The oldest island of Hawaii is a nature paradise! You come here to see the breathtaking Napali Coast, to enjoy beaches that you share with sea turtles and a whole lot of chickens and to hike in tropical nature. It’s a great place to really slow down and take in the simple, beautiful island life.
Unmissable things to do in Kauai
If you visit several of the Hawaiian islands and want to do one helicopter tour, do it on Kauai. Seeing the Napali Coast from above and also the inaccessible parts of the island with the ancient, saint mountains and canyons is an unforgettable adventure. There are several companies, we went with Island Helicopters and enjoyed it very much. For us, the closed helicopter was more than enough, but you could also choose an open-door heli, when you fancy a bit more adventure.
Tip: Don’t forget to wear dark, black clothes so there is no reflection in the window when you take pictures.
How to visit the Napali Coast
The famous Kalalau Trail will take you along the secluded coastline. Just remember you need to book your permit to enter the trail before you go.
Another way is to see the Napali Coast from the ocean. There are several boat tours you can do to enjoy the view of the coast and also to see a lot of whales and dolphins, when it’s the right season. We went with the zodiac of Napali Riders and had an amazing time. They start from Waimea in the early morning.
Visit Poipu and south of Kauai
Poipu Beach was one of our favorite spots. In the evening, you will most likely see sea turtles or monk seals coming to the beach to rest. The sea is calm and great for a swim but also a nice surf spot. For snacks or drinks go to Brennecke’s Beach Broiler afterwards. The sunset at Poipu Beach is also great.
Another perfect sunset spot is close by on Hoonani Road, around Koloa Landing. Just be early to find a parking spot.
A most beautiful short hike takes you from Shipwreck Beach along the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail. The trail goes along the coastline close to the sea and you will have great views of the ocean and the rocky coast.
North Shore and Kilauea Lighthouse
When you drive north from Lihue, you will find beaches, waterfalls and a beautiful lighthouse. In Wailua, there are the ‘Opaeka’a Falls. From the lookout, you have a great view not only on the waterfall but also on the whole Wailua River State Park. Just cross the street and enjoy the deep green of the forest and the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian village. The Waimea river is also great for kayak tours.
Drive further north the coastal highway 56 and you will soon see the long and straight Keālia Beach, the sand looks picture perfect but it’s directly at the road and there is no shade, so bring a parasol.
The Kilauea Lighthouse in the north is not just a nice building and lookout, it’s also an important wildlife refuge for all sorts of seabirds. Have a bit of patience and soon you can spot albatrosses, whales, turtles and seals along the coastline.
Hanapepe, the unofficial hometown of Lilo & Stitch
The sleepy town of Hanapepe has a really typical Kauai vibe. Drive to Hanapepe Road and take a little stroll. There are nice little boutiques like The Aloha Shirt Lady. Take a turn to the right and you’ll see the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge, which crosses the river. Also don’t miss the Lilo & Stitch mural at the end of the road.
Visit the Waimea Canyon National Park
When you drive to the Waimea Canyon National Park, the views you’ll have of the canyon are really breathtaking. Along the road there are a few lookouts and photo spots you can stop at.
One of the first stops might be the Red Dirt Waterfalls. It’s a small stream and little waterfalls on deep red hills.
For a short hike, stop at Iliau Nature Loop & Kukui Trail. On the trail you can learn about the local plants and eco system. You also have fantastic views. If you get hungr afterwards, stop at Kokee Lodge Cafe & Bar for lunch or coffee.
Almost at the end of the national park’s road, you find the beautiful Kalalau Lookout. There is often a lot of fog blocking the perfect view, but also with the clouds, it’s an amazing scene. This is also where the (illegal) Kalepa Ridge Trail starts. The hiking trail is not maintained by the park authorities, so it’s officially not allowed to hike it anymore. However, when you want to have a look and wall a few hundred meters, the start is at the left behind the fence.
Where to eat in Kauai?
In Poipu you will find boutiques and restaurants at The Shops at Kukui‘ula, a nice shopping village. There is also a farmers market on some days. The best tacos are from Da Crack on Poipu Road. Another very popular place is Little Fish Coffee in Poipu, a colorful shack on Poipu Road.
In Hanapepe, you can find the gem of a restaurant Japanese Grandma’s Cafe. The sweet restaurant has a hidden beautiful backyard and serves good sushi. On certain nights you can enjoy local live music.
Close by, also on Hanapepe Road you find Midnight Bear Breads, a great bakery and cafe with delicious breads.
In Kalaheo there is The Right Slice, a shop that sells the most delicious pies. You also get nice Hawaiian food at the Warehouse 3540 food trucks.
In Waimea, Island Taco on Kaumualii Highway is the place to go for delicious tacos and burritos. Also a must-visit in Waimea is the ‘best shave ice of the island’, namely JoJo’s Shave Ice.
When you’re in the Waimea Canyon national park and get hungry, visit the Kokee Lodge Cafe & Bar. It suddenly feels like your in the Rocky Mountains rather than in Hawaii but the restaurant serves delicious pies and lunch dishes.
Where to stay in Kauai?
We love Poipu. The little town on the south side of Kauai has a laid-back vibe and the whole area is just beautiful with nice beaches. Even though it’s also the place with many of the big hotels, resorts and golf courses, we really enjoyed the town.
How to get around in Kauai?
Most flights arrive from Honolulu, so from Oahu to Lihue Airport on Kauai. Frequently filching airlines are Alaskan Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines.
Renting a car is crucial, so it’s best to rent a car and pick it up directly at the airport. What also works really well is TURO app, which lets you rent cars from private people.