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Kauai, known as the “garden island” is lush with foliage in hundreds of shades of green and flowers everywhere. The dramatic coastline, pristine beaches and welcoming vibe make it a great destination. One of the best ways to learn about Kauai’s hidden secrets is through the The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed, filled with priceless information.
While most of the resorts are located on the South Shore, a more authentic experience can be found on the North Shore in the charming town of Hanalei. Instead of the pricey Princeville Resort 15 minutes away, we chose a vacation home rental located seconds from the beach. There are over 2600 well-equipped private rental homes on the island to choose from with great values compared to the $300+ per night you will spend at the big resorts.
The accommodations could not be more perfect, located 20 seconds from the beach, surrounded by exquisitely manicured gardens and every toy imaginable: body boards, surfboards, kayaks, floats, chairs, and more. Hanalei Bay beach is typically uncrowded except nearest to the pier where families picnic and enjoy the lovely beach. One morning after a rain shower there was a double rainbow spanning the bay, assumed to be a good omen.
Snorkeling is a fun activity since there are so many beautiful beaches a short drive away. Favorite beaches include Ke’e Beach located at the foot of Bali Hai Mountains with good visibility and an amazing sandy beach. It is located at the very end of the road on the North Shore with not enough parking, if arriving late. Another, called “Hideaways,” can only be reached by hiking down a steep, hidden trail. Once there, you are truly in paradise and have access to a coral reef teeming with sea creatures. The largest reef is Tunnels, just minutes from Hanalei offering the best snorkeling on the island.
Local cultural adventures include the Hanalei Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays at 2 PM and Saturday at 9:30 AM and Kauai Polo on Sundays across from ‘Anini Beach. The Farmer’s Market is very competitive. People arrive before the gates open and queue up. There are less than twenty vendors overall and most sell out within the first half hour. The locals arrive with their wicker baskets and greet each other and keep the tourists in line. There are a few grocery stores, but pricey compared to the mainland. The market has fresh mangos, papayas, pineapple, star fruit, and guavas and they also serve fresh ice-cold coconut juice right out of the shell.
Kauai Polo is definitely worth watching during the season and the setting could not be more idyllic, located across from ‘Anini Beach. The polo grounds feature a shaded grandstand for spectators, regulation field and score board, stables and views of the beach. The match is well played with locals and a few tourists in attendance, an amusing snapshot into living in Kauai’s tight-knit local community.
Visit the Botanical Gardens right before Ke’e beach, one of the three National Tropical Botanical Gardens on the island. Limahuli Garden offers guided and self-guided tours of a dramatic ancient terrace system featuring a plethora of plants, flowers and fruits, with beautiful ocean views and views of the Hanalei Valley.
If you enjoy a massage, the Lomi Lomi, Hawaiian for “healing touch,” is a wonderful experience. It has its own unique stroke. Some of these massages use fresh flowers and sea salt, others use aromatherapy oils. A 60 minute massage will leave you relaxed and happy.
Other local adventures include enjoying local live music at various venues around town and at the resorts. Finding the best North Shore Mai Tai becomes my obsession. Each restaurant/bar has their signature Mai Tai recipe, and I want to find the best one. After visiting 10 restaurants and bars, I can say without a doubt that the Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant, top shelf Mai Tai gets my vote!
For Mai Tai purists, however, the undisputed winner of the “North Shore’s Best” goes to Tahiti Nui. While you are there tasting their Mai Tai’s, look around at the photos lining the walls featuring the owner with many celebrities.
There are a variety of restaurants and cafes to choose from in Hanalei. Tropical Taco has delicious fish tacos which are definitely gourmet. Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant specializing in fresh caught seafood also has a fish market on premises. It doesn’t get much fresher than this. Sit outdoors under umbrellas next to the Hanalei Heritage River for a memorable experience. Hanalei Gourmet serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with live evening entertainment. For upscale dining Bali Hai at the Hanalei Bay Resort is a good choice, but is undergoing a renovation and may be closed. The Talk Lounge next door is open with a more casual environment. Polynesia Cafe serves gourmet food on paper plates. The food is excellent.
Kauai provides the perfect tropical beach vacation with enough activities to keep anyone content. The “island vibe,” tropical weather and beautiful scenery makes it a perfect escape.
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