Maybe it seems odd that we would return to the same place we vacationed last year, for the exact same occasion and what was nearly the exact same week. For us? It was an easy decision. Not only because Kauai is a relatively quick plane ride from San Francisco (around 5 hours, which all things considered isn’t a large amount of travel time for one to end up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean), but because Kauai is a pretty unique place. Last year, I felt like we’d barely scratched the surface of what the island has to offer; this year, I can say that while we scratched a bit deeper, I’ve learned that you could return to Kauai over and over again and always feel like you’re uncovering something new. You should go!
First, some trip highlights from where I sit:
Princeville Botanical Gardens
You might recall that last year, we stopped in at Princeville Botanical Gardens one day, but had missed the tour. We were so taken with the guide we met at the time (shout out to Harold!) that we promised if we ever returned to Kauai, we’d be sure to sign up for their tour. We kept our word this year, and luckily, Harold was our guide! If you are staying on the north shore, this is a wonderful tour to check out to learn more about species native to Kauai, and see some seriously beautiful plants from other parts of the world. Not so into plants? PBG also grows cacao on the property, so part of the tour is comprised of a chocolate and cacao tasting! Unique to this garden tour is that all the land is owned by one family. Originally from California, they bought the property in 2001, and what started out as a small “backyard” garden project morphed into excavating acres of land and turning it into an insanely beautiful garden that’s open for all to enjoy. You’ll walk across a natural creek that flows through the property, see waterfalls, orchids, and very cool plants like the pink and green heliconia above. Pretty sure I’ll be attempting to grow these in my yard some day!
Visit: Princeville Botanical Gardens / tours every week day and reservations required / book here or call (808) 634-5505
On our last trip, Joe and I never made it to Queen’s Bath, despite it being very close to our hotel in Princeville. This year, I really wanted to make sure we fit in a trip! Queen’s Bath is a large, natural tidal pool that can only be accessed by a steep (muddy!) hike down to a large field of lava rocks. Depending on the time of the year — or even the day and the weather — the pool can be very calm, or it can extraordinarily dangerous, with waves crashing over all the rocks you see above.
Beyond the summer months, the pool tends to be unswimmable, so since we were well into November on our visit, I expected we’d get to hike down and see the pool, but not get in. I was so pleasantly surprised when we arrived and this was what we were greeted with! Queen’s Bath is actually a large horseshoe shaped formation, and when the water is rough, the entire thing can flood (you can sort of see the exit of the pool in the last picture up above — it’s where the waves are crashing against the rocks). Since we visited following rains and rough seas, there was a lot of water in the pool, making it larger than I’d seen in other travelers’ photos (and able to accommodate a lot of happy swimmers!). I didn’t get a shot of the entire length, because I would’ve had to stand at the top edge of the pool, which is NOT advisable. Everything I’ve read about Queen’s Bath STRONGLY urges you to never stand on the lava rocks that are surrounded by ocean, as waves frequently can come up and over and force you to slip and fall at best (or wash you away at worst…eek).
If you happen to be in Kauai, I cannot recommend Queen’s Bath enough. I promise, it is worth the muddy, slippery hike down. Here are some extra tips:
If you go…
+ Do NOT wear flip flops or any other sandals. I wore an old pair of sneakers, and this was perfect. We passed so, so many people struggling to get down the hillside in flip flops or in bare feet (all people who’d given up and taken their sandals off). With sneakers, I was easily able to navigate the mud, tree roots, and rocks. On that note, I’d also recommend bringing any towels, water or other stuff in a backpack. You will need both arms for balance at different points of the trail, and trying to hold a giant tote bag or having all your hands full will not be pleasant.
+ Don’t go to Queen’s Bath in nice clothes. Again: mud. All hillsides in Kauai tend to be muddy because of the frequent rains, but this hike is even more so since it is so frequently traversed. No joke I saw some chick hiking down in an all white lace matching short set, a Louis Vuitton tote, and jeweled sandals. She looked like she hated life.
If you want to swim…
+ You’ve probably heard this before, but swimming in the ocean in Kauai can be dangerous. If you have any doubts about getting in the water, don’t do it. I like to observe the conditions for a bit before I commit to getting in anywhere.
+ When you get down to the lava rocks, you’ll see a waterfall that empties out into a little cove (there’s a picture of it above!). This is not Queen’s Bath. Continue hiking to the left along the lava rocks. You’ll see another cove, this time with a large shelf at the far right end, where waves will come up over it. In good conditions, it can look very inviting and swimmable. This is also not Queen’s Bath. We didn’t realize this at first, and being dumb dumbs, jumped on in. Be aware that the water has a much stronger current here, because it is exposed to the ocean. While the conditions we swam in were safe, you need to be a strong swimmer and unafraid of having to climb off and up the rocks in order to into and out of the water. The only reason we felt comfortable getting into this water given the conditions is that there were a lot of people (including locals) standing around, already swimming, and cliff diving into the cove, and they showed us where to get in and out. The minute we got in though, Joe and I both were like whoa. It was easy to see how anyone could get swept out into the ocean with just slightly stronger waves. I’ve seen other sites that do not recommend swimming in this little inlet, and I kinda can’t believe we did it. #vacationadventures
+ Keeping hiking until you come across a third pool. From what I’ve read online, this is the calmest of all the tide pools in this area, and yes, THIS is Queen’s Bath! On a calm day, it’ll probably look like my pictures above. Don’t forget, you shouldn’t stand on the lava rocks that face the ocean; while we were there, plenty of waves came crashing over and would’ve easily taken someone out if they’d been standing there.
If you want to know more about getting to and swimming at Queen’s Bath, this website is super helpful. The labeled photo at the bottom shows where some of the coves I mentioned above are located, which can help orient you!
I realize I’ve now made the trip to Queen’s Bath sound treacherous and dirty and painful, but I promise, it’s worth it. If you plan it right, you won’t regret it! The bath itself had the clearest, most beautiful water, and there were colorful fish everywhere that you could easily see if you brought snorkel gear. Swimming there with sweeping views of the mountains in the background was a pretty unique experience!
New places we loved eating
Two awesome places to add to last year’s list:
Piazza – This is a new-ish spot that’s right in the Princeville Center. The decor feels modern and on trend, and the food is a great mix of Italian and Mediterranean with a strong focus on great ingredients. If you’re with a group, there’s something for everyone! We liked it so much we went back twice, the second time on our anniversary celebration night. This is also a great spot to grab a cocktail, as their bar and lounge area is lively and comfortable.
Trilogy Coffee – From what I can tell, this new spot easily offers the best coffee on the island. Located in Kilauea (my favorite!), this little shop has amazing coffee, tons of loose leaf teas, and delicious, healthful breakfast items an snacks. It’s super casual — seating is all outside in the courtyard, and the whole area just has such a good vibe and energy (I told the girl behind the counter — who was from California! — that it’s probably the yoga studio next door that creates such an awesome energy in the space, ha!). If you go, don’t miss the mana balls, which are these energy bar type things made with peanut butter, cacao nibs, goji berries, pumpkin seeds, chia, and coconut. They were DELISH. They also offer daily breakfast specials like frittatas, quiche, and pastries. Oh, and their chocolate selection is awesome. I promise, just go, it’s a perfect little coffee shop!
I’ve added these to the original Kauai guide, so reference that post for more places to eat and drink!
Our trip to Kauai this year was rainier than the last. One morning, a thunderstorm rolled through the entire island, bringing with it an intense lightning show (and three separate power outages!). I felt scared of a thunderstorm for the first time since I was a little kid. It poured all day, and we holed up in the room for most of it, alternating between reading books and napping. Late in the afternoon, something woke me suddenly, and I realized it was the light. When I focused on what I was seeing, I realized the entire room had turned golden and the sky was this intense mix of orange, gold and purple. I shook Joe awake and we both ran over to the window, and the sunset above is what we saw. It was insane. There was a “hole to heaven” in the clouds over one side of Hanalei Bay. As we watched the rain clouds move, another formed, and we had this “double holes to heaven” effect. I love the picture above because you can see the rain in between the clouds coming down over that valley. We went down to the lobby after this to grab a drink and sit outside. Even though everyone had been stuck inside all day, everyone was buzzing about this sunset, because it was truly an incredible end to an otherwise gloomy day. No one could quite believe what they’d seen! My snaps above are off my iPhone and edited just a little bit to get the colors closer to what they were, but I haven’t changed much. I wish I could’ve better captured how the light looked coming through the clouds on the right side. It really was like the heavens themselves had opened up and were pouring gold on Kauai!
All in all, it was a great trip and I’d happily return again. As I mentioned above, I’m going to update my original Kauai travel guide with lots more recs from this trip, so if you’re researching a trip to the north shore and have found this post, don’t miss that one for even more recommendations!