A sleepy, relaxed vibe permeates Kaua‘i’s south shore haven of Hanapēpē. Unlike most local towns built to accommodate the booming sugar plantations in the 1880s, Hanapēpē was established by entrepreneurial immigrants who left the plantations in order to seek freedom from such an arduous lifestyle. These immigrants moved to Hanapēpē with a vision of starting their own small farms and businesses that would serve local residents. Then, in the 1930s, an Army installation at Hanapēpē airfield led to a mass influx of soldiers on vacation. A USO club, bowling alleys, bars, and roller skating rinks were erected, and popular entertainers regularly came through town to amuse the troops. More recently, artists of various disciplines have moved to Hanapēpē; the town now boasts more independent fine art galleries than any other on Kaua‘i.
Today, Hanapēpē (which translates to “crushed bay,” presumably for the valley’s historical landslides) is an eclectic town, shaped by its varied history. Locals with generations-deep roots mix with recent transplants, and entrepreneurs in industries ranging from rare books to raw shrimp work alongside one another. Historical bridges and buildings are maintained, and traditions stand the test of time. If you have a day or just a morning to stop in Hanapēpē, here are some spots where you can dig into this tiny paradise’s unique sense of place.
Wake up: Head to Little Fish Coffee on Hanapēpē Road for freshly baked sticky buns, croissants, and hand-brewed Ka‘u coffee. For a real pick-me-up, try the Midnight Marauder—four shots of espresso and sweetened condensed milk that will have you bouncing off the diversely decorated walls. Owner Ethan Page remodeled the space with his own two hands three times over the past year. It’s a real family affair: Page’s mom bakes the pastries, and his mother-in-law works the counter. Locals take advantage of the Wi-Fi (hard to come by in Hanapēpē) and nosh on the P.K. bowl, a refreshing mix of acai, granola, papaya, bananas, blueberries, and goji berries.
Take a stroll: Walk down the street to the Hanapēpē Swinging Bridge. A surprising sight just a few feet beyond the shops, this long, narrow suspension bridge was constructed in the early 1900s and restored after Hurricane Iniki. Test your nerves with an exhilarating walk across the bridge over Hanapēpē River, swaying with every step. Just remember that you’ll have to trek back the same way, as the other side is private property.
Peruse the art scene: Check out the many independent art galleries along Hanapēpē Road, including marbling artist Becky Wold’s gallery, The Art of Marbling. Stop and she’ll give you a brief history of the centuries-old art technique that was popular in Italian and Turkish bookbinding. She may even let you peek into her studio, where she creates designs ranging from calm ocean waves to fiery lava using colors floating on a fluid bath. Wold is known for her silk scarves, leather goods, and stationery.
Admire shell jewelry: For authentic Hawaiian jewelry, go to JJ Ohana. From outside, it looks like a convenience store. But a separate room here houses a large jewelry selection, including a wide variety of beautiful and rare Ni‘ihau shell jewelry. Owner Gale Sagucio grew up on Kaua‘i making puka shell necklaces with her mother, and learned to make Ni‘ihau shell jewelry from a friend who lived on the Forbidden Island. It is from this mystical island that Sagucio finds the delicate shells used in crafting her signature earrings, bracelets, and long, multi-strand lei. Sagucio also sells her jewelry at The Bishop Museum and Mission Houses Museum in Honolulu, as well as the annual Merrie Monarch Festival in Hilo.
Grab lunch: Pick up a plate lunch from the friendly crew at Bobbie’s. Popular dishes are the Korean chicken, fried saimin, or Sista’s fried chicken, which comes with a garlic parmesan dipping sauce. Get your plate to go, and stop at Taro Ko Factory for a bag of the best taro chips—crispy, thin, salty goodness, made fresh daily.
Get salty: Drive to Salt Pond Beach Park, set up a picnic, and take a dip. Salt Pond Beach is a reef-sheltered cove, making it a safe place to swim year-round. A sandy enclosed area to the west also forms a natural pool perfect for keiki. After your stop, visit the beach’s namesake, the Hanapēpē Salt Ponds. These large earthen plots of land, where Hawaiians harvest natural sea salt, are among only two such areas in the islands (the other is Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau on the Big Island). Historically, salt was in high demand and collected frequently, but today, harvests take place only during the summer. The salt from the Hanapēpē Salt Ponds is mixed with ‘alaea, red dirt from Wailua, and used for traditional blessing ceremonies and healing rituals.
Pick up a book for bed: Head back to town and stop at Talk Story bookstore. Located at the former Yoshiura Store, this booklover’s paradise boasts Kaua‘i’s largest selection of new, secondhand, and out-of-print books. Owners Ed and Cynthia Justus make a point to carry a bit of everything, and they love when customers exclaim, “I can’t believe you have this!” Trade in your old books for credit, get lost in shelves of fiction, and if you live in Hawaiʻi, don’t forget to ask about their kama‘āina discount.