Visiting Kauai: 5 Tips to Save on Food
When you think of a Hawaii vacation, do you immediately see dollar signs? Since it's the northernmost of the major islands (and therefore more remote), Kauai, in particular, can empty wallets pretty quickly. Just like anywhere else, though, exercising control over what you spend makes a huge difference.
I intended to write a post full of tips for how to cut costs on Kauai, but as I started making a list, I realized that most of the advice related to food. After all, some of the best ways to enjoy the island don’t cost a thing, thanks to no entrance fees at state parks here. Eating, on the other hand, can be pricey. If you want to allocate more funds to experiences (like a helicopter ride or Na Pali coast boat tour), or just find a way to stretch your budget far enough to reach this gem of a destination, then check out these tips on how to eat for less on Kauai.
Bring food from home
This suggestion might seem super obvious to some, but completely strange to others. I admit, thinking far ahead about meals might not seem very vacation oriented or relaxing, but it really doesn’t take too much planning since you can pick everything up during a regular grocery trip (or order from Amazon Prime Pantry).
If this is a completely foreign concept, let’s start with the basics. What do you like to eat in the morning? Pop-tarts? Mini-muffins? Breakfast bars? Oatmeal? All of these items can be packed and prepared with minimal effort in a hotel room that only has a coffee maker (for hot water). Snacks? Bring things like trail mix, crackers, nuts, granola bars and pita chips. If you’re feeling adventurous (and want to save even more) pack PB&J supplies; sandwich thins won’t get smashed like bread, and small peanut butter and jelly pouches can even go in your quart-sized liquids bag – you may get some head tilts at security, but it’s allowed! Speaking of packing, anything that might crumble should be kept in your carry-on (have you ever watched luggage being unloaded? … yikes!).
You might be thinking that this sounds like a really boring (and unhealthy) way to eat on vacation, and I’m certainly not suggesting you chow down on stale pastries 24/7. But having these items on hand greatly reduces the amount of dining out you’ll need to do.
Before moving on, one note – even though Hawaii is part of the U.S., there are restrictions for transporting “plant material” from the mainland and all such items must be declared and inspected. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture says that most commercially processed foods are OK to bring (from the U.S.), but check their guidelines before you go.
Grocery shop on the island
Typically this would be my top piece of advice, but the high supermarket prices on Kauai put a damper on the savings (a loaf of plain white bread was something like $6). Nevertheless, picking up sandwich supplies, deli dinners or microwavable meals definitely costs less than a sit-down supper with gratuity. Tally what you’re throwing in the cart though. We found a pre-made sub platter at Safeway to be cheaper than buying all the ingredients to assemble it.
A hidden bonus to grocery store feasting is the time it saves. While dressing up and going out is fun some nights, at the end of a long adventure day you might be in a hurry to get to bed. Supermarkets provide an alternate quick option to a drive-through.
There are grocery stores in all of the major hotel areas, including a couple of Safeways on the east side, a Walmart and Costco in Lihue (near the airport), and some local chains called Big Save Market and Foodland scattered around.
If your hotel room has a fridge and microwave or you’re staying in an Airbnb, a whole new world opens up, and you might want to consider making a grocery run when you first arrive to stock up for the duration of your trip.
Limit meals out
Combined with bringing some of your own grub or popping into the store, eating at a restaurant only once or twice a day becomes quite easy. A filling brunch plus an early dinner works if you munch on snacks to bridge the gaps, while keeping picnic supplies on hand is useful for days when you want to be outside exploring from dawn to dusk and only have time to sit down for supper.
Being budget conscious doesn’t mean depriving yourself either. When we found a fancy seafood buffet we wanted to try, we scheduled dinner early and ate a cheaper lunch.
Try restaurant alternatives
In addition to being a little cheaper, counter-service establishments reduce or eliminate the need for a tip, which can add up quickly. You’re not limited to drive-throughs either (though the typical burger, taco and chicken stops are all here), with options like food trucks, local fruit stands, pizzerias and farmers markets providing alternates.
Dozens of food trucks around the island offer just about every international flavor variety you could possibly crave (Thai, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Cajun, Italian, Indian … it’s all here), and juice and smoothie stands make for refreshing snacks.
Fruits and veggies grown on Kauai can be purchased from Sunshine Markets that pop up weekdays and Saturdays in various locals. Grab a bunch of apple bananas for breakfast or a sweet snack when you’re out on the trails.
Don’t buy drinks
Try to consume mostly water while dining out. Cutting alcohol cuts costs big time (you know it’s true), but eliminating sodas and coffees also reduces restaurant bills incredibly. You’re not only nixing $3-$5 per person for the drink but also the extra tax and tip on top of it. If you just can’t stand the taste of water, pack some flavoring packets to carry around.
I like to take full advantage of free hotel beverages as well. Yes, the coffee isn’t always the best, but pick up a flavored creamer at the store and it’s a lot more tolerable. Add up the costs of coffee out for two for a week and the potential savings hit $75 or more. Pro tip: Kauai Coffee Company on the southwest side of the island has free samples that taste way better than hotel brews.