I’ve now been to Kauai twice in the past few years. The first trip was for my honeymoon with Roxanne, the second was this summer. Both times were very enjoyable. During our first trip, we spent roughly 10 days on The Garden Island (yeah, Hawaii’s little nickname for Kauai). Our second trip was for half the time, with the second half of our trip being dedicated to Maui (I’ll save that for another post). In any case, there’s plenty of wonderful stuff to do on Kauai… great food and fun activities.
Here’s my guide:
#1: Get your ass to Costco:
You might ask why I’m telling you find the Costco in Lihue. I have fairly good skin for the sun, but if you don’t stock up on sunscreen, you’re really going to regret it. Really, head to Costco as soon as you get your rental car and stock up on sunscreen. You’ll pay 50-66% less buying your sunscreen at Costco than you will at the supermarkets or ABC stores (the island’s general stores). A good rule of thumb… each two-pack of sunscreen will last a couple approx 5 days. If you’re on the island for 10 days, spend the cash now and get yourself a couple of packs. Even if you don’t burn easily, be diligent about applying sunscreen. It’s hot and humid on the island and there’s really no way to avoid spending lots of time in the sun.
You should get plenty of cash back when you buy here… it’ll be useful all over the island, since many of the special places don’t accept credit / debit cards.
#2: Find a local farmer’s market:
Finding a farmer’s market should definitely be #2 on your list. There’s plenty of great tropical fruits and veggies on the island. Bring cash (none of these accept credit cards). Heading to the farmer’s market 2-3 times during your trip can save you a ton of money for other activities… plus, you’ll be able to try lots of great varieties of fruit that are unavailable, or just not great, on the mainland. Some of these include:
- apple bananas: smaller than normal bananas, but sweeter and more flavorful
- chico: little brown fruit, tastes like cinnamon
- soursop: spiky green fruit that tastes like a smoothie
- mangosteen: little purple tropical fruit with seeds surrounded by edible flesh
- lychee: these are never quite as juicy in the main US
- pineapples: are great and low-acid
- mangoes: someone told me that there are approx 30 varieties of mango on the island. I believe it.
- papaya: I wish I liked this fruit. I imagine they’re probably delicious for people that like them.
- coconuts: ice cold, fresh coconuts make for great drinks and snacks
A great resource is this webpage, which lists the recurring farmer’s markets. Seriously, go to them: http://realkauai.com/FarmersMarkets/
#3 Old Hanapepe Art Walk:
If you go to Kauai and don’t attend the Old Hanapepe Art Walk, I will beat you. This occurs every Friday evening (6-9pm) in old, historic, Hanapepe. There’s a ton of artwork here. All of the shops are open, and there’s food and music. Really, this is one of the best experiences on the island. The shop owners and vendors are friendly and the atmosphere is pretty chill.
There are some highlights for food:
- Pie: The Right Slice… they’re always at artwalk. Seriously, some of the best fruit pie ever. If you’re into mangoes, don’t pass up the mango pie. http://rightslice.com/
- Bobbie’s Restaurant: Huli Huli chicken & ribs were their specials during the last artwalk we attended. If you haven’t tried huli huli before… it’s chicken that is slow bbq’d for a day. Absolutely delicious and easily-sharable by 2-4 people.
If you go to Hawaii and don’t attend a Luau, there’s probably something wrong with you, seriously. If you’re a local, you’re excused. Not only will you get to stuff yourself silly with delicious & traditional Hawaiian food, you get to see dancers and learn about the culture. I’m one of those sick bastards that actually likes poi (most of the locals even abhor the stuff). In any case, well-worth the price of admission. Book as early as you can to guarantee a spot.
Restaurants / food / drink:
To tell you the truth, Roxanne and I found most of the best food to be at the local dives, the farmer’s markets, etc. We had some good, more expensive, dining experiences, but your most memorable experiences are likely to be at the less-expensive spots around the island. Here’s our list of suggestions:
- Hamura Saimin: located in Lihue… best saimin ever. If you’ve never had the stuff, it’s freshly-made ramen with a bunch of delicious stuff thrown in. I know… hot noodle soup when it’s a muggy outside… crazy. But, you seriously don’t want to miss this place. Cash only. Be sure to save room for the Lilikoi pie (passion fruit), as it’ll be the best you’ve ever had. http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/37/410822/restaurant/Hawaii/Hamura-Saimin-Lihue
- Safeway: Why the hell am I suggesting you go to Safeway for a dining experience? Go to their fish section and stock up on their Ahi Poke (if you like sushi). Seriously, you can get huge quantities of this stuff that would be outrageously-priced in a place like Seattle. Last time we were there (June 2013), you could get regular poke, spicy poke, and california roll poke. Stuff yourself silly, I dare you.
- Kaloa Rum Company: Free rum tasting every hour. Buy the rum cake and the chocolate sauce. Since our first trip, Kaloa’s rum has started winning competitions… the new rum definitely lives up to the awards. http://www.koloarum.com
- Kauai Coffee Company: Coffee is the elixir of life. You must go here, learn, and try all the coffee. Get their ice-cold cold-brew coffee… your life will never be the same. I’ve had a coffee of the month membership (under $15 a month, including shipping) and I’m still not tired of their coffee. Much more distinctively-flavored than Kona coffee. http://www.kauaicoffee.com/
- Federico’s Fresh Mex Cuisine: Located in Princeville, in the food court area of the back of the main shopping complex. Go here for some heavenly fish and shrimp tacos. http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/37/1470198/restaurant/Hawaii/Princeville-Hanalei/Federicos-Fresh-Mex-Cuisine-Princeville
- Shave Ice: Jojo Shave Ice in Wimea. No, this isn’t the wussy Rainbow Snow stuff you find at carnivals… real shave ice is something to behold, like eating a deliciously-flavored, fluffy snowball. Even better with sweet cream or macadamia nut ice cream in the middle.
- Kalapaki Beach Hut: Get the taro fries with spicy sauce.
- Hanalima Baking: Great food, awesome loco moco, and delicious spam and Portuguese sausage pastries. If you don’t appreciate spam, that’s okay. You’re in Hawaii and you’ll learn to appreciate it. http://www.hanalimabaking.com/
You’re in Hawaii… go to a beach. Relax, snorkel, swim, etc.
- Anini Beach: a really private beach on the north end of the island. It’s a safe snorkeling spot, but there’s not much in the way of fish here. If you just want to sit on a beach, enjoy this location. If you’re going here, definitely drive past the main beach where you see the restrooms / camping areas. It’s further up the road.
- Poipu Beach: supposed to be some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.
- Ha’ena beach: at the north end of the island. At the very end of Highway 560. A beautiful little park, has some caves, it’s a beautiful drive up here.
- Kekaha beach: very dry, sandy, barren. not many people here, but might be good just for hanging out an a private beach. No shade though.
Of course, there’s tons of things to do on the island that I haven’t mentioned yet.
- Helicopter tour… Jack Harter Helicopters, doors off helicopter tour.
- 1+ hour -Island cruise… Blue Dolphin Charters: Do the sunset cruise around the island. Dinner / luau food is served. The boat takes off from the south end of the island.
- Wimea Canyon… Some of the greatest views on Kauai outside of the helicopter tours. Worth spending a day doing… don’t stop when the road turns into the pothole nightmare.
- Lighthouse… There’s a lighthouse on the northeast end of the island. The park is kinda cool, good view.
- Zipline… probably awesome, if you don’t mind heights.
Here are some photos from the helicopter tour:
There are tons of feral chickens on Hawaii. Something about a hurricane and fighting roosters getting loose… eventually forming a super-breed of chicken.
Other good stuff:
There’s plenty of other stuff… random shops and tours that I haven’t gotten into. In any case, I’ll leave you with the set of photos from my Kauai 2010 vacation. I’ll post my 2013 photos eventually.