Sunday, December 30, 2012

Food & Activities in Kauai

This trip was booked somewhat last minute, and we didn't do a lot of research ahead of time. I usually find myself to over plan our trips, so this time I wanted to try a different approach of very little planning. I did get some recommendations from friends and did look at Yelp beforehand to get some ideas of where to eat.

As far as activities, there's actually tons of outdoor things to do in Kauai such as zip lining, paddle board, hiking, snorkeling, etc. We really wanted to try paddle boarding but when we went in the winter, the waves looked pretty rough and so we decided to nix the idea. In the end, we ended up doing almost nothing besides relaxing by the pool, which was not bad, but totally different from our usual jam-packed travel style. :) I think the only "activity" we did was Waimea Canyon.

Here's a summary of some of the food places we tried and the few activities we did.

Shrimp Station

Our first stop after we landed at the airport was the Shrimp Station in Kapaa. Kapaa is the largest town in Kauai and a lot of restaurants. We were thinking that this place would be similar to Giovanni's in Oahu or Geste's in Maui, which are shrimp trucks, but this place was actually a sit down restaurant.

The prices were a bit more expensive, but I guess things in Kauai in general are pretty expensive. :)

My friend recommended I try the coconut shrimp, which was served with fries. We liked this shrimp, it was definitely different with the coconut crunch. The shrimp was served with a creamy sauce.

We also got the garlic shrimp, which surprisingly was very creamy in a white wine sauce and not as garlicky as what we would expect.

Overall it was pretty good, although we still liked Geste's the best and Giovanni compared to this place.

Josselin's Tapas Bar & Grill

For dinner, we didn't want to drive all the way up to Kapaa where most of the restaurants were and wanted to find something near the Sheraton in Koloa. We booked dinner at Josselin's and I thought it would be nice to have a "lighter" meal since this restaurant serves tapas style food. The restaurant was located at the shopping center pretty close to the Sheraton.

They are famous for their duck tacos with pineapple salsa which we ordered and really enjoyed. The taco shell was actually fried wonton, so it was definitely unique.

Duck tacos

We ordered a couple other things: pumpkin ravioli, short ribs steamed bun, and the braised pork belly--unfortunately they were all very mediocre and not that memorable. :(  Overall I am not sure if I would recommend this place. It was not bad, but we were just not that impressed. Prices were also on the higher side. One thing that was memorable about this place was they had a sangria cart with different flavors such as lychee sangria.

Kabocha Pumpkin Ravioli

Waimea Canyon

One of the things recommended for tourists visiting Kauai is the drive to Waimea Canyon. I think it took around .5 hours one way from our hotel to reach the Waimea peak. There were a couple lookouts on the way, with our favorite being the Waimea Canyon Lookout.

I've seen many many pictures of the canyon, and it was funny when I saw it in person, it felt "smaller". :) It was still really, really nice though.

We went to another lookout where we could see the side profile of Napali coast and the ocean.

There's also lots of hiking trails around if you choose to do some hiking. 

Jo-Jo's Shave Ice

After the canyon, we stopped by a shave ice place. The reviews of this place on Yelp were pretty good, and apparently there's 2 Jo-jo's and this one was the good one!

We ordered shave ice with the extra macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom (you must get that option!). The ice was pretty smooth and we give this place a pretty high mark. Ululani Shave Ice in Maui is still our all time favorite but this place was actually pretty good.

Kauai Coffee Company

On the drive back from Waimea, we stopped by Kauai Coffee Company.

They have a visitor center that sells gifts, coffee, and snacks. There's also a sitting area with a recorded video showing how coffee is processed. They also provided free self-serve coffee samples at the visitor center.

There's a small museum at the back which was free of charge where they show some coffee processing equipment.

There's a trail that you can follow which they call the world's largest wall-less coffee maze, but it was just way too hot for us so we decided to forgo the trail.

Kauai's Best Shave Ice

That's the name of the place, and we're not saying that this place was the best. :p I think we both preferred Jo-Jo's better, but this place was really close from our hotel in Princeville, so we decided to give it a try.

I got melon, grape, strawberry with macadamia nut ice cream and snow cap (condensed milk) top. Ice wasn't as fine as Jo-Jo's but still pretty good. I guess you can't really go wrong with shave ice in Hawaii.

Hanalei Taro & Juice Co

I read reviews of this place on Yelp and had really high expectations. I LOVE mochi (which is like a sticky rice cake) and heard about the Kauai Mac Nut taro mochi cake and I had imagined in my mind that this would taste really good. Unfortunately, it really disappointed me. I had a bite and regretted buying the whole cake. Dan ended up eating most of it.

We also tried a taro smoothie juice with strawberries and pineapple. It was not bad and was a bit thicker because of the taro.

Hamura Saimin

Saimin is a traditional Hawaiian "ramen", and this place is very famous for its Saimin. This was our last stop before we drove back to the airport since it's located close by the airport.

The restaurant was very small and low key, and we sat on stools and could see the busy kitchen in action.

We both ordered the specialty saimin which comes with veggies, hard boiled egg, roast pork, won ton, fish cake, and chopped ham. The broth was a seafood broth. The saimin was decent, but I think I had higher expectations for it. First of all, it was not the most pleasant experience eating hot food in hot tropical weather. :p But I guess I'm comparing this to ramen in the Bay Area which is different... so maybe it's an unfair comparison.


Overall we were both disappointed with the food in Kauai. There's not very many restaurant options, and the ones that were rated very highly on Yelp (4+ stars), I probably would rate 2-3 stars. There are definitely much better options in Oahu and Maui. Kauai is a smaller island and therefore there aren't that many options which is understandable. However, the two things that are always good in Hawaii are shave ice and spam musubi. :)

As far as activities, you can be as active as you want or do close to nothing which was our approach this time around. It probably would have been nice to do at least 1-2 activities while we were there, but for one reason or another we ended up not doing much this time around.

Nex Post: St. Regis Princeville

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sheraton Kauai Resort

We were originally going to stay two nights at the Westin Princeville and then another two nights at the St. Regis Princeville. However, after reading online a lot of people mentioned that November is rainy season for the North shore (Princeville area), and so we thought it would be better if we at least spent two nights in the South side for a chance of better weather. The only SPG property in the Southern part of the island is the Sheraton, which didn't have very good reviews. But we figured it would be nice to spend time in the South, and then we'll splurge for our last 2 nights at the St. Regis. (Note, if you do decide to split your time between the Sheraton and St. Regis, we definitely recommend the Sheraton first and then the St. Regis, not the other way around - otherwise you'll be very disappointed).

When we arrived at the Sheraton property, it was a bit confusing as to where is the main building, as it looked like there were 2 main buildings and it wasn't clearly marked which one was reception. We took a wild guess and turned out we were in the right building. The open air lobby was nice.

Since we booked using points, we were assigned the "Garden View" room, which was actually on the other building. They said that they were unable to upgrade us to an ocean view room but they would put us on the SPG Preferred floor which was the top (4th) floor.

There's self parking next to our building, or there's the option to valet as well. Parking cost was included in the resort fee.

The room looked recently updated, and the decor was typical Sheraton. I liked the high ceiling being on the top floor.

There's flatscreen TV as well as a small sitting area.

The bathroom was tiny and barely fit the bathtub. It was basic but clean enough.

We had a small balcony overlooking the garden. If we looked hard enough we could see the ocean in the distance. :)

The hotel had a couple of pools--the most crowded one of course was the one by the ocean. We were able to find seats pretty easily though.

The Sheraton actually had a pretty nice beach and I loved how close they were to the beach.

We were also given free vouchers for Mai Tais which we redeemed at the outdoor cafe.

As part of being an SPG Gold member, they also invited us to a complementary evening wine tasting which was nice.


The hotel itself was just ok--hotel was a bit old but actually not too bad. The location of the hotel was pretty good though and more convenient to a lot of things compared to Princeville. It was closer to drive to Waimea Canyon, and the hotel was also located very close to a strip mall where there's shopping and restaurants. We did visit the Grand Hyatt for dinner one night and I was amazed at the size and grandness of the resort. At the Sheraton, since the hotel was separated by a main road, it felt somewhat disconnected and our building felt like it's not really a part of the resort. At the Grand Hyatt, we got the "WOW" feeling as soon as we entered--the ground was lush and beautiful and the swimming pools looked amazing. If you want to spend time in the South, I would recommend the Grand Hyatt rather than the Sheraton.

Next Post:  Food & Activities in Kauai

Friday, December 21, 2012

SJC - LIH on Alaskan Airlines

I found it interesting that Alaskan Airlines was actually one of the bigger airline operators from the West Coast to Hawaii. You would think that Alaskan Airlines only fly to Alaska...hehe. They actually had really great options and offered many direct flights from the Bay Area. We love flying from SJC since it's super convenient for us, so we found dates that worked for a direct flight from SJC to LIH.

Check in was easy. There was a separate line for first class, and there was no wait. There was also a separate security line upstairs for first class/premier travelers, which was nice. I started my trip off buying coconut water from one of the convenience stores in the SJC terminal. I thought it would be a good way to get in the island mood. :)

Apparently the flight that day was full, which made sense since it was the Friday before Veterans Day, so there were probably a lot of people who wants to take advantage of the long weekend. We boarded early and I quickly took a shot of the first class cabin before everyone boarded.

The first class cabin was pretty spacious for a domestic airline. The seating configuration was 2-2 and there were 4 rows in total. Dan read from Seat Guru that the first row actually had a little less legroom, so he booked us in the second row.

We were offered drinks shortly after taking our seats. I went with their specialty drink: POG (Passionfruit, Orange, Guava), and Dan got the POG Mimosa. 

POG Mimosa (Left) and POG  juice (Right)

They also distributed an "Island Snack Mix" which consisted of dried sweet pineapples, roasted sesame crackers, and macadamia nuts. I thought the snack mix was pretty good, definitely a nice change from the typical peanuts/crackers.

Island snack mix

Since this was a morning flight, the meal service was breakfast. And I actually prefer breakfast food on airplanes. I feel like it's probably the hardest to mess up, and typically they are pretty good. The menu looked quite promising. The flight attendant announced that they only had 8 of each meal, just enough for everyone, so really if you can get forward seats you're better off in terms of getting your first meal choice.

We decided to order one of each, Dan got the Island Benedict and I got the Quiche. The breakfast also included fruit platter.

The Island Benedict was definitely very unique, a bit different from a regular eggs benedict with hollandaise sauce. The egg was scrambled and the sauce was macadamia nut pesto, served with tri-colored potatoes. I actually enjoyed it even though it's not your typical benedict.

The quiche was also quite tasty, even though the crust was all broken, haha, but still tasted pretty good. There were pieces of Portugese sausage, and it was served with asparagus.

Overall, I thought both dishes were quite good, especially for airplane food.

During the 5+hour flight, the flight attended distributed a personal entertainment system. It actually had quite a good selection of movies. The only downside is that they gave us these cheap earphones (not the noise canceling one), so it was really hard to listen to the audio.

We both slept on and off during the flight, and finally landed in the beautiful island of Kauai!

Next Post: Sheraton Kauai Resort

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kauai Getaway: Trip Planning

A few months ago, there was a great deal for flights to Hawaii.  So after getting Dan's buy in, I booked our first trip to the island of Kauai for November.  We have previously been to Maui and Oahu, so this would mark off Hawaiian island number 3.  :)

We heard from friends that Kauai was very beautiful, scenic, and much more relaxing and quiet compared to Maui or Oahu.  And it had been a solid 3 months since our last trip on a plane.  It seemed like forever (but not really).  So we were really excited to check it out, get some R&R, and just soak it all in.

We wanted to explore the full island, so we split our stay--2 nights at the Sheraton in the South and 2 nights at the St. Regis in the North.

For this trip, we actually didn't plan much--our plan was to relax and enjoy the beautiful island.

Beautiful Hanalei Bay

Here's how we'll break down our 5 day, 4 night trip:

Trip Planning
SJC - LIH on Alaskan Airlines
Sheraton Kauai Resort
Food & Activities in Kauai
St. Regis Princeville Resort
LIH - SJC on Alaskan Airlines
Trip Summary

Dan & Marcela

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Hotel Icon Signature Collection - Houston, TX

Hotel Icon

I had the opportunity to travel to Houston for work. As soon as I found out, I started researching flight and hotel options. I typically prefer Starwood hotels, but my work travels lately haven't had many Starwood options. Plus, my wife registered me for the Marriott summer promotion where every two stays yields one free night for future redemption, up to 3 free nights. I had already earned one free night for two stays in So Cal (for work) in June. And we already had booked a paid Marriott weekend stay next month, so it made a lot of sense to also book Marriott for this trip. I would earn a second free night, and this would give me enough nights to qualify for Silver status. Not super awesome, but might as well, right? Hit two birds with one stone, or as my wife would say, two islands with one paddle stroke.  :D

Lobby Lounge

Initially I researched two options in downtown: the Residence Inn and Courtyard Marriott. The location was good--only a few blocks to walk to the office--but both were highly priced. After a little more digging, I ran into Hotel Icon Autograph Collection which happened to be a Marriott. I had no idea. The location was still good (within a few blocks), and the price was more reasonable with good reviews on TripAdvisor. So I booked a standard room with king bed.

King size Bed

Hotel Icon was located in the North-Northeast edge of downtown on Main Street. The decor was definitely more old school and not the modern/new/minimalist-like style that my wife (and now I) typically prefer. But it all appeared to be in very good, clean quality condition.

The room was pretty spacious with a huge king bed. There's also a seating area and flat screen TV.

Bedroom sitting area and TV

The bathroom area was very large, elegant, and surprisingly modern with some classic touches.

Bathroom counter
Full size tub w/ rubber ducky (for purchase)

The hotel included complimentary wifi and wired internet in the room, which was great, and free shuttle service within a ~3 mile radius in downtown.

The in-hotel restaurant, Line & Lariat, located on the lobby floor was nice.  They specialize in "modern Texan cuisine."  Food was decent quality, a bit overpriced, but not bad for a hotel.

On the lower floor was the Spa and Fitness Center. The Fitness Center was a very good size with a handful of cardio machines, weight machines, and free weights--a very well equipped gym for a hotel.

Overall, I enjoyed my stay here and would definitely consider Hotel Icon if I needed a Marriott stay in the future.

- Dan