During my last trip to Kauai, we took an “off-ramp” we hadn’t taken before but had always wanted to explore — the small road to Hanapepe Town.
I was originally intrigued by the town when I saw its slogan, “Hawaii’s Biggest Little Town.” What could that possibly mean!?
Well, one stroll through the town, and it’s clear the slogan is spot-on. Hanapepe on Kauai is a collection of unique, small, boutique-style shops and restaurants that create a relaxed and colorful atmosphere.
Where is Hanapepe
Hanapepe is located on Kauai’s southern shore. It’s about half way between Poipu and Waimea. It’s a great place to visit if you’re staying in Poipu, because it’s less than a half hour away but has a totally different island vibe.
The History of Hanapepe
Hanapepe means “crushed bay,” a name it likely received due to landslides in the valley or the appearance of its sea cliffs.
Early Hawaiians grew a lot of taro in Hanapepe, but salt became their most in-demand commodity. They harvested salt from salt ponds by the ocean, a practice still handed down through generations today.
Later, Hanapepe became one of the few Kauai towns without a sugar plantation. Because of this, many immigrants moved here to open small independent farms or to retire from the harsh working conditions on sugarcane plantations.
Today, commerce remains an integral part of Hanapepe. Restaurants and shopping abound in this small town, which prides itself on maintaining Hawaiian values while creating a bustling, artistic environment.
What to Do in Hanapepe
Whether you stumble into Hanapepe or make it part of a well-planned vacation, you’ll be pleased with how much you can see and do here. Ahead are some of the highlights of our trip to this colorful town.
You can’t go wrong at any of the small restaurants in town – after all, you’ll be supporting local while eating unique and delicious food. During our trip to Hanapepe, we wandered over to Wong’s Chinese Restaurant, where we enjoyed large bowls of saimin and fried dumplings.
Other restaurants include Japanese Grandma’s Cafe, Bobbie’s (Hawaiian food), MC’s Grill (a sit-down restaurant), and Unko’s Kitchen. And, you’ll also find a whole host of bakeries, cookie companies, and ice cream shops — perfect for an after-lunch sweet!
If you’re in the mood for shopping, make sure you stop by the Aloha Spice Company, the Banana Patch Studio, or Blu Umi. For such a small town, you’ll be surprised at the variety of items you can find here (and bring home as souvenirs for abandoned loved ones!).
Most of the shops in Hanapepe are quaint and cute – and many of the signs still remind visitors of the town’s past.
One of Hanapepe’s biggest draws is its Friday night Art Night. This is when the shops and restaurants stay open late (until at least 9 PM) so that you can meander through the streets, check out the galleries, and simply enjoy this fantastic little town.
Families are welcome at Art Night in Hanapepe, but we think this is a perfect activity for couples, as it has a really fun “date night” feel.
Hanapepe Valley Lookout
At Mile Marker 14, you’ll find a scenic overlook that you have to check out. These views of Mount Waialeale and the surrounding valley were featured in Jurassic Park.
Hanapepe Swinging Bridge
While in town, head over the historic wooden Swinging Bridge, which stretches over the Hanapepe River. It’s a fun place to take some pictures and see a different side of Hawaii. You can walk here from town — the access is near Aloha Spice Company.
Salt Pond Beach Park
Salt Pond Beach is a great place to have a classic Hawaii beach day. The water is typically calm – perfect for small children or snorkeling. It’s named for the salt ponds that neighbor the shoreline. Those are all private property, so you won’t be able to see them, but you can enjoy the beautiful beach that sits next to “Hawaii’s Biggest Little Town.”
Hanapepe: A Can’t-Miss town on Kauai
It’s easy to miss your chance to visit Hanapepe on Kauai, but you won’t want to! So, take that “off-ramp” and check out this big, little town on this big, little island!