Of all the Hawaiian islands, Kauai is by far my favorite. It boasts incredible mountain landscapes, crystal-clear water, quaint restaurants, and beautiful waterfalls. The locals are friendly and tourists don’t seem to linger around on the beaches as much as on Maui or the Big Island, which makes it seem a bit more untouched. This Kauai travel guide has a little bit of something for everyone: whether you are looking for something adventurous, family-friendly, or simply relaxing!
*Note: This Kauai guide has been updated as of July 2019 to reflect the re-opening of Kauai’s North Shore, which was previously closed due to flooding.
Left to right from top: surfers at Hanalei Bay beach; walking path on the North Shore; Hanalei Bay beach just before sunset; Tege Tege Shave Ice Truck, sunset at Hanalei Bay Beach; the lookout point over Kauai’s North Shore; surfers in Hanalei; sunset at Hanalei river; mountains in the North Shore; stars over Hanalei.
Best time to visit – June through September is high season,
temps are warm year-round with tropical rain
Getting around – rental car
Currency – US dollars
Where to Stay
Kauai’s North Shore is my favorite part of the island — it has beautiful beaches, mountains, and is much less crowded than other parts of the island. Tip: this part of the island gets more tropical rain, but if you drive over to the southern side it’s usually sunny!
- Hanalei Colony Resort – if you want to be steps away from the ocean, stay here. It’s located on a quieter part of Kauai’s North Shore and close to Hanalei Town.
- Wyndham Bali Hai – this hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Princeville, just shy of Hanalei Bay. It’s perfect for those looking to have all the amenities of a modern hotel (pool, hot tubs, tennis courts) with plenty to explore nearby. It’s also just a short walk away from Queen’s Bath.
- House Rentals – there are plenty of homes for rent on Kauai, and they’re often more conveniently located than the hotels. I recommend doing a quick google search or perusing homes in Hanalei like the Hale Ola Kai Home, Coconut Cottage, or Tutu’s Cottage, which are all located on my favorite part of the island. Airbnb is another great option to find rentals (here’s $40 off your first Airbnb booking!).
- St. Regis Princeville – if you want to splurge, this is the place to do it! The sunset views are breathtaking and the location right on Hanalei Bay is unbeatable. The St. Regis hotel is also located right next to Hideaways, one of our favorite lesser-known beaches.
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Where to Eat
- Pink’s Creamery – our favorite spot to grab ice cream on the North Shore. Their banana macadamia nut flavor is my favorite!
- Tege Tege Shave Ice – a must if you like shave ice. Tege Tege uses only organic fruit, and they have unique flavors like green tea and passionfruit.
- Verde – a cozy Mexican restaurant right off the main road in Kapa’a. I recommend their spicy pineapple Margherita and tacos.
- Mermaids Cafe – a great cafe in Kapa’a to stop and sit outside for lunch. My favorite is their Ahi Cilantro Wrap.
- Bar Acuda – for fine dining, this tapas bar has it all. Atmosphere and a variety of dishes for every taste will make you want to return again and again.
- Sushi Girl – a local’s favorite hole-in-the-wall, Sushi Girl is perfect to grab lunch to-go in Kilauea. They have delicious poké, and some of my favorite fresh daily specials.
- Dolphin Fish Market – a small kitchen in the back offers tasty to-go options, like crab sushi rolls and poké by the pound. Stop by at night for a sit-down dinner and views of the river.
- Pono Market – the locals love this spot for traditional Hawaiian food. My tip: go early, the Pork Lau Lau is a must-try and often sells out before 12:00pm!
- Ama – a newer addition to Hanalei Bay, Ama serves up delicious ramen and appetizers with a breathtaking view of the mountains. Perfect for a date night or group dinner.
- The Food Trucks – one of our favorite places to grab lunch is at the food trucks in Hanalei! Local staples include Trucking Delicious, Turmeric, and Fresh Bite Kauai. We also love the tacos at Pat’s Taqueria and poke bowls at Hanalei Poké (both are located in the Big Save parking lot).
Where to Swim
- Hanalei Bay – the long stretches of beach and beautiful mountain views make Hanalei Bay an easy favorite. When the weather is good, you’ll find surfers at every skill level here.
- Hideaways Beach – if you don’t mind a trek down, Hideaways Beach is often quieter than most beaches on Kauai and has beautiful views. Tip: valet for free at the St. Regis or the lot in front of the path.
- Tunnels Beach – this beach gets its name from the lava tubes which lie just below the surface of the water. It’s a great beach to watch experienced surfers, and also has a nearby cave you can explore. *No parking reservation needed to visit this part of the North Shore (there are passes required to visit Ke’e Beach, which is further north). However, I recommend going early in the morning as parking spots are limited. You will be ticketed if you park outside of designated areas.
- Polihale State Park – this beach is located on the west side of the island, and you’ll need a four-wheel drive to get there since it requires driving on a dirt road. Once you arrive, sunset views and a long stretch of beach awaits. Beware though: it’s easy to get your car stuck if you drive on the sand (I know from experience)!
- Poipu Beach – when the North Shore is rainy, chances are Poipu Beach on the South Shore is getting hit with sun. It’s a great family-friendly beach and you’ll often see people snorkeling here.
- Secret Falls – this hidden waterfall is a trek, but so worth it. Prepare to traverse some muddy paths and cross a river to visit this spot!
- Ke’e Beach – when the water conditions permit, Ke’e Beach is great for snorkeling. In the evening, grab a beach towel and watch the sunset along the Na Pali coastline. *A reservation is now needed to visit Ke’e beach and the start of the Kalalau trail. You can purchase entry passes up to 30 days in advance of visiting. More information here.
Where to Go
- Queen’s Bath – this natural pool fills up with water from ocean throughout the day and is known for being one of the more beautiful spots on the island. It’s possible to swim here, but I recommend extra caution as waves from the ocean coming in can be unpredictable and dangerous. My tip: wear sneakers for the hike down and go early if you want to avoid the crowds.
- Ho’opi’i Falls – it’s a short hike through the jungle to get to Ho’opi’i. You can jump into the lower falls and swim in the river when the water is calm — it’s one of my favorite things to do!
- Waimea Canyon – for incredible views of Kauai’s mountainous landscape, drive to Waimea. You can also hike the Waimea Canyon Trail.
- Hanapepe Town – Hanapepe is a sleepy little town with quaint shops and restaurants on the South side of the island.
- Wailua Falls – a scenic overlook lets you view Wailua Falls from above. You might also catch a glimpse of some wild warthogs here!
- Downtown Hanalei Bay – this small downtown is set amongst a beautiful backdrop. You can browse shops, grab lunch at the local food trucks, or head to the beach from here.
What to Do
- Ride in a helicopter. There are a few companies that offer hour-long helicopter tours on the island, but if you’re feeling extra adventurous I’d book an open door tour.
- Go on a hike. Some of my favorites are the Waimea Canyon Trail and the Sleeping Giant Trail. *Note: Due to the April 2018 flood, the Nā Pali Coast trail is currently inaccessible.
- Take surf lessons. Kauai is a great place to learn! I suggest taking lessons from a local. Our friend Teva offers lessons for beginners – mention ‘Find Us Lost’ and he’ll give you 20% off your first surf lesson! Contact him here.
- Go paddle boarding. I recommend renting paddle boards in Hanalei town (try Hanalei Surf Co Back Door) and taking them out on the Hanalei River.
More Things to Do in Kauai
One of the best ways to see the Nā Pali coast is with a helicopter tour or boat tour. The coastline on this part of the island is incredible and not to be missed. Visiting Waimea Canyon will also allow you to see more of the beautiful landscapes of Kauai. This part of the island is fairly out of the way, so allot at least a half day depending on where you’re driving from. You can also book a tour of Waimea.
What to Bring
- Dresses in flow-y fabrics. I tend to wear maxi dresses in Kauai the most, since it’s so humid.
- Cotton tops that are machine-washable. I love these classic Madewell tanks because I can throw them straight in the wash.
- Plenty of swimsuits. I typically wear a swimsuit every day. The relaxed island vibe is the way to go.
- A hat and beach bag. The hat is definitely needed here! I carry this baseball cap with me anytime we go on beach vacations, since it’s easy to pack. A beach bag is a must for beach days, or when you want to carry a change of clothes and hiking shoes with you.
- Reef-friendly sunscreen. Kauai recently banned sunscreen that damages coral reefs, and this supergoop sunscreen is one of the few brands I’ve found that fits the bill and is consistently reviewed well. Lately I’ve been using this face sunscreen every day, and I love it because it doesn’t wash off in the water.
- Your camera! A GoPro and GoPro dome is also a must if you want to take underwater photos (the water is clearest if you take a boat out). Our travel photography gear post details out all the camera gear we use.