Kauai’s West Side is the dry part of the island. Plumerias abound, as do mangoes in season. Oh the best mangoes on the island are on the West side.
As I write this post, I thought again about why we refer to the “North Shore” but “East side” and the “South Shore” but also the “West side”. Is it some nautical term perhaps? Not sure, but I do wonder why north and south are shores and east and west are sides. But I digress!
The West Side is where you will find the extraordinary Polihale beach – 7 miles of amazing beach, where the Hawaiians believe the “souls depart”. You will also find Koke’e and the Kalalau lookout where you can gaze down into fabled Kalalau valley. Then there’s quaint, old fashioned Waimea town where you can visit Aunty LIkikoi’s and buy tons of yummy Lilikoi jam… and more!
Kauai’s West Side is much dryer than other parts of the island and you are assured sun most of the time. Due to the dryer climate, you won’t see the tropical greens you find on the north shore and middle of the island, but it’s a Kauai that is old style; local and laid back.
West Side Beaches
Black Sand Beaches
There are a couple of black sand beaches right when you come into Waimea town. One is at the Fort Elizabeth State Park, the other is at Lucy Wright Beach Park, famous for where Captain James Cook is said to have first stepped onto the Hawaiian islands in 1778. You can swim here, but only if the water looks really clear. I would recommend walking only at these beaches.
The Waimea Pier is just along the road and again a black sand beach.
Kekaha beach is basically a long strip of sand that runs along the highway. Of course, the beach was there first! It’s not too popular with tourists as when you are on the beach, you are also right next to the highway, but you will see locals swimming and fishing along its long stretch.
There is a part at the most western/northern end of the beach where you can camp and there is more of a grassy area. Great place to view Ni’ihau, the “forbidden” island
Polihale is on my list of Kauai’s Top 10 beaches; it’s magnificent. Not a great swimming beach, but it’s so amazing and there’s such a variety of sand dunes, trees, wooded area.. there’s tons to do at Polihale which is why you will find local families there at weekends or even during the week enjoying the area.
7 miles of beach – that’s pretty impressive! Ending in an even more impressive array of mountains which seem to filter off into the ocean; you can see why the Hawaiians believe the souls depart from here. Go at sunset, it’s just stunning.
Waimea Town is definitely like stepping back into Old Hawaii and Old Kauai; quite the reverse of the pristine shopping mall in Poipu, Waimea town feels rustic and charming. Newer shops mingle with stores that have been there more than 50 years. One of my favorites is Aunty Lilikoi’s. Aunty Lilikoi makes all things Lilikoi (passion fruit). Jams, jellies, cremes, oh my. If you love Lilikoi (and who doesn’t) you’ll want to stop by here.
Shave Ice is all around and you can stop by Big Save Waimea to stock up with groceries and last minute stuff for the beach.
My other favorite thing about Waimea town is the theatre; they are the only town on Kauai to have retained the old theatre from years ago. There used to be one in Kilauea and Kapa’a but those have been gone for years. You can look at the outside of the Waimea theatre and imagine seeing Clark Gable in the 30s.
Accommodation on Kauai’s West side is not as numerous as in other parts of the island… and perhaps that’s a good thing! In Waimea town proper, the Waimea Plantation Cottages are a haven set in tropical grounds on the beach. There are also some vacation rentals populating the area but no big resorts. Kinda cool.
Then of course there are the lodges at Koke’s State park. These are very cool and look as though they were built in the 30s. But bear in mind, the elevation here is quite high; it’s much colder up there and the landscape is reminiscent of Colorado… pine trees and woods…. not your typical Kauai! It’s basically where we locals go when we want to get away from the hot sun and feel as though we are on the mainland! I love the Koke’e cabins.
West Kauai Lodging is the place to look for the best selection of accommodation over on the West Side.
Most people have heard of the Waimea Canyon “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” as it has been named. It is of course quite spectacular and the lookout spot is very well done for observing the canyon. Like the Grand Canyon, best viewing times are early morning and late evening in terms of the light, as long as the cloud cover doesn’t come too low. You cannot hike down into the canyon, unlike the Grand Canyon, but there are some wonderful hikes you can do around the rims which begin from Koke’e state park. You can read about that in my post on hikes.
Kalalau is the ancient valley where some Kauaians lived for many years. To get to it, you have to hike the 11 miles of the Na Pali Coast hike which begins from the North Shore, but you can gaze down into the valley from the Kalalau Lookout point near Koke’e. It’s pretty spectacular. More about Kalalau and the NaPali here.
Enjoy the Sunny West side of Kauai !