A Hawaii vacation doesn't have to cost thousands. If you're willing to mix a mai tai on your own lanai (instead of having it brought to you in the pool) and you don't mind driving...

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A Hawaii vacation doesn’t have to cost thousands. If you’re willing to mix a mai tai on your own lanai (instead of having it brought to you in the pool) and you don’t mind driving a few minutes to the beach (Hawaiian law says even the fanciest resort has to share its sand with the public), you can stay at a small hotel and save big.

On the Big Island, we found three family-run hotels that added personal service and special touches to our trip. And the nightly room tab was under $100:

Dolphin Bay Hotel, Hilo: Larry and Margaret Alexander, now of Port Townsend, built this 18-room hotel in 1968. Since the late 1970s, it’s been managed by their son, John Alexander, who grooms the gorgeous tropical gardens surrounding the hotel when he’s not out hiking the volcano and gathering secret tips for his guests. At the rear of the property, paths lead into a ravine where a stream flows past banana trees, breadfruit, anthuriums, giant bamboo and monster-leaf philodendrons. (Despite its name, the hotel isn’t near a bay, but in a quiet neighborhood.) Each room has a kitchen, and the hotel’s custom is to hang stalks of ripening local bananas in the courtyard, next to a basket full of ripe papayas, both for the snitching. Studios to two-bedroom apartment, $79-$129 per night. www.dolphinbayhotel.com or 808-935-1466.

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Manago Hotel, in the town of Captain Cook: Harold Manago was born on the Big Island in 1919, and nobody knows it better. He officially retired 20 years ago, but in the mornings you’ll still find him helping behind the front desk of this simple hotel started in 1917 by his parents, Kinzo and Osame Manago, and now managed by his son, Dwight. The place is clean and kept up, but not fancy (nor are the prices, starting at $30 for a double with shared bathroom). The newer wing has lanais with views of sunsets over the ocean. Between wings is a koi pond and vegetable garden that grows produce for the hotel’s modest restaurant, famed for family-style Hawaiian food and luscious pork chops ($8.50, reservations suggested). Double rooms, $30-$54, or $68 for a Japanese-style room. www.managohotel.com
or 808-323-2642.

BRIAN J. CANTWELL / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Harold Manago still works mornings at the front desk in the hotel his parents started in 1917 in the town of Captain Cook.


• Uncle Billy’s Kona Bay Hotel:
Uncle Billy Kimi and his family have long run this moderately priced hotel in the center of Kailua-Kona town (plus a sister hotel in Hilo). Now-gray Uncle Billy owns much of the surrounding town, it seems. If you stay, you’ll likely see him in an aloha shirt, tooling around on his red motor scooter, or he might stop by your table at one of his restaurants (and he’ll likely tell you he spent time in Seattle in his younger years, learning business with Puget Sound’s now-defunct Wigwam stores).

His Kona hotel is an easy first-night base if you fly in to Kona. A bit more peeling paint than others, and the location is less central than it was before many upscale shops moved farther down the beach. But the price is right, rooms are decent, there’s a pleasant pool, and you get a big, free breakfast every day if you book direct; ask for the Internet special, $84 for a double. www.unclebilly.com or 800-367-5102.

All prices are quoted without the 11.41 percent state hotel tax.

— Brian J. Cantwell