Kauai: Off the Beaten Path

Recently, my role as a Social Media Manager at Thin Pig sent me on a client visit to Waimea Plantation Cottages, a Coast Hotels property, on the west side of Kauai. Over the course of a week I was shown all of the “must sees” and SO many hidden gems!

Unless you’re living under a rock, you are probably familiar with the Waimea Canyon, Spouting Horn in Poipu, and the stunning Nā Pali Coast. Take the road less traveled with some of my recommendations for great sights and bites on the Garden Island.

Where to Stay:

  • Waimea Plantation Cottages. If you are interested in an authentic way to experience the island of Kauai and to soak up relaxation at its finest, I highly recommend staying at Waimea Plantation Cottages. The charming cottages were built in the 1800s right along the ocean and vary from one bedroom to five bedrooms to accommodate small to large groups. Friendly smiles greet you when you arrive and lush scenery surrounds you as you make your way to your cottage. Once you get settled in, I highly recommend walking the beach and relaxing in a hammock under the palm trees. The sound of the waves is something I’ll never forget. Pro Tip: Try to check in during the day so you can see the lay of the land and experience the beauty immediately instead of having to wait until the next morning to soak it all in!

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Notable Spots to Enjoy Breakfast:

  • Gina’s Cafe. This little spot is located directly off of Kaumualii Highway in Waimea and serves breakfast and lunch. I had the Kenny Scramble Omelet with a side of rice and a hot cup of coffee. The food was tasty, the prices were good, and the service was great. Pro Tip: Add bell peppers to the scramble to add vegetables to this meal heavy in meat.

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  • Midnight Bear Bakery. We stopped at this artisanal bakery in Hanapepe off of Hanapepe Road for a quick coffee and pastry, and ended up loving everything we had and the atmosphere. The inside is quaint with limited food and drink options, but the aroma was fantastic and all of the pastries were fresh and featured local ingredients. While the offerings may have been limited, I think everyone can find something they would enjoy and is perfect for the small town of Hanapepe. I chose a Papaya and Cream Cheese pastry with an iced coffee. Yum! Pro Tip: Stop back in for lunch as their lunch menu featured sandwiches that sounded awesome.

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  • Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee Co. Based off the consistently slammed parking lot at this restaurant, I’m not sure if it is truly considered a hidden gem but we’ll go with it! This restaurant is located in Kalaheo off the Kaumualii Highway and serves breakfast and lunch daily and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Their breakfast menu is pretty extensive offering fresh pastries, local coffee along with omelets, pancakes, waffles, benedicts, and more. I chose an Iced Chai Tea Latte and the Kahili Breakfast and both were fantastic. Pro Tip: Order a latte. It comes in a large coffee cup with a decoration in the foam and from what I heard, was awesome.

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Places to Go at Lunch Time:

  • Plantations BBQ & Bar. Plantations is located at Waimea Plantation Cottages and opened just a few months ago. It operates under the name Plantations BBQ & Bar but is actually a Chicken in a Barrel franchise, a barbeque restaurant with two other locations on the island. This laidback restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers a couple local beers on tap along with their famous barbeque, burgers, salads, and more. I had the Chicken in a Barrel plate which came with chili and rice and it was SO much food. This is a great option for a casual bite to eat while staying at the cottages or for those hungry when leaving the nearby Waimea Canyon. Pro Tip: Try the onion rings!

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  • Koloa Fish Market. This little market is very easy to miss when driving through Koloa as it is located on a corner of a building and is smaller than the average living room. However, this is a MUST VISIT when on the island if you want to experience some of the best poke you’ve ever eaten. If you are unfamiliar, poke is a seafood salad comprised of marinated seafood (most commonly raw tuna) with soy sauce, sesame oil, onions, and sometimes avocados. Poke translates to the word chunk in Hawaiian. Anyway, this little fish market serves a HUGE variety of pokes by the pound and it tastes SO fresh. I tried the avocado poke and it was literally the best I’ve ever eaten. Pro Tip: Bring cash as this is a cash only market.

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Unique Dinner Options:

  • La Spezia. I would consider this truly one of the biggest gems on the island of Kauai. Who would have thought you could find authentic Italian food in a small town in Hawaii? Located in Koloa (almost next door to the Koloa Fish Market), this restaurant provides a great atmosphere, a small menu of carefully thought out Italian dishes, an impressive wine list, and customer service that will almost have you feeling as if you’re a guest of the family. We started our meal with the Prosciutto Flatbread that was better than I was expecting it to be and their fresh baked bread that was delivered to the table with oil. Next came a Caesar Salad before the main course of Nonna’s Lasagna (nonna meaning grandmother in Italian). Holy moly. This lasagna was unlike any restaurant lasagna I’ve had. For the time we were at this restaurant, I would have thought I was at a little Italian restaurant in New York, Chicago, or one of the other major cities that are known for classically good Italian food. I highly recommend stopping here for a nice dinner while visiting this island. Pro Tip: Order the Amaro Cheesecake to finish off your meal if you can share amongst the table. So. Good.

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  • The Saddle Room. This is a local spot in Waimea located near Gina’s Cafe on Kaumualii Highway and serves burgers, steaks, an assortment of appetizers, and has a full bar. I had a steak that was pretty good and we also ordered Chichiron, which are deep fried pork skins that were pretty unique but good. Why am I recommending this place when my food was pretty average? I’ve heard rave reviews about the burgers and I loved the atmosphere. It’s a small, rustic environment with live music and is very relaxed. I would give this place a second visit or two. Pro Tip: Check to make sure they are open before you plan on making the drive out to Waimea for a visit. They are only open Thursday - Sunday.

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Things to Do and Places to Visit:

Hanapepe. This town may be little but it has a lot to offer. There is a Swinging Bridge that goes over the Hanapepe River that is historic and a pretty neat find if you have the time. This town is also named the home of Lilo and Stitch, and you can find a mural on Hanapepe Road (near Midnight Bear Bakery) that is fun to see if you’re a fan of the Disney classic like me. There are a couple art galleries and small restaurants that make this little town worth stopping in for a few hours. Pro Tip: Visit Hanapepe Friday nights from 5pm to 9pm for Friday Art Night. I didn’t get to attend personally, but it was highly recommended to me a few times by various people on the island.

  • Hanalei. While this is definitely not a hidden gem or local find, I do want to bring attention to the fact they have reopened after the devastating flooding they endured in April. Chin Young Village is a unique shopping center with a couple restaurants, small boutiques and more, and across the street you can find Havaiki oceanic and tribal art and more little shops. I heard Hanalei is normally much busier than when I visited due to people avoiding the north shore from the flood damage. I can’t stress enough how important it is to visit the fun, hippy town of Hanalei to boost their tourism to support their local economy. Not much of a shopper? Visit for the views. They’re breathtaking. Pro Tip: Visit Hanalei Bread Co. and order the BEST Avocado Toast I’ve ever had. The Iced Chai Tea Latte was also my favorite I had while in Kauai.

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Salt Pond Beach. This is one of the better public access beaches on Kauai. With its large size, covered patios for get-togethers, and a shallow area for the kiddos, this makes for a great afternoon destination. Pro Tip: Check this area out to see Monk Seals sunbathing. I’ve heard this is a great area to see them along with Poipu Beach.

  • Kekaha Beach. This beach is on the far west side of Kauai and is part of the longest stretch of white sand beach in Hawaii. A lot of people don’t venture this west for a beach day so it is known for being less crowded and more secluded. Pro Tip: Visit here for breathtaking sunset views. Don’t forget your camera!

Maluhia Road. Take a detour down Maluhia Road on your way to Koloa through the Tree Tunnel with your windows down. Pro Tip: Listen to the local 95.9 FM Da Pa'ina radio station. The songs are Hawaiian and Reggae, or also called Jawaiian, and really make you feel the vibes of Hawaii.