A fearless T+L editor returns to Kauai with his mom—finding great deals and staying in touch with Dad via E-mail

Jim Franco

Dear Dad,

A quick note from the airport—before the Xanax kicks in—to say I'm sorry you couldn't come with Mom and me. But you did just have that 60th-birthday fishing trip to Montana, and there's only so much money to go around (maybe you shouldn't have retired early after all).

Love, Erik

Dear Dad,

We're having a blast. Mom and I are staying on the north shore in Kilauea at a B&B called Kai Mana. We arrived at night, interrupting the caretakers as they were watching a video—funny how people who live in paradise rent movies just like everyone else.

There are guest rooms in the main house, but we booked the one-bedroom cottage. (I'm sleeping on the floor; no reason to get Oedipal.) It's one of those buildings with so many windows it doesn't matter how the inside looks. It's owned by New Age author Shakti Gawain, and her influence shows: the bookshelf has titles like Choicemaking; Beyond Codependency; and Meditations (one of Shakti's books). She prohibits illegal substances; that got me to asking Mom if you two ever tried marijuana. She says no, but I still think those seventies country-club years were wilder than I'll ever know.

Kai Mana has a tennis court, but it's an embarrassment. There's also a Jacuzzi, which happens to be clothing-optional—as is Secret Beach, 297 steep steps down from the house. A small curve of sand under awesome cliffs, it is a stunner—we reached the bottom to find just a few tracks of footprints.

For breakfast, we've been saving money by having bananas, pineapple, and papaya from our room's fruit basket, and passion-fruit Danish from the Kilauea Bakery, a 1 1/2-mile walk from the B&B. It's not much of a town, but you get the feeling there'll be one soon. Several nifty shops have already opened: Kong Lung for high-class tchotchkes, and Island Soap & Candle Works, where Mom bought plumeria votives for her golf buddies. We loved it when the owner of Island Soap mistook us for locals (but not when he thought we were together).

Other meals have been a little more difficult. We poked into the popular Brennecke's in touristy Poipu. I'm sorry, but I didn't come all this way to have a French dip-what is it with this place and beef?There's prime rib everywhere. En route to Waimea Canyon, we passed the Camp House Grill. Mom snorted at the diners in undershirts and read from the Kauai Underground Guide—remember, the book we used as a bible when we were here in 1984?Basically, it said not to drive right by, snorting at the diners in undershirts. So of course we had to go in, but the best thing about it was the free soda refills.

Mom took a sick pleasure in the fact that there wasn't a cloud in the sky at the Waimea Canyon lookout, because when we drove up here with you it was fogged in. It's hard to believe this small island has room for something so huge. There were rock climbers across the way, but Mom left her binoculars in the room, so we couldn't really see them.

On the way back, we popped into Hanapepe, a one-street town in the southwest that feels like Hawaii in the fifties. We walked across an old swing bridge and stopped at Lappert's for Kauai Pie ice cream—with macadamia nuts, coffee, chocolate, coconut, and vanilla cake bits. I only wish I liked ice cream as much as you do, so I could've appreciated it more. Afterward, we spotted the most amazing rainbow I've ever seen. Both ends were totally visible, and each color was vivid and distinct. We drove to where it appeared to be just 20 yards from our window. Then it was gone.

Well, that's enough for now. We're about to check out, and pick a few star fruit and avocados from the mini-orchard as we go. Then we'll hit the Kilauea Lighthouse.

Love, Erik

Dear Dad,

What a crazy few days! We've moved farther along the north shore, to the Hanalei Bay Resort in Princeville. The grounds are beautiful, and as you've always said, how much time do you really spend in your room?

When we arrived at the resort, I was concerned that our car would have a better view than we did, since I'd opted for a mountain-view hotel room ($165 a night) over a garden-view ($185) or ocean-view ($237). But from our little lanai we can see the hotel's smaller, round pool, the majestic mountains, even a slice of the bay. I'm still peeved that I have to pay an extra $1.50 a day to use the room safe—it's the principle, as I've heard you say a million times.

Mom and I headed straight to the Happy Talk Lounge-much of South Pacific was filmed around here, and no one lets you forget it. Everyone else got two free drinks for listening to the concierge's spiel about what to do on the island. Fat chance of us whoring ourselves out like that!

(The lighthouse, by the way, was dull. They had nerve charging $2 to stand at the edge of a cliff and look at birds. You can't even go inside.)

The next morning, Mom decided to whore herself out after all-listening to the concierge for a half-off coupon at a restaurant famous for its prime rib. A woman from another hotel came over and admired her wedding ring. "Are you here with your husband?" she asked. Mom said no. Only if you were with her could she go on the time-share tour—and get $50 cash. Apparently women can't buy real estate on their own. Mom got ticked later while sitting on the beach. After playing tennis with the bay in the background and swimming in the grotto pool, we managed to forget the sexist little policy.

We'd planned to eat breakfasts in our room again, but the guidebook (not the bible, a different one) had made me think we'd have a kitchenette; we did not. You'd have been proud: I called housekeeping for a knife and plates, and we ate the pineapple we'd bought at a farmers' market—a bunch of cars and trucks backed into a circle, with people selling stuff off the backs—and some muffins from the Kilauea Bakery. We hid everything so the maid wouldn't take it away.

Remember when we went horseback riding on Maui?Well, Mom and I thought we'd try it again—a 1 1/2-hour "country ride." The guide, Gubby, actually expected us to know what we were doing. All I came away with was that when your horse wants to urinate, you have to stand up a bit in the saddle to relieve the pressure from his kidneys.

We've had better luck with meals. At Dali Deli, we bought terrific sandwiches to take to the beach, and we had a great dinner at Postcards Café, in Hanalei. It was precious in a good way: bamboo chairs, old postcards under glass on the tables. We started with taro fritters-surprisingly tasty, but heavy-then moved on to fish tacos. Mom, evidently tired of talking to me, started up a conversation with the couple at the next table.

They mix the most amazing mai tai—your favorite drink!—at the Living Room bar at the Princeville Resort. I don't understand why you'd want to feel that you're in an English country house while in Hawaii, but it is impressive. A pianist and a singer played the "Hawaiian Wedding Song," and Mom told me how the Presbyterian church in Bel Air wouldn't allow it at your wedding. We toasted you.

Love, Erik

Dear Wally,

It's me, Sue. Erik let me sign on to his E-mail account. We're having fun. The weather's been good. When did our son become such a penny-pincher?

Love, Sue

Dear Dad,

Hanalei town has a hippie chic that Mom and I both liked. We had run out of fruit, so we ate breakfast at Old Hanalei Coffee & Co. Mom ordered a chocolate-chip muffin, even though she subsequently remembered that she hates chocolate in the morning. I had the Bali Hai breakfast burrito.

I bought a snazzy bathing suit, and we both loved the vintage Hawaiiana at Yellowfish. Mom found a woven box purse at a place called Sand People, but it cost $64 and she said you never take her anywhere interesting anyway.

We've checked into Opaekaa Falls Hale, a house up in the hills with a suite that they rent out. The owner is nice; the amount of food she gave us for a two-night stay is remarkable; the facilities and amenities (washer/dryer; TV/VCR with movies) are terrific; but it just doesn't seem right for a B&B to be in the middle of a housing tract. I feel as if Neighborhood Watch is keeping tabs on us. A lot of the messages in the guest book mention God, which makes me uncomfortable—sorry, I know my atheism is a sore subject—but you have to agree it's not very Christian to charge guests $20 to use the pool.

There's so much to do on Kauai that's free. We hiked up the head of the Sleeping Giant, the mountain range that looks like a man lying on his back. At one point, when I'd stopped to take it all in, Mom broke the silence: "I'll never get all this mud off my shoes." I guess I wasn't much nobler, as the whole way down I was thinking how good the hot dogs were going to taste at Mustard's Last Stand, famous on the island. They were indeed fantastic, real big dogs with a whole spread of toppings. The tables are made of surfboards.

Then we headed over to the Wailua River to go kayaking—had to work off those dogs! We went up a creek that resembled Vietnam (I guess, anyway, never having been there). Mom didn't do much in the way of paddling. Now I know why you two refuse to play mixed doubles.

Since it was our last night, we splurged on dinner at the Beach House, one of Kauai's top restaurants. I had mahi mahi in a garlic-sesame crust and lime-ginger sauce; Mom, pistachio-crusted snapper and ancho linguine. The food was as fabulous as the view of the sun setting over the ocean. Boy, I wish you'd been with us. You could have paid.

Love, Erik

Kai Mana and Opaekaa Falls Hale Book through Hawaii's Best Bed & Breakfasts, 800/262-9912 or 808/885-4550, fax 808/885-0559. Kai Mana doubles from $100; cottage $175 (five nights minimum). Opaekaa Falls doubles $95.
Hanalei Bay Resort & Suites 5380 Honoiki Rd., Princeville; 800/827-4427 or 808/826-6522, fax 800/477-2329; doubles from $165.
Princeville Resort 5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville; 800/826-4400 or 808/826-9644, fax 808/826-1166; doubles from $360.

Kong Lung Kong Lung Center, Kilauea; 808/828-1822.
Island Soap & Candle Works Kong Lung Center, Kilauea; 808/828-1955.
Yellowfish Trading Co. Hanalei Center, 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei; 808/826-1227.
Sand People Hanalei Center, 5-5161 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei; 808/826-1008.

Camp House Grill 2-2431 Kaumualii Hwy., Kalaheo; 808/332-9755; lunch for two $10.
Kilauea Bakery Kong Lung Center, Kilauea; 808/639-4689.
Lappert's 1-3555 Kaumualii Hwy., Hanapepe; 808/335-6121.
Dali Deli 5492 Koloa Rd., Koloa; 808/742-8824; lunch for two $12.
Postcards Café 5-5075 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei; 808/826-1191; dinner for two $45.
Old Hanalei Coffee & Co. 5-5183 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei; 808/826-6717.
Mustard's Last Stand Kaumualii Hwy., Lawai; 808/332-7245; lunch for two $10.
Beach House 5022 Lawai Rd., Koloa; 808/742-1424; dinner for two $100.

Princeville Ranch Stables Princeville; 808/826-6777; rides from $55 per person.
Kayak Wailua 159 Wailua Rd., Kapaa; 808/822-3388; rates $25 per person.

Kauai Underground Guide by Lenore W. Horowitz (Papaloa Press).