It’s 7:15 am and I’m sitting in gridlock traffic on the freeway trying to make it to work on time. Welcome to Orange County. I just returned from a five-day adventure on the magical island of Kauaʻi and am dreading having to head back to the office and endure the sting of florescent lighting and the digital abyss of the Internet. Sitting in traffic is the last place I want to be, especially after looking around and noticing how everyone sitting in their cars also wishes they were headed somewhere else. They’re daydreaming about their next vacation. Glistening, golden sand and a picturesque shoreline for as far as the eye can see.
But it was also in that moment that I was truly able to reflect on my time spent exploring the Garden Isle. It’s a place where those daydreams became a reality.
When you experience so much beauty and wonder in just a few short days, it’s sometimes difficult to put into words what was seen, felt, and discovered. It all kind of seems like a blur. Kauaʻi may be called Hawaii’s Island of Discovery, however, visiting isn’t just about discovering the island, it’s about discovering yourself. You experience, you absorb, you reflect. It’s an introspective journey combined with the lure of paradise, the thrill of the unknown.
Typically, we get lost performing our daily routines — commute, work, errands — and we forget to pay attention to those little details about ourselves that really define who we are. Allowing ourselves the opportunity to gaze upon an ever-changing horizon, or countless breathtaking rainbows (I must have seen at least 30 during my trip), breathes new life into our soul. It gives us the chance to truly live in the moment. To slow down. To stop and be grateful.
Traveling to a destination like Kauaʻi made me say goodbye to all of my comfort zones. Whether it be overcoming an irrational fear of heights or simply letting go of the things I cannot control, “looking on the brightside” proved worthwhile. There’s something about the island that changes things, especially a person’s perception on life, mainly because the moments you experience serve as a great catalyst for some deep thinking.
Just ask Sue Kanoho, Executive Director of the Kauaʻi Visitors Bureau. When she first visited, she thought she’d only stay for one year. She never expected to call this place home. But like I said, the island changes things. In 1997, she joined the team at Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau, and 18 years later she’s still marketing the island of Kauaʻi with love and enthusiasm. Oh, and if you’re wondering where she grew up … you guessed it: Orange County.
“The island of Kauaʻi is a place of beauty, of its people. A place to reconnect. It’s whatever you need it be,” Kanoho explained. “Each island definitely has its own feel. Our goal is to help people understand the essence of the island, to make sure they experience the nature of it. If we can teach people how to travel differently, to show them how to take the gifts of nature and enjoy them, we are making a difference. Kauai isn’t for everyone. As much as we want to promote this magical place, we also want to preserve and protect it. We want to make sure who we invite know what they’re getting into. We want them to know the story of the island.”
It’s the story of the island that truly makes you appreciate its splendor.
If you were to pull out a map of Kauaʻi, you’d probably think there wasn’t much to do. After all, how many options could there possibly be on an island that’s only 33 miles long and 25 miles across at its widest point?
There’s plenty. You’d be surprised.
Here are 10 unforgettable moments to experience while visiting this island in the Pacific.
Kauaʻi Food Tour with Tasting Kauaʻi
Royal Coconut Coast
Up for a delicious, culinary adventure on the island? Look no further than the Kauai Food Tour with Tasting Kauaʻi. Tour Director Michelle Lemay is both informative and passionate about showing you the best of the Royal Coconut Coast. From local street food to classy farm-to-table restaurants you’ll be hesitant to wear your flip flops and shorts into, it’s truly a tasting adventure.
Make sure you bring your appetite because you’re gonna need it. On this particular tour we made five stops, all of which were awesome.
1st Stop: Kealia Farm
If you get the opportunity, you must try their rich, creamy Pumpkin Bisque made with Kealia pumpkin puree, as well as the Kalo (taro) Pie. The Kalo Pie is a unique recipe consisting of the farm-grown taro, farm fresh eggs, Hawaiian sea salt, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, butter, wheat flour, brown sugar and sweetened, shredded coconut. The farm also grows its own star fruit and watermelon.
2nd Stop: Al Pastor Tacos
It’s a taco truck right on the side of the road in Kapaa. If you’re not in the mood for some out-of-this-world marinated pork shoulder slices, try the fish tacos — thick grilled ahi topped with fresh greens. For just $9, you will walk away really happy, and incredibly full. This family-owned restaurant on wheels is anything but cheap on its servings.
3rd Stop: Wailua Shave Ice
I hope you saved room for dessert! Even if you’re full by this point in the tour, you’re going to find a way to enjoy this one-of-a-kind treat. Wailua Shave Ice is 100 percent all natural and the syrup is made with fresh local fruit. No high fructose corn syrup here. The owners, Josh Tamaoka and Brandon Baptiste, are super down to Earth guys ready to talk story while you sit around the bright red trailer gobbling up a light and fluffy Lava Flow.
4th Stop: JO2
First bit of advice: try to meet Chef Jean-Marie Josselin at this 40-seat Kapaa restaurant (pronounced jay oh two). He’s very knowledgeable and entertaining. The location is totally unassuming. From the parking lot, you’d have no idea you’re about to walk into a fine dining establishment. Jean-Marie helped get Kauai on the food map, and it’s evident in every dish he and his team create.
5th Stop: Oasis on the Beach
Two words: happy hour. This beachfront gem is the perfect place to enjoy a few appetizers and a refreshing drink. The ocean views here are breathtaking. If you end up staying for dinner, the soy braised boneless short rib is finger-licking good.
P.O. Box 1191, Kapaa, HI 96746
Sunset Golf Tour
Princeville Makai Golf Club
Princeville Makai Golf Club is also often rated as one of Hawaii’s best courses. And for a few very good reasons. Unrivaled ocean views, strong Mai Tais and sunsets to die for. Interested in some zen time? They also offer Sunrise Yoga overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There’s no better way to wake up on the island.
Princeville Makai Golf Club
4080 Lei O Papa Rd, Princeville, HI 96722
Botanical Garden Tour
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
Limahuli Valley is a “living classroom” where you can learn all about ancient Hawaiian culture and plants. There are about 250 native birds and plants in the 1,000 acre valley, dozens of which are on the verge of extinction.
Not to mention, the grounds and views are a sight for sore eyes. Without this place, a significant aspect of the island’s history, the stories about the early inhabitants of the valley, would be lost forever. Limahuli literally means “turning hands.” Those who came before treasured the land and its natural resources.
You can take a guided tour of Limahuli Garden by making a reservation, or explore on your own.
Limahuli Garden and Preserve
8301 HI-560, Kapaa, HI 96746
Stay at Hanalei Colony Resort
Unspoiled, Unplugged, Unforgettable
Let’s put it this way: After checking in, you’ll wish you booked a longer stay. There’s a reason you go on vacation — Hanalei Colony Resort makes sure to remind you to indulge in the present moment and relax. The grounds have a way of making you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. No television, no radio, no telephone (don’t worry, complimentary WiFi is available). This place is a sanctuary, where you are surrounded by the constant ebb and flow of the tide. You wake up to its roaring embrace and fall asleep to it just the same. The sound of the crashing waves doesn’t let you go until you check out.
Do yourself a favor and make a reservation. I recommend booking an oceanfront room. If you happen to stay in F-3, even the shower comes with a stunning view of the horizon.
Hanalei Colony Resort
5-7130 Kuhio Highway
Haena, HI 96714
Kauai Backcountry Adventures
When you book a tour, please make sure “Hollywood” is one of your guides. His good vibes and engaging personality will make this unique adventure with Kauai Backcountry Adventures that much more memorable. Going mountain tubing through the former Lihue Plantation’s tunnels that were dug by hand before 1870 is unlike anything you’ve probably ever done. This experience is also one of the funnest ways to see a part of the island that is off limits to the public. You actually have to take a bumpy bus ride to the launching site.
You might think you look silly in the mandatory attire (helmet, headlamp, water shoes and gloves) but it’s for your own comfort and safety. You’ll understand what I mean once you start traversing through those pitch black tunnels and uncontrollably spinning around on your tube. Once you reach the lazy river portion of the tour, sit back, relax and take in the views.
Kauai Backcountry Adventures
3-4131 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766
Afraid of heights? Too bad. Don’t want to get eaten alive by mosquitoes? Tough luck (wear a long sleeve shirt and pants, or douse yourself in bug spray). You’re going to get eaten alive in the forest. You’re going to conquer your fears. You’re also going to have one of the most badass, exhilarating experiences of your life. Koloa Zipline‘s guides know exactly how to have a good time.
Really want to seize the day? Go first.
3477A Weliweli Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
CJM Country Stables
Are you ready to experience Kauaʻi on horseback? CJM Country Stables offers three choices of trails rides: a Scenic Beach and Valley Ride, a Secret Picnic Ride, or a Private Custom Ride. They also offer free monthly rodeos that feature Hawaiian Cowboy events and host Western themed parties.
CJM Country Stables is located on the South Shore in Poipu, a place that’s pretty much drenched in sunshine year round. It also has one of the most pristine stretches of coastline and scenic views you’ll ever lay eyes on. When you imagine the type of scenery you expect and hope to see on Kauaʻi, this is it.
CJM Country Stables
Koloa, HI 96756
Waimea Canyon State Park “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”
Western Side of Kauai
This place is absolutely unreal, and worth the windy drive. The sheer beauty of the canyon will leave you captivated. Even if it happens to be raining, you should still make the trek to see Waimea Canyon State Park. Chances are high that if it’s raining there will soon be a rainbow that appears somewhere in the sky. You may just get lucky and capture one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments while gazing out over this natural wonder.
If you have the time, hike down into the canyon. It’s like another world down there.
Waimea Canyon State Park
Waimea Canyon Dr, Waimea, HI 96796
Take a Lei Making Workshop
Taught by Elvrine Chow of Heavenly Hakus
For those who have never made a traditional Hawaiian lei, this is a wonderful experience. You’ll probably never meet anyone more in love with flowers than Elvrine Chow. She literally lights up and glows with happiness while picking out freshly bloomed flowers and crafting them into a haku lei, or head lei.
Watching her make a haku lei is simply mesmerizing. In just a matter of minutes, she can complete a Hawaiian crown of flowers that looks like it took many hours to design.
You can either join one of her workshops or catch her at several farmers markets throught the week.
Dine at RumFire Poipu Beach
Whether you’ve booked a room at Sheraton Kauai or not, this is one restaurant you’ll want to make sure you visit before departing the island.
Not only does it have picture-worthy ocean views, the food is delicious. Chef Michael Young knows exactly how to keep guests happy. Try the filet mignon with fingerling potatoes, braised kale, house-made truffle cheese and roasted garlic béarnaise, $38.
Interested in giving back to the community while having a good time? Make reservations for the restaurant’s “Table 53 – You Dine, We Donate” program. Any food and beverage proceeds for Table 53 are donated year round to local charities. Since the program started in 2012, RumFire Poipu Beach has already reased over $115,000.
RumFire Poipu Beach
2440 Poipu Beach Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
For more information on the magical island of Kauaʻi, please see below.
Kauaʻi Visitors Bureau
4334 Rice Street, Suite 101
Lihue, HI 96766