Now that I am a little more settled into NYC, I want to start writing more about all the topics that have been sitting at the back of my mind. M and I were supposed to go on a post-intern year, pre-residency trip to Japan and Korea in June. We had everything booked but the Monday before our flight, the MERSvirus outbreak happened in Seoul! A lot of big things were happening in June (bachelorette party, cross-country move, etc) so we didn’t want to take the chance. Thanks to my brother-in-law who is an absolute whiz at booking vacations with hotel/travel points, we were still able to have a last minute vacation to the beautiful island of Kauai (thanks G!).
In short, I was blown away by the natural beauty of Kauai. I’ve been to Big Island, Oahu, and Maui, but Kauai is by far my favorite island. The coastal area of Kauai is the developed portion, but everything within is untouched. You see beautiful lush verdant green forests contrasted with awesome beaches everywhere on the coast. Here are my tips for visiting this gorgeous and relaxing island!
- Rent a car! Taxis are expensive and you have to drive to get to all the different sightseeing spots, beaches, and restaurants on the island.
- Buy food at the grocery store if you’re staying at an expensive resort to save money on breakfast
- Make the helicopter tour reservation at least 3-5 days in advance
- We love love loved the St. Regis in Princeville! Highly recommend staying here.
- Favorite places to eat: Kilauea Fish Market, Trucking Delicious, Chicken in a Barrel, St. Regis brunch buffet, Hawaiian Blizzard Shave Ice Co.
- Go snorkeling before 1 pm because the waves get choppier after that. I actually sprained my ankle on my birthday snorkeling in rough water
We stayed at the St. Regis resort in Princeville. Princeville, which M described to me as the “Beverly Hills” of Kauai, is located at the north end of Kauai. It was a breathtaking resort with a gorgeous deck facing the west so you see the most beautiful sunsets every night with a glass of wine in hand. Every room has large windows facing the ocean that completely open up so you get to enjoy the view. The private beach here was better than any of the other public beaches I visited (Poipu, Hanalei Bay, Tunnels Beach). You get your own poolside beach chair with an umbrella, drinks and food at hand, and there are even cabanas to rent if you want more space. The best things about the resort were the beach, the sunsets on the deck with champagne, the snorkeling, and the breakfast buffet. We even saw Justin Bieber here with his family on vacay!
Where to eat:
Where to eat: I love Hawaiian food, namely different types of poke, kalua pork, fresh seafood, shaved ice, etc. The best seafood we had was Kilauea Fish Market (multiple locations) which had the best fish tacos, grilled fish, and tuna poke bowls/salads that we’ve ever had. We ate around Hanalei a lot, which is kind of like a downtown about a 10 min drive from the St. Regis. They have a Chicken in a Barrel, which is great bbq (M’s favorite place!), Puka Dog (Hawaiian style hot dogs and sauces), and Pink’s Creamery (delicious ice cream with local flavors and kalua pork grilled cheese). My favorite find in Hanalei is Trucking Delicious, a food truck that serves amazing sandwiches and desserts like taro ice cream waffle sandwiches. For shaved ice, go to Hawaiian Blizzard, which is a tiny stand in front of a grocery store. Aaron is the incredibly nice gentleman who runs the stand and he makes all of his own syrups from scratch which then gets distributed to other shaved ice places. Remember to bring cash!
For breakfast we stocked up on fruit and yogurt from the Princeville supermarket to save money, but a few days out of our trip we splurged on the St. Regis brunch buffet. I would suggest you do this at least once, especially if you’re staying at the hotel! Unlimited fresh squeezed juices (guava, pineapple, orange, etc.) and you can order special entrees from the menu that aren’t on the brunch carts. Make sure to try the taro chocolate chip waffles and the taro banana pancakes!
What to do:
Snorkeling: I am an amateur snorkeler and sadly I sprained my foot on my birthday snorkeling at Tunnels Beach! The water gets surprisingly choppy and rough in the afternoon so I advise you to go snorkeling in the morning. My favorite spot for snorkeling was right in the St. Regis beach where there’s tons of fish not far out from shore. Tunnels is another favorite for snorkeling, but watch out for the coral! Rent your equipment from small surf shops in the downtown areas, not at the resorts where they charge an arm and a leg. We paid ~$17 for snorkel gear for a week.
Helicopter tour: It’s pricey but worth it! Most of Kauai (everything inland, basically) is not easily accessible by car, but the sights from the helicopter are breathtaking. We booked with Mauna Loa Helicopter Tours and had a great experience.We opted for a “doors off” tour, which is quite windy but you get to see everything clearly, whether it was waterfalls or the hidden beaches that Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed on. Book an early flight because it can get foggy and rainy in the afternoon and you won’t see much. Also remember to wear long pants and a hoodie or something warm because flying (especially with doors off) can be quite chilly.
Hiking: one of the things we couldn’t do because of my sprained ankle was hike the 11-mile Kalalau trail along the Napali Coast. I’ve had multiple friends hike this trail and the general consensus was that this was an activity you cannot miss in Kauai. The trail starts off in Ke’e Beach which is a somewhat crowded public beach but ends at a beautiful private beach with waterfalls along the way. I can’t elaborate because I couldn’t do it, but if you love hiking and beautiful sights, do not miss this opportunity!
Miscellaneous: We were somewhat limited in our activities because of my bum ankle but we still went to the Smith Family Luau and visited a few sightseeing destinations such as the Kilauea Light House (also a wildlife preserve) and Wailua Falls. The Falls were easy to drive to and quite pretty with the rainbow at the bottom, but we didn’t hike down since it was quite a rigorous, steep, and wet hike. The light house was very pretty, a nice picturesque spot that is right by the Kilauea Fish Market. I’ve been to a fair share of luaus so I felt this was not the highlight of the trip.
All in all, we had a great time in Kauai and I ended up being thankful for the R&R. Japan and Korea can wait
Have you ever been to Kauai? What are your recommendations?