There’s a misconception that there’s nothing much to do on Kaua‘i.
But I have to disagree.
Sure, there are no major shopping malls or giant amusement parks. But there are plenty of other ways — hiking through native forests, kayaking around the Nāpali Coast, feasting at local haunts — to stay entertained.
Last weekend a group of gal pals planned a jaunt to the Garden Isle — mostly for a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Ni‘ihau, which I’ll blog about later — and we almost didn’t have enough time to do everything we had wanted.
We landed just before lunch and, of course, immediately needed food. And that’s how our weekend started.
We made the most of our 24 hours on Kaua‘i. Here are four things you can squeeze in if you’ve only got a day here:
1. Hamura Saimin Stand, 2956 Kress St. in Līhuʻe, 808-245-3271
Open since 1951, this fourth-generation noodle shop is literally an icon in Līhuʻe. And around lunchtime any day of the week, this place is packed.
Saimin is the most popular dish on the menu here. For those of you who haven’t heard of saimin, it’s a noodle soup dish that came out of Hawai‘i’s plantation era, combining Japanese ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit using curly egg noodles in a hot broth.
Most of us ordered the small saimin, which comes with sliced ham, kamaboko (fish cake) and green onions. The noodles are made daily in the founder’s great-grandmother’s house.
You can’t eat saimin without barbecue sticks; Hamura sells chicken and beef skewers that, for some reason, go perfectly with a hot bowl of noodles.
Hamura also sells udon — these noodles are also housemade — in its signature broth.
And you can’t leave Hamura without sampling its popular lilikoi chiffon pie — which can be packed to go, too.
2. Hanapepe Town, south shore, west of Kōloa
It’s hard to believe this sleepy little town on the south shore west of Kōloa was once one of the island’s largest communities. Today, not much has changed over the last century. The old plantation buildings are still standing, now home to boutiques, art galleries and little restaurants.
The famous Swinging Bridge (above) is still there, built in the early 1900s as a way for residents to cross the river. It’s been restored and reinforced over the years, and people still enjoy crossing the narrow and shaky suspension bridge.
Hanapepe is also home to one of my favorite spots to grab taro and sweet potato chips, fried right there by owner and sole employee Dale Nagamine.
Taro Ko Factory Chips (3940 Hanapepe Rd.) is located right at the entrance to the historic town, in a green plantation-style home that was once a popular saimin stand. (Remnants of the eatery — like the menu boards and wooden stools — are still there.)
Every time I’m on Kaua‘i I try to stop by for a bag of chips and to visit Stanley Sakoda, who claims to work here but really doesn’t.
The chips are really worth the stop. The taro is still grown on the farm Nagamine’s family operated a generation ago. And the bags, which are $4.50 each, are utterly addictive.
And if you’re lucky enough to be in Hanapepe on a Friday, stick around for Art Night. This weekly event, which runs from 6 to 9 p.m., is a street festival of sorts with food vendors and live entertainment lining the main roadway. Restaurants and art galleries stay open late, too. (Yes, 9 p.m. is late for Hanapepe!)
We stopped at a very cool boutique called Machine Machine Apparel, owned and operated by Shannon Hiramoto. We loved the colors, the patterns, and how she mixes vintage and new fabrics. Such cool stuff here.
There was a vendor serving only soup — and it was some of the best spoonfuls I’ve had. I didn’t expect to stop here and buy a bowl of Mexican chicken and rice soup when there were other vendors selling more street-friendly food. But I did. And I didn’t regret it.
We stopped at Raphael’s Aloha Tacos booth, selling made-to-order tacos and burritos. The best part? The tortilla was made from taro.
The longest line, though, was at this booth, The Right Slice, selling homemade sweet and savory pies. We didn’t make it in time to try the dozens of flavors owner and head baker Sandy Poehnelt whipped up. But we did try her mango lilikoi pie, which was actually the first flavor she ever shipped back in December 2009.
3. Drinks at The Feral Pig, 3501 Rice St. in Līhuʻe, 808-246-1100
If the name, alone, doesn’t get you interested, the menu will.
Opened in August of 2011 by Scott Kessinger and Dave Power, this casual restaurant has perfected the combination of delicious and generous portions and well-crafted cocktails.
In fact, our server, Cisco, claimed he made the best Manhattans, period. So, of course, we had to sample one. (OK, two.)
And we gotta say, the Pig’s Manhattan was pretty damn good. But so were the bites.
We had the pupu-style steak, cut into bite-sized portions, with fries. The steak was perfectly cooked, tender and tasty. And then we tried an updated version of its Kaua‘i-grown shrimp topped with a tangy barbecue sauce with bacon. No complaints from us.
4. Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e State Park, west side
I almost feel like writing something is completely unnecessary when you see these photos.
Of course you should check out Waimea Canyon. You should decide to pull up a beach chair and gaze upon this view for a few hours. It’s that amazing.
Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a popular attraction for the obvious reasons. It stretches 14 miles long, one mile wide and more than 3,600 feet deep. The panoramic views are completely breathtaking, with crested buttes, rugged crags and deep valley gorges that no photograph can do justice. And check out the Waipo‘o Falls in the distance.
Follow the main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, into the mountains and you’ll end up at Koke‘e State Park, littered with hiking trails and offers a commanding view of the amphitheater-headed Kalalau Valley (above) along the Nāpali Coast. You’re up about 4,000 feet, looking into this lush valley. It’s pretty unforgettable.
So booking your trip yet?
I had the pleasure of working on that island a fewvtimes. Seeing the canyon on a clear day is spectacular. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and it very similar on a small scale.
My one regret was not trying those chips. I could kick myself cause I was working right across the street.
Ishihara market in Waimea is a nice place to buy poke.
I would love to go back and visit. It’d costly for us cause I need to pay for 2 segments from Hilo but do worth it.
Love the picks Cat, I think you chose a good variety of attractions and things to do on Kauai that give a good slice of everything the island has to offer new & old.
The only thing I haven’t done on your list is the art thing in Hanapepe but that’s really recent and I’m usually not there when it happens so I always miss it. I believe there are 2 other art walks like that one in Hanapepe that you mentioned; one is in Kapaa and I think is either on the first or last friday of the month and the other is in Poipu? I’m glad that they have stuff like this on the island now, which gives the locals other things to do and also a way for some of the creatives there to showcase their stuff to locals and tourists. Also it’s nice for the tourists to have another attraction that brings to them the parts of the island they may just otherwise bypass completely.
Thanks for sharing these gems from Kauai though, I think a lot of people looking to visit the place should stop at some of these locations too and get a nice feel for what the island has to offer that makes it unique. Hope you and your friends had a fun trip!
It’s been awhile since I been to Kauai. Stayed at the cabins at Kokee for a week many times and hiked a lot.
I love Kauai! I haven’t been back since the Hurricane but remember the many years at Hamura Saimin and the delicious pie! Time to revisit and add a trip to the wonderful golf courses. Thanks Cat!
CAT: The quiet of Waimea Canyon is something to behold…no sounds of cars, emergency vehicles, etc. just birds and the wind. If you look very closely you may see goats as well.
I can’t wait until the ni’ihau part…
I’ve never been to the island, and am not booking right this minute, but it’s now at the top of my list for 2015. Thanks for the brilliant pictures and informed words.