2. From New York to San Diego…
They say that the West Coast is the Best Coast. As a native Californian born and bred in San Diego, I have to agree. California has a special place in my heart that no other place in the world could hope to compete for. I’m always so excited to visit where I grew up, to see my friends and family, soak up the landscapes, and eat enough Mexican food to get me through until my next visit. So, although I was sad to leave my sister and my nephew behind, I was bouncing with excitement as we boarded the plane to San Diego.
One 6 hour cramped and hellish flight later, we touched down. We had a mere 23 hours to quickly give my boyfriend a tour of my hometown and introduce him to 2 of my best friends before we were off once again to the airport, headed to Paradise.
Just after the plane, happy to be on solid ground
3. From San Diego to Hawaii…
We left San Diego in a daze; the jet lag had finally caught up with us after the whirlwind 2 days in New York. Despite our fatigue, we were brimming with excitement to visit Hawaii. It would be Toby’s first ever visit, and my first visit in 6 years.
As a young girl I spent a fair amount of time on the island Kauai; it’s my family’s second home. But as I’ve gotten older, the opportunity to tag along with my parents has diminished. Toby had dreamt of going to Hawaii ever since he was a little boy, a fantasy born of watching reruns of Hawaii 5-0. So this trip had a whole new element of excitement for me: I could rediscover my beloved Kauai as well as show it off to Toby.
When I had imagined our trip to Hawaii, my mind didn’t go much further than the two of us stretched out on the beach, working on our tans. However, the reality was quite the opposite: it was a mad rush to do every activity on the island (impossible), and eat at all of our favorite restaurants.
Our first 6 days were spent on the South Shore in Poipu, in my parent’s magical property, The Amazing Views Hale.
We used Poipu as a base to do everything we wanted to do on the South Shore and West Side.
We snorkeled at Poipu Beach, where we saw 3 sea turtles, and hoards of the beautiful state fish of Hawaii, Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.
We had a spa day at the Hyatt Anara Spa, a rare and magical indulgence to celebrate Toby’s birthday.
We visited Allerton Botanic Gardens, a beautiful nature reserve where the last Queen of Hawaii lived.
After the botanical gardens we hiked into the nearby secret beach Lawai Kai. It’s a picture perfect beach with fine white sand and epic bodysurfing waves, and because it has no public access, there is hardly ever anyone else there.
We visited the caves at Makauwahi, an archaeological hot spot for fossils, and then the nearby Gillham’s Beach.
Lil’ tortoise not too happy to be woken up from his nap
We drove to the far west side of the island to see the famous Waimea Canyon. On the way, we stopped off at Hanapepe, a cute little town that is reminiscent of Plantation-era Hawaii.
Typical Hanapepe plantation-style building
From Hanapape, we continued on to the town of Waimea, and then up the mountain to the Canyon, stopping off at several viewpoints on the way.
First stop was the Waimea Canyon viewpoint where you can see the “Grand Canyon” of Hawaii.
On top of the world
The very top of the mountain, the overlook of the Kalalau Valley. When we arrived, the view of the valley below was impeded by swirling mist. As we stood there saying what a shame it was that Toby couldn’t see the most beautiful view on the island, the mist suddenly started evaporating until suddenly, what an instant before had been a grey wall of cloud, had disintegrated into the breathtaking view down the mountainous valley that leads down, ending in the wild ocean of the Napali coast.
Before doing a nice long hike at the Canyon, we stopped off for some energy in the form of lunch at The Lodge at Kokee. This place serves simple, local food without flare.
Loco Moco: Hamburger Patty, Fried Egg and Gravy Served Over Rice
Kalua Pork (cooked in an imu, an underground pit) with Rice and Veggies
Coconut Pie and Lilikoi (Passionfruit) Pie
Then it was off to the Canyon Trail for a 3 hour hike with some seriously breathtaking views.
On the way down the mountain we stopped off at another viewpoint to appreciate the view of Niihau, the small private island off the west coast of Kauai where 200 native Hawaiians live.
Niihau off in the distance
Barren red earth, the result of a long ago fire
After our beautiful hike at Waimea Canyon, we stopped off in the town of Waimea at the base of the mountain for shave ice at Jo Jo’s Anuenue. This can be a bit confusing as in Waimea there are actually 2 shave ice shops called Jo-Jo’s. The first one, Jo-Jo’s Clubhouse was sold by the original owner Jo-Jo, who then, years later, opened up a second shop down the road called Jo-Jo’s Anuenue. We have recently switched from being fans of the Clubhouse to Anuenue because we find that the Clubhouse often has grumpy customer service and isn’t very clean!
My shave ice: Guava, Coconut and Lilikoi (Passionfruit) with Haupia (Coconut Custard) Cream Topping
Toby’s first ever taste of shave ice
We caught up with some old friends over drinks and dinner.
Mom and Patricia
Toby’s first pina colada, and my last mai tai (forgot I don’t like them)
We watched sunset on the lanai (terrace) everyday, usually accompanied by a glass of wine or some variety of rum cocktail.
And of course, while on the South Shore, we ate at some pretty great restaurants.
Joe’s on the Green:
This is a great spot for breakfast. Their Banana Macadamia Nut Pancakes with Coconut Syrup are as good as anywhere else, but what makes it really nice is the view.
Corned Beef Hash, Hawaiian Style
The best combo ever: Banana Macadamia Nut
Hawaii in a nutshell: A hybrid of many cultures
At the terrace of Joe’s on the Green
Casa di Amici:
This is my all-time, hands-down favorite restaurant on Kauai. The restaurant itself is adorable, tucked into a residential neighborhood, with terrace seating aplenty. Service is great (an absurdly attractive) and everything I’ve ever tried here has been delicious (with the exception of the paella, which was bland and gummy).
Ahi Sashimi Starter
Fish of the Day
The House Specialty: Porcini Crusted Chicken: prepared in a sun-dried cherry-port wine mushroom sauce with
grana padana parmesan and fresh basil polenta
The underwhelming Paella: it looks better than it tastes
Birthday boy blowing out the candle on his Baked Hawaii
Baked Hawaii: Meringue with a Chocolate Cherry Cookie Base, Guava Sorbet and Lilikoi Sauce
The Restaurant at the Golf Club of the Grand Hyatt Hotel:
At night, this restaurant is Yum Cha, an upscale Asian restaurant. But during the day, it is Yum Cha’s less formal cousin, the unnamed restaurant at the Golf Clubhouse. The food is great, and so is the view.
Fish Tacos with Pickled Vegetables
Softshell Crab BLT
Lobster Spring Rolls
All too soon, half of our stay in Hawaii had flown by and we were packing up to move to the East Side of the island, where we stayed in my parent’s other magical vacation rental in Kapa’a, The Niulani Beachfront Home.
The East Side has a lot less tourists, and a lot more locals, so it has a very different vibe from Poipu. While on the East side, we mostly hung out near the house at the beach just in front, sunbathing, swimming and collecting beach glass.
The highlight of our stay in Kapa’a was when my best friend Arden and her boyfriend Eric came to visit us. While they were with us, we went to the North Shore for a day. The North Shore is probably the prettiest part of the island, though it’s difficult to say as it’s all so beautiful! We started off by exploring the quaint town of Hanalei, and then headed to Lumahai beach, where a huge stretch of white sand is bordered by a fresh water river that flows into the ocean
We did some rock diving into the cold fresh water of the river
Me and Ardie hangin’ out
After a few hours at Lumahai, during which Eric saved a young local boy from drowning when he was sucked out into a very strong rip current, we drove down the end of the road to the start of the famous Napali hiking trail and Ke’e Beach.
The whole crew above Ke’e beach
My adorable parents on the Napali trail
On the way home to the East Side, we stopped at a viewpoint to enjoy the view of the valley below us.
The last commercial taro fields
It was sad to say goodbye to Eric and Arden, but after a long weekend with us, it was back to their busy working lives in Honolulu.
The rest of our stay flew by:
We had an adventure in the form of an intertube sugar cane canal tour.
We watched sunset almost everyday, and sometimes sunrise also.
We went to the farmer’s markets at Lihue and Kilauea. I definitely filled up on as much fresh mango, papaya, coconut, guava, lilikoi and starfruit as I possible could while I was there. Some of the fruit looks too crazy and exotic to be real.
Hawaiian Green Beans
Besides cooking at home with the amazing fresh produce and seafood that the island has to offer, we also ate at some amazing restaurants while staying on the East Side:
Kalapaki Beach Hut:
This is my favorite place to get burgers on Kauai. Located right next to beautiful Kalapaki Bay, this little hut of a restaurant serves up some mighty fine fries and taro chips with their burgers.
2 veggie burgers for the vegetarians, and 2 bacon cheddar cheesebugers for the carnivores
This place is an absolute institution. In the days when airfare was cheap, Hawaiians used to fly in from the other islands just to get a bowl of saimin. Saimin is a plantation era inspired noodle soup unique to Hawaii, a sort of Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Hawaiian and Portuguese cultural fusion, with spam of course. To say it’s a hole-in-the-wall is a bit gracious. If you’re a carnivore, get the special saimin. It’s a magical combination of pork belly, boiled egg, imitation crab, spam, cabbage and onions. Cheap and cheerful.
Lilikoi Pie: Before
Duane’s Ono Char Burger:
This place is a blatant rip off of California’s In-n-Out Burgers, but still pretty good. In my opinion, not as good as Kalapaki Beach Hut. But if you’re craving “animal style”, this is a lesser substitute.
But then, after we’d eaten at practically every restaurant in Hawaii, enjoyed 12 glorious sunsets, hiked all over the island and swam at our fair share of beautiful beaches, it was time to pack our bags and fly back to California…
A bientôt Hawaii, j’espère…