Escape From Everything and Almost Everyone in This Quiet Paradise of Kauai

The oldest of the Hawaiian islands, the Garden Isle is also the wettest place in the U.S., with 460 inches of rain a year at Mount Waialeale. Remote, quiet, and beautiful, Kauai provides the ideal setting to completely downshift. Wild chickens greet visitors right on the airport grounds and are nearby wherever you visit on the island. With fewer than 66,000 residents, Kauai’s population is similar to San Clemente’s, with even more of a small‑town vibe.

The lighthouse at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge was built in 1913. Photograph by Scott Hanft

At the end of the road on Kauai’s north shore, you’ll find Ke’e Beach. Why pass up so many other beaches to get here? It’s secluded, good for snorkeling, loaded with trees and places for shade, often calm, and the start of the Kalalau Trail that overlooks the Napali Coast. If some in your group are avid hikers while others want to relax beachside, this place will appease both.

Tuck into Tahiti Nui restaurant and lounge in Hanalei where residents and visitors enjoy the live nightly music. The bar was featured in the movie “The Descendants” and is delightful in its warmth and casual ambience. Let go of any inhibition, have a tropical drink, and sing along with the slack-key guitar. Soon you’ll feel like family, too.

For an open-air, lush vibe where water features are abundant, look no further than the Hanalei Bay Resort ($200 and up). Meander the pathways, lounge in the tropical, free-form pool, or play a few sets of tennis on one of eight courts. There’s also the Happy Talk Bar & Lounge, where you can munch on coconut shrimp or a taro burger, sip a Bali Hai Tai, and take in the views of Hanalei Bay, the location for the movie “South Pacific.”

The Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge provides a chance to learn about the various birds and coastal plants. Perhaps the best reason to go is for the unobstructed ocean views and a tour of the historic lighthouse, built in 1913. There is no additional cost for the lighthouse tour, but you must sign up in advance. The refuge is $5 for guests 16 and older. It’s closed Sunday and Monday.

The view of the Napali Coast from the Kalalau Lookout will take your breath away. Photograph by Daniel Lane

Luxury service and stunning views highlight a stay at the St. Regis Princeville ($478 and up). From the 5,000-square-foot infinity pool to the unmatched sunset at the St. Regis Bar, elegance awaits at every turn. The Makana Terrace hosts a Thanksgiving buffet dinner ($110) with traditional favorites plus poi sourdough bread, pecan-crusted ono, and Koloa rum lava soft dulce cake to capture the local flavors.

For sunset views on the island’s south side, make your way to the Beach House. Its oceanfront setting allows guests to watch surfers during a fine-dining experience. Warning: Tables at sunset are booked weeks in advance. Try the No Ka Oi cocktail ($14), with vodka, Thai basil, simple syrup, and honey‑lilikoi puree. Pupus include Thai‑inspired coconut crab cakes and coconut corn chowder.

The Shops at Kukui’ula near Poipu can serve as a home base. Whether you need picnic supplies from Living Foods Gourmet Market, a frozen scoop at Hawaii’s own Lappert’s ice cream, gifts from shops such as Reyn Spooner, Poipu Sol & Slipper, and Malie Organics, or an art walk to round out your Saturday evening, all options exist at this charming outdoor destination, with architecture that reflects the plantation heritage of Hawaii.

Try the spicy ramen bowl from Eating House 1849, one of the great restaurants at The Shops at Kukui’ula.

Head upslope to check out the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the 3,600-foot-deep Waimea Canyon. Red terrain is sprinkled with lush greenery, making for a scenic view and serene setting. Keep heading up the road to Koke’e State Park for hikes, a history museum, a small cafe, and rustic cabins. The Kalalau Lookout is at the end of the road. Check out the amazing view, but be sure to bring a sweater or beach towel. Even in Hawaii, it’s chilly at an elevation of up to 4,000 feet!

Nov. 19: The 26th Annual Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival—Kauai Style takes place at the Kauai Marriott Resort in Lihue. Enjoy food and live music at the event that pays tribute to this most Hawaiian art form. 


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