Per my 2015 recap, I got married last year! And I’ve spent the past 10 days taking a mini break from life (and from serious training for the Asheville Marathon) so that I could take my belated honeymoon in Maui and Kauai, Hawaii! We did some great activities (fitness related and less so) and restaurants (healthy and unhealthy) so this post will outline some of our favorites, plus it will serve as a training recap for the past two weeks.
Choosing Our Islands
Of course our first question when we decided to go to Hawaii was — which two Hawaiian islands are best to visit? We polled the internet and our friends and two frontrunners immediately emerged: Maui and Kauai.
Maui (“The Valley Isle”) is the second-largest of the Hawaiian islands by size and third-largest by population. We chose it because it is less populated and less busy than Oahu (home of Honolulu) but still offered many activities, good dining, etc.. We live in a city, and this was our honeymoon, so we really didn’t want to be in the middle of a ton of hustle and bustle, and we definitely didn’t need the nightlife offered on Oahu. When we arrived in Maui, we were pleasantly shocked at how NOT busy it was. Yes, there was plenty to do (and many, many resorts there), but we didn’t have issues with traffic, getting reservations, waiting in lines, etc. There weren’t many traffic lights, and we didn’t see any tall buildings. And even though tourism is a huge industry for the island, it didn’t feel overly touristy–with lots of cool hidden and local spots to eat and explore. My husband and I both agree that Maui is AMAZING. If you only have a week or less to go to Hawaii, consider ONLY going to Maui. We’re already talking about coming back for a 5 or 7 day Maui trip because there was so much we wanted to do but didn’t have time for (including more beach/pool time at the Four Seasons, but more on that below). Basically, if you are planning a first trip to Hawaii, Maui is the spot you want (unless you want to only camp/hike, then maybe go to Kauai).
When we were planning, Kauai (“The Garden Isle”) seemed like it would be a nice contrast from Maui. Kauai is smaller than Hawaii, Maui, and Oahu in both size and population. It is also a little cooler and generally more wet, with lots of jungle. Think Jurassic Park minus the dinosaurs. No, seriously, Jurassic Park was filmed there. We were told Kauai was low-key and would offer some great hikes, so we thought of this as the “back to nature” part of our honeymoon, after doing lots of organized activities on Maui. Ultimately, we were glad we checked out Kauai, and parts of it were absolutely beautiful and/or really cool (again, more on that below), but neither of us feels compelled to head back immediately. We found a few great restaurants, but overall we didn’t find as many special, local gems compared to Maui. (It seemed like most of the restaurants fell into one of two categories: (1) overpriced tourist spots with macadamia crusted mahi-mahi on the menu or (2) fast food restaurants.) The beaches on Kauai are beautiful but not necessarily any nicer than those on Maui, and snorkeling on Kauai is not as good (especially in the winter when the surf is rougher). What Kauai does offer are some amazing contrasts between the ocean and jagged jungle-covered peaks, especially on the famed Napali Coast. A few Kauai photos:
Where To Stay in Maui and Kauai
Again, the internet and our friends had clear suggestions for the best hotels on Maui and Kauai: the Four Seasons in Wailea on Maui and the St. Regis Princeville on Kauai. Both were quite pricey but since it was our honeymoon, we decided to go for it. Here’s a quick review of each!
I can hands-down say that the Four Seasons in Wailea was totally worth it and was the nicest hotel I have ever been to. Wow. These people know what they are doing. From the greeting with cool towels, fresh pineapple, and lemonade to the adults-only serenity pool and magnificent Wailea Beach, this place is heaven. FREE yoga and fitness classes, plus a genius indoor-outdoor gym area with a view of the ocean. We did a gentle morning sunrise yoga looking out into the water, and it was great. I also used the TRX equipment and some resistance bands in the outdoor gym. FREE use of the tennis facilities and equipment — we played for about 45 minutes before deciding to hit the pool. FREE sunscreen. More perks than I can possibly outline here. And service was spectacular. We had a beautiful room with a little lanai (great for drying wet bathing suits). The resort is within the Wailea resort area with lots of amenities and close to Kihei and Makena area restaurants, activities, and beaches. The only negative I can think of is that you’ll have to drive a fair distance to get to some activities in Lahaina or Kapalua, and to Haleakala Crater. Bottom line: this place is da bomb. Some photos:
The St. Regis in Princeville is on the lovely north shore of Kauai, just east of the town of Hanalei, and at the oceanfront of a big development of golf courses and vacation homes. We drove all around during our stay and checked out the east and south shores, and this area — the north shore — is where you want to be on the island. Some of our favorite things about the St. Regis: close to cute/fun Hanalei and several beach options, traditional nightly turndown with chocolates, and the magnificent ocean and mountain view from our room and from the lobby/breakfast/terrace area. However, we preferred the Four Seasons in almost every other respect. One thing: a lot of the guests at the St. Regis pool and beach are from other parts of Princeville (such as families who have rented vacations homes in Princeville), not just from the St. Regis. There was no adults-only area. No infinity pool (!) and there were bugs in one of the hot tubs. We also found service to be inconsistent –sometimes slow (especially trying to get food/drinks at the pool or beach) and sometimes too casual. Plus, a lot of the special details from the Four Seasons were missing. No free gym classes (those will set you back $12), no outdoor workout spaces, and no free tennis. Bottom line: the St. Regis is probably the best option on Kauai for a luxury resort but temper your expectations a little.
Where To Eat on Maui and Kauai (*** indicates my favorites!)
- Lobby Lounge and Poolside Bar at the Four Seasons in Wailea (not necessarily a destination but good snacks, lunch, and dinner options; chocolate covered frozen bananas at the Poolside Bar; free nuts and olives to start at the Lobby Lounge; Lobby Lounge has music and hula dancing at certain times)
- Tommy Bahama in Wailea (again not necessarily a destination in itself but this was a good welcome to the island when we were looking to grab some food our first night; great veggie entree)
- Down to Earth Natural & Organic grocery in Kahului near the airport (kombucha on tap, bulk nuts, granola bars, hot bar, coffee)
- Spago, if you want a nicer dinner at the Four Seasons. This is Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant. The service and ambiance were great, and the food was good (not great — my fish was a bit underdone).
- ***Nalu’s South Shore Grill in Kihei (casual fare; try the loco moco!)
- ***Leoda’s in Lahaina (try the savory hand pies! sweet pies are also good though; we would have gone here multiple times if we could have fit it in)
- Leilani’s in Lahaina/Ka’anapali (not particularly special but good for casual happy hour with music and fish tacos but it gets crowded so expect to wait for a table)
- ***Flatbread Company in Paia (AMAZING PIZZA, cool town, great service)
- Two places we didn’t get to but heard GREAT things about: Mama’s Fish House in Paia (make a reservation) and The Gazebo in Lahaina (expect to wait for a table; no reservations)
- Lobby Lounge at the St. Regis in Princeville (good sushi if that’s your thing; I had several rounds of avocado rolls)
- ***Hanalei Bread Company in Hanalei (try the Monkey Juice smoothie)
- ***Bar Acuda in Hanalei (tapas; make a reservation)
- Tahiti Nui in Hanalei (we went here for the Super Bowl and weren’t super impressed, but it is an institution and was featured in The Descendants with George Clooney)
- Jo Jos in various locations (Hawaiian shaved ice; I recommend getting it with the macadamia nut ice cream)
- Da Crack in Poipu (burritos; not worth a trip in itself but very good casual takeaway window and the best thing we could find in less-than-impressive Poipu on the south side of Kauai)
- ***Jo2 in Kapa’a (delicious, healthy, and more inventive than your usual island fare; make a reservation)
Must-Do Activities in Kauai and Maui (again, *** indicates my favorites!)
- Haleakala Crater sunrise. Ha-le-AH-ka-la. If you are coming from the mainland, especially the East Coast, definitely plan to do this the first morning of your trip. You won’t even notice the 3 am wakeup call. There are bus options, but we chose to drive ourselves so that we’d be on our schedule, and not a big group’s. The trip was about an hour and a half from the Four Seasons, on winding roads. But luckily there was no traffic. We got there on the early side (around 5 am) and were glad we did, because we got prime parking up at the summit and were in the front row of sunrise-watchers. Dress warmly (I wore a coat and gloves and was still very cold! The Four Seasons offers blankets as well), bring your own snacks or coffee (no concessions at the peak), and don’t expect to be able to pee once you’ve parked (bathroom is down the hill at the welcome center). Around 6 am, the dark, starlit sky started showing some colors on the horizon, and the sun made its debut just before 7 am. (Check specific sunrise times for your trip; obviously it changes with the seasons.) It felt very… primal? for humans to gather around just to celebrate and rejoice at the sun rising, as I imagine humans have been doing for millenia, and I liked it. Cost to enter the park was $15.
- Golfing. The same day as our sunrise adventure, we drove up to Kapalua (where the Ritz Carlton is, on the northwest corner of the island) to golf a round at the Plantation Course. It was a really tough course but beautiful. Every single hole had a great view.
- ***Snorkeling. We booked a snorkel trip with Redline Rafting, and this might have been the highlight of the trip for me. We, with about 20 other tourists and our two guides — Kiki and Kelly — set out from boat ramp near the Four Seasons just after 7 am on our big motorized raft. We first went to Molokini Crater for some of the best snorkeling anywhere (also my first time! what an experience!). We got there before most of the other boats, so Molokini was totally ours to explore. The guides were happy to answer questions, advise on spots to check out and to avoid, and help with the equipment. The coral and fish were spectacular. Then we went to the elusive back side of Molokini for a different, but still cool, snorkeling experience. Rather than growing on the floor, the coral grew along the wall of the crater, so you could see it up close without diving down. The “elevator” — a spot where the surf goes up and down — was fun to “ride” too. Note that some folks felt ill at this stop, but it was pretty short and in my opinion, worth the nausea. Next we headed to Le Perouse Bay, which was nice but not as cool as Molokini (no grottos or dolphins as mentioned on the Redline website), and then to “Turtle Town” to try to spot some sea turtles. Although “Turtle Town” had cool coral and fish, visibility was not particularly good because of the surf conditions. I did see a turtle, but it really just seemed like a shadow in the water (you aren’t supposed to chase them, so I didn’t try to get closer), and some others in the tour group didn’t see him at all. We had some extra time, so we went back out in to the water to try to see some whales. And we saw several, including two pretty close! Tip: bring some towels and maybe a sweatshirt; it was chilly in the morning and once we were wet. But I loved that the raft was partially covered so I didn’t get sunburned. Cost was $125/person and included snorkel gear, wetsuits, cinnamon roll and fruit breakfast, and make-your-own sandwich lunch.
- Whalewatching. During the winter months, the west side of Maui is swimming (literally) with humpback whales. Even just driving up the main road through Lahaina you can often seen whales in the not-to-distant distance. We wanted to see as many whales as possible and as close as possible, so before we headed to Hawaii I booked a kayak whalewatching trip with Hawaiian Paddle Sports. The idea is that the kayaks can give you a closer and more intimate experience with the whales (e.g., no boat motors running, so you can really hear the “singing” of the whales). The tours also include snorkeling, if you want. To be honest, after our amazing trip with Redline Rafting, husband and I didn’t feel like we really needed the kayak tour; we’d already done some great snorkeling, and it looked like the HPS kayak trip would cover most of the same ground. But it was too late to cancel, so we didn’t have a choice in the matter. We did a 3-hour private kayak with our guide, Chris. When we told Chris what we’d done with Redline just the day before, he said that we had already hit up the best spots. So we left the snorkel gear on land and focused on the whales. We saw several whales in the distance, some breaching and others taking deep dives (showing off the fluke). But we’d seen that before, including during our snorkel tour. So we tried to track the “song” of a whale that sounded super close. Boats and kayaks are not allowed to approach whales within 100 yards, so the strategy was to guess where our guy would come up for air and hope to be nearby when he got there. Apparently our “singer” whale did get very close to us but remained under the water. Chris got a great photo of him using the GoPro but unfortunately we couldn’t see the whale ourselves (Chris sent us all the photos for free). And although he did eventually come up for air and do a nice dive, we weren’t particularly close when he did so. Overall, I would say this was a nice way to spend the morning but a still disappointing given the money we spent. Other folks have really gotten a close-up encounter with the whales while kayaking with HPS, and we just weren’t that lucky. It probably makes more sense to do this tour if you are also able to take advantage of the snorkeling aspect, so at least if you don’t get the full whale experience, you’ve gotten the value from the snorkeling. Kayaking was a decent workout but my husband didn’t love it; it wasn’t particularly comfortable for our backs, and he ended up with a blister on his hand. Chris did have great suggestions for things to do and restaurants to try, which he helpfully put in an email after our kayak. Cost was $150/person. Given the cost, we would probably just book a whalewatching tour with the Pacific Whale Foundation on our next trip to Maui (about $45/person).
- Surf lessons. The day after our whalewatching kayak trip, we took private surf lessons, also with Hawaiian Paddle Sports. The company chose a beach the day of our lesson based on the conditions (just south of Lahaina), and we were happy to find that it wasn’t crowded when we arrived. Our instructor, Will, was really great and didn’t waste a ton of time making us practice on the sand before heading out to the water. The current was pretty strong, with lots of wind and choppy waves, but Will helped me out by giving me a tow to where I needed to be and walking me through the process of catching a wave and standing up. (My husband, on the other hand, was paddling furiously for most of the lesson because he didn’t get as many tows — sorry, husband!) I was shocked to be able to stand on my first try (thanks to the waves being pretty small and Will’s guidance, not because I am a surfing natural). And thanks to the GoPro, we have some fun (FREE) photos that HPS sent after our lesson. Unfortunately, after about an hour the waves totally deteriorated because of the wind, and it was impossible to surf. Will handled it really well and was able to get us a discount, which I appreciated. I’d definitely recommend HPS for surf lessons in the future. Cost: $130/person for two hours (we got 50% off this price because of Will’s negotiation skills).
- ***Warren and Annabelle’s Magic Show. OK, so I was skeptical about this one, but several friends recommended it, and now I’m doing the same. Although there were a couple of jokes that I thought were in bad taste, this was overall a really fun night. A mix of magic and comedy. No flying or sawing people in half, but still impressive. We did not eat at the magic show and instead got food beforehand in Lahaina. I highly suggest you follow our lead. Everything I’ve read indicates that the food is not worth it, and it didn’t look like anything special from what I saw in the lounge before the show. Even if you opt not to eat there (and thus arrive an hour later than the dining guests), you’ll have more than enough time to take in the pre-magic-show activities, which is basically the “ghost” Annabelle playing songs on a piano. FYI, we went to the early showing and the median age of the crowd was probably 67 years old. Since it was our honeymoon, we got to sit right in the front row with three other younger couples and were part of many of the tricks. Cost: $65/person.
- ***Luau. I did a lot of research to try to find the best luau in Maui. Old Lahaina Luau was well-reviewed and personally recommended by several of our friends. We were really happy with this choice and consider is a must-do for Hawaii first-timers. Although totally a tourist thing, it felt really authentic and the dancing was so, so, so impressive. (When will a hula workout studio come to DC?!) A few tips: (1) the entry cost includes an open bar and all-you-can-eat buffet, but the entertainment alone is well worth the cost, so keep that in mind when you are feeling the pressure to “get your money’s worth;” (2) most of the mixed drinks are super sweet and basically undrinkable (the non-alcoholic Hawaiian punch was very sweet but, unlike the pina coladas, delicious) but there are beer, soda, and regular rail drink options; (3) there are some decent healthier and veggie options at the buffet including sweet potatoes, yummy salad, fruit, and (no-so-healthy) banana bread, and I tried to fill up on those. Don’t bother saving room for dessert, but the banana bread to go was a great breakfast the next day. Cost: $110/person for floor seating (which was fine for us).
- ***Spa. The spas at the Four Seasons and the next-door Grand Wailea (a giant and more family-focused resort) are very well reviewed. But after a little research, we decided to skip those and instead checked out the Ho’omana Spa in Makawao in the Maui “upcountry.” We were happy we did! It is a bit of a drive, but we went earlier in the day before our flight to Kauai, so we were headed that way anyway. Get there a little early to settle in and have some lemongrass tea. No fancy tubs, robes, or showers at this place, but it felt so peaceful and truly Hawaiian. Hit up the cool and quirky town of Paia before or after your treatment, or watch the master surfers on the north shore (which we planned to do but didn’t have time!). $110/person for a 60 minute lomi lomi massage.
- Walking and running. Of course I tried to get in some running while in Maui. But we were pretty busy, and although the mornings were lovely, it got very warm later in the day. So I did a little running but more walking. Two options if you are staying at the Four Seasons: (1) There is a 1.5-ish mile beachfront walkway along a few of the resorts. It is pretty narrow but I did see some people running it. I preferred to walk and listen to podcasts on it when I needed to get the blood flowing and couldn’t sit still at the pool. (2) The best longer route from the Four Seasons is along Wailea Alanui Dr. and Makena Rd. Note that going south, the sidewalk ends after Makena Landing. There is a path through the Makena Resort but then you are spit back out on a pretty ugly road with no sidewalk all the way to Big Beach. There are bathrooms at several of the beaches (including Makena Beach) but not at Big Beach. We ran to the Makena Resort and then walked the rest of the way, and it was about 8 miles total, both ways. We could have continued north past the Four Seasons for a longer journey. Outside of the Wailea area, there is a 4-5 mile beachfront running path up in Kaanapali.
- We did not do the Road to Hana because it would have taken up the better part of a day, and because we felt that we’d get some pretty scenes on Kauai. Next time!
- Surf lessons. Since our Maui surf lesson got cut short, we wanted to try again. We found Hawaiian Surfing Adventures through our hotel and signed up for another private lesson our second day in Kauai. Lynn, one of the owners, was very nice and took the time to listen to our sad saga about the Maui conditions and understood what we were looking for. I brought a rash guard but she also lent me a wetsuit, which was nice because it was cold in the morning! (I did still get a somewhat irritating rash on my thighs, which were uncovered, so be prepared.) The lesson was on the beautiful Hanalei Bay, which, because of its shape, offers different degrees of wave difficulty. We were on the less difficult side but the waves still felt pretty big and strong to me! Expect to get crushed by some waves and maybe lose your hair tie (I lost my backup one, after losing my first one on our Maui snorkel). We got a great workout and drank a lot of salt water in the process (electrolytes???). Overall, this was a fun way to spend the morning and, I think, a good workout. Cost: $100/person for 1.5 hours (photos are an additional $65 for two people). If you prefer to just watch surfers, stop by any of the beaches along the north shore, including Hanalei Bay and Tunnels Beach. Hanalei Bay has a nice shaded pier with picnic tables, perfect for surf-watching.
- Golf. After our surf lesson, we headed back to the resort for another round of golf. We played the Makai Ocean Course, which was more beginner-friendly than the Plantation Course on Maui but not quite as beautiful. Still a fun day, and a little more pleasant because we hadn’t woken up at 3 am.
- ***Hanakapiai Falls hike. This eight mile hike was the highlight of our stay on Kauai. I highly recommend aiming to start this hike by 8 am at the latest. The trail and lookouts were getting super crowded by the time we were finishing up, and we heard from another hiker that the parking lots were full by 9:30 am. Plus, it was getting warm. Start this hike at one of the two Ke’e Beach parking lots and continue to the beach entrance, where there is a sign for the Kalalau Trail, plus bathrooms and lots of walking sticks left by previous hikers. Consider grabbing a stick, and head on your way. When you get to a big stream crossing with a ton of warning signs (about two miles in), head up the Hanakapiai Falls Trail to the falls, which are another two miles away. We were told this hike was challenging, and to be honest, it was more difficult than I expected. There were about five stream crossings, some of which were pretty tricky (many people took off their boots and crossed in bare feet), and lots of spots were wet, slippery, steep, or otherwise super technical. I highly recommend wearing trail running shoes on this hike and expect to get muddy, wet, and maybe a little bruised or scratched. I scooted down or across rocks on my butt several times and had some minor surface scrapes on my hands by the time we were finished. But it was totally worth it! Cost: Free!
- Caves. On our way back from the falls, we stopped at one of Kauai’s caves, which was right along the main road. Pretty cool.
- Farmer’s markets. After the hike, falls, and caves, we were hungry so we went to one of Kauai’s famed farmer’s markets. I was really optimistic about this given how much we had heard about the farmer’s markets, but it was just OK. Quite small and mostly folks selling raw fruits and veggies. We were hoping to see more artisans and prepared foods. I got a coconut (drank the water and then ate the flesh–fun!) and husband and I split a piece of really yummy chocolate coconut macaroon pie. But we had to head back to the hotel for more substantial lunch.
- Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. The concierge told us that another way to see the Napali Coast was from the Koke’e State Park’s Kalalau Lookout, which is just north of Waimea Canyon, aka the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. I had read a bit about whether Waimea Canyon was worth it, with mixed reviews, but my husband wanted to see it. I am glad we checked it out, even though the drive was about two hours from our hotel. After driving to several canyon lookouts, we decided to get on foot and hike to some falls. These weren’t nearly as impressive as we had hoped, but the hike was fine and didn’t take much time. We parked at the Koke’e Park entrance sign and hopped on the trail. The signs weren’t well marked for the falls but luckily someone had unofficially written “falls” on several. We followed those and luckily ended up at the falls after a couple of miles. (Again, we wore our trail running shoes and I’d suggest you do the same, but this was an easier hike than the Hanakapiai Falls Trail.) After our hike, we continued in our car to the Kalalau Lookout and got a great view of the coast. On the way back from Waimea Canyon, we stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation (see below) and the town of Poipu (which as a lot of hotels, so we thought, mistakenly, that it would be cool). We stopped at the Spouting Horn (see below) and then got food at Da Crack (per above) and then a drink at the Waiohai Hilton Vacation Club property (recommended by the folks at Da Crack) on the water. But we didn’t feel the need to linger or further explore.
- Kauai Coffee Plantation. Totally a tourist trap but no reason not to stop if you are already down on the south side for Waimea Canyon. Free samples of coffee. Unfortunately, the self-guided tour was closed when we went. Whole beans are available but will set you back some serious $$$, relatively speaking.
- Spouting Horn. If you are staying on the north shore, this is not a destination in itself, but not a bad stop on the way home from Waimea Canyon in Poipu.
- Walking and running. Princeville is nice for walking and running if you aren’t worried about constantly having an ocean view. The St. Regis gave us a map for a six mile run through Princeville (residential and golf community), which I did most of. It was pleasant, especially in the cool morning. Unfortunately, you cannot walk outside of the Princeville area, for instance, to Hanalei, because the roads are narrow.
- Other things we didn’t do on Kauai but seem popular: Limahuli Botanical Garden and helicopter tours (the only way to see a large portion of the island and an easy way to see Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast).
Money-Saving Tricks for a Hawaii Trip
- Consider getting a rewards credit card (such as Chase Ultimate Rewards) several months before the trip. These cards give you bonus points for spending a certain amount within the first few months (we got 80,000 bonus points between the two of us), plus points for other purchases and bonus points on travel. This can all add up to significant savings (like, thousands of dollars). We used our points to help offset the costs of our hotel stays.
- We were flexible on our airport — flying out of BWI instead of our preferred DCA — and that gave us a better pick of flights.
- Bring just one checked bag per couple but be careful it does not weigh over 50 lbs. We each also brought a carry on (mine was a backpack which was great for hikes, etc.).
- Bring a few snacks for the flight; none of our flights included free snacks.
- Make sure the resorts know it is a honeymoon or special occasion. We received upgraded rooms at both resorts, plus a free bottle of champagne at the Four Seasons.
- Don’t buy bottled water. Both resorts are happy to give you as many bottles as you need.
- Skip the $35 breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons. We didn’t try the breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons but had no issues finding other options (see suggestions above). Also, FYI, the Four Seasons provides free coffee all morning, plus free DELICIOUS lemonade in the afternoons, little snacks all day when you are sitting at the pool (think mini muffins, frozen pineapples, etc. one every hour or so), and pastries early in the morning in the lobby if you are heading to Haleakala Crater.
- Many hotels have free apples or other fruit in the gyms. Grab one! Or three! These held me over a few afternoons.
- Order virgin drinks. I usually paid about $8-10 for my virgin pina coladas (and as little as $4 during one happy hour!).
- Check out the Ho’omana Spa in Maui instead of the pricier spas at the resorts.
- Use your SPG account to get complimentary breakfast each day at the St. Regis.
- Relatedly, eat a big enough breakfast at the buffet that you won’t need a significant lunch. Snag a little box of cereal or apple for the road or your flight.
- Check Walmart before buying boatloads of coffee at the Kauai Coffee Plantation. We found some flavors for less than the price at the plantation gift shop.
Anything I missed??? Are y’all ready to book flights now and sign up for the Maui Marathon?