Next stop on our big family vacation was the Hawaiian Island of Kauai! As a surprise, I worked with a local company, Lei Greeting, to greet us with flower leis ($28.80 per lei), in traditional Hawaiian form upon our arrival at Lihue Airport – Aloha! My niece and nephew especially enjoyed these vibrant, fresh flower necklaces; the boys not so much, but it sure made for a cute family photo!
September 20, 2017 – Hanalei Bay
Since check-in to our VRBO wasn’t until 4PM, our first stop after picking up our rental car was Costco to load up on water, snacks and other essential supplies for the week. Next, we made our way North to the small town of Hanalei. We elected to stay in Hanalei over the more popular resort town of Princeville because of the close proximity to the beach at Hanalei Bay and our desire to have a more “small town, local experience.” That said, it’s best to do research when selecting an area – north, east or south sides. Since Kauai receives a significant amount of rain throughout the year, seasonality is key when seeking the sun. [Note: I know Hanalei was hit pretty hard in April 2018 with a flash flood and I don’t know the current state of the town or rental properties.]
After checking into our house and claiming our bedrooms, we walked into the small town and stopped at the Aloha Juice Bar for our preferred meal of choice in Hawaii, açaÍ bowls. We then spent the rest of the afternoon boogie boarding and soaking up the sun at Hanalei Bay.
For dinner that night our group split up. After menu shopping a few places, my siblings and I decided to check out Kalypso Island Bar & Grill, largely influenced by their all night happy hour special on Wednesdays. The ambiance is laid back and casual, resembling that of a sports bar, and the food was good but unmemorable. After dinner we went to Jojo’s Shave Ice for a classic Hawaiian dessert before retiring to our house for the evening.
September 21, 2017 – Mountain Tubing & Queen’s Bath
The following morning, we had pre-existing reservations for a Mountain Tubing Adventure at an old sugar plantation in Lihue with Kauai Backcountry Adventures ($116 per person). This three (3) hour excursion starts in the heart of the island and follows an old irrigation system consisting of open canals and tunnels. The day we went, the tubing was extremely mild and easy for people of all ages and types. In fact, we purposely selected this activity for my 7-year old niece and nephew.
They have several departure times as early as 8AM and provide gloves, helmets with headlamps and, of course, the tubes. We came prepared with water shoes, swimsuit/clothing, sunblock and towels. Once checked in, we loaded into a van for a short ride through the plantation and a quick stop at a pretty lookout point before arriving at the tubing start point. At the end, a simple picnic lunch is provided consisting of water, sandwiches and chips before returning to the main office.
All in all, tubing was a great experience for the entire family. In all honesty, it probably wouldn’t have been my activity of choice had we been on a non-family vacation, but it was a pleasant experience and well-run excursion with friendly and knowledgeable staff.
On our way back North we stopped at some food trucks recommended by our tubing guide for a mid-afternoon pick-me-up from El Rey-Del Mar. I was still too full from the picnic lunch but the rest of our crew shared a couple of burritos and loved them!
Our final stop before returning to Hanalei was Queen’s Bath in Princeville. This is something my brother had read about it and wanted to explore. The entrance, located in a residential neighborhood, is fairly inconspicuous, aside from the line of cars fighting for one of the few parking spots. We probably waited about 20 minutes for a spot.
Once parked, we made the short, but not entirely easy, or safe, hike down to the water’s edge where the tide pool is situated. There was a good amount of people – kids and adults – in and around the pool when we arrived. We immediately started making our way down to get into the pool without much thought or concern. We swam, we cliff jumped, we took pictures and every so often a wave would crash into the pool, filling it quickly with water before washing away just as fast.
One of the big waves put my sister, niece and nephew, who aren’t strong swimmers, temporarily under water which was pretty scary and definitely killed the buzz so we left shortly after. In hindsight, and upon further research, Queen’s Bath is a pretty dangerous attraction. It’s been the site of many deaths over the years, one as recent as December 2018, and I caution anyone interested in visiting the pool to reconsider or proceed with extreme caution after conducting thorough research.
For dinner that night, we were craving something fresh and local so we elected to try The Dolphin Restaurant, Fish Market and Sushi Lounge. There was a small wait to be seated but they serve drinks and appetizers at the picnic tables outside so we didn’t mind. I thought the food, service and ambiance were all pleasant, not necessarily revolutionary but I would definitely go back.
September 22, 2017 – Na Pali Coast Boat Tour
Exactly one year until our wedding day!!!
We celebrated our impending nuptials by taking a boat tour of the Na Pali Coast with Capt Andy’s Sailing Adventures. This five and a half hour tour starts on the south side of Kauai before heading northwest up and along Kauai’s infamous Na Pali Coast. This uninhabited and beautiful state park is comprised of sea cliffs and waterfalls, most famously known as the filming backdrop for Jurassic Park. Another, perhaps more popular, option is to see the park and the falls by helicopter.
Personally, I enjoyed Capt Andy’s Snorkel Picnic Sail tour because we got to experience more of Kauai than just the picturesque Na Pali Coast. We snorkeled with colorful fish and sea turtles and were lucky enough to see a pod of spinner dolphins up close as they chased and splashed around our boat. It was such a unique experience but also very comfortable. The catamaran is large and clean, the picnic lunch and local beers are delicious and the staff is competent and good humored.
As someone who’s prone to seasickness, I feel inclined to say that the waters closer to the Na Pali Coast get more rough and we got splashed and bounced around quite a bit. However, once we turned around and moved with the water back south, it was a smooth and comfortable sail back to the port. Another great perk of this excursion? It’s only a half day!
We docked and still had the full day ahead of us. After unloading from the boat, we decided to check out a beach on the south side for a change. After consulting Google and some recommendations from a friend, we decided on Poipu Beach, a small crescent shaped beach with good snorkeling and easy parking. In all honesty, I didn’t find this beach enjoyable at all. It was super small, super crowded and pretty rocky. I suppose it’s good for small kids because it’s pretty shallow and protected by the rocks but outside of that, I wouldn’t recommend it.
We did however, enjoy the beach restaurant directly across the street, Brennecke’s Beach Broiler, which we stopped into for a quick afternoon snack. From there, we continued our food tour of the southern shore. We went to Uncle’s Shave Ice because you can never have too much shave ice when in Hawaii…amirite?
Our final stop of the day was Wailua Falls in Wailua River State Park. This waterfall is easy to access, just minutes off of the highway in Lihue with no hiking required. I think there is a trail down to the base of the falls but we chose to admire the falls from the viewpoint off of the road.
Back in Hanalei and somehow hungry for dinner, despite our many food adventures, we opted to pick up Mexican food from Federico’s Fresh Mex Cuisine in Hanalei. The food wasn’t great and I think there are better Mexican options in Hanalei if that’s what calls to you.
September 23, 2017 – Kalalau Trail Hike
For our last full day in Kauai, we broke apart in order to do different things that we each wanted to try. For Kevin, it began with surf lessons [$150 per person for 2 hours] in Hanalei Bay with Russell Lewis, former coach of Bethany Hamilton. I’m not sure if he still offers one-off surf lessons but he came highly recommended to us by the Hanalei Surf Company. Kevin loved his experience with him and found the lesson extremely effective.
Post surf lesson, we rushed off to do my choice activity for the day – an eight mile hike along the Na Pali Coast on the Kalalau Trail to swim under Hanakapiai Falls. We got a bit of a late start and I was worried about making the round trip before it started to get dark so we haphazardly booked it there with a small bag filled with a couple water bottles and some snacks.
The Kalalau Trail starts at Ha’ena State Park, pretty much the end of the road on the north side. This 11 mile trail ultimately ends at Kalalau Beach and requires multiple days, camping and a permit to complete in it’s entirety. However, the first section of the hike that starts at the Ke’e Beach trailhead and goes to Hanakāpīʻai Beach, is only 4 miles roundtrip and does not require a permit. The views of the coast along this hike are stunning as is the beach at the end but beware of strong water currents.
From Hanakāpīʻai Beach, you can you take a side detour through Hanakāpīʻai Valley to the falls which is what Kevin and I did, no permit necessary and within the same day. This adds an additional 4 miles roundtrip to the hike and takes you further into the island through bamboo groves and across small streams. It’s absolutely stunning and well worth the trek but it’s no easy hike and shouldn’t be attempted in inclement weather.
When we arrived at Hanakāpīʻai Falls, there were a handful of other hikers swimming or lounging on the rocks. That gave us confidence to actually get in the water at the base and swim under the falls themselves. The water was freezing and I was a little scared of what creatures/rocks/etc. lay beneath the surface but it was such a surreal experience to see the falls from this vantage point.
After a quick swim, photoshoot on the rocks and break to snack, we were back on the trail to return to Ke’e beach. We didn’t stop much on the return trip because we were worried about it getting dark but we were totally fine on time. In total it took us about 5 hours roundtrip (including our time spent swimming in the waterfall) to hike the eight miles to the falls and back.
[Note: I think the Kalalau Trail is currently closed due to the landslides flash flooding I mentioned earlier or perhaps just seasonality so please be sure to check that before embarking on this hike!]
My parents also managed to time our pickup time perfectly. As I mentioned previously, we approached this hike very haphazardly and had no idea how long it might take us to complete when we set out. Neither of us received any cell service on the hike or at the trailhead (AT&T and Verizon) and, of course, our phones were both dying by the time we finished. We were in serious jeopardy of having to walk to our rental house but just as we started walking, my parents rounded the corner to pick us up! To this day, I’m super grateful and impressed at their timing because I don’t think my feet were up for the additional seven miles back to Hanalei that day.
Our final family tapas-style dinner at Bar Acuda on Kauai was my absolute favorite! The ambiance, food and service were all incredible – I’m still dreaming of the honeycomb & goat cheese and scallop dishes. Definitely would recommend this spot and will definitely be back next time we’re in Kauai.
September 24, 2017 – Waimea Canyon
The following morning, we packed up the house, grabbed one last açaÍ bowl from Wishing Well Shave Ice then hit the road to the airport. However, once we arrived, we were informed that our flight back to San Diego was delayed about 8 hours. We decided to make the most of it and kissed my parents goodbye then went back to rent a car for the day – mustang convertible.
Most likely due to some crazy craving, we stopped at Garden Island BBQ & Chinese Restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was clean and the food was quick and tasty but certainly not the best Chinese food I’ve ever had.
After lunch, we didn’t have much of a plan so we took advantage of being on the south side of the island to visit Waimea Canyon State Park, aka “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Entrance to the park is free and we simply followed the road to a viewing point that overlooks the canyon. As someone who recently visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, I have to agree that the topography feels similar.
From here, we continued our mini road trip to visit Salt Pond Park Beach, Kauai Coffee Company to scoop up some last minute souvenirs and the Beach House Restaurant for one final Hawaiian sunset and cocktail before heading back to the airport to catch our very delayed flight home.
While this was our first time visiting Kauai, I can confidently say, it won’t be our last!
Kara & Kevin
Accommodations & State Specific Details
Stay: VRBO House Rental
The house we rented through VRBO.com on the Island of Kauai can be best described as a beach bungalow. Nothing at all like the house we rented on the Big Island but charming nonetheless. The location was perfect if you’re looking to stay on the north side in Hanalei. It was walking distance to the beach and small town. However, Hanalei is quite a trek to the south side of the island if that’s where you’re planning to spend the majority of your time. The house itself is eclectic and a little dated but clean and spacious, the perfect size for our group – seven adults, two children.
To Kauai: By air via Hawaiian Airlines from Kona. [We flew United from San Diego to Oahu.]
Around Hawaii (Kauai): We rented a car through Avis.
Currency: US Dollar (USD)
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 120 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A and B. Standard United States adapters.
Passport/Visa Requirements: No U.S. Passport required as Hawaii is a US State.
Weather: Weather in Hawaii on the Island of Kauai is pretty consistent year round with August being the hottest month and January being the coolest. Temperatures vary between mid-60 to mid-80 degrees. Kauai also receives more rain and is home to one of the top rainiest spots on this planet – Mount Waialeale. We visited in mid-September and temperatures were in the high 70’s, low 80’s with plenty of sun during the day and typically one quick rainfall in the evenings.
Additional Recommendations: We didn’t have time to do everything but we also heard great things about these restaurants and things to do!
Things To Do:
- Kayak/Stand Up Paddle Board up the Hanalei River
- Helicoper Tour of Na Pali Coast
- Lydgate Beach Park – Good snorkel spot with kids because there is a protected tide pool. It has bathrooms and lifeguards.
- Moloaa Bay – Popular local beach in Princeville. Most famous for being in the opening shots of Gilligan’s Island.
- Lawali Beach – Good snorkel spot on the South Shore.