Visiting the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, known as the Garden Island, is ideal for relaxing, sightseeing and enjoying the taste of authentic Hawaiian cuisine. All year round, Hanalei is one of the most idyllic towns along the North Shore to experience the true beauty of old Hawaii. The name Hanalei means “crescent bay” and the town of a little more than 450 residents flock to the bay to surf, swim, walk and enjoy the sunsets. But there’s more than just the Hanalei beach, the landscape from Princeville to the Na Pali Coastline is dotted with a verdant patchwork quilt of taro fields.
1. Getting to Hanalei – First fly into Lihue airport, rent a car and drive over to the North Shore Princeville area. For luxury accommodations, the St. Regis Princeville is next to Hanalei Beach. For more affordable lodging, the Hanalei Dolphin offers accommodations right along the Hanalei River. It’s located in town and convenient to walk to dining, shopping and activity rental venues – bikes, paddle boards, surfing and kayaking. Another option is The Hanalei Inn with rooms under $159 a night. It’s located in town on Kuhio Highway and within a block to Hanalei Beach with expansive sand and calm water for swimming, floating and walking along the edge of the water.
2. Hollywood Location – Hanalei Beach has a dirt parking lot near the pier. Plus there are other parking lots along Weke Road at designated parks. Take a walk out to the end of the pier for stunning views. This is the area where the award winning movie, The Descendants with George Clooney was flimed. It was also the location for the 1958 Musical Film- South Pacific.
3. Pack a lunch and drive – North of Hanalei is a National Treasure, the Kalalua Hiking Trail along the Na Pali coastline. Parking can be tricky since this is a popular spot for locals and visitors. The hiking trail maneuvers up and down on red dirt and rocks. There are half mile markers along the way to let you know the distance you have walked. If you are adventurous, walk two miles to Hanakapi Beach. The views from this trail are breathtaking through streams, lush tropical forest and stunning coastline vistas. After the hike, the Ke’e beach at the start of the trail, offers shallow water next to a coral reef teeming with fish. Be sure to bring your snorkel and fins. If you have any left over bread, you will have tropical fish surround you.
4. Exploring Caves – Driving back on Kuhio Highway, you will notice a wet cave across from a lifeguard beach. The water in this cave is from a spring underground, but it’s not safe for wading or drinking. Down the way is a dry cave across the street from Haena Beach Park. It’s large opening is easy for exploring. This cave was a safe haven for locals during the hurricane Iniki in 1992. Use the flashlight feature on your smartphone to walk to the back of the cave.
The Haena Beach is also a great snorkeling and swimming beach. There is plenty of parking, a food truck for snacks and bathrooms.
5. Cool Down and Chill Out – A must when in Kauai is to buy shaved ice for a refreshing afternoon treat. In the town of Hanalei is the Wishing Well Shave Ice truck. Shaved ice is not a snow cone, it’s powdery ice shaved from an ice block. The organic flavors include starfruit, papaya, coconut, mango and guava. They also put fresh fruit on top of the ice for a healthy snack.
6. Go Paddle Up a River
After a nap, rent a paddle board and explore the Hanalei River to see how the locals live. It’s quite, serene and you will notice a lot of chickens with vibrant plumage throughout the island. Other than a few dogs and cats, there are no natural predators on the island. The locals are used to the crowing and like that the chickens eat the poisonous centipedes. During Hurricane Iniki in 1992, many chicken coops and enclosures were destroyed and the chickens ran wild to escape the storm.
7. Fork and Chopsticks Lunch and dinner options include small plates at Bar Acuda for outstanding tapas, wine, mai tais and beer. Sit out on the veranda and enjoy plates of fresh fish, lamb chops, braised pork belly and a variety of salads and vegetable dishes prepared by chef/owner Jim Moffat and his staff. Moffat was a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist. He left his successful restaurants in San Francisco to come work and play in Hanalei.
Another great dining spot is Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant next to Hanalei River. This is a popular sushi, fresh fish, meat and calamari destination. Seating is inside and out on the veranda and lawn.
8. Hawaiian Hot Dog – For casual fare Puka Dog offers hot dogs Hawaiian-style with a sweet bread bun and a variety of Hawaiian-style relishes. They have coconut relish, papaya, mango, starfruit and pineapple relish. Their homemade fresh squeezed lemonade is made right before your eyes. Diners can choose a grilled regular and juicy hot dog, Polish sausage or veggie dog. Be sure to have it topped with Aunty Lilikoi’s Hawaiian tangy mustard.
It’s easy to kick-back and hang-loose in one of the most beautiful towns in Kauai.