Shave ice, seaside bicycles and trendy shopping all await on Kauai’s Royal Coconut Coast, in a town dotted with taco joints, surf shops and toes-in-the-sand dining.
Dogtown on an island, Kapaa is a splash of boardwalk culture in an adventure junkie’s paradise — and with the island’s only two hostels in Kapaa, you’re sure to meet folks from every walk of life.
Home of the historic Coco Palms Resort, the area has long been a favorite for many traveling to the Hawaiian Islands, but recently Kapaa took top honors among trending United States travel destinations.
Dubbed No. 1 by TripAdvisor, one of the world’s top travel websites, Kapaa was followed by Waco, Texas; Wilmington, N.C.; Bend, Oregon; Boulder, Colorado; Paso Robles, California; Richmond, Virginia.; Greenville, S.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; and Lexington, Kentucky.
“There’s a lot going on here on the Royal Coconut Coast,” said Hilmy Dole, president of the Royal Coconut Coast Association. “We’re seeing strong interest in Kapaa’s culture, attractions, lodging, food and activities by both our visitors and our kamaaina (locals). We’re all striving for excellence as we continue to upgrade and provide new experiences.”
The town’s unique placement halfway between Kauai’s North and South Shores is another draw for tourists and locals alike, according to Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kauai Visitors Bureau, but that’s just one of many factors.
“The improvements on the Royal Coconut Coast by the resorts, restaurants and the renovated Coconut Marketplace shopping center have lifted up the east side of the island,” Kanoho said.
Island Country Markets at the Coconut MarketPlace opened in early 2018, boasting free Hawaiian entertainment in tropical settings with shopping, farmers’ markets and occasional free movie nights on the last Saturday of every month.
The Saimin Dojo is another new addition to the Royal Coconut Coast, and it brings Hawaii’s unique noodle soup to the table alongside traditional plate lunches and BBQ dishes.
The soup dish, inspired by Japanese ramen, Chinese mein and Filipino pancit, is unique to Hawaii and comes from the state’s plantation era.
A daytime walk down the plumeria scented streets of downtown Kapaa reveals shops like Bamboo Works — which sells clothing, flooring, furniture and decorations all made from bamboo — as well as other merchants selling sea glass jewelry and breezy beach styles.
For those looking for outside dining, food trucks congregate on the way to Kealia Beach, where people can grab from an ever-changing lineup of fare — though Thai food and wraps are staples.
The Kauai Path, formally named Ke Ala Hele Makalae (The Path that Goes by the Coast), crosses behind the food trucks and follows the coast from Lydgate Beach to Kuna Bay (Donkey Beach).
Breaching whales, crashing surf and salty sea air are all in store for those who wander down the multi-use path, and it’s a favorite for both tourists and locals.
Still under construction, the path will ultimately be 17 miles in length. About eight miles of it have been completed, and many people rent or ride their own bikes along the path for entertainment and exercise.
Live music seeps from places like Paniolo Grill and The Local as soon as the sun sets, and on the first Saturday of every month, a street party takes over the town with vendors selling handmade crafts, art and food.
Murals of Hawaii’s people and landscapes decorate walls and businesses, like the mermaids that keep watch over Mermaid’s Café and Java Kai coffee house from a nearby alley.
Kids play soccer in the fields fronting the ocean, scented blossoms grow among monarchs at Orchid Alley, and people gather for brunch or wine at Art Café Hemmingway — open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again for dinner from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
With multiple hiking trails within a 20-minute drive, the Coconut Coast has a little something for everyone, which lends to Kapaa’s trendy blend of hometown feel and a traveler’s paradise.
Written for The Garden Island Newspaper Feb. 11, 2018. Photos by Jessica Else.