A Beginners Guide to Visiting Kauai

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.

I mean, comeeeee onnn

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!).

Those cliff views, while laying by the beach, wow

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…

Pier sunsets… nothing beats it

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” 😉

Queens Bath

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!

Queens Bath tide pools

Wailua Falls

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!

Poipu area

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!

Scary, but fun!

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.

Waimea Canyon

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…

It’s hard to tell by the photo, but this canyon is HUGE

Napali Coast

Last but not least, the number one thing you have to do in Kauai.

First glimpse of the coast from the top of Waimea Canyon

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!

View of the coast from the boat, that was being thrown around due to waves hence the crooked angle!

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!

Courtney xo


45 thoughts on “A Beginners Guide to Visiting Kauai

  1. I have only ever heard and seen amazing things about Kauai. I lived for 3.5 months on Big Island and never made it over. All the Hawaiian islands are spectacular!

    1. Wow, I can’t believe you didn’t make it over! I hope you explored the Big Island thoroughly though. P.s. I wrote a post on the BI and I’d love to know what you think!

  2. Hawaii is definitely on my bucket list!! I’m so intrigued by how you described the natural feature in Poipu, I just might have to scour the internet to find a photo. It sounds beautiful! I’d love to see the Hanapepe Art Night too, I LOVE things like that.

    1. I wish I could capture it enough to show how beautiful it is but I imagine someone else has. I did a quick Google search and I found it so hopefully you did too!

  3. This is such a great introduction (at least for me) of Kauai.. The island does look very inviting. I honestly can get it why you love it! 😉 That pier sunset does look wonderful and of course, who can’t say no to fresh seafood! Coming from someone who grew up watching Lilo and Stitch, I’m pretty intrigued with Hanapepe. It sounds like a lively place to go to on a Friday night!

  4. Ive heard so much about Kauai before, how wonderful it is! Especially that coast, waterfalls and canyons … so beautiful! I went to Hawaii last year, but I’ve only visited Oahu and Maui, there are also stunning but I wish I had more time as it would be amazing to visit place where is not too many tourists as well.

  5. I’ve only been to Hawaii once, but I wasn’t able to make it to Kauai. I was based in Maui and made a few days side trip to Molokai. I dream about returning to Hawaii and staying most particularly on Kauai. The Napali coastline is something out of a dream. So beautiful, dramatic, and idyllic!

    1. Maui is beautiful too and I’ve always wanted to go to Molokai and never did so I’m very jealous you got to go! I hope you make it back to Hawaii one day and get to visit Kauai 🙂

    1. I’m not so good with technology and can’t figure out how to make my photos bigger in the post! What is lightbox?

    1. Wooohooo you’ll love it! I’ve got a bunch of Hawaii posts on different islands on my website so make sure to check them out before you go 🙂

  6. This is definitely going into my bucket list, reading 📖 your detailed ideas of this beautiful island 🌴 make me want to fly there right away as it look and sound so exciting.🌸🌸🌸

  7. My husband and I are on a mission to see all 50 states in our lifetime! So far we have visited 24! We always wondered what we’d do when Hawaii comes along, but after reading your post, I know this is the place we need to go! Thanks 🙂

    1. Wow, that’s so cool! I just did 18 states in my five month trip around the USA. You feel like you see and do a lot but there’s still so much more to explore! I can’t wait to go back 🙂

  8. Kauai is next on my list of islands to visit. We went to Oahu last year and I fell in love, but I love the outdoorsy hiking and exploring side of Hawaii and I’ve hear Kauai is a great fit for that sort of thing. I had no idea there was a Canyon there! Beautiful pictures and some great ideas-if we ever book that trip I’ll have to come back and take some notes!

    1. Kauai is definitely a good place for outdoors stuff! I lived on Oahu for three years though so that island definitely has a soft spot in my heart.

  9. Hawaii is always somewhere that I have wanted to visit — beautiful ocean, beautiful hiking opportunities, and great culture as well. This post just reminds me that I need to get out there eventually.

    Great post! x


  10. Kauai is always one of the most raved about islands of Hawaii ( at least when I’m reading about it.) I’ve always wanted to give Hawaii a visit and I’m definitely saving up for it. I used to be a photographer so traveling will let me get back into that! Thanks for the gorgeous photos and post!

    1. Wow, Kauai would be the most amazing spot for you as a photographer! I hope you get to go someday 🙂

  11. It’s mh drean to spen time at such islands… Love the way you describe Hawaii.. As such heard lot about it’s island beauty… kauai will have a definite place in my list whenever I plan to go Hawaii.

  12. My husband and I have been talking about moving to Hawaii. These pictures are wonderful and looks very inviting. I can wait to visit or see it in person.

  13. I cannot stress how much I want to see Hawaii! Hanalei sounds and looks wonderful, if not just for the name! The waterfalls here are beautiful, and I think I probably wouldn’t return home after a visit 🙂

    1. Soooo many people visit Hawaii once and go back home and pack up and move there! It’s what I did hahah. I hope you get to visit Hawaii sometime soon 🙂

    1. That’s soooo exciting!! I personally like Kauai better than Oahu but I’ve explored waaaay more of Oahu. You’ll have to let me know which one you like better!

  14. Great informative guide! Kauai looks absolutely stunning. I’d love to visit here one day. The pier at Hanalei beach and taking the small boats out to get a closer look at the caves and coast would definitely be on top of my to do list!

    1. Oh awesome! So glad to hear from someone who has been. Ooooh I have never heard about the temple so thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you for your lovely comment! It definitely feels like paradise when you’re there 🙂

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