Kick Back in Kauai
With a new non-stop flight and ultra-luxe resorts, now is the perfect time to leave the stress of the mainland behind.
Head to the South Shore, which is sunnier than the North and closer to the airport. Near Po‘ipu Beach and the town of Koloa lies a stunning property called Kukui‘ula (pronounced koo-koo-EE-oo-la). It’s Kauai’s first and only private club, built on the site of a former sugar plantation. The clubhouse overlooks Spouting Horn, one of the South Shore’s most famous landmarks (kukuiula.com).
Food at the club is grown on the property’s organic farm or sourced locally under the guidance of chef Ben Takahashi. Kukui‘ula’s amenities are reserved for members only, but the property recently opened its Club Cottages for overnight rentals. The three-bedroom, plantation-style villas are great for families or small groups (parrishkauai.com).
For a more traditional hotel, try the Koa Kea Hotel and Resort at Po‘ipu Beach. This 121-room boutique hotel opened in 2009, and feels newer than other hotels on the South Shore. The décor is swank, and its lobby restaurant, Red Salt, is a popular draw for both tourists and locals.
Most of the restaurants in the area cater to tourists and are located in strip malls or hotels. But fear not, the food is still delicious. For a casual and quick breakfast, try Living Foods Market & Café at the Shops at Kukui‘ula. This Whole Foods-like market has a walk-up counter with salads by the pound (sample the beet and goat cheese combo), delicious pastries, and made-to-order items from its oven (try the ranchero wrap). For lunch or a beach-day snack, stop by Brennecke’s, a two-story beach shack right across the street from Po‘ipu Beach. Try the fish tacos.
Another great spot is Keoki’s Paradise, which serves the coldest beer on the island—at a chilly 29 degrees. Don’t be fooled by its touristy, totally-tiki décor: This place makes one of the best steaks around. It also has live music every night. For sunset cocktails, head down the street to The Beach House, which just completed a $500,000 renovation. For an appetizer, try the ultra-fresh sashimi, and be sure to walk down to the lawn and snap a picture. This is the spot to get that flower-in-the-hair photo.
For dinner, make a reservation at Tortilla Republic. It has a great Mexican menu, with classics like enchiladas suizas, tortilla soup, and a purist margarita. Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill is great for small plates. Don’t miss the roving sangria cart, and if the vanilla bean panna cotta is being offered that night, don’t miss that, either. For a quintessential Hawaiian treat, swing by Uncle’s Shaved Ice. Order the shaved snow, add a “cream cap,” and prepare to swoon.
Hop in a helicopter and soar over the whole island, from the South Shore up to the Napali Coast. You’ll weave through lush waterfall canyons, climb the highest peaks, and pass sites seen in movies like Jurassic Park, the original King Kong, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters has a fleet of high-tech choppers, skilled pilots (ours was an ex-Army captain), and fancy Bose sound system (bluehawaiian.com). Of course, Kauai also has beautiful white-sand beaches. A lot of them are off the beaten path, at the end of long dirt roads—which means getting there is part of the adventure. (Tip: Download the new Kauai Beach Guide app on iTunes to map your route and check the latest conditions.)
Two great choices are Maha‘ulepu, which is close to Po‘ipu, and Polihale, which is about 90 minutes away. Polihale is on the west and driest side of the island, so if it’s raining, head that way. As an added bonus for making it all the way down the notoriously bumpy road, you’ll get a peek at the beginning of the ultra-scenic Napali Coast. Depending on weather conditions, activities like surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are available. One of the best things about staying at Kukui‘ula is its Island Pursuits team. They have all the water toys you could ever dream of. Ask them to arrange a private beach day just for you and your family. They’ll do all the packing, driving, heavy lifting, setup, and cleanup.
If you’re having a hard time leaving the stress of the mainland behind, book a massage at The Spa at Kukui‘ula. Be sure to arrive at least an hour early to enjoy the wet ritual, a series of hot and cold therapies, including a few minutes in the stunning all-glass steam room, that will leave you exfoliated, hydrated, and completely blissed out. For something a little more active, tee off at one of the South Shore’s world-class golf courses. The public Po‘ipu Bay Golf Course at the Grand Hyatt is the former site of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf event. Or, if you stay at Kukui‘ula, try its private Tom Weiskopf-designed championship golf course. There are also various hikes, the most famous of which is the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the Napali Coast. It’s an all-day thing, so if you’re short on time, patience, or athletic ability, we stand by our helicopter suggestion. You’ll be done in an hour and can head back to the beach, where your cabana and piña colada await. Aloha!