A Taste Of Local Life
For every town in Hawaii swamped with crowds and littered with resorts, there is a place brimming with local flavor and the easy-going nature for which the islands are known.
From the rugged volcanic shores of Hawaii Island to the serene sands of Kauai, Hawaii’s little beach towns warrant special attention. By exploring beyond the islands’ resort-laden shores, you’ll immerse yourself in local culture and get an authentic taste of Hawaii- whether it be in the form of the best-dang-cup of Kona coffee you’ve ever sipped or a simple chat with a local shop owner.
Get ready to experience the best of Hawaii in these top 10 little beach towns.
Located on Oahu’s windward coast, the cozy town of Kailua has generated a buzz among Hawaii visitors. Kailua’s local flair attracts travelers away from Honolulu’s cosmopolitan strip. Void of skyscrapers, Kailua is flush with velvety white sand beaches, shops, and restaurants. Despite heaps of local bars, eateries, and even a bowling alley, the ocean is the town’s obvious focal point. Kailua is Oahu’s top windsurfing destination, and the crystal clear seas and offshore islands are ultra-popular for kayaking. In between visits to the beach, stop by Morning Brew- an east Oahu institution since 1995. This locally-owned establishment has been long hailed as Kailua’s best coffee shop by java connoisseurs, serving up a range of coffee concoctions- including 100% local pour-over brews.
Morning Brew – 600 Kailua Road, Kailua
Thanks to its miles of golden beaches and copious accommodations, Kihei is one of Maui’s top visitor destinations. Yet, the abundance of tourism doesn’t impede the town’s laid-back local vibe. In Kihei, you’ll find both dive bars and cocktail lounges, kitschy souvenir shops and upscale boutiques, and roadside BBQs and five-star restaurants. However, one thing is for sure: in Kihei, locally owned businesses seem to proliferate. Look no further than the Kalama Park Area, where locally-owned businesses form a stronghold. Take a surf lesson from a local instructor at the Cove, browse the surfy digs at Hi-Tech Surf Sports, and spend some time browsing (and sipping!) the incredible selection of local roasts from Lava Java Coffee Roasters.
Lava Java Coffee Roasters – 1941 S Kihei Road, Kihei
Of all the things Kona is famous for (beer, culture, history, manta rays- just to name a few), coffee shines above the rest. While Kona’s coastline receives the lion’s share of attention from visitors for its snorkeling and beaches, the hills above the town are where the coffee-growing magic happens. The high elevation, rich volcanic soil, and perfect temperatures produce flawless beans, hand-picked by steadfast farmers and roasted to perfection. While a coffee tour is an absolute must in Kona, visitors can’t be expected to voyage up the slopes of Mauna Loa every morning for a cup of joe. Instead, visit the aptly named Kona Coffee Cafe on Ali’i Drive for all your coffee needs. Kona coffee and Hawaiian aloha abound here.
Kona Coffee Cafe – 75-5744 Aliʻi Drive, Kona
The sleepy isle of Kauaʻi is dotted with beach towns, but few are as lively as colorful Kapaʻa. Kapaʻa is one of Kauaʻi’s most densely populated, tourist-centric areas, but you’d never know by looking at it. The heart of the town is lined with vibrant storefronts, locally-owned shops, and laid-back eateries. Get out of town, and adventure is at your fingertips, from kayaking on the Wailua River to hiking up the Sleeping Giant, also known as Nounou Mountain. Pre-adventure, get properly caffeinated at Kapaʻa’s top-rated coffee shop, Java Kai. This stylish coffee house keeps it local- all of Java Kai’s beans are locally roasted in small batches, with 100% Kona and Kauaʻi coffee on offer.
Java Kai – 1384 Kuhio Highway, Kapaʻa
Nestled on Maui’s windswept north shore, Paʻia was once a bustling sugar plantation town, with several movie theaters, schools, and hospitals. While the town has shrunk in size since the plantation era, its substantial character remains. Today, the T-shaped strip that forms this small beachside town is frequented by hippies, surfers, tourists, and Hollywood stars alike. Steven Tyler, Owen Wilson, and Willie Nelson are habitual Paʻia visitors. In addition to the town’s eccentric crowd, Paʻia is known for its eye-catching storefronts and local hangouts, namely, Paia Bay Coffee. Paia Bay Coffee’s garden digs are tucked just out of sight on Paia’s main strip. Visitors who stumble upon Paʻia Bay are rewarded with great coffee, a local atmosphere, and the feeling of having uncovered a true hidden gem.
Paia Bay Coffee – 115 Hana Highway, Paʻia
Haleiwa serves as a welcome beacon to Oahu’s famous north shore, the Mecca of surfing. Life in Haleiwa revolves around the ocean- from the restaurants grilling up fresh fish and shrimp to the activities on offer like surf lessons, kayaking, and even shark diving tours. Haleiwa affords some great shopping opportunities as well. For coffee aficionados, skip the surf shops and boutiques and beeline to The Coffee Gallery. True to its name, this cozy shop is a veritable gallery of coffee. The shelves are piled with locally roasted coffee, mugs, and other coffee accessories. Even the coffees themselves are works of art!
The Coffee Gallery – 66-250 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa
Hanalei on Kauaʻi’s north shore radiates local energy and a strong sense of community. Nature is the focal point in Hanalei, from the taro patches that greet you on the drive in, to the mountains that border the town. You won’t find shopping malls or happening bars in this town, but rather locally owned boutiques and healthy cafes, and of course, Outpost Coffee Kauaʻi. As with most things on Kauaʻi, connection to the land is paramount. Outpost Coffee is no different- they grow, harvest, ferment, roast, and brew coffee from their orchard, Kahiliholo. Of course, you’ll also find Kona and Kaʻu coffee on the shelves at Outpost Coffee.
Outpost Coffee Kauai – 5-5161 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei
Situated at the base of the verdant West Maui Mountains, Lahaina is a booming tourism hub. Yet, the historic storefronts and lack of high-rise hotels maintain the town’s local feel. Front Street is Lahaina’s epicenter. Set along the coast, this landmark street boasts nearly a mile strip of restaurants, bars, shops, cafes, and art galleries. However, a short trip down an unassuming side street (Lahainaluna Road) will land you at a Lahaina hidden gem: Cafe Cafe. This vibrant hole-in-the-wall has been named ‘Maui’s Best Coffee Shop’ by local newspapers in years past, and their coffee speaks for itself. After all, Cafe Cafe proudly serves 100% Red Catuai Maui espresso- how can you go wrong?
Cafe Cafe – 129 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina
Visitors flock to Laʻie for the Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii’s top-rated attraction, but few people stick around to see what this north Oahu outpost is all about. Laʻie is the definition of a sleepy town. Other than a few fast food joints and local eateries, there’s not much in the way of shopping or dining. However, nature takes center stage in quiet Laʻie, specifically, the beaches- which are always uncrowded. Temple Beach Park and Laniloa Beach are quintessential windward Oahu beaches, boasting clear turquoise waters and strips of white sand. Near the PCC, Pounders Beach reveals layered views of Oahu’s east side. As far as coffee goes, make the short drive from Laʻie to Kahuku for a cup of joe from Raised By The Waves. This tropical plant-based eatery serves up dang-good cups of local coffee, including a delicious lavender honey latte.
Raised By The Waves – 56-565 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku
Brimming with charm and old school feel, a visit to Hilo offers a glimpse into what Hawaii might have looked like 50 years ago. Hilo’s downtown area is lined with historic plantation-era buildings and mom and pop shops. Yet, despite being the biggest town on the Big Island, Hilo is often overlooked as a visitor destination. Only one thing points as to why: rain. Hilo receives a whopping 10 feet of rain per year. In turn, the town is perpetually green, and waterfalls and rainbows proliferate. Plus, what goes better on a rainy day than a hot latte? Sippin’ Siren has got you covered no matter the weather, with an extensive coffee menu featuring locally sourced espresso.
Sippin’ Siren – 88 Kanoelehua Ave, Hilo