Kauai Primer Print

 If you've looked at any photographs on this site, or if you know us, you already know that we love Hawaii--Maui and Kauai in particular.  In this Kauai Primer, you'll learn a few things about going to Kauai, our style.



We have been visiting Hawaii for decades, but for many of those years we went to Maui.  We arranged our daughter’s wedding to take place on Maui in 2000 and our good friends David and Milly Katzman from Boston attended, visiting Kauai beforehand, since they had never been to Hawaii.  They loved Kauai and encouraged us to go back (we hadn’t been on Kauai since 1980) and we finally decided to do so in 2003.  We visited Lanai for the first time on that trip, staying in the Hotel Lanai to see what it was like (we loved it) and then rented Stonehouse on Baby Beach for a week.  We became so enamored with Kauai that we went back in 2004, renting Hale O’he on Baby Beach for two weeks.  Our daughter and son-in-law loved it there too, so we decided to come back again immediately, but since our daughter gave birth to our grandson in 2005, we had to wait a year.  Given that there were now four adults and a baby, we rented Hale Nalu on Hoona Road in 2006, which was really lovely.  We rented Hale Nalu again in 2008.

During these trips, we have driven to the north shore, snorkeled at Tunnels, picnicked at ‘Anini Beach, visited Allerton Garden numerous times, visited Limahuli Gardens, visited McBryde Garden, eaten at Duane's Ono Char, eaten at Bubba’s several times, etc., etc. 

But, I digress.  To begin, if you haven't already, you need to buy The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook which is the best guide book available about Kauai.  If you did nothing but follow this book's advice on what to do about everything on Kauai, you would be just fine.  However, if you want more detail, or if you're interested in what we do--and I assume you must be, or you wouldn't be here--read on.

Our usual drill when we go to Maui or Kauai is to rent a place--house, condo, whatever--with easy access to a barbecue and with a decent kitchen.  (We don't like staying in hotels when we're in Hawaii.)  I always take my own knives and kitchen implements because no rental location will have good cooking tools.  This isn't as hard as it may seem--you buy a knife kit from someone like Wusthof (which is what I have, since my knives are Wusthof) and pack everything you can fit into it, and then stick it in your suitcase.

Anyway, once we arrive, the shopping will take two forms: when we travel with Jennifer, Duane, Christopher and Brooklyn, we go to Costco and buy TONS of food; if it's just Sue and me we only go to Costco for steaks and occasional other things. (When we want fish, we go to the Koloa Fish Store--see item below.)  Costco sells Meyers Dark Rum in 1/2 gallon bottles, Trader Vic's Pre-Mixed Mai Tais in 1/2 gallon jugs, prime New York strip steaks, etc., etc.  The Costco on Kauai also has a gas station which is convenient to airport return so there is no need to buy gas anywhere else.

I have several lists in Notes form that I keep in Microsoft Outlook (and therefore on my iPhone) for Hawaii travel.  One is a list of things to check at whatever house or condo we're renting.  Another is a standard shopping list.  By checking certain things at the house (laundry detergent, paper towels, dishwasher detergent, etc.) we can make sure we buy some if we need to.  Then, we go back to Costco and/or Star Market in Kukui Grove for supplies.

 We like staying in Poipu most.  It's warmer there and rains less there than on other parts of the island, and yet it's still very pleasant.  It rains about 36" a year there, vs. 85" a year on the north shore.  Mind you, the 85" a year on the north shore isn't a big deal--when it rains in Hawaii, it rains for a little while (i.e., ten minutes or less) and then it's over.

 Most of the time, we have rented houses from Garden Island Rentals.  They have done a nice job for us and they represent people with some great houses, especially those we've rented on Baby Beach--Stonehouse, Hale O'he and Hale Nalu.  Our good friends David and Milly Katzman have always stayed at Kiahuna Plantation, which is rated as a Real Gem in the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook for good reason--it's a fabulous place.  But, if you're taking a family, you might want to consider renting a house, because it's less expensive to rent a house, in most cases, than it is to rent more than one condo.

Without further ado, here are some thoughts on our favorites place for food and so forth.  

 Jo Jo’s
We agree with the guide that this is the best shave ice on the island.  The service is kind of weird at times.  One year, there was one guy handling everything—taking the orders, making the shave ice, ringing up the cash.  Good thing they make the best, because a New Yorker would be outta there in…well, a New York minute.  Also good thing we’re from California.  In 2008 there were three people there so things worked better.  Whatever, it's the best, so deal with it.  BTW, I liked their combo number two, Tropical Rainbow, with mac nut on the bottom.

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Koke’e Lodge
We’ve eaten there every year after going to someplace nearby, and I have the chili and cornbread every time.  Great place for comfort food and it’s a good thing, as the saying goes, because it’s the only choice if you happen to be there around lunch time.  Chili and cornbread were terrific again in 2008.  They have table service now, instead of ordering at the window.

The road from the Kalalau Lookout to the Pu’u O Kila Lookout was open in 2008!

Our daughter and son-in-law make pies frequently at home.  We don’t, since at our age we need to be more mindful of carbohydrates.  When on Kauai, though, we throw caution to the winds, so we willingly partake of pizza from Brick Oven Pizza in Kalaheo.  Great stuff.  In 2008 we also tried the pizza from Pizzetta in Koloa upon the recommendation from a waiter at Plantation Gardens and it was excellent.  While we haven't tried it yet, the pizza at Kilauea Bakery and Pau Hana Pizza is reputed to be great, looks great, and will be on our list to try on our next trip.

Kalaheo Coffee Co. & Café
Breakfast here was very good, in 2006 and 2008.  We had breakfast here several times and even with a one-year old (and the next time with a three-old and one-year old) it was delightful.  Good folks and good food.

People seem to enjoy bagging on Roy’s but I’ve found that, every time, the food is excellent.  It’s properly prepared, well presented, and inventive.  The service is sometimes slow but the food is consistently better than just about anywhere else.  Its ono is well deserved.

Plantation Gardens
We had not been here until 2006.  David and Milly always stay at Kiahuna Plantation and suggested that we try it because it was one of their favorite places.  We tried it in 2006, and it was a wonderful experience.  All five of us went for an early dinner which, with a one-year old, can be a challenge.  The staff there was very accommodating, not only with the high chair, but in placement of our table (on the veranda) and in suggesting that they bring macaroni and cheese for Christopher right away.  The food was excellent.  The menu is structured to emulate plantation food and “times” from years past, with a present-day twist on presentation, and I thought it worked very well.  Bar service was excellent, too.  This place deserves an ono.  In 2008 we returned as guests of David Katzman, while we and his family celebrated many things, and they did a wonderful job again.

Beach House
It’s just down the street from where we’ve stayed every time and has the world’s greatest view, but I have always thought that the place trades better on its view than it does on its food.  The food at both Roy’s and Plantation Gardens was better, and better prepared, the ambience at both was better, and while the view wasn’t as good, I’d rather have good food than a good view.  In 2008, though, David & Milly had dinner there on their last night and they reported that the food was excellent.  Time to go back!

Sueoka’s Snack Shop
Next to Sueoka Market in Koloa, it's great comfort food lunch stuff at reasonable prices, that we enjoyed immensely while sitting on the deck at the house.  The teriyaki burger isn't really a burger (read the guide book) but it's great.

Keoki’s Paradise
We agree with the guide—we love the place.  Food isn’t stellar, but it’s much better than average, and the atmosphere is cool, especially when you have a one-year old (or multiple little kids) who will want to look at everything.

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You should definitely stop at Banana Joe’s if you're on the north shore.  They carry produce they grow themselves and they make the best fruit smoothies you can imagine--pure, fresh fruit, pureed.  Nothing else.  Just fruit.

We love this place—we love going back, every time.  We love the chili and the chili fries, and the burgers, and the brusque atmosphere.  In 2006, we went to the Kapa’a location after our kayak trip up the Wailua River and, since they don’t have high chairs, Christopher sat on the counter and watched the cooks flip burgers.  They were indulgent, Christopher loved the show and his burger, and we all had a great time.  We went again in 2008 after our kayak trip and loved it again.


Outfitters Kauai
Our daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Duane, arranged for this outing in 2006 and I’m glad they did—being on the dark side of our 50s (then), we might not have done so on our own. Duane worked for REI for a time and is an avid outdoors type, which is one of the reasons that Jennifer fell in love with him.  We had no problem trusting the entire outing to him and it’s a good thing we had him along, because the basic instruction we got about the kayaks and the route from the outfitters in Wailua was…basic.  Anyway, being on our own was cool, with Jennifer, Duane and Christopher being in a Triyak while Sue and I paddled a kayak.  We hiked in the mile to Secret Falls and paddled back out without significant incident.  In 2008 we rented kayaks directly from Wailua Kayak Adventures--much less expensive and run by folks who are filled with aloha.



Inter Island Helicopters
I’m really glad that I read the blurb in the guide on this outfit.  On the spur of the moment, I suggested that Duane and I take this trip because I’m an amateur photographer (so is he) and the doors-off modus operandi appealed to me.  We were weathered out of the waterfall landing, but they willingly refunded our money for that portion of the flight.  I can’t make any comment on the narration—I’m hard of hearing and would not have been able to understand much of what anyone said under the best of circumstances—and it was windy and noisy enough up there that I didn’t, in fact, understand anything.  But, I didn’t care, because the photography was fabulous—complete, total sensory overload.  Would have done it again on our next trip but we ran out of time.


Allerton Garden
Sue and I went here in 2004 and I enjoyed it then, reliving the first time I saw ”Donavan’s Reef” and “Jurassic Park” and wandering through the controlled jungle.  I took Duane with me in 2006 and enjoyed it even more, taking even more photos of the flowers, the structures and the surroundings.  In 2008 Sue and I took Jennifer so she could enjoy it, and Duane's mother Toni and his brother Sean joined us.  They all agreed that it's a wonderful place, well worth the visit.  And, the gift shop here has what I think is the finest collection of good quality, unusual, interesting gifts that I’ve ever seen in a “tourist” locale.  The whole experience has a special place in my heart.


Limahuli Garden
We went here for the first time in 2006 and enjoyed it a lot, too.  Since it’s displayed in the manner of the ancient Hawaiians it’s different than, say, Allerton Garden, but it’s beautiful in its own way and well worth the drive and the visit.  It isn’t as photographically spectacular, but it’s a great visit anyway.


McBryde Garden
This is the third Kauai location in the National Tropical Botanical Garden and it's also well worth seeing.  It isn't as spectacular as Allerton Garden, but the history is fascinating (notably, the fact that the McBryde family sold the ocean front acreage to the Allertons in 1937 that formed Allerton Garden) and the space is a wonderful walk.  Parts of Jurassic Park were also filmed here. George McBryde was a sugar baron and plantation owner who, when he finished landscaping this garden, realized that he had 500 Eucalyptus trees left over so he arranged to donate them to the local government.  They became what was known as the Tunnel of Trees which was famous for years.  Until, that is, Hurrican Iniki in 1982 ripped the tops off the trees, making it more of a large Pathway of Trees.  As of 2008 the tops are filling in pretty well, so we may have a tunnel again soon.

National Tropical Botanical Garden
Sue and I joined as members because we spend a fair amount of time on Kauai and we love visiting the three locations.  Membership in 2008 was $55, whereas admission to Allerton Garden was $40 and McBryde was $20.  So, obviously, if you're going to visit more than one, you should join.  Admission to all three locations (which includes Limahuli Gardens) is free once you become a member.  And it's a good cause.  So join, already!

Koloa Fish Store
We love the plate lunches here (especially the kalua pig), and we have purchased fresh fish numerous times.  We have had wonderful experiences every time.  We usually get their fish marinade and sometimes buy blended/flavored butter too, and it’s all very good.  They have willingly dressed out a fresh fish for us when we’ve asked, and it has all been top quality.  We’re all good cooks (according to us) and grilling or pan-searing the fish worked well every time.  It’s really nice to rent a great house on the beach and enjoy cooking some good fish for dinner while making our own mai tais.

Los Angeles Times Cheap Eating Guide
Published in the times on November 30, 2008, it's a good guide on place to eat, where they are, what to eat there, and so forth.  Many of them are in this article and we would agree with nearly everything they say.  There are some places we haven't visited--yet.  It's a good guide for you to print and take with you, which is easy to do with the print buttons located at the top right of every article on this site.  Click here to open the article.



Lanai & Kauai 2003 -- Kauai 2004 -- Kauai 2006

Kauai 2008 (Hanalei) -- Kauai 2008 (Hale Nalu)