Kauai, HI is a beautiful, lush and adventure-filled island, where the food is fresh and the rain is refreshing.
Beaches on Kauai are pristine. The NaPali Coast is one of the most celebrated places in the world, and with good reason – the greens and blues found here are unlike any other. The trails that lead you into them are difficult, but more than rewarding. Kauai is a place that is as life-giving as it is breathtaking.
GET THERE: Depending on where you’re flying from, you might go through San Francisco, Seattle or Los Angeles. Once you get to one of these destinations the flight to Kauai’s, Lihue airport takes about six hours.
We recommend a rental car onceon the island. Kauai, population 65,000, might be small at only around 552 square miles, but it’s mighty. There is adventure on every square inch of this island and trust me when I say, you will want a car to get you there. You’ll probably want to choose a rental with some 4-wheel drive.
STAY: I’ve stayed on the Princeville side of Kauai and near Koloa, Poipo Beach. I have to say, both are excellent, and if you have a car you’ll want to visit both regardless. When and if I go back, though, I’ll stay on the Princeville side. What can I say: I like the poke on that side of the island best!
Your budget will dictate where you stay, but you won’t be there that often so don’t stress too much about it. The St. Regis near Princeville and the Grand Hyatt near Koloa are two expensive, but extremely nice options. There are also plenty of Airbnb options.
DO: Kauai is a nature-lover’s paradise. It’s equally a superb place for foodies to get their grub on. Get ready to adventure hard through canyons and lush valleys. All that play will prepare your stomach for the freshest poke you’ve ever had. Eat, play, sleep: repeat!
NAPALI COAST AND PRINCEVILLE
Hanalei Bay –
Hanalei Town surrounds Hanalei Bay. It’s a picture-perfect Hawaiian getaway with breezy open restaurants, tiki huts and shops. We ate our way down Kuhio Highway (more like a road). The poke is to die for at Kalypso. If you’re in the mood for a burger, you have to try Bubba’s Burgers. It’s a Kauai must. While they’re flipping your patty, check out all the famous people who have eaten there. By far and away, my favorite restaurant in Hanalei Bay is the Postcard Cafe. Go for dinner and experience a cozy, warm and dimly lit atmosphere perfect for getting lost in good engaging company, divine food and a glass of wine. For the real tiki bar experience you have to go to Tahiti Nui, famous for its appearance in The Descendants with George Clooney. Get the Mai Tai – you won’t regret it.
If you ever get tired of eating, and that’s a big if, head to Hanalei Bay. A sure sign that you’re in one of the most beautiful and coveted places on earth? The property values here in Hanalei Bay are out of this world. You can’t help but understand why as you stare from the sandy beach, across the sapphire blue water and onto the lush, wind-carved mountains of the Napali Coast.
We took a boat tour from Hanalei Bay to see the Napali Coast first hand. Through the company, Napali Coast Hanalei Tours, it costs around $200 dollars per person. If you can swing it, it’s a wonderful way to see the coast and get up close to sea life. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some dolphins and more.
The advantage to going on a smaller boat is that, when the sea is calm, your captain will take you into sea caves, where the water is perfectly clear.
Queen’s Bath –
Like the queen you are, take a soak in Queen’s Bath but be careful only go when the tide permits. Queen’s Bath is a natural tide pool northwest of Hanalei Bay. To get there you’ll have to drive through neighborhoods. You’ll wonder if you’re in the right place but there’s a place to park and a small sign that lets you know you’ve made it. About a ten minute hike through some trees and grass and across rocky seaside and lava rock, and you’ve made it. Bring a lunch and something to stay hydrated and stay awhile – the water’s fine.
Ke’e Beach and The Kalalau Trail –
Ke’e Beach is at the base of the Kalalau Trail – this is where the Napali Coast begins. Drive down a rugged road and fight for a parking spot, you might have a ways to walk depending on how late in the day you go. There’s some shade if the white sand gets too warm. The water is light blue and crystal clear. You can follow schools of small fish in the knee deep water or swim further out. Be careful – though the water may look peaceful there can be riptides.
By far, my favorite part of my trip to Kauai was hiking the Kalalau Trail. It’s a grueling 11 mile hike to Kalalau Beach and 11 miles back. Follow your feet as they take you up and down through three valleys. The beach is only accessible by hiking or kayaking in. It’s pristine and magical and camping truly out in the wild so far away from anyone is glorious. The journey there is wild and full of life-giving views. Read more about the trail in our trail review. If this interests you, be sure to book a permit in advance. It’s against the law to hike or camp on Kalalau without one.
If you’re already there and don’t have a permit, fear not. I’ve been there too. You can experience the Napali Coast and valleys, too. Go ahead and hike in to Hanakapiai Beach. Do not swim here: there is a strong riptide that has killed many. Rather than going ahead on the Kalalau Trail, take the Hanakapiai Falls trail. This is a 4 mile in 4 mile out trail that will take you to the most stunning of waterfalls. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water.
Napali Coast By Helicopter –
Let’s say you really have some money to burn. Go ahead and book a helicopter tour of the Napali Coast. Our pilot took us through valleys and by stunning waterfalls. Flying through the misty clouds, only to be met with a dazzling view of the Napali Coast or of the many jagged mountains, was breathtaking. Our pilot even took a pit stop to one of the waterfalls used in the filming of Jurassic Park.
Other Noteworthy Beaches –
Get your snorkel or surf on at Tunnels Beach. It’s called Tunnels because of all the, well, tunnels of coral and lava rock under the shallow ocean nearby. Be careful – a local let me know that Tunnels is the sharkiest of beaches.
Hike in Hawaii’s Grand Canyon –
Waimea Canyon, also known as the Grand Canyon of Hawaii, was carved by the Waimea River. The drive through Koke’e State Park is twisty and scenic. Look over the expanse and imagine, a river, carving this entire red-dirt valley. It’s incredible.
Get out of the car and experience it on foot. The Canyon Trail atop Waipoo Falls is the way to go. It’s four miles out and back. It will take you through the jungle and up along an open clay cliff. This is a great place to stop and enjoy the view. Continue down over boulders. Eventually, you’ll hear rushing water and see Waipoo Falls as it rushes off the cliff and falls down, down, down.
If you aren’t tired after the hike, there’s plenty more where that came from. Pick another and keep on trekking.
KALOA AND POIPU
Shop ‘til you drop –
If shopping is what you want then South Kauai is where you want to be. The Villas at Poipu is a sweet shopping center full of restaurants and name brands. Head to Old Koloa Town for a more authentic feel. You’ll find mom and pop shops and unique finds here from hand-printed t-shirts to crystals. Make sure you stop by Kauai Nut Roasters, sample some nuts and buy a bag or two for your adventures ahead.
Spouting Horn –
Head to spouting horn for a quick show. When the tide is high, the waves lap back and forth under a holey rock overhang. The water shoots through the spout in a triumphant display! It’s an easy, quick crowd pleaser.
Good eats and drinks –
If you really want a treat, head to the Grand Hyatt and grab some yummy cocktails and dine at their restaurant, Tidepools. Go to the Beach House at sunset for a wide-open, oceanfront view and some yummy eats. In Old Koloa Town, check out La Spezia for a nice glass of wine and some Italian food.