The Island of My Dreams

View of the ocean from an airplane.

Confession: I am a trip hog. I try to play it cool, but I LOVE trips. I love vacation. I love travel.

And I love vacation pictures. I love my vacation pictures and I love your vacation pictures and I love your best friend’s cousin’s sister-in-law’s vacation pictures. I wish there was a way for you to upload your best vacation pictures in the comments. The Great 2018 Vacation Picture Swap. Bjork, can we work on that?

This wasn’t our first time to Kauai. We actually came last year. I don’t think I ever really talked about that on the blog. It was just three weeks after we lost our son Afton, and it was with my parents, and we had already purchased our tickets when our whole world fell apart. I should have been traveling to Hawaii just shy of 30 weeks pregnant, but instead, I was recovering from major surgery and carrying a lifelong, unfixable heartbreak.

I always hesitate to use the word “healing”, because while that trip did help me to find some color in life again, a trip to Hawaii can never fix what – who – will always be missing from our lives. But those six days spent admiring the sunsets and feeling the calm of the ocean were special, and, I guess, healing.

“Let’s come back again,” we said. “When we’re less fragile. When we can experience this differently.”

Footprints in the sand.

I was thinking more like 5-10 years, but then this year, on Christmas Eve, in the midst of the painful first-holiday season and one year anniversary, we made an impulse buy. I found the cheapest flight I could manage (back of the plane FTW!) and booked us a trip back to Kauai.

When we came to the island in 2017, we were so incredibly fragile. It’s hard to even think about what it was like. I remember the airport being so daunting. It was the first time we had really gone out in public. We were like exposed nerves, walking around, bumping up against the most mundane of things that would jolt us with pain.

This year, we’re more solidly on our feet. We’re not so exposed. The airport isn’t scary. We always carry that grief with us, but it’s been absorbed. It lives in a deeper place. We are able to do normal things without wondering if we will shatter. And as a result, we were ready to adventure around the island and see some of the best of Kauai – the island of my dreams. It was lovely and awe-inspiring.

SO LET’S GET GOING WITH THE PICS ALREADY.

Woman sitting on a tree on the beach.

A banner announcing where they stayed.
  • Westin in Princeville (We stayed here. It’s clean and nice. Several nice pools and the rooms were comfortable, but it’s not overly extravagant or fancy-feeling. Nice views since it’s perched up on a cliff. There is no beach access.)
  • St. Regis in Princeville (The St. Regis is a little more fancy and almost twice as expensive as the Westin… which is why we didn’t stay here. But pro tip! Westin guests get access to the private beach here, which is amazing because this beach is INSANELY BEAUTIFUL. So we spent a lot of time at the St. Regis beach. If you like the ritzy pool scene, this is your place.)
  • Hanalei Colony Resort  (This is where I would maybe stay if we went back. A little cheaper, and not much going on in the pool department, but well-rated and a GREAT location for exploring the north side of the island. We drove by this place on several of our adventures along the coast.)
Sunset over the ocean and trees.
Sunset on the beach.
Man wearing a hat drinking coffee.

The beach at the St. Regis. 👇🏼😍

Ocean shore and mountains.
Boat on the beach.
Man with his arms spread on the beach.
Woman standing on the beach.
Beach hopping in grey letters.

We did a decent amount of driving, exploring, and beach-hopping. Winter in Kauai is not super swim-friendly because the waves are huge and scary-dangerous, so when I say beach-hopping, I really just mean “driving to a beach and walking around, exploring, maybe laying out in the sun, watching the ocean, taking a few pictures and then continuing on our way.”

This was probably my favorite thing about Kauai – the north side of the island especially. Just driving was an adventure in and of itself. It is a JUNGLE PARADISE, not to mention that pretty much the entire coast is beautiful, isolated white sand beaches. There are views around every corner and the natural beauty is incredibly pristine, raw, and untouched.

My Beach Picks:

  • Haena Beach / Canon’s Beach / Tunnels Beach (5/5 – Stunning views, and incredibly secluded and quiet when we went at sunset. My personal favorite of all the beaches we went to.)
  • Ke’e Beach (5/5 – Stunning views. This was the only place I felt safe going in the water because it was a little more protected from the huge waves – and even then, I only went in the very shallow water. Please be so careful. This beach is adjacent to NaPali coast / Kalalua trail, so it’s a good spot to go before or after a NaPali hike.)
  • Secret Beach (4.5/5 – Beautiful, secluded, quiet. Huge stretches of white sand. We did see a nude beach bum, which I think is relatively common at this beach.)
  • Hanalei Beach (3/5 – Really incredible views, but the sand isn’t as pristine and it was definitely the busiest of all the beaches we went to. It’s a better place for people-watching or surf-watching. Most of the people here seemed like locals. The pier is a good place to post out and watch stuff happening.)
  • Larsen Beach (3/5 – Maybe would have liked it more on a less windy/cloudy day. Same about the bums.)
  • Wyllie’s Beach (3/5 – I walked here by myself since it was right next the Westin. It’s a cool path to get down to the beach, and the beach itself is small and unique. I had to duck under trees to walk along the sand. Good for a quick explore if you’re staying close by.)
  • Hideaways Beach (Didn’t get here but really wish we would have. It’s right next to the St. Regis.)

In order to get to most of these beaches, we would use a combination of GPS on our phones and a deeper Google or Trip Advisor search to find out how to access the beaches directly. Most of them don’t have a parking lot – you’ll just be parking on a side street and then finding the hiking path down to the beach.

Ocean waves hitting the beach sand.
Woman standing on a road in front of mountains.
Man standing on the beach.
Woman in the ocean.
Woman on a trail.
Man standing on the beach.
Ocean beach.
Man standing on the beach.
"I love you Afton" in the sand.
People laying on the beach.
Man walking on the beach.
Trees and mountains.
Man and woman smiling.
Woman walking on a beach.
Man on the beach.

Oh, I forgot to mention Poipu Beach! We drove to the southern part of the island for a day of calmer waters, marine sealife sightings (whales and sea turtles and monk seals), and sunset-watching. Poipu Beach is a busier beach and there were people everywhere, but we can deal for a day.

Man walking on rocks near the ocean.
People on the beach during sunset.
Woman standing on rocks on the beach.

Annnnd my signature Kauai Look.

Woman and man wearing sunglasses on the beach.
A banner saying "NA PALI COAST" on it.

This was the number one thing I wanted to do in Kauai. I was on a mission to get myself to the Na Pali Coast. And after having hiked the 4-mile trail to the beach and back, I mostly I want to say that this was one of the most intensely beautiful places my eyes have ever seen. UN-BE-LIEVABLE.

A close second is that if you hike, you need to be very careful. Here are some notes about the hike.

  • Wear sturdy shoes. I intentionally packed old, nasty tennis shoes that I could just toss after the hike, which was a good idea, because they got so muddy and wet. Hiking boots would be good if you have them.
  • Bring lots of water. Not, like, one bottle of Gatorade. Bring LOTS of water.
  • The 4-mile roundtrip hike to the beach and back is a good one for a person of average fitness level. But just keep in mind, this is not a casual hike on a walking trail. Much of the trail is rocky, uneven, and slippery. I would say it was a more difficult hike than I was anticipating.
  • Read up. I read lots of Na Pali hiking blog posts like the safety nerd that I am, and they were helpful. I felt more prepared.
  • READ ALL SIGNAGE ONCE YOU GET THERE.
  • BE VERY CAUTIOUS.
  • Personal opinion: I really would not recommend this hike when you are pregnant, or while wearing your baby in a wrap, or carrying a kid on your back. It is one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world. There are no guard rails and the drop-offs are so intensely steep. The trail is slippery, steep, and rocky. There is no cell service. Just… it scares me. Please don’t do it.
Man standing on a cliff looking out at the ocean.
Woman standing in the mountains.
Man wearing sunglasses.
Ocean view.
Woman standing on a trail.
Man walking on a trail.
Woman walking on rocks.
Ocean and mountain view.

View from Ke’e Beach, which is at the Kalalua trailhead. Zero hiking required to get this view of the Na Pali Coast. ♡

Beach and mountains.
Man and woman wearing sunglasses.
The words Foods is written over a white background.

You guys, most of the food we had was medium-good and overpriced. Is that the norm on small islands? It was a little sad, but not too sad, because I’m only a 50% food snob and I can be happy with a can of convenience store Cheddar Cheese Pringles. I don’t have a ton of dinner places to recommend because a) we actually skipped dinner most nights due to extreme tiredness and laziness (I KNOW) and b) what we did eat just wasn’t super awesome. That being said, here are the places we would go back to.

  • Kalalea Juice Hale – Highly recommend. It’s just a little shack on the side of the road, but it’s adorable. Acai bowls, smoothies, fresh juices, and natural fruit shave ice.
  • NOM Kauai – Highly recommend. Great place for lunch or brunch. Modern/playful diner type food.
  • Living Foods Market – if you go to the south part of the island and need a quick bite, this is a good stop!
  • Hanalei Bread Company – Breakfast food was decent – the avocado toast with eggs was good, and the breakfast skillet was yummy. Breakfast burrito was meh. Ambiance was lovely, though, which is why we came here twice. I got a golden latte here that I really loved.
  • Lei Petite Cafe and Bakery – Breakfast food was good. I loved my acai bowl and the eggs benedict was surprisingly good, too. Long line, limited seating, very casual.
  • Chicken in a Barrel BBQ – We stumbled on this gritty little place in a moment of severe hanger on the way to a beach. But I am really glad we did! SO yummy – BBQ chicken, chili, and awesome sweet potato fries. Then again, maybe I was just hangry. 🤪
  • Kalypso – Outdoor seating and a good pick for post-beach happy hour. I am kind of obsessed with the fried artichokes. I wish we would have just gotten appetizers – the fish tacos weren’t my favorite.
  • Makana Terrace at the St. Regis – way overpriced. That being said, if you need a splurge meal, the view is out of this world. This might be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever had a meal. Go for brunch (yummy) or a sunset drink / snack so you can get the views before dark.
  • Nalu Kai Grill and Bar at the St. Regis – This was where we got all our beach-side food and drinks, and even though it’s just a poolside grill, I really enjoyed it, actually. The poke was yummy, and the fish tacos were the best I had while in Kauai. Again with the overpriced, but the food and drinks made me happy.

In general, I’d recommend the shacks or food trucks over the super-fancy restaurants in terms of finding the yummiest food. Casual island living at its best!

Table with plates and bowls of food.
Bowl of fruit and granola.
Plate of food and french fries.
Table with plates of food and drinks.
French fries on red and white paper.
Woman taking a photo of food on her iphone.
Chalkboard with menu.
Fruit bowl.
Man ordering food.
Food on a plate on the beach.
Man and woman sitting at a table.
Burger on a plate.
Man sitting at a table with a plate of food.

Okay. One more thing that needs to be mentioned.

On the first day, we got an emergency alert on our phones during breakfast that there was an inbound ballistic missile to Hawaii and we needed to take shelter immediately. Not a drill, it said. So… we hid in the restaurant kitchen and contemplated what it would be like to die in a restaurant kitchen on our first day in paradise.

WHAT IN THE ACTUAL HECK.

Man standing in a basement.

There was no inbound ballistic missile. Someone somewhere pressed the wrong button.

So, yeah. Always a special memory of our time in Hawaii. Xo


Have you been to Hawaii? Kauai? Na Pali? Another island? What did you love?

LET’S NOT DO WORK AND TALK ABOUT THE ISLANDS!


More Travel Pictures and Posts:

Ocean view with a dock and boats.

Boats on the water and mountains.

Man standing in front of a donut truck.

Woman looking out at mountains.

Pink drink with black straw.

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