Kauai, the Garden Island, the lucky last… I wrote my other Hawaii island guides over 8 months ago now and have been seriously lacking on my Kauai one. And not for good reason – I’ve been lucky enough to visit Kauai five times and it fights for my favorite island along with Maui. I think I was nervous as I didn’t think I would be able to do it justice.. but I’m going to try.
Incase you were unaware, Hawaii is made up of 8 islands. Kauai is the fourth largest and I would say the least tourism developed. For this reason, it is a hot spot with celebrities wanting to get away from the paparazzi. I would love to be able to write a guide to all 8 islands but that is impossible (literally, one of the islands is owned/operated by a local Hawaiian tribe and visitors are not welcome anywhere on the island) – instead I focused on the ones I have visited: Oahu, Maui, Big Island and Kauai.
This post is going to explain my favorite things to see and do in Kauai, but of course I haven’t done it all so please let me know in the comments if I missed anything you think is important! P.s. Don’t forget to check out the Shop part of my website for a free $25 from Booking.com!
My favorite little beach town, with the most adorable beach and pier, surrounded by breathtakingly steep cliffs and an ideal spot to base your Kauai vacation. Nearby to Hanalei is a small area called Princeville – there is a large number of vacation rentals here as well as the prestigious St. Regis Princeville Resort. I would highly suggest staying in Princeville a few days as you’ll want a few days to enjoy the entire Hanalei area, including the beautiful but short drive from Princeville to Hanalei town (there’s a pullover spot at the top of the hill, make sure you stop here and gaze in awe!).
While on the North Shore, I highly suggest heading to Hanalei Beach every night for the sunset. It’s pretty much amazing every single time, especially with the beautiful pier. Fun fact for anyone who has seen The Descendants film: this is the beach George Clooney runs down and sees his wife’s lover running too. The house he confronts him in is also here too but I’ll let you figure out which one by yourself…
If you’re looking for places to eat in Hanalei, there’s not toooo many. But what is available, is stunningly delicious. If you love seafood, especially sushi, then Dolphins Restaurants is the go to. Otherwise my other favorites are Kalypso’s (you get something for free on your birthday, well at least we did!), and Tahiti Nui. If you want something a tiny bit fancy, head to Bar Acuda – the views towards the mountains here is just spectacular.
Drive from Hanalei to Ke’e Beach
One of my favorite drives in all of Hawaii is from Hanalei to the northernmost drivable point on the island – Ke’e Beach. Make sure you stop along the way at Ha’ena Beach Park for a swim and if there’s a farmers market going on along the way, definitely stop and check it out! You can find some amazing locally made goodies here. Take your time on this road, it’s narrow and a lot of one way bridges. Be on “aloha time” 😉
Located in a small neighborhood in Princeville is the entry to the trail to Queens Bath tide pools. A short and beginner hike through what seems like a jungle will take you down to the oceans edge, where you will walk over cooled lava rocks to swimmable tide pools. Do a little research on this spot before heading down as at specific times of the year this place can be very dangerous (as pointed out by the tally count of drownings on a rock near the start of the lava rocks). Hot spot for turtle watching too!
One of my favorite waterfalls I’ve come across, Wailua Falls is actually two waterfalls side by side and is magnificent to see up close. I would aim to go here very early in the morning as parking is limited (I’m talking space for less than 10 cars and about 25 want to go at any one time) and there’s a small ‘hike’ down to the falls for those who want to swim. I would highly recommend it but you know your own limits so only go if you want to! We asked a local ‘aunty’ how to get down but you essentially climb over the rock wall near the fence and there’s a trail. Good luck!
The drive from Lihue (main town/where you fly into) to Poipu has one of the coolest natural things I’ve come across in Hawaii – it’s hard to explain but imagine a tunnel made from trees. I’ve tried to capture it’s beauty multiple times but can’t – unless you get out of your car and stand in the middle of the road but that seems impossible with all the traffic that heads this way!
Poipu Beach is a very popular swimming and snorkeling spot – it even has a little tidepool area where kids can safely swim and snorkel too. Keep an eye out for seals here – they are known to sunbath on this beach daily.
A short five mins drive away is Spouting Horn – best way to describe this is like a blow point. Kinda cool to see for anyone who hasn’t before.
Also nearby is Shipwrecks beach and a small walk up to a cliff on the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. If you’re a hiker/walker, I’d suggest looking into this trail. If you’re a beginner, I’d suggest just sticking to the small hike up to the cliffs!
Hanapepe Art Night and Swinging Bridge
I was lucky enough to stumble upon Hanapepe’s art night which only happens once a week and I try to tell everyone I know to make sure you plan to be there when visiting Kauai. Hanapepe is actually the town that Lilo and Stitch was based on, and on Friday nights it comes alive with local art, food and other goodies available on the street.
Don’t miss the swinging bridge here too!
Visit a coffee farm
There’s a number of coffee farms available on the South shore of Kauai – simply driving along the highway will provide you with a number to choose from. Not many people know where their coffee comes from or what goes into making a cup of joe so go and find out, or at least stop for the free samples of hot coffee 😛
Check out the stores in Kapa’a
Kapa’a was once voted one of America’s prettiest towns by Forbes magazine – and I don’t disagree. I’d suggest at least half a day to check out all the shops here, including the most adorable places to eat. My favorite was a place called Java Kai which specializes in coffee drinks but had a small food menu too. We loved it so much that we came back two days in a row for breakfast instead of trying something new! If you haven’t had an acai bowl before, this is a good place to try! And if you’re brave, go for a dragon bowl.
Side note: if you’re on a budget or a younger traveler and usually stay in hostels – there’s a really good one here. It’s a little eccentric and very much Hawaiian but I enjoyed it. Find more about it here.
Dubbed “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, this is another serene spot not to be missed. Even more amazing after a good rainfall and you can spot a few waterfalls falling down the cliffs. Continue past the Canyon lookouts and head to the top of the mountain. Park and walk along the paths for your first view of Napali Coast, speaking of…
Last but not least, the number one thing you have to do in Kauai.
There’s two ways to see this unbelievably beautiful coastline – hike 8 miles from Ke’e Beach on the North Shore, or take a boat tour. I’ve always wanted to do the Kalalau Trail hike but I never got the chance before I left Hawaii. If you are brave enough to do it, be careful as trying to do this hike at the wrong time of year can result in injuries or death. It’s even been named one of the top 10 most dangerous hikes in all of America, so enter at your own risk!
A safer way to see the coast is by boat – but don’t think there’s so excitement in this too. While it is possible to take an easy catamaran cruise with drinks and meals served, there’s also an option for the adrenaline junkies out there. Blue Ocean Adventure Tours is a local company that uses military style small boats to get a closer look inside sea caves and as close to the coast as possible. The boat holds 10 people max and often meets up with other boats for snorkel adventures but it’s definitely a more intimate experience. However if you have any back issues, aren’t comfortable holding onto a rope while hitting waves, and any other injuries then this may not be the thing for you. It was definitely the best thing me and my friend did on our trip to Kauai!
These are my favorite things to see and do in Kauai and where I take my own family and friends. I’d love to hear of your favorite things in Kauai so drop me a comment or message me on Facebook!