Why Hanalei is One of Hawaiʻi’s Best Towns

Hanalei Town

Source: hawaiimagazine.com

From taro doughnuts to the best beach for snorkeling, Hanalei on Kauaʻi's north shore isn’t just for lovers.

Once you cross the historic one-lane steel bridge over Hanalei River, you can feel it, the magic of this rural town on the north shore of Kauaʻi. It’s laid-back in the best way. No big resorts, no chain restaurants, no stoplights. It’s just you, a two-lane road and endless ways to unwind and relax.

This is Hanalei, the peaceful town that has lured wanderlust travelers for decades. It’s been the backdrop of movies like the 1958 musical “South Pacific” and the 2011 film “The Descendants.” It has been immortalized in songs like “Hanalei Moon” by Maui songwriter Bob Nelson and “Hanalei” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And it’s one of the most beloved towns in all of the Hawaiian Islands—for visitors and residents alike. It’s one of the few places in Hawaiʻi where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, to simpler days when time was measured by the placement of the sun in the sky.

Kauai Hanalei Town

In ancient Hawaiʻi, Hanalei was a well-populated, thriving village that boasted bountiful harvests of taro, bananas, breadfruit, sweet potato and coconuts. Hawaiian aliʻi (royalty) including King Kamehameha IV and King Kalākaua loved this place, too. In the early 1900s, former sugarcane plantation workers grew rice on the coastal plain of Hanalei. (The Hoʻopulapula Haraguchi rice mill in Hanalei is the only remaining rice mill in Hawaiʻi; it stopped production in 1960 and is now an agrarian museum.)

Today, taro fields are still abundant here—in fact, two-thirds of all the taro grown in the state is farmed in Hanalei—and the town boasts some of the best beaches, restaurants and cafés on the island. It’s home to the pristine Limahuli Valley, one of the most biodiverse valleys in Hawaiʻi; you can visit the 17-acre Limahuli Garden and walk to the top of Whale Trail with stunning views of the ocean and the iconic Mount Makana (aka Bali Hai). Walk on the grounds of the historic Waiʻoli Huiʻia Church, a Hanalei landmark that was originally built in 1834. Or nab a hard-to-get table at Bar Acuda, one of the best restaurants in Hawaiʻi with tapas-style dining inspired by European comfort food.

Hanalei’s quaint vibe doesn’t mean there’s not much to do. You could spend your entire vacation here—and still want to come back.

Kauai Hanalei Town

Mākua Beach
About 6 miles from Hanalei Bay is one of the best snorkeling spots on Kauaʻi. The reefs off Mākua Beach are teeming with marine life, from colorful reef fish like kala (unicorn fish) and weke (goatfish) to the endangered Hawaiian green sea turtle. (The beach is more commonly known as Tunnels because of its labyrinth of underwater lava tubes—and also for its hollow waves that form barrels resembling tunnels.)

On calm days novice snorkelers can venture over underwater canyons near the inner reef, which is protected from the surf; more experienced divers can explore the much larger outer reef. Snorkeling here is best during summer months, when conditions are calmer. Check with lifeguards before getting into the water. Past the 8 Mile Marker on Kūhiō Highway.

Kauai Hanalei Town

Holey Grail Donuts
Hanalei is the original location of Holey Grail, which started serving hand-fried taro doughnuts from a small red burger trailer in 2018. Since then, it has expanded to locations on Oʻahu and in Los Angeles—skateboard legend Tony Hawk is now an investor—and has garnered a loyal cult following with its plant-based doughnuts fried in coconut oil and flavored with locally grown ingredients like lilikoʻi (passion fruit), chocolate, vanilla, strawberry guavas and pitaya (dragon fruit). The ingredients for these doughnuts are nearly all locally sourced on Kauaʻi, including the taro, which is from Keālia Farms.

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