Travel

The Best Way to Do Kauai With Kids

There are a lot of things going for Kauai, from its empty and stunning beaches (Polihale has to be one of the world’s most glorious, even though it’s rough-going road is outside of the coverage of all the rental companies on the island), to the unparalleled Nāpali Coast, to the fact that it still feels relatively untouched by the big, super-touristy chains. The downside to its pureness is that there aren’t a lot of places to stay, particularly in the southern part of the island, far from the more trafficked Hanalei. While the Southern side doesn’t have the north’s jungle-y, tropical vibe, it does get a lot less rain, and it’s also home to Waimea Canyon, Hawaii’s version of The Grand Canyon.

One relatively new and excellent antidote to the housing crunch—particularly for families, or anyone traveling with other couples—is the Lodge at Kukui’ula, a private club in Poipu. Stretching across 1,000 acres, they started developing the site exclusively for ownership, before allowing a handful of rentals to open up recently. Comprised of multi-bedroom homes—most with adjacent guest houses—it is really well done, with plenty of high-end touches and amenities. It is so well done in fact, that you might find yourself spending too much time sprawled out on the couch, and not enough time at the beach (one upside of staying at a more bare-bones option like Waimea Plantation, also in the south, is that you will be inspired to get up and go).

While all the homes are equipped with lavish kitchens, the club restaurant is excellent, and serviced by an on-site organic garden. The fact that you open up a club account at check-in makes it a siren song, particularly because it’s adjacent to a multi-level pool complete with hot tubs, a water slide, and a beach (the real beach is just across the road). It’s kind of kid paradise—compounded by a keiki play room lined with toys, DVDs, and all the things you might not have packed, including bouncy chairs and strollers. Kukui’ula also developed a shopping center down the road, replete with some of the island’s best restaurants, an organic market, ice cream and shaved ice spots, and shopping, should you feel compelled to go on an adventure. And speaking of adventures, there’s an on-site outfitters staffed by locals who know all the island’s secrets—what’s better is that they’ll take you there, or pack you a cooler and bag of equipment and send you on your way.

There’s a gym, yoga studio, tennis courts, and a seemingly empty, gorgeous golf course—designed by Tom Weiskopf—that winds around the property, dotted with views of Sprouting Horn and, if we’re honest, snack shakes that justify the trip from the mainland (smoothies, fruit cups, Häagen-Dazs bars, chips, and about a dozen varieties of beer). And finally, there’s a spa: It’s a full complex, complete with an adults-only pool and a packed menu of services, including modalities that are a bit more far-flung (thrillingly, our massage therapist was trained in gua sha, which you really don’t find most places).

In short, Kukui’ula is a total no-brainer, particularly if you like a vacation where you essentially have to plan nothing at all.

Where to Eat & More

  • Merriman's Fish House

    Merriman's Fish House

    Peter Merriman was one of the pioneers of the local food scene in Hawaii—he was at the forefront of efforts to grow vegetables in the local volcanic soils, so they could be eaten fresh (rather than after a lengthy journey on a boat). Today, he partners with local farmers to serve his three restaurants, and there’s one each on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island. The dining room and menu are dressed up without being overly stuffy, so it’s ideal for a nicer family or group outing. Try the upcountry salad (made with kale and butter lettuce from local farms), the fresh-caught mahi mahi, and vegetarian taro cake.

  • Hanalei Bread Company

    Hanalei Bread Company

    This brand-new, open-air coffee shop café—from the same people as Bar Acuda—is one of those spots that’s perpetually packed, though you can generally always snag a spot (they also do a lot of perfect pre-packed beach picnic fare). While it’s not exclusively allergen-free, there are tons of options for the gluten- and dairy-averse, including really good almond milk lattes and delicious rolls and breads. Brunch-time is particularly prime (consider a stop on your way to hike the Nāpali Coast), as they offer very kid-friendly crepes, as well as lots of egg dishes.

  • Living Foods Market Café & Juice Bar 

    Living Foods Market Café & Juice Bar 

    While you’ll certainly find larger grocery stores in Kauai, you won’t find nearly the same sort of health-centric offering, from organic and local produce to bio-dynamic wines. There’s also a prepared food counter where you can pick up fresh juice, sandwiches, smoothies, and salads, including pretty excellent egg and cheese sandwiches and gluten-free crepes.

  • Banana Joe's Fruit Stand

    Banana Joe's Fruit Stand

    On the road to Kauai’s North Shore, before Princeville and Hanalei, and just past the town of Kilauea, look for the yellow hut on the side of the mauka (mountain) side of Kuhio Highway (between mile marker 23 and 24 if you’re headed north). This old-fashioned fruit stand has been in business since 1986, specializing in exotic fruits like atemoya, rambutan, and starfruit, and classic tropical fruits like banana (several varieties), Kauai’s strawberry papaya, and mango. Get one of their entirely fruit frosties (pineapple, banana, or pineapple-banana mix—can’t go wrong on flavor) that they press through a Champion Juicer. Easily rivals most soft-serve.

  • Puka Dog

    Puka Dog

    So much better than your typical (open-faced) ballgame dog, Puka Dog serves their variation in their own Hawaiian sweet bread, which they toast on custom skewers. Rather than slicing the bread open, Puka serves their Polish sausages and veggie dogs—along with your choice of garlic lemon secret sauce, Hawaiian fruit relish, and mustard sauce—fully enclosed in the roll, which makes them surprisingly easier to eat. All that said, this meal is best followed by an afternoon nap at the beach, as opposed to say, a hike.

  • Salt Pond Beach

    Salt Pond Beach

    A natural lava rock ridge protects this crescent beach, meaning its gentle lagoon makes for safe, easy swimming and snorkeling with kids. (Plus, its glimmering red-and-gold sand is too pretty to miss.) Located close to Hawaii’s last remaining traditional salt-gathering ponds (hence the name), it’s known to be a preferred hangout for Monk Seals, as well as local families. That said, in order to protect the fragile natural environment, the namesake salt ponds are off-limits to the public.

  • Wishing Well Shave Ice

    Wishing Well Shave Ice

    Open since 1983, Wishing Well Shave Ice, which operates out of a white food truck on Kuhio Highway, has long been a staple in Hanalei. More recently, though, it’s taken a fresh, organic turn under new owners—Kauai natives, Jesse Merle Jones and Aamion Goodwin—who have done away with artificially flavored syrups and powders, while still making really tasty, refreshing shave ice. This is also an easy spot to pick up a breakfast acai bowl and cup of coffee.

  • The Beach House

    The Beach House

    Sure, the views from all sides are stunning—one of the island’s best snorkeling beaches is immediately below—but the food here is also reliably fantastic. This is partly due to the fact that it’s co-owned by Peter Merriman, who knows exactly how to nail the upscale Hawaiian beach vibe, but a fair share of credit goes to chef Marshall Blanchard who turns out seafood-inflected comfort food that’s the perfect amount of fancy. This translates to a really good option for big celebratory family dinners, as well as low-key sunburnt lunches. Don’t miss stand-outs like panko-crusted calamari and the fish & chips (with pineapple tartar sauce)—there’s a straightforward kid’s menu, too.

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