If you had beachside boozing and dancing on the brain when you planned your trip to Hawaii, you probably concentrated your agenda on Honolulu, a bustling city with plenty of opportunities for gay bar hopping. Folks who prioritize the island of Kauai, however, are likely more partial to a hike through the rainforest or an afternoon spent on the sand than a round of tequila shots at 3 a.m. The Garden Isle, as it's called, has very few bars of any kind (in fact, it's the least commercially developed of all the Hawaiian islands), much less of the gay variety. Nevertheless, the LGBTQ+ crowd is welcome on this sleepy little atoll. It's no Southern California when it comes to dance clubs, drag shows, and same-sex beaches, but queer travelers will be thankful for the locals-only atmosphere after partying in Honolulu and mingling at Maui's gay-popular Little Beach. End your trip with a happy hour margarita at one of these laidback Kauai night spots.
Perhaps the grandest gathering of gay, lesbian, trans, and queer folks on Kauai is at Lihue's Nawiliwili Tavern on the first Saturday of each month. On this day, revelers are treated to drink specials, karaoke, and plenty of LGBTQ+ tourists and locals alike. Nawiliwili Tavern beckons locals with its sports bar vibe (think: pool and darts with the big game playing in the background) and out-of-towners with its convenient proximity to all the nearby hotels. Rob's Good Times Grill, also in Lihue (the East Shore), has a similar atmosphere and is open slightly later (2 a.m. as opposed to 1 a.m.). The kitchen serves casual pub fare until about 10 or 11 p.m. and the food is most often served with a side of live music. Don't let the strip mall locale fool you: Weekend nights are lively (and clubby, with the occasional DJ act). Fill up on saimin (Hawaiian noodle soup) at nearby Hamura's, then end the night on the dance floor of Rob's for a proper night out on Kauai.
Many Kauai eateries are of the mom-and-pop variety, but not Bar Acuda. Veteran San Francisco restaurateur Jim Moffat is the mastermind behind this chic tapas joint. It's located in the historic heart of Hanalei—an enchanting North Shore community near Princeville Resort that you might recognize from the 1958 film South Pacific—and set amid a cluster of eateries and shops in the village center. Bar Acuda is an unpretentious-yet-decidedly hip spot with a strong LGBTQ+ following. It can be counted on for small plates of absolutely stellar farm-to-table fare as well as expertly prepared cocktails and a well-curated wine and beer selection. Dining and drinking are enjoyed on a breezy covered lanai, and the bar serves until 10 p.m. nightly (consider that downright night-owlish for this part of the world). Moffat also operates the neighboring Hanalei Bread Co., a must-visit for breakfast.
If you're looking for a smart and stylish Mexican cantina inside Poipu's upscale and open-air Kukuiula Village Shopping Center, Tortilla Republic is just the thing. The Hawaii outpost of this small chain (with other locations in West Hollywood and Laguna Beach), is a favorite among visitors both gay and straight. The upstairs grill offers a more upscale experience and substantive food (tableside guacamole, local ceviche, chicken tinga mole de poblano, and short ribs chile verde) whereas the TR Taqueria and Margarita Bar serves up lighter fare and namesake cocktails downstairs. Come for the happy hour, from 3 to 5 p.m.
Festivals & Events
Don't come to this peaceful part of Hawaii looking for a pride festival the size of Los Angeles', but it does, in fact, have a humbler LGBTQ+ celebration every June. Kauai Pride, put on by YWCA of Kauai, is a one-day fete held in the heart of Lihue and includes a parade on Rice Street followed by a festival on the Historic County Lawn. There's even a drag show and an afterparty held at Nawiliwili Tavern (because where else?).
If you're looking for something a little more over-the-top, then head over to Paradise Pride (in Honolulu every October), Maui Pride (also in October), Kona Pride (in September), or Hawaii Island Pride (in Hilo each June). Consult the Hawaii LGBT Legacy Foundation's Community Calendar for a list of upcoming events statewide.
Tips for Going Out on Kauai
- Most bars on Kauai close at 1 or 2 a.m.
- Kauai's hotels are extremely diverse and welcoming, but the Poipu Plantation Resort is an especially gay-popular B&B located just steps from Poipu Beach.
- While people on the island of Kauai are overwhelmingly accepting, the culture here is not as keen on public displays of affection regardless of sexual orientation. If you're feeling especially touchy-feely after a few drinks, prepare to attract some attention.