The picturesque town of Hanalei on Kauai
is the epitome of laid-back Hawaiian-style living. The relaxed atmosphere of this North Shore location is enough to calm anyone’s frazzled nerves. It’s the perfect place to spend the day just strolling through town finding locally made keepsakes or riding waves in stunning Hanalei Bay.
The only negative aspect about hanging out in Hanalei is the envy you’ll feel for the few lucky people who actually get to live here. Only around 450 residents call this place home, according to a 2010 census. This is likely one of the many things that makes this place so charming; a sleepy town sentiment prevails where neighbors stop to chat with each other while picking up groceries at one of two stores, Big Save or Harvest Market. Things have definitely changed in recent years, however, as visitors flock here in greater droves particularly during peak travel seasons (winter and summer). This change could be due to Hanalei’s increasing Hollywood fame including prominent roles in movies like “The Descendants.”
Still, a visit to Hanalei is a must any time of the year. The quaint locale is loaded with eateries, stores and activities. Fresh, locally-caught fish, for example, can be enjoyed at the Hanalei Dolphin—one of several restaurants that cater to a range of taste buds. For a more laid-back meal, there’s always Bubba Burgers and if you’re in the mood for a touch of sophistication and tapas, Bar Acuda is the place to be. Maybe you’d rather just shop
. You can’t go wrong finding treasures in Hanalei that cost anything from $20 for a piece of handmade shell jewelry
to $20,000 for fine art.
Eating and shopping aside, some of the best Garden Isle scenery is experienced in Hanalei. The mighty Namolokama mountain is the town’s famous backdrop and is more often than not, dripping with delightful waterfalls. This kind of lush scenery, however, does comes with a small price. Sometimes rainfall is more prevalent in Hanalei than other parts of the island, and while you might have clear skies everywhere else you could encounter a deluge once you get into town. But that’s no reason to skip the trip, because frequent showers are what give Hanalei its unique, natural beauty.
Rain or shine, if you’ve got a more adventurous side, you won’t want to miss the Okolehau Trail—a hike located in the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge. The climb is a steep 1,200-foot elevation, but it’s worth the workout. You’ll be treated to sublime views of Hanalei Bay and Mount Makana (also known as Bali Hai).
Those who prefer enjoying nature at sea level, spending time at Hanalei Bay is a definite must. This is one of the most gorgeous beaches you’ll ever step foot on, and it’s the perfect place to unwind. You can also rent a surfboard and test out the waves or jump on a paddleboard and cruise along the Hanalei River. Basically, any activity you choose to do here will create lasting memories.
Perhaps your time is too limited for these activities. Even a quick drive through town is worth it. Make sure to stop at the Hanalei Valley lookout in Princeville to get a glimpse of the bountiful taro fields that dominate this region. Hanalei is actually the site of the state’s largest production of taro (or kalo
). You might also like to see the cute Waioli Huiia Church as you pass through town on your way to Haena and Kee Beach. The building is steeped in history and was constructed in the early 1900s by the Wilcox missionary family.
Beside exceptional vistas and attractions, fresh fruits and produce abound on the North Shore and Hanalei is no exception. Pick something up at the local farmer’s market held every Saturday at Hale Halawai or at one of the many local fruit stands around town. Biting into a sweet succulent mango grown on Kauai is a life-changing experience.
Time naturally slips away in Hanalei and if nighttime falls before you’ve left, check out the famous, Tahiti Nui
. Musicians often play tunes for visitors and locals alike in this popular hangout.
Getting to Hanalei is easy. Follow the main highway north and you’ll know you’ve arrived once you come across the one-lane Historic Hanalei Bridge. As your car nestles close to Hanalei River (so close, in fact, that the bridge closes during heavy rains so plan accordingly), you’ll eventually come across the first wave of idyllic buildings.
Allow your mind to ease its worries as you spend time in this lovely little town. It’s easy to lose track of time in Hanalei, but isn’t that what vacations are for?
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