I love visiting Kauai, but past trips were always short and sweet. Since my wife and I are digital nomads doing tech work from anywhere, we wanted to see what living longer-term on Kauai is like. We were lucky to have the opportunity to spend a month in December with a workcation.
I was thrilled to combine four weeks for a month’s stay in Kauai at the Hanalei Bay Resort. It’s my favorite Hawaiian island due to its incredible natural beauty, the slower-paced way of life, the beaches, the snorkeling, and the waterfalls. Over the years, I’ve explored all parts of Kauai, and all sides are wonderful.
But my favorite part of the island is the North Shore, where the Bali Hai mountains meet the sea by Hanalei Bay. There is something special about the green and red cliffs – especially in the rainy season – that is incredible when the waterfalls form and run like ribbons down the cliffs. Hanalei is my happy place, so I was thrilled to go back.
The flight from California was easy, and I appreciate that you can depart Oakland at a reasonable 10 am and fly nonstop to Lihue for 5.5 hours. Then with the 3-hour time difference, arrive at 12:30 in the afternoon. That short travel time gives you most of the day to collect your rental car, get provisions and then head up to the North Shore with plenty of daylight still left.
On this trip, we flew Hawaiian Airlines, which has decent legroom in coach. When flying Hawaiian Airlines, I always look forward to the rum punch they serve you as you approach the island. For me, that’s when I start to relax and anticipate island life.
Feeling primed by the welcome beverage, I exited the plane on the tarmac in Lihue. I love that moment when you step off the plane, feel the warm, humid tropical air, and smell the fresh sea breeze.
Next, we picked up our rental car. Avoid the more busy agencies like Budget and instead choose a less popular company like Discount Hawaii Car Rental or Alamo because waits can be long. We’ve learned to pick the “dealer’s choice” option, where you save some money by not reserving a specific car class.
With that option, you’re rolling the dice, and it’s possible that you might get stuck with a compact. But every time we use this option, a large vehicle like a Truck, SUV, or Minivan comes with it. We lucked out this time with a spacious SUV.
First Stop: Costco
The Hanalei Bay Resort has condo-style rooms with full kitchens, and since we were staying for a long time, we wanted to be budget-conscious and avoid eating out. So our first destination was to head over to Costco to get provisions.
Although groceries are usually more expensive on the island, Costco’s prices on Kauai are surprisingly similar to the mainland prices in California. That can provide big cost savings over a long trip. Plus, the North Shore is fairly isolated. It’s about an hour’s drive from the Costco in Lihue to the north shore towns of Princeville and Hanalei. There are two grocery stores in that area, but they are much more expensive.
Next, we headed up the highway to Hanalei Bay. There’s only one main road heading up to the North Shore, so don’t worry about getting lost. You’ll pass some beautiful scenery, such as the Sleeping Giant mountain, where you can make out the giant’s outline lying on his back. On the other side of the road, you’ll see stretches of long white sand beaches – some with surfers and others that are more protected and better for snorkeling.
As you get closer to Princeville, you pass some quaint towns like Ahahola, which has a fun chocolate tour, and Kilauea, which is home to the Kilauea Lighthouse and the Na’ Aina Kai botanical garden. The town of Anini, just before Princeville has the best beach for snorkeling.
You know you’ve arrived in Princeville when you see a grand entrance to the community with a fountain. The Hanalei Bay Resort is a short drive from the entrance past a golf course and residential neighborhood where you’re likely to see Hawaiian nene geese.
First impressions are important and the first time visiting Hanalei Bay Resort, also known as HBR, was a jaw-dropping experience. After walking through the lobby and gazing at the view past the natural design pool, my wife and I were awed. HBR was one of the first properties developed in Princeville, so it has a prime location on the cliff across Hanalei Bay towards the craggy Bali Hai mountains in the distance.
Hanalei Bay Rooms & Amenities
One thing we like about HBR is that the buildings are spread out on sprawling 22 acres. Each building on the property is three stories, and the layout makes the property feel uncrowded. On this trip, we stayed at a one-bedroom condo.
It had a full kitchen and living room, two bathrooms, and a separate bedroom. The living room has a pull-out sofa. We also stayed in a two-bedroom unit on another trip, and those units included in-room laundry.
If you are staying in a one-bedroom unit, guest laundry buildings are found around the resort. We were on a second-floor unit with a nice deck with a table and chairs, making for an excellent place to work remotely with a beautiful view.
There are two pools on the property. The main pool is a freeform natural design with waterfalls. There’s one section with a small sandy area next to a shallow area which is great for families with small kids.
The other end of the pool is next to a swim-up bar known for its Mai Tais. The bartender told me that it’s all about the quality of the juices and rums used, and after sampling more than a few, I’ll agree that they have their recipe down.
The second pool is a smaller circular design that is down the hillside. One potential downside is that neither pool is heated. The water was pretty cold in December, but that didn’t deter me from swimming, and I found it refreshing.
There’s also a uniquely designed, natural-looking hot tub with a sand bottom surrounded by lava rocks and a waterfall. Other amenities include a clubhouse and a gym. The clubhouse has showers, and guests are welcome to use them if they need a place to change after an early checkout.
We took advantage of the barbeque grills available to guests in several locations. I recommend using the barbeques next to the small round pool because there is seating and a sink right there. There are also tennis courts throughout the property.
Happy Talk Restaurant
There is an on-site restaurant called Happy Talk. It’s relatively small and more of a bar/lounge than a full-service restaurant. They have bands some nights, and it’s a fun place to hang out and watch the sunset.
There are plenty of other restaurant options nearby, both in Princeville and down the road in Hanalei. We also enjoyed the Sunday Farmer’s Market at the entrance to Princeville, which has food trucks, crafts, and delicious smoothies. At the nearby Princeville Center, you can find a grocery store, shave ice, and various stores and restaurants.
The standout breakfast place for me was the food truck called Nourish Hanalei which is off a residential road near Hanalei Bay Resort. I think it has the best view on Kauai looking out over Hanalei Bay and the best acai bowl I have ever had.
Our other favorite food truck is from the Hanalei Taro and Juice Company. It’s located at the entrance to Hanalei. It serves Hawaiian-style lunches like kalua pig which is a tasty smoked pulled pork recipe served as always with rice and macaroni salad.
Hanalei Bay Resort Beach
The beach is accessed by going down a ½ mile path that is fairly steep in parts. The resort does provide golf cart shuttles if you need a ride to the beach. The beach is small but scenic and right on Hanalei Bay. It’s shared with the new 1 Hotel. There is a reef right off this beach with some good snorkeling, although the best snorkeling is at Anini Beach.
HBR Nearby Activities
Princeville is close to some of the best attractions in Kauai. Our favorites were:
Chocolate tour: Garden Island Chocolates had a fun and informational tour. They showed us what the cacao fruit looks like, and we got to taste it along with a bunch of other exotic island fruits. Then we toured the farm and got to taste a bunch of different chocolate samples made on-site. Be careful with the chili chocolate!
Visiting Ke’e beach – Ke’e Beach is the last stop before reaching the Na Pali cliffs and is a must-see destination. There is excellent snorkeling there, but be sure to check on parking reservations. If you want to hike the famous Kalalau trail, this is where the trail begins.
Snorkeling at Anini beach – Anini is a protected beach just south of Princeville with the best snorkeling we found. There are no reservations required there and parking is easy.
Overall, I recommend the Hanalei Bay Resort to people who want to experience the beauty of the North Shore. The views are tremendous, the grounds are beautiful and the rooms are spacious.
HBR is a good value considering that the new resort next door, the 1 Hotel is more lavish but shares the same views and beach and its rooms there rent for over $1000 per night.
It was also a perfect place for working remotely from paradise. The three-hour time change compared to the west coast made it easy to stay on schedule. We’d start work at 5 am to stay on schedule with clients on west coast time. Then we’d finish up our work day at 2 pm, take a dip in the HBR pool and get ready for some Hawaiian Island adventures. The wifi was dependable and worked fine for Zoom meetings.
I don’t think HBR is the best choice for people with mobility issues because parking is far from some units, and beach access requires a hike. However, you can always request a golf cart shuttle if necessary. My insider tip for parking near your unit is to request a room in the Guava building which has the best views and is also close to the pool.
There are also better resorts than this if you are looking for a wide stretch of beach right on the property. If that’s your priority, you might be happier staying on the south side of Kauai in Poipu. That said, there is a big stretch of white sand at Hanalei Bay Beach, a short drive away.
If you are looking for a less crowded experience full of natural beauty with condo-style rooms, the Hanalei Bay Resort is a great option.