Like the other major islands in the Hawaiian chain, the North Shore of Kauai is the windward side of the island, meaning that during most of year it’s comparatively rainy and receives large, strong waves. That’s great for tropical vegetation and expert surfers, which are both in abundance. But if you’re someone looking for a relaxing beach vacation, it’s not quite as ideal.
For a few months each summer, though, the prevailing winds change and bring sunnier weather and calm seas to the north side of all the islands. Summer is a busy time in Hawaii overall, but the nice weather means it’s peak season for Kauai’s North Shore. We booked a last-minute summer trip there, in July, to take advantage of the area’s fantastic beaches at the most favorable time of year. North Shore lodging options can be a little limited in the best of times; most of them are located in Princeville. A last-minute, peak-season trip meant we ended up there almost by default.
Unlike the two other tourist-oriented areas of Kauai, Princeville is oriented more towards golf than beach-going. It’s a spread out, master-planned “town” with a bunch of houses, small (two-story) condo developments, and a resort hotel (the St. Regis). Gertrude Stein’s famous saying, “there is no there there,” could apply to Princeville- there’s no center, no real “town” to speak of, no strong sense of place. It feels a little exurban; like a quiet, far-out suburb, which is a little strange because there aren’t any cities nearby (there’s only 70,000 people on the whole island). What Princeville does have, though, are a couple of highly-ranked golf courses, beautiful views, lush vegetation, and even a few small but excellent beaches.
I’m sure some people, probably golfers, really like Princeville. For me, I ended up seeing it more as a bedroom community; a pleasant enough place to sleep between interludes to more interesting and engaging places. Maybe that’s my main takeaway about Princeville: put it anywhere else, and it would be great. But this is Kauai, and only a couple miles down the road is Hanalei…a place that Princeville just can’t compete with.