The Ultimate Kauai Travel Guide
Kauai is an island like no other.
The farthest of the Hawaiian islands, it has managed to stay very ‘Old Hawaii’ with its slow-paced island lifestyle and one-of-a-kind beauty. Nicknamed “The Garden Isle”, Kauai is home to canopies of lush tropical plants and trees that envelop the entire island, while its coastline is marked by impressive emerald-green seacliffs dropping dramatically to white-sand beaches and crystal-clear coral reefs below.
It is so mind-blowingly beautiful. So beautiful and idyllic, in fact, that many of the locals will tell you they actually came to vacation on Kauai and never flew back.
Kauai is just that kind of place. A small, blissful paradise.
Made famous by Hollywood as the setting of all of the Jurassic Park movies- as well as Lost, The Descendants, and Pirates of the Caribbean, among others – it’s no question why film-makers lust over this place’s beautiful terrain. Kauai makes you wonder “Could this all be real?” at every turn.
If this sounds like your heaven, you’re not alone. Here is your complete Kauai Travel Guide to plan your next amazing Hawaiian getaway.
Table of Contents
Kauai has two main sides to it, Hanalei (North Shore), and Poipu (South Shore). They are about an hour and a half apart and have very different feels to them. Poipu is known as being the sunnier side of the island, while Princeville & Hanalei on the North Shore are home to some of the most beautiful settings. Here are my favorites for both locations.
Located on the sunny side of the island in South Kauai, The Lodge at Kukui’ula is where to feel like a celebrity on Kauai. As a guest at The Lodge at Kukui’ula, you will enjoy private access to all the Club amenities – ocean view cocktails at sunset, gourmet dining with farm fresh ingredients, signature spa treatments, Peacock Bass fishing at the lake, private picnic at the upcountry farm, a round of golf on our award-wining Tom Weiskopf course, or a kayak ride or the spectacular Koke`e hike. Just a short drive away you will find The Shops at Kukui`ula, with great dining, shops, restaurants, cafes, galleries, etc.
The new 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay may have the most gorgeous setting in all of Hawaii.
The hotel is committed to sustainability and aims to connect guests with the natural world through its design, amenities, and services. The setting of this hotel could not be better – located on a crystal-clear bay perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing, and the beach is an ideal spot for sunning. And you have stunning views of the mountains and the bay everywhere you look.
Get special perks for being a JETSET Christina Reader at this property! fill out this contact form and be sure to use the referral code “JETSETCHRISTINA” if you use my referral, my agency partner will reach out with more information and can help book you with all kinds of fun perks (at no extra cost to you, and they don’t charge a fee to book!) Here’s what you get for being a Jetset Christina reader:
- Upgrade on arrival, subject to availability
- Daily breakfast for up to two guests per bedroom
- One Hotel Credit, applicable towards our food & beverage outlets or towards Spa Services, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
- Bookings of 1+ nights will receive a $100 credit, once during stay.
- For 2023 stays only, bookings of 3+ nights will receive an increased credit of $400 USD, once during stay
- For 2023 stays only, bookings of 5+ nights will receive an increased credit of $1000 USD, once during stay
- Early check-in / Late check-out, subject to availability
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
This big, beautiful hotel is great for families and is quintessential-Hawaii. Expect an orchid lei upon arrival, a gorgeous pool, and a long stretch of beach.
What to do in Kauai
The Napali Coast
It goes without saying that seeing the ruggedly majestic Napali Coast of Kauai is a must-do. But how will you see it?
The Napili Coast National Park, specifically the Kalalau Trail, is home to one of the most beautiful- and toughest- hikes I’ve ever done. It takes about 3-4 hours total to do the Beach Hike of the Kalalau trail (4 tough miles to the beautiful beach and back) or about 6 hours and 11 miles to do the full hike to the waterfall. Although it can be treacherous (especially if you go after it’s rained and the trail is muddy), the views are more than worth it. ( Kalalau Trail, Napili Coast National Park Maps & Info )
I cannot recommend doing a Na Pali Coast sailing tour enough. With 2 departing daily (one with snorkeling in the morning, and one with dinner and a sunset sail at night), these catamarans (and their amazing crew) are unbeatable. We took the morning tour, complete with beautiful calm morning waters, pods of dolphins chasing the boat, turquoise blue grottos, sea-side waterfalls, and unbelievable views of the Na Pali Coast. The trip also includes an open beer/wine bar and a delicious barbecue lunch (theres a barbecue on the back of the catamaran) so you can get your cheeseburger in paradise..
Here are my favorites:
Helicopter tours are extremely popular in Kauai and it’s no question why. The choppers will bring you above the rugged mountains and you’ll see unbelievable waterfalls & coastline views that are unaccessible any other way.
The Best Beaches in Kauai
Polihale State Park – a 30-minute VERY bumpy road will lead you to your favorite beach of the trip. To know how to navigate the State Park, check out this AllTrails page here.
Photo via Hawaii State Parks
Where to eat in Kauai
Ask anybody where to eat in Kauai and there is one that continuously comes up, Dolphin. This sushi & seafood haven is a beautiful indoor/outdoor restaurant with the best fish on the island. My mouth is still watering thinking about my perfectly grilled cajun-spiced swordfish. Also, be sure to order the to-die-for parmesan cheese-stuffed artichoke hearts if you’re as big of a artichoke fan as I am.
com/index.htm note: they dont take reservations, so expect a little wait. Don’t be like us and accidentally book a reservation at the dolphin restaurant in New York! 😉
The second most popular restaurant in the North Shore is most definitely Barra Cuda. With it’s fun tapas-bar vibe and deliccccccious food, it is a must-stop on your trip & the perfect place for a group. I loved the flat bread so much that we ordered two!
Rainbeau Jo’s Coffee & Breakfast Truck
This truck, located just off of the airport in Lihue, has a worldwide cult-like following of people who stop in for breakfast on trips to Kauai and continue to dream about it for years later. I am definitely one of them. I came to the truck on my first trip to Kauai after reading all of the yelp reviews and just knew I had to try it. Creamy coconut milk iced coffees, fresh local bagel sandwiches, & incredible healthy smoothies (my favorite is the Kauai Sunrise, a vitamin-enriched superfood smoothie complete with blueberries & avocado- yum!). The food and drinks are reason to stop by this truck enough, but the tag-team owners (Beau & Jo) truly make the experience what it is. They are amazing, full of energy and love telling you all about the island they call home. Beau filled us up with trip recs that truly made our trip what it was! ( https://rainbeaujos.com/ )
So lucky we happened to ask my man Beau at Rainbeau Jo’s about his favorite local haunts because he told us about this hole-in-the-wall sushi that was such a find. Located on the last stop before reaching the Napili Coast Hike in the northest point of North Shore, it is attached to a general store and serves up some of the freshest caught sush on the island.
The best time of year to go to Kauai
With an average temp of 78 degrees in January, Kauai definitely doesn’t have an off-season. However, with it’s tropical climate and trade winds, be prepared for a brief rainstorm every day. Pack layers, and don’t be afraid to get wet 🙂
Have you all been to Kauai? I’d love to hear about your can’t miss restaurants & activities in the comments! (I’m already planning my next trip back 🙂
My favorite sunscreens