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Luau Like Larry

There's never been a better time to escape to Lanai—Larry Ellison's private Hawaiian island.

Do Lanai like Larry does Lanai

Do Lanai like Larry does Lanai


We all know how obsessive Larry Ellison can get about his projects (see: America’s Cup)—and now he has a real doozy on his hands. Since he snapped up 98 percent of the tiny Hawaiian island Lanai (population: 3,102) for $300 million in 2012, there’s no denying that the sleepy, elysian isle is looking a lot more like Ellison’s twitchy native habitat: Silicon Valley.

Hospitality? There’s an App for That 
Ellison’s down-to-the-studs renovation of the five-star Four Seasons Manele Bay (From $1,000 a night) dropped the hotel’s English country-cottage design in favor of a dark-wood-paneled, den-of-love look. Unplugging is not the goal here: Doors unlock with the wave of a bikini-friendly wristband, and each room is equipped with a 75-inch TV. In-room iPad Airs and a downloadable app let the touchscreen-addicted adjust the A/C or order pancakes without lifting their heads from the pillow—and if a pod of dolphins comes into Manele Bay, as often happens, the app pings you with an alert. At the pool, cabana boys hand out Bose noise-canceling headphones along with pineapple skewers and smoothies, just in case the guy on the next chaise has a thing for his speakerphone.

Supercharge Your Ride
The swarms of silver Mercedes SUVs driven by Ellison’s team already seem to outnumber the mud-splattered pickups favored by townies, but the roads may look even more like 280 if plans to bring in a fleet of electric cars for a car-share program come through. It remains to be seen whether a traffic light will ever be needed: The island has gotten along just fine without one so far.

Disrupting the Multiplex
The town’s 1926 movie theater, Hale Keaka, shuttered for decades, reopened in December to whoops of joy from locals, who until then had been forced to take the ferry to Maui just to catch the latest Hobbit flick. The theater has kept its vintage tin-roofed, pineapple-plantation style, but inside it’s tricked out with the best digital projection in the state—in plenty of time for the island’s first annual documentary film festival, launching next February.

The Stanford of Sustainability
In a place where a new juice shack counts as big news, word has it that Ellison hopes to open a sustainability research university, with a campus bigger than the University of Hawaii’s, as part of a push to make Lanai a place where locals can work in a field other than tourism.

Rough It Like a Billionaire
Locals have always camped out on weekends at Hulopo’e Beach. Now there’s talk of putting in a posh glamping resort there (or maybe in a remote spot called Kahalepalaoa) for those who like to think of themselves as rugged outdoorsy types—as long as there’s no actual sleeping on the ground involved.

Like Uber for Paddleboarding
The island has long been a destination for fans of good-old-boy sports like golf and hunting, but now a younger, sportier crowd is seen stand-up paddleboarding and surf kayaking at Hulopo’e Beach and logging their miles on Lanai Cycles’ new private bike tour, bookable through the Four Seasons.

Outerlands West
The Dole family’s vision of Lanai as one big pineapple farm died in the 1980s, leaving huge swaths of the island lying fallow—90 percent of the island’s food is brought in by boat and plane. But now the hyperlocal organic farming craze has hit, big-time. Team Ellison is building greenhouses and installing aquaponics beds to lend the island some locavore cred. Much of the produce for Manele Bay’s new branch of Nobu is grown at Alberta’s Farm, outside of Lanai City.

Flying High
Ellison is hoping to put in a longer runway that will allow for nonstop flights from the mainland to Lanai. In the meantime, he’s built a private lounge in the Honolulu airport so that Four Seasons guests flying on Island Air (which, you guessed it, he also bought) can drink free smoothies and recharge their iPhones away from the riffraff while they wait for their connection.

The Zuckerberg Look
The Lanai Collection, a new men’s clothing line by Larry’s son, David Ellison, that’s offered in the hotel’s shops, features a $70 T-shirt and, of course, a $295 hoodie.

Getting There
Hawaiian Airlines and United Airlines fly daily from SFO to LNY, via Honolulu, starting from around $500.


Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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