The Ultimate Guide to Kauai
With breathtaking landscapes and a hopping food scene, Kauai may be the trendiest island in Hawaii right now. Discover the riches of this incredible island with this list of bests.
Kauai’s stunning natural beauty—lush green valleys and jagged mountaintops—is legendary, and for good reason. Explore this verdant paradise for unforgettable outdoor adventures at landmarks such as Waimea Canyon, known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and the Nāpali Coast. Kauai is also home to a hot food scene and some of the Pacific’s most stylish boutiques.
The Best Beaches
Keaha Beach: Locals love to surf and fish on Kekaha Beach, a long, sandy stretch located on Kaua'i's far west side (be careful of strong winds and currents if you're considering a swim). It's also a great place to beachcomb while waiting for the sun to drop behind the horizon.
Related: The Best Beaches in Hawaii
Beaches of the North Shore: Separated by a major outcropping of rock (you can swim around this, with caution, when the waters are calm), the North Shore beaches of Hideaways and Pali Ke Kua are stunning escapes. Hideaways, reachable via a steep (and sometimes slippery) trail, is known for its turquoise waters and prime snorkeling, thanks to its deep reefs. Pali Ke Kua (also reachable on foot, if you don’t fancy a swim-around) is a small, golden-sand beauty.
The Best Things to Do
Visit Waimea Canyon: You’ll want to be on the lookout for double rainbows at Waimea Canyon. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the 14-mile-long gorge is dotted with numerous waterfalls and, as a result, frequent rainbows. For the best views, try the Pu’u Ka Pele or Pu’u Hinahina lookout, both of which have convenient parking.
Hike the Nāpali Coast: Kaua’i’s Nāpali Coast epitomizes the phrase “natural wonder,” with verdant cliffs and towering waterfalls. The only land access to this majestic spot is via the 11-mile Kalalau Trail. For a more leisurely experience, book a boat tour through Captain Chad and his crew at Blue Dolphin Charters out of Ele’ele.
Related: How to Do Kaua'i Like a Local
Cool Off at Banana Joe's: Indulge in the ultimate Kauai refreshment at Banana Joe’s Fruit Stand. Order the Pineapple Whip from the delightfully unassuming hut, located in Kilauea, and prepare to be amazed (and to ask for seconds).
The Best Restaurants and Bars
Java Kai, Kapa'a: Kaui’s favorite cup of joe comes from Java Kai. The Kapa'a-based coffee shop and bakery roasts its own beans and serves a limited selection of salads, sandwiches, and wraps.
The Local, Kapa'a: Executive chef Erin Keller of The Local Kauai embraces her restaurant’s name with grown-in-Hawai’i ingredients in every dish and cocktail, with 90 percent of produce coming from Kaua’i. The best way to enjoy the eclectic, ever-changing menu is by ordering a sampling (four to six should cover most groups) of the savory small plates.
Merriman's Po'ipū: For the top Mai Tai on the island, get yourself to Merriman’s (located in Po’ipū), where the locals flock for cocktails topped with honey liliko’i foam.
Street Burger, Kapa'a: With 17 burger options, all made from Kaua’i-raised, grass-fed beef, Kapa'a’s Street Burger can cause a serious “what should I order” dilemma. One no-brainer: sea-salt-encrusted French fries.
The Best Places to Shop
Aloha Exchange, Kalāheo: You’ll want to buy it all at Aloha Exchange, a surf, skate, and lifestyle shop in Kalāheo. The in-house line of super-soft t-shirts make an especially stylish Kaua’i souvenir.
Malie Organics, Po’ipū: In Po’ipū you can visit the flagship store of Malie Organics. The luxurious line of bath and body products are popular the world over, but got their start on Kauai. Stock up on best sellers like the Plumeria Body Polish and the Hibiscus Cream & Wash for no-fail gifts for friends and family back home.
Shipwrecked, Kauia, Kapa'a: What do you get if you cross a high-end department store with a breezy beach bungalow? Something pretty close to Shipwrecked Kauai, an upscale boutique with an on-trend selection of clothing, home décor, cosmetics, and more.
The Best Hotels and Resorts
Koa Kea Hotel & Resort, Po’ipū: In southern Kaua’i you’ll find the Koa Kea Hotel & Resort, which has an impressively attentive staff and fabulous on-site sushi at Red Salt, the house restaurant. This is one property where an ocean view room is worth the splurge. Gazing out at Po’ipū Beach as you lounge in bed does not disappoint. (But don’t linger too long in your room; Po’ipū is considered one of the most swimmable spots on the island.)
The Palmwood, Moloa'a: The Palmwood, a jungle-like sanctuary on the north side of the island, has a mere three rooms. Book early to ensure a retreat where the affordable nightly rates belie the posh accommodations.