5 Things That Brought Me Back to Kauai a Dozen Times

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My new travel post seems to be long overdue. A few pictures from friends visiting Kauai triggered some great memories of my own visits to the Garden Isle. I’ve been there at least a dozen of times, usually staying in Kapaa on the east side.

Ocean view condo at Waipouli Beach Resort and Spa

One disclosure: I am totally biased about this Hawaiian Island. It’s by far my favorite one. A few special things about this island make me happy to return again and again.

1. As Its Name Suggests, It Really Is a Garden Isle

From the moment you land on Kauai you will be impressed by how green the island is. The airport is located on the east side. Here there is much less green than on the North Shore. Still in all, the lush mountains you see through the plane window make it look so much greener than its neighbor islands Oahu and Maui.

Landing in Lihue airport Kauai

Then you go see the North Shore, and your perspective on natural beauty will be taken to a new level.

Kalalau Trail Hike

Na-Pali-Kauai-Panorama-1500x300

To experience the best of Hawaiian nature, I recommend visiting Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park. To get there, Kristina and I went on the 11-mile Kalalau trail hike (a 22-mile round trip). Because we had to carry a few days of food and water, it was one of the most grueling experiences of my life. Going up and down the face of a tropical mountain with all of that behind your shoulders is a very sweaty experience.

Kalalau Trail Hike Na Pali coast

Even locals start respecting you more once you’ve completed this hike. The trail begins in Ha’ena State Park at the northwest end of Kuhio Highway (Route 56), about 41 miles (a 1 1/2-hour drive) from Lihu’e Airport. Although leaving vehicles overnight at the trailhead is not recommended, nothing happened to our rental car for the four nights we were hiking.

The end point of the Kalalau trail is the Na Pali Beach. This is where visitors can legally camp for up to five nights. A day hike of up to 6 miles from the trailhead, as far as Hanakoa Valley, no longer requires a permit. In order to hike beyond Hanakoa Valley in the Na Pali Coast State Park, though, a camping permit is required. Bear in mind that due to the limited number of permits issued every month, you may need to request your permit well in advance—weeks or even months. It’s possible to do it online here.

We managed to buy permits a few days in advance only due to a cancellation. It’s possible to do that by visiting the Kauai Department of Recreation office in person. Here’s the address:

County of Kauai Department of Recreation
4444 Rice St., Pi'ikoi Building, Suite 330
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766
Phone: (808) 241-4463
Email: recpermits@kauai.gov

A Day Trip to Na Pali on a Sea Kayak

There are a couple more options for seeing the Na Pali coast that won’t require as much effort as the Kalalau trail hike.

A day long round trip on a sea-kayak with Napali Kayak, for instance.

I haven’t done this but based on the feedback of others a day of paddling in the Hawaiian waters may also be very exhausting. Keep in mind that this tour isn’t an option during the winter season, when big ocean swells make it very dangerous to kayak in open waters. Even during summer season, trips are occasionally cancelled due to big-wave conditions.

It sounds like my kind of adventure. I may try it on my next visit to Kauai.

Take a Boat to the Na Pali Coast

Na Pali coast boat tour with Captain Andy

A boat ride with Captain Andy’s. That’s the easiest one. They offer different 4-6 hour catamaran tours on a daily basis. My sister did this for her birthday this year and her experience was amazing.

How About Hiring a Chopper?

Honopu Beach, a.k.a. Cathedral Beach, at Napali Coast by Wally Gobetz

Apparently there is also a helicopter tour that flies over the Na Pali coast. You may consider this option if you’re very short on time and are willing to see the most of the island in 55 minutes. It’s also the only way to explore some remote parts of the islands, such as Mount Waialeale, arguably the wettest place on Earth.

2. Never Ending To-Do List For All Types of Nature Enthusiasts

From surfing to hiking to biking to sky-diving to paragliding to zip-lining to kayaking to snorkeling, Kauai offers a full set of activities for different tastes and interests.

Besides surfing, the most amazing thing I’ve done in Kauai is sky diving. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Kristina and I. Imagine, a tiny airplane takes you 10,000 feet above the island. Then when you start questioning whether it’s really a good idea to be that high and your hands get sweaty, you jump off and see the entire island as if it were in the palm of your hand.

Sky diving Kauai, Hawaii

It was absolutely amazing! The most troubling thing for me was getting over the fact that the plane was supposed to drop us off far out over the ocean. It was hard to believe that the wind would take us back to land so easily. No doubt the guys at SkyDive Kauai knew what they were doing. They made sure everyone felt safe and comfortable.

Do you feel like sky-diving is pushing it over the top?

Then check out Kayak Wailua or zip-lining through the rain forest. It’s super fun and your grandma can do it.

Zip-line Princeville Kauai

3. A Bike/Pedestrian-Friendly Place to Visit

Once the East Kauai’s Coastal Multi-Use Path project is complete, visitors and locals can bike from the Lihue airport all the way to Anahola.

Kauai East Coast's Bike Path

Although the project is still a work in progress, the completed parts currently open offer an amazing experience: to bike or stroll or walk along the magnificent Coconut Coast of Kauai. It’s something you should definitely try in the morning or before sunset, when the heat is not so exhausting.

There are 7-8 completed miles of the Kapaa Bike Path:

4. Amazing Variety of Climates and Terrains

It’s hard to believe, but in Kauai you may drive for a couple of miles and move from tropical rain to sunny and dry conditions. The rule of thumb is:

  • South Shore is dry
  • North Shore is wet
  • Everything in between is in the middle

When it rains at Hanalei Bay on the North Shore or Kapaa on the east side, you may have a perfect sunny day at Poipu down south.

One interesting fact is that the Mount Waialeale region receives heavy downpour throughout the year. As a result, Hawaii tourism officials call it the wettest place on Planet Earth. No wonder it looks just jaw-droppingly gorgeous!

Waialeale crater the wettest place on earth

One of the biggest attractions of Kauai is its Waimea Canyon, located on the western side. Waimea is Hawaiian for “reddish water,” a reference to the erosion of the canyon’s red soil.

Waimea-Canyon-Panorama-Kauai-Island-smWaimea Canyon Panorama by Bryce Edwards. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

5. Some of the Greatest Beaches in the World

It’s very cliche to say, but Kauai does have some of the most beautiful beaches out there. Some of them are hidden and some are in every guidebook. While I normally surf at Kealia, which stretches along the Kuhio Highway, I prefer to visit more secluded places when it’s time to relax. Keep in mind that almost all of the places I like pose an above-average safety hazard, so if you enter the water it’s at your own risk. Below is the list of my favorites.

Polihale Beach on the West Side

Polihale Beach West Kauai

This beach is hard to get to but it’s totally worth the trouble. You have to drive west almost to the end of the highway and turn left just before the road ends at the military base. Then you need to drive for 4 miles on a very rough unpaved road. This last leg used to take me up to 40 minutes before I got to the beach parking. I’ve heard the road was improved, so nowadays it should be faster. Car rental companies usually don’t allow customers to drive their vehicles there and may void insurance if they happen to find out you did. So if you break down there, you’re on your own. Still in all the beach is absolutely amazing and it’s a great place to spend the entire afternoon and watch the sunset.

Donkey Beach on the East Side

Donkey Beach at Kealia, Kauai, Hi

It used to be a quiet and secluded place rarely visited by tourists. That was before the new shoreline property development and Kauai Bike Path came to life. I had some great surf sessions at this little beach. Some people warned that unattended parking lot may attract some unwanted elements, and over time many cars were broken into.(It never happened to me as I always leave my car empty.) Now you can ride a bike to this beach, so there’s less to worry about.

Hanalei Bay Beach on the North Shore

Hanalei Bay by MickeyF

This is one of my favorite spots in Kauai. A dramatic backdrop with lush green mountains and waterfalls makes Hanalei Bay a very unique place on the island. If you’re not staying on the North Shore, getting to Hanalei Bay is a commitment. It’s totally worth spending the entire day here. There is a small town with the same name a couple blocks away from the beach. It has everything from an organic food store to fish restaurants to nighttime bar entertainment. Did I say that there are two very good surf spots far out in the bay? Now I did, but it’s not my advice that makes them crowded on a good day, but rather their first-class quality.

Do you have your own favorite spot in Kauai? Just share in comments below.

How to buy an iPhone 6

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It’s that time of the year again!

Everyone wants a new iPhone. For those lost souls wondering how to buy one, Apple provided a very encouraging message in various languages.

how to buy an iphone 6

Well, watching how messages in French and Japanese are fading away one after another is fascinating…

Check it out before it’s gone

The one that really sticks is Visszatérünk!

It’s a great reminder to get back to my Duolingo.

P.S. T-mobile offers a reminder about iPhone 6 on Sep 12. Not sure which message I like better.

Preorder iphone 6 with T-mobile

Why You Know Nothing About the Hawaiian Islands Until You Visit Them All

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I love Hawaii. Viva the Hawaiian Islands!

The view of the Hawaiian Archipelago from Above

When I first discovered this tropical paradise, I visited five times during a twelve-month period, and still hadn’t gotten enough. I bought an annual pass from the ATA Airlines in order to travel to Hawaii even more often in 2008. But then, as a perfect example of Murphy’s Law, ATA filed for bankruptcy protection that very year. The service was completely discontinued, and my dream of traveling to and from Hawaii for a year was flushed away.

Over time, I’ve been able to visit all four major Hawaiian islands, so I feel like I’ve learned a few facts worth sharing.

When people start planing their trip to the Hawaiian Islands, they may face some real challenges, like in picking their destination. I know, I’ve been there, I was confused myself.

It wasn’t until I visited all four major Hawaiian islands a few times that I was able to distinguish the real deal from pure tourist hype.

Here are the four islands most popular amongst visitors:

 

All four are all very different as far as the necessary travel arrangements, and the experience once you get there. Before making any commitment, you need to figure out which experience could be most valuable for you.

 

Hawai’i Island

Map-of-Hawaii-highlighting-Big-Island-Hawaii

Hawaii Island is also known as the Big Island, or the Island of Hawaii. You are entitled to be confused by its name.

The fact that some people call it “Big Island” and others “Hawaii” is quite confusing. Especially if you consider that the name “Hawaii” is typically used both for one of the Hawaiian Islands and for all of them collectively. So hearing that someone just came back from Hawaii doesn’t necessarily mean that they came from the Big Island. (Most likely they didn’t—this island isn’t the most popular one.) On the other hand, saying I am going to the Big Island, Hawaii, leaves no confusion on the table.

As its name suggests, Hawaii is the biggest island of the archipelago. This island impressed me. First of all, it’s so much bigger than any of the other Hawaiian Islands. Despite how small it looks on the map, it takes hours to get from one side of the island to the other. No wonder that in Hilo and Kona it features two major airports, located on opposite shores.

Photo at erupting volcano  by G Brad Lewis

Photo in front of the erupting volcano by G Brad Lewis, known as Volcano Man

Then, too, Big Island is known for its active volcano, which is quite spectacular. It’s a very unique experience to watch flowing lava collide with Pacific Ocean. The volcano continuously generates natural fireworks, with lots of fumes and smaller lava chunks shooting hundreds of yards into the sky.

Pahoeoe lava fountain 30 feet high

 

When you drive around the island, you often have to pass through lava flows that have solidified over many years. It’s incredible to see how a lava flow first kills everything in its path to the ocean, and then, decades later, slowly turns into a channel for new vegetation.

Lava flow approaching the road

 

The Big Island offers impressive views of the erupting volcano. For a while, I considered the National Volcano Park a potential spot to make a proposal to Kristina. (Later on, though, a better opportunity came along.)

One fun fact I found amusing:

house for sale on the lava flowLava from volcanoes flows towards the ocean and solidifies at its bottom. Over the years, enough lava accumulates underwater that it surfaces, creating a piece of land that didn’t exist before. Basically, the same thing that the Dutch did manually for centuries occurs naturally in Hawaii, without any human intervention and over a short period of time. This new land emerging from the ocean is always being settled by locals. Furthermore, I’ve seen people bring a trailer home, set it on the lava crust and put a For Sale sign on it. Entrepreneurial thinking at its best!

Another interesting Big Island phenomeno is the coqui frog invasion.

Every evening, as darkness falls across the lush east side of the Big Island, thousands upon thousands of tiny coqui frogs fill the night with their piercing, unrelenting ko-KEE-ko-KEE-ko-KEE mating call.

Listen it on your own and tell me if it puts you to sleep or wakes you up:

When I first heard the coqui frog call, it I thought it must be coming from some exotic bird. It can be very annoying when you’re trying to fall asleep at night. This species, not native to the Hawaiian Islands, was introduced to the Big Island from the Caribbean in 1988. Frogs hitchhiked on tropical plants imported from Puerto Rico. Unlike in Puerto Rico, this little creature has no natural predator in Hawaii. So its population shot through the roof within a few years.

In Hawaii, chickens, mongoose, rats and even cats have been known to eat coquis, but nothing is eating the frogs fast enough to make a difference. Other Hawaiian Islands are under threat of the Coqui frog invasion. Although a coqui control agent is yet to be found, recent research at UH-Hilo has found that Prozac suppresses coqui libido and aggression, leaving the frog no reason to chirp. But how 10,000 frogs might be put on an antidepressant has yet to be worked out.

The story of the coqui hitchhikers gives us yet another reminder of how fragile our environment is. Changing one little variable disrupt an entire ecosystem.

O’ahu Island

Oahu Island is also known as “The Gathering Place.”

Oahu Island Well, based on that, it must be full of people. I wish I’ve been told ahead of time. Every available patch of beach sand here seems filled with European, Australian, American and Japanese tourists. The latter come here exclusively to shop for designer clothes.

Oahu is home to the state capital, Honolulu. Frankly, if you have only one shot to visit Hawaii, I would recommend spending your time on some other island.

Nevertheless, Oahu is where first-time tourists with zero knowledge of Hawaii typically end up going. I was no exception to that rule. On my first trip, I plunged right into the middle of Waikiki Beach. This is a very wide sand beach, with the Honolulu Zoo continuing along one side.

There is no mystery as to why Waikiki Beach steals the show for first-time Hawaiian visitors. The prices for airfare, hotels and travel packages make it the most cost-effective sprint from the Mainland. Yes, The Mainland. This is what any Hawaiian person—any Kamaina—calls the other forty-nine states of the Union.

There is plenty of good stuff on Oahu, though.

The North Shore presents you with some of the archipelago’s most exceptional surf spots, such as Pipeline, Sunset, and Banzai beaches. Pipeline is one of the most prestigious ASP World Surf Tour spots. The show here is normally run by locals, so it might not be the ideal place to launch your surfing career.

 

Pipeline Local Master by Matt Kurvin

Pipeline Local Master shot by Matt Kurvin

Many Hollywood movies have been shot on this island, and you may recognize some of its beaches from seeing them on TV.

Honolulu, the major hub on Oahu, has a very typical downtown, with the skyscrapers and highways you can find in any average-sized American city. There are massive malls overrun by Japanese tourists shopping for high-end designer stuff “on the cheap.”

If I recall correctly, there are enough cars on the streets of Honolulu to make the simple act of parking feel like your worst nightmare. Can’t find street parking? Well, you can always park your car at a nearby hotel for $25 per day or more. There are some other creative ways to park your car, but it’s always a hassle.

None of that makes me enthusiastic about returning to Oahu any time soon.

Maui Island

Maui Island highlighted on the mapMaui is awesome!

This is where I went five times in a single year. I used to own this vacation rental condo in South Kihei. Any three- or four-night opening overlapping with a last-minute airfare deal would guarantee my presence on the plane to Kuhului (OGG), the major airport in Maui.

My all-around favorite things to do in Maui are the following:

The road to Hana

The rain forest road to Hana

 

If you’re susceptible to motion sickness, as I am, make sure to get some pills. The Hana road through the rain forest is beautiful, but I’m getting dizzy just looking at its curves.

Red Sand Beach in Hana

Red Sand beach in Hana

 

The hill surrounding this beach is rich in iron, that’s why the sand is such a deep red color. Although Maui Revealed guidebook recommends it as a Maui must-see, keep in mind that you need to trespass on private property on the way to Red Sand Beach. You may get your shoes muddy, too, so dress appropriately, and go at your own risk.

 

The black sand beach

Black Sand Beach in Hana Maui

This one is hard to miss while you’re on your way to Hana. Many tourists will take the turn-off to spend a few moments walking along black sand, formed from lava rock ground all the way down over centuries. After seeing a lot of photographs of the beach, though, you might be disappointed, as it doesn’t look nearly black under the Hawaiian sun.

Makena State Park

Pierre Leclerk photo of Makena Beach in Maui

 

Makena State Park is located at the south end of the South Kihei/Makena road, just two miles short of the Haleakala Volcano trail.

Makena Beach actually consists of two beaches, popularly known as Big Beach and Little Beach. Big Beach, a white sand beach approximately 3,300 feet long and 100 feet wide, is bordered by fingers of lava to the southeast and by Pu’u Ola’i, a volcanic cinder cone, to the northwest. Big Beach has a beautiful golden sand and steep foreshore, the result of high surf that periodically strikes the beach.

Little Beach is a small cove with a wide, white sand beach between two lava points on the seaward side of Pu’u Ola’i. The ocean bottom fronting the beach is a shallow sandbar with a normally gentle shore break. A short foot trail leads over the lava point separating the two beaches. Little Beach is known as a nudist gathering point, so get undressed, or at least be prepared watch out.

Watch windsurfers at Hookipa on a windy day

Windsurfers at Hookipa Maui

 

Hookipa Beach is the place to be on a windy day. Hopefully the swell will get big enough to produce overhead waves. This is when the windsurfing scene gets spectacular. I often think that these guys must have born with sails in their hands.

Grab a Mahi Mahi fish taco at Jawz cafe in Kihei or at their fish taco stand near Makena beach

The Best Fish Tacos on Maui

 

The guys at Jawz make the best fish tacos I’ve ever tasted. Grabbing a fish tacos in their Kihei restaurant was always the first thing on my agenda after renting a car.

Order a fish burger from Paia Fish Market restaurant, then surf at Paia beach

The Best Mahi Mahi burger on Maui

If you didn’t try the Mahi Mahi burger at Paia Fish Market, you didn’t experience Maui to the fullest. Once it’s in your stomach, you can head to any beach you want to and stay happy.

Freeze your a**  off at the top of Haleakala volcano

The view from Haleakala volcano is equally amazing at sunrise or sunset. Many people do hike up in the hours before sunrise. I took an easier route, driving to the top in time for sunset. Whichever way you prefer, please don’t think about attempting it without your ski jacket and a warm hat. It’s so freezing up there, I couldn’t turn the car key in the ignition!

If want a great experience in Maui, I recommend you check out the free tours from the Banana Bungalow Maui hostel. You may hop on their van (it’s not air-conditioned, though), or follow the van in your car. Just tip the tour guides for sharing all their knowledge about those hidden spots they take you to.

Kaua’i Island

Kauai Island on the map highlightedKauai, the Garden Island. Its nickname  says it all.

After visiting Maui and Oahu so many times, I was amazed to discover Kauai. From the moment your plane descends into Kauai, you can see how much greener it is than its neighbor islands.

From the Na Pali coast to Waimea Canyon, from surfing Hanalei Bay to visiting the art community of Hanapepe, from the luxury of Waipouli Beach Resort  to camping at Polihale State Park, there is such a great variety of things to do in Kauai.

I think Kauai deserves its own blog post. Hold tight, it’s coming soon!

Na-Pali-Kauai-Panorama-1500x300

Do you have any other recommendations about the four Hawaiian Islands? I’m pretty sure you do!

Just share below!

A Perfect Piece of California on the East Coast

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Montauk Lighthouse

It was around the tenth anniversary of my living the California dream that we decided to move from San Francisco to New York. I enjoyed every moment in San Francisco but felt like I needed a change. A change of the evergreen trees and the ever-the-same SFMOMA selection. A change from the decoration of the natural environment to locked-up urban living. Also, a good buddy of mine lived in New York for a few years and I suspected he was having too much fun without me. Ironically, he moved to back to San Francisco one month before we moved out to New York. I still can’t believe it wasn’t intentional.

I had an employer back then and the whole deal was structured as a relocation. It was a pretty sweet deal, if you want to know the truth. I desperately wanted to move to New York and my employer was willing to pay the big bucks to make the move a reality. One of the greatest benefits of being employed. (I don’t recall many others, though.)

When we moved, my New York co-workers were puzzled about my decision to move east. Everyone seemed to be dreaming of California as this magical place, where the grass is greener.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons why the move was so exciting. It went against the conventional wisdom, which I generally enjoy doing in life.

I recall my colleague telling me at the time: Ok, tough boy. I’ll talk to you again when winter comes to town.

When winter came, it was one of the most brutal in decades. Mayor Bloomberg took a lot of heat for messing up on the emergency snow removal.

Snow Removal not in effect

Nevertheless, I was happy to be on the East Coast, with all its disproportionate weather hardship, hurricane ladies Irene and Sandy, and supposedly unfriendly New Yorkers. Only one thing didn’t come naturally to me. I realized that I need to buy a lot of new seasonal clothes… and another five-millimeter-thick wetsuit.

Surfer in Montauk

A very few of my California-dreaming co-workers would visit a little town at the northern tip of Long Island, about a three-hour trip from Manhattan, but with all the best of California…

It’s Called Montauk

Sunset at Ditch Plain Montauk

That was my first impression of Montauk. You can surf, you can get tan. Naturally tan, not burnt tan like under the warm California sun.

I learned that the Atlantic gets warm like Hawaii for two months at the end of summer. Thank the Gulf Stream. During those months the scene turns into something out of the French Riviera. Oh, no, hold on—I’m thinking of the Hamptons, not Montauk.

But wait!

Water never gets warm in California. It’s freezing, five millimeter wetsuit freezing. Those girls in bikinis playing volleyball on the beach and swimming in the ocean are a lie the rest of the world loves to believe in. None of it really exists in San Francisco. You can argue over LA and San Diego, sure, maybe, but I won’t sign off on that either. Water is still surprisingly cold!

Over time I’ve met a lot of people who’ve shared their disappointment about California being so far from what they imagined. It’s quite an impressive feat of marketing, how forty million people convinced the other seven billion that California is a better place to be. In many ways it is, but your California dream could be much closer than you think.

Let me tell you why Montauk is just like California, or even better.

Because of Its Surf Culture

I started surfing in Santa Cruz, a little town a two-hour drive south from San Francisco. If you want to see a perfect example of a surf town, visit Santa Cruz.

Surfboards stacked into the 60s VW vans, guys changing into wetsuits right there on the street, taco stands, even a boardwalk and a perfectly shaped California pier.

In many ways, Montauk looks to me like a little Santa Cruz on the East Coast.

Montauk at sunset

 

But when I give it a little more thought, it’s actually vastly different.

Montauk is different from Santa Cruz in that it isn’t an intense local surfing environment. In Santa Cruz I almost got into a fight with a local guy once. He wasn’t happy with me surfing next to him at the Four Mile Point, a hidden surf spot north of Santa Cruz. People would just push or even punch you if you got in their way.

The “Valley Go Home” sign is a notorious welcome note for anyone traveling on highway 85 from San Jose to Santa Cruz. It’s a great example of how hostile the local attitude can get.

Valley Go Home sign on highway 85 Santa Cruz

 

With all due respect to the great surfers of Santa Cruz, come on—the ocean doesn’t just belong to the lucky few who were born on the coast.

Still, one thing about Santa Cruz, they do have their own O’Neil surf shop. But then, I was surprised to learn there’s also a surf shop in the middle of Manhattan.

It’s Called Saturdays NYC

The guys that run Saturdays Surf NYC are pretty keen on roasted coffee. The founder was raised in Seattle, where he spent hours at his parents’ coffee shop. It turns out that combining the highest quality coffee roast (La Colombe) with top-end surf supplies was a good idea to try out in New York.

Saturdays Surf NYC in SoHo, New York

The surf shop, or rather the coffee bar, became more appealing to SoHo residents than to the surfing community. On a busy day, shoppers would willingly stand in line for fifteen minutes to get a cup of coffee. Riding the wave of popular demand, Saturdays opened another location in the West Village, where the public can also watch surf footage projected onto the wall. I actually enjoy visiting the Perry Street location more, as the servers usually keep their attitude in check. The SoHo baristas are notorious for spicing up their service with a drop of hipster snobbery.

You may argue that a good cup of coffee is worth enduring a bit of snobbery for. Regardless, the coffee remains damn good at Saturdays Surf NYC.

Coffee cups at Saturdays Surf NYC

 

A Weekend Warrior Paradise in Montauk

“Saturdays Surf NYC” is a clever name for a surf shop. The idea is you work all week long and spend your Saturdays surfing somewhere on Long Island, preferably at Montauk. This was my life in New York. We would wake up around 7am on Saturdays, hop on the subway to Penn Station and then ride the LIRR to Montauk.

It’s fun to bring a surfboard on the subway just to see other passengers’ looking at you…

 

NYC surfer in subway

While killing time on the train I would get work done, or take a nap when cell reception degraded (no, there is no WiFi on the train). Kristina would practice her drawing skills.

Montauk is the last stop after all types of Hamptons (Hampton Bays, Westhampton, Southampton, East Hampton, etc). On arrival we would either catch a cab to the beach for eight dollars per person, or take the twenty-minute walk. If you plan to take a cab from the beach back to your train, make sure you collect business cards from all the taxi drivers at the station on the way out. In the evening, you can call for a pick-up; thirty or forty minutes in advance is sufficient.

Alternately, you can do what we did one day, have a surf shop owner give us a ride to the station in a van full of pumpkins. Thank to my surf buddy Magnus from Norway for capturing this moment inside the pumpkin van.

Riding a pumpkin van in Montauk

 

Fashionable Side of  Montauk

Over the last few years, Montauk has become a magnet for young, hip New Yorkers looking for a short escape from the summer heat of the urban jungler. All of a sudden Montauk became a super cool spot for bohemian New Yorkers to spend weekends. Fashion magazines started glamorizing the town, with its fisherman and surf culture.

Of course this meant that all the town’s motels started going bananas during the high season. A hotel room you could get for $70-90 per night most of the year started costing $750 for a minimum three-night weekend stay.

Surf Lodge Dining terrace

 

Within a five or ten minute walk from the train station is a place with no shortage of customers. It’s a hotel and bar, Surf Lodge Montauk. How about a queen size bed for $400 a night? I am afraid to say that that’s the price with a discount. The two-bedroom suite is available for $1,750 per night during the peak season. On Friday and Saturday nights, there’s no parking along the road for a mile on either side of the Surf Lodge. These are the nights that the best parties go down there.

 

Dancing at Surf Lodge Montauk

DJs or a live band start warming up the public before sunset, and the party goes nuts till late at night, with girls in designer dresses and high heels dancing in the sand.

Hipsters Are Great, But What Else Is There to See in Montauk?

The best way to explore Montauk is on a bike. We once stayed at the Montauk Yacht Club, which provides free bikes to guests. Some other hotels offer the same.

Getting around Montauk on a bike

 

Montauk Point Light is the oldest lighthouse in the state of New York and the fourth oldest working lighthouse in the United States. It was built in 1797 by commission from George Washington and was the first public work of the newly formed United States. It’s located in the Montauk Point State Park. You cross town and keep going to the very end to reach the park.

Montauk Point Lighthouse

We were lucky to see the lighthouse when it was all lit up for the holidays. The lighting is a big event; many families come for the ceremony and celebration.

Montauk lighthouse lit up for holidays

Where to Eat in Montauk

That’s a tricky one. Despite the fact that Montauk is historically a fishing town, it’s not very easy to find great places to eat. I definitely do not recommend places like Surf Lodge: not necessarily fresh food, horrendously overpriced, and served with a big attitude.

There are still some excellent choices though.

Sometimes I think the only way I can drag Kristina to Montauk on early Saturday mornings is because there is a reward for her at the end. We always stop by at Piazza Primavera for a slice of pizza. Kristina think it’s the best pizza in the world and doesn’t mind traveling for three hours to get a slice. Fair enough, but  I would keep this award for Keste Pizza & Vino on Bleecker in the West Village.

PIzza Primavera

 

There is also an organic shop we like: Naturally Good Foods & Cafe. We alternate between it and Joni’s Cafe a couple blocks from the beach.

 

 

Naturally good Foods and Cafe

 

 

 

Our friends also recommended Dave’s Grill but we never got lucky enough to eat there. It was always either completely booked or closed for the season. A reservation is a must.

Where to Surf

There are a few surf spots in Montauk. Ditch Plains is the most crowded. It’s a longboarder spot where everyone who is learning to surf goes.

Ditch Plains beach during the summer time

I like Atlantic Terrace, as it typically works better for short boarder. The name of this spot derives from the Atlantic Terrace Motel located just in front of the spot. This beach is located near the town center, a few hundred yards north from The Sloppy Tuna restaurant (another hot spot on summer weekends) . It’s about a twenty or thirty minute walk from the train station, and if you’re up for an adventure it’s another fifteen or twenty minutes along the beach to Ditch Plains.

Turtle Cove, located south and west of the Montauk Point Lighthouse, is another classic surf spot out east. The crowds swarm there during the summer as the waves can rival Ditch’s on the right day. There are some areas here where you risk to catch a fisherman’s hook or a ticket for illegal wave riding on the north side of Montauk Point.

Surf Shack surf shop is located just one block before Atlantic Terrace. You can rent a board, wetsuit and other stuff there.

One day I forgot to bring a leash, and catching my board became a physically intensive task. I noticed a van standing on the beach and approached the guys to ask if they had an extra leash. They happily detached a leash from one of the boards. I was only wearing a wetsuit and didn’t have any cash on me to pay for it. One of the guys happened to be the owner of the Air & Speed surf shop and he told me to just pay him next time I came to Montauk.

Beware: The Drunk Train Back to New York

During the summer it’s expensive to get a hotel room, and often impossible. That’s why we would always arrive in the morning and head back in the evening.

If you are planning to catch a train from Montauk to New York on Sunday night, you may want to skip the 7:30pm train Why? You may get some unexpected company joining you in Hampton Bays. Hundreds of dead-drunk teens board the train after partying at the Boardy Barn. This picture may give you an idea of the scene…

Boardy Barn party goers on the way back to New YorkBesides the fact these guys are drunk, loud and don’t exactly smell like perfume, there are other complications.

First, the toilet will be permanently occupied, and there are only two of them on the entire train. You may need to walk through ten cars before you find the second toilet. Imagine how you’ll feel if it, too, is occupied?

Second, if one of these guys standing by you, good luck dodging his inevitable inside-out eruption. I witnessed one gentleman try to protect his high-end clothing by holding his iPad up to a partygoer’s mouth to block the flow of lava.

Anything Else to Add?

Yes, actually. We’ll close with a comical story.

We came to Montauk as a group of four but didn’t have a hotel room booked—a pretty bad idea. I called every single hotel in the area and nearby towns to see if there was anything available. Finally I found the only place that claimed, at least, to have any vacancies, Kenny’s Tipperari Inn.

It was almost midnight. We arrived at the hotel, where there was no one at reception. There were two other guys waiting outside. They looked a bit lost and unsettled. They informed us that the guy in charge of the hotel was quite strange. When they arrived, they said, he told them that their room was not ready, and he needed their help moving a sofa into the room they booked. Well, they agreed to help. They helped him carry a sofa to the second floor—and were then given the keys to a room on the first floor.

That story sounded bizarre, but at this hour we didn’t have any other options. We rang a bell, and a guy in a bathrobe and slippers came out to greet us, a couple minutes later. I said we had called ten minutes before, and came right away because he had confirmed that a room was available. The receptionist said yes, took our money, and then spent some time pondering which room keys to take out of his cabinet, before picking one seemingly at random. Then he told us to follow him.

After checking the keys in his hand and the room number in front of him he slowly, hesitantly opened the door. It was dark inside and we went in. He started showing us around without turning the lights on. It was a suite. We felt so lucky to find a place that big for the four of us. The guy wanted to show us the bedroom and opened the door. Suddenly, from inside the bedroom, someone started asking questions in Spanish. We all rushed out of the room in panic. The hotelier explained that he had forgotten that there were people in there. Then he went to the next room and opened it. I noticed there were some musical instruments on the floor and warned him someone might be inside. Sure enough, someone in that room, too, woke up and started asking what was happening. The hotelier apologized and backed off.

By this time I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of continuing to follow the guy, as he was clearly not in his right mind. Around the corner, two other guys were giggling as another couple had just arrived. The new couple said they had booked a room online. The hotelier looked surprised and asked them why they had arrived so late. He said he would need to figure things out and returned to his desk. The four of us, and the two newcomers, were very uncertain about what would happen next.

The hotelier returned and said he had room for everyone. He led us back to the room with the musical instruments and opened the door again. I tried to mention that there were people in there, but it was too late. People woke up and started yelling again. Then he returned to the room where the Spanish speakers were sleeping. After waking those guests up again, the proprietor started knocking on random windows, waking up more guests. The whole process was becoming some grotesque farce.

Finally the hotelier gave up and said he had an unfinished room upstairs where we could possibly stay. That room didn’t have a kitchen yet. And then, at absolute random, we discovered an available room and settled there right away. The other couple were still on their quest for the room they had booked. I’m not sure if they ended up staying in the hotel that night, or not.

We got inside our room and blocked the door with the nightstands. Every time I woke up that night I looked at the window to make sure no one was trying to break in. We were pretty happy to wake up the following morning all alive and ready for another day on the beach.

Magnus out of the water in Montauk

 

There are tons of other stories about Montauk. Do you have your own one?

If so, just  share below!