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Heading to Hanapepe? A visit to this quiet town on the island of Kauai will feel like you’re taking a blast into Hawaii’s plantation past. Once a bustling town where sailors would frequent, today, this tiny town offers a glimpse into the slower, more tranquil lifestyle Kauai has long been known for.

If you find the town strangely familiar, it probably is because Hanapepe was the model hometown for Disney’s popular Lilo & Stitch movie. It is easy to see why Disney found it so appealing with its picturesque, small-town atmosphere.

But this quiet town wasn’t always this peaceful oasis. In the early 1900’s, Hanapepe was ground zero for a deadly massacre when a group of Filipinos united to protest against the Hawaii Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA). Under the leadership of Pablo Manlapit, the founder of the early Filipino labor movement, they appealed to the colonial government in the Philippines to investigate the working conditions in Hawaii. When the investigator they sent sided with the plantation owners, Manlapit called on all Filipino workers across the state to strike.

The strike resulted in a battle that lasted several days and only ended when, at the deputy sheriff’s request, the governor sent two machine gun squads and rifle companies from the National Guard to Kauai. The National Guard arrested more than 100 strikers and was able to restore order but not before 16 Filipino workers and four policemen died and many others were wounded.

Hanapepe, Kauai’s “biggest little town” holds an important place in Hawaii’s plantation history and rich cultural diversity. There are a wide range of activities available to you, here are a few of them…

Take a Swing

Great for families, the swaying suspension bridge is one of Hanapepe’s most popular attractions. The Swinging Bridge was originally built in the 1900’s so residents could easily cross the river but had to be restored and reinforced after Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992.

A walk across the Swinging Bridge isn’t the same heart-stopping adventure it was before the bridge was stabilized, but it is still fun to take a stroll across as it creaks and sways in the wind. Since the bridge leads to a residential area, it is recommended that you turn around at the end so as not to disturb the residents.

swing bridge

Pinch of Salt

Hawaiian sea salt is featured in many gourmet kitchens around the world and is also traditionally used to bless, cleanse, and purify in Hawaiian ceremonies. The families who tend to the salt ponds in Hanapepe, still make pa‘akai, or traditional Hawaiian sea salt, according to the ancient Hawaiian practice, which has been passed down from generation to generation.

While visitors aren’t allowed in the ponds, they are still a sight you will not find anywhere else in the world. It is mainly because of the island’s signature red dirt, which turns the salt a beautiful and unique pink hue.

An Artful Amble

Looking for a way to spend your Friday night on Kauai? Art Walk in Hanapepe takes place every Friday from 6-9 p.m., bringing the sleepy town to life with art displays, live music, and food. Local artists open their galleries and studios to the public and other artists from around the island set up kiosks on the street to celebrate Kauai’s art scene. Visitors can peruse dozens of unique boutiques, grab dinner or drinks at one of the many restaurants and eateries and soak in the live music and small-town charm.

Lap it Up

Lappert’s, a popular local ice cream shop with locations on Oahu, Maui, and Kauai had its origins in Hanapepe. The brainchild of a successful San Francisco restaurateur, Lappert’s was conceived after he and his wife purchased an ice cream cone on their vacation to Kauai. The ice cream tasted so awful that they threw it away and committed to making their own.

Today Lappert’s is now a well-known brand across Hawaii and continues to serve its signature homemade ice cream, along with made-in-house desserts and coffee that they roast themselves. It’s a refreshing and delicious way to end a hot day exploring Hanapepe and the rest of Kauai.