Ohana adventures in Lanai

About one year into Covid, we learned we had the opportunity to relocate to the tiny remote island of Lanai, Hawaii for my husband Marcus’ work (he leads technology for SenseiAg). Given I was able to work from anywhere (I had been fully remote in my innovation lead role even before COVID), and our toddlers were still not in preschool, we figured it was the perfect timing and jumped on the opportunity. While it wasn’t easy to move two toddlers, make all kinds of childcare arrangements, prep our home for renters, etc., there is no question it was well worth it. When I was young, my adventurous mom took my siblings and I traveling as much as she could, and we all got her wanderlust genes; I’m thrilled I could pass on some of this passion for travel, adventure and nature to my impressionable 3 year old Luca and 1 year old Ellie.

Reflecting on the treasures of Lanai

Lanai – a tiny island of 3000 people where deer outnumber people by a wide ratio- was a place I had not even heard of before the opportunity to move there surfaced. We had been to almost all the other Hawaiian islands, but Lanai is an oft overlooked hidden treasure, in part potentially b/c affordable accommodations are sparse (there are 3 hotels on island, of which 2 are Four Seasons starting at $800/ night). It harbors a unique combination of forest – dotted with Cook Island pines all along the main highway and town – and some of the world’s most stunning beaches, especially the main beach of Hulopoe. For nature and beach lovers, it is simply paradise with beautiful hikes, reliably incredible sunsets, and warm crystal clear turquoise waters, which on calm days make for incredible swimming. Our favorite spots included:

  • Hulopoe beach – We went there way more times than we can count, always parked on the locals side, and it’s a great family friendly spot – rarely crowded w/ plentiful picnic tables and bbqs. You can take a short hike over to Sweetheart rock that opens up to incredible views. During low tide, there is also a tidepool where you can go down the stairs and swim around and see plenty of colorful fish without even needing snorkel gear. My son Luca loved this spot and could spend hours soaking and watching the fish and ocean. My husband surfs and while there wasn’t surfing all days, he did catch some good sessions while we were out there, and snorkeled quite a bit too
View of Hulopoe from the Four Seasons Manele Bay
My little surfers to be – Ellie and Luca
Handsome Luca building clock towers in the sand
Fire sunset at Hulopoe
  • Club Lanai beach – W/ a four wheel drive and for those who can tolerate some bumpy off-roading, you can map to Club Lanai beach, where if you go in the morning before the wind picks up, you can reap the rewards of a warm ocean that is as calm as a swimming pool AND often have an entire long strip of incredible beach all to yourself. If you do go, bring everything you need as there are no services (gas, food, etc.) w/in 30 minute drive
Club Lanai beach with views of Molokai and Maui – the drive there is incredible too!
  • Traditional Hawaiian sunrise ocean kayaking – There is a group of locals that regularly goes out on traditional Hawaiian outriggers. I only made it out once (and was definitely fearful of ocean kayaking), and it was among the highlights – felt a bit like Moana kayaking and learning the traditional commands, and even built up the courage to jump out and swim around and managed to do a pull up (not gracefully but it worked) to get back in.
  • The Breaks -We loved our Sunday tradition of going to what my 1 year old dubs “the fancy hotel” where they knew our family by name, and knew we would always get mama a fancy latte and the kids purple poi donuts. The views are absolutely spectacular, and we loved walking the grounds of the property too where the kids would feed the colorful fish in the koi pond, enjoy the parrots and generally take in the incredible fauna (my 1 year old seven recognize and say “red ginger flower”).
Our regular sunday brunch spot – The Breaks – with quite a view
My kids’ beloved purple poi donut at The Breaks
Admiring the red gingers at The Four Seasons Manele
  • Horse Ranch Sunsets – Always multilayered and stunning in color and texture, w/ a bonus that the kids could engage with the beautiful animals from the strong big horses to the adorable ponies to the goats who would go nuts when the kids would feed them pine cones. We could walk there from our house and it was a frequent feast for the eyes.
One of our fave sunset spots – the Lanai Horse Ranch
  • Walking the gardens and soaking in the Onsen tubs of the Sensei Four Seasons – a sensorial feast, these incredibly lush and curated gardens and sculpture collection = as well as the beautiful Banyan forest trees- have incredible energy. When some friends and family stayed on property, we also got to enjoy the Onsen tubs, private hot springs tucked away in lush tropics – simply heaven and will go back there one day!
Zen gardens at The Sensei Four Seasons
  • Koloiki Ridge Trail – This forest and moss shrouded trail opens up to ocean views at the end. There is a bit of a scramble at the beginning and then it is a pretty mellow walk most of the way.
Koloiki Ridge
  • Lanai adventure center ropes course – an amazing place for all ages and we loved this for our toddler!
Confidence building adventure for Luca!
  • Garden of the Gods – despite being one of the top tourist attractions, we didn’t make it here until our very last week, but glad we did! Both our kids love rocks and climbing, and it was beautiful and reminded me a bit of Joshua Tree, but right on the island of Lanai!
Playing with rocks at Island of the Gods
  • Running: On a tip from a local runner, she mentioned to run along one of the main highways to the airport. While running along a highway doesn’t sound scenic, it truly was a great run. Also loved running the loop from my house to the horse ranch and back.
  • Lap / family swimming: The public pool in town is the nicest public pool I’ve ever experienced. Rarely crowded, it’s a great spot for both lap swimming and family swim w/ the kids.
  • Coffee Works: A coffee hut that roasts its own beans and is owned by the lovely Rochelle, this is pretty much the only place in town to get a latte / coffee, and luckily it’s quite good. We would also get their beans weekly and my favorite was the Haleilani blend.
  • The Blue Ginger: This iconic diner style eatery was a regular spot my kids went to for over-sized pancakes and hash browns. Not the healthy vegan fare I love, but appreciate its spot in Lanai history and how happy it made my family.
  • Mimis Place: Tucked into an unassuming traditional home in town, Mimi set up a wonderful self care haven with heavenly pedicures, manicures, haircuts, massage and more. Mimi is lovely and it was always a treat!
  • Lanai Art Center– Lots of cool art from local artists and Friday night they put on Art after Dark event for kids where lots of families in the community come out and engage in various art mediums.
  • Never locking our doors – for the entire 6 months we stayed there in our beautiful big blue craftsman set against a forest backdrop (well known among the locals as ‘The Captains Retreat’), we never locked our doors once. Now back in urban SoCal, we miss that deep feeling of safety.
Our oversized craftsman with a hike right outside the back in the Koele area of town
Koele area trees – right behind our home there
Moon rise and bird song from our balcony

Little loves holding hands at golden hour

Living there was not without challenges. My in laws were incredible, generous adventurers and joined us as our childcare as we both worked full time (and i got a promotion while there and my work load picked up). Despite their high energy, watching 2 toddlers full time wasn’t easy (watching them full time even for 1 day makes me tired and I’m not in my 70s :)), and I struggled to find any kind of reliable and experienced supplemental childcare despite trying all the means (every Hawaii Facebook mom/ nanny group, messaging all Care.com people on proximate Maui, even putting flyers around town – some of which may still be up :), and even considered flying out someone from the mainland); this was definitely one of the most challenging aspects of living on Lanai. And truth is even against the backdrop of paradise, working w/ 2 toddlers and scant time for self care reinforced for me the importance of ‘drink as you pour and fill your own cup’ as the expression goes. – have some catching up to do on this rejuvenation front as we’re settling back into our SoCal groove, and I (like many working parents or frankly people right now) am feeling the weight of steady COVID anxiety taking a toll as we experience yet another surge as we wrap 2021, and my kids are too young to be vaccine eligible.

Additionally, while we loved the simplicity of life – there is essentially 1 market and a handful of restaurants + 1 boutique store so not a whole lot of choice – being vegetarian there requires pretty much home cooking all the time as there wasn’t a single spot to eat out good healthy vegan fare (other than the very pricey and inaccessible Four Seasons spots). We made due with a combination of the wonderful CSA farm box from Island Fresh delivered every Friday from Maui right to our doorstep (a luxury in Lanai where you have to wait in line at the post office for pretty much everything including Amazon), and Vitcasost, which also shipped to our door. But coming back we are definitely indulging in all the amazing variety of food options in SoCal, which we have a newfound appreciation for.

All in all, it was absolutely a blessing and a foundation of rich and formative memories for my little ones who now have some Hawaiian aloha embedded in their spirits and memories.

Mahalo to the wonderful people and beautiful Aina of Lanai – we will be sure to be back some time soon!

Our 5 year wedding anniversary – we caught a stunning full rainbow en route to a magical oceanview dinner
Family photoshoot w/ Gigi and Papa by the lovely Mika Badillo

Vegan travel – Big Island, Hawaii

Sunset with the ohana at beautiful Manini beach in Captain Cook

Last we week, Marcus, Luca and I traveled to the Big Island for the first time, and we spent a few days on the Kona side of the island. We both had been to Hawaii, but it was our first time on the Big Island and our first time traveling to Hawaii with baby Luca (and my incredibly generous mother-in-law who helped babysit). Since the Big Island is huge, we didn’t get to go to all the vegan hot spots that I had scoped out on Yelp, but sharing a few of our favorites from the Kona side:

1.Pure Green Kona International Farmer’s Market – a MUST! Sundays 9-2 with amazing local fare — fruits, veggies, meals, sweets, kona coffee, artisanal gifts and more! My favorite were these amazing sweets made with carob and macadamia nuts; we also tried some delicious spring rolls, and stocked up on affordable macadamia nuts and kona coffee to bring home. There was live music too. Overall great vibes and delicious food!

Pure Kona farmers market – get the carob clusters!!!

2.Herbivore – This quirky, tiny vegan restaurant isn’t in the most picturesque location. In fact, it’s right in the middle of a parking lot. BUT they do have a creative vegan menu, a fun step stool up to the extra tall counter where you order, and we tried a good taro burger (which we took to go to eat on the beach — not just any beach – Kua Bay which is stunningly beautiful!).

Taro burger from Herbivore hole-in-the-wall (or parking lot) vegan shack

3.Kaya’s cafe – A sweet, hippie-esque artsy cafe with delicious kona lattes and every kind of alternative milk you might want. Lots of vegan options too w/ sandwiches, sweets and more.

Kaya’s kona almond latte with Big Island Bees’ raw organic honey

4.The Coffee Shack – a heads up that their menu is decidedly NOT vegan friendly, but they do have amazing views so you can just go get a coffee and some fruit and enjoy the sweeping views of the island from their incredible location.

The Coffee Shack’s prized location!

5.Island Naturals Market & Deli – I was told this was THE health food market on the island, and it did not dissapoint. While a bit pricey (like all supermarkets in Hawaii) and I thought the salad bar was only okay, overall this is a great stock up spot for all your vegan staples and treats alike. We got some great lillikoi (passionfruit) cake too, one of the many vegan desserts they had.

Island Naturals – THE health food store

And it goes without saying that tropical fruits should be a mainstay for any vegan (or anyone!) traveling to Hawaii. Whether at farmers markets, side of the road stands or regular supermarkets, the bananas, papayas, avocados, lychee and other tropical fruit are all delicious!

Lastly, a few places I wanted to try (per Yelp) but didn’t make it to on this trip (too far from where I was staying in Captain Cook) are here.

Other tips: Organic farmstay: We stayed on this organic mango farm in Captain Cook w/ a cedar hot tub surrounded by lush plants, and a great layout for a family (plus they have a pack ‘n play and it’s pretty baby-proofed for anyone traveling with little ones).

Outdoor lounging at our organic mango farm Airbnb
On our organic mango farmstay

Kua Bay also called Manini’owali- Simply stunning beach – favorite on the island that we saw (and one of the few we went to that actually has sand as many are more rocky). It’s not too far from the Kona airport so if you are flying into or out of Kona, you can (and should!) easily swing by.

The stunning Kua Bay beach – picture does not do justice!

Hope to do some more travel soon – next up San Miguel de Allende, Mexico in March for a dear friend’s wedding. Any vegan tips for San Miguel? Would love to hear them! Mahalo :).