Hawaii's 'Biggest Little Town' Is A Wildly Underrated Area Full Of Unique Food And Shops

Kauai sometimes falls off the radar when compared to the ravaging Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island or the otherworldly Haleakala Crater on Maui, but it shouldn't. That's because Kauai offers a dynamic landscape alongside a deep-rooted history and an identity all its own. Any guide to the best activities and adventures on Kauai will help you determine what to do when visiting, but you still might be in the dark when it comes to all the hidden gems that add depth and character to a place. On Kauai, that place is Hanapēpē, and it's known as "Kauai's Biggest Little Town."


Located along the southwest coastal area between the ever-popular Poipu Beach and the lesser-visited town of Waimea, Hanapēpē is a quintessential Hawaiian town that delivers on a diverse selection of food options, a lively art scene, and bespoke shops. On your road trip to check out the best natural wonders Kauai has to offer, be sure to add a stop at this quaint town to take in a bit of history and culture. Ask for a tour map at most merchant shops to familiarize yourself with all the options this fun town has on display.

The shops of Hanapēpē deliver on history and unique offerings

Hanapēpē earns its name as "biggest little town" in a variety of ways. Looking at the architecture, the history of an era when military personnel trained in the area comes alive in the buildings that date back to World War 1. Check out the historic Chang Building and the former USO Club, and keep an eye out for informative markers that relay the historical relevance of buildings as you enter. For example, the former laundry building still stands and now houses the Island Art Gallery. Similarly, a bookstore with a cafe was originally a service station. Stroll through the many boutique offerings and be sure to explore the Aloha Spice Company for a few favorites you can bring home.


Whereas other areas of Kauai are noteworthy for their incredible views, this town is alive with the art vibe, featuring galleries of all kinds peppered throughout the streets. Look for work by local artists at Banana Patch Studio, Hashi's Fine Art Gallery, Art and Soul Gallery, and the Pu'uwai Gallery and Boutique, where you can see examples of pottery, ceramic tiles, surfboard art, photography, painting, clocks, wall art, jewelry, and more. If you're in the area on Friday nights, be sure to meander the streets in the evening when galleries stay open late and street vendors set up stations.

Delectable food offerings in Hanapēpē

Shopping and ambling works up an appetite. Fortunately there are plenty of restaurants to cater to your cravings. Starting with authentic Hawaiian cuisine, look no further than Ku'ulei's Gourmet, where you'll find local favorites like poke and ahi along with sushi. Stop by MCS Grill for their take on authentic loco moco and saimin, along with the Mahi sandwich, burgers, salads, and much more. For meat lovers, try out Bobbie's, where you'll find pork, beef, seafood, and chicken served up in a variety of ways. The food scene extends internationally with Asian delights at Japanese Grandma's Cafe like ahi poke wonton tacos, sake usuzukuri, and Green Tea Mochi. No tour of Hanapēpē's food scene would be complete without some sweets. Find the iconic Hawaiian shaved ice at Longie's Shaved Ice and Treats, or pop into one of the many bakeries to sample the wide variety of cookies in town.


Food is at the very heart of culture, and Hanapēpē is no exception. However, in between bites, take in some of the other cultural aspects of the town, like the community farmer's market and a trip to Salt Pond Beach, named after the neighboring salt ponds that have a long history on the island and are still managed by private families today. Finally, a stop to Hanapēpē challenges visitors to saunter across the Hanapēpē River via the Hanapēpē Swinging Suspension Bridge.