The Ultimate Guide To Kauai
Kauai, one of the oldest and most pristine Hawaiian Islands, is home to a dramatic landscape!
Kauai, often referred to as the “Garden Isle,” is blessed with unmatched natural beauty that has intrigued several filmmakers and has been featured in several movies, including the all-time favorite – “Jurassic Park!”
Kauai, the northernmost island in the Hawaiian archipelago, is the fourth largest island of the eight Hawaiian islands – The Big Island of Hawaii, Maui, Oahu, Kauai, Molokai, Lanai, Niihau, & Kahoolawe, and is also the second oldest island after Niihau. Kauai is popularly known for its Na Pali Coast – an unfathomably beautiful coastline featuring lush rainforests, towering jagged cliffs, and waterfalls, and Waimea Canyon – a massive canyon called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” However, Kaui has a lot more to offer, including gorgeous beaches, tropical rainforests, rivers, cascading waterfalls, spectacular coastal views, and several hiking trails!
The island of Kauai, formed by volcanic eruptions several million years ago, is composed of one large inactive volcano – Mount Waialeale, whose eruptions and lava flow, followed by erosion, has formed the lush green valleys, sharp towering mountain spires, and beautiful waterfalls on the island of Kauai! Kauai, initially home to the Polynesians, followed by Europeans, was one of the last islands of Hawaii to join the Kingdom of Hawaii ruled by the king of Hawaiian islands, Kamehameha the Great. While agriculture was one of Kauai’s primary industries until the mid-twentieth century, the island’s natural beauty soon turned Kauai into a tourist hotspot and lured several renowned filmmakers to the island, who showcased the unparalleled charm of Kauai to the world, making tourism the primary industry of Kauai hosting millions of visitors each year!
Kauai primarily has five distinct regions – West Side, North Shore, East Side, South Shore, and Lihue, each featuring fascinating nature and activities!
Kauai, though relatively small in size, can be divided into five different regions (1) West Side, large protected inland area, and home to the famous Waimea Canyon and a section of the Na Pali Coast, (2) North Shore, featuring the awe-inspiring Na Pali Coast State Park, several beaches, tropical rainforests, tide pools, and many hiking trails, (3) East Side, home to gorgeous sandy beaches, hikes, and waterfalls, and (4) South Shore & (5) Lihue, forms the southern section of the island of Kauai featuring Kauai’s most popular beach – Poipu Beach, coastal views, blowholes, and hiking trails. However, unlike the other Hawaiian islands, not every section of Kauai is accessible via car, and some sections can only be accessed by sea or air!
Here is my ultimate guide to Kauai, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, Kauai attractions map, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in Kauai!
Planning Your Trip To Kauai
Flying directly into Kauai or taking an inter-island flight from Honolulu, staying in the South or North Shore area, renting a car, and using a couple sightseeing tours is the best way to get the most out of your trip to Kauai!
Best Time To Visit Kauai: Kauai, with warm weather throughout the year, is a year-round destination! However, there are two peak seasons in the Kauai – (1) Summer, especially June through August, when the weather is perfect and dry, and schools are on break (2) Early Winter, particularly December, during the holidays when most of the country is covered in snow, you can still enjoy warm weather, beach, and watersports in Kauai. The shoulder seasons, January through May and September through November, have a wet climate but are the best time to beat the crowds at Kauai.
Time Required In Kauai: With several things to see and do, I recommend spending a minimum of two days in Kauai, which should give you enough time to cover all significant attractions in Kauai, including Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, stunning waterfalls, and some of the gorgeous beaches of Kauai. If you have more time, you could spend an entire week in Kauai and still not run out of places to see and things to do on the island of Kauai.
Getting To Kauai: While you could directly fly into Lihue Airport (LIH) in Kauai, another popular way to get to the island of Kauai is by flying into Honolulu International Airport / Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) and then taking a short inter-island flight to Kauai. I also highly recommend Norwegian’s Seven Day Hawaii Roundtrip Cruise to all first-time visitors to Hawaii. This cruise departs from Honolulu, Oahu, travels to all major Hawaiian islands, including Kauai, and then brings you back to Honolulu.
Rental Cars, Parking & Public Transportation In Kauai: Most hotels and attractions in Kauai offer onsite parking, and Kauai also provides bus services on the island – Kauai Bus, from Kekaha to Hanalei, but you would have to plan your day around the schedule of the bus services. I, however, highly recommend renting a car and using sightseeing tours when visiting Kauai, as the island is small, easy to navigate, and some of the sections are only accessible via sea and air.
Sightseeing Tours In Kauai: While Kauai is small and easy to navigate, most of the island is a protected wilderness area, with some regions only accessible via air or sea. Kauai is best explored by renting a car and driving around the different areas of the island that are accessible via car, and using guided sightseeing tours to see the places that aren’t accessible via road – (1) Na Pali Coast Tours offered by HoloHolo Kauai Tours, an exceptional tour to explore the stunning Na Pali Coast from the ocean, and (2) Helicopter Tours of the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon offered by Blue Hawaiian Helicopters, featuring breathtaking valley vistas, lush rainforests, and hidden waterfalls!
Lodging & Dining In Kauai: Most resorts and hotels on the island of Kauai are found on the East Side, South Shore, especially in Poipu, and on the North Shore in the town of Hanalei and Princeville. Kauai also has several excellent dining options, including charming local eateries, fine dining restaurants, and seafood shacks, but you shouldn’t miss a few Hawaiian dishes and experiences, including Poke, Acai Bowls, Lomilomi salmon, Huli Huli chicken, luau, Lilikoi pie, and of course, authentic Kauai Coffee, when visiting Kauai. I have reviewed the lodging and dining options in Kauai in detail in the later section of this post.
Things To Do In Kauai
Kauai Attractions Map
Kauai, measuring approximately 550 square miles, is a relatively small island featuring nearly 90 miles of remarkable coastline and steep inland canyons and can be logically divided into five distinct regions, each featuring a unique landscape, landmarks, and beautiful nature! (1) West Side, large protected inland area, and home to the famous Waimea Canyon and a section of the Na Pali Coast, (2) North Shore, featuring the stunning Na Pali Coast State Park, several beaches, tropical rainforests, Queen’s Bath – a tide pool, many hiking trails, picturesque Hanalei Bay, and resort towns of Hanalei and Princeville, (3) East Side, home to gorgeous sandy beaches, hikes, and waterfalls, and (4) South Shore & (5) Lihue, forms the southern section of the island of Kauai featuring Kauai’s most popular beach – Poipu Beach, coastal views, blowholes, and hiking trails. However, unlike the other Hawaiian islands, not every section of Kauai is accessible via car, and some sections can only be accessed by sea or air!
Every region of Kauai is equally fascinating and unique, and it’s challenging to pick one over the other, so I recommend spending a minimum of two days in Kauai, which should give you enough time to explore the most popular regions of the island of Kauai. However, if you’re pressed for time and have to pick one over the other, this is what I suggest – (1) One day trip to Kauai – stick to Kauai’s North Shore, exploring the Na Pali Coast, tidal pools, and several beaches, (2) Two-day trip to Kauai – Spend Day 1 exploring Na Pali Coast, and Day 2 exploring the West side of the island, visiting the Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
Here’re the must-see places on a trip to Kauai, starting with the North Shore and then traversing the island in a clockwise direction!
North Shore, home to the dramatic Na Pali Coast – which is best explored via boat & helicopter tours, several beaches – Anini Beach, Tunnels Beach, & Ke’e Beach, Queen’s Bath – a tide pool, picturesque Hanalei Bay, popular hiking trails – Hanakapiai Falls & Powerline Trail, and the resort towns of Hanalei & Princeville, is undeniably the most popular section of Kauai!
The East Side of Kauai, though not as popular as the North Shore and the South Shore of Kauai, is still worth visiting as it’s home to a few gorgeous sandy beaches – Kealia Beach Park and Lydgate State Park, two popular hiking trails – Sleeping Giant Trail & Ho’opi’i Falls Hike, and one of the most accessible waterfalls on the island of Kauai – the Wailua Falls!
South Shore & Lihue
South Shore & Lihue
The southern region of Kauai, South Shore and Lihue, is home to some of the most popular beaches on the island – Poipu Beach & Kalapaki Beach, spectacular coastal vistas, Spouting Horn Park – featuring the famous Spouting Horn blowhole, and the Mahaulepu Beach Trail. Southern Kauai, especially Poipu, is home to some of the best hotels & resorts in Kauai.
The West Side of Kauai is home to mostly protected wilderness inland area, and while there are no beaches or coastal vistas on this side of the island, it features the world-renowned Waimea Canyon, a gigantic canyon popularly known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” several hiking trails – Awa’awapuhi Trail, Waimea Canyon Trails, and a section of the Na Pali Coast.
Lodging & Dining In Kauai
Split your stay between the North & East / South shores of the island, which will give you easy access to the attractions on both sides of the island of Kauai!
Hotels In Kauai: Unlike other Hawaiian islands, a significant portion of the island of Kauai is a protected wilderness area, and hotels & resorts are primarily found on the East Side, North, and South Shore of Kauai. I recommend splitting your stay between the North and East / South Shore of Kauai so that you don’t have to drive long distances between the North & South Shore attractions. While Kauai’s East & South Shore features several resorts, hotels, locally owned bread & breakfasts, the North Shore features fewer hotels but several great vacation rentals. To help you decide, here’re my top picks for hotels and resorts in Kauai –
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa: Located on the south side of the island of Kauai in Koloa, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa is a sprawling resort featuring luxurious suites and rooms overlooking the Poipu Beach, lush gardens, several pools, and several excellent dining options, and spa services.
- Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort: Located in Lihue along the South Shore of the island of Kauai, the Royal Sonesta Kaua’i Resort is a luxury oceanfront resort offering spa services, several pools, manicured gardens, many dining options, including a weekly luau, and easy access to several attractions in the area.
- Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort: Located in Kapa’a in East Kauai, the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort is a lavish oceanfront resort featuring spectacular coastal views, access to beaches & several attractions in the area, private cabanas with ocean views, and a few great dining options.
- Kauai Beach Resort & Spa: The Kauai Beach Resort & Spa is a sanctuary on the east side of Kauai in the town of Lihue, featuring an expansive resort with contemporary decor and modern amenities, including an oceanfront pool, waterslide, spa services, live entertainment, and a few great dining options.
- Hanalei Bay Resort: Located in the town of Princeville, the Hanalei Bay Resort is a modern hotel featuring contemporary decor, state-of-the-art amenities and is one of the best places to stay on the North Shore of Kauai.
Restaurants In Kauai: While you will find several restaurants in Kauai, especially on the East Side and the South Shore, ranging from fine dining to seafood shacks, there’re a few Hawaiian delicacies that you must not miss on a trip to Kauai or any island in Hawaii – (1) Luau, a traditional Hawaiian buffet with music and dance, at Auli’i Luau, oceanfront Luau, Poipu Beach, (2) Poke, seasoned cubed fish, available in most restaurants and grocery stores, (3) Acai Bowls, thick smoothie bowls made of fruits and juices loaded with fresh toppings, at Java Kai, in Kapa’a, (4) Lomilomi salmon, shredded salmon with tomatoes & onions, at Kountry Kitchen, Kapa’a, (5) Huli Huli chicken, seasoned BBQ chicken at Keo’s Huli Huli Chicken, (6) Lilikoi pie, delicious pie made of Lilikoi, the Hawaiian name for passionfruit at Hamura Saimin, Lihue, and (7) authentic Kauai Coffee, at Kaua’i Coffee Company in Kalaheo.
Other Hawaii Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Kauai, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to Kauai. You can find other Hawaii attractions in my Hawaii Travel Guide.
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