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  • Writer's pictureMatt Tannenbaum

Kauai Travel Guide

The Islands of Hawaii are a destination on everyone's travel bucket list. Every island is a must visit destination but the Island of Kauai is truly one of the best. The island of Kauai is referred to as the “Garden Island”, with its lush and beautiful tropical landscapes. This island is the 4th largest island and much quieter than the busier neighboring island of O’ahu. Whether you are looking for a relaxing vacation, an outdoor adventure, or a combination of both, Kauai is the perfect place for your next trip. Below is a complete travel guide of everything you must do and see when planning a trip to Kauai!


Aerial view of the na Pali coast ridge and caves along the Hawaiian blue oceans

The North Side


The North Shore is home to many of the island's higher end residential neighborhoods as well as luxury resorts. The town of Princeville is the most populated area on the island but also is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes and beaches.


BEACHES TO VISIT

Tunnels Beach:

Let's start with the disclaimer that there is no bad beach on the island. However, there is a best beach on the island! Tunnels Beach is a quiet beach with dramatic scenic views and beautiful calm waters. This beach is about a 20 drive past the populated towns. There is a small parking lot (with a bathroom) so plan to get here early to secure parking. There are some food trucks that can be nearby but be sure to pack a lunch or snacks if you’re going to spend the day.


panorama of the green mountain ridges above the blue Hawaiian beaches in kauai


Hanalei Bay & Pier:

A scenic beach on the bay that brings sweeping views of the dramatic Mountains and Rainfalls in the background. There is a small pier where you will most likely find some locals fishing and surfing.


light rays shining through the dark storm clouds over Hanalei bay pier in kauai

Turtle Cave:

An iconic cave with sleeping turtles is a beautiful place but can be dangerous to get to. This location is only viable to reach during a low tide in the Summer months. Do not attempt to come here as this can be dangerous if you aren't a good swimmer or hiker.


lush tropical green jungle and coral reef in the ocean waters of kauai turtle cave

Queens Bath:

This is home to the most beautiful tide pools on the island of Kauai. Tide pools are dangerous with water levels that can rise at any moment. Always exercise caution and be sure to come at low tides.




Other notable beaches:


Kauepea Beach, also known as secret beach, is a very large but secluded beach.


Hideaways Beach, a perfect beach for snorkeling but requires some hiking to get to the location.


HIKES TO DO


Kalalau Trail:

If you are an avid hiker or adventure enthusiast then the Kalalau Trail is THE hike for you. This 11 mile hike is famous for its views along the Northern Napali Coast. This is usually a multiple day camping adventure which requires permits. If you are up for the adventure then this is a must do activity on Kauai. Enjoy sea caves, quiet beaches, waterfalls, and the best views of the Na Pali Coastline.


waterfalls flowing in the middle of a steep mountain terrain in kauai

Hanakapia Falls:

This is an 8.2 mile hike that brings you to a 300foot high waterfall. The hike brings scenic coastal views along the way making it a perfect adventure.



The West Side


There aren’t many accommodations on the West Side of the island as most resorts and residences are found near Poipu or Princeville. However, this side of the island is easily the most beautiful part and home to the iconic Na Pali Coast. This terrain is 17 miles of rugged landscape with razor sharp ridges, steep vertical drops, waterfalls, and beautiful beaches. There are many vista points that can easily be reached by minimal walking and driving so everyone can experience this amazing location.


aerial view above the na Pali coast mountain ridges overlooking the blue Pacific Ocean Hawaiian beaches

Na Pali Coast can and should be done by air, land, and sea. Each perspective is unique and brings different views and enjoyment. Jump in a helicopter tour and enjoy the views without having to break a sweat. Hop on a boat tour in the morning to enjoy calmer waters and see playful dolphins or enjoy a scenic sunset cruise. Go out for a hike along the ridge and get your adrenaline pumping as you experience the views and scenic drop offs.


double rainbows over the blue ocean water and in front of the green mountain ridges of the na Pali coast

Red Dirt Waterfalls

This little gem is just off the side of the road as you work your way up to the Na Pali Coast. Unique red clay soil with little waterfalls make for a nice break from the drive and a perfect photo opportunity.


hiker jumping over the red dirt waterfalls in kauai

Waimea Canyon State Park

Also known as The Grand Canyon of the Pacific is a beautiful canyon filled with lush greens and cascading waterfalls. Bring your Zoom lens for this spot! There are also many little viewpoints along the roadway as you continue your drive to enjoy different perspectives of the canyon. Come early as there will be tour busses later on in the day which bring crowds and slower traffic!



Awa’awapuhu Trail

One of the best hikes on the Island brings you to the edge of the ridge with sweeping 360 degree views. You will most likely see helicopter tours below you coming in and out of the valley below.


hiker standing on the edge of the na Pali coast hike

Kalalau or Pu’U o Kila Lookouts are at the end of the road and give you amazing views of the iconic ridges without having to do any major hiking. If you are more adventurous there is a short hike through the fence that will bring you to an even better vantage point of the ridges and coastline.


hiker on the edge of the mountain in the na Pali coast overlooking the vibrant blue ocean waters below

The South Side

This side of the island is quieter but has some smaller towns for shops, restaurants, and resorts. This side of the island is a preferred location as it is closest to the Na Pali Coast attractions. Many of the boat tours of the Na Pali Coast will leave from this area of the island as well.



Glass Beach - this is a quick stop just near the Port Allen Harbor. This little beach is filled with tons of rainbow colored glass and makes for an interesting visit. This isn't a beach you will stay on but it worth the visit.


tropical and lush green landscapes at the grand Hyatt kauai with beautiful blue pools and ocean

Poipu Beach is a beautiful beach by one of the island's best resorts, the Grand Hyatt Kauai. Some locals will be on the beach but many of the visitors will be guests of the resort.



Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail is a coastal trail that starts from Poipu Beach and will bring you up beautiful rock formations that overlook the ocean and bay below. Shipwreck Beach is the famous area home to some famous movies and where you will find adventure junkies jumping off the cliff and in to the water.


Salt Pond Beach Park - a nice beach with calmer waters.

Tree Tunnel - The Large Eucalyptus trees line Maliuhi Road at the beginning of Highway 520. If you catch it at the right time (early mornings or evenings) the lighting that comes through the trees is spectacular.



The East Side


There are tons of waterfalls on the island and the East side is home to plenty of good ones.




Wailua Falls - beautiful waterfalls right off the side of the road. Be sure to not come here after a storm or it will be a chocolate/muddy waterfall.


Hoopi Falls - a 1.7 mile hike to some scenic waterfalls.


Uluwehi Falls - a 100’ waterfall


Kapa’a - rustic town with beaches and restaurants.





Other Activities


Mountain Float Tubing - a classic island attraction which brings you through a tour of the jungle. Don’t forget your GoPro!



Koloa Rum Safari - enjoy some animals and landscapes while tasting delicious Koloa Rum. Win win.



Food Trucks - There are a ton of food trucks that serve Shaved Ice or amazing Poke/Sushi. Be sure to eat all of it!




Places to Stay


The two big areas where most people will stay are the South Shore (Poipu Beach) or the North Shore (Princeville).


Luxury Resorts:

The Grand Hyatt in Poipu Beach (FULL REVIEW HERE)

1 Hotel Kauai


Other great resort options:

Koloa Landing Resort

The Westin Princeville

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai

Sheraton Kauai


aerial view above the na Pali coast sea caves and mountain ridges adjacent to the crashing waves along the beach







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