Poipu Beach, Hawaii
Kauai is the most lush - and least developed - of Hawaii's 4 major islands, with a richly fertile interior and rugged cliffs in the northwest offsetting pristine white beaches along the north and south coasts. Also called the Garden Isle, Kauai is the place Hollywood heads when it needs a suitably tropical and remote locale. Think King Kong, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park - all of which had scenes filmed here. Even the island's Wailua Falls earned small-screen distinction when it was used in the opening credits for the TV show Fantasy Island.
Kauai is truly a natural wonder, home to the wettest place on Earth (Mount Waialeale), the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" (Waimea Canyon), and a host of other eye-popping spectacles, brought to you courtesy of Mother Nature.
Of course, Kauai also happens to earn the distinction of being home to one of the world's best beaches - Poipu, a series of three white crescents curving beside turquoise waters along the island's south coast. Running from the Sheraton Kauai Resort east to Poipu Beach Park, Poipu Beach offers excellent swimming, surfing and snorkeling, as well as ample opportunity for less energetic pursuits like watching palm trees sway in the wind while lying flat on your back on a towel.
In fact, it's a near-perfect destination for families, since older kids (and wannabe kids) can head closer to the rocky outcroppings to catch some surf, while younger waders and novice swimmers can stick to the crescents' middle reaches, where the water tends to be calmer. Just a bit farther east is Poipu Beach Park, where a lifeguard is on duty and shallow near-shore waters make for safe swimming. Here there are showers, restrooms and picnic tables, making a day-long excursion possible.
Best Luxurious Hotel
Hyatt Regency Kauai
Web Site: http://kauai.hyatt.com
Although it is about a mile from Poipu Beach, the Hyatt Regency is, without a doubt, the area's top luxury hotel. With 602 rooms and a perch overlooking Shipwreck Beach, Hyatt's 50-acres of pampering include a state-of-the-art ANARA Spa, 6 restaurants, six bars, a 5-acre saltwater lagoon, a "river pool" with waterfalls and a waterslide, golf and horseback riding. And while Shipwreck Beach is ideal for surfing and body boarding, its rough waters will probably send you to Poipu Beach when it comes time for a relaxing ocean swim. Twice a week, the Drums of Paradise Luau features an extensive buffet, local crafts and, of course, the hula.
Best Family Hotel
Sheraton Kauai Resort
Web Site: www.sheraton-kauai.com
Set right on Poipu Beach, The Sheraton Kauai Resort is set on 20 lush acres with 413 rooms, 3 restaurants, 3 tennis courts and access to golf, horseback riding and every beach activity you can imagine. Each of the hotel's 2 pools have an adjacent children's pool. And the Keiki Aloha Club offers entertainment activities for children ages 3 to 12 - while Mom and Dad are swinging away on the ninth hole, the kids will be learning how to make leis, hearing Hawaiian legends, painting or drawing to their heart's content. Best of all, when the clan reunites later in the day, they're just steps from family-friendly Poipu Beach.
Best Budget Accommodations
Poipu Plantation Resort
Web Site: www.poipubeach.com
Don't let the name fool you into thinking you'll have to pay for a first-rate stay. At the Poipu Plantation Resort, you can choose from 9 affordable 1- and 2-bedroom cottage-style apartments. Or pick from 4 bed-and-breakfast rooms in the 1938 plantation house. The resort is just a short walk to Poipu Beach and the cottages are equipped with air conditioning, decks, full kitchens, phones, cable TV, a VCR and hardwood floors. Plus, there's a hot tub, laundry room and barbecue nearby.
Food & Drink
Seaview Terrace and the Stevenson's Library
Web Site: Stevenson's Library
There aren't many nightlife options in Poipu, outside the usual tourist-oriented hotel bar offerings. That doesn't mean, however, that nights have to end early. The Hyatt Regency's open-air Seaview Terrace offers live Hawaiian music and hula dancing nightly from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Later in the evening, head to the Stevenson Library for live jazz and maybe even sip a cognac amid the book-lined walls.
Best Waterfront Atmosphere
Beach House Poipu
Web Site: www.the-beach-house.com
With a beachside setting that offers picture-perfect views of the sunset, the Beach House Restaurant at nearby Lawaii Beach is the place for a romantic dinner for two. Executive chef Scott Lutey whips up Pacific Rim cuisine with a delicious gourmet flair. On the menu are one-of-a-kind mouth-pleasers such as mahi-mahi encrusted with macadamia nuts, the Ahi Taster and Kahlua taro cheesecake.
Best Family Restaurant
Web Site: www.keokisparadise.com
Going out for a real meal doesn't have to mean leaving the little ones behind. Try Keoki's, where the "Polynesian paradise" theme is delightfully overdone, from the building's boathouse design, to cascading waterfalls, meandering streams, lush foliage and the thatched roof bar. Not only will youngsters enjoy the setting, but a kid's menu with favorites including chicken strips, burgers and quesadillas will ensure the little ones enjoy their food just as much as Mom and Dad do. And everyone can indulge in the legendary Hula Pie, a concoction of chocolate cookie crust topped with macadamia nut ice cream, fudge and whipped cream. The price is moderate, too, which never hurts when there's a brood to feed.
Excellent Regional Cuisine
Roy's Poipu Bar and Grill
Web Site: www.roysrestaurant.com
The first Roy's restaurant opened in Honolulu in 1988, serving up the distinctly new taste of Hawaiian fusion cuisine, which blends European techniques with Asian and Pacific ingredients. Today, Roy's is a chain of restaurants spanning from Tokyo to New York, including a popular bar and grill in Poipu. There, diners sit within feet of a glassed-in kitchen, getting a front-row seat to the creative culinary performance taking place inside. The menu highlights local ingredients and is complemented by an affordable wine list and a dizzying array of nightly specials.
Best Kid Stuff
Smith's Garden Luau
Web Site: Smith's Garden Luau
Best Day Trip
Web Site: Waimea Canyon