How do you say “Kapa’a”?
“Here it comes!” you say, pointing at the huge flat-screen TV.
You and your daughter are cozy on your villa’s couch together midway through the hilarious film Honeymoon in Vegas. Nicolas Cage’s character has just arrived on Kauai and is trying desperately to find his wife, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s been ushered to the island by a charismatic millionaire, played by James Caan. Cage is struggling to pronounce a local town’s name without success.
Deeply frustrated, he screams into a payphone, “Is it Kapa-a? Or Kapa-a-a??”
And even though you’ve seen this scene before, you are both laughing as your daughter grabs the remote to rewind so you can watch it again.
You and your daughter have been dreaming of a vacation in Kauai together for years. So, this year, for her sweet 16, you made it happen, and now you are both happily ensconced in your one-bedroom, ocean-view villa resort on Kauai’s sunny South Shore. You’ve spent your days swimming, beaching and yoga-ing at the resort and enjoying the poke and pupus at the on-site restaurant, the Holoholo Grill — but now you are ready for a little off-campus adventure. Since shopping and eating are some of your favorite shared pastimes, you agree that the tiny town of Kapa’a is the destination for you — not to mention a way to pay homage to your favorite scene in Honeymoon in Vegas.
The next morning, you wake up with the sunshine, and after a quick bite in your gourmet kitchen, you hop into your fly-green rental Jeep and hit the road.
The 45-minute drive from Poipu Beach to Kapa’a along Highway 50, through the famous “Tunnel of Trees,” and eventually to Highway 56 is picturesque and accessible. You blast Pink on the Bluetooth, singing along the way together.
Won’t you come on and come on and raise your glass!
You pass emerald green field after field dotted with chickens, snow-white egrets and the occasional smattering of cows, then enter the Royal Coconut Coast with its vast swaths of palm trees, food trucks, and eclectic storefronts along the sparkling blue Pacific. Traffic is a non-issue, and soon you see the small sign pointing to “Historic Kapa’a Town.”
Kauai’s Rich History and Cultural Significance: A Journey Through Kapaʻa Town
Kauai, Hawaii’s captivating Garden Isle, is more than just sun, surf, and sand. Especially when you head over to the east side, where the charm of Kapaʻa Town awaits, picture this: The iconic “Sleeping Giant” mountain range majestically oversees this quaint town, much like it has for centuries.
The legend behind the Sleeping Giant? Oh, it’s as rich as the shaved ice in one of the local shops. These legends, rooted in deep Hawaiian folklore, talk about giants who once walked these lands, vividly depicting a time long gone.
Imagine strolling through Old Kapaʻa Town, where every corner and nook seems to hum a tune from the past. While modern-day vibes are alive with folks grabbing a shaved ice or a delicious meal, there’s still that undeniable aura of days when water skiing was the newest thrill, and live music set the tone for vibrant evenings.
But wait, Kapaʻa’s allure isn’t just its beaches or that crave-worthy food from Pono Market. It’s in the way the town wears its history. Think colonial landmarks cozied up next to traditional Hawaiian spots. A testament, if you will, to the ebb and flow of time and influence.
Feeling adventurous? Take that leisurely walk by the older shops and eateries. There’s history tucked in there, waiting to share tales from yesteryears. And let’s not forget the hotels, some standing tall since ages past, seamlessly blending the then and now.
Sundown Serenades in Old Kapaʻa Town
As the sun dips behind the mountains, casting long shadows on the streets of Kapa’a Town, take a leisurely walk through old Kapaʻa Town, where the echoes of the past blend seamlessly with the lively beats of the present. Locals and travelers gather, often with freshly made shaved ice in hand, basking in shop windows’ soft glow and live music’s melodies. It’s an evening in paradise, where every corner holds a story, and every face, a friendly aloha.
Street parking is easy (and always free) on the main drag — the Kuhio Highway — and you immediately spy a row of colorful shops, a sidewalk fruit market and cafes.
“Shall we just stroll and see what we see?” you ask.
“Sounds perfect.” Your daughter already has her phone out, taking photos of the palm-lined beach just beyond.
Here are some of the favorite spots you encounter:
Java Kai: You love this bright turquoise coffee joint because it has an eclectic menu, and their lattes pack a punch. You look through their rack of trucker hats, sweatshirts and other funky junk and spring for a soft Java Kai logo T-shirt for your coffee-loving husband back home.
Kiko: Simple Goods: This rustic and warm space is a treasure trove of artful goodies. You linger over hand-made jewelry, artisan candles, unique home decor and art pieces, and plenty of what the owners call “this and that.” You let your daughter pick out some locally made, hand-hammered gold earrings for her birthday.
Shipwrecked: The buyer here has a great eye because everything in this shop is hip and lovely. The prices are on the higher end, but the clothing and accessories are upscale and well-made. No cheap T-shirts emblazoned with neon Kauai chickens here.
Wailua Shave Ice: Once a beloved food truck, this relatively new storefront beside a Starbucks is a Kapa’a must-go. Of the countless shave-ice spots on the island, this is one of the best, serving up flavors like ube, coconut, and dragon fruit — all made with the freshest ingredients exploding with tropical flavor. You opt for the Almond Joy crowned with a haupia foam, and your daughter gets the Guava Goddess. Unforgettable.
Wahine Weenies Sandwich Shack: This little stand just off the sidewalk sports a sign that reads “A girl’s gotta eat!” — and you couldn’t agree more. Serving up freshly made ooey-gooey tuna melts, Rueben sandwiches, cheesy panini and all-beef hot dogs, Weenie’s menu is both sinful and fabulous — and perfect to take along as you stroll.
Sam’s Ocean View: Tucked away off the main drag is a beachfront restaurant with a stellar view of the Pacific and skillfully prepared and presented cuisine to back it up. You and your daughter share the ahi poke nachos to start and move on to the creamy-dreamy shrimp primavera served over pasta. You are both in food heaven.
Island Moments in Kapa’a Kauai
The scent of the sea blended with the tantalizing aroma of local delicacies. Everywhere you turned, the spirit of Kauai was palpable, particularly in Kapa’a. This small town, tucked away on the Garden Isle, has become the unsung hero of your holiday.
You’ve wandered through the quaint streets and popped into charming shops, and now, you’re sitting at a delightful eatery with a perfect view of the golden sunset. The soft hum of live island music is in the background, setting the tone for a magical evening.
The main course was a delightful medley of local flavors that danced on your palate. But the pièce de résistance was yet to come. In front of you, a plate of homemade churros rested, accompanied by a generous scoop of Lappert’s caramel ice cream. The sweet scent wafted up, teasing your senses and making it impossible not to drool.
Taking a moment to soak in the ambiance, you remembered the significance of this trip – the beautiful Garden Isle, the joy of discovering Kapa’a, and most importantly, the cherished moments with your daughter.
With the ocean providing a mesmerizing backdrop, you raised your glass, catching your daughter’s eye. “To our adventure in Kapa’a!” The warmth in your voice was unmistakable.
She flashed you that playful, mischievous grin you loved so much, lifting her glass and replying, “Or is it Kapa’a’a’a?”
Giggles erupted, the delightful sound mingling with the surrounding island melodies. Cheers!
The beauty of Kauai, the charm of Kapa’a, and the joy of shared memories. What more could one ask for on such a perfect evening?
When you book a stay at Koloa Landing Resort, the rest of the island is just a short journey away. Our concierges are happy to help you plan to visit (and pronounce) any of Kauai’s lovely towns.
— Erica Karlin