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!
Left to right from top: Hideaways beach, eating poke from Sushi Girl in our truck, ice cream from Pink’s, shave ice from the Tege Tege Truck, the walking path down to Hideaways beach, sunset at Hanalei Bay beach, sunset at Hanalei river, shops and restaurants in downtown Hanalei.
needed to take it all in
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.
Where to Eat
- 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 if you’re heading north to swim or hike. They have delicious poké and 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!
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.
- 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.
Where to Go
- Queen’s Bath – this natural pool fills up with water from ocean throughout the day and is a beautiful spot to swim when the surf isn’t high. My tip: wear sneakers for the hike down and go early 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!
What to Do
- Ride in a helicopter. There are a few companies that offer 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 favorite include the Nā Pali Coast Kalalau Trail, Waimea Canyon Trail, and the Sleeping Giant Trail.
- Take surf lessons. Kauai is a great place to learn! I suggest taking lessons from a local.
- 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.
What to Bring
- Plenty of swimsuits. My go-to outfit in Kauai is a swimsuit and maxi dress. The relaxed island vibe is the way to go.
- A hat. You’ll need it here!
- A beach bag. A must for beach days, or carrying a change of clothes and hiking shoes.