Aloha! Traveling is something that Patrick and I both love to do so we’ve made it a priority. His work schedule isn’t quite as flexible as mine so when his calendar opens up we get the bags packed. We considered Hawaii as our honeymoon destination but ultimately landed in Italy’s Amalfi Coast (we weren’t disappointed with that choice and I’ll share those details eventually). With a week of vacation time on our hands over the New Year’s holiday, we decided to take full advantage of all the credit card points we’ve accumulated over the years by booking a trip to Kauai, Hawaii.
(I left my good camera at home so all the pictures were from my iPhone 6. Not too shabby!)
Since I had been to Maui during the same exact week just three years prior (one of the most consequential trips of my life) I requested that we see a new part of paradise. I asked friends and read a ton of travel blogs to see where we should go and all feedback pointed to Kauai. December is rainy season for the island so we knew going into it that we may be faced with less than sunny skies but hey, we’re optimists. Guess what? It rained. A lot. We had a few gorgeous days but much of the trip was overcast, rainy, and sometimes chilly (70 degrees is, in fact, chilly for a tropical island when you’ve packed like an idiot). Regardless, we (meaning Patrick) were determined to have a great time even if that meant we wouldn’t be coming home with sun-kissed tans. Or maybe that was just me since he’s all about slathering on the 70+ SPF in an effort to keep his Irish skin glowing. So it was really just a sad un-tanned sun lover: Party of 1.
Ready for all the deets?
Where we stayed…
We wanted to experience the best of the entire island so we split our time between the north and south shores. Since we booked this trip just a few weeks prior to departure, we were limited in our options. Needless to say, Hawaii is a popular destination over the holiday season so it was slim pickens.
- The Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue was our south shore resort for the fist few nights. It’s enormous in an overwhelming way and it’s in an industrial part of the island but it got the job done. They have the largest hotel pool in Hawaii (not sure if that makes it awesome or just attractive to super tourists?) and apparently it’s ice cold all the time. I can’t confirm the pool situation because I stuck by the beach (where it was nearly impossible to snag a chair) for the few short hours we spent there each day. The hotel was fine and if you were traveling with a large group or family, I think it would be a good choice. Couples should spend their money (or credit card points) somewhere else. Oh, and don’t eat on the property because the food is not good and way overpriced.
- The St. Regis in Princeville on the north shore was where we stayed for the second half of the trip. I realize that it’s a 5-star luxury resort and I should keep my druthers to myself but this property was pretty disappointing. It’s in a magnificent location and has unparalleled views of the Kauai sunset but the hotel is super dated (think 1980’s) and the service is incredibly inconsistent. We would meet a sweet and extremely helpful hotel employee only to turn around and encounter an apathetic and rude employee. The pool is awesome (and most of the pool staff) but it was crazy loud and not relaxing at all. No snoozing by the pool at this place! In short, it’s a fancy property that was teeming with families full of little kids and poolside adults who had clearly been over-served. I wouldn’t suggest this property as a honeymoon destination and had we been there on our honeymoon, I probably would have packed up, island hopped to Maui and checked-in at the Four Seasons. When you’re paying that much for a hotel (cash or points) then you better believe that the service and experience should mirror the price tag. They missed the mark.
Where we ate…
We like to eat where the locals eat and steer clear of clear of any tourist traps when we travel but sometimes the TripAdvisor reviews just suck you in. That said, you should go into Kauai knowing that the island is famous for it’s beauty and natural surrounding – not its food.
(south side of the island)
Island Taco was our lunch venue of choice three different times. Super simple and tasty fresh fish tacos, guac, salsa, and chips. It’s a must. (They have two different locations – one in Waimea and the other in the Poipu Beach area).
The Fresh Shave serves up shaved-ice with artisan like concoctions. They’re based out of a food truck that moves around the island but we found them both times on the south shore near Poipu Beach. You will not regret this.
Pietro’s Pizza in Lihue was surprisingly delicious. The pizzeria is owned and operated by a guy name Tom who grew up in Long Island. He studied the art of pizza making (yes, it’s an art…and don’t ever try to dispute me on that) in multiple NYC pizzerias and traveled to Naples, Italy for an apprenticeship. The atmosphere isn’t spectacular but we went for both lunch and dinner while we were there so that says something.
Anuenue Cafe in Poipu Beach lived up to the breakfast hype. Get the macadamia nut french toast (The Tow-In). The wait was long but actually worth it (the earlier you go, the less wait you’ll have).
JO2 is actually on the east side of the island and was supposed to be great according to all the TripAdvisor reviews we read. It was not and I found it to be a waste time and money. I was beyond disappointed with this meal and overall experience. Maybe it was just an off night?
(north side of island)
The Dolphin in Hanalei was one of the best dinners we had all week. Everything on the eclectic menu was good but the sushi was excellent – and I don’t even really like sushi. They don’t take reservations and we had a run-in with a super rude waitress but all ended well.
Akamai Juice Company sells tasty fresh pressed juices and cold brew coffee. The iced coffee there was a life saver for Patrick since there isn’t a Starbucks on that side of the island.
Wake Up Cafe in Hanalei was meh. You can’t really screw up scrambled eggs and toast so just go into this joint with low expectations for the food and lower expectations for the no frills (yet efficient) service and you’ll be a-okay.
Bar Acuda is a trendy tapas place that requires a reservation. It was good enough that I’d recommend it to you in a blog post. Cool story.
Hanalei Bread Company is a gem . We didn’t stumble upon it until the last morning we were there and it’s a shame. Great coffee and lot’s of fresh pastries and egg dishes. Hit it up!
What we did (and what you should do too!)…
Rent a convertible if you can swing it. We drove all over that island and loved cruising with the top down. It was a couple hundred dollars more than a standard car rental but Patrick and I agreed that it was one of the best decisions we made about the trip since we spent a significant amount of time in the car. Do it.
Waimea Canyon State Park is a must. We simply drove through and stopped at all the different lookout points but if you’re the outdoorsy kind then you’ll want to bring your hiking gear. Our plan was to hike the Canyon Trail but we accidentally drove right by it and by the time we realized where it was, it was getting a bit too late in the day to start a hike (hiking in the dark is def not my thing. Scratch that…hiking in general is definitely not my thing). The hike we did take is documented in the video below. 5 out of 5 would drive again.
Na Pali Coast Helicopter Tours are well worth the $ if you fly on a pretty day. We think this is a MUST DO and we booked our trip through Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. Words can’t describe how cool this experience was and there’s no better way to see the island. For what it’s worth, I can confirm people who have a severe fear of heights/falling successfully completed this flight with ease. This is not a sponsored post but if Blue Hawaiian would like to reimburse me in exchange for this stellar review then I would not object.
Kauai Coffee Company wasn’t all that exciting for me because I’m not a coffee aficionado (hand me a Donut Shop K-Kup and i’m set. Sorry to the environment in advance). That said, it was cute and worth our time since it was a super cloudy day and there wasn’t any point in hanging at the beach.
Hanalei Bay Pier on a nice day is something to check off the list. There were tons of locals and tourists taking it in and jumping off the pier into the clear turquoise water (not me though. I’m a wuss). The view of the entire bay is totes pretty.
Sunset Cocktails at The St. Regis is a really nice experience as long as it’s a clear evening. The bar manager shares some history about the hotel and the island and then sabers a bottle of champagne while you sip on smooth cocktails that may or may not bankrupt you. Worth it.
What we didn’t do (and should have)…
Snorkeling and Boating just didn’t happen for us on this trip. The ocean was super rough on most of the days and quite frankly, a rocky boat doesn’t sound appealing to me.
Hiking to some of the beautiful beaches, cliffs, and secluded waterfalls via the Ke’e Beach Trail on the north shore didn’t work out for us due to the combination of weather and poor planning. Finding a parking spot at the popular trails is near impossible if you venture out after 9am. We prioritized sleep and coffee over hiking on three consecutive days and lost out on some awesome experiences. I still feel guilty about it. FOMO. If you go, don’t do what we did. Be smart about it and get there by 9am (even earlier if possible).
Surfing and Swimming in the ocean weren’t in the cards because the water was simply too rough for us. We both swim relatively well but we’re calculated risk takers and the riptides were something fierce. Patrick and I love the water but we also fear it’s power. I know…we flew all the way to Hawaii and we didn’t go into the ocean beyond our ankles. Oops. I’d like to live, thanks.
Would we go again?
ABSOLUTELY! We would love to go back! The Na Pali Coast is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen and it just takes you’re breath away. If we could plan a second trip, this is what we would do:
- Travel from April through June or September through November for better weather
- Rent a convertible again (or a Jeep Wrangler)
- Rent a house or apartment via Airbnb, VRBO, or HomeAway
- Boat out to take in the Na Pali coast by sea
- Hike the Powerline and Ke’e Beach trails on the north side and the Canyon trail on the south side
- Snorkel on our own at Tunnels Beach on the north side and take a few snorkeling excursions
- Take another helicopter ride (it was that good)
I wouldn’t consider myself a super seasoned traveler and I’m sure professional travel writers have so much more to offer in terms of suggestions and advice. That said, I hope this roundup and list of suggestions was helpful if you’re planning a warm weather getaway. Mahalo for reading!
Are you planning a trip to Kauai or have you been and experienced something totally different from the one we had?