A full month away from the working world has done wonders for the body and soul, and now it’s time to catch up on all we’ve missed.
We’ll spend the next few days catching ourselves (and you!) up on the most important travel news from August. But first, I’ll offer pics and tips from an amazing, healthy, peaceful and gorgeous 10-day trip to Kauai, which I can firmly say is now my favorite island in Hawaii.
Stay tuned for few roundup posts before we jump back into the regular swing of things.
Biggest surprise: Who knew that United is now using one of its lie-flat BusinessFirst equipped p.s. 757s between San Francisco and Lihue? Not I. So when our upgrades came through, we were psyched to see we’d have a big roomy ride on the 5-hour flight down to the Tropic of Cancer. While the big seat was fantastic and the flight on-time, inflight service on United was underwhelming. Flight attendants clearly did not want to be there.
That’s too bad because a trip to Hawaii is so special to so many fliers, especially first-timers. An enthusiastic crew could really make a difference. But not in our case. Remember back in the day when some airlines offered orchid blossoms, POG, umbrellas and real juice in mai tais, and “halfway to Hawaii” games? Not on this glum flight. Above is a look at what you get when you ask for a mai tai on United these days. (Stark contrast to Hawaiian Airlines flight a couple years ago. Hello pineapple upside-down cake!)
Last time we went to Kauai, we unloaded a big pile of SPG points (30,000 per night) for a four-night stay at the St Regis Princeville. (Rates run about $500 per night.) While that stay was posh, it also felt kinda processed, which is antithetical to the laid-back, outdoorsy, hippie-ish vibe Kauai is known for. So when we decided to come back, we rented a house in Hanalei. Airbnb, VRBO and many other outfits rent houses all over the island (just ask Google).
But the downside to many of the rental houses on Kauai’s rustic north side (including ours) is that they are not air-conditioned. That ended up being a problem on some of the stickiest nights of August (the hottest month of the year) but did not by any means ruin the trip. As a matter of fact, we are already talking about renting the same place next year. TIP: If renting a house, try to find one with an outdoor shower! Ours was outstanding, oversized and had hot and cold water (see above or see me in it here ? ).
A reader who followed our trip via Instagram asked if renting a car on Kauai is necessary. Unless you are planning to go to a hotel or resort and hole up by the pool, beach or golf course the whole time, you need a car to really see this gorgeous island. Just be prepared for traffic in Kapaa, Lihue and Poipu, the island’s larger towns, especially if you are there during peak summer, winter or spring break travel seasons. Rental rates are not rapacious (we paid National $420 all-in for a small SUV for 10 days), and gasoline prices are about on par with California. If you want to check out several of Kauai’s awesome beaches, a car is necessary as well. Our north shore favorites were Haena/Tunnels beach (great sand & snorkling underneath unusual green mountains) and Lumahai (unusual volcanic shelves and tide pools plus a beautiful hidden beach). Another awesome day trip that requires a car is Waimea Canyon on the west side of the island. It’s a full day trip, but soooo worth it. Stunning views of the many-hued “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Don’t miss it.
The food on Kauai is outstanding, mostly healthy and super fresh. Nearly every local has a favorite place to get sushi. When we got to Hanalei, locals told us to look behind the popular Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant for the tiny Dolphin Sushi & Fish Market take-out counter located on the parking lot out back. There was a line out the door, but we snagged some of the freshest, tastiest sushi rolls ever as well as a nice slab of local, flaky-white and delicious monchong which we grilled at our house. The store also has amazing poke, chowder and the best tunafish sandwich I’ve ever had.
If you are headed to Hanalei, here’s some restaurant guidance. First, prepare for high prices. Restaurant food, especially in touristed areas, is very expensive. (However, we found food prices at grocery stores only slightly higher that in San Francisco.) Bar Acuda is probably the hottest table in Hanalei. We had an early dinner there and liked it, but it did not differ much from the California cuisine in contemporary surroundings that we enjoy in San Francisco. A dinner at Tahitu Nui, famous for the part it played in The Descendants movie, was just okay, but we liked the live ukelele music and its mai tais. We enjoyed a few good plate lunches (even for dinner) at the L&L Hawaiian Barbecue stand (starchy goodness with two scoops of rice, macaroni salad and your choice or meat or fish). Chicken in a Barrel (Hanalei & Kapaa) was surprisingly good, moist and smoky chicken and even better baby back ribs. One of our favorite discoveries was Sushi Girl on the road up to the Napali Coast– order your plate from a tiny window, then take it with you to the beach or picnic table.
Even though it’s pricey ($39 per person), we really enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the St Regis Princeville— for the broad range of food, fruit and juices, but even more for the outstanding water, mountain and surf view from the Makana Terrace— try it at least once if your budget allows.
Kauai is known for its outdoor adventures, and we took part in many– had to burn off all that good food, right? We took the relatively grueling, muddy 4-hour hike along the Napali Coast up to Hanakapi’ai Falls. The first half was pleasant, picturesque and easy, but the second half was a slow, wet slog up to the falls. But the payoff was worth it– a gorgeous, iconic 700-foot waterfall and cool pool for a dip. The kind of setting you see in post cards. We also enjoyed stand up paddle boarding on the Hanalei River (easy on the river, not so easy in the ocean), a unique tubing expedition through old irrigation canals and tunnels in the center of the island, snorkeling, swimming and beach walking. A boat trip along the Napali Coast included exciting incursions into its many caves and grottos. And of course, Mother Nature shows off with stunning sunsets each night– our favorite spot to watch was from the beach and pier (web cam) on west-facing Hanalei Bay (See above.)
That’s it for my summer vacation! How was yours?
Next up, we’ll plow through all the important news we’ve missed over the last month and present it here in a few round up posts. There’s been plenty of chatter about a new credit card with a whopping 100,000 point sign up bonus. We’ll take a look at that among other stories!
What did we miss while away? Please let us know in the comments.
We’re glad to be back! Thanks for the many emails from readers concerned about our whereabouts…. it’s nice to be missed!