When SPG through The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express challenged my girlfriend Kirsten Alana and I to use 70K Starpoints for a vacation anywhere within the USA during the peak holiday travel season, we both immediately thought of Hawaii. The choice for us ultimately came down to Kauai or Maui, and after a brief debate we thought “why limit ourselves to just one, let’s do both!” We set our sights first on Kauai, a place that neither of us had ever been to but we knew that it was the most beautiful of all the Hawaiian Islands. After all, we were both in need of a beach vacation and we couldn’t go wrong with a place known as the ‘Garden Isle’.
After our travels from NYC including a layover at Los Angeles’ LAX airport, we arrived very late our first night and were excited to check into the first of two hotels during our stay, the Sheraton Kauai Resort located at the south end of the island in Koloa. We were both very weary and looking forward to sleeping in a proper bed. Lucky for us, our room was situated with an ocean view so it didn’t take either of us long to get to sleep with the dulcet tones of the crashing waves as a soundtrack to our slumber.
Despite my tiredness, I was excited to get up early the next morning and start exploring the island where I immediately found Kauai to be incredibly lush and beautiful. It wasn’t hard to feel a deep connection to the nature surrounding us that felt so preserved despite the fact that we were staying at a resort.
While most of the island of Kauai is only accessible by air or sea, I thought it was a perfect opportunity to splurge for an open door helicopter tour. Needless to say, Kirsten and I were not disappointed. The one upside to Kauai’s frequent spurts of rain is that it’s relatively hard not to go a day without seeing a rainbow. Seeing single and sometimes double rainbows from our helicopter high above the Nā Pali Coast was breathtaking. I quickly fell in love with the island and the beautiful scenery, it was a landscape photographers dream.
After our helicopter ride and a quick two night stay in Koala, we ventured off to our second hotel, the St. Regis Princeville Resort located on the North end of the island. Even with Kauai being a relatively small island, it was interesting to see how different the two sides of the island were; I found the North to have more lush forests, slightly better beaches and closer access to mountains and great hiking trails. The South was a little more commercial and developed, slightly more crowded, with a lower elevation. But with it all being Kauai, you can’t go wrong no matter where you stay.
While our trip coincided with the peak holiday travel season in November, I wanted to share some quick tips on what to do when visiting Kauai in the winter:
–Book a helicopter ride to experience Kauai by air. After some research, we decided to book ours through Jack Harter Helicopter Tours. Our pilot was amazing and very informative, and added to an already amazing experience. It was breathtaking to see the incredible island from the air and I’d highly recommend them.
–Hike the Kalalau Trail along the Nā Pali Coast. Unfortunately our stay in Kauai was all too brief to provide us enough time to take the time to do this, but from what i’ve read and the imagery i’ve seen, I really regret not having the time to do this. If Kirsten and I ever go back, this will be one of the first things on our list to do.
–Snorkel at Tunnels or Ke’e Beach. Ke’e is the last beach accessible by car on the north shore and the lagoon is protected from waves by reefs which provides excellent conditions for snorkeling. Depending on your sensitivity to the temperature, the water at Kauai beaches might not be warm enough during the winter months to go snorkeling. But if your someone who isn’t bothered by slightly cooler temperatures, you might be fortunate to see incredible coral and green sea turtles.
–Renting a car during your stay is a MUST. There really are no other means of major transportation on the island and would be your best bet to get around.
–If you’re feeling adventurous, prepare for a hike down to Hideaway Beach & Queens Bath. Be warned: the paths leading to both can get a bit slippery and treacherous, so be sure to wear proper footwear (not advisable in flip flops like we did!) but the effort is definitely worth it!
–Take the time to stop off at Hanalei Valley Lookout. It’s one of the most photographed lookouts in all of Hawaii, and for good reason. It wasn’t something that I expected to find in Kauai, but it was a great spot that overlooks taro fields surrounded by beautiful mountains.
–I can only speak to the two accommodations we enjoyed during our stay; the Sheraton Kauai Resort in Koala and the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Depending on your budget, both were really great options, and the Sheraton would be a good choice if you’re traveling with a family or children.
–There’s a great stretch of road in Hanalei (Kuhio Hwy) with great places to eat, shops and one of my favorite juice bars. Definitely prepare a few hours to explore this great little village.
–Enjoy a lazy afternoon at Hanalei Beach & Hanalei Pier. I must admit, it probably isn’t the ’nicest’ beach in all of Kauai as the sand is a little darker and the water looked a bit murky, but it’s a nice spot to spend some time with your toes in the sand listening to your favorite music and catching some sun.
–If you’re a beach bum like I am, relax or wander at Ke’e Beach or Secret Beach. I love beaches where you have the option of either dropping a towel down and dig your toes in the sand while you listen to music, or traverse the beautiful coastline. These were just two of my favorite spots to do just that.
–Aloha Juice Bar has some great fresh juice options to start your morning (or have one for a healthy afternoon snack!)
–Bar Acuda is a terrific tapas restaurant in a chic setting in the town of Hanalei.
–Kaua’I Grill by Jean-Georges Vongerichten located at the St. Regis Princeville Resort. Kirsten had hands down the best Filet Mignon we’ve ever had and I enjoyed a wonderful Bison Ribeye steak. Our sommelier recommended some great wines to go with both.
–I must admit, we did have to indulge with a few trips to Bubba Burger. Kirsten fell in love with their chili rice and I enjoyed their great selection of burgers and corn dogs.
No matter where you stay or decide to do when visiting Kauai, i’m confident you’ll walk away feeling refreshed, inspired and wanting more. If you’ve been before or are thinking of going, feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear about how you experienced Kauai!
Note that our stay at Kauai was complimentary of Starwood Hawaii and SPG American Express however all opinions are my own.