Guide to Kauai, Hawaii

April 23, 2018

Cliff Trail near Shipwreck Beach in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut

Known as a lush tropical paradise, Kauai is Hawaii’s fourth largest island and a great place for your next vacation. Some of the best hiking trails and beaches in the world line the edge of the island with a dense rain forest in the center that has been featured in action films like Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park.

Outdoor fanatics will be right at home with endless opportunities to hike, surf, and get involved with water sports. Everyone else will have fun accessing some of the best vistas by car and enjoying the laidback vibe of the island. Party people will probably want to skip this island as nightlife is pretty much nonexistent.

Shipwreck Beach in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut
Cliffs of Near Shipwreck Beach in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut

Beaches

Anani Beach
Laze in the shade of the nearby trees when you need a break from splashing in the shallow, turquoise water of this quiet beach. Don’t forget the snorkel gear! There are a few coral reefs and enclosures where you can see tropical fish and sea turtles.

Ke’e Beach
Located at the very Northern tip of the island, Ke’e Beach is the last beach before the start the Napali Coast trail. If the weather is good, head this way in the early evening to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets of your life.

Shipwreck Beach
Drive past the Grand Hyatt Hotel to get to this hidden gem. A small strip of golden sand meets crashing waves that are best for advanced surfers and skilled swimmers. Once you’re done sunbathing, access the cliffside trail at the far left of the beach for a nice and easy hike.

Hanalei Bay
Relax on wide swaths of sand and take in the low-key waves at this beach. You can easily spend the entire day here thanks to nearby public bathrooms, shops, and restaurants.

Napali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut
Waimea Canyon Waterfall in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut

Do and See

Napali Coast Hike
Some places are beautiful and others take your breath away. The green-lined cliffs that line the Northeast part of the island are of the breathtaking variety and it’s best to experience them by going on a hike. It’s not an easy trail and is best for those in moderate-to-excellent shape. Don’t forget a good pair of hiking shoes, a rain jacket, and lots of mosquito repellent!

Napali Coast Boat Tour
It’s worth the touristy investment in a boat tour to see the length of the Napali Coast from the water. Whether it’s a sunset cruise or a day-long excursion with snorkeling stops and meals included, you won’t be disappointed with the view and experience. Most of the companies leave from Hanelele Bay and are fairly similar in quality. Just be sure to book your trip early on as spots fill up quickly.

Hike in Waimea Canyon
Dubbed the Grand Canyon of Hawaii, Waimea Canyon is a large state park with two famous vista points (Puu ka Pele and Puu hinahina) that are accessible by car. There are also hiking trails for all types of hikers from the newbies to the experts. You can also head this way to catch some sun when the rest of the island is rainy and gray.

Shopping in Cute Boutiques
There are a few gems hidden among all the t-shirt stores and souvenir shops. I wanted to buy everything in Shipwrecked, which is a modern boutique that has a cool islandy vibe and adorable clothes for littles. You should also check out the edgy, bohemian goods at The Barn 808 and sophisticated clothing and souvenirs at Blu Umi.

Chocolate Farm Tour
Foodies and families will enjoy a tour of the eight-acre Steelgrass Farm where the main crop is chocolate. You’ll learn how cacao beans are harvested and eventually turned into chocolate (tasting included). Kids 12 and under are free when accompanied by an adult.

Shaved Ice in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut

Eat and Drink

Koloa Fish Market
The poke was so good at this cult favorite that we went back twice. Choose from a variety of seafood and sauces and then make it into a bowl that comes with fresh, white rice. Be prepared for a crowd but don’t fret because the line moves quickly.

Java Kai
The strongest coffee on the island is served from this trendy joint in Old Kapaa Town. Plant-based sandwiches and wraps are tasty but a bit on the pricey side.

Kauai Juice Co
Located around the corner from Java Kai, you’ll delight in the high-quality kombucha and juice from local fruits at this shop. Keep your glass bottle on hand and return it for a discount on your next juice.

Hanalei Dolphin Fish Market
Though a bit pricy, it’s worth the extra money for sushi rolls or poke from this fish market at the backdoor of The Dolphin Restaurant. The fish is ever-so-fresh and service is quick and friendly.

Shaved Ice
There is no better way to beat the heat than ordering some traditional shaved ice. Stands are peppered throughout the island, but it’s worth seeking out The Fresh Shave. They use natural juice so their shaved ice isn’t as sweet and cloying as stands that use commercial syrup.

Farmer’s Markets
Get fresh produce and tropical fruit at one of the farmer’s markets that pops up around the island every day but Sunday. We enjoyed organic citrus and the delicate taste of starfruit. You can also grab a full meal from one of the food trucks or stands.

Hanapepe Friday Night Art Walk
Come hungry for this art walk that is more like a food festival with live music. Pop into a few galleries and shops between pit stops at the food trucks and local restaurants. I recommend arriving early as it’s a popular thing to do and parking fills up quick.

Tropical Plants in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut
Shipwreck Store in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut

Stay

Those on a romantic trip may want to spring for a stay at a resort on the sunny south side of the island.

Everyone one else will be happiest renting out a room or home on Airbnb or VRBO. The north side of the island can be rainier but it’s also charming and cozy. We stayed in Kapaa, which is a bit worn down but centrally located.

Double check that your accommodations offer air conditioning or be prepared to adapt quickly to the humidity, heat, and early-morning sounds of the roosters.

Ke'e Beach in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut
Beach in Kauai, Hawaii | Alyssa Pacaut

Tips and Tricks

Rent a Car
It’s 100% worthwhile to rent a car for your entire stay. It gives you the freedom to beat the rain clouds and search out activities around the island. The hubs regrets not getting a four-wheel drive and doing a bit of off-roading, but I was secretly happy we stayed on the paved road with our tame hatchback.

Timing Your Stay
The peak of the peak season is during the month of August and the holiday break in late December slash early January. We went during Christmas break, which was awesome but we did pay more for lodging and activities since it was the holidays.

It’s almost impossible to miss rain on Kauai, those plants are lush for a reason! However, you may have more sunny days if you go in the summer months.

P.S. Plan a vacation to Moorea (another tropical paradise in Tahiti) and a packing guide for France in the winter.