There’s a scene in Happy Gilmore where our hero is on the verge of another meltdown. To prevent another fist fight with Bob Barker, Chubbs insists he go to his “happy place” to find his center. Happy then daydreams about lingerie clad women, pitchers of beer, and a little guy riding a tricycle. Happy emerges from his daydream a new man.
When I close my eyes to find this euphoric center, I always go to Kauai.
I spent two weeks in Kauai back in the spring of 2013. Everyone’s had that family trip when they go to a luau, drink some Mai Tai’s, and then ramble about being so ready to go home. Not this guy. Ever since my trips, I’ve been doing my best Jack Shepard impression. Here’s why I always dream about ditching the desert for a Hawaiian oasis.
The Food –
When you’re in Kauai, you’ll have plenty of chances to release your inner Liz Lemon. Obviously, you want to stay away from typical chain restaurants (unless you hate yourself, in which case chow down at Denny’s!)
Don’t let all that hype about Spam scare you, the food is fantastic. Essentially every diner has a variation of the Loco Moco burger. It’s a burger patty doused in gravy served with a fried egg. The famous shaved ices are served up in a variety of flavors and usually with an extra scoop of ice cream. I even fell for the Kalua Pork Nachos at many a local Tiki Bar. There’s also a bunch of food trucks around the island dishing up fish tacos.
If clogging your arteries isn’t your sort of thing, head to the Hamura’s Saimin in Lihue. It’s authentic Hawaiian food which means its less overpriced Mahi Mahi and more noodle bowls. It’s inexpensive and is a great spot to mingle with locals.
For happy hour, Duke’s Barefoot Bar has great éntrees, fish, sashimi, and drinks. If you’re looking to splurge, you can go to The Beach House. While you feast on surf and turf, you’ll have an oceanfront view and can even see breaching whales.
Island Time –
Things on the island move pretty slow. Roll out of bed when you want, go hit the pool, snorkel, lay back and forget your troubles. Plus, you’re like three hours behind the west coast so no one can judge you.
If you’re looking for nightlife, Maui or Oahu are your better bets. If you’re looking for pure relaxation, embrace your inner old man and go to bed by 9 p.m. You’ll have enough to do during the day to keep you occupied.
I’ve snorkeled on both Maui and Kauai, and found Kauai to have the superior snorkeling. The main difference? Green sea turtles.
I spent the majority of my trip at the Marriott Waiohai. It’s located right on Poipu beach which has a great coral reef. I saw a fair deal of green sea turtles, or Honu, in Maui. The turtle encounters in Kauai, however, are second to none (with apologies to Oahu’ North Shore). Not only were there turtles surrounding snorkelers in the water, they also crawled onto shore.
I was pretty sure turtles didn’t come ashore except to nest. Apparently, Hawaii is an anomaly because we saw several turtles slowly crawl their way onto the heavily populated beach.
For a calmer outing, go to the south side of the island (right next to the Beach House). It’s not as big but still has plenty of fish close to the shore. There’s also Polihale State Park, which is a bit more peaceful and isolated.
Also, the resorts will try to sell you on pricey snorkel gear rentals. Your best bet is to go to a local snorkel shop – I prefer Snorkel Bob’s – where they let you rent gear for as little as $35 per week.
The Attire –
You can rock Tommy Bahama, an old man hat, and no one can say anything. Embrace it.
Jurassic Falls –
I’m assuming you like Jurassic Park because it’s objectively awesome. The Jurassic Falls Adventure Tour is a great way to see the island as well as some of the locations where the original Jurassic Park was filmed. You’ll fly over and even stop at the Jurassic Falls where you can get a good Snapchat to make all your friends jealous (again, because Jurassic Park is objectively awesome.)
Aside from being at the filming location of one of the greatest films of all time, you will get a bird’s eye view of the isolated areas of the island. During an 80 minute tour, you’ll visit Kalalau Valley, Bali Hai, and the Ha’upu Ridge. The best part of the tour is flying over the Na Pali Coast, which is over 20 miles long and has giant waterfalls and secluded beaches. There’s also Mt. Waialeale, also known as one of the wettest spot’s on Earth.
There’s more info on the tour here. Don’t let the price scare you, it’s worth it. Seriously guys, Jurassic Park…err…the views, are awesome.
Waimea Canyon –
aka The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.
Kayaking Wailua River –
There are river kayak tours throughout the island, including along the Na Pali Coast and the Huleia and Wailua rivers. I chose to do a guided tour on the Wailua River with Wailua Kayak & Canoe. It was roughly $45 for the kayak rental. I would highly advise spending an additional $60-$90 for a guided tour. You’ll spend several hours weaving around the Wailua River taking in the sights. Their guides are very patient for uncoordinated amateurs like myself. They also take you on a hike ending at Wailua Falls where you can jump in and swim under a waterfall.
The Hiking –
One of the best parts of Kauai is how diverse its landscape is. One minute you feel like you’re in the desert and the next you’re in the middle of the jungle. There’s stellar hikes on the Na Pali Coast, including the hike to the majestic Hanakapi’ai Falls. My favorite was the Sleeping Giant trail, which has some great views of the island.
Another fun part about Kauai for this desert dweller is the rain. Much like the Pacific Northwest, Kauai’s beauty is only rivaled by its raininess. Don’t be afraid to get muddy.
I feel like people fall into a trance in Hawaii. Normally, my encounters with strangers come laced with resentment, for I am a millenial (which means I’m a selfish jackass).
In Kauai, people are too drunk on pork and Mai Tai’s to offer anything but human kindness. I remember being given pounds of Kalua Pork from a local after merely sharing a beer with him. My family went to a South Pacific dinner play, and rather than be snapped at by hungry seniors, we made friends with a New Jersey family as we were all transfixed by the old lady singing Bali Hai (topical reference, I know).
Kauai is by far the most relaxing place I’ve visited. Maybe that’s why the majority of people can only handle it in small doses. You’re not tied to the clock or the mainland. For me, it’s a perfect place to kick back and enjoy the beauty.
That’s why Kauai is my happy place.
(Tip – I got most of my travel ideas from Fodor’s Kauai – if you’re interested in going, definitely check it out.)