We are planning to go to Hawaii in Jan of 2009. What is the best location for a beach, allows us to do some simple meals ourselves and has great restaurants? We also love a great beach with some body surfing if we can. Sun and warm are very important because of our very cold winters where we live.
As for a place to stay in Hawaii, I recommend Kauai. We visited most of the islands on a cruise last year, and Kauai was by far our favorite. The Marriott in Lihue is a great place to stay. It's centrally located on the island which makes it easy to get to various locations.
I'm a big fan of body-surfing and boogie-boarding myself and we found a great spot for this at a small beach just north of Kapaa (I think it was Kealia beach). The day we went, the waves were pretty intense but still fun. Whether or not you can body-surf here will depend on the surf conditions.
As for restaurants, I highly recommend the Beach House restaurant at Poipu beach in Kauai. Be sure to make reservations in advance though, it's a popular place.
In Kapaa, there are some great small diners where you can get a fabulous breakfast for a reasonable price. Also check out the flea market in Kapaa for souveniers.
Finally, I recommend getting the "Kauai Revealed" book (they have books for the other islands as well) which was very detailed and great for giving suggestions for beaches and restaurants.
My husband and I just returned from an amazing vacation on the island of Kauai. The island was incredible. Very small, not much commercialization, landscape which varied from tropical to rugged, and so very relaxing. We were there at prime whale watching season, and we saw whales every day!
We stayed at the Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club in Koloa (Poipu Beach). The resort was secluded, gorgeous, intimate, and the rooms were fabulous. The employees could not have been any nicer. Only disappointment was that I could not use points for the room. Apparently the point system is all based on occupancy rate, and since the Waiohai is a vacation club (timeshare), the occupancy rate is always high -- therefore no rooms for points. There is another Marriott resort in Lihue which is in a more populated, centralized area, and that resort may have rooms for points. We stopped by one day to check it out. The hotel struck me as being just like a Vegas hotel - beautiful and impressive, but not intimate. The pool was incredible, and their beach looked pretty good too. Pretty protected. We heard that was a good spot for a first time surfer.
We only ate at our Waiohai resort for breakfast (the buffet), which was boring after a while. But the food was extremely good, so that partially made up for the lack of variety. The smartest thing we did was stop at Costco as soon as we arrived on the island. Our room at the resort had a full kitchen, so we loaded up on beer and snacks. Saved a ton of money.
Only meal that really stood out was a lunch we had in a northern town in a restaurant named Kalypso. You must stop there and have FISH TACOS. After eating those, that was all I wanted to eat for the rest of the trip. They were amazing.
It was easy for us to get around the island by car. We had borrowed a book from a friend, the Ulitmate Kauai Guidebook by Andrew Doughty, which turned out to be a fabulous guidebook. We ended up going to places that we never would have just because of information in the book. The reviews about the restaurants was pretty accurate.
I have not been to any other islands in Hawaii, and if I go back, which I plan on, I will go back to Kauai. No other island could compare.