The Ultimate Guide to Moloka‘i
Considered by many to be the most "Hawaiian" of the islands, this quietly breathtaking place has deep culture, towering sea cliffs, and beautiful beaches. Discover the best places to explore, eat, drink, and stay, on this most of rare of islands.
Moloka‘i has a mere 7,500 residents, nearly half of them native Hawaiians. With wonderfully few tourist hubs, it presents an unspoiled paradise. Tour its extensive coral reef, attend a hula festival, dine at the island’s favorite watering hole, and revel in its laidback way of life.
The Best Beaches
Kumimi Beach: Look to Kumimi Beach (also known as Murphy Beach) for Moloka‘i’s snorkeling retreat. Located at Mile Marker 20, the golden sand refuge is the perfect place to glimpse colorful fish among the shallow coral. Lucky visitors may also spy deer along the shoreline.
Papohaku Beach boasts a sandy white beach front. Off the beaten path, even by Moloka‘i standards, it’s not uncommon for visitors to swim in the cerulean blue waters in solitude.
The Best Things to Do
Go Nuts at Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nut Farm: At the five-acre farm, owned by Moloka‘i natives Tuddie and Kammy Purdy, you can take a hands-on tour (snacking encouraged!) and learn about one of the island’s favorite natural resources.
Visit Kalaupapa by Mule: In the 1870s, a missionary priest established a colony for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) on the cliff-isolated peninsula called Kalaupapa. Father Damien spent the rest of his life in service to this shunned community (succumbing to the contagious disease himself); the location remains a moving memorial. Kalaupapa is only accessible by boat or plane, or via mule excursion down the cliffs, which includes a guided tour that takes you to the heart of this stark, hauntingly beautiful locale.
Snorkel or Whale Watch: Climb aboard a twin-hull boat and hit the waters with Moloka‘i Fish and Dive. Whether you opt for a whale watching tour or a snorkeling expedition, Captains Tim and Gabe will reveal Moloka‘i ’s extensive coral reef like only locals can.
Hike the Halawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike: The Halawa Valley Falls Cultural Hike takes you through ancient ruins and geological formations that lie at the heart of Moloka‘i ’s history. Led by members of the Solatorio family (the last living descendants to be born and raised in Halawa) the three-mile trek culminates with a dip at the scenic Mo‘oula falls.
Watch Hula in its Birth Place: One legend has it that hula originated on Moloka‘i. In celebration of the ancient art form, the island hosts the Moloka'i Ka Hula Piko each June. The festival spotlights the traditional form of the dance with performance as well as lectures.
Related: The Best Beaches in Hawaii
The Best Restaurants and Bars
Paddler’s Restaurant and Bar, Kaunakakai: Locals refer to Paddler’s Restaurant and Bar as “Moloka‘i’s restaurant” for good reason—with its metal-roofed dining area, ample bar, and live music, it feels like the only one you need. Don’t be fooled by the old-school trappings, though: Chef Kainoa Turner’s scratch kitchen puts out plates featuring local ingredients and a burger so good you may decide to order it two nights in a row.
Kanemitsu Bakery, Kaunakakai: For 90 years, the Kanemitsu family has been serving up buttery creations at their eponymous bakery in Kaunakakai. And while that’s already a good thing, insiders know that the real magic happens Tuesday through Sunday nights at 7:30, when Kanemitsu Bakery sells “hot bread”—oversize rolls stuffed with jelly, cream cheese, cinnamon, and sugar—from a stand down an alley behind the bakery. Better than a speakeasy—way better.
Kualapu‘u Cookhouse and Coffees of Hawaii, Kualapu‘u: In the inland community of Kualapu‘u lie two low-key treasures: Kualapu‘u Cookhouse, a laid-back home-style restaurant with big plates and warm service, and Coffees of Hawaii, where the broad porch often hosts local musicians, and the local brew is the perfect excuse to linger.
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The Best Places to Shop
Something for Everybody, in Kaunakakai, offers locally made jewelry and apparel, including dresses and tunics featuring Hawaiian floral motifs.
At Kalele Book Store, you’ll not only run into an impressive assortment of reading materials, but also a gathering of Moloka‘i residents ready to shoot the breeze (and give directions.)
Despite its size, Moloka‘i has an impressive number of resident artists. You can peruse works from more than 100 of them at Art From the Heart in Kaunakakai, which has an ever-rotating display of colorful paintings depicting the hula and beaches that typify the island. In Kualapu‘u tucked behind Coffees of Hawaii, the Moloka‘i Arts Center is a gathering place for classes and workshops and also sells pieces in ceramic and other forms.
The Best Hotels and Resorts
Hotel Mokoka'i, Kaunakakai: Evidencing its unspoiled charm, the tiny island has one lodging option: Hotel Moloka‘i. Perched on Kamiloloa Beach, the secluded property features inviting rooms and a variety of water sports, including standup paddleboarding and snorkeling. For the best stay, book a room on the top floor of the retro-perfect Polynesian-style A-frames. You’ll not only have pinch-me views of paradise, but will benefit from a tranquil breeze. (A true perk since the rooms have no air conditioning.)