Brooklynite’s Guide: Maui and Kauai
Yes, you must eat your weight in poké. And, no, you don’t need to attend a laui (they’re often touristy messes). But there’s perhaps no better piece of advice that I can give travelers to Hawaii than this one: Get on island time.
Let me explain. While on the flight to Honolulu, I eagerly flipped through my guidebook and landed on a section entitled “Hawaiian Etiquette.” While I am paraphrasing the recommendation, the writer advises tourists to adopt a leisurely pace when driving, noting that, “Hawaiians usually aren’t in a rush to go someplace – and they act like it.” This is a metaphor for life on Hawaii. Hawaii begs the visitor to slow down, relax, and enjoy a drink or two before the sun dips down in the west; productivity is measured by hours in the sun, number of waves caught, or moments spent reflecting. If this all sounds cliché, I guess it is – but it’s also true.
On a more practical level, Hawaii is a whopping six hours behind New York City and three hours behind Los Angeles. As such, there is a real time difference that will drive a wedge between your “Hawaii life” and your “mainland life.” Embrace it. Let go of things like the morning news and relish in the fact that your day begins later and proceeds at a much slower pace than it usually does.
So while I did spend my honeymoon trip to Hawaii basically pretending like I was a Hawaiian, my Brooklynite tendencies manifested in some ways. Namely, they informed my desire to eat and drink well – plus have some adventures; ahead is my Brooklynite’s Guide to both Maui and Kauai.
Scenes from Kaui (1-2), Scenes from Maui (3-5), Sunset in Kauai, One of many Mai Tais, SushiGirl in Kauai, Chowing at Tahiti Nui, The view from Hanalei Bay, Hiking on Na Pali Coast, Breakfast in Kauai
Maui is quintessentially “Hawaii” – sun-drenched, suntanned, gorgeous. It is definitely more laid-back than the “big city” capital of Oahu, is blessed with beautiful weather, and has an amazing surf culture that permeates every part of the island. In short, it’s a slice of heaven. With that noted, Maui was the first place we visited and was arguably reserved for wedding recovery – lots of naps, lots of beach days, and lots of mai tais. Nevertheless, we did emerge with some key takeaway for things to do.
Monkeypod – Perhaps the best meal we had all trip was at Monkeypod, a must-do if you’re on the island. I still dream of the charred, rosemary chicken wings drenched in tzatziki sauce, the wood-fired pizza dotted with pepperoni and olives, and their strong and not-too-sweet mai tais. Go for happy hour and eat and drink yourself into a contented stupor.
Maui Brewing Company – My husband drank their Big Swell IPA every single day and eventually I did, too. (I also enjoyed their funky Pineapple Wheat Brew – maybe because it often came with a juicy pineapple wedge on the side.) Their beers are mostly everywhere and they are delicious. Also worth noting: You can tour their brewery, although we didn’t.
Haleakala – Watching the sunrise on this volcano is a quintessential must-do in Maui, and it’s definitely worth making the trek… even though it does necessitate a 2:30 am wakeup time. Wear layers (it’s freezing at the top), bring snacks and a camera, and make sure you stop at Kula Lodge for macademia nut pancakes afterwards. Yum.
Surf Lessons at Maui Wave Riders (ask for Andrew) – We loved this, even though it was totally exhausting; surfing is no joke. I spent more time belly-flopping, shrieking into crashing waves, and choking on water than I care to admit, but I did have a blast and Idid ride some waves all the way in. Andrew, our instructor, couldn’t have been more patient and gave me the best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone, about anything: “You’re falling because you’re trying too hard.”
Maui Vera – This isn’t actually a place, it’s a brand that is based in Maui that I became obsessed with. Maui Vera is a blend of aloe vera gel with essential oils like arnica and peppermint and is a godsend when you come home from surfing burnt to a crisp. If you’re a natural skincare enthusiast, you should definitely stock up on this stuff.
South Maui Fish Company – Our surf instructor tipped us off on this food truck and we couldn’t have been happier to crash the locals’ secret. Located in Kihei, they’ve got the FRESHEST fish — ever — that sells out really, really quickly.
So, I’m relocating Kauai. Just kidding. But, really, Kauai stole my heart. It was the second place we stopped and decidedly our favorite. Of all the islands, it is the most lush and tropical (it is aptly nicknamed “The Garden Island”) and is a jaw-dropping combination of rugged mountains, turquoise waters, and shockingly green rain forests. Although seemingly impossible, it operates at slower pace than Maui, lending the entire island this “splendid isolation”-type vibe. We were a lot more active on Kauai and, fittingly, ate our way through the island. Here are some of our favorites.
Mermaids Café – We hit this hole-in-the-wall café after a terrifying helicopter tour wherein my vertigo-fearing husband may have had a panic attack mid-flight. (No, I’m not going to elaborate more, except to mention that he exited the helicopter and declared, “I need to create a will.”) Needless to say, we needed some hearty Hawaiian sustenance to soothe our near-death rattled nerves afterwards. The entire menu looks amazing, but we went for the ahi burritos and ate them in under five minutes – which was a heroic, if not kind of disgusting, feat.
SushiGirl Kauai – This is another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spot located in Hanalei. It’s astonishing to me that “fast” food in Hawaii is basically synonymous with amazingly fresh sushi and gorgeous ahi poké, but I’ll take it. A great pick if you’re doing a hike on the Na Pali coast, as it is located nearby.
Bubba’s – Oh, wait… did I say fast food? Because, yes, we found the perfect fast food chain in Kauai and life will never be the same. Bubba’s uses grass-fed beef and other locally sourced ingredients to create delicious, life-altering “fast food.” My husband ordered their beef burger, I got a fish burger, and we gorged on fries and onion rings. Then I put on a bikini and fell asleep in the sun for two hours. #blessed
Tahiti Nui – This Hanalei institution is featured in The Descendants, the Hawaii-based movie starring George Clooney. It’s the spot on Kauai where his character, Matt, meets cousin Hugh. Anyway, Hollywood trivia aside, it’s also a great place to slurp down a mai tai, eat some really good pizza (I highly recommend the huli huli chicken), and listen to some live music. I also heard that this place gets lively after-hours, but I wouldn’t know since I was sound asleep before 10pm each night.
Na Pali Coast – A heartbreakingly scenic part of Kauai that is so beautiful it makes you believe in some sort of higher power. It also is home to a bunch of popular hiking trails; we did the basic 4-mile loop from Ke’e beach to Hanakapi’ai beach and, despite the fact that it was down-pouring rain at times (Kauai is home to the wettest spot in the world – seriously), we had a great time. Be sure you dress appropriately as this isn’t a scenic, hike-it-in-flip-flops type of trail.
Hanalei Farmer’s Market (Saturday) – I’ll keep this brief: You MUST see the Farmer’s Markets in Hawaii, but particularly this gorgeous one in Hanalei. You’ll want to eat, touch, lick, smell, and buy everything.
Bar Acuda – This place is arguably the best food in Hanalei and was one of our favorite meals of the entire trip. It is a tapas-style restaurant that is so hip it feels vaguely Brooklyn-ish without being annoying. I highly recommend…everything. (I think the menu changes constantly so my recommendations are irrelevant – basically, just be ready to put on the feedbag.)
Sunset at the St. Regis Bar – So, I’ll shoot straight with you, here: The drinks are expensive and the bar snacks are just okay. But the view… the view makes up for it. Located in Hanalei Bay — a great beach to visit while you’re in Kauai — the St. Regis was our home during the trip and the bar was where we spent every night, thanks to the outrageously intense sunsets. (Note: you don’t have to stay at the hotel to visit it.) Watching the orange sun blaze down into the serene water each night makes you feel like you’re in the front row of the world’s most spectacular show. Which, when you think about it, you kind of are.