Thrilled to be sharing my Kauai travel guide with ya'll! This was one of my favorites trip and a place I would go back to it a heartbeat. Kauai is so beautiful, and a lot of the land still remains untouched and preserved which IMO makes the island even more gorgeous. My fiancé and I visited in May and the weather was incredible, the people were so welcoming, and the views were surreal (as you can see from the picture above). I hope you enjoy my recs and your time in Kauai as much as we did!
Where to Stay
First, some background on Kauai. When planning your trip to Kauai, you have geographic options on what part of the island you would like to stay in. The most common being the North Shore (Princeville) or the South Shore (Poipu). You can definitely stay to the East/West, but we decided to stay in both the North and the South for a few nights each, as there is more to do in these areas, and then drove to the East and West ends to check it out. Here's a brief recap of the area on the island we visited!
Princeville - North Shore: If you're looking for gorgeous hikes, you'll love this side of the island. It supposedly is the rainier side of the island, so be prepared for rain showers. When my fiancé and I visited, we lucked out and experienced no rain on the North end, so the hikes were very manageable. Also, the scenery of the lush mountains is gorgeous here, especially in Hanalei Bay.
Poipu - South Shore: This part of the island is known for the beaches, specifically Poipu beach, and it tends to get more sunshine. Poipu felt more romantic and relaxed and was had lots of fun shops and restaurants. Tons of surfers would gather here and it felt like a more water oriented part of the island.
Kapa'a - East end: This is a small town on the island that felt very homey, quaint, and quiet. If you're looking for more of a town feel with local shops and restaurants, as opposed to the beach or mountains, this is where you'll want to stay.
Stay - Princeville (North Shore)
Westin Princeville: Our stay at the Westin Princeville was lovely and the perfect welcome to Hawaii. The rooms all have an apartment feeling to them, so they have kitchens built in which is convenient. Our favorite part about the room were the sliding doors that opened to the lush green property where you could walk to the edge to see the sunrise. Every morning, we would start our day at 5am by catching the sunrise and it was definitely worth it. The hotel itself has great amenities: a beautiful pool area, pool bar, and restaurant. The restaurant has hula dancing and live music performances certain nights which is really nice. At night, every inch of the property lights up with tiki torches and looks like the idyllic Hawaiian postcard you've probably envisioned before. The hikes we did were nearby, the hotel is reasonably priced, and super clean and hospitable- would recommend this place for anyone staying in the Princeville area!
Stay - Poipu (South Shore)
Ko'a Kea: This beautiful, boutique hotel was so welcoming from the second we arrived. We were greeted with fresh juices, towels, and smiles. The rooms here are pristine, but my favorite part was fire pit area by the pool. It was a beautiful place to watch the sunset with a glass of wine, which they provide complimentary upon arrival in your room! Also once a week, the hotel hosts a mini happy hour where they introduce the staff and offer live music and free rum punch- such a lovely idea. Another added perk, the restaurant on site, Red Salt, has great food reviews and the bar inside offers a happy hour drink menu! The hotel is located right off of Poipu beach which is one of the prettiest beaches in Kauai and is swimmable (not many rock formations in the water). It can be a bit pricier, but definitely worth it if you're looking for clean and comforting, with a splash of subtle elegance.
Where to Eat
Eat - Princeville
1. Hanalei Bread Co.: Great breakfast options, lots of organic items, and the coffee/espresso is awesome. I got the breakfast burrito and my fiancé ordered the breakfast sandwich- both were awesome, especially with the Hawaiian hot sauce addition courtesy of Kauai Juice Co. Also, since this is a bread company, all of their bread is super fresh and delicious!
2. Ama: Located behind Bar Acuda is this Japanese-inspired ramen restaurant with an incredible view of the mountains. They have a beautiful seating area with a fire pit to enjoy drinks or the view post dinner. The food is excellent. Try the Thai red curry poke, the pork ramen and the beef skewers, and don't skimp on dessert- the doughnuts were warm pillows of cinnamon sugar goodness!
3. Bar Acuda: Spanish style tapas that are said to be amazing (and literally next door to Ama)! We are definitely checking this place out next time, but since we had limited nights in the North end we chose Ama instead.
4. Wishing Well Shave Ice: Shave ice is a Hawaiian specialty, but most places will use artificial flavoring and dyes in their syrup. Wishing Well is an all organic shave ice joint that uses real fruit syrup to flavor the shaved ice. It's also sustainable and locally sourced. This is the place you'll want to try your shave ice!
Eat - Poipu
Little Fish Coffee: This is great for grabbing something quick on your way to a hike. They have bagels, breakfast/lunch sandwiches, açaí/smoothie bowls, and good organic coffee/tons of different beverages. If you eat here, beware of the chickens- they're cute, but feisty and will literally jump onto your food to eat it.
2. Kauai Juice Co.: Make sure you try this juice place (around the corner from Little Fish). The juices are all organic, unique, and taste incredible. Perk: if you return the glass bottle it comes in, you get 50 cents off your next juice!
3. Anuenue Cafe: really yummy outdoor breakfast cafe spot (next door to Kauai Juice Co.). My fiancé got the pork fried rice (incredible) and I got the "Tow In" which was french toast topped with haupia (coconut pudding), roasted macadamia nuts, with two eggs, bacon or Portuguese sausage. The haupia is INCREDIBLE. You gotta try it.
4. Kiawe Roots: Asian fusion meets BBQ. We loved this place. My fiancé tried a traditional Hawaiian dish, the Loco Moco: a house patty, demi cream sauce, sautéed mushrooms, crispy onions, sunny side eggs, and rice. It was amazing, but very filling. I ordered the Jamaican Jerk Pork Ribs and by far one of the best things I had in Kauai. If you go here, make sure you get the ribs...or really any of their smoked meats. They also have a great happy hour if you go between 4:30pm-7pm with food and drinks options. This place is in the Kukui'ula Shopping Center so theres a lot of good food options/coffee and cute shops.
5. Merriman's Fish House: This restaurant is located in the same shopping center as Kiawe Roots and is delicious! There is a more casual Merriman's Fish Market downstairs, which is great for lunch and quick happy hour beers, but the Fish House upstairs is the one you should go to for dinner. It's beautiful and has a nice view of the sunset with the freshest seafood the best Mai Tais on the island! They even make their own pineapple whip made from fresh pineapples from the Dole Plantation (on the island)!!
Drink - Poipu & Kapa'a
1. The Lanai Restaurant and Bar: In the Kukui'ula Shopping Center, you'll see a super cute outdoor bar/restaurant. It's adorable and the happy hour drinks are great. The food looks good too, but we didn't have the chance to eat here.
2. Kauai Beer Company: Kauai brewery with some great local beers. It's located 5 min from the airport so we did it after our helicopter tour of the island, which ended up being the perfect pit stop because the food was equally as delicious as the brews!
3. Java Kai: This is a cute, little coffee shop in Kapa'a on the East end that we passed a few times on our route from North to South. Has some of the best lattes and acai bowls!
What to Do
Do - Princeville:
1. Hike to Queen's Bath: This hike is relatively short (less than 1 mile), but is a difficult hike due to the muddy, downhill trail you can face. Since it is known to rain all the time in the North Shore, this will most likely be the case so you have to be very cautious and make sure you have good water shoes/sneakers. If you're lucky, like us, it will be an easy and dry way down. Once you're down you'll come to rocks that you have to walk through to get to the sinkhole (Queen's Bath). Before getting there you'll pass other areas that could be mistaken as the bath (picture 4), but if you do not see other people in there and it is not a hole surrounded by rocks, then do not jump in. There are areas that open into the ocean and the current is very strong here and will whisk you out to sea. Be very cautious and look for the calm, pool-like area where you can enjoy the bath (pictures 1-3). This was definitely a highlight of the trip for me and I would recommend it, as long as you are in good shape, cognizant, and go when it is low tide.
2. Hanalei Bay: Check out this part of town for its great restaurants, and the beautiful bay area where you can sit and watch the sunset.
3. Angeline's Kauai Lomi Lomi Massage: I experienced the best massage of my life here and cannot say more wonderful things about the quality and service. A lomi lomi massage is a traditional Hawaiian massage where you first sit in a steam room, then are scrubbed with sea salt, and finally are massaged by two people at the same time. It was the most relaxing massage I have ever had and HIGHLY recommend it.
Do - Poipu
1. Poipu Beach: a nice swimmable beach, no rocks in the water on the public beach! Gets really busy and you'll get to see sea monks beached!
2. Jack Harter Helicopter Tour: This is the tour we took out of Lihue airport. You can book through them directly. I found it was cheaper than the rate our hotel offered. We did the doors off (Hughes 500) version and it wasn't scary at all, but really cool! You get amazing views of Waimea Valley (the Grand Canyon of Hawaii), tons of waterfalls including the real Jurassic Falls/Valley, Na Pali coast and the North end of the island.
3. Catamaran to Na Pali coast: We didn't do this because we opted for the aerial view, but we'll definitely be doing this next time! You can snorkel with this options maybe catch some dolphins, along with the beautiful coast.
4. Kauai Humane Society: If you know me and my guides at this point, we always try to foster a dog for the day while we are on vacation. We love supporting places that promote the wellbeing of shelter dogs. The Kauai Humane Society does a wonderful job making sure you're well equipped to take your dog out for the day. I recommend getting here at least 30 min-1 hour before they open because there are only a certain number of dogs and it is a first come basis. We fostered a beautiful American Pitt mix, named Chanel, for my fiancé's birthday activity and took her to the beach. Doing activities like this is so fun for us, knowing we're also helping better a dog's life...and helps us miss our little guy at home just a littleee less.
5. Here's a mini list of some other great hiking trails in the South, East, and West end:
Maha’ulepu Trail- South
Spouting Horn- South
Waimea Canyon State Park- West
Walk around Kapa’a- East
Lydgate Beach- East
Sleeping Giant Trail- East (Tip: Go past the trail ends sign to get an even better view!)
Wailua Falls- East
Kalepa Ridge Trail- South
Rent a car: If you're planning on checking out the whole island of Kauai, like we did, then you should definitely rent a car. The drive from the North Shore to the South Shore is around an hour, but it helps to have a car when doing a bunch of activities and going from one end to the other. And you don't need a Jeep, we actually preferred our van because it gets a bit rocky and you can really feel every bump in a Wrangler.
Bring water shoes! This is a must when going to Hawaii because the water has a lot of rock formations in it closer to the shore which can really hurt you. Also if you're planning on hiking these are always good to have because it can be muddy or your hike usually will lead to water where you can swim and these will come in handy. These are my favorite pair that I found on Amazon!
Bug spray and sunscreen are important to have, but can also be purchased in Hawaii.
Kauai is known as the casual, nature heavy island in Hawaii and one of the many reasons I really love it, so you don't need to pack anything too dressy (i.e. leave the heels and fancy outfits at home). You'll mostly be hiking, laying on the beach or relaxing so pack with a casual/athletic wardrobe in mind!
I hope you enjoyed this guide and it helps you plan your trip to Kauai! I can't wait to see your beautiful pictures. Make sure to tag me on Instagram (@thetravelingcure) so I can your amazing adventures. And if you'd like specific tips and recs catered to your travel preferences, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.