The Beloved Turtle Bay Resort on Oʻahu Gets a Fresh Look
The North Shore oceanfront resort has transformed its image and property.
For decades, Turtle Bay Resort has been a landmark accommodation on the North Shore of O‘ahu. Opening in May 1972 as Del Webb’s Kuilima Resort Hotel & Country Club, the hotel is a visitor’s oasis far from the big city. And in a way, I wouldn’t even be here if not for the resort. Like many new transplants moving to the island’s North Shore in search of surf and sunshine, my dad—from California—and my mom—from South Korea—both worked at the Turtle Bay Resort. It’s where they met. My grandparents owned a timeshare there, and I learned how to swim in its pools. And it’s not just me with close, emotional ties to Turtle Bay Resort—many visitors and kama‘āina (longtime residents) have made everlasting memories on the property, sipping mai tais at the poolside bar, going on unforgettable horseback rides along the sparkling beaches and taking in the views from the hotel’s luxurious rooms.
And now, after nearly 50 years of operation, the resort has changed. “It’s not really a renovation,” says Tom Donovan, vice president and managing director of Turtle Bay Resort. “It’s a transformation; we’ve really transformed the entire space.” It’s the truth. Even from my hazy childhood memories, I can tell things are different, for the better. Lobby walls have been replaced by floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing jaw-dropping views of the North Shore, and even the check-in desk is backed by a stunning vision of the coastline stretching toward Kahuku. Serious effort has also been put into redesigning and reimaging the interior decor, which now sports a beachy, boho-chic look. It’s mismatched and eclectic, and resembles the type of furniture you might find in a bougie beachfront home in the area.
“We’re the North Shore, we’re the country,” Donovan says of Turtle Bay Resort’s new look. “We’re really going for that barefoot luxury essence, it has to have a connection to the surf vibe and the land that’s here.” According to Donovan, almost all of the original furnishings and decor had been ripped out and replaced during the transformation, which began in early 2020. And while it isn’t the same Turtle Bay Resort that I remember, the hotel’s new look doesn’t feel stuffy or overwhelming. Instead, it feels like home. From the ever courteous and locally charming staff to small details like the inviting window-side loveseats in the hallways that lead to your room, so many newly introduced aspects give the resort a comfortable, lived-in atmosphere.
While the changes at Turtle Bay Resort are plentiful, the area surrounding the hotel has stayed very much the same. In fact, the state has designated the resort a steward of the 1,300 surrounding acres. It keeps the beauty of the area intact by working with local nonprofits and volunteer organizations like the North Shore Land Trust and Sustainable Coastlines. And the surrounding area pays it back by providing hotel guests with so many opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure. “Golfing, snorkeling, surfing, horseback rides, mountain biking and so much more,” says Donovan. “And every one of our activities is five minutes away from our lobby doors.”
One of the activities getting a lot of attention from the hotel’s younger crowd is the Jamie O’Brien Surf Experience. The professional surfer from the North Shore has accrued a huge following on YouTube and social media, and has teamed up with Turtle Bay Resort to offer surf lessons at the break right next to the hotel. “We wanted something that could connect a little more with the next generation, and we thought this would be a really neat way to do it,” says Donovan. “Jamie doesn’t do all the lessons; he travels a lot, but every once in a while he’ll show up and surprise families and kids.”
In a way, much of the hotel’s transformation and new vibe can be seen, smelled and tasted at the resort’s new restaurant, Alaia. A casual dining environment paired with seriously good food, Alaia’s menu consists of uber-fresh entrees, tasty pūpū (appetizers) and a selection of dangerously delightful adult beverages. From the caramelized he‘e (octopus) that melts in your mouth to the spaghetti primavera—which features grilled veggies straight from Turtle Bay Resort’s on-property farm—you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu. And the culinary minds behind Alaia make sure not to over-spice and use only minimal artificial flavoring. They let the quality of the ingredients, much of it grown or gathered on the North Shore, speak for themselves.
While it may not be the same space I remember from my past, Turtle Bay Resort’s new look and feel is sure to make an enduring impression on guests for many years to come. The way its lobby highlights the natural splendor of the coast. The tranquility of the new adults-only pool—and the exciting chaos of the family pool below it. The comfort in knowing that you can wake up in the morning and find a nice spot to sit down and watch the sunrise, only to return to the same spot in the evening to watch the sunset. Sometimes change is unwelcome, but, at the Turtle Bay Resort, it’s for the best.
This story was originally published in our 2022 Spring issue. Buy a copy here.