Kaua`i’s West Side is one of those places where there’s a lot more to experience than you see at first glance. Located on the west end of the Na Pali Coast, the west side is the most arid of Kaua`i. It's dry, and nearly always hot and sunny. It's also slightly wild west-ish.
A wonderful thing about the West Side is that it's lacking in the tourist-related development that can be found in the other areas of the island. There are no large hotels on the West Side, beaches are usually quite unpopulated, and there's no upscale shopping or traffic.
Begin your West Side day at historic Hanapepe, where the small town is a haven for artisans of all types. Once the most bustling town on the island, which you’ll have a hard time imagining once you experience the peace of the area, Hanapepe is now home to a large number of art galleries. Breakfast at Hanapepe Cafe will provide options of freshly baked good, coffee, and the usual breakfast fare. Here you’ll find mostly vegetarian food, along with a few fish options for lunch and dinner.
You’ll want to hit the town around 10 a.m. so that you’re around when the art galleries open. Window shopping, or picking up something to take home as a souvenir, won’t take too long. Hanapepe is small, but its original paintings, photography, jewelry, and crafts are seemingly infinite. The Hanapepe Swinging Bridge is also there for a short walk and photo opportunity, but there’s not much to it.
Hanapepe's swinging bridge — Photo courtesy of jade eckardt
Before leaving the Hanapepe area, make a quick stop at Glass Beach. This is where one man's trash has become another's treasure. Located near the site of an old dump, all of the glass that was deposited there has turned into a thick layer of beach glass of all colors (although there's a lot of brown glass) and offers any beachcomber a long time of glass hunting. Sometimes you'll find a lot of purple, blue, and even red glass. To get here, turn down Waialo Road outside of the east end of Hanapepe. At the bottom turn left onto Aka Ula and follow until it turns to dirt, and take the right to the beach.
Blanket of sea glass at Glass Beach — Photo courtesy of Jade Eckardt
From here it’s time to move on down the road headed west. Pakala’s Beach, just before Waimea Town is worth a morning stroll. Look for the 21 mile marker on the side of the road, park here (take your valuables) and enjoy the short walk through the forest down to the very long beach. You may even see some surfers riding waves out here. The beach is long, and the sand is compact. Because of the river the water is little murky so it’s not the best place for swimming but it’s a beautiful beach.
Pakala's Beach — Photo courtesy of jade eckardt
Now drive to historic Waimea Town. It’s reminiscent of the wild west. With dusty old buildings and dry road side forest, Waimea is about as small as a small town gets. In Waimea it’s a good idea to head into the Big Save supermarket and pick up a few things for the cooler (if you have one) to take out to Polihale Beach. If you’re a history buff, check out the statue of Captain Cook in the center of town. It’s honoring the fact that Waimea was Cook’s first landing spot. The Big Save doesn’t have much in the way of full meals, but you should be able to find beer, juice, water, fruit, sandwich makings, some sushi, and other local style to-go plates.
Captain Cook — Photo courtesy of jade
If you’re in the mood for health food, stop into Happy Mangos at the east end of town. They have sandwiches, smoothies, and the usual health food store deli stuff. You’ll also notice the pizza place and a Subway across from the Big Save.
From here it’s straight out to what may easily be the island’s most magical beach - Polihale State Park. Once you’ve got some drinks and snacks, keep heading west on Kaumuali`i Highway. Notice the extremely long beach starting at Kekaha, and make sure to enjoy the sight of Ni`ihau, Hawaii’s “forbidden island” off in the distance farther west.
Polihale's northern end — Photo courtesy of jade eckardt
On the way to Polihale you’ll see the occasional horse hanging out on the side of the road, perhaps a patch of sunflowers too. Where the road ends you’ll see a sign that says Polihale. Turn left here, and there’s a sign that says “four-wheel drive only.” This isn’t usually accurate. It seems that even at it’s general worst, when there’s been a lot of rain, the dirt road can be covered in deep potholes and mud. However, even in most two-wheel drive cars you can usually navigate your way down the road. Just be cautious and use good judgment. Stick your the right at the large monkey pod tree at the fork in the road and follow it to the parking lot by the bathrooms. Do not drive onto the beach! You absolutely need four-wheel drive for this and even then people get stuck in the sand often.
So here you are. Enjoy the sand, walk the beach for a minute or an hour, and swim to your heart’s delight - as long as the waves are tiny! There’s no lifeguard here but there are flotation devices hanging on posts at the back of the beach, not much help really when the ocean is wild. Once you’re here, make sure to stay for the sunset.
After dark, head back to Waimea and have dinner at the Waimea Brewery or at Wrangler’s Steakhouse. The former is fresh fish, burgers, fries, seafood, all with a Pacific twist. At the latter you’ll find lots of steak, a salad bar, and surprisingly, a couple of vegetarian options to be enjoyed in the heavy western decor.
Enjoy your day!