The Island of My Dreams - Skillful Cook
Our recipes, your inbox. Sign up

The Island of My Dreams

View of the ocean from an airplane.

Confession: I am a trip hog. I try to play it cool, but I LOVE trips. I love vacation. I love travel.

And I love vacation pictures. I love my vacation pictures and I love your vacation pictures and I love your best friend's cousin's sister-in-law's vacation pictures. I wish there was a way for you to upload your best vacation pictures in the comments. The Great 2018 Vacation Picture Swap. Bjork, can we work on that?

This wasn't our first time to Kauai. We actually came last year. I don't think I ever really talked about that on the blog. It was just three weeks after we lost our son Afton, and it was with my parents, and we had already purchased our tickets when our whole world fell apart. I should have been traveling to Hawaii just shy of 30 weeks pregnant, but instead, I was recovering from major surgery and carrying a lifelong, unfixable heartbreak.

I always hesitate to use the word “healing”, because while that trip did help me to find some color in life again, a trip to Hawaii can never fix what - who - will always be missing from our lives. But those six days spent admiring the sunsets and feeling the calm of the ocean were special, and, I guess, healing.

“Let's come back again,” we said. “When we're less fragile. When we can experience this differently.”

Footprints in the sand.

I was thinking more like 5-10 years, but then this year, on Christmas Eve, in the midst of the painful first-holiday season and one year anniversary, we made an impulse buy. I found the cheapest flight I could manage (back of the plane FTW!) and booked us a trip back to Kauai.

When we came to the island in 2017, we were so incredibly fragile. It's hard to even think about what it was like. I remember the airport being so daunting. It was the first time we had really gone out in public. We were like exposed nerves, walking around, bumping up against the most mundane of things that would jolt us with pain.

This year, we're more solidly on our feet. We're not so exposed. The airport isn't scary. We always carry that grief with us, but it's been absorbed. It lives in a deeper place. We are able to do normal things without wondering if we will shatter. And as a result, we were ready to adventure around the island and see some of the best of Kauai - the island of my dreams. It was lovely and awe-inspiring.


Woman sitting on a tree on the beach.

A banner announcing where they stayed.
  • Westin in Princeville (We stayed here. It's clean and nice. Several nice pools and the rooms were comfortable, but it's not overly extravagant or fancy-feeling. Nice views since it's perched up on a cliff. There is no beach access.)
  • St. Regis in Princeville (The St. Regis is a little more fancy and almost twice as expensive as the Westin... which is why we didn't stay here. But pro tip! Westin guests get access to the private beach here, which is amazing because this beach is INSANELY BEAUTIFUL. So we spent a lot of time at the St. Regis beach. If you like the ritzy pool scene, this is your place.)
  • Hanalei Colony Resort (This is where I would maybe stay if we went back. A little cheaper, and not much going on in the pool department, but well-rated and a GREAT location for exploring the north side of the island. We drove by this place on several of our adventures along the coast.)
Sunset over the ocean and trees.
Sunset on the beach.
Man wearing a hat drinking coffee.

The beach at the St. Regis. 👇🏼😍

Ocean shore and mountains.
Boat on the beach.
Man with his arms spread on the beach.
Woman standing on the beach.
Beach hopping in grey letters.

We did a decent amount of driving, exploring, and beach-hopping. Winter in Kauai is not super swim-friendly because the waves are huge and scary-dangerous, so when I say beach-hopping, I really just mean “driving to a beach and walking around, exploring, maybe laying out in the sun, watching the ocean, taking a few pictures and then continuing on our way.”

This was probably my favorite thing about Kauai - the north side of the island especially. Just driving was an adventure in and of itself. It is a JUNGLE PARADISE, not to mention that pretty much the entire coast is beautiful, isolated white sand beaches. There are views around every corner and the natural beauty is incredibly pristine, raw, and untouched.

My Beach Picks:

  • Haena Beach / Canon's Beach / Tunnels Beach (5/5 - Stunning views, and incredibly secluded and quiet when we went at sunset. My personal favorite of all the beaches we went to.)
  • Ke'e Beach (5/5 - Stunning views. This was the only place I felt safe going in the water because it was a little more protected from the huge waves - and even then, I only went in the very shallow water. Please be so careful. This beach is adjacent to NaPali coast / Kalalua trail, so it's a good spot to go before or after a NaPali hike.)
  • Secret Beach (4.5/5 - Beautiful, secluded, quiet. Huge stretches of white sand. We did see a nude beach bum, which I think is relatively common at this beach.)
  • Hanalei Beach (3/5 - Really incredible views, but the sand isn't as pristine and it was definitely the busiest of all the beaches we went to. It's a better place for people-watching or surf-watching. Most of the people here seemed like locals. The pier is a good place to post out and watch stuff happening.)
  • Larsen Beach (3/5 - Maybe would have liked it more on a less windy/cloudy day. Same about the bums.)
  • Wyllie's Beach (3/5 - I walked here by myself since it was right next the Westin. It's a cool path to get down to the beach, and the beach itself is small and unique. I had to duck under trees to walk along the sand. Good for a quick explore if you're staying close by.)
  • Hideaways Beach (Didn't get here but really wish we would have. It's right next to the St. Regis.)

In order to get to most of these beaches, we would use a combination of GPS on our phones and a deeper Google or Trip Advisor search to find out how to access the beaches directly. Most of them don't have a parking lot - you'll just be parking on a side street and then finding the hiking path down to the beach.

Ocean waves hitting the beach sand.
Woman standing on a road in front of mountains.
Man standing on the beach.
Woman in the ocean.
Woman on a trail.
Man standing on the beach.
Ocean beach.
Man standing on the beach.
"I love you Afton" in the sand.
People laying on the beach.
Man walking on the beach.
Trees and mountains.
Man and woman smiling.
Woman walking on a beach.
Man on the beach.

Oh, I forgot to mention Poipu Beach! We drove to the southern part of the island for a day of calmer waters, marine sealife sightings (whales and sea turtles and monk seals), and sunset-watching. Poipu Beach is a busier beach and there were people everywhere, but we can deal for a day.

Man walking on rocks near the ocean.
People on the beach during sunset.
Woman standing on rocks on the beach.

Annnnd my signature Kauai Look.

Woman and man wearing sunglasses on the beach.
A banner saying "NA PALI COAST" on it.

This was the number one thing I wanted to do in Kauai. I was on a mission to get myself to the Na Pali Coast. And after having hiked the 4-mile trail to the beach and back, I mostly I want to say that this was one of the most intensely beautiful places my eyes have ever seen. UN-BE-LIEVABLE.

A close second is that if you hike, you need to be very careful. Here are some notes about the hike.

  • Wear sturdy shoes. I intentionally packed old, nasty tennis shoes that I could just toss after the hike, which was a good idea, because they got so muddy and wet. Hiking boots would be good if you have them.
  • Bring lots of water. Not, like, one bottle of Gatorade. Bring LOTS of water.
  • The 4-mile roundtrip hike to the beach and back is a good one for a person of average fitness level. But just keep in mind, this is not a casual hike on a walking trail. Much of the trail is rocky, uneven, and slippery. I would say it was a more difficult hike than I was anticipating.
  • Read up. I read lots of Na Pali hiking blog posts like the safety nerd that I am, and they were helpful. I felt more prepared.
  • Personal opinion: I really would not recommend this hike when you are pregnant, or while wearing your baby in a wrap, or carrying a kid on your back. It is one of the most dangerous hiking trails in the world. There are no guard rails and the drop-offs are so intensely steep. The trail is slippery, steep, and rocky. There is no cell service. Just... it scares me. Please don't do it.
Man standing on a cliff looking out at the ocean.
Woman standing in the mountains.
Man wearing sunglasses.
Ocean view.
Woman standing on a trail.
Man walking on a trail.
Woman walking on rocks.
Ocean and mountain view.

View from Ke'e Beach, which is at the Kalalua trailhead. Zero hiking required to get this view of the Na Pali Coast. ♡

Beach and mountains.
Man and woman wearing sunglasses.
The words Foods is written over a white background.

You guys, most of the food we had was medium-good and overpriced. Is that the norm on small islands? It was a little sad, but not too sad, because I'm only a 50% food snob and I can be happy with a can of convenience store Cheddar Cheese Pringles. I don't have a ton of dinner places to recommend because a) we actually skipped dinner most nights due to extreme tiredness and laziness (I KNOW) and b) what we did eat just wasn't super awesome. That being said, here are the places we would go back to.

  • Kalalea Juice Hale - Highly recommend. It's just a little shack on the side of the road, but it's adorable. Acai bowls, smoothies, fresh juices, and natural fruit shave ice.
  • NOM Kauai - Highly recommend. Great place for lunch or brunch. Modern/playful diner type food.
  • Living Foods Market - if you go to the south part of the island and need a quick bite, this is a good stop!
  • Hanalei Bread Company - Breakfast food was decent - the avocado toast with eggs was good, and the breakfast skillet was yummy. Breakfast burrito was meh. Ambiance was lovely, though, which is why we came here twice. I got a golden latte here that I really loved.
  • Lei Petite Cafe and Bakery - Breakfast food was good. I loved my acai bowl and the eggs benedict was surprisingly good, too. Long line, limited seating, very casual.
  • Chicken in a Barrel BBQ - We stumbled on this gritty little place in a moment of severe hanger on the way to a beach. But I am really glad we did! SO yummy - BBQ chicken, chili, and awesome sweet potato fries. Then again, maybe I was just hangry. 🤪
  • Kalypso - Outdoor seating and a good pick for post-beach happy hour. I am kind of obsessed with the fried artichokes. I wish we would have just gotten appetizers - the fish tacos weren't my favorite.
  • Makana Terrace at the St. Regis - way overpriced. That being said, if you need a splurge meal, the view is out of this world. This might be one of the most beautiful places I've ever had a meal. Go for brunch (yummy) or a sunset drink / snack so you can get the views before dark.
  • Nalu Kai Grill and Bar at the St. Regis - This was where we got all our beach-side food and drinks, and even though it's just a poolside grill, I really enjoyed it, actually. The poke was yummy, and the fish tacos were the best I had while in Kauai. Again with the overpriced, but the food and drinks made me happy.

In general, I'd recommend the shacks or food trucks over the super-fancy restaurants in terms of finding the yummiest food. Casual island living at its best!

Table with plates and bowls of food.
Bowl of fruit and granola.
Plate of food and french fries.
Table with plates of food and drinks.
French fries on red and white paper.
Woman taking a photo of food on her iphone.
Chalkboard with menu.
Fruit bowl.
Man ordering food.
Food on a plate on the beach.
Man and woman sitting at a table.
Burger on a plate.
Man sitting at a table with a plate of food.

Okay. One more thing that needs to be mentioned.

On the first day, we got an emergency alert on our phones during breakfast that there was an inbound ballistic missile to Hawaii and we needed to take shelter immediately. Not a drill, it said. So... we hid in the restaurant kitchen and contemplated what it would be like to die in a restaurant kitchen on our first day in paradise.


Man standing in a basement.

There was no inbound ballistic missile. Someone somewhere pressed the wrong button.

So, yeah. Always a special memory of our time in Hawaii. Xo

Have you been to Hawaii? Kauai? Na Pali? Another island? What did you love?


More Travel Pictures and Posts:

Ocean view with a dock and boats.

Moalboal, Philippines

Boats on the water and mountains.

1000 Miles Of Alaska

Man standing in front of a donut truck.

Austin Vibes

Woman looking out at mountains.

Europe Trip

Pink drink with black straw.

Girls' Weekend Getaway: Scottsdale, Arizona

Filed Under: Life Travel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    Kauai is the island of MY dreams, too! My extended family lives on the west coast, so we spent most of my spring breaks growing up in Kapaa (on the East side). I love the East side — fewer tourists, a lovely trail along the length of the coast, easy access to north and south, and GOOD food! There, I said it! Java Kai, Wailua Shave Ice and Sam’s Oceanfront are also, often, in my dreams. I think it’s time to plan another visit….

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    oh guys, i am SO happy you went back! the islands are such a special place, & i totally agree with your thoughts on it being healing. my mom was born & raised in honolulu, so we have been fortunate to travel back very often to visit our family. every time it feels like i am being put back on my center. i am, however SO SAD that you found the food to be average. can’t speak for kauai, but if you ever go back to another island there are SO many gems with amazing food. love all the vaca pics!

  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    My husband and I went to Maui last summer and WOW. It was incredible. I would definitely say that food prices were higher than normal, but they weren’t too outrageous. It also probably helped that the food we had 98% of the time was incredible. I always do an obscene amount of “food research” before traveling, so I had my list of restaurant reservations/food truck names we had to try. I had some of the best seafood of my life in Maui, some of it came out of a food truck by the beach and some of it was came from a fancy pants restaurant. If you ever head back to Hawaii, consider Maui! (and hit me up for some restaurant recs 🙂 )

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      I was going to say the SAME THING!! Also, LET’S NOT DO WORK AND TALK ABOUT THE ISLANDS! may be the best sentence I have read in a while, and I am committed to this cause.

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hawaii is our happy place. We take our (big teenage) kids from the East Coast for a two week Summer vacation and those are memories we hold onto very tightly. We’ve been to Oahu several times (surfing lessons, hiking Diamond Head at sunrise, snorkeling with sea turtles on an all but abandoned beach), eating HOT haupia Malasadas from Leonard’s out of the back of our rented Prius, sunset dinners in slippers with the freshest fish known to man. Sweaty, sandy, windblown days where you breathe deeper than you knew you could. Together. This year we’ll do the big island so that we can hike the lava flows and night snorkel with manta rays. If you go to Oahu, we love Monkey Pod Kitchen (best Mai Tai in the history of Mai Tais) and Roy’s in Kapolei, also Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. Pro Tip: Hit Target for souvenirs for friends back home, and maybe a six pack or two of Kona for the hotel fridge. SHAKA.

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    I was fortunate enough to live on Oahu for several years when I was a kid. Some of my best childhood memories are from running around those beaches! And now that I live on the East Coast…the beaches just don’t measure up. Your vacation pictures have me itching to go back…even more then before.

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    Lindsay, after following your (astoundingly breathtaking) vacation pics, I was crossing my fingers that you’d write a post on where you visited. Thanks so much for these tips!

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    For a fellow St. Paul-ite who is still digging out from our storm, your pics were a welcome distraction! Been to Maui twice, can’t want to try another island soon.

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love vacation pictures, too! Everyone’s!! 🙂

    I’m glad you got to go back and really enjoy your trip…it looks fabulous! You have such an amazing eye…your scenic pictures make my heart happy, and I’m in awe that you can make even roadside food look like incredible, lol! I also love that you are very realistic about the trip…the things you liked, the things you didn’t, that some things were overpriced, etc. Excellent write-up!

    My husband and I took our two boys to Hawaii in April 2017 to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. We renewed our vows on the beach with the boys, and we did MANY other things during our 12-day stay on Oahu and Maui. I have write-ups of each day on my blog if you’re interested. With lots of pictures, because, well, vacation pictures… 😉

    Thank you so much for sharing!!

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    LOVE these pictures! My favorites: All the ones of you and Bjork together 🙂 And the one where you are looking up at that gorgeous mountain with the sun peering at the top. THAT….is my absolute favorite one ❤️

  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    Oh my goodness I LOVE KAUAI. Seeing all your photos just brought me back. I went there on my honeymoon and it was the most romantic and beautiful place to celebrate our marriage. And we stayed at the Westin in Princeville as well! I really liked having a kitchen, actually, because we agreed about the food leaving much to be desired. My husband said that they didn’t need to have amazing food because people come for the view, ha.

    It truly is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been — photos don’t do it justice (Even though the photos are insanely beautiful).

    Might have to start stalking flights back soon…

    Thanks for sharing! <3

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    These words just spoke to me. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    “We always carry that grief with us, but it’s been absorbed. It lives in a deeper place. ”.

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love Kauai!!!!! My husband and I took two trips in 2017 loved all the beaches there. E joyed all the local vibe
    We are returning soon.

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    We were in Kauai in June 2017 for my daughter’s wedding. We rented a house in Anahola Bay, she was married right on the beach from the house. Kapaa was a favorite area, but we visited the entire island. Sunset dinner cruise on the Napali Coast was my favorite. Kauai is my favorite island of all the islands!

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    Aloha, Kauai is also our favorite island, 1986 was my first visit. Fell in love. My husband and I puchased a time share at Hanalei Bay Resort in Princeville and go back every year. Has a full kitchen for 12. We can cook our own meals if we want to save money. Three lanais, two full baths. Two large bedrooms and never ending views of the ocean. We share the same beach as the St. Regis. There are 2 pools and a grill with full bar on the property Plus swim up bar. We never tire of it. So much to do there or not. Heaven on earth for sure.

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    Kauai is definitely our favorite island. We love Tidepools restaurant at the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. Glad you were able to go back. Beauty in God’s creation is definitely healing to the soul.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      thanks for sharing your heart and continued journey with us. also, yes, where are those green pants from???

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        What a delightful trip summary! We have also been once and are going back this spring. Thanks for all of the great info. And I’m also wondering about the cute green pants!

  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    Love Love LOVE Kauai. When we went, we kayaked the Napali coast and while it was surely a test of our marriage being in a double kayak for 17 miles in an ocean, it was like one big long postcard. Like the kind of things that I had only read about. We stayed near princeville, but loved that area a bit north… sort of where your condo was. I am saving that name, as it looks beautiful and the kind of place I like. Your pics make me want to go back!

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    You are a genius travel writer/photographer. You give very specific information that is incredibly useful to the reader. Kudos.

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m so happy to read about this trip!!! I was following along on your IG stories and hoping you’d post something 🙂
    Kauai is one of the most perfect places on the planet. I’ve traveled a ton (both nationally and internationally) for work and vaca — to absolutely beautiful places, mind you — and Kauai remains my favorite destination ever. Even of all the Hawaiian islands, Kauai is perfection. It’s my happy place. Cheers 🙂

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    We love Kuaui too- especially Princeville. I so want to go back and hike the Na’Pali trail. We took my in-laws for theirb50th Anniversary last year and didn’t want to try the hike with them. Glad you had a great time and that the missile warning wasn’t real!!! Bless your heart!

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    Kauai is my favourite place; the north coast in particular! My husband and I have been twice, and save our reward miles for a return flight someday. When you return (because, let’s be honest on the pull of this place) I would really recommend renting a condo from VRBO as a lodging alternative. There are tons in the Princeville area. We mostly ate lunches on the go and then did dinner at our rental, outside on the deck, and can agree that the smaller food trucks are the best bet for food. Please add Sushi Girl and the Hanalei Bay Pizzeria for north shore options to your list, and Da Crack is great on the south shore. Definitely make it to Hideaways Beach next time! Thanks for the pictures, this post made my day!

  21. Skillful Cook Logo

    do you have a wall of collages from your travels? your photos are frameworthy, girl! i’ve been to HI—Maui—but it was a long time ago. thanks for the “trip” during my lunch break.

  22. Skillful Cook Logo

    Love Kauai! The north side of the island is my favorite. Yes, food is spendy but some of it is worth it! Next time you go back, hit Loco Coco on the south end for fresh fruit syrups over shave ice, and Wishing Well up north is good as well but more traditional. Pat’s Taco Truck near Hanalei beach is awesome for tacos, and a jalapeno cream cheese quesadilla. Small Town Coffee Company in north Kapaa is yummy, and I had the most amazing muffin of my life there. Oh yeah, and it was vegan (what?!?). Bar Acuda in Hanalei was my favorite date night restaurant – small plates (DEFINITELY do the honeycomb with goat cheese and apple). Hanalei Gourmet is also pretty tasty, but more casual. On the South end, the Beach House is spendy but amazing. I still compare all calamari to that place (no one has yet measured up) and I had a wasabi crusted fish I still dream about.
    Yeah, I like food. Maybe too much. Now you have to go back to try these places! 🙂

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Oh and my husband just chimed in with the Kauai Brewing Company in Lihue. Yummy food and good beer!

  23. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now and make lots of recipes (last night buffalo cauliflower tacos,yum!). Turns out my husband and I were in Kauai the same time as you, also there for the false alarm missile attack. We were out on the coast and “sheltered” between two large rocks. We were alli sadly disappointed with a lot of the food we tried but highly recommend a vegan, farm-to-table restaurant, Our Place in Kapaa. Also highly recommend The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook for your next trip – lots of details for hikes, beaches, etc!