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
9. Mark Twain's approval
The 3,567-foot-deep Waimea Canyon was impressive enough to the well-traveled Twain for him to call it "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific." Lazy sightseers can pull over at any of the lookouts along Highway 550, but the alternately barren and lush landscape is best explored on the many trails in Kokee State Park. Pick up a map at the Kokee Natural History Museum (on Hwy. 550, just past the 15-mile marker; 808/335-9975, kokee.org, free). If you get an early enough start, drive to the end of the road for a peek into the Kalalau Valley and the Na Pali Coast beyond. Later in the day, however, rain and fog are likely to ruin the IMAX-worthy view.
10. Quicker and easier
Both American and United offer nonstop service to Lihue, eliminating that frustrating transfer in Honolulu. There are daily flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco, which makes getting to paradise that much less of a hassle.
11. Pigging out
To fill up like a local, find a "plate lunch," an only-in-Hawaii experience that matches a hefty portion of protein (maybe teriyaki chicken or barbecue ribs) with two sides (usually giant scoops of rice, potato salad, or macaroni salad), for under $10. The plate lunch at the Koloa Fish Market is a gourmet experience hidden inside a Styrofoam container: roasted kalua pig with sides of ahi poke--raw ahi tuna tossed in soy sauce and spices--and salt-cured lomi salmon salad (5482 Koloa Rd., Koloa, 808/742-6199). In Hanalei, the simply named Mixed Plate serves a kind of hippie-fied version, with brown rice and tofu stir-fries alongside the salty and deep-fried entrées that Hawaiians love (5-5190 Kuhio Hwy., 808/826-7888).
12. Boobies on parade
Red-footed boobies are some of the countless rare seabirds that flock to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge--and if you're lucky, you'll also spot seals and whales. Home to the 1913 Kilauea Point Lighthouse, the refuge is the northernmost spot on the island, as well as the first sight of land for ships sailing in from Asia. End of Kilauea Rd., 808/828-1413, $3.
13. King Kong
Browse for minimalist, Asian-style housewares at Kong Lung Co., which describes itself as a "Pacific Rim emporium" (Lighthouse Rd., Kilauea, 808/828-1822). The adjoining boutique, Cake, might be the only place in Kauai where fashionistas can feel truly comfortable (808/828-6412). Just down the road in Hanalei, the Yellowfish Trading Co. sells a mix of vintage beach-inspired furnishings, kitschy exotica, and aloha shirts (Hanalei Center, 808/826-1227).
The south side of the island has plenty of giant resorts and chain hotels, but 65 percent of repeat visitors gravitate toward cottage or condo rentals. A condo is almost a necessity on the North Shore, where it can be difficult to nail down a hotel room for under $200. Regency Pacific Realty is a good place to begin looking; it represents lots of North Shore properties, including condos beginning at $99, and most important, it has a website with up-to-date photos and virtual tours of every rental. 800/826-7782, regencypacificrealty.com.
15. Hello, Mrs. Chips
In a dilapidated Hanapepe house, Shizuko Nagamine and her son, Dale, hand-fry taro, sweet-potato, and potato chips to a perfect crisp. Bet you can't eat just one (bag, that is). Taro Ko Chips factory, 3940 Hanapepe Rd., 808/335-5586, $2.50.
16. Summer school
Plenty of tourists attempt to live out their Endless Summer fantasies by taking two-hour lessons at easy-going Poipu Beach (Kauai Surf School, 808/651-6032, kauaisurfschool.com; $75, includes surfboard rental). Those who'd rather try windsurfing can opt for three hours with Celeste Harvel, who has 25 years of teaching experience and the tan to prove it. "The most important thing is that you won't embarrass yourself," she says at the beginning of the lesson at the North Shore's Anini Beach, which has a shallow, sandy bottom and a steady wind. Two hours later, the entire class is smoothly skipping across the bay, while Harvel scoots around giving pointers with her dog, Kahili, riding shotgun on her board (Windsurf Kauai, 808/828-6838, $85, includes equipment rental).
17. The bright side
You don't get a nickname like the Garden Island without plenty of rain. Even in the drier summer months an afternoon shower is common, but don't let it bum you out--the drops won't come down for more than 30 minutes. Stronger storms do occur in the winter, but even then, an hour's drive to the opposite shore will usually find sunny, clear skies.