Reviews and Recommendations of Places on Kauai
Kiahuna Beachside – Our favorite place to stay on Kauai is Kiahuna Planation, which is a set of older bungalows on the south side of the island, Poipu Beach. They have survived for over 40 years and are in a large “plantation” style dotted around lovely grounds along the beach. Each building has six condos with three on the ground floor and three on the top floor. Closer to the road there are larger and taller buildings. The condos closer to the beach are the ones to rent and I prefer the corner condos on the ground floor so that you can walk out to the beach from either the front or the back of the unit. The older, beach front units back onto the beautiful green lawn which in turn front onto the beach. It is a great setting for viewing the sunsets. There are grills for everyone to use. The only drawback is the pool is across the street near the Poipu Shopping Center shops.
Other than swimming right outside Kiahuna Beachside, we love to walk down the beach to the public beach outside of Brennecke’s Beach Broiler at Poipu Beach. If you can get there early in the morning, it is the best snorkeling on the island. Go to the tip of the beach near the island of rocks where the two currents come together and there is a tip of sand. To the SW side of the tip there are always groups of beautiful tropical fish and sometimes a turtle or two down deeper. Even younger kids can float on a board or be held with googles on and see fish in the shallow water here. It is sandy for about five feet out and then there are rocks, so if you are swimming, water shoes or flippers are best. You can see fish all day here, but before 11 am or 12 N is best before the sun is high, the water is more choppy and it gets crowded.
After snorkeling and swimming, you can always have lunch at Brennecke’s, which is a Kauai tradition. They have great tropical drinks and burgers. It is a grill with all sorts of fish options and great sandwiches, burgers and fries. Kids tend to love the food here. The seats on the second floor all have a great view of the beach and are breezy and fun. If you aren’t staying near-by and walk there from the beach, you can drive and park in the free parking for the Poipu Public Beach. Brennecke’s even has a beach cam so you can see how things look on a particular day.
Lapperts Ice Cream – We have been coming to Kauai for 30 years and Lapperts was always in Old Koloa Town in the old buildings. They have moved into the new set of trendy and fun shops by the new round-about by the turn for Spouting Horn. But, the ice cream is still the best on the island. The flavors are great and varied and the servings are large. They are also offering gelato now. There are also baked goods for sale, including cookies and various bars. It is open until 10 pm some nights. In this set of shops, The Shops at Kukui‘ula, there is also a nice organic style market with a juice bar, a few restaurants, as well as trendy and up-scale clothing shops.
Hanapepe Café – One of our favorite things to do while on Kauai is to visit Hanapepe on a Friday night for gallery night. From 5 or 5:30 until 8 or 8:30 pm all of the shops in the town are open with artwork for sale. There are food trucks and music lining the main street and the atmosphere is festive. The best food in town is at the Hanapepe Café. It had been closed due to health issues of the owner, but it is newly reopened since Fall 2015 in half the space. The other half of the old space is now a bakery. As soon as you arrive in town, drop by and put name on list with your cell phone number. When they have a spot, they will call you. Their menu is a small selection of great food including sushi. The night we went, we waited only 20 minutes for a table for five around 6 pm. Their mushroom soup was one of the best I’ve ever had (The other was at Café Gandolfi’s in Glasgow, Scotland around 1990!).
If you are driving to Hanapepe on a Friday night for open studios and gallery night, head out early enough for it to still be light on the drive. If you are coming from the south shore, you will pass Waimea Canyon, which is Kauai’s “Mini Grand Canyon”.
Even if you do not have time or energy to hike parts of it, the view from the road into it is a real treat, especially late in the day when the light on the rock brings the reds, oranges and greens out in the cliffs and trees. The view of the sea heading into Hanapepe is also beautiful.
Koloa Mill Ice Cream, Old Koloa Town – This is the ice cream place that took over the old Lapperts Ice Cream in Old Koloa Town on Kauai. We were surprised when we walked in, because all of the decor is the same. The place looks and feels the same, but when you look at the ice cream and the menu board, it becomes clear that the ice cream is “Koloa Mill”. The flavors are not as flavorful. We each got a double and the ice cream was just not as interesting as Lappert’s. We only went once in the week we were on the island.
A must stop in Old Koloa Town other than the Crazy Shirts chain for t-shirts (for more expensive, but well made, strong, long lasting cotton shirts with ever changing fun designs) is the Island Soap and Candle shop. I love their natural, handmade soaps and always take some for our rental place as well as some candles for gifts or home. You will probably find a smell or two you like and the variety of soaps they have is amazing. Each is good for your skin and gentle on sensitive skins.
Papalani Gelato – The best gelato on the island was at Papalani. We each tried different flavors and found them to be full of flavor and very dense. They were very satisfying. The gelato is made locally and served by the family. It was a relief to find a local family run place when other places on the island are becoming more chain based. It is too bad this is a hidden gem. I hope more people will find it, tucked in back of the Poipu Shopping Center.
From our usual Southern location on Kauai, we always take a day to head to the northern coast. Puff the Magic Dragon lives at Hanalei, so we also visit that area. On a rainy and foggy day, looking out over Hanalei Bay, it’s easy to see how anyone could imagine a dragon living in that area. It is mystic and beautiful. It’s fun to take younger kids there, but it is a long drive to the area and if you drive to the end of the road, do plan on taking all day there and back.
One year, we stopped at the St Regis Princeville Resort and had afternoon tea. It was very fancy and quite fun for my daughter when she was young. I am not sure if they are still offering this. But, if they are it can be a fun option. The view from the restaurant is the best of the Hanalei Bay.
The Dolphin, Hanalei – We visited the Dolphin for lunch while in Hanalei. It is on the very edge of town with indoor and outdoor seating. The outdoor seating is under cover, which is lucky because it started to rain while we were there. The outdoor seating is along the river and it is fun to watch the paddle boarders and swimmers float by. We loved our lunch. I enjoyed my poke and sushi. They offered many different kinds of fish poke in various sauces and I chose the salmon in sesame. I don’t care for spicy sushi, so I tried their fresh crab California Roll, which was great. My kids all had fruit drinks and loved them. The fish dishes were fresh and good. Dolphin was recommended to us as a great place for dinner also. They also have a fish market around back, so you can purchase fish to take home and prepare yourself. We purchased some souvenirs at that shop.
Hanalei park, Ke’e, Hanea end of the road – We loved driving to the end of the road outside of Hanalei. The road becomes more and more covered with jungle as you wind towards the end of the road. As you turn, you glimpse small coves and beaches. The houses you see are up on stilts. Finally after a few enclaves of houses, you arrive at the last stop, the beach and State Park. When we got there it had been raining, but the sun shined through at sunset and everything was in a surreal golden glow. It was beautiful. There was a monk seal on the beach, very few people and we had a lovely half hour of sunset. It’s the Kauai shore at its best and the closest you can get to the Napali Coast on foot without hiking or helicoptering in.
Verde for dinner in Kapaa – On our drive from Hanalei back to Poipu Beach, we stopped for dinner in the recommended Verde. It’s a popular place and we had to wait for 10 – 15 minutes for a table. They move the people through quickly, though and it didn’t seem too long. The food is innovative and fresh. All of us enjoyed our meals. I ordered their salsa verde to have with the homemade chips and it was great if you like more spicy salsa. The kids liked their kids burrito and quesadilla. They were offering the house margarita for $3 and they were tasty. There was also a house green tea which our kids got and enjoyed. I wanted something light and my only disappointment was the tostada. It looked fantastic – a huge mound of lettuce with many sauces. I got it with pork and the flavors were overwhelming. I had about a quarter of it and found it too much of contrasting flavors. Everything else made up for it, however.
Pink – We were disappointed in Pink. We had a recommendation of Pink as the best ice cream in Hanalei and it probably is, but it is not the best ice cream on Kauai. We had been driving all around the island. We love that Pink is owned by a couple and their brother is helping there. It is nice that it is locally owned. But, they only make one or two of their flavors. The others are made elsewhere. We found that their top seller is flavorful and the others were more average. We preferred Lapperts in Poipu.
Kauai Surf School with Kyle – The Kauai Surf School on Poipu Beach is one of the oldest surf schools in the area. Poipu is the best area for surfing, being on the south side of Kauai with the best and most gentle waves. We found the best time for a lesson is early in the morning. We took a lesson at 8 am on a Sunday with Kyle. Kyle is the son of one of the early teachers at the school. He is very relaxed and laid back. He is very specific in his guidance and gentle in his pushes with the waves. Both my daughter and I were up on our boards in the first few tries. We worked with him on land for a half hour and then in the water for an hour and half. We were both on our boards and had a feel for it for the last hour. He let us stay out on the boards trying on our own for another half hour to an hour. It’s harder without his push! Later in the day the waves can be rougher and there are more people swimming.
Plantation Gardens – This wonderful restaurant is part of the registration building on the western side of Kiahuna Plantation. We have been staying at the Kiahuna for almost 20 years and we eat at the Plantation Gardens at least one night of our stay every year. Part of why we love it is the walk there. We wind our way there through the pathways of the property, ending up at the ponds to the east or towards the beach before we check-in. We have taken many family photos at the outside ponds down the back steps of the restaurant. I also love the open, expansive feeling of the building as we walk through it to our table. We always make an early reservation to sit on the veranda around 6 pm to enjoy the sunset outside during our dinner. The menu is not large, there is always a fish option, a rice option steamed in a big leaf and a stir-fry. I typically get the fish option. I like their tropical drinks. They have pasta dishes for kids. Their desserts are not inspired, but I like the atmosphere and environment for the meal.
Gaylords Luau – I believe this is the best Luau on the island at the Kilohana Plantation. Gaylords is the restaurant and on the grounds they host a luau twice a week and you can book it in advance on the website. We book the dinner and luau option. You arrive around 5 pm, get a lei, walk around with drinks and visit vendors and see demos. If you come with kids, you can get a family photo and take a train ride around the property. My family and I always come early and visit the Clayworks on the property and decorate a clay tile, which they ship back to us. It’s an annual tradition. There are other shops on the property you can visit before the dinner is served around 6:30 pm. The dinner is buffet style and includes a roast pig along with noodle and rice dishes and other Hawaiian favorites and fruit. There is dessert. The luau is a series of traditional story dances for a half hour to hour until about 8:30 to 9 pm. The parking entrance and exit is very efficient. All ages are welcome and the whole event is run very well.
I love the drive to and from the south side of the island. To get to Gaylords, you drive through the “tree tunnel” on highway 520.
Clayworks on Gaylord Plantation – My family and I visit Clayworks each time we are on Kauai. Clayworks sells unique items made by potters there and they also offer pre-fired “naked” clay items that you can decorate with glazes yourself. They will then fire them for you so you can take them home or they will ship them home for you. My daughter and I have been decorating an annual Kauai tile each year for years since she was young and she loves this tradition. The three women who run Clayworks are very friendly and helpful. I recommend this place highly for anyone wanting to visit somewhere with kids to help them create something unique during their visit to the island.
Spouting Horn and Market – Another activity we do on and off when visiting Kauai is to drive down the south coast and visit Spouting Horn, the market there and the Botanical Garden near-by. Spouting Horn is a blast of water that shoots up through the rocks every once and a while. It is fun to see and the kids enjoy its randomness. Beware the soil around the rocks in this area is the famous “red rock” and sand. Even a spot of it on any light fabric will be permanent. The islanders use it to dye fabric that reddish color that you can purchase. But, it can be discouraging to get it all over your favorite white shorts or pants. There is always a jewelry and craft market near the parking lot of Spouting Horn, also. Roughly across the street is one of the Botanical Gardens of the island. It is nice to walk around and through to see native plants and birds.
Community Cat Care of Kauai – This non-profit deserves a mention and support from visitors on Kauai. During our recent visit to the island, we noticed one friendly feral kitten had developed an upper respiratory illness and an eye infection. Losing an eye can mean not being able to hunt and not surviving for a feral cat. I contacted a vet who suggested I contact an organization who used to be called Feral Cat Care, now Community Care Care. There is a network of cat care providers all across the island who will help find feral cats, trap them humanely, find them care with vets, get them medication as necessary and spay and neuter them to help reduce the feral population. This is a huge benefit to visitors and to the island. If anyone needs feral cat help while visiting, I recommend this group. Feral cats are affecting the native bird and animal population, but by spaying and neutering hopefully, this problem can be addressed, also.
Reviews and Recommendations of Places on the Big Island with Kids
After one week on Kauai, we flew to the Big Island to visit the Volcanos. We rented a car and drove via Hilo to stay in Volcano near the Kilauea Crater. It was beautiful to drive into the Hawaii Volcanos National Park and see the crater at night. The park was large and spread out. You can drive easily to the main crater to see the smoke. There is an excellent hike, covered below, which we walked (counterclockwise due to its hilliness with our kids), lava tunnels and the end of the road, from which you can see the end of lava flows. Our boys were interested in all of these areas, but they are each a drive within the park.
Kilauea Lodge in Volcano – Our first night in Volcano, we went to this historic lodge for dinner. It is a beautiful, rustic setting. We loved the entry and the tables set in the entry lobby. Unfortunately, the service and the food were not as good. Our server brought one thing at a time and each stage of our ordering and meal was slow. I ordered the eggplant parmesan and it mysteriously contained many other vegetables such as green and red pepper, but very little eggplant. I ordered it with spaghetti and it first arrived with rice. Small glitches such as that occurred throughout the meal. We enjoyed the setting and had to be content with a leisurely pace to dinner. The food was just ok on our visit.
Lighthouse Café for lunch sandwiches – Our host recommended we stop at the Lighthouse Café for pre-made sandwiches to take with us for hiking in the Volcanoes National Park since there is no food available in the park. This was a good suggestion since there was not any food available, however, the sandwiches were as basic as possible. They consisted of two pieces of bread, two pieces of luncheon meat, one slice of cheese and a slice of tomato and a piece of lettuce on the side. They were the most plain and simple sandwiches and most without-flavor sandwiches I have had in recent memory. I also ordered a slice of spinach quiche hoping for something with a bit of flavor, but none of us could eat it; it had been made with Velveeta cheese! Looking at their website, however, as I add their link, perhaps they have improved since our visit…
Volcano Acres Ranch – I highly recommend a stay at Volcano Acres Ranch, especially for families or groups of four to six. We stayed in the separate house next to the main house for two nights. Theresa and Randall were our hosts and did everything to make sure we were welcomed and our stay was comfortable. They have been hosting in this location for just a few years. They also have about 20 egg laying chickens, a friendly goat and a donkey. Our boys enjoyed talking to the farm animals and wandering around. There is comfortable sleeping for six along with heated mattresses on two of the beds, which was nice on the cooler nights. Theresa provides breakfast in the morning with many options including fresh fruit, juice, toast, muffins, waffles and a breakfast egg sandwich machine, which was a big hit in our family. Theresa cannot cook for you because of Hawaii license restrictions, but the breakfast is sumptuous none-the-less. She can also provide recommendations for the day. She provided excellent hiking and touring recommendations for Volcano Park and recommendations for when we left for Kona, as well.
Kilauea Iki Trail Hike and Thurston’s Lava Tube in the National Park – We spent half a day hiking the 4.0 mile hike of Kilauea Iki from the parking lot along the rim of the rain forest, down into the crater and across the desolate land, back up through the rain forest of the other side. Crossing the road, you can then enter the lava tube, also. The key for us with kids was to do the hike counter clockwise. This direction meant that we did not climb so much and tire out the kids. Our two six year olds were able to complete the four mile hike in about two hours or so and they did enjoy it. After the tube, one six year old took a break and the other hiked the half a mile back to our car at the trail head.
Update: It’s important to note that both of these trails have been effected by 2018 eruptions since our visit and are currently closed. Please see the park websites for information about other trails and current hikes. I hope that other crater trails will be open instead.
The hikes are marked with piles of lava rocks and so are easy to track and can be fun for kids to follow.
Video at Visitors Center – The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park includes a video of the formation of the islands every half hour which is wonderful to see. I recommend it for kids so that they understand volcanoes and how the islands came into being and their fragile eco-system.
The scale of the valley left by the erupted volcanos is vast and interesting for kids to see.
Volcano Art Center – Within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, just past the Visitors’ Center is the Art Center. It is housed in an old lodge, so it is a series of smaller rooms, filled to the brim with lovely local art. It includes oil painting, wooden bowls and furniture, pottery, woodblock prints, photographs, dishes, fiber art and weavings. There is a full array of artwork here in cost, color and taste. You are bound to find a gift or a souvenir to bring home. We brought home a woodblock print from a local artist we had seen displayed in one of the Volcano restaurants an evening before. Supporting a local artist and bringing home art is a wonderful way to remember a holiday.
On the day we were there they hosted a demonstration of making leis and flower headbands to all children.
Ohelo for dinner – This was our favorite place for dinner in the Volcano area. They serve brick oven pizzas, delicious drinks and fresh good food. We shared three pizzas between five people and our kids got the kids’ pasta with butter and parmesan. The starter salads (we tried one of each) were all good. I tried a blood orange margarita which was tangy and good. The “white” pizza was very strong in its garlic taste. The sausage, mushroom and garlic pizza with a standard base was more flavorful and balanced.
End of the Road at Volcano Park – We loved this drive and stop. We drove this long road from the Kilauea Iki Hike down to the end of the road. It is fascinating to see the recent lava flows and how the island is expanding. At the end of the road, there are cliffs of lava and an arch where the sea is crashing into the land. We did not see any red hot lava, but the end of the road walk is beautiful in its own way. We walked down at the end of the day and no one else was there. As we walked toward the stand of palm trees, we could hear a rattling sound. There is a rattle pad plant along the road which makes a pretty sound in the wind. That along with the waving grass and the area has its own calming desolate peacefulness. There is nothing there and nothing to really see. It is just empty calmness and wind. The park website lists various stops and at times you can see lava flow and its effects at different places in the park.
Black Sand Beach and Turtles – We drove from Volcano to Kona for our flights home and one stop along the way is the Black Sand Beach. The turtles often come up on the sand here and so you can view them from about 20 feet away. It is a wonderful treat to see these beautiful turtles in the wild. The black sand beach is a treat as well. As the lava rock breaks up, it makes the entire beach black sand. It is very warm, which is nice on a cool day.
Punalu’u Bakery – As we drove from Volcano to Kona, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we arrived at a town which had this bakery for lunch. It is large and offers homemade sandwiches and ice cream. We ordered sandwiches and then unfortunately, an entire tour bus also arrived. Just at the time, they decided to close their second register and the line was a mile long when we wanted to get ice cream. Other than that, it was fun to find a place for lunch along a lonely stretch of road. Their ice cream was not very flavorful, except for the Kona Coffee flavor. I also bought their Kona Cookies, which we enjoyed on the road.
Quinns Almost by the Sea, Kona – Quinns did not live up to any positive hype. We visited on a recent Saturday night at the recommendation of our host. We waited for everything. The hostess took ages to even come to the hostess stand to seat us. We did get a table for five of us, which was nice, but then everything took a long time. Our waitress took a long time at each step: to bring waters, to take our order and our food took 45 minutes for fish and chips, which was not on the dinner side of the menu. We didn’t order any salads or starters in hopes that it would come more quickly. We ended up having to box our dinners and leave with them because we were so late. Our server was sullen and unpleasant. If our food had been wonderful, we might have been forgiving, but only the fried shrimp was flavorful. The fried fish was dry and uneventful. Quinn’s was a disappointment.
Before leaving the Kona area, we visited the native site, Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park and our kids loved running along the beach front here, seeing the old dug-out canoes used by native Hawaiians and the incredible carvings. It was a well-done and interesting site. There is a numbered walking trail with information at stops along the trail and a map you can follow, if interested in learning more about the people who lived there, how they lived and what the carvings were for. Native Hawaiians lived on the Big Island in traditional ways into the 1900s.