felt like we were transferred back in time to the plantation era!

manago hotel lobby

After checking in, we walked through the hotel to our room. The directions to our room seemed quite confusing at first, but the hotel isn’t very big, so it was easy to navigate.

Manago Hotel Courtyard
The Manago Hotel’s courtyard separates the front/lobby/restaurant building from the back/guestroom building.

All of the hotel’s rooms are located in a separate building in the back of the lobby and restaurant. The two buildings are connected by a ramp on the lobby level so you can walk between your room and the restaurant.

We got to our room on the third floor, unlocked the door (with a regular, old-school key), and entered the Japanese Room.

Interior of Manago Hotel's Japanese Room.
The Japanese Room has authentic furnishings – including tatami mats, shoji, and a bed placed directly on the floor.
The bathroom in the Japanese Room at Manago Hotel
The Japanese Room’s bathroom is clean and simple.

Once we got in the room, we had a hard time leaving!

The room was very cozy and the bed was one of the comfiest we’ve ever slept on!

The lanai was a calm place to relax and soak in the views of the Big Island’s southwestern coastline.

view from manago hotel japanese room
The view from the Japanese Room. That piece of land all the way down there is Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park and Two Step Beach!
Wooden scuplture of bird and ceramic vase artwork in Manago Hotel Japanese Room
The Japanese Room also has a few nice touches that gave it a more “luxury” feel – such as this wooden sculpture and ceramic vase artwork.

The Japanese Room – Our Verdict

If you’re looking for a clean, simple no-frills place to stay, then the Japanese Room offers a unique stay for an affordable rate.

However, if you’re the type of traveler that requires amenities such as a television, air conditioning, and room service, then you should look elsewhere.

Eating Local-Style Hawai‘i Food at the Manago Hotel Restaurant

If you’re looking for local-style Hawai‘i cuisine, then the Manago Hotel Restaurant has you covered.

Considered the oldest continually operated restaurant in Hawai‘i, the Manago Hotel Restaurant has been serving food to hungry patrons for over 100 years!

The Manago Hotel Restaurant is so timeless, that it received the James Beard Foundation’s “Americas Classics” award in 2023.

Breakfast at the Manago Hotel Restaurant

For breakfast, the restaurant has classic Hawai‘i flavors.

Manago Hotel Restaurant menu hanging on the wall

I got a slice of papaya and a coffee, which came out first. A few minutes later, my main breakfast course arrived – which consisted of classic Hawai‘i staples – portuguese sausage, eggs, and rice.

Manago Hotel Restaurant breakfast of portugese sausage, eggs, and rice
The Manago Hotel’s Restaurant serves a classic Hawai‘i breakfast. The huge pieces of portugese sausage were some of the best I’ve ever had (and I grew up in Hawai‘i).

The restaurant wasn’t too busy for breakfast, so the service was super quick. We took our time eating since there weren’t any other patrons waiting for a table.

Our favorite part about the restaurant is that it is quite spacious and has a relaxed atmosphere.

Dinner at the Manago Hotel Restaurant

The Manago Hotel Restaurant’s dinner is really where it shines – and the reason why it’s so famous among both locals and tourists.

We had two entrees – the famous pork chops and sauteed mahi mahi in a butter sauce.

The food arrived quickly, with the side dishes coming out right after the server took our order and the main dishes not too long after that.

The pork chops were just “good”. They were covered in a ton of onions, which we liked. The gravy was excellent. The pork chops themselves were decent – a little tough but the gravy and onions made up for it.

The mahi mahi, however, was phenomenal. It might have been because the fish was cooked in a butter sauce, but we really enjoyed every last bite of it. We squeezed lemon juice all over the mahi mahi and the butter sauce made it pair well with the white rice.

All of the sides were good, but the mac salad really stood out. It had the perfect texture and flavor, and we ate all of it (and we aren’t usually huge fans of mac salad).

The History of the Manago Hotel

Picture of Manago Hotel taken in 1920
This photograph of the Manago Hotel, taken in 1920, shows the hotel’s original building in the same location that the hotel is today.

The history of the Manago Hotel dates all the way back to 1917 when Kinzo Manago borrowed $100 from his boss to start the business.

Back then, the Manago Hotel was just a restaurant. Kinzo and his wife, Osame served home-baked bread, jam, and udon to salesmen and cab drivers traveling between Kona and Hilo.

It wasn’t long before Kinzo realized that some of the travelers were looking for a place to stay for the night. Kinzo set up two cots in rooms for sleepy travelers to stay in, and the business officially became the Manago Hotel.

By 1923, the hotel had expanded to 12 rooms, each renting for $1 per night. Meals were 50 cents each.

The hotel continued to increase in popularity. So in 1929, the hotel was rebuilt to include 20 rooms and a dedicated restaurant.

Manago hotel after early rebuilding
This old photo shows the Manago Hotel after its rebuilding.

In the 1930s, business at the Manago Hotel picked up and it became very profitable. That continued until December 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

Kinzo was worried that since he was a Japanese alien, the business might be taken away from him. So after the attack on Pearl Harbor, his son Harold (who was born in Hawai‘i) took over the business.

During the war, the military ordered the Manago Hotel to not serve local customers. Instead, the Manago Hotel signed a contract with the Army to serve GIs that were stationed nearby.

The army contract got the hotel through the war, and then business continued as usual through the 50s and 60s.

In 1970, Harold started a large construction project on the hotel – which added 44 rooms to the hotel by the time it was completed in 1977.

Harold’s son, Dwight promised Osame that he would take over the family business and kept that promise. So in 1983, Harold retired and his son Dwight took over.

Fast forward to today – Dwight’s daughters, Britney and Taryn have taken over the family business, continuing the tradition with the 4th generation of Managos running the hotel.

Trey Lewis is an outdoor enthusiast. Whether its hiking knife-edge ridges or just fishing by the river, Trey isn't afraid to get dirty in search of the next adventure.

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