Hawaii Vacation: 5 nights on Kauai

Recently, James and I made a trip out to Hawaii for a nice, long, relaxing 12 day vacation. The next few posts I’m going to make will detail our Hawaii vacation itinerary, including our travels to Kauai, Molokai, and the Big Island of Hawai’i. This first part is all about how we spent 5 nights on Kauai for the first portion of the trip.

Kauai is probably my favorite island, and I think it also became James’ new favorite island after this trip (before he had always said that Big Island was his favorite). I think the reason I love it so much is due to the incredible mountains, lush tropical landscape, beautiful white sand beaches, and the laid-back culture. Kauai is known as more of a “country” type of culture due to the smaller population and the lack of large highways (there is only one two-lane highway that circles most of the island).

Kauai Island Beach

There are several resorts on the island, especially in the Princeville and Poipu areas as well as many hotels and condos on the Coconut Coast in Kapa’a area, but even so, the “resort culture” doesn’t seem to permeate into the rest of the island like it does on Oahu and Maui (although you can escape that a bit if you go off the beaten path).

Kauai

The lush, mountainous landscape, often draped in rain clouds, will make you realize why a lot of Jurassic Park was filmed on Kauai! It is also the wettest spot on Earth, seeing as it rains almost every day somewhere on the island (usually over the mountains). Like the locals tend to say, if you don’t like the weather either wait 5 minutes or drive to another part of the island (which we’ve done several times on this and past trips!).

Let’s dive into our trip!

1: Hawaii Vacation: 5 nights on Kauai

     1.1: Day 0: Arrival
     1.2: Day 1: Beach Day
     1.3: Day 2: But why’s the rum gone?!
     1.4: Day 3: Brews and Brews Day
     1.5: Day 4: Surf’s Up (Finally!)
     1.6: Final Thoughts

2: Trip to Hawaii: 2 nights on Molokai

3: Hawaii Vacation: 3 nights on Hawaii Island (Big Island)

Day 0: Arrival

Like James mentioned in his review of the Hilton Garden Inn Kauai , we spent 5 nights on Kauai, so we had 4 full days to explore the island. On our last trip to Kauai, we only stayed 3 nights so this trip we had a lot more time.

Landing in Kauai

We landed on Kauai in the late afternoon, got the rental car, and drove to the Hilton Garden Inn Kauai hotel.

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai

We were pretty tired from traveling all day, but we decided we should get something light for dinner and take advantage of our free Mai Tais at the hotel bar, Mamahune’s.

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai

The lighting this time of day and the view from the bar was incredible!

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai

We got our free Mai Tai’s and grabbed a table.

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai

We also ordered their ahi (tuna) poke nachos, which were excellent. For those who don’t already know, poke (pronounced poke-ay) is a dish of diced, often marinated, raw fish or other seafood. Poke on the islands is just the best in the world, no matter where you get it, even the grocery store (Foodland has great poke at the deli)!

We were able to relax, listen to music (no live music that evening but they were playing some beachy music over the speakers), and watch the partly cloudy sunset fade into evening.

Day 1: Beach Day

The next morning, since we hadn’t yet adjusted to the new time zone, we woke up around 6am (which is 12 noon EST!) but were treated to an incredible sunrise out of our hotel window.

What a great way to start the trip and our first full day on Kauai!

We had already decided that our first day was going to be a chill beach day since we were figuring we were going to be quite tired. Also, it was my birthday and one of my favorite things to do is go to the beach, so that was definitely going to be on the agenda for the day.

We started the day off with a large breakfast at the Olympic Cafe in Kapa’a town. It was pretty empty, but it was also pretty early and tourism had winded down due to covid and it being the natural off-season, so we were one of the only people in the restaurant at first. The cafe has a nice view overlooking the town, and also a nice view across to the water, although it was very sunny so we decided to sit overlooking town.

Kauai Olympic Café

James ordered his standard Portuguese sausage, eggs, and rice, and I ordered what ended up being a HUGE stack of banana macadamia nut pancakes and a coffee. I could only eat about half because it was just way too much food, and we were also doing a beach day so I didn’t want to be too bloated.

Kauai Olympic Café

After breakfast, we hit the local ABC Store (where you can find anything and everything you need for your beach day and more!), went back to the hotel to change and get some ice, and then hit the beach!

On Kauai, there are a lot of beaches to choose from, but not a whole lot of them are swimmable due to the ocean currents surrounding the island. The east side of the island, along the Coconut Coast and Kapa’a area, is typically not very swimmable but there are several beautiful sandy beaches to choose from. This was especially the case during our trip, as there was an unusual trade wind occurring so it was extremely windy and the water was very choppy.

We chose to stay on the east side of the island near Kapa’a at first because we didn’t want to go too far since we were still pretty tired and jet-lagged.

Kealia Beach Kauai

We ended up going to Kealia Beach, which was a good choice because it is partly protected and we ended up being able to go into the water, although it was pretty wavy! It made for some fun bodyboarding!

Kealia Beach Kauai

We had a nice early afternoon of sunbathing which was interrupted at one point by a quick rain shower (Kauai is the rainiest island and is known also as the wettest spot on earth, it WILL rain on your trip – but like the locals say, if you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes or drive to another part of the island). We also had some tropical beverages, and had a good bodyboarding session in the waves.

After a few hours, we decided to pack up and head up to the northern part of the island for lunch and another beach.

We stopped at the Kilauea Fish Market for some poke by the pound and some scoops of rice to pack up and bring to eat on the beach. The poke was expensive but definitely worth it, as I think it was the best poke we had all trip.

After that, we headed to Kauapea Beach, also known as Secret Beach, which is not all that secret but it is a little tricky to get to.

Secret Beach Kauai

Basically, you drive down to a small parking lot at the end of a dirt road, walk down a short yet slightly steep and muddy trail, and cross a small creek to get to the beach. It definitely helps to wear sport sandals, like Tevas or Chacos (I’m team Teva), but James wore flip flops and it was do-able.

Secret Beach Kauai

The view was beautiful at the top of the trail before descending down to the beach.

Secret Beach Kauai

Once you’re there, it’s totally worth the short hike because it is a large, beautiful white sand beach with beautiful views of the small cliffsides nearby.

It was still pretty windy so we tried to find a spot near the tree line that could help give us some cover from the sand whipping everywhere.

Secret Beach Kauai

From Secret Beach, you can see the Kiluea Lighthouse in the distance. I wanted to go take a visit, normally you can go up into the lighthouse but due to covid it was closed.

After settling down, we broke into our poke lunch and more tropical beverages.

We relaxed for a few hours, and even got to watch some surfer dudes try to manage the choppy waters. They were doing so well despite the crappy conditions! It’s like they surf all the time or something!

Secret Beach Kauai

At some point in the late afternoon, we packed up and made the hike back up to the parking lot and headed back to the hotel.

We cleaned up and then went back down to Mamahune’s, the hotel bar, to eat the rest of our poke and rice (we ordered SO much that we didn’t finish it all at lunch!) and get our nightly free Mai Tais.

We watched yet another beautiful sunset (even east coast sunsets are amazing), and this time they had live music playing, so we enjoyed that too!

J

Since it was my birthday, James ordered me some delicious banana bread with macadamia nut frosting for dessert. This was probably one of the best birthdays I’e ever had: what really can top spending your birthday in Hawaii?!

Day 2: But why’s the rum gone?!

On the morning of our second day on Kauai, we woke up at 6am…again! The first few days adjusting to the 6 hour time difference can be tough!

We relaxed in bed for a few hours and planned out our day. I knew I wanted to go surfing at some point while we were on Kauai, but the weather was still looking rough due to the trade winds. The surf report was showing dangerous conditions on almost all beaches on the island, so we decided to save surfing for another day when the weather was better.

We got ready and went into Kapa’a for a late breakfast. We went to a cute cafe called Java Kai.

Java Kai Kauai

I got a macadamia nut latte and an avocado, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich, and James got a kalua pork omelet. Apparently my new name is “Mallory”. It’s forgivable, because look at that beautiful latte art!

Java Kai Kauai

After that, we drove over to the Koloa Rum distillery, because when you’re on vacation it doesn’t matter what time you start drinking rum! We went to the distillery on our last trip and had a free rum tasting, so we knew we had to go back!

Koloa Rum Company

Luckily for us, they were still doing the free rum tasting, but were booked for the first few slots of the day. We signed up for a 2pm tasting and then decided to go somewhere else and come back later.

Koloa Rum Company

Since we wanted to stay closeby, we decided to go into Lihue and check out the Kauai Beer Company, not to be confused with Kauai Island Brewing Company, which is one of our favorite spots on the island and we planned on going there another day.

Kauai Beer Company

I originally thought that Kauai Beer Company was associated with Kauai Island Brewing Company, but it is its own micro brewery! I was pleasantly surprised at the selection they had, and most of their beers were really good. We sat outside on their patio and enjoyed a flight of all of their beers.

Kauai Beer Company

After that, we saw a stand in a nearby parking lot selling huli chicken, or Hawaiian BBQ chicken, and decided to get some for lunch.

I got a quarter chicken of their marinated huli chicken, and James got a quarter chicken of their dry style and a half rack of ribs. It was quite a lot of food for lunch! But it was good because after eating that, we headed back to Koloa Rum for our rum tasting.

The rum tasting at Koloa Rum was just as we remembered: delicious and entertaining! The staff does a great job with information about the rum, the history of the plantation (was once a sugar cane planatation), and other fun facts about the Hawaiian islands and its people and culture. The rum is fantastic, in my opinion especially the spiced, coconut, and Kauai coffee rums.

They even had us try a Mai Tai with their mix and some of their dark rum. Overall, this is a great experience to have while yo’re on Kauai if you are over 21 and like rum.

After leaving Koloa Rum, we headed back to the hotel and decided to relax on the beach right next to the hotel, Lydgate Beach Park.

It is a small protected beach, and great for swimming, especially for keiki (Hawaiian word for children).

Later for dinner, we headed back into Kapa’a to try one of the many local food trucks. We went to El Rey Del Mar which was a taco truck that specialized in fish and other seafood tacos.

Kauai Food Trucks

I had something called “Taco Enchilado” which were tacos with fish or shrimp that were marinated in a spicy enchilada sauce (I had shrimp), and James went with some classic Al Pastor (pork) tacos. We had originally wanted to go to a taco truck actually called Al Pastor down the road, but it was closed (on a Saturday night?! Why?!), but this was a good alternative.

Kauai Food Trucks

After dinner, we crashed at the hotel for the night, saying goodnight to the stray cat in the hallway on the way to our room.

I guess that’s what you get when your hotel is indoor/outdoor!

Day 3: Brews and Brews Day

After waking up early again and seeing a bad surf report yet again, at a normal time of the morning we decided to head out to Kauai Coffee Company for some coffee and breakfast. The last time we went, they had free coffee sampling and a little cafe where you could order some pastries, like malasadas.

Kauai Coffee Company

When we arrived, they were doing a modified tasting where instead of self-serving a large number of samples they had someone serving only 4 different types. It was still a nice experience though and I got to try a Peaberry coffee, which I had never had before.

Kauai Coffee Company

After sampling some, I got a macadamia nut iced coffee, James got a milk, and we both got some pastries for breakfast. They didn’t have malasadas like last time, unfortunately. We headed outside to a picnic table on the lawn to have our breakfast.

Kauai Coffee Company

After that, we decided to do the self-guided tour of the property.

They have signs directing you where to go and giving you information about the farm’s history and the production of their coffee.

It was a really nice way to spend a half hour, and I learned a lot!

Kauai Coffee Company

Unfortunately, we were there on Sunday so we didn’t get to see the farm operations going on, but you could imagine the machines running and harvesting and roasting being done.

Kauai Coffee Company

After doing the self-guided tour and hitting up the gift shop for some beans to take home (we got a 2lb bag!), we headed out to another one of our favorite spots on the island: Kauai Island Brewing in Port Allen. Hence we named the day “Brews and Brews” because we had 2 different types of brews!

Kauai Island Brewing

We settled into some seats on their new outdoor deck (they just built it during the pandemic).

Kauai Island Brewing

We started out by ordering some small tasting portions of beer.

Kauai Island Brewing

Last time we came to Kauai, we drank and ate a late lunch at Kauai Island Brewing before heading out on a catamaran dinner cruise to the Na Pali coast with a boating company called Captain Andy’s, which is right across the street from the brewery (not pictured above, although you can see another company called Holo-Holo Charters which does similar cruises).

I would highly recommend doing this catamaran cruise but only if you don’t ever get seasick, because unfortunately I got very seasick for about 2 out of the 4 hours of the cruise. I got sick over the side of the boat, as did some other people, but the crew was super nice and gave me some crackers and ginger ale to soothe my stomach. When you’re seasick though, the only remedy is to get back on shore immediately, and I unfortunately had to suffer through the rest of the cruise before that happened!

The views were incredible though, and I did get to take some pictures while we were out there, even though I couldn’t look at my camera for long! After we got back to shore, the crew packed my dinner up in a doggy bag and I ate it when we got back to the hotel after I was feeling much better. The food, although cold at that time, was very good. Just wanted to throw that recommendation out there if you find yourself in Port Allen!

Kauai Island Brewing

We ordered more small tasting portions of beer (as you should at a brewery) and decided we were hungry, so we ordered their delicious poke bowl.

The day was still young while we were at the brewery, so we decided that we would hit up a beach close by. Luckily, we brought our soft cooler with us in the car, so on the way we went to a store to get some ice and cold beverages. Then we drove over to Salt Pond Beach Park.

I wasn’t really expecting much out of this beach, but I was pleasantly surprised at how nice it was!

We also got to see some Hawaiian monk seals sunbathing on the sand! It is law in Hawaii that you cannot get within a certain distance of them since they are endangered, and there are usually ropes around them that people put up to protect them. If you see some and there are no ropes, try to keep 50-100 feet or more away from them.

Kauai Seals

We went swimming since it was a protected beach, and relaxed for a few hours. There were hardly any people there, so it was a nice experience.

Somewhat before sunset, we left and drove back to the hotel. We got cleaned up and headed into Kapa’a for dinner. The town has a good amount of restaurants, but also a bunch of different food trucks.

We decided to stop at Chicken in a Barrel BBQ for some Hawaiian BBQ chicken. I had an excellent BBQ chicken burrito, and James had a quarter chicken and some ribs.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and I think we just went straight to bed!

Day 4: Surf’s Up (Finally!)

The next morning was our last full day on Kauai out of our 5 night itinerary (sad face!). We woke up and I checked the surf report and it looked pretty good, so we decided that this was finally our surf day!

As beginner surfers, we really only had 2 choices of spots to get a surf lesson: Poipu Beach or Hanalei Bay. I had wanted to checkout Hanalei Bay last trip but we didn’t have enough time, so this trip I knew I wanted to go up there, so we decided to head in that direction.

On the way, we stopped at a bakery to grab some coffee and malasadas, which were delicious! We ate them, spilling sugar all over ourselves (I forgot to take pictures of them unfortunately), and drove the 45 minutes up to Hanalei Bay.

Also on the way, I called a few of the surf schools to see if we could get a last minute lesson, and while one was booked another school, called Hawaiian Surfing Adventures, had availability at 11am, so we jumped on it.

We had plenty of time to get there, but I was a bit nervous about the construction on the highway getting into Hanalei due to the landslide they had in 2019 which wiped out the road entirely. They had mostly fixed it but still had construction crews directing alternating one way traffic through a stretch of the road. Luckily, we only had to wait about 15 minutes.

Hanalei Kauai Road

When we got into Hanalei, we decided to check out the beach since we had about an hour to kill before the lesson.

Hanalei Bay Kauai

Hanalei Bay is absolutely breathtaking, and seeing the mountains in the background looks like something out of Jurassic Park! No wonder why they filmed on this island…

Hanalei Bay Kauai

We walked down the beach toward the pier, and looked out on our surf spot and…it was flat! All of that worrying about the waves being huge all week and we finally get a good day to surf and it was completely flat!

Hanalei Bay Kauai

There were a decent amount of young kids and older folks out taking surf lessons, but for someone (me) who has surfed a decent amount and for someone else (James) who had surfed once but also wakeboards a bunch, it was quite a letdown to see the baby waves ahead of us. We hoped that once the day went on that we might get a larger swell coming in to help us out.

When it was about 20 minutes before our lesson, we drove toward the Hawaiian Surfing Adventures surf shop and parked across the street. We checked in and waited a few minutes for our instructor to get back from another lesson. He was a typical surfer dude for sure! He told us he was a bit concerned that we wouldn’t catch any good waves, especially as we had already surfed before, but we were already committed and decided to keep on with the lesson. We drove out to the beach and met back up with the instructor. Then we did a short dry lesson (on land) to remind ourselves how to get up on the surfboard, and then headed out into the water.

It was definitely flat but the instructor was able to get us both up on our very first waves of the day! They couldn’t have been more than 1ft, but after a good push we were up! James had only ever surfed in Waikiki beach before this, and most of my surfing experience was also in Waikiki (I spent a summer there in college) and Florida, so the waves were a bit too small to really get as much of a long run as you can get in Waikiki, but the upside is that you don’t have to paddle that much to get back out! Silver linings!

After an hour and more waves than I thought we would get, I was starting to get tired and was happy to end the lesson. The instructor said normally with people in our experience level he would take us out to the reef break past the pier, but the waves were still pretty choppy from the trade winds so he said it likely wouldn’t be worth the paddle out there. Even though it wasn’t the best of conditions, we still had a nice time and the instructor was really cool and nice to talk with.

After parting ways with the surf instructor, we decided to hang out on the beach at Hanalei Bay for a bit, and saw a taco truck.

Hanalei Bay Kauai

We got some delicious tacos for lunch and ate on the beach with some beverages we had in the cooler. Unfortunately a bit after that, it started raining so we ran back to the car and headed back to the hotel.

We cleaned up and then decided to have a pre-dinner drink at the hotel bar, Mamahune’s. We didn’t realize that you could use 2 coupons to get a double size Mai Tai, so that’s just what I did since we had some extras from the nights we didn’t use them.

When we started to get hungry, we looked for some places in town to go for dinner, and decided on a place called Kenji Burger. I wasn’t in the mood for a burger, but they had sushi burritos so I was game.

James was in the mood for burgers, and lucky for him they had a local grass-fed Kauai beef burger on the menu, which I tasted and might have been the best burger I’ve ever tasted!

Kauai Beef Burger

The sushi burrito I wanted wasn’t on the menu that night but I got my second choice and it was delicious. I will need to eat more of those in my life, it was essentially a giant sushi roll that wasn’t cut up, but was so good. We also got a side of furikake fries topped with eel sauce and Japanese mayo, and chased it down with some Japanese beers.

I also ended up getting a cup of sake when James went to order a dessert plate of gyoza dumplings (but not dessert style, just regular pork gyoza!) We ate all of this outside in their backyard area, which was super cute.

Kauai Beef Burger

When we got back to the hotel, we decided to head back to Mamahune’s for some after dinner drinks and to spend the rest of our Hilton food and beverage credit before checking out in the morning.

I got a fancy Mai Tai and was feeling pretty good. Later that night though, all of the drinks caught up with me and, let’s just say I probably shouldn’t have had that Mai Tai as delicious as it was.

The next morning, I was feeling pretty rough! Unfortunately for me, we had to leave very early for the airport to catch our flights over to Molokai. I was excited to head there because we had never been, but I was also sad to leave Kauai!

Final Thoughts

When we decided to make a trip out to Hawaii, I knew we had to return to Kauai! I am so happy that we did because we were able to go back to our favorite spots and try some new things! It was great to have 5 nights on Kauai, which gave us 4 full days to complete our desired itinerary. We were able to repeat a lot of our favorite activities and also fit in a few new ones!

One of the things I wish we could have done this time (other than catch some slightly larger waves while surfing) was to go to Haena State Park and visit Ke’e Beach and Tunnels Beach. Those were originally on my agenda but I realized too late that the State of Hawaii had recently created a reservation system to visit the beaches. Apparently, new tickets go on sale 30 days in advance on a rolling basis, but there is typically such a high demand that you need to be online ready to purchase at midnight (Hawaii time) right when the tickets get released in order to get one.

I didn’t know that, so when I went to reserve tickets, all of the days we were going to be there were sold out for self parking. They also have a shuttle from Hanalei, but with COVID we didn’t really want to take the risk of riding a shuttle bus with other people, so we decided not to reserve tickets. If you are a resident of Hawaii, you can get in for free and there is self parking, first come first served. If you are family or friends of a resident you can purchase a park entrance reservation and ride in with your resident family/friend. Oh well, next trip then!

Overall, Kauai was a great time yet again and we will for sure be back, especially since it is now both of our favorite islands! The next portion of the trip itinerary was our 2 night stay on Molokai, so be sure to look out for it soon!

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