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A one-lane bridge marks the entry to Hanalei, Kauai, a destination small in size, but with a lot of personality. Monumental mountains flank one side of the town, with a classic two-mile crescent beach hugging the other.
While travelers might see Hanalei as a quick stop en route to the end of the north shore road, rewards await those who linger in the town. Quaint plantation buildings house galleries, boutiques and eateries. Outﬁtter shops offer surfboards, paddleboards and snorkel gear for rent. Food trucks sell island snacks, and falsetto songs float out of restaurant windows.
Here are five of our favorite reasons to enjoy the charms of Hanalei, where locals savor their surroundings and visitors are encouraged to follow their lead.
Farmers MarketsIslanders agree that Hanalei has one of the finest farmers markets on Kauai. Each Saturday morning, the Hanalei Neighborhood Center & Ballpark blossoms into a sea of booths selling crafts, organic produce, fresh fish, tropical flowers and baked goods. Those in the know arrive before it opens so they have access to the best selection. It’s a fun way to meet residents while experiencing Kauai’s natural bounty.
Hanalei BayAs the song from the musical “South Pacific” goes, “Bali Hai may call you.” So will the gorgeous beach of Hanalei Bay. Its views of Mount Makana were immortalized as Bali Hai in the 1958 movie. Today, the bay draws throngs for surfing, paddleboarding, kayaking and swimming. The pier, built in 1892, provides a focal point as folks relax on the sand for picnics, volleyball and watching the sun set behind 3,000-foot sea cliffs.
Slack Key Guitar ConcertsDoug and Sandy McMaster are devoted to the uniquely Hawaiian art form called slack key guitar, with its distinctive tuning and finger-picking style. Twice-weekly, they share the tuneful tradition during concerts at Hanalei Family Community Center, with the sound of the surf and songbirds in the background. Throughout the show, their conversations about local culture and history enhance the meaning of the music.
Tahiti NuiActors George Clooney and Beau Bridges filmed a scene from the movie “The Descendants” in Tahiti Nui. A mainstay since 1963, the restaurant serves specialties like fresh fish and kalua pork sandwiches. It’s a great place to sit on the open-air porch with one of its "world-famous" mai tais and watch people saunter by. Live Hawaiian music adds to the aloha spirit. The weekly luau is a casual, upbeat party akin to a backyard bash.
Waioli Mission House and ChurchWaioli Mission House, a beautifully restored and maintained structure, served as the home of Christian missionaries Abner and Lucy Wilcox and their eight sons. Visitors can tour the 1841 timber and plaster landmark and its original furnishings and keepsakes. Next door, Hawaiian hymns still waft out the windows of the 1912 Waioli Huiia Church, a living symbol of the timeless spirit of Hanalei, Kauai.