Kauai was a dream. Our 2018 was filled with truly incredible trips, but most of them had something or other to do with running (or exercise). I’m not complaining about that in the slightest, but with things starting to shift and shape in my life, it was nice to go on a vacation and feel like I wasn’t obligated to run to the summit of every peak and log the most amount of miles out of anyone on the island. So landing in a jungle like, beach-paradise with nothing on the agenda but to soak up the sun sounded like an absolute dream.
Upon touchdown at Lihue Airport I looked out of my little airplane window and let my draw drop and eyes widen. The vegetation was like something described out of a Roald Dahl poetry book, overflowing, vibrant, larger than life and etherial in nature. I felt like I had to blink a few times just to make sure I was getting it all.
We picked Kauai as our winter vacation destination because of the warm weather, stunning scenery and abundant outdoor activities. Neither of us had been before and the only trip to Hawaii was made previously by Elan to help crew a friend during a 100 mile race. Not exactly relaxing. On the hardest day of our through hike around Lake Tahoe, I turned to Elan and said, “the next vacation we go on, exercise will not be at the forefront of our agenda.” Hawaii it was.
One of the reasons we chose Kauai from the other islands was for the Napali Coast. Unfortunately, the iconic coastline ended up being closed due to flooding and erosion causing unstable park conditions. We didn’t know it was closed at the time of booking our flights, but had a remarkable vacation nonetheless. If I had some sort of environmental plug warning against the dangers of climate change, now would be the time to insert it into this blog post.
Depending on what kind of vacation-er you are, Kauai offers a variety of actives. From those suited for the uber athletic to the more sedentary beach goer, there really is something for everyone. The trip for us was predestined to be a period of repose. Not too concerned with logging an inordinate amount of miles everyday, but also not wanting to pack on the pounds eating poke and shaved ice from sun up to sun down, Elan and I made a tentative plan to exercise for an hour each morning then leave the rest of the afternoon open for exploration and relaxation.
The weather didn’t exactly play nice. It rained everyday, at times forcing us to change our plans on the fly. I will admit however that the warm showers were kind of nice. Especially in the evening, curled up on the couch with a movie streaming on the laptop and the windows cracked a jar, it felt like a summer evening storm that us Californian’s aren’t used to. Because of the angsty weather, we were forced to make the most of every moment the sun decided to show itself (which isn’t the worst thing in the world either).
For the runners + hikers
If you choose to voyage to Kauai in the winter months, be prepared for mud. The rainy season (I.e winter months) plays a distinct role in your ability to partake in various hikes and outdoor activities. The mud that follows as a result of all of the rain makes walking or running on the trails relatively impossible, and many of the roads that lead to the trailheads become inaccessible. A few of the hikes we went on were easy to get to despite inclement weather and still offered stunning views! Do not wear shoes you will be upset if they get dirty, and I would highly recommend a trail shoe or something with a solid grip.
- Okelehau Trail; “The Death Trail”. Very dense, overgrown vegetation crowding the trail but this hike was tremendously beautiful and offered many views of the iconic Hanalei Bay. We ran to the trailhead from our VRBO and hiked about two-ish miles directly up. In the summer months, it would be more feasible to make it to the summit of the trail (around 2.5 miles in and nearly 3,000 ft of gain), but the mud makes conditions very slick and actually pretty dangerous. Data from our hike can be found here.
2. Waimea Canyon: an absolute must! If you’re staying on the north shore, I HIGHLY recommend making the trek down as the views are simply stunning. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before and is often referred to as, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” There are various length hikes to be had, but we opted for the classic, down and up option linked here. Essentially, plug in, Kokee and Waimea State Park into your GPS and drive to the first trailhead. There are plenty of signs to guide you once you enter the park. We packed water and snacks and descended all the way down into the river, ate a couple of tangerines for some quick sugar, and hiked straight back up. You can continue walking in the canyon if both time and weather allows.
3. Running. If you’re looking to get in a few miles pre or post hike or family activity, I would highly recommend running along the coast closer to the south shore. Park at Donkey’s Beach inlet and as soon as you hit the bike path, start running towards town. The views are stunning and the ocean breeze feels divine as you make your way along the pavement. This beautiful bike path is probably the safest place to run on the island as all other long stretches of road would either be on the highway or along adjacent side streets…and we got yelled at by drivers on both. So do yourself a favor and don’t run with ear buds if you’re choosing the highway, and if you opt for the coastline, take your shirt off and let the sun kiss your skin and by god enjoy every second of it.
Where to eat.
Be prepared for a lot of delicious fresh fish. And if you don’t like fish, learn to love it. The seafood we had was out of this world tasty. Our favorite style of meal was going to the local grocery shop and picking up poke to take back to our vacation rental/condo. I was absolutely gobsmacked at the quality of supermarket poke! And you normally wouldn’t find a gal like me toting the deliciousness of a Safeway style fish market, but in Kauai, it’s what they do best.
1. Blue Dolphin. By far the best sushi and freshest fish we ate on the island. A bit pricy, but they serve you sesame oil covered edamame as soon as you sit down and it’s well worth it. We ate here a couple of times and everything we ordered was scrumptious and satisfying. If you have the flexibility to splurge on any meal, I would recommend ordering the market fish. Though the price isn’t listed (for righteous reasons), we got a seared white fish with the most fatty and delicious butter dipping sauce that would make even Paula Dean appreciate it’s umami flavor.
2. Kilauea Fish Market. Be prepared to wait awhile if you go at a normal lunch hour, but I promise it’s worth it. Offering a deli style of prepared fish “salads” as well as options to order off their menu, the food was truly delectable. The market is located in a little community of shops and was probably my favorite meal of the whole trip. I ordered the seared ahi plate with brown rice and a side salad. Elan and I also shared a container of fresh seaweed salad on the side. Expensive but very worth it.
3. Fresh Bite and the local food trucks. In downtown Hanalei, open only a few hours each day, are a collection of food trucks. Ranging from Hawaiian style burgers to misplaced Indian cuisine, you’ll truly find it all. For a pre-beach lunch, I ordered a nourishing salad from Fresh Bite and it did not disappoint. We also shared their sweet potato fries and I’m not exaggerating when I say they were the most tasty fries I’ve ever had in my whole life. The trick is they used purple sweet potato (Japanese style) which is inherently sweeter than a regular yam, in my opinion. Expensive, as everything on the island is, but truly worth it. Elan got their chicken burger made on a locally made tarot bun.
4. Java Kai. Just a little bit south of Hanalei, in Kapaa, lives Java Kai. A really scrumptious coffee shop that makes you feel inherently more hipster simply by walking into it. Plenty of vegan and vegetarian options available, although anyone suffering from IBS (like me) will be hard pressed to find any entrees sans onion or garlic. The coffee makes up for it though! Elan had a few of their sandwiches, and I can attest that their coconut milk iced latte is very good.
5. The Spot. Directly upstairs from Java Kai is a DIY-style vegan soft serve shop that is both extremely creative in nature and utterly delicious. This was our very first “snack” in Kauai upon landing and probably one of our favorites. Elan ventured to get some pretty bold flavor combinations, “the naughty vegan,” for example, with crushed Oreo and a chocolate sauce drizzled on top, while I opted for a healthier rendition of “ice cream” and ordered fresh papaya, strawberry, pineapple and local passion fruit drizzled on mine. Definitely go, and definitely order more than one thing.
6. Midnight Bear Cafe. This was probably our favorite find of the entire trip. On our way to Waimea Canyon, as hanger was making it’s way into our conversation, Elan found a sign for an iconic little town called, “Hanapepe.” Also known as the hometown of the classic Disney character’s Lilo and Stitch. Feeling adventurous, or perhaps sick of my hangry antics, he pulled over and drove through the little town. Out of the corner of our eyes we saw a sign for a little bakery and dazedly wandered in. I have never been so happy we did. Fresh baked bread bombarded hit our noses like the waves we had become privy too in Hanalei, and I think we both almost started crying at how insane the pastries looked. Elan ordered a turkey sandwich made on fresh baked sourdough while I got avocado toast with brie, sliced radishes, and olive oil and sea salt drizzled on top on the same style of sourdough bread. We also shared a macadamia nut cinnamon role that was so good I still wake up in the middle of the night dreaming about it.
7. Trilogy Coffee Shop. All gluten free, sugar free and pretty much a carbon coffee of something you’d find in LA but displaced in Kauai, Trilogy was actually a really cute find. Located just across the way from Kilauea Fish Market, Trilogy offers a full coffee menu as well as a cold case filled with all sorts of vegan pastries and treats. We frequented the shop a few times, but the most noteworthy dessert was a raw vegan lilikoi “cheesecake” that was so flavorful it tasted like a small explosion of brightness in my mouth with every bite. I’m clearly not a food writer, so I hope that translated well enough. Pared with the sweetness of my dessert I also ordered a more bitter tasting macadamia nut matcha latte and it proved to be the perfect companion to my “cheesecake”. Elan got a very boring light roast drip coffee and a not so boring hazelnut “crescent,” (all vegan).
There are so many delicious spots to eat in Kauai. It almost feels silly listing them out because the island is so small that I guarantee you’ll find even more places equally as delicious as the ones I mentioned above. A few other places we hit up worth mentioning were;
- Wishing Well Shaved Ice — for really good açaí bowls
- Rainbow Natural Foods Cafe — for a quirky raw vegan restaurant that made me a collard wrap with specific instructions to not use any garlic or onion
- Hanalei Fish Market — more supermarket poke!
- Do yourself a favor and don’t waste your money at Kauai Coffee Company in downtown Hanalei. Really not good food or coffee as they burn pretty much all of their milk and water down all of the coffee. It’s also annoying expensive for something you could find at a supermarket.
- Another miss was Hanalei Bay Pizzeria. Really expensive for REALLY small pies that have minimal toppings. If you want to switch up your nightly meal for something other than sushi or fish, don’t order pizza from here.
Take a Ride.
We were strongly encouraged to take a helicopter ride during our stay. And I am so glad we did. While the fare is anything but cheap, the views are everything. If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, pop a dramamine before you go because you’ll definitely come back light headed. There are many companies to choose from, and while I can’t vouch for them all, we took the Island Adventures “Jurassic Park” 90 minute ride. Landing at a private water fall and covering the entire island from above, the experience was undoubtedly one of the coolest I’ve ever had.
Definitely do a little bit of research before booking a place to stay. Elan found an amazing VRBO in the Princeville resort. I’m pretty sure he googled, “places to stay in Kauai,” so to replicate that process I would recommend firing up your favorite internet browser and doing the same. Located just a minute from the grocery store and situated in the middle of the Westin resort, it was a perfect place to call home for the week. When booking your trip to Kauai you have to figure out whether you want to stay in the north shore or the south. The north is a little more rugged and nature focused, while the south leans towards commercialized and touristy. We opted obviously for the north and were very pleased with our decision. But I’m sure you could find equally nice places to stay closer to the airport as well!
Relax! Once you get to Kauai, don’t forget that you’re on island time. I would encourage you to let your guard down and try new things. Elan and I went to a yoga class one morning, we lounged on the beach, and even took an afternoon kayak trip down the river. Be open to the experiences around you but also be prepared to spend a few bucks to enjoy them. The island isn’t cheap, but try not to forget how beautiful everything is. The people are uber friendly and hospitable towards tourists, and the pristine waters of Hanalei Bay just might encourage you to quit your day job and become a surf instructor like I’m sure many of the locals did.
So when you go, make sure to;
- Eat your share of açaí bowls
- Buy a coconut and ask the woman who sold it to you to chop it up once you’re done drinking from it
- Rent a convertible, download Iration and play nothing else (maybe UB 40 if you need a change of pace)
- Don’t make too many plans while you’re there because some days you’ll want to disregard them all and just lay on the beach
- Wear a lot of sunscreen, even if it’s overcast
- Keep your windows closed because geckos will make themselves welcome in your apartment or house
Do all the things!
Kauai really felt like a dream. A very relaxed, laid back, island dream. Seven days was plenty of time on the island and if you aren’t shacking up with a relative or camping on the Napali coast I would strongly recommend doing a little island hopping if you want to stay in Hawaii for longer than a week.
We booked our flights with Alaskan Air and the flight attendants were super cool and friendly. If you plan early enough, air fair is actually pretty reasonable! Most importantly, take a camera, pack your own peanut butter and sunscreen (as both of which are expensive on the island) and enjoy every sun kissed second on that gorgeous island.
Mahalo Kauai for the amazing week!