Kauai: The Top 25
How do we love Hawaii's greenest slice of paradise? Michael Endelman counts the top 25 ways, in no particular order
1. Fruit loopy
Every day of the week--except on Sundays--there's a farmer's market happening somewhere on the island (for a schedule, see realkauai.com/FarmersMarkets). Hanalei's (pictured) is especially sweet, with dreadlocked, barefoot moms buying lychees, mountain apples, and eggfruits in a pretty jungle clearing. Kuhio Hwy., Tuesdays at 2 p.m.
2. Nature's alarm clock
Legend has it that 1992's Hurricane Iniki freed hundreds of roosters and chickens from their coops. They scattered all over Kauai and started breeding with impunity. Because they don't have any natural predators (Kauai is the only Hawaiian island without mongooses), roosters now roam everywhere, even on the fanciest of golf courses. Regardless of how they managed to get the run of the place, your wake-up call will likely be a feathered friend crowing as soon as the sun rises.
3. Fifty miles of sand
Kauai claims more than 40 white-sand beaches, so you never need to fight for a spot. Many of the established beaches (Poipu, Kee, Lydgate) have changing rooms, bathrooms, and freshwater showers; remote, secluded bays offer a more rustic experience. Just look for a cluster of cars pulled over on the highway--a beach is probably nearby. For descriptions, directions, and safety information, buy a copy of the Kauai Underground Guide (explorekauai.com, $13).
4. Friday night lights
Hanapepe is an oasis of sorts: It's the unofficial art capital of the island and, as a highway sign touts, KAUAI'S BIGGEST LITTLE TOWN. It's no metropolis, but an actual main drag is lined with small shops and art galleries in plantation-era wooden storefronts, and they all stay open until 9 p.m. for a Friday Night Art Walk. That's considered very late in these parts. And, notable for the west side of Kauai, there's some excellent vegetarian food at the Hanapepe Café (3830 Hanapepe Rd., 808/335-5011; reservations essential for dinner Fridays, entrées from $16), best followed by ice-cream at the original location of local favorite Lappert's (1-3555 Kaumualii Hwy., 808/ 335-6121, $3.35 for one scoop).
5. Cottage living
In 1983, the Waimea Sugar Mill Company plantation--on the sleepy west side of Kauai--was turned into a resort. Waimea Plantation Cottages, as it's now known, features 54 spacious, tastefully renovated 1930s-era cottages (each with kitchens, grills, and lanais), as well as five hotel-style rooms and two studios. After a morning of scrambling through Waimea Canyon or hiking the nearby Na Pali Coast, the resort's shaded hammocks are the best possible reward. Note: The surf at the hotel's black-sand beach is too rough for swimming. 9400 Kaumualii Hwy., 808/338-1625, waimea-plantation.com, from $140.
6. All the island's a stage
With scenery like this, it's no wonder that directors favor Kauai when they need a stand-in for an exotic Asian destination or a spooky jungle lair. So many films have been shot here that there's a five-hour minibus tour that points out locations used in South Pacific, Jurassic Park, Honeymoon in Vegas, Blue Hawaii, and other motion pictures. 808/822-1192, hawaiimovietour.com, $101, includes hotel pickup/drop-off and lunch.
7. Five-star sundowners
Don't blow your nest egg on a $500 room: The Princeville Resort's famous view of crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay (with the emerald Bali Hai coast rising above it) is available for $9--the price of a mai tai at the Living Room, Princeville's indoor/outdoor lobby bar. Brilliant purple-orange sunsets bring out the shutterbugs, so get there early for a seat. Live music starts nightly at 7 p.m. 808/826-9644, princeville.com.
8. Hawaii untamed
Kauai's premier attraction is the 15-mile Na Pali Coast, a dramatic stretch in the island's wild northwest corner. Waimea-based Na Pali Explorer leads a five-hour tour on a 48-foot, hard-bottomed Zodiac that's small enough to maneuver into sea caves and isolated snorkeling spots. Upon reaching Na Pali's westernmost point, you'll be dazzled by cliffs, waterfalls, beaches, and emerald valleys. When the captain declares, "Welcome to my office," you'll cry with envy. 808/338-9999, napali-explorer.com, $125.