The Ultimate Kauai Travel Guide
There are very few places that possess the sublime beauty that Kauai has to offer. It’s a true hidden gem filled with secluded beaches, geological wonders, and the bluest water I have ever seen. I firmly believe that Kauai needs to be experienced by everyone once in their lives – if you can GO! Kauai completely exceeded all of our expectations so that’s why I created this ultimate Kauai travel guide to help make your trip even better when exploring this natural world wonder.
Did you know that Kauai is the oldest Hawaiin island dating back over 5 million years? Kauai is known as “The Garden Isle.” You’ll understand why it’s called that the second you step off the plane. It’s also one of the lesser developed islands so the vibes are very laid back. The floral aroma that fills the air is indescribable and it was one of my favorite things about Kauai.
Best Time to Visit
Kauai weather can be a bit tricky, knowing the best time to visit is crucial. The best times to visit Kauai is from September to November, and April to June when the weather is perfection and the airfare and accommodations are less expensive. The rainy season begins in December and goes through March so just be aware of that when booking your travel.
Know Before You Go
- You’ll need a car to experience all Kauai has to offer and rental cars can cost about $50-70 a day. I recommend renting a Jeep with a detachable roof or a Mustang convertible! Everyone always mentions the gas is expensive but it wasn’t much more than it was in Southern California.
- There is only one main road on Kauai (Highway 56) and even though tourism has grown in Kauai, the roads did not – so be sure to be prepared for traffic at any time.
- The North and south sides of the island have completely different climates. With the South being more dry and sunny and the north being more cloudy and rainy. The North is known for its scenery but can be quite rainy at times so if you’re in search of sun stay somewhere in the southern part of the Island.
The Na Pali Coast
Located on the Northwest side of Kauai, this stunning and untouched piece of nature is a true natural wonder of the world. I believe that the Na Pali Coast is reason enough to visit Kauai. It’s known for its dramatic cliffside views, cascading waterfalls, and insane hiking views that will leave you absolutely speechless. Here’s a couple of ways to experience the Na Pali Coast…
The main trail is called the Kalalau Trail. But keep in mind that the Kalalau Trail is not for the faint of heart. The Kalalau Trail consists of three trails you can choose from when hiking the Na Pali Coast. There’s a four-mile roundtrip hike to Hanakapi`ai Beach or the eight-mile roundtrip hike to a gorgeous waterfall. But if you’re feeling up for the challenge, choose the 11-mile hike to the Kalalau Valley with sweeping views of the Na Pali coast. In order to hike the entire 11-mile trail, you’ll need to get a permit to do so.
You can also camp during the summer months! Head to The Napali Coast State Park Site to check out more information on camping and the trails.
This was our favorite thing we did while we were in Kauai. We sailed with Captain Andy’s and could not recommend them more! We sailed along the Na Pali coast, followed a school of dolphins, swam in the ocean, ate delicious food, drank unlimited beers and wine, and were in good company the entire time. Captain Andy’s did not sponsor this review – we sincerely enjoyed our tour! If you ask them nicely, they might even let you drive the boat. If you’re going to book a boat tour, you’ll have to check out Captain Andy’s! We booked directly through their site and choose the ‘six-hour picnic sail.
Typically a 60 to 90-minute helicopter ride through the valleys of the Na Pali coast. We didn’t get to experience this but next time we’re on the island we are for sure checking this out. This article on TripAdvisor has The 10 Best Helicopter Tours and its a great tool to use if you’re looking to book one soon!
The name speaks for itself. It isn’t easy to get to this secluded beach because the locals don’t want you to know about it! However, it’s not hard to find the trail and once you journey the 10-minute down-hill hike you are rewarded with picturesque views including the Kilauea Lighthouse. There are lava rock walls, dolphins swimming nearby, and a small waterfall that can be found a mile or so up the beach. You don’t want to miss this place and I will be writing a blog post entirely on how to get there so look out for that soon!
One of the most protected beaches in the world because there is a reef that runs alongside the entire beach. The waters are very calm here which makes it great for snorkeling and other water activities. There is plenty of shade too!
By far our favorite on Kauai, this place is such a stunner. It’s one of the best diving as well as snorkeling spots in the world and is known for its enormous coral reefs and beautiful tropical fish. There is limited parking here and you can find some on some of the street turn-outs leading up to the beach. Make sure to read all the signs so you don’t park in a restricted area.
Polihale Beach and State Park is located in West Kauai and is the longest beach in Kauai coming in at 17 miles long. It’s known for it’s glistening white sand and dunes.
Located by the Na Pali coast this beach is known for its draw-dropping beauty and many movies including The Pirates of the Caribbean have been filmed here. It is near the Kaula trail which is known for one of the most beautiful hiking spots in the world. It gets very busy during high-season so you get here early morning to secure a parking spot.
Things to do in Kauai
The Waimea Canyon is an incredible natural wonder. It’s known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and once you visit, you’ll see why. Waimea is Hawaiin for “reddish water” and the canyon is given its name because of the red soil that encompasses Waimea Canyon. Measuring at 10 miles wide and 3000 feet deep there are hiking trails, waterfalls, and sweeping views that will make you feel as though you stepped onto another planet. My favorite was the red dirt falls pictured below.
There are four trails in total that you can hike here:
Cliff Trail: Easy
Canyon Trail: Moderate
Black Pipe Trail: Moderate
Kukui Trail: Difficult
For more on accessing these trails head to this post!
Queens Bath Kauai
Queens Bath is a myriad of ancient tide pools located in the town of Princeville, Kauai. There is a small hike to get to this natural wonder so it’s always secluded with little to no people. It’s very important to go when the tide is low otherwise the current will sweep you out to sea, it’s that rough. I dedicated an entire post to getting to Queens Bath. For more details on how to get to Queens Bath head here!
Hanalei Bay + Pier
Hanalei is the coolest and most charming town on the North Shore of the island known for its crescent-shaped bay, the pier, delicious food-trucks, the chicest shops, and the best of all — the mountainous backdrop of the Na Pali Coastline. Vogue named Hanalei the trendiest town in Hawaii and we couldn’t agree more with that accolade.
Hanalei Food Trucks
Trucking Delicious – Hawaiin cuisine
Kealia Poke – a newcomer that is taking the scene by storm
Fresh Bite – salads, healthy food
Pat’s Taqueria – the OG taco shop
Most of the food trucks are only open 11am-2pm. So check times before you head there!
Wailua Waterfall is a triple waterfall and a major tourist spot. What they don’t tell you is that you can hike down to the bottom as long as your brave enough to trek 300 feet down through mud and brush. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life but boy was it worth it. To be able to experience the Wailua Waterfalls from below was one of the highlights of our trip and definitely my favorite part of this travel guide. I will be writing an entire post dedicated to getting down here so stay tuned for that.
Unfortunately, we did not make it to the Hanakapiai Falls because it is quite the trek to get to. You have to hike four miles from where you park in order to view this 300 ft waterfall. I hear it is quite the place so I will definitely be carving out some time to experience the Hanakapiai Falls when we return. Do note: you will need a permit to access the parking in order to hike to the Hanakapiai Falls, check them out here. Permits tend to sell out super fast so my best advice would be to book it a month in advance (they don’t allow you to book out further).
Photo credit: Journey Era
The most accessible waterfall on this list, the Opaekaa Falls are 150 feet, located on the east side of the island, and has a great scenic point for you to view this beaut.
Where to Stay in Kauai
There are many options when it comes to staying in Kauai but my best advice would be an Airbnb. Not only are they more affordable but many of them come equipped with snorkeling gear, beach towels, chairs, and other beach accessories. It will make your experience easier and streamlined plus you’ll have more time and money to relax!
Best Places to Eat
Federico’s Mexican Food, Hanalei
Located in Hanalei town, Fredrico’s a great casual restaurant to stop for lunch or an early dinner. There was a bit of a line but all delicious places have them am I right?! I had the burrito and it came with chips and salsa – the hubs opted for tacos and loved them!
Casual Mexican stand that has delicious fish tacos, garlic shrimp, and burrito bowls. Da Crack is located in a parking lot but the food is amazing.
On the north shore of the island, this place is dedicated gluten-free and is a great option for some fresh seafood and even a sushi burrito. A nice option for splurging on vacation.
Located in Kapaa downtown, Kountry Style Kitchen is a classic brunch spot on the island. Be prepared to wait for your table but it’s so worth it! They give you cornbread with every meal and I couldn’t recommend the macadamia nut pancakes more.
Porky’s came highly recommended and is so delicious! Food trucks are always a hit or miss but this one was great! It’s near the Waimea Canyon so it’s a great place to stop off for lunch on your way in or out.
If you come to Kauai and don’t eat Poke there’s something wrong. Some of the freshest I have ever had and the Pono Market is super casual so you can take it to go and enjoy it on the beach.
If you made it this far you’re a true champ and must be seriously considering traveling to Kauai. I hope you enjoyed my Kauai travel guide. If you need any other help or suggestions feel free to leave a comment below and make sure to check out our Top Photography Spots in Kauai!
If you need help packing for Kauai, I’ve got you covered head here for my Ultimate Hawaii Packing Guide.