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Places to stay, eat and play all over the island of Kauai, as suggested by two travel-lovers with no kids in tow.
Hubby and I did a five-night stay at the Marriott Kauai and had a GREAT time. We stayed at the Maui Marriott property on Kaanapali beach last year and agreed that although we really enjoyed it there, we preferred the Kauai property.
Right when we pulled up to the front valet area, I knew we were in for a treat. The entrance area was gorgeous and there were fresh flowers everywhere. The valet folks were super nice and helpful, and always did their best to get our car for us quickly whenever we were leaving the property.
My only complaint about the Marriott is that their hallways are soooooo long, and of course we were at the very end of one of the room blocks. So schlepping our luggage down the hall when we arrived was a chore (should have used the bellmen, but my hubby prides himself on being self-sufficient). BUT we were on the first floor right behind the pool area, so it was nice to be able to duck out of our patio and take the sidewalk to the pool. Also, we got to watch the mommy chickens and their babies walk all around through our sliding glass door -- yes, it's true there are chickens everywhere in Kauai. The room was spacious and very comfortable -- we wished we'd had a microwave like in our room in Maui, but this only had a dorm-sized fridge and sink in the bar-like area. Bathroom was nice in that the toilet and tub/shower were in a separate room from the sink area. Also, one day the hallway was really smelly, but we only noticed it that one time.
We only got room service once -- the person who brought our food was very courteous, service was quick and the food was great. Not cheap with the 20% gratuity, but it was our first night arriving from the airport and we were exhausted.
In one word, the pool is amazing. It is huge -- you never feel like you're being crowded and there are several hot tubs to soak in if that's your thing. Also, the lounge chairs were often almost full, but we could always find one, even if it was one row back from the pool.
We ate on site a couple of times and had great experiences. Saturday night we went to the crab and prime rib buffet at Kukui's at $40 a person. (See full review below.)
We also had dinner at Duke's upstairs one night, which has a full dinner menu (as opposed to the more casual bar food downstairs). See review also below.
On our last day, while killing time before heading to the airport, we ducked into Duke's downstairs for nachos (mmm) and drinks. If you do anything....try the passion fruit margarita...it's to die for. We're from Texas so I know my margaritas.
What else? The grounds are well maintained and spotless, the beach is clean and there's plenty of room to spread out. I wished we'd been able to see the open ocean, but the trade off is that the water is sooo calm, we swam far out with no worries. There's also a place to rent snorkel gear, surf boards, sign up for excursions, etc. on site, which is convenient. We used the business center to check email once -- when using a credit card there's a $5 minimum, but that seems cheap compared to everything else in Hawaii!
One last thing that was great. Because checkout is in the morning and our flight wasn't until late at night, we wanted to be able to enjoy the beach and go snorkeling, but not have to fly home all sticky and sweaty. The Marriott let us use their owner's lounge and locker rooms (even though we're not owners) to shower and change when we were ready. Beware if you do this though -- we luckily beat the late afternoon rush, and there was a line of women waiting to take a shower after me since there was only one.
All in all, we had a great experience and will hopefully get a chance to visit the Marriott Kauai again soon!
After accidentally missing our flight and "getting stuck" in Kauai for another two nights, hubby and I needed an affordable place to stay. We had blown the budget staying at the Marriott for five nights, but were able to get a "poolside" room at the Kauai Sands for $128 a night. It wasn't exactly poolside, but you could see the pool if you were out on the patio.
Here's the scoop:
* The front desk staff was very nice and accommodating, seeing as we called for a room at 9 pm when a lot of other places were already closed for the night.
* The place was very quiet and not crowded at all.
* The hotel restaurant which has great ocean views was "closed due to filming of Tropical Thunder", the Ben Stiller/Jack Black flick. They must have needed an older, kitschy looking place. :) No actors or crew there when we were there though.
*There was a small gecko on the wall when we unlocked the door to our room the first time, but neither hubby or I freaked out b/c we're used to critters (from living in the country at home). We just coaxed him out into the hall where he hopefully made a break for the exits.
*Linens and towels are thin and cheap, but are passable. Towels are tiny and they don't have different towels for the pool/beach, so bring your own. I felt like I was trying to dry off and cover up with a washcloth after leaving the beach.
* Our room was very hot when we arrived, but the wall unit and overhead fan (a huge blessing) cooled it down relatively quickly.
* The bathroom was ridiculously small, but we made do.
* Nice to have a small fridge in the room, where we kept water and sodas cold.
* The pool and pool area is small, but was clean.
* The beach area isn't big, but was nice that they had chairs out there to sit in. Pretty views and rough waves, but hubby and I did brave the surf to snorkel a bit. Not super clear water, but we did see several types of fish and tons of sea cucumbers. We gave up after about 20 minutes or so after feeling like we were on the spin cycle. Wouldn't recommend swimming alone or allowing children or weak swimmers here. Okay for snorkeling for stronger swimmers and boogie boarders.
*Lost key fee is only $10 (which we found out thanks to hubby's wooops!).
The Kauai Sands is definitely not the Ritz, but if you're on a tight budget and want a place on the beach, this was the best deal we found. And hey, it's Hawaii....just enjoy being there.
We found Dani's on our first morning in Lihue, and it was so great! I had the banana pancakes, which were fantastic, and hubby had a normal breakfast. Both were good, and inexpensive.
Hubby liked it so much he wanted to go back the next morning, but I said we had to try a few other places. However, Dani's was our favorite, and we ended up going back later in the week.
Second visit, hubby got the tripe stew (house specialty) and really enjoyed it, while I got classic breakfast of Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice. (They're open for lunch too, but we never got around to trying it.)
Dani's has great, inexpensive food, and the servers are really friendly. Try this place -- you won't regret it.
Great little hole in the wall connected to the Tip Top Motel. So if you're expecting IHOP, just don't. This is a no-frills local style place we visited on Sunday morning of our trip. Not sparkling clean, but not gross either, and the waitress we had was nice.
Food was inexpensive -- hubby had something uninspired like eggs and sausage, but I tried the bento plate. I have to admit it was weird eating mac salad, teri beef, rice and other stuff for breakfast, but it was yummy and hearty. Both our meals stuck with us all day, which was good b/c we were so busy having fun, we missed lunch altogether that day.
When paying up at the counter, grab some of the Maui Onion flavored breadsticks to munch on in the car or hotel, but avoid the rock-like macadamia cookies.
Good breakfast if you're willing to branch out and eat local food.
My husband and I stayed at the Marriott, so it was convenient to do dinner at Duke's one night. (The parking lot that connects the little external shopping center to the Marriott gets crowded in the evening.) Plus, we heard it was a must do for the view and ambiance.
The upstairs has a full dinner menu (as opposed to the more casual bar food downstairs). The salad bar (regular and personally tossed house-specialty caesar) and breads were very good and fresh, and the service was good as well. Not overly friendly, but decent and efficient.
We tried the crab and mac nut wontons for appetizer, and they were yummy. I had the fresh catch (opah, I think) done in the mac nut/parmesan/herb/caper sauce and it was FANTASTIC. Hubby got the seafood luau with shrimp, fish and scallops. I thought it was good, but he wasn't super wild about the coconut sauce it was in. We hear the hula pie is amazing, but we were way too full. Oh, the Hawaiian singers going from table to table was a nice touch too.
On our last day, while killing time before heading to the airport, we ducked into Duke's downstairs for nachos (mmm) and drinks. If you do anything....try the passion fruit margarita...it's to die for. Definitely stop in at Duke's -- it's not cheap, but it's worth it. The old surfing photos and memorabilia are a kick to check out too.
Hubby and I stayed at the Marriott and had heard about the crab and prime rib buffet on Friday and Saturday nights at Kukui's for $40 a person. We had to try it. Sounds a tad pricey, but it was a steal for us because nobody, I mean nobody, loves crab as much or can put away as much as my dear husband. (The waiter even said he was impressed...a little embarassing, but I'm used to it. :) )
I, unlike him, tried other items on the buffet (other than the crab) and they were all very good. A variety of protein dishes (fish, chicken, beef, and lots of boiled shrimp), as well as sides, veggies and a salad bar. It was also nice to see the waiters and waitresses helping kids at the dessert table.
There was also a guy between the restaurant and the pool playing music and it was good -- made for nice ambiance. I think they do that every night. Good service and good food, but if you're not in it for the crab or shrimp, might be expensive for what you actually eat. We got our money's worth...and might have even bested the Marriott that night. :)
Kukui's also has a buffet every night that always looked and smelled good when we walked by on the other nights. I think it's cheaper, maybe $28 per person.
We stopped here on our way back from Waimea Canyon for a late lunch/early dinner because we'd heard it was the best pizza on the island. It took forever for a waitress to come to our table, and we were starving after hiking in the canyon all afternoon, but we lived.
I ordered a side salad that was yummy, and we got a ham & pineapple pizza on wheat crust. (Yes, it seems cliche', but it's my husband's favorite kind even at home!) The food was good and we had four pieces to take home, which made excellent breakfast in the morning, even cold.
The worst thing was probably the table of people next to us, which wasn't BOP's fault. Loud, obnoxious tourists with no respect for their fellow patrons. Of course you run into that everywhere these days, it seems.
Overall, a good place to stop, but I wouldn't say it's a must-do. Yummy if you have the time and patience.
We visited the Kapaa location twice during our 8-day trip because it's relatively cheap and yummy, and sometimes you just dont' want to slow down for a leisurely lunch.
The "original" burgers are good, though very messy, and the Kauai Burger (w/ teri sauce and grilled pineapple) was super good too. Onion rings aren't anything to write home about, but the fries were good.
Great place to stop in for a hot, gooey cheeseburgery treat. :)
We had read about Scotty's having a great view, which seems hard to come by in Kapaa restaurants. It seems that most of them are on the island-side of the road. We arrived at the perfect time, just before the sun was going down.
The nicest thing about Scotty's is that the tables are set on graduated terraces, so everybody has an ocean view. Of course if you get there after it's dark, there's not much point.
We didn't order BBQ because we're from Texas and figured they couldn't beat what we have at home. (We did hear the table next to us say it was good though.) Also, we were craving some fresh fish, so we both got grilled fish specials -- I had mahi mahi and hubby had the ono. Both were very good. Avoid the $11 fresh fish dippers appetizer -- it wasn't that great and was expensive for what you get.
Overall, we enjoyed Scotty's. The service was good, great view and yummy food. Parking can get hairy, so I suggest you go early before the dinner crowd rush.
We stopped by Beezers for dessert after dinner at another Kapaa restaurant. The ice cream is just Dreyer's, so you have to get something to make it more special.
Hubby got the pineapple-pecan pie, served hot with vanilla ice cream ,and I had the half brownie sundae, which was a huge brownie and two scoops of ice cream. Couldn't come close to finishing it and felt sick I was so full!
The prices are a bit outrageous, but hey, you're on vacation! The lady working behind the counter was very friendly and chatty too.
Good place to stop for a treat, but you'll walk out with your purse/pocketbook quite a bit lighter.
Overall, we enjoyed our dinner at Wahoo's. The ambiance and decor were nice, and our server was very friendly and helpful when we had questions about menu items. We ordered steamed clams for appetizer, which were very good, and had side salads with the light and delicious house vinagrette. Hubby got the stuffed shrimp, and I had one of their fish specials -- both were excellent.
My one complaint about this place is that we sat out on the patio, because it's always nice to eat outside. However, we were stuck looking at the cars whizzing by on the highway. Perhaps they could build a hedge of bushes or something?
Anyway, other than the view of the Hawaiian autobahn, our experience at Wahoo's was very good.
Okay, the inside of this place doesn't seem like it gets cleaned very often, so thankfully hubby and I aren't too up tight about that stuff, especially on vacation. Seems like a popular place with the locals, as we were the only tourists there.
The service was attentive and friendly, and the food was good. We just stuck to the classic breakfast of eggs, Portuguese sausage and rice, and both left happy and satisfied. Coffee wasn't great. Prices are good -- less than $20 for two of us.
Good place to stop if you're staying in Kappa or on your way to the North Shore -- it's tucked into a little shopping center, so you have to watch for it carefully. Worth the visit.
We stopped here on our way back to the South Shore from snorkeling at Ke'e beach. The tables out by the river looked nice, but we were very hot, so we sat on the patio near the bar.
Our waitress recommended the artichoke crowns as an appetizer -- the menu says they are stuffed with bread crumbs and cheese, then broiled. What it doesn't say (and the waitress didn't either), is that the artichokes were canned! Unspectacular to say the least, and they were very greasy.
I had the fin burger (grilled fish), and it was good. Their tartar sauce is yummy too. Hubby got the fish & chips and was disappointed -- he said the food was okay, but he only got one piece of fish! Wasn't enough food for him and wasn't enough for what we paid.
All in all, this place is just okay. It's not terrible, but not great either.
Don't get me wrong -- we enjoyed the food after a long morning of snorkeling at Tunnels beach. There's a small menu, but the food was really pretty good -- I had the fish taco and hubby got a beef burrito (both come with chips and salsa on the side). However, for what you get, it's way too expensive.
They also charge $1 for a refill of lemonade, the only drink available (other than water), which seems chinchy, seeing as we spent $25 for lunch on a paper plate.
Also, hubby was still hungry after finishing his, so we went down the street to Wishing Well to get shave ice.
Good food and worth a stop if you like fish tacos.
We went to this place for lunch because we'd heard it was a must-do. Yes, the food was good -- we got the special saimin with all the extra goodies in it and a few skewers of the teri beef and chicken. All of it was good, including the lilikoi pie we'd heard was worth trying too. We took it to go, and it was yummy!
I do have to say about this place though, the service STINKS. The ladies that work there are either indifferent or rude, and they show little patience for questions. I guess they feel they can be this way b/c they are so popular. The clientele is interesting -- we sat at a table with locals, American and European tourists. Seems like everyone needs a little saimin from time to time...
Anyway, the food is good, so if you can brave the service, try it because it really is worth it. Just make sure you've got thick skin.
There are no words to describe how beautiful the Na Pali coast really is. You have to see it for yourself. If you only have one day on Kauai, this is the place you must see. I hear it's great by helicopter, but I don't trust the touristy heli places. Plus, we're boat people and were looking forward to seeing it from the water.
There are lots of companies that will take you along the coast -- most leave from Port Allen, a few from the Waimea small boat harbor and a few from the North Shore. To choose one, think about who you're going with and their comfort level with boats (catamaran vs. zodiac vs. kayak), what time of day you want to leave (morning, afternoon or sunset cruise), where you're staying (how far you want to drive to get there) and how much you want to spend.
We really considered the kayak trip with Na Pali Kayak, but decided we didn't want to kill ourselves paddling all day. For those in good shape willing to spend the whole day on the ocean, it sounds great. We just decided we wanted to relax and take lots of pictures. :)
See review of Liko Kauai Cruises below for the boat we chose.
Husband and I chose Liko Kauai to see the Na Pali coast because it left from the small boat harbor in Waimea, rather than Port Allen, so we had less distance to travel before reaching the coast. Also, since we stayed in Lihue, it was closer than driving up to the North Shore.
We booked the afternoon tour because we've been on morning boat trips before, and were looking for something different. We actually really enjoyed it -- although the water is supposed to be rougher in the afternoon, the light on the cliffs in the late afternoon is gorgeous. We also got to see the sun setting over the water right next to Ni'ihau (the forbidden island) -- went from 2:30-7:30 p.m.
The boat isn't anything super special -- just rows of seats, but they are fairly comfortable and there is a restroom on board. Mike and Mindy (our crew) were nice and informative. They made sure to point out interesting sights, explain history behind things, and pointed out a mountain goat way up high and a monk seal on a rock shelf. The boat is also small enough that we were able to motor into two sea caves, which was VERY cool.
There were probably only about 25 people on the boat, so it wasn't too crowded. The snorkeling wasn't great (not much to see), but the views of Na Pali were worth the money. At $300 for the two of us, it's not the cheapest trip we found, but not the most expensive either. The food provided was good, but I think they ran low, and there was plenty of soda/juices and yummy, huge chocolate chip cookies for the trip back.
We would heartily endorse Liko Kauai to anyone looking for a good trip up the Na Pali coast -- the only reason they didn't get five stars is because of the seating structure and that the boat didn't have a trampoline (my favorite boat feature).
Another must-do on Kauai. The drive out to Waimea from the east shore is pretty, taking you along the coast, and then once you get on the Waimea Canyon Road, it's great views too. It's so crazy when you get to the parking lot for the million dollar view, you think, okay, this will be neat. But nothing can prepare you for cresting those last couple steps and seeing the canyon sprawled out in front of you. It really is a breath-taking view. Of course you're sharing it with a bunch of other picture-snapping tourists, but it really is worth it. We also bought some pineapple from the guy selling fresh and dried fruit at a stand in the parking lot, and it was soooo good.
There are tons of hiking trails in Waimea and I really don't know how people choose just one or two to do. We read that the Cliff Trail was good and went to a waterfall, so that's the one we did. If you do this entire hike, wear good shoes you don't mind getting filthy, a bathing suit, light clothing and plenty of water for each person. The hike is very pretty and very steep at times, and of course the return trip is more grueling. But the views of the canyon from the opposite side of the main lookout and swimming in the waterfall made it all worth it.
As the farthest point on the North Shore, Ke'e Beach is spectacular. Everybody knows it, so the parking situation is tough and there are lots of people there. But there's still plenty of room to spread out and park yourself on the sand if you wish. We spent two afternoons here -- one just enjoying the views and people-watching, and the other snorkeling. (We rented from Snorkel Bob's in Kapaa, and we highly recommend them -- super friendly service, different levels of equipment to choose from and reasonable prices. They also have an after-hours drop if you don't get back to town before 5 when they close.)
The snorkeling here is amazing -- the water is absolutely clear and the variety of fish on the reef is amazing. The only thing that upset me was the amount of people walking on the coral -- if you go here, please don't do this! I think a lot of people think if it just as rocks, but it's not. Anyway, I'll stop preaching. Do wear sunscreen or a rash-guard shirt (can be bought at Wal-Mart or Snorkel Bob's) to protect your back and shoulders from the sun. The water is cool so you won't realize you're getting burned until it's too late. Eeek!
All that said, Ke'e is gorgeous, a great snorkel spot and definitely worth the drive.
Tunnels is another gorgeous beach on the North Shore great for snorkeling. The parking here is tough too, but we were lucky to get a spot just outside the turn-in. Because of the limited parking, Tunnels wasn't as crowded as Ke'e, which was really nice. The snorkeling here is fantastic too. We saw all of the same fish from Ke'e and even a couple different ones.
Another point about driving to the North Shore, there are some great views along this road, as well as the two road-side caves, the Maniniholo dry cave and Waiakanaloa wet cave. Both are worth a quick park and look. The dry cave goes back quite a way and is worth a walk around in, but swimming in the wet cave is discouraged.
We went on a half-day trip with a group that left from the Nawiliwili Harbor. You first paddle the Huleia River for an hour or so, then walk through a short part of the refuge. They take you in vans to a spot where you hike down to a private waterfall, which was gorgeous and refreshing. Then they feed you lunch. On the drive back to the harbor, they stop by lookout over the Menehune Fish Pond, which legend says was built in one night by the Menehunes, or our version of a leprechaun.
It was approx. $80 per person. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the outfitter -- we booked it through the activity desk on the Marriott property right next to Duke's and Cafe Portofino.
This would be a great trip for folks with kids. We enjoyed the scenery, but not all the kids on our tour. We also wished for a longer paddle.
If you can't get enough of waterfalls, Wailua Falls is a relatively short drive off the main road going out of Lihue. It's very pretty and worth a photo-op. (There is supposedly a trail down to the bottom, but we didn't look for it. )
Opaekaa Falls is another pretty falls not too far from Lihue and Kapaa on the east/northeast side of the island. I've seen photos of it where it really looked like a bridal veil, but when we were there the water flow was down. It was still very pretty, and there's a nice lookout across the street of the Wailua River.
Kalapaki Beach fronts the Marriott and is a great spot for relaxing and swimming. The beach is enclosed in a cove of sorts and isn't on the open ocean, so the water is very calm and good for swimming, even with kids. There are a few waves on the far right side of the beach, so there are some surfboards and boogie boarders, but the left side is all swimming. The cruise ships go through the far side of the cove, so you get to see them go by. If you're not staying at the Marriott, parking is available at the little shopping centers just past it.
Granted, HH is super-touristy. But if you don't want to spend your whole trip picking up souvenirs for people back home, it's a good stop. We went in here on one of our first days to see what they had (didn't buy anything), picked up stuff along the way during our week in Kauai, and then stopped by on our last day to get anything we were missing.
The Wal-Mart in Lihue is great for not only picking up forgotten toiletries, snacks, bottled water and beer for the hotel, but they have beach mats, rash-guard shirts, and cheap souvenirs. For those people you have to get something for but don't feel like spending a lot of time shopping, WM is the place. They also have lots of macadamia nut candies and several brands of Kona coffee (make sure you get the 100%, not the 10% blend), if you need to "fill orders from home" like we did.
I have no idea when this guy is there, but when we went to Wailua Falls, there was a guy selling jewelry (beads, shells, etc.) out of the back of his pickup with his pet chicken looking on. Sounds very Beverly Hillbillies, but his stuff was very pretty and his prices were great. We bought several bracelets for friends and a necklace or two as well.
We were wanting to go to Polihale Beach, but it started pouring down rain, so we stopped in the Craft Fair at Waimea instead. They had some very pretty wood items, jewelry, clothing and art. Worth a stop in.
This is a great place to shop for souvenirs, jewelry or home items. It's a huge store and the prices are more reasonable than Hilo Hattie's. It's off the highway going west out of Lihue on the left side of the road. We were able to pick up fun little trinkets for our neighbor's kids, magnets, etc. But they also have a nice jewelry store connected to the more souvenir-type store with Hawaiian print clothes, t-shirts, cookbooks, shells and home decor. Great find.
And last but certainly not least...
For the best treat on the island, we found Wishing Well Shave Ice in Hanalei. They're only open a few days a week and only from 12-5....or so they say. The usually put a sign out around 3:30 that says they ran out of ice, which just blows my mind, but anyway....
The shave ice with ice cream on the bottom is great, and their combinations are fun to try. One day when I didn't feel like shave ice, I just got mac nut ice cream -- yum! Just make sure you know what you're doing b/c the service can get surly, and quick. The best treat after a good long snorkel at Ke'e or Tunnels.