Kauai on a Budget

Kauai on a Budget

Warm weather,  incredible views and amazing hiking trails are some of the reasons to pack up and go to Kauai. Also known as the Garden Isle, Kauai is a tropical paradise. Rich tropical vegetation, stunning cliffs and waterfalls makes Kauai the ultimate island getaway.  Tired of wearing winter coats, my boyfriend and I decided to take a last minute trip to Kauai to ring in the New Year.  But can you go to wild Kauai on a budget?  I was curious to find out. 


In the past, New Year Eve was celebrated with friends over dinner, followed by drinks at fancy bar with a hefty cover charge and $16 drinks.  Some years, our group would have bottle service, which can run from $200 to $300 a person.  Hotel parties were fun but expensive.   Event tickets, dinner, drinks, and a hotel room adds up quickly. After careful scrutiny, we discovered we were spending $800 – $1,000 for a night of celebration for two.  Our challenge:  Travel to Kauai for 5 nights for less than the cost of New Year’s Eve night out.

With United airline miles in hand, we booked our flights for $5.60 each, less than a Starbucks Coffee.  We would leave in less than 24 hours   With only 5 days before the New Year, finding a place to stay was harder than convincing TSA to give me back my slightly oversized $35 conditioner.   My favorite booking site, Airbnb, only had only 2 options:   A semi private closet/bedroom for $65 or a condo for $600.  Yikes.   Almost every hotel on the island was well over $500.   Most of the popular campsites were also sold out.  After browsing online through County Site and State Park, we were able to find a few campsites still open.  As luck would have it, we also came across a cute inn at an even more attractive price of $103 per night on Craigslist. Booking the first 2 nights of our trip at the Kalaheo Inn, we decided to camping the rest of the 3 nights. Renting a Nissan Frontier Truck with 4 wheel drive for less than $200, we packed our tent and decided to wing it. With camping sites ranging from $5 to $20 a night for two people, it was a bargain.



After a long day of traveling,  we finally arrived in paradise at night.  Unfortunately it was raining.   In fact, the weather reports stated cloudy conditions with rain for the next few days, which would making camping very unpleasant. Luckily, the weather in Kuaui varies dramatically depending on the side of the island you are on.   Last time I was in Kauai,  I was chasing dry patches of sky, driving from Princeville in the northern part of the island, to the south, which tends to be drier.  With a 2-3 hour round trip commute each day, I spend more time in the car than I would like.
This time, our hotel was in Kalaheo, the southern part of the Kauai which tends to be drier.   Like any good budget traveler, our first stop was Walmart, which usually has the best prices on souvenirs as well as camping gear  After picking up a couple of light fleece sleeping bags, duct tape, and bottled water, we headed to Safeway Grocery Store to pick up some food for the hike. By the time we arrived at the Kalaheo Inn, it was almost midnight. The one bedroom suite, which included a kitchen area with a plugin portable stove, was more than what we needed As we looked around the Hawaiian inspired decor, we noticed one thing was missing:  Air conditioning.  Luckily, the weather in Hawaii is generally in the low 80’s to mid 60’s and there is a gentle breeze to cool the room.

Day 1 – Waimea Canyon & Polihale Beach & State Park

We woke up the next morning at 7am to the sound of crowing from the roosters which run wild on the island.  The roosters and chicken are almost like the mascot of the island, running wild, a showy array of vivid colors, begging for food like hungry dogs.  While some people consider them a nuisance, I adore them. In fact, it makes Kauai even more special for me . After loading up the car, we drove towards Waimea Canyon on the west side of Kauai. Commonly known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is a 10 mile long canyon formed by erosion from the Waimea River Fueling our stomach with heaping piles of scrambled eggs, “little smokies” usually referred to as Vienna sausages, and fried Spam at Gina’s Anykine Grinds Cafe in Waimea Town, we continued towards the western point of the island.
Our plan was to hike into Waimea Canyon after stopping by the Waimea Canyon Lookout. It’s a popular spot with an observe deck to marvel at the beautiful red, green and brown hues along with the famous waterfall.  By the time we arrived to the Waimea Canyon Lookout, we were greeted by a flocks of roosters & hens. Excited tourists spilling out of the tour buses with their cameras and flip flops joined us at the Lookout After taking a few photos at the Lookout with tourist from all over the world, we went towards the cliff to a lookout point unprotected by guard rails, giving a complete unobstructed view of the canyon.  We decided to pioneer the journey and we were not disappointed with the view.   Other adventurous tourists followed our lead.  My advice: Keep your eyes in front of you and don’t look down!
After leaving Waimea Canyon Lookout, we continued driving until we reached Kōkeʻe State Park.  Wanting to conserve our energy and make better time, we decided to challenge our 4X4 Nissan Truck and drive down the Hale Manu Valley to hike the Canyon Trail and Cliff Trail.  Driving through 2 miles of wet red mud, we were able to reach the start of the Canyon Trail in no time.  After parking the truck, we trekked through the valley, making our way through slippery trail until we finally reached the Cliff Trail, a beautiful viewpoint of Waimea Canyon.  Seeing signs for a waterfall, we hiked a little further and arrived at a small but lovely waterfall. We stopped for a few minutes to take in the view.  Tip:  Wear good shoes with treads.  Having good hiking boots would have made our journey down much steadier, although the hike up was much easier.

Kalalau Lookout & Pu’u O Kila Lookout

We continued driving until we reached Kalalau Lookout, a popular photo spot with railing and an easy walked down a paved path. Many tour buses stop at this location because of the easy access and nice views.  For a better view of the Kalalau Valley, go to  Pu’u O Kila Lookout, a mile up the road from the Kalalau Lookout with higher elevations to the Pihea Trail Perched on a land bridge straddling 4,000 feet above the Kalalau Valley floor and the Alakai Swamp, Pihea Trail is know to be “The Wettest Spot on Earth”. Hiking a short distance down the ridge of the Pihea Trail, and you will be rewarded with an even more amazing view of the Kalalau Valley.   Needless to say, the mud was a little slick, but the view was worth it.  If you have time, make sure to hike the Awaawapuhi Trail, for the pictures from the trail is amazing!  Check out this blog Unreal Hawaii for more pictures on the trail.  I am definitely going next time!

View from Pihea Trail

Polihale Beach

After getting as much mud off of our shoes as we could, we headed towards Polihale Beach to catch the sunset.  Polihale Beach and State Park is the 17 miles, the longest stretch of beach in the state of Hawaii Since we had a 4-wheel drive, we decided to take on the  7 miles of rough unpaved roads away from civilization to the western end of the beach where the Napali Coast starts.
Keep in mind rental car companies frown on driving vehicles off road, so you may want to give the car a quick wash before returning.   As we drove through the spectacular stretch of wilderness, it seemed the road was never going to end.  After a slow and bumpy drive, we parked our truck and walked towards the unblemished white sand beach.
Polihale Beach has restroom and showering facilities, but no shade cover, so if you plan to spend time here during the day, bring an umbrella and don’t forget the sunscreen.  It is an amazing place to camp, but you need a permit.  I had tent envy as I imagined what it would be like to wake up to the sound of the ocean crashing into the sand.
Packing up our bags, we headed to the showers to wash the sand off our feet when we met a few locals with their dogs.  “The dogs didn’t bark because you have good energy,” said the guy as his girlfriend nodded her head in agreement.  Happy with the good energy we were putting out, we headed back to civilization, happy to know our karma was on point.

Francis Coppola Winery in Sonoma

Francis Coppola Winery in Sonoma

One of my favorite things to do when travelling to San Francisco is to tour the vineyards in the California Wine Country.  After much contemplation, we decided on Sonoma and spend an afternoon at Francis Coppola Winery.  Founded by Francis Ford Coppola, the Academy Award-winning director, this breathtakingly 100 acres is nestled between mountains and a sea of grapevines.  Our group arrived before sunset on a chilly November afternoon.  If you visit during the warmer season, make sure to relax by their 2 massive pools, where there are bocce ball courts and even a pool cafe.   Being winos, our focus was exploring the wonderful wines, after taking a bunch of pictures, of course!  If you have time, make sure to dine at their full restaurant, which has an amazing selection of meals perfectly pared with wines.

The beautiful autumn colors were the perfect backdrop.  The fresh brisk air was a nice change of pace from the busy San Francisco city life.  After our drive in from San Francisco, which was about 2.5 hours due to traffic, we wanted to stretch our legs, which also meant taking a ton of pictures.

Inside the main building, we walked through the Movie Gallery, displaying a extensive collection of Francis Coppola’s authentic movie memorabilia. If you are a “Godfather” fan, make sure to see Don Corleone’s desk from The Godfather.  For car fanatics, the original Tucker 48 from Tucker: The Man and His Dream sits impressively in the showroom on your way to the wine tasting room.


Some of my favorite wines included the 2014 Director’s Cut Merlot, $23, which has a nice supple mouth feel with rich fruit flavors.  Some key highlights from Fracis Coppola include:

  • Exceedingly juicy in character with distinct spice notes, a plush texture, and supple tannins.
  • Featuring a beautiful tapestry of rich fruit flavors framed by beautiful smoky wood nuances and well-integrated tannins.

I’d love to hear what your favorite vineyards are in the United States.  I loved Sonoma Valley and really enjoyed tasting many wines from the Lodi Region.  If you like big fruit forward red wines, try a few from Lodi.  Being from Texas, make sure to explore the Texas Hill Country for some exceptional wines.  One of my personal favorite Texas Vineyards is Woodrose Winery in Stonewall, Texas, just outside of Austin.  Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of trying New Mexico wine, which has a very interesting flavor palete.


I hope you enjoyed traveling with me to Sonoma Wine County.  Until next time, happy travels.