Kauai, the enchanting Garden Isle of Hawaii, beckons travelers with its lush landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and captivating experiences. From the moment you step off the plane at the airport, you’ll be greeted by an unexpected sight – the island’s wild chickens, a charming and quirky presence that sets the stage for your adventure. As we explored Kauai, we quickly learned that this island is not just a destination; it’s an immersion in nature, history, and unforgettable moments. In this comprehensive travel guide, we invite you to join us on exploration of Kauai’s wonders and discover the best things to do in Kauai, HI.
While Kauai’s entire expanse is a tapestry of wonders waiting to be explored, one region that left an indelible mark on our journey was Princeville and the northern part of the island. Here, the natural beauty of Kauai unfolds in all its glory, from the awe-inspiring Hanalei Bay to the lush Poipu Beach, where you might even spot sea turtles and sea lions sunning themselves.
We encountered the island’s history, its cultural treasures, and the warm spirit of its people. One such treasure was Shaka Tours, a guided audio tour that unveils the island’s history through its various locations as you drive. It’s a journey that transports you back in time as it details the history of sites, scenic viewpoints, and other notable locations as you drive around the island.
So, join us as we uncover the magic of Kauai. We’ll dive into the best things to do in Kauai, sharing our experiences and recommendations for your island adventure.
Explore Kauai’s Natural Wonders
Kauai is a haven for nature enthusiasts, offering a diverse range of outdoor activities and awe-inspiring landscapes. In this section, we’ll delve into some of the island’s most captivating natural wonders.
Visit Kauai’s Iconic Beaches
Aan amazing beach that caters to a variety of interests. Its calm surf makes it an ideal place for those learning to surf or families with young children. The beach also offers excellent fishing opportunities and is graced by a picturesque stream flowing into the ocean. The views are simply gorgeous, but be prepared for less-than-stellar bathroom facilities.
Located on the sunny south shore of Kauai, is another gem that you won’t want to miss. It’s renowned for its pristine golden sands, crystal-clear waters, and exceptional snorkeling opportunities. The beach is often divided into two sections: Brennecke’s Beach for experienced surfers and Poipu Beach Park for swimming and family-friendly activities. What makes Poipu Beach even more enchanting is the chance to spot sea turtles basking in the sun and sea lions occasionally resting on the beach. Don’t forget your snorkel gear as the waters here are teeming with marine life.
Hike the Spectacular Trails
Kauai’s rugged terrain and lush interior offer some of the best hiking experiences in Hawaii. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a novice, these trails are sure to leave you in awe.
Polihale State Park Camping Area
Polihale boasts a super nice beach with minimal crowds. Accessing it involves navigating a rough road, but most vehicles can make the journey with a bit of care. However, if there’s been recent rain, be cautious of water pools on the road. Some clearance, and possibly 4×4 or AWD, may be advisable in such conditions. The seclusion and stunning views make it well worth the effort, even if amenities are limited.
Anini Beach stands out as one of the best spots for snorkeling on the island. If you’re eager to explore underwater life, this is the place to be.
This Beach offers a more relaxed and less crowded atmosphere. It’s a picturesque spot for leisurely strolls and relaxation. In fact, many consider it the best beach on the entire island.
Experience Kauai’s Cultural Attractions
Kauai’s beauty isn’t confined to its natural wonders; it also boasts a rich cultural heritage waiting to be explored. In this section, we’ll delve into some of the cultural attractions that add depth to your Kauai adventure.
Discover Historical Sites
Old Koloa Town
Explore Old Koloa Town, a charming historic area that provides insights into Kauai’s past and significance. Stroll through its streets and absorb the island’s history.
Russian Fort Elizabeth (Pāʻulaʻula)
Fort Elizabeth offers another glimpse into Kauai’s historical legacy. While the site may not be in pristine condition, its historical value remains intact. It’s worth a visit to immerse yourself in the island’s history if you’re in the area.
Enjoy Outdoor Adventures
Kauai’s outdoor adventures are as diverse as its landscapes. From water sports to helicopter tours, there’s no shortage of excitement here.
Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Pristine Waters
A snorkeler’s paradise known for its crystal-clear waters and vibrant marine life. The coral formations and the chance to spot tropical fish make it a must-visit location for underwater enthusiasts.
Ke’e Beach, located at the end of the road on the North Shore, offers excellent snorkeling opportunities with a backdrop of lush green mountains. It’s also the starting point for the famous Kalalau Trail.
Kayaking Adventures on Wailua River
Wailua River Sacred Falls Kayak Tour
Experience the beauty of Wailua River on a Sacred Falls Kayak Tour, a 4-5 hour excursion that offers both solo kayak rentals and guided tours. Paddle up the scenic river, venturing deep into the heart of Kauai’s rainforest. Following the kayak portion, embark on a hike to reach the picturesque Sacred Falls. Be sure to wear appropriate footwear for walking on slick rocks, mud, and in the water. After the adventure, this location serves as an ideal spot for a leisurely lunch and a refreshing swim.
Take a Helicopter Tour
Island Helicopters Kauai
Island Helicopters Kauai offers what might be the best island air tour on Kauai. The Jurassic falls and island tour provide breathtaking views, and the opportunity to land and walk around the iconic waterfall backdrop from the Jurassic Park helo landing is unforgettable. It’s a must-do activity that we rated 10/10 and wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.
Scenic Ziplining Adventures
They offer a variety of zipline adventures through the stunning Kauai landscape. Soar through the treetops and enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the island.
Explore Botanical Gardens and Waterfalls
Allerton Garden is a picturesque botanical garden that features diverse plant species and stunning sculptures. Guided tours provide insight into the garden’s history and significance.
Waimea Canyon and Waipo’o Falls
Hiking in Waimea Canyon, often called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is an adventure in itself. Explore its trails, and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and the chance to see Waipo’o Falls up close.
Savor Kauai’s Culinary Delights
Kauai’s culinary scene is a delightful fusion of flavors from Hawaii and around the world. In this section, we’ll explore the island’s culinary offerings and recommend some must-try dining experiences.
Local Eateries and Restaurants
Happy Talk Lounge Restaurant & Bar
A pleasant dining experience with good food and a relaxed Hawaii feel. While the portions may be on the smaller side and prices slightly higher than some other places on the island, the ambiance is enhanced by live music. It’s a suitable choice for a pleasant evening out.
The Right Slice LLC
The Right Slice LLC is a delightful find for pie enthusiasts. With a wide variety of pies available by the slice or whole, it’s an excellent option for a sweet treat or a savory meal. Whether you’re craving something sweet or savory, The Right Slice has you covered.
Shave Ice Heaven
Wailua Shave Ice
Wailua Shave Ice is the best shave ice on Kauai, and some would say even in the world. This treat combines the decadence of ice cream with a light and refreshing twist. Many visitors find themselves stopping by multiple times during their stay, making it a highlight of their Kauai experience. We tried many other shave ice locations, and while they were mostly all pretty good, none of them were as good as Wailua Shave Ice. If you like coconut, you will love the haupia foam on top of yours!
Description: Tiki Tacos offers large and flavorful tacos that are a bit messy but packed with taste. Whether you choose fish or chicken, you’re in for a treat. If you’re in the area, this spot is definitely worth trying out. There are two locations on the island.
Chicken in a Barrel BBQ
It may not excite you initially, but it’s a hidden gem on Kauai. With everything from delicious ribs to generous portions, it’s highly recommended, it has some of the best ribs you will ever eat. The flavors here are sure to please.
Porky’s Kauai Waimea
Porky’s Kauai in Waimea is a fantastic choice for pulled pork lovers. Try the grilled cheese pork sandwich or the pork with rice for a mouthwatering experience that satisfies your barbecue cravings.
Discover Kauai’s Hidden Gems
Kauai is not just about the well-known attractions; it’s also a place where hidden gems await discovery. In this section, we’ll unveil some lesser-known but equally captivating spots on the island.
Explore Secluded Beaches
Secret Beach (Kauapea Beach)
Also known as Kauapea Beach, lives up to its name with its secluded location and stunning vistas. It requires a short hike to reach, but the reward is a pristine beach with golden sands and turquoise waters.
Hideaways Beach (Pali Ke Kua Beach)
Hideaways Beach, or Pali Ke Kua Beach, is tucked away on the North Shore. It’s accessible via a steep trail, but the effort is worth it for the picturesque surroundings and uncrowded atmosphere.
Maniniholo Dry Cave and Other Natural Wonders
Maniniholo Dry Cave
Right across from Tunnels Beach, you’ll find the Maniniholo Dry Cave. It’s a captivating cave formation that you can explore easily, making it suitable for families and those with a sense of adventure. The cave features ancient drawings on its walls, offering a glimpse into the island’s history.
Wailua Falls is a beautiful sight, but its parking situation can be challenging. Arrive early to secure a spot and enjoy the breathtaking views. Note that the trail to the base of the falls is closed due to safety concerns, but the top viewpoint offers a fantastic perspective. It had been raining a lot when this picture was taken, so the falls were even more impressive than usual.
Turtle Cove is one of Kauai’s popular tourist destinations, known for its resident turtles. Thousands of people flock here each year to catch a glimpse of these gentle creatures. While it’s often a beautiful place to visit, exercise caution during the winter when high surf can make it dangerous. Pay attention to the surf conditions, as there are no lifeguards at this location.
Practical Tips for Your Kauai Adventure
To ensure a smooth and enjoyable visit to Kauai, it’s essential to be prepared. In this section, we’ll provide practical tips and advice to help you make the most of your Kauai adventure.
Weather and Packing Essentials
Kauai has a tropical climate, which means it can be humid with occasional rainfall. Pack lightweight, breathable clothing, swimwear, and sunscreen for sunny days. Don’t forget a light jacket, raincoat or even an umbrella for unexpected showers.
Comfortable walking shoes or sandals with good grip are essential, especially if you plan to explore hiking trails or visit natural attractions.
Transportation and Getting Around
Renting a car is highly recommended for exploring Kauai independently. Book in advance to secure the best rates. Returning a Touro rental is trickier than renting from one of the big names at the airport, especially if you are picking up or returning a car outside of normal business hours.
Island Shuttle Services
If you prefer not to drive, Kauai offers shuttle services that can take you to popular attractions and activities.
Safety and Outdoor Adventure Precautions
Pay attention to ocean conditions and adhere to any posted warnings. Pay attention to the locals, if they aren’t going out into the surf, you should stay away as well. Only swim or snorkel in areas with lifeguards such as Poipu Beach.
When hiking, inform someone of your plans and expected return time. Carry essential items like water, snacks, and a fully charged phone.
Respecting the Environment and Local Culture
Leave No Trace
Respect the natural environment by packing out all trash and following “Leave No Trace” principles.
Respect Hawaiian culture by learning about local customs, such as removing shoes before entering homes, and being mindful of sacred sites.
Accommodations and Reservations
Kauai offers a range of accommodations, from luxury resorts to vacation rentals. Choose based on your preferences and budget.
For popular restaurants, make dining reservations in advance, especially during peak tourist seasons.
Conclusion: Kauai Beckons You
As our journey through Kauai comes to an end, we hope this guide has ignited your wanderlust and given you valuable insights into the Garden Isle’s treasures. Kauai is a place where natural wonders, cultural richness, and adventure converge, inviting you to explore, relax, and immerse yourself in its beauty.
From the lush greenery of the Napali Coast and the hidden beaches to the cultural festivals and culinary delights, Kauai offers a diverse array of experiences for every traveler.
Whether you’re seeking the thrill of outdoor adventures, the serenity of secluded beaches, or the flavors of local cuisine, Kauai has something special in store for you. Let your senses be your guide as you discover the magic of this tropical paradise.
Mahalo and safe travels!