Updated: 10/25/2023 | Kauai Travel Guide
Of the eight Hawaiian islands, Kauai is our favorite island to visit.
Kauai is a lush paradise, with mountains, waterfalls, and a dramatic coastline. It is the oldest and second most western island in the Hawaiian chain, and as a result has the most diverse range of plant life, a feature that has earned it the nickname of the “Garden Isle.” It’s also the fourth largest.
Kauai is considered the sleepiest of the islands because many businesses have early closing hours. The plus side of this is that you truly get to relax on Kauai.
The island is usually divided into 4 main regions- the North Shore, The East Side, the South Shore, and the West Side. Each section has a distinct character.
View our Kauai Instagram stories to see us in action on the Garden Isle.
Where to Stay in Kauai
We have found that prices between AirBnBs and hotels are very similar. There are many vacation properties with amazing beachfront views and amenities.
Here are places that we’ve stayed in the past and highly recommend:
- Hilton Garden Inn
- Marriott Kauai Ocean Club – This is a splurge type of hotel. You’ll love how fancy the property is.
- Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort
How to Get Around Kauai
Rent a Car – We highly recommend renting a car for the duration of your trip. Having a car will give you access to many hard-to-get to attractions and beaches. We rented a car from Avis and they upgraded us to a convertible vehicle as a Preferred member.
Bike – Bicycles and scooters are highly encouraged and are a fun way to get around traffic while exploring Kauai.
Take the Bus – It is totally doable but will take some time to get around the island as there are congested areas along the main road. Buses are managed by Kauai’s Transportation Authority. You can see their bus schedules here.
Hitchhike – You can hitchhike but it’ll be very difficult. Many drivers are unable to stop on certain parts of the road due to it being too narrow to pull over.
Walk – If you’re up for it, you can walk Kauai. It will take a long time and may be rough during the summer months due to heat and humidity.
What to Do and See in Kauai
#1 Nā Pali Coast
The Nāpali Coast is the most quintessential thing to do in Kauai.
The Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park lies in the northwest of Kauai Island, Hawaii. It’s known for its towering pali, or sea cliffs, punctuated by narrow valleys, streams and cascading waterfalls.
The Kalalau Trail is a steep footpath running through the park, between nearby Ke’e Beach and sandy Kalalau Beach. It cuts through 5 valleys, including the Hanakoa Valley.
It’s not accessible by car, so you’ll need to see it by boat, helicopter, kayak, or hiking.
You can also see certain viewpoints along the main road through Waimea Canyon.
We recommend taking a boat tour with Captain Andy’s.
#2 Waimea Canyon
Waimea Canyon is Hawaii’s version of the Grand Canyon. The only difference is that there is a combination of red, orange, yellow, and GREEN due to the lush nature of Kauai’s landscape. Waimea Canyon can be accessed on the western side of the island with many viewpoints along the main road.
#3 Red Dirt Waterfall
The Red Dirt waterfall is one of the most magical things I have ever seen. It’s located in the Waimea Canyon.
The red soil is a natural byproduct of the dark, iron-rich basalt rock that surrounds Waimea Canyon. These rocks have oxidized (or rusted) over time, giving the soil various shades of red. In fact, these rocks gave Waimea Canyon its name. The word “waimea” means “reddish water” in Hawaiian, which is in reference to the reddish hue of the soil and the heavy rainfalls that Kauai is known for.
To get there, you’ll take Waimea Canyon Drive, also known as Route 550 from Waimea Town going north. The falls can be found on the left side of the road near the 23-mile marker. It is typically crowded so be patient so that you can capture the best photos.
#4 Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is located on the eastern side of the island and is great for lounging and snorkeling.
#5 Queen’s Bath
Update September 2023: Due to even more drownings here, the trail to Queen’s Bath remains closed. It’s illegal to ignore signage so be safe and skip this attraction if the gate is locked when you visit.
The Queen’s bath is located on the eastern side of the island. To get here, you’ll need to go through Princeville and park in a small parking lot. You’ll then take a hike to the Queen’s path where you’ll find this natural tide pool with direct views of the ocean.
Queen’s Bath is typically closed to visitors in the winter months because the water levels can get high enough that people can get injured or even die from attempting to visit this attraction.
Alternatively, you can visit a secret beach near Glass Beach. You’ll never get washed out to sea and the sunset from here is gorgeous.
#6 Kōke e State Park
Kōke e State Park is a stop along the Waimea Canyon tour. From here you can take hikes to more views. Close by is the Kōke e Lodge where you can get food and use the restrooms.
#7 Visit the Beaches
- Anini Beach – Has the largest reef that also offers a tranquil snorkeling and wading experience for many.
- Kealia Beach
- Lumahai Beach
- Hanalei Beach
- Glass Beach – There isn’t much glass to see here anymore because tourists keep taking the natural glass sand home. You can, however, take a very short hike down the way and swim in this secret beach area. You’ll thank us later!
- Hideaway Beach
- Poipu Beach – A great beach to watch the sunset and spend time with seals and sea turtles.
- Shipwreck Beach – We highly recommend taking the Shipwreck Beach trail and stopping at this beach to take in the views and watch surfers. Try the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail from Shipwreck Beach to Punahoa Point on the South Shore near Poipu. With just 318 feet of elevation gain, this 2.7-mile walk is good for every skill level.
- Tunnels Beach
- Waipouli Beach – Located in Kapaa and is pretty touristy but is worth visiting for the delicious restaurants and shopping in the area.
#8 Kilauea Lighthouse
Located on the eastern side of the island, this lighthouse offers a nice hike for visitors and the chance to see local shorebirds such as the Laysan Albatross.
The land on which the lighthouse sits is the only National Park in Kaua’i.
If you’re not interested in seeing the lighthouse up close, you can stop by the viewpoint to snap some photos.
#9 Spouting Horn
Spouting Horn is a blowhole located in the southern part of the island. We were able to see an impressive spout from the blowhole during a visit. This stop will take you 15-20 minutes to fully enjoy.
#10 Visit Opeakaa Falls
Opeakaa Falls is located near Kapaa and the viewpoint is super easy to get to. You drive up to a direct view of the waterfall. The hike to the base of the waterfall has been shut down due to multiple deaths. You can be fined or even jailed if you are caught trying to hike down to the base of Opeakaa.
Across from the viewpoint is a vista of the Wailua River trail. It’s a short 1-minute walk and the views from here are breathtaking! If you’re up for it, you can rent a kayak or paddleboard along the river.
#11 Hike to a Waterfall
- Wailua Falls (151 ft tall) – This is the most popular because it is short (approximately 35 minutes round trip), extremely sketchy, but VERY rewarding. The hike has been blocked off with wire fences but you can still jump the wall and climb down. There are ropes on the trail that lead you to the base of the waterfall. If you’re not up for the hike, you can also drive up and view the waterfall from the top.
- Hanakapia Falls
- Hanakoa Falls
- Ho’opi’i Falls – Moderate but short (1.7 miles) trek to a scenic waterfall.
- Manawaiopuna Falls from Jurassic Park
#12 Allerton Garden
The Allerton Garden tour was such an experience!
You get to traverse through the amazing lush landscape of a very well-maintained botanical garden and have a Hawaiian meal at the end of the tour. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining.
#13 Hike the Kalalau Valley
Kalalau Valley is located on the northwest side of the island of Kauaʻi in the state of Hawaiʻi. It’s the largest valley along the coast, spanning two miles wide and two miles in depth.
The Kalalau Trail is a 22-mile-long round-trip hike and is considered very difficult. It can be very dangerous, especially in bad weather. There are many hazards that you need to be aware of to stay safe.
Read more about the hiking the valley here.
#14 Fern Grotto
The Fern Grotto is a great example of how beautiful the Kauai landscape has transformed with time. The lush vegetation here makes it look like you’ve entered a fairytale.
Smith Family conducts tours to the Fern Grotto. Book ahead of time here.
#15 Makauwahi Cave Reserve
Located on the southern part of the island, this cave reserve is worth visiting. You can spelunker into the cave to check out this collapsed sea cave. We highly recommend going early in the day to take advantage of daylight.
#16 Hanalei Valley Lookout
Visit the Hanalei Beach and Hanalei Valley Lookout, which features waterfalls and fields of taro, a purple potato-like plant that is important to Hawaiian cuisine.
#17 Hike the Alakai Swamp Trail
The Alakai Swamp Trail is a 7-mile out-and-back trail in Koke’e State Park. It’s considered moderately challenging and takes about 3 hours to hike one way. The trail is made up of a boardwalk that sometimes has broken or missing planks, so things can get pretty messy (and muddy) if you don’t tread carefully.
This trail leads to the Kilohana Lookout where you can get gorgeous views of Wainiha Valley and Kauai’s North Shore. We highly recommend starting your hike as early as 7-8 AM as it gets very foggy in the afternoon.
#18 Visit Old Koloa Town
Old Koloa town is a great stop as you pass through from the east side to the west and vice versa.
There are many restaurants, shops, and history to learn about Old Koloa town. Expect to spend 2-4 hours here.
#19 See the rainbow Stores in the NoKa Fair Shopping Center
Many of the shops here have shut down due to COVID, but the little rainbow storefronts still stand! The center offers artisans and shop owners selling locally crafted goods and “Made in Kauai” apparel.
#20 Visit the Center of Kauai
Take an adventure helicopter ride to the center of Kauai “the wettest place on Earth” and see the Na Pali Coast from up in the air.
#21 Hike the Sleeping Giant Trail
This trailhead is located in Kapaa town. We love this hike because it’s very accessible, mostly shaded, and has amazing vistas on the east side.
#22 Hike the Awa’awapuhi Trail
The Awa’awapuhi Trail (6 miles, moderate) begins in Kokee’e State Park and goes through the Nāpali Kona Forest Reserve.
Where to Eat in Kauai
#1 Kalalea Juice Hale
We are OBSESSED with this acai bowl joint! We go here every time we visit Kauai. They make the prettiest acai bowls that come with locally sourced healthy and tasty ingredients. You’ll also get to hang out with the chickens on the property. This is a must when you visit Kauai.
Anddddd if you’re ever stuck missing their amazing acai bowls, you can recreate them at home with our copycat Kalalea Juice Hale Acai Bowl recipe.
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#2 Kauai Juice Co.
We are OBSESSED with the hot sauces at Kauai Juice Co. Our favorite flavors are the Kiawe Smoked and Verde which we buy in bulk to take back home as souvenirs or to just stock our pantry.
They also sell juices, kombucha, smoothies, elixirs, bone broths, spices, prepared fresh foods, and much more. It’s a must-visit each time we return to Kauai.
#3 El Taco Feliz
El Taco Feliz is a little food truck in Kapaa. They serve delicious and affordable Mexican food. This was our first stop in Kauai ever and we ordered fish tacos and burritos and were blown away at how fresh and delicious everything was.
#4 Leong’s Meat House
If you’re looking for Kauai grass-fed beef, this is the place! Leong’s Meat House is a butchery but also serves lunch plates and tasty poke bowls. We tried the Kamikaze, which is an assortment of one of each of their poke flavors and it was super good!
#5 Koloa Fish Market
The Koloa Fish Market is a great place to get food when visiting old town Koloa. They sell fresh seafood and their poke is very delicious.
#6 Al Pastor Tacos
This place is called Al Pastor but their secret weapons are their shrimp and fish tacos. They’re a food truck that delivers some ono Mexican food. You can buy their tacos a la carte. We highly recommend the shrimp and fish tacos and a combo fish and shrimp burrito.
#7 Kountry Kitchen
Kountry Kitchen is an awesome breakfast place. We recommend their iced teas, country-fried steak and eggs, benedicts, and other breakfast staples. You can’t go wrong with anything here.
#8 Paniolo Santa Maria Style BBQ
As a Texan born and raised, I could not miss out on a good BBQ joint. We tried Paniolo’s on our third visit to Kauai and wish we had gone here sooner! Santa Maria BBQ is known for melt in your mouth tri-tip meats. We had their rib-eye loaded fries, rib-eye salad, and two combo barbeque plates with ribs and tri-tip.
They don’t sell booze, but you can get some at the market nearby or bring your own. They also have LIVE music which is guaranteed fun. Try to see Extended Stay (the band) during your trip. They are an eclectic jam band that wowed the crowd!
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#9 The Fish Express
The Fish Express serves some yummy poke and seafood plates! You can order poke and add toppings to make your poke bowl exactly how you want it. We also love their daily fish plates. When we went, they had Mahi Mahi encrusted with macadamia nuts in a lilikoi (passion fruit) sauce. It was amazing!
#10 Da Crack
Da Crack sells bomb Mexican food. Their plates and tacos are the best!
Naisla is a new Italian-Japanese fusion restaurant that serves amazing craft cocktails by Mixologist Josh Golden. We LOVED the braised short rib, cheesy arancini, and hamachi crudo dishes. Reservations are highly recommended!
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#12 Oasis on the Beach
Oasis spoiled our taste buds with their amazing food. We tried the Kauai beef steak here and it was so tender and delicious. We come back here each time we visit the island. They also have happy hour deals and live music.
We love Aldrin (the Ukelele pro) who performs on Wednesdays from 3-5 PM. Come for happy hour beverages and food.
#13 Brennecke’s Beach Broiler
Located right next to Poipu Beach in the Southern part. This restaurant is a great place to rest and even watch the sunset.
#14 Paco’s Tacos
For some delicious Mexican food in a sit-down setting, we recommend Paco’s Tacos. They have an awesome $25 breakfast deal which includes one breakfast entree and two flutes of champagne. They also serve menudo and pozole on select days. We visited the Kalaheo location which is located on a golf course. Here, you’ll also be able to spot flocks of endangered Nene birds!
#15 Kiawe Roots
Kiawe Roots offers an amazing brunch, lunch, and dinner menu. They have their own version of Loco Moco which is delicious. They also have craft cocktails. See their menu here. Reservations are highly recommended.
#16 Hukilau Lanai
Hukilau Lanai is super special to us because on Saturday and Sunday from 5 PM-5:45 PM, they have a $40 tasting menu. If you want to add a wine pairing, the cost will come up to $55! Their menu is super creative and delicious and we’re always left wondering how they can offer such amazing food at low prices. They also have live music.
Make this a fancy dinner event with your partner or loved ones. Reservations are highly recommended as the place is packed on the weekends!
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Kauai Travel Guide MAP
We created a map that you can use to get around the island.
If you found our Kauai travel guide helpful, please share it on Pinterest. Thanks for your support!
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If you're a brand and want to work with us, please visit this page to get in touch.