Beautiful is Kaua’i beyond compare
She sends forth a bud in the summit of Waialeale
She flowers in the heights of Kawaikini
Her strength radiates in awful splendor from the Alakai
Though I weary, though I faint, she renews my
strength in her soft petals.
An ancient Kauai’ian chant honoring Waialeale, found in Kauai, The Separate Kingdom, by Edward Joesting. Kauai Guidebook
Whenever a friend goes to Kaua’i, my heart-home, where my sweetheart Jacob’s father lives and where I spend a month out of the year, I send them a little guide to my favorite places on the island. It seems it would be easier if I put this all online with links and pictures and whatnot. Thus: My personal Kaua’i guide. After writing this all up, I got very sad thinking about the history of Hawaii and how the tourism industry contributes to the political turmoil in this state that really should be a country of its own. I’m a lover of Hawaiian language and history and particularly the history of its lefty politics, and it is with mixed feelings that I encourage you to go to this special island and drop your dollars in exchange for trinkets and beach days without a deeper understanding of the Hawaiian way of life and bitter past. If you’re interested in learning more about the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and the history of the islands, here are some of my favorite resources:
- Free Hawai’i blog, a resource for the sovereignty movement.
- Free Hawai’i website, with good historical information.
- Haunani-Kay Trask’s website. She is an indigenous Hawaiian speaker and writer, with a burning passion for justice. I haven’t yet read all her books, but they are on my list! (Thanks to Pohanna for the link!)
- Autobiography of Protest in Hawaii.
- The tragic story of Queen Liliuokalani is documented in this film.
Some general notes before the guide:
- Because I am far too lazy to provide directions, addresses, etc., this guide is meant to be used in conjunction with a good guidebook. I highly recommend the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook—the most recent edition. There is a used bookstore in Kapaa (Tin Can Mailman) where you can get cheapish guidebooks. I love Tin Can Mailman, it’s a great place to get Hawaii-themed gift books for people. It smells beautifully of old books and has an amazing selection of old Hawaiian history and political books.(Closed in 2009.)
- The Hindu Monastery in Kapa’a (a beautiful place to visit, so I hear—they are always closed when I’ve tried, or else I have been wearing too-skimpy attire [no tank tops are allowed])
also has a pretty good, though a little outdated, list of veggie options on Kaua’i. ****Update: a better list is here!****
- In addition, we always check out each new beach and favorite oldies on Kaua’i Explorer before heading out for the day—this site is the best information source around for beach information.
- One quick vocab lesson: I could talk about fascinating aspects of the Hawaiian language forever (only 13 letters! 5 vowels!), but I will prevent myself from saying anything except that in the directions below, I refer to the “mauka side” of the main road, and the “makai side.” Mauka means “toward the mountain,” so on the side of the street away from the ocean. Makai means “toward the sea,” so on the ocean side of the street. There is pretty much only one main street in Kaua’i (it has several names depending on where you are, but most of it is Kuhio Highway), so that makes it easy.
- If you have access to a kitchen and/or love fruit, I highly recommend hitting up the farmer’s markets. There are markets all around the island. Pick up a copy of the 101 Things freebie guide that is available everywhere (or read it online), it will have a list of what markets are where on which days. The markets are your best way to avoid the crazy high food prices in the supermarket, health food stores, and restaurants.
- Restaurants on Kaua’i really do operate on “island time” —if you’re super hungry, have a little snack before you go to a restaurant, because long waits for food are not uncommon.
- Oh, and Jacob’s sister Pohanna reminded me to mention KKCR, the great Hanalei-based Kaua’i community radio station. You can even listen online!
Add your thoughts, comments, and quibbles in the comments section, OK?
THINGS FOR BREEDERS AND THEIR NONBREEDER PALS TO DO WITH KIDS ON KAUAI
Sometimes friend of mine visit with kids, and sometimes we go places with Jacob’s little sister Anandhi, so here’s a super quick list of things I’ve found to do with kids on the island. In time I’ll update it with links and stuff:
- Nature. Obviously. But sometimes it rains. So:
- Go to the Fun Factory in Kapaa…I’ve never been here, OK? But I hear they have skeeball and that’s all I need to know. I like the Indian restaurant next door. Horribly pricey and nothing that will blow your mind, and I’m still recommending it. Get used to the sliding scale of Kaua’i restaurant reviews.
- Go bowling at Kauai Bowl in Lihue, and then eat at Pho Kauai, which has an entire veggie section.
- Mini golf at Kauai Mini Golf. (Looking for the name of something on Kauai? 99% chance it’s called “Kauai …”) Try not to go with a VERY COMPETITIVE 8-year-old, like we did. (I DO NOT LET KIDS WIN.)
- Sneak into a fancy hotel (best way to do this: suss out what towels they use, find similar ones at a thrift store [read below] and saunter in like you own the place. Needless to say this only works if you are white. Maybe someday we’ll live in a more equal society and we can all sneak into white-people hotels! I have great success with this trick during the first half of my Kauai stay, but after my Jewy-Mediterranean complexion gets a little darker around week 2 it doesn’t work so handily. So then you can move onto technique #2: suck it up, find a deal, and stay in a fancy hotel for a night. Steal all the beach towels you can. Save them in a special spot and you can use them to return to the hotel to use the facilities forever. Or until they change the towel colors. Be sure not to bring these same towels to locals beaches, though. Go to Costco and get some beach towels with Disney characters or something, so you look like a local.)—ok, the reason you were sneaking into the hotel in the first place is so your kids can play in the amazing amazing water park-type pool amenities. I am particularly fond of the waterslides at the Grand Hayatt in Poipu (mint green-striped towels circa 2013).
- I mention it below, but some beaches have special kid areas with gentle waves.
- It’s a really kid-friendly island. I’ll update this in the next few weeks with more stuff—my bestie and her two girls are coming to visit this year, I can’t wait.
Here we go!
KE’E On the northernmost tip of the island, Ke’e Beach is for watching the sunset, snorkeling with sea turtles, and hiking. Because of its incredible beauty, it is almost always mobbed, but that’s not a reason not to go. The easy hike that follows the Na Pali cliffs is really worth it, especially if you’re a lazy hiker, as I am. It’s crowded too, but you can do it in slippers (aka flip-flops, what the locals wear everywhere) and the views are amazing. You just go for as long as you feel like it, then turn around.
The hike is the beginning of the famous Kalalau Trail, which I have never done (update: in 2011 I did half of it. Totallllllllllly worth it.) and won’t go into because if you’re a serious hiker you probably already know about it (do it!). The Kalalau Trail leads to the famous Na Pali coastline, which is breathtaking in its rugged beauty just like everyone says (the thing about Kaua’i is that you run out of superlatives real quick because everything is just as beautiful as the guidebooks say it is). Almost everyone I know who has visited Kaua’i has done the full Kalalau Trail (my friends are all hardcore hikers, it seems), and everyone reports that is a life-changing experience. So you might want to plan three or so days for that if you’re that kind of person. I’ll talk a little more about the heart-skipping beauty of Na Pali when we get to Polihale Beach, 12 or so miles away from Ke’e but a three hour drive, since you can’t drive from Ke’e to Polihale and have to go around the entire island. You can also kayak from Ke’e Beach to Polihale Beach, which is yet another life-changing Kaua’i event I have never done simply because I prefer my vacations to be filled with books of poetry on the beach instead of fights for my life on the open ocean. I do kayak a lot on Kaua’i on various easygoing rivers and one beach I will mention, however.
HA’ENA The Lumaha’i beach lookout (see guidebook) is a must see. GORGEOUS. the Kaua’i Explorer description of it scares the crap out of me, but it’s a very wide beach and I have walked on it without incident—I don’t go anywhere near the water though. (My friend Than does, though, as you can see.)
Continuing south, you will come to Hanalei, one of the absolute prettiest towns in the world and yes, an integral part of “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Please note that Peter, Paul, and Mary mispronounce the name of the town, it’s “hahna-lay,” not “hana-lee.” On the way to Hanalei, be sure to stop at the overlook on the mauka side of the street—possibly the most beautiful view of anything, anywhere, ever.
Oh, Hanalei. Be sure to fill up on gas before Hanalei, as there is no gas there. I know the guidebooks say this too, but the Hanalei one lane bridge etiquette is to let all the cars pass on one side before going. Everyone is super polite. You can kayak the Hanalei River, which goes under the one lane bridge. It is very scenic, but everything on Kaua’i is scenic. It is a nice lazy kayak, nothing super exciting. You can also drive straight off the bridge into Hanalei (instead of going right to go into Hanalei) and down that road (which you can see in the picture above—it’s right along the river) you will find some amazing hiking trails.
I’m not super enamored of any of the food in Hanalei. Postcards is pretty much vegetarian, and pretty much blah. They have a nice atmosphere, are quite pricey, the food is only OK, and the service is notoriously spotty. But sometimes you’re on vacation and want to go out for a fancyish dinner and want lots of vegan options, and if the food isn’t great it won’t ruin your night. If you’re in that mode, go to Postcards. There is an excellent Papayas health food store (2013 note: it changed names and I can’t remember the new one, but it’s just as good) in the main square. There are some good shave ice places in Hanalei, too—I like Shave Ice Paradise, though there are Jesus-y quotes on the walls. (2016 note: amazing organic local fruit syrup shave ice truck right when you pull into Hanalei near the taro truck! Check it out & tell me the name so I can update this!)
My shave ice tip is to ask for it with half as much syrup as usual, otherwise it’s so incredibly sugary. Rigorous testing has determined that the best shave ice combination is vanilla and coconut. I always add mochi balls if they are an option, but they are not that common on Kauai. O’ahu is teeming with mochi balls, get with it Kauai!
Wait, what is shave ice? Shave ice is what a sno-cone dreams of becoming on those nights when it snorts too much coke and has a crazy late night conversation with its best friend about how it could be the best possible version of itself possible if it just got its shit together.
And why isn’t it called “shaved ice”? Because you’re in Hawaii, who cares, stop being so uptight.
(There is a small Lappert’s ice cream stand on the right side of the Ching Young Center village. They never seem to have sorbet. The restaurant immediately next to the Lappert’s, Polynesia Café, is not bad (I haven’t been to their Kapa’a location –update! The Kapa’a location is closed! just the stand in Hanalei). Like pretty much every Kaua’i restaurant, it’s pretty spotty. I adore Hawai’i, but most restaurants there don’t seem to be too into consistency. So if you go and it sucks, don’t blame me (but come back and tell me!). 2013: am I wrong, or are these BOTH CLOSED NOW? I really can’t recommend any food in Hanalei wholeheartedly. How depressing. Any tips?
Hanalei Bay beach is the very best beginner surf and body boarding beach—super gentle waves. It can get busy on the weekends, but it’s always worth a visit. Be sure drive allll the way to the end—tourists park at the first parking lot. (When you turn off onto the road to go to Hanalei Bay beach, there is a cute tiny bookstore right after the turn on the right, next to a bead/crystals shop. 2009 Update: is this place closed? I drove by quickly yesterday and didn’t see it!!! 2010 update: yes. Here are the places you can now buy books on the island:
- Talk Story in Hanapepe. The only reason to go to Hanapepe, and a very good one. An excellent indie bookstore with lots of Hawaii-specific titles and friendly people working.
- Costco, I shit you not, is the second best place to buy books on Kauai which is horrifying.
- Ever more horrifying is that K-Mart is the third.
- Maybe some gems I’m missing? What I wouldn’t give…)
There is sometimes a taco truck by the showers at the last parking spot, Pat’s Taqueria—it’s the best food in Hanalei, without a doubt. Update! I went there last week, and it was only OK. There was a serious paucity of veggies in the veggie taco. :( He had a little write up in Food & Wine recently, so maybe the fame went to his head.
With a belly full of beany tacos, you can walk down Hanalei Bay beach forever, and it just keeps getting nicer and nicer. If you walk super far, you will be able to see Princeville across the bay.
Turning right out of Princeville (going west): You will immediately see a ridiculous little shopping mall. There you can experience your very first taste of Lappert’s sorbet and ice cream. Jacob and I, obviously, get the sorbet, and they have a nice range of flavors. It’s a little sugary and a lot pricey but worth it. There is nothing else of interest in this mall to me, although the art and toy store is fun to poke around in. The shave ice next to the supermarket (the most pricey one IN THE ENTIRE WORLD: buy groceries in Kapa’a’!) is good, too.
ANINI Follow the guidebook’s directions to Anini beach—a true treasure. You can walk along Anini and the related beaches on this stretch forever and be so happy you won’t know what to do with yourself. Anini beach sports the biggest coral reef in the world (or something like that)—be careful not to walk on the reef. If you have reef shoes, Anini is the place to wear them (not to walk on the reef, to help avoid rocks if you kayak over the reef then swim). Except for a few weirdly deep spots where the ocean floor unexpectedly drops off which always completely terrify me Anini is totally shallow and you can walk out on the sandy bottom forever and still be in water up to your knees.
Anini is a GREAT place to kayak, we do it about every year. It’s so calm that you can take your camera out (put it in the waterproof bag) and take some kayaking action shots without worrying about a wave coming. Put the kayak in at the boat launch area and go in either direction. We usually see amazing sea turtles having sex. You can kayak all the way out to where the waves start and jump a few waves. Then just kayak along the coast and marvel at the insanely expensive homes—Sylvester Stallone lives here, blah blah. Fun fact—Anini used to be called Wanini, but the apparently the “W” came off the sign decades ago and now it’s known to everyone as Anini.
Follow your guidebook’s directions down Kalihiwai Road to Secret Beach and Kalihiwai Bay, both of which are perfectly lovely. Kahili Beach is also down this way (I think—check your guidebook to be sure. June 2009 update: a Kaua’i pal points out that Kahili beach is actually “south of Kilauea, not north, and it’s the second street south of town, though a visitor might count one of the ‘in town’ streets as a road, making that counting confusing.”). Anyway, it’s a beauty, go check it out. As usual, take care of the beach: KILAUEA Fruit stand behind the gas station! Thrift shop across the small street towards the ocean behind the Subway! And the Kilauea lighthouse—some of it you can see for free, but to get up close you need to pay a bit. It’s worth paying, the money goes to the wildlife sanctuary there, and you can get in and walk around near the lighthouse, which also has a great view of the ocean below, where you can often see dolphins and whales (in season). The lighthouse area has binoculars you can use to look at the beautiful sea birds that hang out here—some people can also use the binoculars to look at the ocean for dolphins and such, but that makes me instantly want to vomit.
Turn right at the gas station with the Subway in Kilauea and take your first left (Kilauea Road) to go to the lighthouse and the Kilauea Kong Lung shopping center. There you will see one of two Island Soap and Candle shops. I buy all my gifts there usually—nice soap, all vegan. I can’t recommend their lotions and lip glosses though, but that might be my personal preference. Even better than Island Soap and Candle is Pau Hana Pizza and Bakery, located right next to Island Soap and Candle. The reviews for Pau Hana Pizza and Bakery don’t do it justice. The pizza is good, though it’s not NYC-quality dough (it’s too crackery), but at least there are lots of veggie and vegan options (and it’s much cheaper than Brick Oven Pizza in Kapa’a and Kalaheo, where the pizza is only OK for almost double the price and it’s not even baked in a brick oven!), they have good bagels and bialys (I can’t even get a bialy in New Paltz, 90 miles from NYC!), it’s a place run by people who clearly have a brain and a heart (local produce, organic ingredients, corn-based utensils, etc) but the real reason you should go is because of this little exchange: Me, looking at a sign for vegan cakes: “Do you have any vegan cakes today?” Lady behind the counter: “All our cakes are vegan.” !!! (Girl With Most Cake = very excited) The cakes are pretty decent, too! Across from Kong Lung is another shopping center and if you haven’t filled up enough on cake and pizza,
Kilauea Video and Ice Cream has vegan soft serve yogurt that is quite tasty. The owner is a nice dude, but I sorta can’t stand him. He’s from NYC and has that loudmouthed NYC arrogance and ultra friendliness that I enjoy in NYC but that simply does not work on Kaua’i. He calls all the women “my lady” and all the guys “my man” and will give you his life story every time you come in. My current three traveling companions and I have resorted to screaming, shotgun-style, “NOT IT!” whenever the idea of swinging over for some ice cream is mentioned, with the slowest screamer having to go in and order four cones. Happily, you can hide in the video aisles while your cones are being prepared. His cones are made by Ono of Hawaii, and their cake, sugar, and waffle cones are vegan, too! Vegan waffle cones! He showed me the ingredients! So, you see why we keep coming back. (OK, here is the insane saga of what became of that place UPDATE: IT CHANGED OWNERS, MOVED TO KAPAA, AND IS AMAZING AGAIN! MUST GO!)
Every year I save my pennies and get a massage at Auntie Angeline’s. Really nice.
After Kilauea, you will come to Moloa’a Sunrise fruit stand on the makai side of the road—good stuff. However! Do not ever—anywhere—buy lavender noni lotion, even though it is a local organic product and has a pretty label. I know they sell it there and many other places on the island, and noni fruit is supposed to cure cancer and be the most amazing substance ever, but it is the most horrible lotion on the planet. Beware of noni itself, too, as it smells (and, I assume) tastes like rotten cheese. There is a noni plant just outside the little cottage we stay in at Jacob’s dad’s place, and PHEW. But there are great 100% local fruit frosties at Moloa’a Sunrise. You can follow your guidebook’s directions to right down the road to drink them too. If you see these peeps there,
The big beautiful mountain you will see in Anahola is nicknamed Kong, and it does look like King Kong, indeed. Some guidebooks will say that the beaches here are unofficially for locals only, as this neighborhood is heavily locals. We’ve never been snubbed at a beach here or anywhere else. Politeness and friendliness are all you need. Anahola Beach Park is great and often has good bodysurfing waves. In Anahola you can follow the guidebook’s directions to Donkey Beach—very nice, and sometimes people are naked, too. Added bonus. The nice thing about Hawaii’s naked beaches is that there is no obligation to be naked yourself, so you can feel very cosmopolitan without actually taking your top off. I like that.
Update! I wrote the first draft of this in NY this fall, and now that I am on Kaua’i I regret to tell you that things have changed. I went to Donkey Beach today, and now there is a path that goes almost right to the ocean, making it much easier to get to the beach, which means it’s a much more family-friendly beach these days. Boo! The great thing about the path (check it out! Thanks to Mark O., who is helping to work on a path like this for the north shore, for the tip!), however, is that it goes all the way from Kapa’a to past Donkey Beach, and you can walk or ride your bike all along the coast on it in perfect comfort (no hills! That’s the kind of bike ride I like.) and safety (no cars! Ditto.) There are side jaunts all along the road to various coves and beaches and secret spots. Today we went to an amazing little spot to collect sea glass. Could someone please explain to me why certain things wash up on specific beaches? Everyone seems to know that this little spot is the sea glass beach (just like Anini is the place for Niihau shells), and I don’t get it.
Not a swimmy beach, this anonymous cove off of Donkey beach (it’s the second beach on the trail past Donkey beach if you’re coming from Kapa’a—follow the trail that takes you away from the paved road) has the best sea glass you’ll ever see.
Cleaning up the beach!
The first cove off Donkey Beach, as seen from the trail.
KAPA’A and WAILUA (The Coconut Coast!)
Now you are in my stomping grounds. Kapa’a is where it’s at, and it reminds me overwhelmingly of my little New Paltz—the same hippie vibe, the same useless-but-beloved shops, the same stoop kids. Jacob and I have spent long drives comparing each Kapa’a restaurant, shop and attraction to its equal in New Paltz (Blossoming Lotus is Karma Road, Papaya’s is Health & Nutrition, Hoku Health Foods is Earthgoods, the surf shops are the climbing shops, Shaka Tacos is Mexicali Blue, the ABC store is My Towne, I could go on!).
Shaka Tacos—on the mauka side of the street in about the center of town. GREAT TACOS (I particularly enjoy the veganized sopes with papaya salsa), super sweet peeps, and last year I saw a hilarious band playing there one night with a crazy/awesome lady drummer that I very much enjoyed watching. Closed in 2009. Go to Monoco’s!
Blossoming Lotus is the vegan restaurant everyone is always talking about, and with good reason. It’s very nice. I say that not because I’m vegan, or because we vaguely know the owners, or because Jacob’s dad has a display of his sacred geometry designs there, but just because it is nice. It is nothing more than nice, however. The food is great because it’s vegan, not because it’s great per se. The prices are wildly, wildly inflated, and I am someone who never ever ever complains about food prices, believing that we never pay a real price for our food and if we did we would pay exponentially more for everything. Even with that mindset, the prices are ridiculous. $11 for a sandwich is never OK, particularly when it is always advertised with purple Okinawan sweet potato salad and is always served with red potato salad, as is the case. Their sandwiches would be amazing if they were $8, or even $9. They use local and organic ingredients, but still.
All the people working there are insane zenned out crazies who give veganism a bad name, but I’m OK with that. It is Kaua’i, after all. Across the street they have a little café called The Root that has good smoothies and weird not so great baked goods. (It closed in 2007 or 2008, now the baked goods are at the restaurant proper.) Sometimes the baked goods are nice, sometimes they are scary. Once we saw something there called “third eye balls” and we’ve been kinda freaked out by them ever since. But that was like five years ago and they have gotten better. Still, the baked goods are pretty much the equivalent of the dreaded Whole Earth Bakery in NYC, whereas they are priced like and pretend to be the equivalent of Pure Food and Wine. What can ya do. They are good people trying to do a good thing. They certainly aren’t doing it like I would do it, but then again I am far too lazy to run a restaurant, so maybe I should shut my mouth.
Update! Even though I wasn’t 100% into them, I am still incredibly saddened that B-lotus closed at the beginning of 2009. Running a restaurant is incredibly hard on Kaua’i, but I just can’t believe that jacking up their prices to the sky did them any favors. Kapa’a is certainly much less rich without them.
Moving on: the coffeehouse, Java Kai, and the small restaurant, Mermaids, across from Island Hemp and Cotton (which has some nice dresses) are both lovely. Nothing so special, but nice to have around.
2016 note! Amazing local-fruit shave ice at Wailua Shave Ice in Wailua!
Kealia beach (the main beach across behind main street in Kapa’a) is nice—though crowded with local kids doing fancy surfing maneuvers. For some reason I always see dogs on surfboards here. Is it the same dog? I am never sure. There is a phenomenon of “poi dogs,” as they are called, in Hawaii that are all kind of the same, and a lot of them surf.
There is a nice walkway that will take you from the very westernmost beginning of Kealia beach all through Kapa’a along the beach and up into the cliffs—it’s a nice walk, and a nice bike ride too, and even though I mentioned it above I thought I’d point it out here too. Every year Jacob and I take a ceremonial walk here and discuss our life goals for the year ahead. What cheeseballs.
Coconut marketplace in Kapa’a: another Lapperts! And a movie theater (closed, sigh. All these places closed in the past six months, can you believe it?). And some touristy shops. The pizza there is not bad.
In Wailua, you’ve got ‘Opaeka’a Falls (see guidebook)—not to be missed!
Whatever you do, don’t get roped into taking a boat trip to Fern Grotto along the Wailua River, or that ancient Hawaiian Village recreation thing. It’s not all that. I think they’ve actually stopped the stupid boat tours now, though, which is good. But although it’s a nice kayak trip, to be honest there are others that are nicer.
The big mountain in Kapa’a is Sleeping Giant, and the Nounou Trail is a particularly lovely hike on it. We try to do it three times a week—it’s not too strenuous, and you can get up and down in 1/2 hour or 45 minutes or so. There are pink peppercorns and strawberry guavas in season all along the trail, as well. ‘Ohelo berries are really lovely—at least, I like them. Jacob thinks they are too tart. They look like miniature pomegranates and have the soft skin of figs with a sweet/tart cherry flavor and mangosteen-esque creaminess. The pink peppercorns are great to cook with while you’re in the island, but if you get caught trying to bring any home you’ll get fined.
New Year’s Day climb up Sleeping Giant, through beautiful evergreens
At the top of Sleeping Giant
We go to Lydgate State Park and beach all the time because it’s our home beach—pretty, easy to get to. Not great swimming, not great surfing. Nice to lay out, and some spots are really great for snorkeling—the baby pool area is a good place to practice snorkeling.
Under the whale clock tower in the Safeway shopping center in Kapa’a is the other Papaya’s health food store—good stuff. They expanded a couple of years ago, and they have pretty much everything you’d ever need.
Oh, and Longs in the same shopping center has a great selection of Sanrio products! (closed in 2015)
Places of interest I will expand on in the future:
- The heiaus (temples) and the Birthstone in the Wailua area
- Ho’opi’i Falls
- Why is that thrift shop in Wailua never open when I try to go?
Wailua falls—not to be missed!
The Kaua’i Museum is also worth a look, especially on a rainy afternoon.
My favorite restaurant in Lihue is Cafe ‘Aina – it’s on the main road, is listed in guidebooks and freebie magazines, and has erratic hours. It has no atmosphere and is cheap and good. Good shave ice too. Lots of veggie options. I think it might be run by an ex-pro surfer. She is rad not only for that, but also because she offers tempeh bacon. (CLOSED!!! Oh fuck. This is so depressing!)
The Menehune Fishpond is a pretty kayak in this area. The actual kayak route is listed guidebooks as the Hule’ia river, but though the river is pretty, the real attraction for me are the insane jumping fish in the Menehune Fishpond, so be sure to take the turn off to your right to go into the fishpond as you’re paddling down the river. The fish are RIDICULOUS. They jump feet in the air, and they aren’t small fish, either. I don’t know why, but it fills me with a wild joy. After the fishpond you can keep going down the river and go on some hike or another to some waterfall—check in your guidebook. We did it once and it was lovely, as I recall.
Lihue…what else? Ah, there is a thrift shop there that benefits the Kaua’i Humane Society! It’s a really great thrift store, with some awesome vintage Hawaiian dresses. There is also a good Salvation Army in Lihue, but unlike me, you probably do not want to sort through piles of thrifty clothes while on vacation.
Right around the corner from The Salv is a bowling alley, open until 9 PM. And right next door is a Vietnamese restaurant, Pho Kauai, with an entire vegetarian section. Look for the “chay” (veggie) section on the back of the menu. The food is pretty decent, nothing amazing. Both Pho Kauai and bowling are in the Rice Shopping Center at 4304 Rice Street.
Whatever you do, do not go to the dentist down the street from the Salvation Army. That’s all I’ll say about that. Even if you’re having the worst wisdom tooth pain of your life.
If you follow the guidebook’s directions to Koloa you will drive through a beautiful tree tunnel.
I used to love Old Koloa Town.
Then developers cut down all the beautiful monkeypod trees to build a mall. My heart is still broken. There was a lot of local activism done to stop the slaughter and Jacob and I both called the local authorities to try to stop it, but capitalism prevailed in the end.
This spot is razed to the ground now. No signs of any mall.
Koloa has a very nice Island Soap and Candle, a Lappert’s, and the grocery store is cute and family-run and lovely too.
Papalani Gelato is a very awesome gelato shop with lots of flavors of vegan sorbetto made with local and organic ingredients. They are in Koloa at 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Road in the Piopu Shopping Village. Definitely worth a visit—and they have locally-made (and grown) chocolates, including Kauai Chocolates, grown and made completely on Kauai.
Great snorkeling and some lovely swimming with the sea turtles, and almost every year we see this little dude.
Apparently the same seal comes back every year. Nature, am I right? In spite of the wildlife, Po’ipu is ridiculously crowded due to the giant number of hotels in the area.
The Maha’ulepu area is a special sacred Hawai’ian spot (also in danger of development) and is definitely worth a hike and a visit.
The Kaua’i Coffee Company has free samples and tasty shade-grown coffee, as well as a gorgeous view.
Somewhere near here is a great thrift store on the makai side of the street—one of those warehousey places with good prices and finds.
Hanapepe is always referred to as “quaint” and while some people find it rundown and boring, it’s a welcome breather from some other newly mall-ifyng towns I could mention. The Hanapepe cafe has halfway decent vegan food if you have the amazing luck to catch it when it’s open, and there are cute galleries and a swinging rope bridge to walk on. The Talk Story Bookstore is wonderful, as previously mentioned.
Salt Pond Beach Park is still used to make the famous Hawaii red sea salt.
Most whale watching boats leave from Port Allen in this area, and while some people are perfectly happy on whale watching trips
and the scenery and the ocean and the whales and all that are very lovely, this poor lady next to me (who sadly got a bit of my puke on her shoes) would probably agree with me that neither of us will ever go on one ever again.
Waimea is a cute sunny town with black sand beaches and delicious shave ice. Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse has the best shave ice in my experience.
Watching the sunset from the locals beach Waimea Bay is a lovely ending to a perfect night, especially if you need to rest after a hike at the canyon (see below).
The great thing about this side of the island is that if you visit in the wintertime, as I do, the east and north shores can be dreary and rainy most of the day. The west shore is almost always sunny. Some would say it can get unpleasantly hot, but I am a sun worshipper and welcome the rays.
Foodwise, Waimea is a town like Hanalei where there are not many decent vegan options. The Ishihara Market has nice local grinds (grub) and I adore the vintage-looking Hawaiian greeting cards sold right by the cash registers. Across the street is the monument to Captain Cook who “discovered” the islands and directly contributed to the death of many of the local residents and destruction of Hawai’ian culture. Skip the monument.
There is a Subway on the makai side of the road near the center of town, and great tacos at Island Taco.
The canyon is spectacular, and instead of writing anything about it, I’m just going to put up a bunch of pictures. Ten miles of unbelievable hikes and breathtaking views. Be sure to have a good reliable car and plenty of gas, as well as plenty of water and a sandwich or two for the journey. Go!
POLIHALE and where I get sappy
I’ve only ever felt at home in two places in the world: my land, and Polihale. I have fallen in love with other places (my house is one such place, a tiny park named for my grandfather in Chicago is another), but our precious acres in New Paltz and Polihale are where my heart is at home.
In Hawaiian mythology, Polihale (literally house of the Po—Po is the Hawaiian afterworld) was the place where the spirits of the dead would travel to from all across Hawai’i to stay in the heiau (temple) adjacent to the cliffs, then to jump off the cliffs and enter the afterworld, Po.
Polihale is a long low-slung beach that sits at the feet of the stately Na Pali cliffs. It’s difficult for me to explain why exactly this spot is so special. I feel so strongly about Polihale’s power—if I was a spiritual person I would say that it has a practically holy energy, one borne out of rough sea cliffs and miles and miles of swirling sand and foaming white water waves. Polihale is a wild, rough place, and being there always settles whatever chaos I have swirling around inside me.
The best way to see it is to camp out. Follow the guidebook’s directions to Polihale and go as far as you can on the dirt road, even if the book tells you to stop at the first stop along the road. The road to Polihale is long, hot, intensely dusty, and requires a good four-wheel drive vehicle. We have gotten stuck in the sand and in the mud numerous times.
Pitch your tent under a nice tree as close as you can get to the cliffs while staying in the camping area—like all beaches on Kaua’i, you never want to sleep right out on the beach because locals will drive right over you in the dark in their jacked-up trucks.
If you are as far to the right as you can be, as I recommend, you might witness, as we have, hippies hiking back to civilization after days, weeks or months in the Kalalau Valley, most likely carrying prodigious amounts of weed that they will generously offer to share with you, after sussing out that you are sufficiently un-cop-like. The Kalalau Valley has been a hippie hideout and open secret pot-growing region since the ’70s, so don’t be surprised if you come back from a walk on the beach to find fellow campers sorting massive heaps of pakalolo on the picnic tables.
This camping spot is also a local hangout for families having special parties and potlucks, so if you’re friendly you might even be able to snag some local grinds (=food).
The main thing—for most of the year, the only thing—you can do on Polihale is walk on the beach. Everyone I know has a story about almost drowning at Polihale—Jacob’s dad and his sister were once tossed around so thoroughly that Jacob’s other sister, watching from the beach, thought she was watching them drown. In 2008 I was innocuously walking on the beach, not even wearing a swimsuit because I know the ways of Polihale, when the ocean abruptly came up and dragged me underwater for a few seconds, ruining my digital camera and soaking me to the bone while my friends watched, amazed, from two feet away.
In the summertime, however, I have had amazing bodysurfing days at Polihale, when the waves were raucous but not ravaging and the soft sand seemed to go on forever.
In the winter, when the waves are wild, no one ever goes in the water.
The ability to take a walk on a beach that is an hour from anywhere might not seem like sufficient reason to brave the treacherous road, but you’ll thank me, potentially with tears in your eyes, when you get home. Particularly if you camp out, so you can wake up in the morning with the sun and walk for miles without seeing anyone else, just your footprints and your thoughts, the towering cliffs and the ferocious ocean, smoothing everything out again and again.
The crappy things about the Polihale trip are twofold: to get there you will pass fields and fields of GMO crops grown by Monsanto and Syngenta, which I won’t get irate about right this second but still; and the giant Pacific Missile Range Facility, with its Star Wars missile tests and submarine warfare drills and god knows what other horrors. But we fight against things like that every day—today is a day at Polihale.
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And there we go. That’s it. And there is so much I haven’t mentioned: wild pigs, the weirdness of Wyland, feral cats, flowers, the great botanical gardens (go to all of them!), great hikes the details of which I can’t quite remember, so much. And there is so much I haven’t done, so much still to explore. If you have any tips, leave them as a comment!
Aloha ‘aina, Kaua’i.