Looking for fun things to do in Kauai!
January 31, 2013 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Looking for fun things to do in Kauai! (and any other advice you may have about vacationing there)

My girlfriend and I will be in Kauai from 2/13 to 2/18. This means we'll be there for Valentine's Day (intentional) and also Presidents' Day weekend (not as intentional). We're looking for fun things to do! Would like to get in a good mix of outdoorsy adventures (think scenic, moderately strenuous hikes) and relaxing beachy vacationy stuff.

Defnitely on the agenda :

* Hiking
* Snorkeling
* Lazing around on a beach
* Parasailing
* Any other fun, water-based activity you can think of (boats? waterskiing? rafting? no surfing, though.)
* Good food
* Romantic stuff (open to interpretation)

I figure there's gonna be a lot of tourist traffic there on account of the holiday, so if there's any activity that takes reservations, we're hoping to put in reservations sooner rather than later.

Also, if you have any advice on restaurants, we're all ears. We're both foodies, with an appreciation for fine dining as well as hole-in-the-wall places that serve authentic, local grub. We're staying near Lihue, but we have a car and are willing to drive for a good meal. Sadly, a cursory check on Yelp made us not-optimistic about our food options.

Really, any advice you have on Kauai will be helpful. Never been there, definitely looking forward to the adventure!
posted by Afroblanco to Travel & Transportation around Kaua‘i, HI (22 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Also, even though I've heard nightlife on Kauai doesn't technically exist, we'll appreciate any and all recommendations for fun places to drink fruity drinks while watching the sun set -- or any worthwhile drinking/hangout spots, for that matter.
posted by Afroblanco at 2:22 PM on January 31, 2013

We went to Kauai (and Maui) on our honeymoon in 2011. I can recommend:

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Hawaii
Waimea Falls (you can swim in it!) (note: not near Waimea Canyon)
A catamaran cruise around the Na Pali coast (most include snorkeling)
Helicopter or airplane tour - we did it with Wings Over Kauai, small plane, great folks

Stop in at Wrangler's Steak House (note: not just a steak house) in Waimeia for lunch or dinner. Ordered fish and chips, the fish tasted like fish (and was delicious) but had a dense texture almost like chicken. It turned out to be striped marlin!
posted by kindall at 2:36 PM on January 31, 2013

well, I went there in august last year and mostly enjoyed it. Turns out the tropical sun is a little strong for me and august at the end of a heat wave didn't help at all, but mostly it was a great time.
We stayed at the marriot at Poipu on the south shore. it was nice and pretty self contained resort, but we went everywhere. The only nightlife we ever saw was some after dinner stuff at the resort. By sundown we were pretty tired and ready to just relax. Buy this book its really good and useful.

Hike through the alekee (I am spelling phonetically as I don't know how to do the polynesian spelling). It is pretty cool and a unique place. So is Waimea canyon but I really liked hiking through the swamp much better.

I believe para sailing is outlawed there as are jetskis (thank god on the last one).

Take a helicopter ride. We went with Jack Harters tours as they run the open door Hughes 500 tours that are really, really awesome. Not however if you are scared of heights or prone to motion sickness, if you are vomit outside the helicopter please.

You are going to have to rent a car to get anywhere on the island. Rent a convertible. We got a jeep wrangler and it was awesome to be able to go anywhere with an open road. We drove to the backside of the swamp and hiked in from there and avoided most of the crowds that way. You can also almost drive into the 'blue hole' that is the ancient caldera under the wettest spot on earth. We didn't make that hike but I heard it is good.

The botanical gardens on the south shore are pretty neat and I found fascinating. They have an amazing collection of native and tropical plants from all over, we spent half a day and could have spent more. BTW I am big gardener and my wife studies pollen grains so we are kinda into that stuff...YMMV.

The lighthouse/bird sanctuary on the north shore is pretty cool. Those frigate birds and albatrosses are huge and very cool to finally see them. That gift shop is pretty good also. The best/neatest shop on the island is on the north shore called havaki and it has the most amazing collection of polynesian artifacts. I don't know how authentic it is but is full of neat stuff.

The beach on the west shore, south of Na'pali coast is pretty interesting and looooong, like 14 miles or something and the surf is rough there-swimming is not recommended.

We really focused on outdoor stuff and didn't too much on the water as we are both prone to sea sicknesses and sunburn. We didn't find any restaurant we just loved. Rays Poipu grill was pretty good and their is another couple of restaurants right there that were pretty good. We were both pretty sick of tropical fruit by the time we left, we don't usually eat much of that stuff and found most of the food to sweet because of it. But that is a really personal thing and you might love it, lots of people do. I also found the fish and chips good there but the ones I had seemed to be mahi mahi or something like it and strangely heavy for fish and chips-a little bit really fills you up.

The people were all very friendly and everyone was polite-which I hear isn't true on all the islands. Lots of friends here in Oregon go to Hawaii all the time and everyone likes Kauai, and that isn't true of anywhere other island it seems.
posted by bartonlong at 2:39 PM on January 31, 2013

Here is a list of the things we did on Kauai that I would love to do again:

* The ATV tour. We had an unexpected detour into the WWII bunkers that still hide all over the island, and it was painfully cool for this granddaughter of a WWII vet.
* Helicopter tour. Pricey but so much fun.
* The luau at Smith's Tropical Paradise. Decent food, weak drinks, fun landscaping and good show.
* Red Salt, the restaurant at Koa Kea. We drove halfway around the island for this one and it was so worth it. We bought red salt in the gift shop on the way out and now we have a reminder of our honeymoon every morning with our eggs--I cannot recommend this highly enough.
* We had excellent experiences with hiking, ziplining, and other tours with Princeville Ranch. The beef is pretty good too.
* We loved Kalypso in Princeville for fruity drinks, and the sushi place near there was excellent as well.

Enjoy it! I'm so jealous you're headed there!
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 2:40 PM on January 31, 2013

Also, we visited a farmer's market, which was unusual and fun. I had no idea there were so many types of banana.
posted by House of Leaves of Grass at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2013

I was just there late last year and also stayed in Lihue. Kauai is awesome for hiking on the north side of the island. We did a trail starting at Princeville which was a hard 3 hours each way or so and ended at a beach. But it's easy to find routes. The central valley is also very cool especially since you'll have a car.

Another thing you can do is some light caving. You can find caves just off the main highways to explore a bit. I'd look for a map before you go though, they are mostly unmarked.

For beaches we just drove around the island and found places. Basically every few miles there's public beach access.

In terms of nightlife, our hotel had a cheesy swim up bar with daiquiris, etc. We did so most nights because we were exhausted from hiking and swimming all day, and the surprising thing was some locals actually go to these bars.

Food wasn't all that impressive. One highlight was picking fresh guava and lillikoi right from the trail. These things were just about dropping off the plant and unbelievably delicious. You can also buy local fish, avocados and fruits and make them on a public grill in a park or possibly at your hotel (our hotel had 4 grills and equipment, that's pretty common apparently).

One expensive thing we did was take a helicopter tour of the island. That's not something I'd usually do, but it's great on Kauai because you can see much of the island that is otherwise inaccesible. There are a few tour groups and it was well worth the cost in my opinion.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:42 PM on January 31, 2013

Congratulations by the way, Kauai is my favorite island.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:44 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you already have a copy of Kauai Revealed? It comes as an iOS application or an e-book. It's a great book, lots of details about activities and adventures on the island, including a secret mile-long tunnel from the east shore to the north shore. They have a series of them focusing on various islands, but I believe that the authors (a writer/photographer couple) actually live on Kauai. They are also pretty active on Facebook.

One of the things about Kauai is that much of it is inaccessible by car. One example is the Na Pali Coast (sheer cliffs that drop straight down) of Kauai. Sailing, rafting, hiking are the only real ways to see it, or a helicopter tour. Some companies even offer helicopter tours with the doors off.

Sadly, a cursory check on Yelp made us not-optimistic about our food options.

Have you looked on Chowhound or TripAdvisor? While it's not Honolulu, Oahu, there seem to be plenty of options in the "local grindz" category. Just note that a lot of these local eats places close early and focus mainly on lunch. And a lot of the poke places are not open on weekends. Shave ice places also don't stay open late -- it's more of a late afternoon snack, post-beach.

I've been doing research for a trip and this is what I've come up with:

- Jo-Jo's Anuenue Shave Ice - Small green building catacorner from the First Hawaiian Bank, Corner of Panako Rd and Waimea Rd. Don't go to the one on the highway with the same name.
- Shrimp Station - coconut shrimp, sweet chili garlic shrimp
- Ishihara Market - poke, teri beef

- Koloa Fish Market - poke & plate lunch
- Savage Shrimp - garlic shrimp
- Living Foods Market - breakfast, groceries
- Puka Dog - fast food unique to Hawaii
- Sueoka's Snack Shop - plate lunch
- Josselin Tapas - upscale/dinner, specialty sangrias
- Merriman's Fish House - upscale/dinner
- Roy's Poipu Bar & Grill - upscale/dinner
- Red Salt - upscale/dinner, breakfast

- Mark's Place - plate lunch
- Hamura Saimin - Hawaiian ramen (saimin) and lilikoi pie
- Kauai Malasadas - Located next to the K-Mart, odd operating hours
- Ara's Sakana-Ya - poke, bento boxes, plate lunch

- Pono Market - poke
- Kountry Kitchen
- Ono Family Restaurant
- Hawaiian Blizzard - shave ice
- Ono Ono Shave Ice
- Shrimp Station - coconut shrimp, sweet chili garlic shrimp

- Duane's Ono-Char Burger - teriyaki burger, local boy burger, marionberry shake
- Kauai Wild Boar and Fruit Stand - at the Farmers Market, Friday - Sunday, at Kuhio Hwy & Hokualele Rd

- Tiki Iniki - new tiki bar by Todd Rundgren (!) opening in March
- Tahiti Nui - famous for their mai tai, serves pizzas from next door
- Wishing Well Shave Ice - odd hours
posted by kathryn at 2:48 PM on January 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm so jealous of your trip. I love Kauai.

Make sure to stop for brunch at Common Ground in Kilauea (http://cgkauai.net/). Hands down the best breakfast/brunch on the island in my opinion.

Also hit the Dolphin Fish Market in Hanalei. Grab whatever is fresh off the boat and find a public grill to make your own amazing meal. I had the best luck getting amazing fruit (the bananas are pinkish inside!) at the most run down looking grocery stores, not the touristy places.

My favorite place to watch sunsets is on the deck at the Princeville resort hotel. You don't have to be a guest, but do get there early to snag a table. The mai tais are excellent.

On my first trip to the island, we kayaked up the Waimea River starting near Hanalei. It was a really neat way to get a ground level look at the interior of the island - gliding past fields of taro was amazing.
posted by the_shrike at 3:15 PM on January 31, 2013

Just came in to say as far as food, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't hit up Hamura's Saimin...it is the BEST BREAKFAST if you're feeling a bit dented.

Also, Mark's Place is hard to find, but very good.

We also ended up eating at Koloa Fish Market at least 4 times that week. It's cheap, it's really good, and I still wake up in a cold sweat thinking about their Lau Lau.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:24 PM on January 31, 2013

Oh, man, you're in for a treat. My family and I have been visiting Hanalei, on the north shore, for the past few years. I'm a fan of Bar Acuda in Hanalei, run by a former San Francisco chef. Tasty small plates for dinner, and a nice bar. Kilauea Fish Market in Kilauea is great for lunch, and you can get some nice fish and grassfed beef to take home to barbecue, as well.

I'm a big fan of Ke'e beach, at the end of the road on the north shore, as well. Looking back at the shore from the lagoon, i'ts like something out of Land of the Lost.

Have fun!
posted by hwickline at 3:32 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had a fabulous time snorkeling over at the beach next to the St. Regis in Princeville. It's gorgeous, very safe, and the way it's set up, it seems like it's a private beach for the (extremely expensive) hotel, but anyone can go there. There's even a back entrance if you don't feel comfortable going through the hotel.

The St. Regis also has a fabulous setup if you want to get a fruity (albeit expensive) drink and watch the sunset from their balcony. It's a spectacular view when it's clear, and they do a cheesy/charming sunset ritual with a conch shell. That hotel is designed for the rich and famous pocketbooks, but if you're just going for a sunset drink, the bar is totally affordable, but do get there early.

Good food in Hawaii is pretty relative, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. You can get seriously great seafood and fruit, but other stuff can be hit or miss, and it really depends on what kind of food you generally like. I really enjoyed getting breakfast at Ono Family Restaurant, and Tahiti Nui was kind of fun (it was even featured in The Descendents). Hamura's is sort of the quintessential local dive experience.

If you're at all interested in local chain kind of stuff, check out Lappert's Ice Cream and Kauai Kookie, both started in Hanapepe. Both brands are all over the islands, but you can visit the Kauai Kookie factory if you want to try all the treats they make. I think Kauai Coffee is out in that general direction too, but to be honest, I've never been that impressed by coffee from Kauai.

If you want to get really adventurous, you can try driving inland in Kapaa and see if you can find a place to buy fresh pineapple from one of the tiny family-owned farms in there. My auntie's farm doesn't even have a shack; locals just drive up to the garage and plunk some money in the box when they want a pineapple, and that fruit is downright sublime.

And my favorite thing we did on our last trip was to take a raft out to the Na Pali Coast. The water was pretty choppy that day, but that made the long ride out there twice as fun. You wouldn't think a boat ride would be especially physical, but sitting at the front, I was bounced around more than I have ever been in my life. The next day, I hurt in places I didn't even know existed, but I had such an amazing, amazing time I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
posted by Diagonalize at 3:33 PM on January 31, 2013

Only been there once, and it was my only Hawaii experience, and we were based in princeville. We also loved it.

Food wise, haven't seen these mentioned above, but we enjoyed them .

The Bar at the St. Regis in Princeville has an amazing (best we found, and classy) sunset view, with a nice balcony outside + patio furniture(get there early for these). I have pictures, and their upscale restaurant is also quite good.

Scotty's Beachside BBQ in Poipu is really great BBQ and mixed drinks, and also has a lovely ocean view - its a neat terraced restaurant with big garage-doors that roll-up so you have a huge, open air view.

If you guys are foodies, you will probably really appreciate common ground.

Activity wise, I loved doing the 13 mi Waimea canyon hike, once you get past the first 2 miles where theres a beach we saw maybe 10 other people tops on that hike and its pretty country. There is also a ~2mi detour after the first 2 miles to some nice falls.

We did a kayaking tour in the Hanalei+rivers and some scubadiving and snorkling just north of cave beach by the NE Waimea canyon entrance that was quite nice.

Romance Wise, my partner and I were with a bit of a group so to get away we did a late-afternoon hike to Wailua Falls. Its a popular waterfall to view from the road, but there is little somewhat hidden trail that guidebooks might mention 1/2-3/4 of a mile back that is not for the totally faint of heart (can be steep/slippery, and hard to find) that resulted in us swimming probably a half mile up this river and then just hanging out at the bottom of it when it was absolutely deserted (after the time when people drove to see it apparently, it is out of the way, and we were there right around sunset which it does not provide a nice view of) which was totally romantic for us at least.
posted by McSwaggers at 3:37 PM on January 31, 2013

Seconding Bar Acuda in Hanalei! I also really enjoyed the restaurant called Postcards in Hanalei.
posted by Swisstine at 4:05 PM on January 31, 2013

I love the macadamia nut pancakes with guava jam at Tip Top Cafe in Lihue. Total hole in the wall. Seriously good.

Also, if it seems like it's going to be warm enough that you'll want some kind of breeze at night, consider requesting a room that has an air conditioner. If you leave your windows open, the roosters will drive you fucking insane, from 3am onward.
posted by unknowncommand at 4:26 PM on January 31, 2013

Oh lordy, yes, seconding the warning about the roosters. Those roosters can drive the most militant vegetarian to rethink their stance on fried chicken.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:33 PM on January 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, we also ate dinner at Gaylord's one night. Upscale and kinda touristy (used to be a plantation, still has a train you can ride), but the outside seating area is beautiful, and the fruity cocktails were interesting/strong. They also had an excellent pavlova (which I hadn't had before, yum).
posted by unknowncommand at 4:44 PM on January 31, 2013

BBQ Inn in Lihue was very good for seafood. I found the actual fish on par with Roy's, though clearly down scale. I did not love the helicopter tour.
posted by mzurer at 6:02 PM on January 31, 2013

Drive through the Tree Tunnel to the Beach House for a wonderful seaside dinner...
posted by Exchequer at 7:06 PM on January 31, 2013

I'm about four years out of date, so take with salt.

Water activity-wise, the humpbacks are in Hawai'i right now. You might consider a whale watching trip if that sort of majestic large mammal business appeals.

Do watch South Pacific before you go, so that when you're snorkeling just inside of the reef at Ke'e Beach (because it's an awesome mellow place to snorkel), and you decide to just float a bit, you will appreciate staring up at Bali Hai. Wake up early though — it's probably a longer drive from Lihue than you think.

Also down towards the end of the road, the Limahuli Gardens are super nice, if you fancy botanical gardens. Limahuli is the only one of the group that I've been to, though there are others elsewhere, some near Lihue.

As you say, food-wise, it's all a bit relative. I could eat poke for every meal and be a happy man, but sadly that's just not in the cards. If you're renting a place with a kitchen, or have access to a grill, you may find yourself cooking a fair bit. Or just getting take out poke from the grocery. There is certainly good local food to explore, but unfortunately it's not always near where you are when it's mealtime.

In Hanalei, I've found Postcards to be nice for dinner, and the Nui is definitely your best bet for drinks and (if you're lucky) entertainment in the Polynesian Pastiche mode. Wouldn't plan to eat more than pupus there, though.

There's a scenic overlook where the road from Princeville begins to descend down to Hanalei. Do yourselves a favor and stop. I could seriously park there for hours just drinking in the view. I never knew that I had a fetish for taro fields, but I do now.

Kilauea Fish Market is good.

Hamura Saimin is a must-visit, no question. You'll probably want to go more than once. I also found the Tip-Top Motel Café to be kinda locally, authentically delightful.

I enjoyed the Kauai Museum for local history. It's not the Bishop, but it's a very good local museum. Old Koloa Town is pleasant to wander about, too.
posted by mumkin at 1:33 AM on February 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Speaking of food, general tip for anywhere in Hawaii: always keep a cooler in your car. You'll be glad of it when you pass a farmers' market, roadside fruit stand, fish/pokemonger, or other place selling something perishable that you'd like to enjoy later on in the day. Generally I don't worry about ice until I have a need for it — often, the place with the perishables can hook you up. You can find soft-sided insulated thingies in most convenience stores. Buy one covered in a garish tropical print pattern and bring home a functional souvenir.
posted by mumkin at 1:53 AM on February 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

By the way, have you been to any other islands on Hawaii before? The weather patterns can be a little strange at first to Mainlanders. Each island has a wetter side and a drier side. When it does rain in Hawaii, it is often short lived, passing showers. It might be a beautiful, sunny day and it will start raining, and then stop after ten minutes. You do get a nice side effect: tons of rainbows. So I'd make sure you have other activities on your list of things to do in case the weather isn't optimal (like the Kauai Museum).

Kauai is the "Garden Isle" and is known for being very lush. Which means rainy weather. But just because Kauai is one of the wettest spots on the planet but that does not mean the entire island is wet at any given time. Kauai gets more rain than any of the other Hawaiian islands but the coast gets far less rain than the interior of the island, particularly the south and west shores. Except when the Kona winds mess the normal weather system up.

If you do book a helicopter tour, do it earlier in your trip, rather than later, so you can reschedule if the weather is bad (mornings also tend to be better).
posted by kathryn at 6:07 AM on February 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

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