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Hawaii's Island of Kauai
Kauai is truly an enchanting place and it is one of our favorite places to visit. Our home away from home.
We are delighted to share it with you and if you plan to visit, we hope this guide will come in handy. You might want to print a copy to take along with you when you go.
Please keep in mind that this is a guide to the places and things we like to do (or would like to do) on Kauai. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide and you may not even agree with us. For a comprehensive guide, we recommend the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook.
These are the few top things that we really feel are at the top of our list. For more information on these, see the narrative text below.
We like Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays because of their great prices on air/hotel/car packages. They also sell air only and hotel+car only. They have a wide range of accomodations available in all parts of the island. We've been happy with them in the past with their available hotels, although Teri would like to try a B&B one day and lately we've been staying in condos booked separately. We haven't used Pleasant's packages in several years but we sometimes book our airfare through them.
If you live in the Southern California or San Francisco Bay areas, Pleasant runs daily chartered flights on American Trans Air from LAX and SFO to Oahu, Maui and Kauai; these are often the cheapest flights available. Typically much cheaper than the fares available from other carriers.
Some hotels near LAX (and probably SFO) offer "park and fly" packages where you get a hotel room for the night before your flight and can park your car at the hotel for your entire trip. Very convenient since the flights leave early...like 8 AM. Which means you need to be in line for check-in between 6:30 and 7:00 AM. We like the Doubletree and Crowne Plaza hotels for "park and fly".
Free maps -- We love that there are detailed, free maps everywhere. At the airport, pick up "Kauai Gold" or "This Week on Kauai" brochures. You'll get maps of the entire island, plus detailed maps of cities and points of interest. Don't pass up the Dining brochures, they often have great maps and menus too.
Snorkeling equipment can be rented at several locations around the island. Rental Warehouse (part of Activity Warehouse) is in Kapa`a about a minute North of the Courtyard Kauai at Waipouli Beach. Snorkel Bob's has outlets on all of the islands and you can rent snorkel gear on one island, keep it for your entire stay in Hawaii, and return it on another island (but who has room in their luggage for a snorkel and fins??)
If you really do have room for a snorkel set in your luggage, you can buy the gear in advance at Costco and bring it with you. You'll get much better quality gear and won't spend a whole lot more.
Warning, the surf in Hawaii is extremely dangerous, and more so in the winter months. Only go into the water if you are protected by a reef. The waves break on the reef, and inside the reef the water will be calm. With no reef, the waves are powerful and the beaches steep. Many people have lost their lives in the surf in Hawaii. This fact is not known by most tourists. Be careful!!
One of the things we look forward to on every visit to Kauai is getting up in the morning and going out to walk along the beach. It is easy for us to get up early (and we are not normally early-risers) because of the time zone change. The sand on the eastern shore is coarse and gold in color, not at all like the sand on the mainland. It is quite pleasant.
There are three major resorts on Kauai: one in the South, one in the East, and one in the North. Our favorite is the Grand Hyatt Kauai (formerly Hyatt Regency Kauai) in Poipu on the South shore (see below). We've never stayed at any of these resorts but we plan to stay at the Hyatt someday (in fact, on our next visit!). It is fun to go and "check out" the fabulous resorts (we've visited them all) and have a drink in one of the bars or eat in one of the restaurants, which you may do even if you are not a guest of the resort.
As much as we hate to say it, the cheapest place to buy souvenirs are the large mega stores from the mainland, Wal*Mart and K-Mart. Wal*Mart is located in Lihue and K-Mart is located in the Kukui Grove Shopping Center.
The local T-shirt craze for tourists, as you will notice if you wander into any souvenir stand in Hawaii, is dirt-dyed shirts. These are shirts actually dyed in the red earth of Hawaii and are a striking and unusual orange color. There are two major companies that manufacture the dirt-dyed shirts: Red Earth and Red Dirt. We tend to like the Red Earth designs better (their older monochromatic ones anyway) but Red Dirt does a much better job at marketing and advertising so you'll see Red Dirt shirts almost everywhere and Red Earth almost nowhere.
Another shirt company that you will see all over Hawaii (in their own stores) is Crazy Shirts. They have an extremely wide variety of nice shirts and even some dyed in coffee, beer and chocolate (one at a time, not all together)! They have very high-quality shirts, sweat shirts and hats in pleasing designs. Get a "frequent buyer card" because they also have stores on the mainland. Our frequent buyer card is almost all filled up.
By the way, if you're thinking of bringing back Mauna Loa or Hawaiian Host macadamia nut candy for the folks at home, it is usually cheaper and easier to buy it at local stores once you arrive back home. Since the candy is a popular tourist item, it's not cheaper in Hawaii. The only downside is availability on the mainland, sometimes the mac nut candy is relatively hard to find. But you can always scope out the availability situation before leaving home.
Dining in Hawaii is strictly casual. In virtually any restaurant, a man would be appropriately dressed in an aloha shirt and "Dockers" slacks and a woman could wear the same or similar. So there's no need to bring fancy dress clothes to Hawaii. You'll just end up dragging them home unworn.
Look at the airport or other tourist spots for a book of restaurant menus. You'll typically find them on the same racks as the "Kauai Gold" brochures. These books are very helpful when choosing a restaurant but not all restaurants are included.
North Shore / Hanalei
There are several wet and dry caves along the road as you head towards Ke`e. They're only moderately interesting. The easiest one to visit is the large dry cave at Haena.
Ke`e Beach is literally at the end of road on the north shore, at the north end of the Na Pali coast. This is one of the most beautiful beaches on the whole island. A scene from the Thorn Birds was filmed here. The snorkeling here was excellent. It's Teri's favorite place to snorkel on Kauai.
The Kalalau trail which originates at Ke`e beach is rated a 10 by the Sierra Club. That is, the path is narrow, rocky, steep, and often slippery. 2? miles in is a waterfall -- a nice short hike. Too long for us, though -- we've never done it. Wear boots that you wouldn't mind if they got red mud all over them.
For the less adventurous, there is a somewhat hidden trail that runs along a rock wall on the West end of Ke`e beach. If you follow it around, it will head up the cliff and in 5 minutes you'll be at a heiau (sacred temple) on the bluff. The heiau is outlined by rocks. You'll probably see offerings on wall outcroppings or on the larger rocks (don't disturb them). From here you'll get a great 180 degree view of the Na Pali and the ocean, and it'll seem miles from civilization. Just after the heiau the trail crosses a small stream and keeps going...
We discovered kayaking on our last trip. We really enjoyed it and we intend to try it again next time. Our journey started at Kayak Kauai in Hanalei. We paddled the kayak down the small tributary of the Hanalei river and soon joined up with the main river, paddling out toward the ocean. This took us down to Hanalei Bay (into the very mild surf) where we paddled around the rocky point where the Princeville Resort stands and continued along to Hideaways Beach. We had about an hour at Hideaways to snorkel before heading back. Good snorkeling! The snorkeling here was at least as good, if not better, than Ke`e. We actually saw the Hawaiian state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua`a, while snorkeling here.
From the Kilauea lighthouse, which is quite picturesque, you'll get great views of the coastline and surf. You're in a wildlife preserve. We've seen spinner dolphin pods leaping out of the water like flying fish. Take your binoculars (or they might have some available for checkout). We've heard folks say they saw turtles and whales from here too.
Guava Kai Plantation has a small orchard you can walk thru, and a small gift shop. If you've never tried guava jam, give it a chance. It's the only kind of jam Teri will eat. This is one of the true flavors of Hawaii.
One of the best places to see the sunset is from the lawn of the Princeville Resort, although the last time we were there they were parking cars on the lawn. Bring your camera. Even better is from the terrace of the Living Room bar, but obviously that's not free...
We think Hanalei is one of the nicest little towns in Hawaii. The downtown area (Bubba's is kinda in the center of it) has a very nice friendly feel. Funny little shops and restaurants in what used to be a school.
Cafe Hanalei at the Princeville Resort has the best view (of Hanalei Bay) so go during the day or at sunset. At night the view is lost. We ate there at lunch. Look for Puff the Magic Dragon! We walked in to the Princeville Resort during a downpour. We looked like two drowned rats, but they were very nice to us and gave us a great table outside.
The Living Room lounge, also at the Princeville Resort, has a beautiful outdoor terrace. We watched the sunset from here on a recent visit, while sipping Mai Tais and snacking on delicious appetizers (called pupus).
Bubba Burgers in Hanalei is almost an institution. We always end up here after shopping at the Old Hanalei School.
Zelo's Beach House has OK food. We tried it once, but it was not compelling enough to want to go back.
The North shore is known as being the colder and wetter part of the island. But it is not like that all the time.
The Princeville Resort is the major resort in the north. Very opulent, but in a very stuffy sort of way. Marble is everywhere in the hotel. Situated overlooking picturesque Hanalei Bay, this hotel has one of the best views on the island.
East Shore / Lihue
We haven't visited the Kauai Museum yet, but Allyn's parents have, and they really liked it.
There is also kayaking available on the Wailua River, but we have not tried it.
The Fern Grotto seems to be a very popular tourist attraction but we aren't quite sure why. The boat ride on the Wailua River is nice but the grotto itself is pretty much a let-down. It is much smaller than we expected. We would say skip it.
There is one major shopping center in Kauai, the Kukui Grove Shopping Center just west of Lihue. There are department stores, restaurants, and specialty shops. There's a K-Mart and Borders books. We hear there is a Genki Sushi there now, Teri's favorite conveyor sushi place from when she lived in Singapore.
You can skip the Coconut Marketplace. Nothing exciting there.
Another touristy place to shop is Hilo Hattie, which bills itself as "The Store of Hawaii". Located in downtown Lihue, we're told the building used to be the bowling alley. Consists mostly of Hawaiian clothing (that the locals don't wear), candy, and other souvenirs. They may give you a cheap shell lei when you enter. You can tell the couples who've been to Hilo Hatties--her dress and his shirt are the same loud fabric.
Duke's Canoe Club, Kauai Marriott, Lihue -- named after Duke Kahanamoku, a legendary surfer. The menu is seafood and steak (similar to Charthouse in their classic "aloha" days, right down to the salad bar with Caesar salad). Excellent fu-fu drinks; try the "Tropical Itch". The open-air restaurant looks over Nawiliwili harbor and is right on the beach, and at sundown they light the torches. Last time a trio played Hawaiian songs at tableside. We always go to Duke's the night we arrive in Kauai. Try to go just before sunset, and walk along the beach after your meal. (picture)
Although we haven't eaten at Auntie Ono's ourselves, it comes highly recommended by my parents. Located in Kapa`a just a few minutes north of the Courtyard Kauai at Waipouli Beach. Breakfast place.
Hamura Saimin, Lihue - a local's noodle house. (Saimin is the local version of ramen). Hard to find, on a side street in Lihue (Kress St.). This place is a real dive, and you get enough sodium in one bowl to last for the rest of your life. But don't let that stop you. We ate here three times on a recent visit. Order the "Special" saimin, which has extra goodies like veggies in it. And if you like passion fruit, order a slice of Lilikoi Pie, a passion fruit chiffon pie that is just terrific (lilikoi is the hawaiian name for passion fruit).
Hanamaulu Tea House Ask to sit in the tea house. Better call for a reservation.
There are two Bubba Burgers locations: one in Hanalei and one in Kapa`a. We've eaten several times at the Hanalei location.
Duane's Ono Char Burgers - inconveniently located half-way between Kapa`a and Kilauea, Duane's is always crowded, and the burgers are good.
The Eastern shore is our pick for best area to stay. It is perfectly located "half way" around the island with convenient access to either the South or the North.
We stayed at the Kauai Coconut Beach on our first couple of visits to Kauai. It was starting to get really old and rundown but we are happy to report that it was recently extensively remodeled and renamed the Courtyard Kauai at Waipouli Beach, now with free high-speed internet access. It is right on the beach, and the hotel is well-located on the eastern shore, making it quick to go either North or South. We intend to stop by and check it out on our next visit. (picture)
We have stayed a couple of times at the Kauai Beach Villas. These are older condo/timeshare properties right on the beach just north of Lihue. This is a big complex but they have three "beach front" buildings with one and two-bedroom units with complete kitchens. The decor is pretty spartan but being that close to the beach is quite a thrill. The prices are fairly reasonable. Several companies rent units here.
On our most recent visit, we stayed with some friends at the Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy. The Beachboy was an old hotel that was completely renovated a couple of years ago and turned into timeshares. They are very nice now. We were very impressed with this resort. We stayed in a two-bedroom unit facing the pool with an ocean view. (The buildings here are perpendicular to the ocean so most units are not directly beach front). The prices for renters are fairly high unless you're willing to attend a timeshare presentation.
The Kauai Marriott is the major resort in the East. Located in Lihue, it is situated right on Nawiliwili harbor. The Kauai Marriott also has timeshare units available for Marriott's Vacation Club members or timeshare traders. This would be our second choice major resort as we feel while it is more stuffy than the Grand Hyatt it is less stuffy than the Princeville. The Kauai Marriott main tower is the tallest building on the island. We heard that after it was built the residents voted that no new buildings could be "taller than a palm tree".
South Shore / Poipu
Na Pali coast tour via inflatable raft (aka zodiac). Highly recommended, but you'll get soaked (raincoat provided) and your butt might be sore the next day (and the next day, and the next day...). You'll probably see dolphins or turtles, and get an up-close view of the staggeringly beautiful Na Pali coastline. You'll lose count of the waterfalls. If a sore butt isn't your idea of a vacation, there are also catamarans and other larger watercraft making the trip. Some of the trips include a snorkeling stop. (It has been so long since we took one of these we really don't have a recommendation on tour operators.)
Waimea Canyon is definitely a must-see. Called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific", it is a spectacularly beautiful canyon. On our first visit we took a bus tour and this was a waste of time. Just drive yourself.
The Kalalau Lookout and "the lookout past Kalalau" are the culmination of your drive into Waimea Canyon. These two sites afford the best view possible of the Na Pali coast and Kalalau Valley without taking a boat and seeing it from the water. On a recent visit, the road past Kalalau was closed and it was a long hike down the closed road to get to "the lookout past Kalalau".
Spouting Horn (picture)
Old Koloa Town is a district in the South consisting of historic buildings (Koloa used to be a sugar town) turned into shops. Delightful for browsing.
Tidepools, Grand Hyatt, Poipu - Expensive. Tidepools is like a group of thatched huts open to a water lake (no ocean view). This is by far our favorite restaurant on Kauai. Don't miss the Ahi (raw or seared tuna) appetizer. Reservations are recommended. We go to Tidepools on every visit to Kauai. (picture)
Ilima Terrace, Grand Hyatt, Poipu - Buffet restaurant with excellent decor. Dinner is themed (e.g., luau) so call ahead to find out tonight's theme. Reservations are recommended but the one time we ate here we just walked in without one.
Brick Oven Pizza on the main road in Kalaheo, this place has the best pizza on the island, and maybe the best pizza you've ever had!
Tomkat's, Old Koloa Town - a quaint sandwich/burger place.
Jojo's Shave Ice, Waimea
The South shore is known for warm and sunny weather.
Our favorite resort by far on the island is the Grand Hyatt Kauai (formerly Hyatt Regency) in Poipu. It has just the right mix of opulence without stuffiness and the low green-roof architecture really says "classic hawaii" to us. Very comfortable and elegant. Although we haven't stayed here yet, we plan to someday.
For More Information
Visiting Other Islands?
The authors of the above Ultimate guidebook have one for each of the other major Hawaiian islands. We have all of them and recommend them as the best guidebooks available. Just like the above, these are are full of insider tips, and the best spots, etc. Buy them here: Maui, Big Island, Oahu.
Other Web Resources
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