Kalapaki Beach and Poipu on Kauai jumping with fun; food options

Kalapaki Beach on Kauai is not as well known as, say, Poipu or Hanalei, but tourist guidebooks are sure starting to take notice – and so should you.

Situated conveniently and centrally in Lihue, it’s just a five-minute drive from the airport and packed with fun activities, accommodations, shopping and at least a dozen restaurants.

“Kalapaki is the best beach not only in Lihue but also on the entire east coast. Any town would pay a fortune to have a beach like Kalapaki, one of Kauai’s best, in its backyard,” states the most recent Frommer’s Guide to Kauai.

“But little Lihue turns its back on Kalapaki; there’s not even a sign pointing the way through the labyrinth of traffic to this half-moon, golden-sand beach.”

Lonely Planet says of the beach: “Often overlooked by visitors. But local surfers and body boarders trot toward the swells, while resort guests bask on golden sand lined with coconut trees. Sheltered by points and breakwaters at Nawiliwili Bay, Kalapaki’s waters are quite hospitable to swimmers.”

My husband and I recently went to Kalapaki to visit one of my dear old friends from Aspen, Colo., who now lives on Kauai part time with her new husband.

We all jumped on bicycles and rode up a steep hill to the scenic Menehune Fish Pond, and we continued up the gloriously empty paved road and turned off, peddling to the valley where part of “Jurassic Park” was filmed. Views on Kauai don’t get much better than this.

We walked across the street from our boutique hotel, the Garden Island Inn, to check out various beach activities such as kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and surfing with friendly instructors and rental packages for any type of expertise.

But our 21-room jewel of an inn provided us with free boogie boards and snorkeling equipment. It’s right across from the beach with walls, doors and ceilings all vibrant with original tropical artworks.

This bay is where Duke Kahanamoku wowed spectators with a swimming exhibition on his first Kauai visit.

Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club is also located in Kalapaki, and so is Duke’s restaurant, named after the legendary athlete.

“This is the original Duke’s in Hawaii, and we love its atmosphere,” says my friend’s husband, Steve Layne. “We also enjoy going to Kalapaki Beach Hut for its pancakes, Mariachi’s for Mexican fare, and Gingbua for Thai food. But it’s really the variety of restaurants condensed into one area – all within easy walking distance from hotels and condos, that makes it so fun and accessible.”

Kalapaki Beach is also an easy drive to Poipu, and a lot is happening there. At the new Merriman’s Gourmet Pizza & Burgers in Poipu, slurp “The Dude” grown-up milkshake as you munch on pizza packed with Brussels sprouts, bacon and Spanish Manchego cheese.

Yes, it’s owned by Maui’s acclaimed chef-restaurateur Peter Merriman.

Other menu standouts are roasted Hamakua mushroom burger and salads made with Kauai grown produce. It is located below the famous chef’s fish house.

We also drove to the Beach House in Poipu to celebrate my friend’s first wedding anniversary. Known for its exquisite sunsets, it’s owned by Mike Hooks, former Plantation House in Kapalua partner.

“The Beach House offers gracious island hospitality and award-winning Pacific Rim cuisine in a stunning oceanfront setting,” Layne says. “It’s one of our Poipu favorites.”

It also was just honored with the Hale Aina Gold Award for the Best Kauai Restaurant 13 years in a row. When we were there, it had also recently opened for lunch in addition to dinner. Bring your camera.

From early days of Hawaiian settlement on Kauai to the arrival of Capt. James Cook in 1778, Kalapaki was a center of island life, a home to fishing and taro farming. Now, it’s branding itself as a place to go along with Kauai’s more famous towns.

* Reach Carla Tracy at carlatracy@mauinews.com.