Kauai is my favorite destination in Hawaii. A lush tropical oasis, the island is home to emerald valleys, green mountain peaks, roaring waterfalls and sweeping canyons. They call it the Garden Island for good reason – it’s a hiker’s paradise, and the Jurassic Park feels are off-the-charts. While the outdoor scene is truly spectacular, Kauai does not have the lavish five-star resorts, shopping centers and restaurant scene that you’ll find on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii. If any of those are a priority, Kauai might not be for you. Life on Kauai moves at a relaxed pace – the vibes are incredibly chill, and typical day involves hiking, snorkeling, kayaking adventures, scenic drives or bumming it on the beach. Below is my guide to all this (and more!) to help you plan the ultimate trip to Kauai. This post contains affiliate links.
Prehistoric feels while chasing waterfalls. Outfit details: One piece, linked here.
HOW MANY DAYS ON KAUAI?
ONE WEEK. It might seem like a short trip, but seven days is the right amount of time on Kauai. A week will get you to the best hiking trails, waterfalls, beaches, viewpoints and restaurants, and all at a pretty relaxed pace.
One of the prettiest beach backdrops in the Hawaiian Islands is here at Tunnels Beach. Outfit details: Lovers + Friends one piece, linked here.
WHEN TO VISIT KAUAI
MAY THROUGH SEPTEMBER. Yes, this is high season, but it’s also your shot at the best weather on Kauai. This is one of the rainiest destinations in the Hawaiian Islands, and the beaches and hiking trails are best experienced under sunshine.
Soaking in the sweeping views at the very end of the Awa’awapuhi Trail.
This moderate hiking trail tucked away in Waimea Canyon is approximately six miles round trip. The trek itself isn’t anything spectacular, but the sweeping views from the Awa’awapuhi Nualolo Lookout at the end of the trail are completely epic. The panoramic scenes overlook the craggy canyon cliffs of the Nualolo and Awa’awapuhi Valleys.
HELICOPTER ISLAND TOUR
If you pick one Hawaiian island for a helicopter tour, Kauai is the one. The tours aren’t cheap, but it’s worth every penny for the one to two hours you are in the air. And to see the island from above is a completely surreal experience – all the Jurassic Park feels. The tours take passengers around the entire island, but highlights are flying over Waimea Canyon, Hanalei Valley, the Napali Coast and dozens of waterfalls in the lush jungle.
Small, gorgeous beach located on the island’s North Shore. Climb down to the dreamy turquoise water from the small public parking lot that is located near 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay (parking lot is on Google Maps). Hideaways Beach is best to visit on a sunny day with minimal wind.
KAYAK THE HANALEI RIVER
Spend a morning or afternoon exploring the lush Hanalei River by kayak. Kayak Hanalei offers both guided tours and rentals for self-guided adventures with a route map. There are two routes to choose from (Wildlife Refuge route and the Ocean route), and both take a maximum of two hours.
KUILAU RIDGE TRAIL
Lush hiking trail near Kapa’a that takes trekkers through the rainforest and up to the Kuilau Ridge. The MUDDY trail is 3.5 miles each direction – proper hiking footwear is highly recommended.
Kauai isn’t known for its beaches, but on a sunny day, Tunnels is one of my favorite gems in all of Hawaii. Nestled along the North Shore, jagged mountain peaks covered in emerald green growth serve up an epic backdrop for both sunbathers and snorkelers. The parking area for Tunnels Beach is small – arrive early to snag a spot.
Wailua Falls is a popular tourist stop thanks to its close proximity to Lihue, and a viewpoint that doesn’t require much effort (the parking area and viewpoint are one and the same).
Often coined the Grand Canyon of the Hawaiian Islands, Waimea Canyon is home to hiking trails, scenic drives and sweeping viewpoints. It’s a bit of a journey to reach the state park (especially for visitors coming from Princeville), but it really is a must-visit while on Kauai. The 14-mile canyon is loaded with hiking trails – research ahead of time to select an adventure best suited to your hiking abilities. My favorites are the Awa’awapuhi Trail, Waimea Canyon Trail and Waipoo Falls.
Kauai was in desperate need of a high-end resort, and along comes 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay. The stunning new luxury option sits on prime real estate in Princeville facing sweeping views of the bay and lush green cliffs. These views serve up a spectacular backdrop from the resort infinity pool and sun beds. Rooms are spacious, luxurious and play up the island neutrals. Absolutely the best hotel option on Kauai.
Sprawling resort located in Poipu, the Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa is home to the prettiest grounds on the island. Guests of the beachfront property are treated to a dreamy saltwater lagoon, as well as several beautiful pools, most connected by a tropical lazy river. The Poipu location is ideal for visitors with plans to visit both Waimea Canyon and the North Shore while on Kauai – it sits half way between the two.
A beautiful two-bedroom, two-bathroom Airbnb located on the North Shore, near Hanalei Bay. The condo is bright, airy and tastefully decorated in whites, blues and grays. This is a rarely available Airbnb Plus property – if you see it available, book it.
This lovely plantation-style home sits tucked away in serene Hanalei. The spacious property offers two bedrooms and three bathrooms, but can hold up to seven guests. It’s another Airbnb Plus property. The reviews are stellar, and design very tasteful – Brazilian cherry hardwood, vaulted beam ceilings and wood paneled walls.
Spacious condo located in Princeville, perfect for groups. Also an Airbnb Plus property, it features monochromatic design cues and dark woods contrasted with whites and grays. Incredibly stylish, spacious and clean. Another rarity on Kauai.
Another Poipu option for travelers looking to have a kitchen or partial kitchen in-unit. Koloa Landing Resort offers a range of options including studios and variety of villas. Resort is beachfront with beautiful infinity pools.
All good vibes on Kauai.
ALOHA JUICE BAR
Colorful juice stand on the North Shore that serves fresh juices, acai bowls and smoothies.
CHICKEN IN A BARREL
Popular barbecue spot with three locations on the island in Waimea, Kapa’a and Hanalei. Food is quick and locations are overly casual – great place to stop to feast after a hike. Menu includes barbecued meats, mac salad, cornbread, chili, fries and more.
Upscale restaurant from acclaimed Chef Roy Yamaguchi that is one of the more popular dinner spots in Poipiu. Menu offers a variety of raws, seafood and meats. Reservations recommended.
This might be a mini food truck, but it serves a mighty menu of fresh poke, sushi and make. Food is fresh, delicious and VERY popular!
JAPANESE GRANDMA’S CAFE
Priceless gem tucked away in Hanapepe that serves up a storm of delicious Japanese dishes including poke tacos, tempura, karaage, tonkatsu, sushi, sashimi, nigiri and ramen on select days of the week. Reservations recommended.
An island favorite for breakfast, Java Kai has two locations in Kapa’a and Kilauea. Menu includes coffees, smoothies, bakery goods, bagel sandwiches, avocado toast, acai bowls and breakfast burritos. There’s always a wait, but you can order ahead online and schedule a specific pick-up time to avoid the line completely.
KOLOA FISH MARKET
Family-owned, no-frills establishment that serves fresh fish, poke, bentos and desserts.
MIDNIGHT BEAR BREADS
This small bakery sits across the street from Japanese Grandma’s Cafe in Hanapepe. It’s only open four days a week, and the best selection of fresh breads, rolls and pasties is early in the morning.
One of the best reviewed food options on the island. Sushi Girl looks more like a permanent food truck than a restaurant, serving their popular sushi burritos, poke bowls and make rolls out of three small windows in the Kong Long Historic Market Center.
Kauai is the best island in Hawaii to explore by helicopter.
Have you ever hiked behind a waterfall?
Visitors fly into Kauai via a handful of direct routes from the mainland Americas, or via a short flight from neighboring Kauai, Oahu or Hawaii.
Soaring high above the island’s stunning topography.
A car is a must on the island. Everything is spread out – the food, the beaches and the hiking trails. Most major car rental brands are available at the airport. From baggage claim, you’ll hop on a shuttle to the car rental counters located just a few minutes away. Also, there is limited access to the North Shore due to ongoing road repairs. Check this when planning out your itinerary.
Nā Pali Coast.
Our helicopter had no doors – a little scary, but epic for views!