On the north shore of Kauai are the sandy beaches of Hanalei Bay. The bay is surrounded by taro fields and emerald-green mountains dotted with waterfalls. Situated right in the middle of the bay, along the Kuhio Highway, is the laid-back enclave of Hanalei Town, which has everything one needs to stay active, well-fed, and right at home on a visit to the “Garden Isle.” The town also is a short walk to one of the best beaches on the island. On a recent vacation with my family to Kauai, I got to discover this all for myself.

Technically, the trip was a re-introduction. More than 20 years ago, my parents and I spent time in Hanalei Bay. As a kid, I focused on the beach, where I reveled in building elaborate (at least that is how I remember them) sandcastles. My dad led our brood along the gorgeous hiking trails of the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, and my mom guided us through the impressive Limahuli Garden and Preserve.

Years later, during our recent reunion jaunt, we revisited all of these wonderful activities and saw how Hanalei Town has evolved over the years. Here is some of what it has to offer.


Hanalei Town

For meals

Hanalei Town is packed full of restaurants that have a wonderfully relaxed island feel. Some of the main hangout spots include The Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant, which is fun for tropical cocktails and fish tacos; and the Kalypso Island Bar and Grill, which has hearty, down-home cooking, a full bar and big screens to watch surfing and other sporting events. My sister and I shared the breakfast burrito one morning, and it hit the spot.

There also is the Tahiti Nui Restaurant and Tiki Bar with live music and dancing—this is the place that was featured in the 2011 movie, The Descendents. Around town you also will find a number of gourmet food trucks and stands, Japanese and Chinese restaurants, and eateries serving pizza and local island fare. It only takes a stroll around to find your options.

Personally, my favorite spot in town is Bar Acuda, a tapas bar that serves upscale dishes and specialty cocktails. The owner is a former restaurateur from San Francisco; on Kauai, he runs his restaurant with a commitment to serve locally sourced food prepared with a Mediterranean influence. Really special was the appetizer with local honeycomb and goat cheese. I also liked sharing the tender beef skewers, smoked salmon pizza, and Hawaiian Ono tapas. Make sure to watch the video below to see this place in action.

Viewfinder Tip: Canoe-racing season is February-October. On the beach near Hanalei Pier, watch the surf to witness this authentic slice of life on Kauai.

For refreshments

Because of the warm sun and beach activities, undoubtedly you will want refreshments during your time in Hanalei—and not simply those of the alcoholic persuasion. Thankfully, there is the beloved morning spot, Hanalei Coffee Roasters, where locals and visitors congregate for fresh brew to start their days. This neighborhood coffee shop serves up locally grown drip coffee and espresso drinks (as well as pastries, bagels, waffles, and full breakfasts).

In the afternoon, you may want to stop at the Aloha Juice Bar, a stand that peddles fresh coconut water, island fruits, popsicles, and other fruit-derived goodies. I also loved Kauai Nut Roasters; the store specializes in everything from macadamias to almonds to pecans.

For activities

Hanalei Town also has quite a few activities to keep visitors busy. No. 1 on many lists: massages or yoga at the Hanalei Town Center. I also loved taking a private ukulele class at Hanalei Music’s Strings & Things, a sweet little store in the China Young Village. Of course you always can shop for beachwear, too.

Because it’s so close to the beach, Hanalei also has a number of outfitters that offer water-sport rentals and tutorials. You can rent a kayak. You also can book yourself a lesson for stand-up paddleboarding or surfing. When I was there, I took a SUP lesson from the guys at Hanalei Beach Boys Surf Shack.

For a really fun and super-local activity, join members of the Hanalei Canoe Club at their clubhouse for a paddle out into the open sea. You can go out with their team on an outrigger canoe. I had the chance to do this and the experience was both an incredible workout and a great look into Hawaiian culture. From Hanalei, I’d expect nothing less.

What do you seek from a beach vacation?