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Kauai Travel Guide, Hawaii, USA

Kauai is a Hawaiian Island in the Pacific Ocean famed for its dramatic Nāpali coastline. Lush tropical rainforest covers much of the Island’s surface, which is why it’s nicknamed the Garden Isle.

Kauai’s pristine and diverse landscapes will captivate you at every turn. From red-rock canyons and eerie swamps to secret waterfalls and sandy beaches, this perfect oasis has it all.

There are infinite ways to explore the island. You can hike, kayak, sail, surf, ride in a helicopter, snorkel and so much more.

But, your adventure doesn’t have to be full of heart-pumping activities. There’s no better place in this world to unwind and slow down.

We’re here to tell you island time is real. It might take you a day or two to adjust to the slow pace and the maximum speed limit of 50 MPH, but you’ll grow to love it.

Here’s another reason to fall in love with Kauai. Unlike the other Hawaiian Islands, Kauai has a thriving bird population. Because there’s no natural predator, roosters and hens are everywhere (literally everywhere).

You’ll see them on the beach and along the street. When you don’t see them, you’ll certainly hear them, as they generously provide a kauai-wide wake-up service. 

We can’t wait to return to this paradise in the Pacific. For now, we’ll just have to daydream about the ono burritos at Kilauea Fish Market, the shave ice, and the hiking trails.

Canyon Trail, Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai
  • When to Visit: Spring (April – May) and Fall (September – November), outside of peak seasons. 
  • Main Attractions: Waimea Canyon, Na Pali Coast, Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, and Kalalau Valley Lookout 
  • Days Needed: 7 days minimum to see the whole island 
  • Get the Guidebook: Lonely Planet Kauai
  • Rental Car: We recommend using the car rental platform to search for and book car rentals. Pick-up location: Lihue Airport (LIH).

When to Visit Kauai

Kauai has two main peak seasons: (1) mid-December through Easter and (2) mid-June to Labor Day (early September).

To save money on accommodations and avoid the crowds, come in the spring (mid-April to mid-June) or in the early Fall (September – November).

We arrived in Kauai on Labor Day and stayed for 9 days. Early September proved to be perfect.

The weather was warm, but not too hot. And, it wasn’t too crowded.

7 Best Things to Do in Kauai 

Na Pali Coast, Kauai

1. Hike the Pihea Trail to Alaka’i Swamp

If there’s one hike you do in Kauai, this should be it. The scenery changes dramatically throughout the hike, providing visual excitement at every turn.

The Pihea Trail begins at Pu’u O Kila Lookout with views of the legendary Kalalau Valley and Na Pali Coast.

The trail winds through a tropical mossy paradise before reaching the eerie Alaka’i Swamp, which happens to be the highest elevation swamp in the world.

Hiking through the swamp on an old wooden boardwalk is something you won’t easily forget. By the time we reached the final lookout, the trail and the views were shrouded in a heavy layer of fog. Regardless, the hike was absolutely worth it.

After the 6 hour hike, we headed to Koke’e Lodge, located next to the Park Museum, for some delicious coffee.

The starting point of the hike is located deep in Koke’e Park, which is 40 minutes from Waimea.

We were able to get an early start, because we stayed at the duplex cabins located within the Park.

These cabins are modest, but perfectly situated, if your aim is to actively explore the next day.

Look for accommodation in Waimea.

2. Queen’s Bath

Queen's Bath in Kauai

Queen’s Bath is a swimmable tidal pool in Princeville, Kauai. The mermaid-like pool set in black lava is a magical place. Sea turtles swim just beyond the sea cliffs and tiny colorful fish swim in the pool. 

When we visited, the conditions were safe and ideal.

Warning: please use extreme caution when coming here. There have been many drownings and fatalities at this spot.

To reach the bath, you’ll need to hike down from the parking area (only 10 spots). Definitely wear supportive shoes. It takes 15-20 minutes to get to Queen’s Bath.

Look for accommodation in Princeville.

3. Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon in Kauai

Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the 3,000 feet deep Waimea Canyon is an absolute must-see. The copper and mauve colored landscape is an utter contrast to Kauai’s celebrated tropical green scenery.

To get to the canyon, take the Waimea Canyon Drive and Kokee Road (550) north from Waimea town. After about 30 minutes, there’s an official lookout.

Another way to enjoy the Canyon is to hike. We hiked the Cliff Trail to the Canyon Trail to see more of the canyon.

Look for accommodation near Waimea Canyon.

4. Hike the Kalalau Trail

The Kalalau Trail is a breathtaking and challenging trail in the Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park. The hike begins at Ke’e Beach.

For day hikers, the trail leads you to Hanakapi’ai Beach and then to the Hanakapi’ai Falls. When we hiked in early September, the air smelled of passion fruit. We picked up several pieces of the fallen fruit and devoured them.

This 8 mile-hike (out-and-back) can be quite slippery, because of frequent rainfall. After several river crossings, you’ll reach the waterfall. Taking a dip in the pool is a requirement.

We hiked in hiking boots. However, we saw a lot of people wearing waterproof closed-toe hiking sandals (Keen).

We’d recommend wearing waterproof hiking sandals, because it’ll make the river crossings much easier, since you can just walk through the river, instead of jumping from rock to rock.

For those that want to do an overnight hike to Kalalau Beach, you must have an overnight camping permit. Permits usually sell out 6 months to one year ahead.

5. Secret Beach (Kauapea Beach)

If you’re coming to Kauai, then the first stop you’ll likely want to make is a beach. Secret Beach (aka Secrets) located on Kauai’s Northern Shore is a perfect place to sink your feet into the sand and take a stroll along the shore.

It’s not a good spot for swimming or snorkeling. The 10-minute hike down to the beach is steep and slippery, so please wear supportive shoes.

The trail isn’t marked. To get to the beach, turn on Kalihiwai Road from Kuhio Highway. When you turn onto Kalihiwai Road, take the first dirt road on the right-hand side.

You can park where the road dead ends. The trail leads down from the parking lot. If you enter “Secret Beach” into Google Maps, you’ll go to the wrong place.

6. Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Garden

The Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Garden located in Kilauea was the retirement passion project of Joyce and Ed Doty. They began working on their vision in the 70s. Decade after decade, they invested time and love into their garden and home.

By 2000, they donated all their acreage, buildings and sculptures to a newly formed nonprofit foundation. Today, the garden and sculpture park is open to the public via guided tours.

If you love plants, and want a deeper understanding of Kauai’s ecology and history, definitely sign up for a tour. You’ll learn about the Noni fruit, which has medicinal qualities used to soothe aches and help with sunburns and bug bites.

Call ahead to make a tour reservation, as the tours are only done in small groups and often sell out.

7. Na Pali Coast Boat Tour

There are many boat tours to choose from, which can be a bit daunting. We opted for a Napali Coast Snorkel and Rafting Adventure (5:30 hrs total), departing from Eleele.

We saw dolphins and went through sea caves, before arriving at the magnificent Na Pali Coast.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when booking a Napali Coast boat tour. If you want to see dolphins, opt for a morning tour. 

Only choose a raft tour, if your neck and back are in good condition. It’s a bumpy ride. The main reason to choose a raft tour is to see the interior of coastal sea caves.

What to Eat and Drink in Kauai 

Poi. This is a Hawaiian staple made from fermented taro root, which has been baked and pounded into a paste. We tried it, but didn’t love it.

Laulau. Traditional dish of juicy pork wrapped in a taro leaf and cooked in a underground oven. It’s served with a plate of either white rice, mac salad, or rice noodles.

Poke. Raw fish marinated in soy and tossed with onion, seaweed, avocado, and/or tobiko. Usually it’s served over white rice. This was our favorite thing to eat in Kauai.

Saimin Soup. This is a clear-broth soup filled with noodles, vegetables, meat, fish cake, and a boiled egg. Somewhat similar to Japanese Ramen. We didn’t get a chance to try it, but will make a point of it during our next visit. 

Where to Eat and Drink in Kauai

The Fresh Shave, Kauai

North Shore Eateries 

Kilauea Fish Market  | We loved this eatery so much!!! You’ll have to wait a while for your food, but it’s absolutely worth it. Try the Ono Burrito or the Ahi Wrap. Make sure you go to the Fish Market in Kilauea. There’s also one in Kapaa, but from our experience, it wasn’t as good. Address: 4270 Kilauea Rd, Ste F, Kilauea

Banana Joe’s | Stop by this yellow fruit stand for a delicious tropical smoothie or a banana-pineapple frosty. Address: 5-2719 Kuhio Hwy, Kilauea.

Dolphin Sushi | This sushi restaurant in Hanalei serves excellent poke bowls and sushi. There’s also a fresh fish market connected to the restaurant. Address: Hanalei Dolphin Center 5-5016 Kuhio Highway, Hanalei. 

Hanalei Taro & Juice Company | This food truck is normally stationed in Hanalei between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. They serve various local taro products and traditional Hawaiian foods such as laulau, kalua pig, poi, lomi salmon, and kulolo. We had Taro hummus and loved it! Address: 5-5070A Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei. 

Tahiti Nui | Visit this bar here for their Mai Tai. It’s also a great spot to hear local live music. Address: 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei. 

East Side Eateries

Java Kai | This hip café in Old Kapaa Town makes the best coffee and breakfast on the Island. Their motto is Drink Coffee or Die. Address: 4-1384 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa.

Caffe Coco | This restaurant with garden-seating is a great choice for a romantic evening. Their menu features delicious vegan desserts using local ingredients. Address: 4-369 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa.

Kalapaki Beach Hut | This casual burger joint at Kalapaki Beach serves 100% grass-fed beef burgers. Address: 3474 Rice St, Lihue. 

West Side Eateries

Shrimp Station in Waimea | Sautéed or Fried, Thai or Cajun, the choice is up to you. This modest roadside eatery serves shrimp with pride. Address: 9652 Kaumualii Hwy, Waimea.

Island Taco in Waimea | DON’T MISS THIS TAQUERIA! They serve tacos that will change your life. Our only regret is not ordering more. Address: 9643 Kaumualii Hwy, Waimea. 

South Shore Eateries

Makai Sushi in Koloa | This humble sushi spot is located inside a grocery store. We came here twice for their ahi poke bowl. Every meal is prepared freshly. This is probably the best kept epicurean secret in Kauai. Address: 2827 Poipu Rd, Koloa.

The Fresh Shave | This “food trailer” serves the healthiest and most delicious shave ice on the Island. Consult for their location and operating hours, as it varies.

Kauai Itinerary: 9 Day Road Trip

These are the activities we did from Day 1, our arrival day, to Day 9, our departure day.

We don’t recommend planning a strict itinerary. But, if you’re interested in exploring the whole island, consider booking your accommodation in at least two parts of the island (North and South).

Days 1 – 4: North Shore

Secret Beach (Secrets) 

Na ‘Aina Kai Botanical Garden – Guided tour

Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge & Lighthouse – Bird watching. You can see red-footed booby, laysan albatross, and wedge-tailed shearwater birds flying and feeding along the cliffs.

Ke’e Beach – Swimming and drinking fresh coconuts

Hike to Hanakapi’ai Falls – Kalalau Trail

Hanalei Bay – Watching the sunset at the beach and stand-up paddleboarding on Hanalei River

Days 5 – 7: West Side & South Shore

Hanapepe Art Night – Hanapepe celebrates its art and food culture during a weekly street festival that happens every Friday evening. Stores and galleries stay open all night, and there are so many goodies to try: artisan popsicles, homemade ginger beer, BBQ, poke bowls, and the list goes on. 

Waimea Canyon – drive to lookout and canyon trail

Koke’e State Park – Pihea Trail to Alaka’i Swamp

Na Pali Coast Boat Tour – we departed from Eleele

Surf Lesson at Poipu

Shipwrecks Beach – swimming and watching the sunset

Kauai Coffee Company in Kalaheo – guided tour and coffee tasting

Days 8 – 9: East Side (Coconut Coast)

Kauai Hindu Monastery

Kalapaki Beach – swimming

Keep Reading about Island Travel Destinations

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  • Tenerife – Winter sun destination and epic hikes
  • Malta – dramatic cliffs, coastal hikes, and rocky beaches
  • Mallorca – turquoise water, great beaches, and memorable hikes

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide

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Moon & Honey Travel is an independent blog created by two passionate hikers. We are able to provide free content to you, because of ads and affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these links, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Happy travels and happy trails,

Sabrina & Kati