Visiting Kauai was a trip of a lifetime. If you are planning a trip to Kauai, you should be excited. Kauai was one of the most incredible destinations I have ever been to, and I am not just saying that. That is the reason I have written this Kauai travel blog.

As soon as you step out of the airport, the scenery will floor you. Even driving the Kuhio Highway, one of the main roads in Kauai, will provide you entertainment as you gaze at the impossibly stunning nature.

The plants and flowers are abundant in all parts of the island, even during winter. You will see flora that you may have only seen in movies before on your Kauai road trip.

Kauai Travel Blog - Hanalei lookout on cloudy day

I visited Kauai in December 2021 – January 2022, after many rescheduled attempts due to travel restrictions. With all the rescheduling, I had time to fine-tune my trip and do even more research on the best restaurants in Kauai and the best boat ride to see the Na Pali Coast.

I planned this trip while working as a a luxury travel agent, so I had access to insider knowledge from industry experts.

Here is my ultimate Kauai guide to help you plan your vacation in Kauai Hawaii.

Information about Kauai for First-Timers

Kipu Ranch - local tree on cloudy day Kauai travel blog
Kipu Ranch

If it will be your first trip to Kauai, here is some information to give you some expectations and knowledge of the island.

Are you curious what movies were filmed in Kauai? Well, many Hollywood movies were filmed on Kauai. Such as Jurassic Park, Avatar, Disney Jungle Cruise, King Kong, and Pirates of the Caribbean. You will instantly recognise the landscapes from the films.

How to Pronounce Kauai? 

The first thing you may want to learn about Kauai is the pronunciation of its name. Think of it sounding like the word Hawaii. So, you pronounce it like Ka-wai-ee.

What is Kauai Famous For?

Pu’u Hinahina Lookout Waimea Canyon with stream running through Kauai
Waimea Canyon

Kauai is most famous for being the Garden Island because of its lush landscapes all year round and abundance of flora.

Additionally, Kauai is known for its iconic coastline, the Na Pali Coast. When you see images of Kauai, or sometimes even Hawaii, it very often displays the Na Pali Coast.

Kauai is also well-known for its natural marvels, such as Waimea Canyon and a handful of out-of-this-world beaches, such as Tunnels Beach, Polihale State Park and Hanalei Bay.

Another fun fact about Kauai is the number of chickens on Kauai. You will not believe it until you see it, but they are all over. You cannot escape the noise of the rooster at 4:00 AM (unless there is torrential rain, and they appear to hide).

You should note that the chickens on Kauai are protected, so you cannot intentionally harm the chickens.

Finally, Kauai is known as the oldest Hawaiian Island.

Why Visit Kauai?

Na Pali Coast boat tour in front of cliffs Kauai.jpg
Na Pali Coast

You may be struggling to decide which Hawaiian Island to visit or perhaps choosing between another beach location and Kauai. Therefore, I will offer some reasons to visit Kauai.

If you are looking for scenery reminiscent of Jurassic Park and King Kong, Kauai is the island for you. There are many opportunities to explore the incredible greenery and movie locations: for example, helicopter tours, boat tours, ATV ranch tours, Botanical Garden visits and more.

Talking of activities, Kauai has plenty of adventurous excursions to keep the adrenaline junkies fulfilled. Plus, those who like to stay active during their trips will love the numerous hikes on Kauai, ranging from easy to extremely difficult.

Some Hawaiian Islands are built-up with skyscrapers, such as Oahu (particularly Honolulu). For those looking for an authentic, rustic, and local experience, Kauai is the right island for you. You will not find any high-rise buildings in Kauai and plenty of quaint cafes and buildings and untouched locations.

Read on to find out more details on how to plan a trip to Kauai.

How to Get to Kauai?

View from airplane of Kauai on sunny day with view of island

There are many options for flying to Kauai; however, many are long and complex journeys. If you are travelling from North America, you may be lucky enough to fly directly to Lihue, the airport on Kauai.

For example, there are direct flights from San Francisco, Vancouver, Calgary, and many other Californian airports. You can check flights on airlines such as Hawaiian Airlines or United. Or, you can compare prices on Skyscanner.

If you are travelling from Europe, you could fly to San Francisco, stay a night in a nearby hotel and then travel to Kauai.

This night in San Francisco will help break up the travel. It will also provide the opportunity to add another destination to your Kauai vacation itinerary.

Other options for getting to Kauai from North America include flying to Honolulu and connecting to Lihue. There are direct flights to Honolulu from New York with Hawaiian Airlines.

Opt for a flight that lands during daylight hours to make the most of those unforgettable first impressions of the island as you step off the plane.

Arriving in the evening may pose challenges with renting a car, as some car rental offices close around 10:45 PM, so it’s best to avoid flights arriving after approximately 9:30 PM.

Additionally, keep in mind that rental car return locations typically open at around 6:00 AM, meaning an early morning departure before 8:00 AM may not be the most convenient option.

How to Get Around Kauai? 

3D Map of Kauai
Map of Kauai

Kauai is a relatively circular island, with one road that goes around the outside of ¾ of the island.

You can start in the north of the island and travel around until you reach West Kauai. However, the road will eventually stop, so the Northwest part of Kauai is only reachable by hiking, or you can see it from a helicopter or boat.

While there are some buses on Kauai, these are mostly used by locals, so it the best way to explore the island is by driving in kauai.

Therefore, I strongly recommend renting a car. You will find great deals on Discount Hawaii Car Rental.

There is so much to see in Kauai in all four corners of the island. As a result, you do need a car. It is very difficult getting around Kauai without a car.

It is possible to do tours that take you around the island, but many require getting to a start location. Additionally, these tours involve seeing so many locations in one day, whereas it would be preferable to spread them out over a few days.

The benefit of having a car on Kauai is that you have freedom. The weather can change quickly, particularly in winter. Plus, it is advantageous to have your own vehicle to follow the nice weather or change plans if required.

Rental Car

Driving a car in Kauai along road to Hanalei Bay beach with palm trees
Hanalei Bay

Since you will need a car on the island, I suggest booking your car rental as soon as you book your flights. The car rental price will only increase, particularly as supply diminishes.

Plus, car rentals usually have free cancellation. So even if you change your plans, you should try to lock in a low price.

Make sure to select the pick-up location as the airport when you book your car. I accidentally rented it from the Enterprise location in Lihue town.

When I went to pick up my car from Enterprise at the airport, the staff were helpful and offered the same car I had booked. I had to pay the additional airport fees, but it was worth the convenience to pick the car up from the airport.

Find the lowest price for rental cars on Discount Hawaii Car Rental.

Getting around Poipu

Aloha Spirit Shuttle Poipu Kauai
Aloha Spirit Shuttle

If you are staying at a hotel or resort in Poipu for several nights, chances are you will want to try out some restaurants in the area. As mentioned previously, Kauai is not very walkable, so you need transportation to move around.

To get to dinner in the evenings during my Kauai vacation when no one wanted to drive, I used Aloha Spirit Shuttle. It is a tip-based shuttle with a fun Hawaiian theme, run by a local. You call the phone number and request a pick-up in the Poipu area. You will pay in cash, so make sure you have enough to hand.

The shuttle is like a large golf cart with open sides, so you will get a good view while driving and fresh air.

Getting around Princeville and Hanalei

Hanalei Bay town with mountains and plam trees
Hanalei Bay

Many people opt to stay in Princeville (for reasons I will get into later) in North Kauai, but there are some incredible restaurants in Hanalei, the next town over.

Even though Hanalei looks close on the map, the road to get to Hanalei is very winding and not remotely possible or recommended to walk it. Therefore, you will have to drive between Princeville and Hanalei.

If no one in your group would like to be the designated driver, you could arrange a taxi. However, try to reserve a taxi in advance because there is a small number of taxis in the area.

How Long Does it Take to Drive Around Kauai?

View of Kauai from the plane

If you were to drive from the furthest point in North Kauai (Ke’e Beach) to the furthest point in Northwest Kauai (Pu’u O Kila Lookout) in a clockwise direction, it would take nearly 3 hours.

Remember in your Kauai trip planning, it is impossible to drive the whole way around Kauai.

Traffic can get busy in the Wailua area – there is almost always a line of cars slowly passing through. Plus, there can be a long line of cars waiting to cross the single lane bridge from Hanalei to Princeville in busy times.

You should try to avoid driving the whole way around the island on a given day where possible and group your activities into geographic points. This will save you time and ensure you avoid spending too much time in the car at any given time.

I will explain these locations further in this Kauai travel blog post.

Kauai Places to Visit

There are four areas to the island of Kauai, and these are generally referred to as north, south, east, and west Kauai. Each location has different offerings in terms of landscapes, restaurants, and activities.

Let me share some key identifiers and attractions for all sides of Kauai to help you decide where to visit in Kauai.

North Kauai

Puu Poa Beach with people swimming - North Kauai
Puu Poa Beach

North Kauai is further from some of the main attractions in Kauai, but that does not matter because the areas that are close such as Princeville, Hanalei, and Haena State Park are breathtaking.

It is worth it to spend at least a few days in North Kauai to explore and eat at some of the incredible restaurants.

Hanalei Bay has several interesting restaurants, such as Tahiti Nui and AMA. Plus, there are some great coffee shops or snack shacks, such as Hanalei Bread Co. and Wishing Well Shave Ice.

Some of the best North Kauai things to do include hiking the Kalalau Trail, visiting one of the most beautiful beaches on the island: Tunnels Beach, and exploring the laidback town and beach of Hanalei Bay.

East Kauai

Secret Falls waterfall with people in pool in front in East Kauai
Secret Falls

Lihue, the main town where the airport is, is in East Kauai, so this is from where your first impressions of Kauai will come.

Drive a short distance from the airport and the views will quickly turn to an abundance of lush green trees, coconut lined beaches and impressive peaks and valleys.

There are plenty of great beaches covering the whole side of this coast. This part of Kauai is also known as the Coconut Coast due to the sheer number of coconut trees.

Luckily, there are some fun beachfront restaurants to make the most of the beautiful East Coast of Kauai, such as Lava Lava Beach Club and Duke’s Kauai.

East Kauai is also one of the most built-up areas on Kauai because it has many large stores, such as Costco, Safeway, Target and some fast-food restaurants. There are many hotels in East Kauai, too. 

Wailua is another part of East Kauai, which is where you will find the incredible Wailua River and Wailua Falls. Make sure you rent a kayak in Wailua and then hike to Secret Falls.

Kapa’a is the next town from Wailua and features an array of excellent food options, such as food trucks, restaurants, and market stalls. The location of these food outlets is handy because you will likely pass it on your way to or from an activity.

South Kauai

Maha'ulepu coastal trail with Grand Hyatt Kauai in backdrop with beach in Poipu Kauai
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Poipu is one of the most well-known spots in Kauai and there is plenty to do there (read about things to do South Kauai here). Many resorts are in Poipu, plus there are some incredible restaurants.

However, one of the main draws of South Kauai is the beaches with seals and turtles frequently spotted on them. If you visit Poipu Beach or Shipwreck Beach in the morning or evening, you may be lucky enough to spot one (or more).

Furthermore, there is a world-class golf course in South Kauai, Poipu Bay Golf Course, in addition to a stunning coastal walk called the Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail.

West Kauai

Pu’u O Kila Lookout with person looking out to Napali Coast Kauai
Pu’u O Kila Lookout

The west of Kauai is one of the biggest surprises on the island because the scenery is unlike anything you may have ever seen.

Two of the main spots in West Kauai are Waimea Canyon State Park and Koke’e State Park. Here, you will find many viewpoints that do not require much effort to reach, plus plenty of strenuous hikes if that is more your style.

Additionally, there is a port town where many boat tours to the Na Pali Coast start. You will also pass Hanapepe, the town that inspired Lilo & Stitch.

There are fewer accommodation options and food outlets here, so you may need to come prepared and make a day trip out of a visit to West Kauai.

Where to Stay in Kauai?

Coconut Coast beach with trees and rolling hills
Coconut Coast

One of the most difficult decisions when booking a vacation in Kauai is, “where should I stay in Kauai for the first time?”

The reason for this difficulty is because there are three excellent options, all varying in aspects, but with advantages and disadvantages.

Plus, there is a dilemma of whether it is better to stay on the north or south side of Kauai. As I mentioned, the north and south of the island are relatively far apart and offer different landscapes.

From my perspective, the three most suitable places to stay in Kauai are Princeville, the Coconut Coast and Poipu.

One option is to stay half of your trip in Princeville and the other half in Poipu. Otherwise, I would recommend staying more centrally in the Kapa’a area (Coconut Coast) for the whole of your trip.

Click for a more in-depth article on the best side of Kauai to stay on.

Accommodation Recommendations in Kauai

Princeville

Grand Hyatt Kauai hotel lobby with sea view and orchids

One of the best places to stay in Princeville is in a large house with a garden. You can find loads of accommodation options no matter what your group size.

We stayed in a gorgeous house in Princeville with plenty of space, a lanai, and a great location.

Check out rental houses in Princeville on VRBO here.

There are also some resort options in Princeville:

There used to be a St Regis Hotel in Princeville, but it was bought and is being refurbished. It will turn into 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay. I look forward to seeing how it turns out since the Puu Poa Beach it is located on is stunning.

HotelBook
Westin Princeville Ocean Resort $$$$Click here
Hanalei Bay Resort $$$Click here
The Cliffs at Princeville $$$Click here

Poipu

There are some beautiful beachfront resorts in Poipu – ones that will give you a real Hawaiian feel. You may also receive a fresh welcome lei on arrival.

HotelBooking
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa $$$$Click here
Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu (Autograph Collection) $$$$Click here
Sheraton Kauai Resort $$$$Click here

Coconut Coast

Staying in the Coconut Coast is a good option if you are looking for a Hawaiian resort, but would rather be in the middle of attractions, plus you will pay less than a resort in Poipu.

Here are some of the well-known hotels in this area:

HotelBooking
Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort $$$Click here
Timbers Kauai Ocean Club & Residences $$$$Click here

Additionally, there are some incredible ocean-view apartments in Kapa’a. Check out the apartments on VRBO here.

Best Things to Do in Kauai Hawaii

Looking at Na Pali Coast and cliffs from boat tour

There are many things to do in Kauai. You may only have a few days to explore Kauai as part of a multi-part itinerary around Hawaii. In that case, I will recommend the essential sights to see in Kauai.

Alternatively, you may be dedicating a whole week or more to getting to know Kauai. There are so many activities and locations to add to your itinerary. Read this article for a 3 day Kauai itinerary.

When planning your Kauai itinerary, you want to make sure you visit all the best spots on the island.

So, here is a list of the most impressive sights, bucket list activities and beaches for your Kauai trip.

You can also read my article on things to do on Kauai when it’s raining so that you are prepared.

See the Nā Pali Coast

Kauai Napali Coast view from boat tour and view of cliffs
Na Pali Coast boat tour

The Na Pali Coast is one of the most iconic parts of Kauai. When you look at images of Kauai on the internet, chances are it will show the stunning Na Pali coastline.

There are plenty of ways to see the Na Pali coast, which means there is something for everyone.

Some are scarier and more daring than others (helicopters and rafting), and some require more physical effort (hiking).

Read on to find out my suggestions for the best Na Pali Coast activities.

Na Pali Coast Boat Tour

Ride along the coastline on the ocean up to the famous Na Pali coast. You will find one of the most breathtaking views in Kauai by boat.

The season you visit Kauai will impact your boat tour of the Na Pali Coast. There are also times of the day and seasons that are better for viewing and water conditions.

Read all about this, and more, in my article on how to choose a Na Pali Coast boat tour and find my review on Capt Andy’s sunset catamaran excursion.

Alternatively, check out Na Pali Coast boat tours here.

Hike along the Na Pali Coast

View of Na Pali coast cliffs from beach

To get a deeper feel for the Na Pali Coast, you can hike the Kalalau Trail in Haena State Park. The whole trail is 11 miles (over 17km), and it will take you several days to complete it, so you must camp along the trail.  

However, it is also possible to just hike the first 2 miles to Hanakapiai Beach and turn back, or continue to Hanakāpīʻai Falls, an additional 4 miles.

No matter how much of the trail you want to walk, you are required to purchase a permit and parking pass. These permits are available to book online 30 days ahead of your desired date.

The tickets go online at 12:00 AM Hawaii time, so check that against your local time. I recommend setting an alert and booking the parking pass as soon as they go on sale. The tickets sell out extremely quickly.

If you miss out on a Haena State Park parking permit, shuttle tickets are usually more readily available. To use the shuttle, you park at “Waipa Park and Ride” and the shuttle will drive you the remaining distance.

Many people claim hiking Kalalau Hike to be a must do in Kauai.

Kauai Helicopter Tour

Helicopter flying over Na Pali Coast in Kauai
Helicopter flying over Na Pali Coast

For the daredevils, it is possible to get an impressive view of the Na Pali Coast and the rest of Kauai from a helicopter.

If you want to take it to the next level, you can book a tour with the doors-off. This option will give you an even better view of the coastline and canyons and help capture the view with your camera.

As with the boat tours, the helicopter tours are extremely weather dependent. Therefore, if your vacation to Kauai is in winter, give yourself some extra free days in the event the excursion needs to be rebooked.

Compare Kauai helicopter tours here.

Lookout Points with Views of Na Pali Coast

Na Pali Coast lookout points with Samantha at viewpoint

If you did not manage to get tickets to hike the Kalalau Coast, book a boat trip, or take a helicopter ride, there are some lookout points worth visiting. Kalalau Lookout & Pu’u O Kila Lookout both give a phenomenal view of the Na Pali Coast.

The lookout points are accessed by driving to Kokee State Park and a short walk from their respective car parks. A $10 fee per car is required, plus $5 per person in the vehicle to enter the park. The fee is payable by card in any of the car parks.

Visit the Beaches

Kauai trips are not complete without visiting as many beaches as possible. All the beaches offer different perks, such as some are better for swimming, snorkelling, surfing, fish, turtles, and views.

Lucas walking along Anini Beach on partly-cloudy day
Anini Beach

Here is a list of some of the best beaches in Kauai:

  • Tunnels Beach – beautiful views and typically huge waves
  • Hanalei Bay – calmer waters that are good for beginner surfers or boogie boarders
  • Poipu Beach – swimmable waters but rocky
  • Shipwreck Beach – not advisable for swimming, but you can look out for seals in the morning
  • Anini Beach – calm water for snorkelling and the chance to swim with turtles
  • Ke’e Beach – you need a permit to get to this beach, so it can be quieter than other beaches
  • Haena Beach – stunning beach in between Tunnels and Ke’e Beach
  • Puu Poa Beach – a short walk down numerous steps but worth the effort for great views

Polihale State Park is a popular beach to visit; however, you must have a 4×4 vehicle to get there. Additionally, if you have rented a car, you should check that your rental company allows you to visit Polihale Beach.

Many rental companies specifically write in the contract that you are forbidden to visit Polihale beach. Furthermore, you will not be covered by insurance if you need to be rescued because many tourists get stuck in the sand on this beach.

Go on Hikes in Kauai

Samantha taking photo of Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail coastal walk Kauai
Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail

Kauai is an excellent destination for those who love to hike. There are many recommended walks to take around Kauai.

There are also walks that are not recommended by officials. So, be careful what advice you follow. Know your ability and be prepared with good hiking footwear and lots of water.

Here are some of the most well-known hikes in Kauai, as well as some easier hikes for those with less time. You can use AllTrails app to find the routes.

  • Maha’elupu Heritage Trail – start at Shipwreck Beach and follow the sandy coastline. The views are unbelievable, with many photo opportunities.
  • Kalalau Trail – you need to reserve a permit to hike this trail one month ahead of time. You will be rewarded with some incredible views of the Na Pali Coast.
  • Waimea Canyon – the Waimea Canyon to Waipoo Falls trail is a popular hike because it is not as difficult or long as other trails in Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park.
  • Iliau Nature Loop – this is a short 1 km walk to a great viewpoint of Waimea Canyon.
  • Secret Falls – you must kayak along the Wailua River and then hike through numerous stream crossings to get to Secret Falls. It is a fun half-day adventure.

Outdoor Activities in Kauai

Lawrence on the ATV at Kipu Ranch covered in mud
Kipu Ranch

In addition to hiking, there are many recommended outdoor activities in Kauai. I have included a few in this Kauai travel blog post.

  • Surfing – there are options for all abilities, from complete beginners (head to Poipu Beach or Hanalei Bay) or more advanced surfers (the rest of the island).
  • ATVKipu Ranch offers a 4×4 off-road adventure around a unique setting on Kauai.
  • Kayaking – as mentioned earlier, I highly recommend kayaking along Wailua River to the Secret Falls hike. There are also other options, such as kayaking around Hanalei Bay.
  • Golf – if golf is your cup of tea, make sure you arrange a round of golf on Poipu Bay Golf Resort. The high-tech golf carts make for an even more enjoyable experience.
  • Snorkelling – some of the best places to snorkel on Kauai include Poipu Beach Park, Anini Beach and Tunnels Beach. However, some locations are better than others in winter vs summer.

Enjoy the Scenery in Kauai

Moreton Bay fig trees - Allerton Gardens Kauai
Allerton Gardens

In addition to adventurous activities in Kauai, there are also some more laidback ways to see the best of Kauai.

  • Botanical Gardens – Go on a guided tour of Allerton Garden and McBryde Garden that takes you around the highlights, such as the Moreton Bay fig trees famous from Jurassic Park.
  • Wailua Falls – you can stop at Wailua Falls for free and see it from above. It is a short but interesting stop while in East Kauai.
  • Fern Grotto – as an alternative to kayaking the Wailua River, you could opt for a Fern Grotto River boat tour. You will enjoy live music and have the chance to walk around.
  • Waimea Canyon – there are some great viewpoints, such as Waipo’o Falls Lookout, Pu’u Hinahina Lookout, and Waimea Canyon Lookout.
  • Koke’e State Park – this is where you will find some more impressive viewpoints: Kalalau Lookout & Pu’u O Kila Lookout.

For those wondering how long to spend at Waimea Canyon, it depends on if you are visiting just the lookouts or doing any hikes. For a visit to just the lookouts, you may spend around 10 to 15 minutes at each lookout spot.

Cultural Activities in Kauai

Grand Hyatt Kauai Luau show with men performing at night
Grand Hyatt Kauai Luau

There are ways of learning about Kauai and Hawaiian culture; here are a few.

Coffee: Kauai is famous for its coffee. While on vacation on Kauai, you could visit a coffee plantation for a farm tour. 

Pineapple: Another interesting way to learn about Kauai is on a pineapple tour. You can see Kauai Sugarloaf white pineapple plants growing and try some local pineapple. 

Luau: If you have ever been to Hawaii before, chances are you will know what a luau is. For those who do not know, a luau is a traditional Hawaiian show accompanied by a feast with local foods.

At a luau, you will see hula dancing, fire breathing and other traditional dances.

There are many options for a luau in Kauai, such as Grand Hyatt Kauai’s Luau, Luau Kalamaku, and Smith Family Garden Luau.

Book your Luau tickets here.

Where to Eat in Kauai?

The food in Kauai is something I will rave about to anyone who will listen. There were so many places I thoroughly enjoyed dining at, and others I wish I got the chance to experience.

This Kauai vacation guide will outline some of the best places to eat in Kauai.

North Shore

AMA Kauai restaurant in Hanalei with mountain view and gardens on a sunny day
AMA Restaurant

The North Shore has an excellent array of restaurant that are all genuinely worth visiting.

  • Tahiti Nui – serves the best Mai Tai in a casual setting. This restaurant features in George Clooney’s film The Descendants.
  • Wishing Well Shave Ice – a traditional refreshing Hawaiian snack
  • AMA – a fantastic view and tasty noodles
  • Bar Acuda – the sister restaurant of AMA, tapas-style food
  • Hanalei Bread Co. – great coffee and pastries

I managed to visit all of the below listed establishments, except for Bar Acuda that was extremely hard to get a reservation at.

You also need to make sure you have reserved a table for AMA because it is popular.

East Coast

I wish I could have gone to Lava Lava Beach Club more than once because I loved my experience there. I ate there for lunch after visiting Secret Falls, but I heard that it is amazing to go there for dinner.

  • Kapa’a Food Trucks – my favourite trucks were Da Melting Pot and Chicken in a Barrel
  • Lava Lava Beach Club – sensational beachfront setting and tasty food
  • Bubba’s Burgers (also on South Shore) – exceptional teriyaki and pineapple beef burger

South Shore

  • Beach House – spectacular sunset view and upscale food
  • Tidepools – luxurious restaurant in a romantic environment
  • Aloha Coffee – good for coffee on the go (quicker service than Little Fish Poipu)

There are several romantic restaurants in the south shore in the Poipu area. There are also numerous more casual, take-out spots.

West Coast

  • Porky’s – excellent Hawaii-style pulled pork sandwiches
  • Japanese Grandma’s Café – well-loved restaurant in Hanapepe

For a more detailed explanation of each of the above restaurants, and for even more suggestions, read this article on the best places to eat in Kauai.

When is the Best Time to Go to Kauai?

Samantha at Grand Hyatt Kauai hotel wearing a lei at sunset
Grand Hyatt Kauai in January

The best time to visit is in the summer, which is from May to June and September to October.

The reason for this is the rest of the year is technically winter, which means there is more chance of rain and big waves. During winter, you have fewer chances to swim and some of your activities may get rained off (as I experienced in December/January).

While Kauai is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, it was a nuisance that many of my plans were disrupted by the heavy rain. For example, Na Pali coast boat tours cannot run in extreme weather because it can be dangerous.

Nevertheless, winter is a great time to visit Kauai if you want to see the Hawaiian Humpback Whales. Read more about travelling to Kauai during winter here. Read this article for a list of what to do in Kauai when it rains.

Other things to consider for the best time of the year to visit Kauai is the summer and winter school holidays and increased pricing and reduced availability in peak times. Tours and restaurants may also get booked up far in advance, and hotels and car rental prices will soar during summer and Christmas.

How Many Days to Spend in Kauai?

Samantha on Hanalei Bay beach at sunset in winter Kauai
Hanalei Bay

The optimal number of days to spend in Kauai depends if you are visiting Kauai on its own or combining it with another Hawaiian island. There are so many things to do in Kauai you could easily make a 10 day Kauai itinerary.

The number of days to spend in Kauai also depends on how far you have travelled. If you are coming from Europe or flying for at least 8 hours, I recommend spending 10 days in Kauai.

However, if you are travelling from the West Coast of America or already visiting another island in Hawaii, I suggest at least 3 days to see the main highlights.

What to Pack for Kauai?

One thing to know about Kauai is that there is red mud and your shoes will get covered in it. So, do not bring your best white sneakers and expect to walk around in them the whole time.

Here are a few essentials that you should bring to Kauai:

Family hiking to Secret Falls in Kauai through stream
Hike to Secret Falls
  • Reusable water bottle – for the day trips and to be environmentally friendly
  • Goggles – to throw in your bag in case you want to snorkel
  • Water shoes – some of the beaches (such as Poipu Beach) are very rocky, so you will be happy to protect your feet while swimming
  • Waterproof hiking boots – Kauai is known to be rainy and many hikes involve river crossings
  • Sweat/water resistant clothes – I spent my days wearing active clothing that was sweat and rainproof so that they dried quickly and were suitable for wet activities. I recommend Lululemon clothing or these men’s shorts from Patagonia.
  • Reef safe sunscreen – Hawaii has banned regular sun cream, so only bring reef-safe products (reef-friendly is not good enough). Or buy it when you arrive. Suggested brands include: Kokua Sun Care and Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen.

Read this article for a more detailed Kauai packing list.

Travel to Kauai During the Pandemic

I travelled to Kauai in December 2021 until January 2022; therefore, I am familiar with the covid-19 precautions on the island. However, the rules are constantly changing, so to find out the latest Kauai travel restrictions, visit The County of Kauai website

Further Reading to this Kauai Travel Blog Post

I hope you found this complete Kauai travel guide useful. Remember to read my other Kauai travel blog posts, such as Best Things to Do in Poipu, 3 day Kauai itinerary, and 10 Day Itinerary for Kauai.

Learn about how to choose the best Na Pali boat cruise here.

For other travel Kauai needs, read the following articles: best places to eat in Kauai, best side of Kauai to stay on, winter in Kauai and what to do in Kauai when it rains.

FAQ – Travel Blog Kauai

How to plan a trip to Kauai?

1. Identify the best time to visit Kauai: May, June, September, or October
2. Consider your trip duration: 7 to 10 days is ideal
3. Book your flights and car rental: car rental demand is high, so book early
4. Decide on accommodation: split time between North and South, or stay in East
5. Make necessary reservations: in-demand restaurants and Kalalau Trail

How to visit Kauai?

You need to fly to Lihue Airport in order to visit Kauai. There are several direct flights from the US and Canada to Lihue, such as San Francisco, Seattle, Calgary and Vancouver.

Do you need a car in Kauai?

It is advised to rent a car when visiting Kauai because it is the easiest way to travel around the island. There is a limited bus service and taxis are difficult to find; therefore, you will have more flexibility on Kauai with a vehicle.

How to get around Kauai without a car?

While it is strongly recommended to book a rental car to visit Kauai, it is possible to see parts of Kauai without a car. You should book accommodation at a resort in Poipu with an airport shuttle service.

By staying in Poipu, you can explore areas close to your hotel on foot, such as local beaches, restaurants, shops, and attractions. You can find some activities that include a hotel pick-up – this would usually be private tours where the guide will drive you around in a minivan.

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4 Comments

  1. Reading your detailed guide on Kauai makes me want to visit. I’ve always wanted to visit Hawaii and I think first stop is Kauai.

    I’ll be saving this guide when the family is ready for another trip. Thanks for sharing great details and everything about Kauai.

  2. This by far is the most in-depth Kauai travel blog I have ever read. I will share this with our boat visitors. Did you do any scuba diving or whale watching?

    1. Thank you Jessie, I am glad you think so! No I didn’t, but we saw whales from our Na Pali Coast boat tour.

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