Kauai Trip Planner

Kauai Hawaii GyPSy Guide Driving Tour App

Kauai Trip Planner

Also known as the Garden Isle, Kauai stands out as a lush, scenic island of Hawaii that is still predominantly made up of sleepy rural communities. Still, you’ll get a taste of resort life on its North and South Shores. The island offers chances at relaxation and adventures – both at sea and on land.

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GuideAlong recognizes the use of diacritical markings of the (modern) Hawaiian language including the ‘okina [’], the kahakō [ō] and macron. These have been omitted throughout our website and app to deliver a stable online experience for our visitors. We recognize the importance of these markings to preserve the language and culture of Hawaii and incorporate them when possible.


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How To Get Here

By Plane

You have various airline options if you’d like to fly to Kauai from the continental US and Canada. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines and WestJet all serve Lihue Airport. Some airline’s direct flights to Kauai are seasonal.

If you are flying into Honolulu on the Big Island, inter-island services are frequent and convenient.

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By Cruise

Several cruise lines dock at Nawiliwili Harbor in Kauai. For instance, Norwegian Cruise Line offers ten cruises that travel between the Hawaiian islands, through the South Pacific and from Hawaii to Alaska. Most cruises will stop in port for long enough that you can rent a car and do some sightseeing on your own, with car rentals available right at the terminal.

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Getting Around

Making your way around Kauai – a small, rural island – is easiest via car and that will allow you the most efficiency and flexibility.

Exploring the Island

Though Kauai is the smallest of the four major islands in Hawaii, it does not have a road system that circumnavigates all the way around the island. The mountains of the Na Pali section of the island in the North West are truly incredible – you will be amazed when you see them, but with that incredible terrain comes a formidable place to route and construct a road. If you think of Kauai as clock, the highways travel from 12 to 9 o’clock.

So when it comes time to plan your sightseeing, it’s best to divide the island into two halves. The south and west portions are we we find areas like Poipu, Hanapepe, Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park.  The east and north section includes Kapaa, Princeville, Hanalei and Haena State Park (restricted vehicle access).  Try to allow at least one full day to tour through each half – more time is always better of course.

By Car

Unless you’re planning to stay in one particular area during your Kauai vacation, you’ll need a car to get around the island. Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are still pretty unreliable, so you’re better served by booking with a car rental company. SIXT Rent A Car, Island Cars, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental and other brand names all operate on Kauai, but make a reservation ahead of time or risk the chance of these companies running out of inventory during your allotted days, especially during peak season. An alternative that works well on the island is Turo, a car sharing marketplace. Locals on Kauai will let you rent their cars for a certain amount of time, which gives them some extra income and secures you a reliable vehicle.

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By Bus

While Kauai doesn’t offer much in terms of public transportation, it does offer the Kauai Bus. With eight routes it hits Kekaha, Lihue, Koloa, Hanalei, Kapaa and Wailua. It’s an inexpensive, but much slower option for getting around, with discounted rates for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), senior and youth riders. If you’ll be taking a few trips on the same day, you can also buy a one-day pass. 

Driving Tips for Kauai

Leave your big city driving habits behind while in Kauai. Here, you’ll predominantly find two-lane roads with slow speed limits. You’re on island time now. Be polite, and make sure to flash a ‘shaka’ – the friendly Hawaiian hand sign with your pinky and thumb extended – as a thank you when drivers let you merge or cross. The expectation is that you’ll do the same for other vehicles.

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If an accident occurs along your route, then you’ll likely be caught in traffic – there aren’t many opportunities for detours in Kauai. The only solution: sit back and relax. With all of the beautiful landscapes to see, keep your eyes peeled. Watch for mopeds and scooters chugging along at cruising speeds – and the island’s famous chickens crossing the road. If its vital that you must be in a certain place at a specific time, like the airport, be sure to leave yourself a buffer in case of traffic delays.

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Entrance Fees

If you’d like to enter Kauai’s state parks such as Kokee State Park or Waimea Canyon State Park then you’ll need to pay an entrance and parking fee.

Due to the extremely limited parking availability, you must either reserve a parking space or make a shuttle booking online to access Haena State Park, including Kee Beach, Haena Beach and the Kalalau Trail to Na Pali. Bookings open 30 days prior and schedules may vary, visit gohaena.com for more information and to make a reservation.

Reservations are also required to visit Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where the Kilauea Lighthouse is located. Bookings open 60 days prior and advance bookings are mandatory, reservations typically sellout one week prior. Visit recreation.gov for more information and to make a reservation. America the Beautiful National Parks passes are accepted here, but you’ll still need to make a reservation.

Kauai Tour Map

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Where to Stay

Your accommodations in Kauai will serve as your homebase, and, ultimately, determine the vibe of your entire trip. The most popular accommodation areas are Princeville/Hanalei in the northeast, or in Poipu on the southern beaches.

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If you’re interested in a luxurious setting for your visit, then one of the many resorts on the North Shore or South Shore will suit you best. Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection, offers pools a plenty, and the rocky coast is within walking distance. Foodies will appreciate staying at Koa Kea Resort on Poipu Beach for its restaurant, Red Salt, led by executive chef Noelani Planas from Kauai. Local tip: You can’t go wrong with the seared furikake ahi steak and lobster risotto. 

For those who prefer to feel at home, stay at a locally-owned and operated hotel like The West Inn in Waimea Town on the island’s west side or the Fern Grotto Inn in Kapaa on the east side. The East and West Shores are more relaxed, with fewer tourists concentrated in the areas.

Vacation rentals in private homes are available so be sure to check with your preferred provider or platform.

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When To Visit

The month you plan to visit Kauai will largely depend on your preferences as a traveler. If you’d like to avoid the busiest times, then skip out on the peak months of June, July and August. However, you’ll miss the driest season when the sun is consistently shining and the days warm your bones. Sure, you may still get to watch a quick afternoon shower from the comfort of your lanai porch on occasion, but the sky is likely to clear up in time for dinner during the summer.

December also surprisingly attracts a lot of visitors – the Christmas crowd. April and May stay fairly busy, but they’re not quite the peak of the season. If you don’t mind the possibility of some rain and want to save some money, then November through March may be the choice for you.

But whenever you visit, it will be lovely shorts and t-shirt weather – there’s not such thing as a cold or bad time in Kauai!

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How Much Time Do You Need to Visit

Just Kauai

Kauai only stretches for about 500 miles (800 kilometers) around its shoreline, so it’s a small island – only the fourth-biggest in the island chain.  A week-long trip would allow you time to enjoy the sights, try some new activities and, of course, relax to your heart’s abandon. If you are short on time, and happy to be constantly exploring, then three days would be the minimum amount of time you’d need to see the major sites. But if you only have three days you won’t have time for a lazy morning on the beach or an afternoon reading a book by the pool.

Suggested Itineraries for Kauai

There is no road that goes all the way around Kauai in a tidy circle. Once you see the amazing Na Pali coastline you will understand why. So we recommend dividing the island into two portions for your sightseeing adventures. Each deserves one day of your time.

North and East

This describes the region that is essentially everything north of Lihue and the Airport and the famous Wailua Falls. This includes the town areas of Kapaa, Princeville and Hanalei. You can easily fill a whole day exploring this area.

South and West

Waimea Canyon and the view from the Kalalau Lookout down to Na Pali are the most amazing sights when touring this section of the island. But there are also many great beaches, artsy communities, a blowhole and the resort area of Poipu that are excellent to explore. Expect to spend a whole day to enjoy the many stops.

Multiple Islands

Estimating how much time you need to visit multiple islands in Hawaii will vary based on your itinerary. Kauai is located on the furthest end of the island chain and unless you are cruising and on a set itinerary, you’ll need travel time to fly from island to island. 

Doing multi-islands, or the jackpot of all four, is a fantastic thing to do and you should allow five days on each island plus one day of travel time. Maui and the Big Island are larger, so an extra day comes in handy.  So that means three weeks is about the right amount of time – and once again, a full week on each island is even better if you can manage it.

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

How to Avoid the Crowds

Kauai is less developed than the other Hawaiian islands, so as a result, many people seek out Kauai for an unplugged vacation and slower moving vacation. So in general, Kauai tends to not get as busy as the other Hawaiian islands, and typically has fewer crowds even during peak season at sightseeing locations.

Some of the most popular places to visit are now managed through mandatory reservation systems, e.g. Haena State Park and the Kalalau Trail, meaning it’s less important to be up with the rooster crowing at sunrise to go and secure that parking space. Make sure you are aware of which places require those reservations, so you don’t leave it too late to try and book. 

You will still need to reserve a table for the popular restaurant you’ve been wanting to visit. And you might need to be patient with parking on the weekends when locals want to head to the beach too.


Due to the extremely limited parking availability, you must either reserve a parking space or make a shuttle booking online to access Haena State Park, including Kee Beach, Haena Beach and the Kalalau Trail to Na Pali. Bookings open 30 days prior and schedules may vary, visit gohaena.com for more information and to make a reservation.

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Things to See and Do

Haena State Park

Haena State Park is essentially the end of the road as you drive around the north shore of Kauai.

The three most popular things to see and do at the end of the Kuhio Highway is to visit Kee Beach, Tunnels Beach (also known as Haena Beach Park) and to walk the Kalalau Trail. This is also the trailhead for overnight hikers and campers heading to the Na Pali Coast.


Due to the extremely limited parking availability, you must either reserve a parking space or make a shuttle booking online to access Haena State Park, including Kee Beach, Haena Beach and the Kalalau Trail to Na Pali. Bookings open 30 days prior and schedules may vary, visit gohaena.com for more information and to make a reservation.

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This gentle, crescent shaped bay with a beach that’s nearly two-miles long, surrounded by lush mountains and taro farms. It’s a great and safe place to swim.

The town has a relaxed surfer vibe with trendy cafes and stores. You will want to take a photo of the pier on the main beach with the rain-sculpted face of Namolokama in the background.

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This charming town is filled with preserved historic plantation style buildings and is home to a strong artist community.

It’s also one of the best places to pick up a local souvenir from the art galleries and shops featuring Niihau shell jewelry. Or, take a walk across the Hapapepe Swinging Bridge.

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Kapaa is just about the liveliest town on the eastern side of Kauai. There are many places to enjoy a meal or an authentic Hawaiian snack and to wander the stores, or our favorite – grab a shave ice.

If you’re feeling slightly more energetic, rent a bike and ride the Kauai multi-use path which covers eight miles of coastline and is essentially flat. Along the path and just north of Kapaa is Kealia Beach, which is good for swimming in protected areas, so long as the surf isn’t too rough. But this can also be a good beach to watch surfers if the swell is running. Or give in to relaxation and find a shady tree overlooking Kapaa Beach to take a nap!

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Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge

Take a step back in time at the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge, with the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse built in 1913 in northern Kauai. The restored, white, century-old lighthouse sitting on cliffs above the Pacific Ocean make this a superb viewing location and a place to take awesome photos. It is also a wildlife refuge, and you will see a range of seabirds in the area. The refuge and lighthouse are closed on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays, but you can still enjoys the views even if you cannot access the main facilities.

The Kong Lung Market Square is a nice stop to hunt for a souvenir or a snack along the access road.


Reservations are required to visit Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where the Kilauea Lighthouse is located. Bookings open 60 days prior and advance bookings are mandatory, reservations typically sellout one week prior. Visit recreation.gov for more information and to make a reservation.

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Kokee State Park

Extend your drive beyond Waimea Canyon to enter Kokee State Park and complete the journey to the end of the road. The Kalalau Lookout is the most famous, and if the clouds are kind, you’ll have a superb view all the way down a scenic Na Pali valley down to the ocean. The very last viewpoint is Puu O Kila, and also has magnificent views, though it offers different aspects.

The Kokee Natural Museum is a small rustic facility that holds treasures from the region and also displays about the natural environment. It’s worth a stop and snacks are available here.

The park is open daily, just bear in mind that there’s a small fee for entry.

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Kauai’s most historical area and its center of commercial activity is Lihue and Nawiliwili. These are great places to experience authentic Hawaiian history and some uniquely Kauaian food. There is a family-friendly, calm public beach called Kalapaki, in front of the Marriott.

Follow the tour and continue past the cruise ship terminal to visit the Menehune Fish Pond, built by legendary ancient Hawaiians.

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Monk Seals

Different cultures across the world refer to them as ‘dogs of the sea’ and the Hawaiian translation loosely reflects that for native Hawaiian monk seals. Kauai is the best of the islands to see them and Poipu Beach as well as the coves along the North Shore near places like Tunnels Beach are common places to spot them. Seals drag themselves up onto the beach to rest after feeding and to avoid predators in the water.

As a protected and endangered species it’s important to give them space and obey any signage. If you don’t, it’s a sure way to anger locals, other tourists and attract a hefty fine.

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Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park

The world-famous Na Pali Coast is a must-see while you’re in Kauai. Na Pali translates to “the cliffs” in Olelo Hawaii, or the Hawaiian language. You can check it out by air in a helicopter or by sea on a boat, but there’s nothing quite like feeling the aina (land) underneath your feet at the state wilderness park in the island’s northwestern region.

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In order to access Na Pali, you must pass through Haena State Park where reservations are required. It offers limited parking, with entry pass reservations that are snapped up quickly. A more convenient alternative: the round-trip shuttle, which runs every 20 minutes daily.

Camping permits are a hot commodity, especially in the summer, so plan accordingly. 

The bold can enjoy the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park by embarking on the difficult, 22-mile (35-kilometer) Kalalau Trail. Even if just hiking a short section of the trail, be sure to bring drinking water, you can easily become dehydrated under the Hawaiian sun and trail snacks. And plan ahead, as you won’t find cell service in the park. Other dangers include falling rocks, flash floods, high surf and strong currents, so make sure to pay proper respect to nature.


Due to the extremely limited parking availability, you must either reserve a parking space or make a shuttle booking online to access Haena State Park, including Na Pali. Bookings open 30 days prior and schedules may vary, visit gohaena.com for more information and to make a reservation.

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Poipu is the most popular resort area on Kauai’s South Shore, partly because its location dodges most of the wet weather that is generated by the island’s volcanic mountains. But also, there are three of the island’s best sandy beaches all side by side: Kiahuna Beach, Poipu Beach Park and Shipwreck Beach.

Climb onto the headland of Makahuena Point for the views. Or continue westwards along the beaches for Spouting Horn blowhole. Poipu also has excellent dining and shopping options.

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Princeville is the largest resort area on the northern shore of Kauai and sits on a headland overlooking Hanalei Bay. It’s home to some of the region’s best hotel properties, restaurants and golfing.

Hideaway Beach is a nice little cove to explore, but the path is steep and tricky, and be very careful of the ocean conditions. Princeville acts as a base for exploring the rest of the North Shore.

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Spouting Horn

Follow the shoreline for a few minutes west from Poipu to visit Kauai’s best known blowhole. Watch Spouting Horn shoot a tower of water up to 50 feet (15 meters) into the air through a natural lava tube.

There is is a large carpark and viewpoint to the blowhole or perhaps catch sight of humpback whales during December to May, and a great marketplace operates at this location each day.

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Tree Tunnel

500 Eucalyptus Trees create an impressive gateway to Kauai’s South Shore. You’ll drive though the Tree Tunnel as you approach the town of Koloa, on your way to Poipu. Originally gifted to the community in 1911 by pineapple plantation owner Walter McBryde, they even survived Hurricane Iniki’s (1992) highest winds of 145 mph (230 kph).

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Wailua Falls

Located just an easy 10-minute drive from the heart of Lihue is the most recognized waterfall in Kauai. Two streams of water drop dramatically over a 80-foot (24-meter) drop. There’s no need to hike, the best view is right from the parking area.

Photo Tip: Arrive early in the morning to capture rainbows beaming out of the waterfall mist.

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Waimea Canyon State Park

On your trip, you shouldn’t miss witnessing the natural beauty of Waimea Canyon in Waimea Canyon State Park nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. It’s the ideal spot for sightseeing, followed by a picnic lunch. You can even get a glance of the island of Niihau, which is predominantly closed to visitors. If you’re in the mood for a hike, then you’ve got two choices in the state park: the easy Iliau Nature Loop and, for those looking for a challenge, the difficult Kukui Trail. 

If you find yourself with a little time on your hands, then pop by Kokee Lodge for a meal, a cocktail, a souvenir – and a chance to see the chickens pecking around outside.

Located on the island’s west side, the state park is best visited by driving yourself. If you are prone to motion sickness on mountain-type drives, using your preferred motion sickness preventative medicine could help keep your day a positive one. The park is open daily, just keep in mind that there’s a small fee for entry.

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Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Best Hikes

Koloa Heritage Trail

If you like the idea of getting your exercise on a hike that takes more than a half day, then the ‎Koloa Heritage Trail, or Ka Ala Hele Waiwai Hooilina o Koloa, might be a great option for you. The 10-mile (16-kilometer) trail takes you on a self-guided tour of Kauai’s South Shore, winding past 14 stops of historical significance throughout Koloa and Poipu. Several include Puuwanawana Volcanic Cone, Prince Kuhio Birthplace & Park and Spouting Horn Park, where you’ll watch a blowhole spout ocean water on the coast. So, bring your best walking shoes, a hat and plenty of water and snacks. There’s lots to see!

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Mahaulepu Heritage Trail

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail in Koloa counts as a moderate hike that spans close to four miles (6.4-kilometers), starting at Shipwreck Beach before heading to Mahaulepu Beach. Set aside about two hours to do this route where you’ll pass by beautiful natural landscapes dotted with cliffs and tidal ponds. It’s considered dog-friendly and a good choice for families.

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Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant) Trail

The Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant) Trail in Kapaa is a challenging three-mile (4.8-kilometer) trail that will leave you breathless – from both from climbing the hill and the views. It’s one of three trails in the area, so you’ve got your pick once you arrive. But hikers tend to choose the Nounou Mountain (Sleeping Giant) Trail for the Hawaiian forest that surrounds them as they climb and the perspective from the top of the summit. Make sure to research whether you’re in for muddy conditions, so you don’t drench your sneakers!

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Cultural Experiences

Limahuli Garden & Preserve

Explore a Hawaiian valley dating back at least 1,500 years at the Limahuli Garden & Preserve in Hanalei. If you love nature, you won’t want to miss the chance to see a number of endangered plants and birds that only call this valley home, and everyone will leave with a better understanding of ancient Hawaii. Visitors traverse a trail that stretches less than one mile, enjoying stunning views throughout their walk.

Limahilu Garden gives visitors the option to do a self-guided tour that takes a minimum of 1.5 hours or a guided tour that spans at least 2.5 hours. Fees apply to both tours but reservations are only required for the guided tour option and visitors will receive a discount for using the North Shore Shuttle to access the location. 

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Hikinaakala Heiau

Step into a sacred place when you visit this National Historic Landmark in the Wailua River State Park: the Hikinaakala Heiau, which is part of a collective known as the Wailua Complex of Heiau. 

Heiau served as temples where ancient Hawaiians worshiped, and, at the Hikinaakala Heiau, they’d celebrate the rising sun through prayer. Today, you can still see petroglyphs, along with preserved sites that harken back centuries: the Pohaku Hoohanau, or the royal birthing stone, the Luakini Heiau, or sacrificial temple and more.

And you’re in luck: Wailua River State Park doesn’t charge an entrance fee for visitors. 

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Kauai Museum

Opened in 1960, the Kauai Museum in Lihue educates others on Hawaiian culture through its displays of historical artifacts and seasonal exhibits. Royal buffs are in luck: it offers plenty to learn about the Hawaiian alii, or noble rulers. Depending on the timing of your visit, you might feast your eyes on rare shell leis from Niihau or a collection of Hawaiian quilts. The museum offers weekly classes to both its members and the public, including haku lei making, painting, weaving, hula and feather making.

The museum is open every day except Sunday, and admission fees apply.

Awesome Experiences

Na Pali Boat Tour

Viewing the incredible peaks, ridges and valleys of Na Pali from the ocean is an unforgettable experience.  There are several operators that have makes for options of different tours lengths and types of boats.  Liko Kauai Cruises is worth a special mention in that the operation is by a native Hawaiian born family with deep historical roots, providing insight to see Na Pali “through Hawaiian eyes. ” 

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Helicopter Tours

Seeing Kauai and the magnificent geology of Na Pali and Waimea Canyon is incredible from land and water, but viewing from the air on a helicopter ride takes things up to a new level of exhilaration. Flight times are typically just under an hour and do a nice loop of the island, but pay particular interest to the most magnificent areas of the island including waterfalls thousands of feet tall and steep mountains sculpted by volcanoes and rain. 

There are a number of operators, flying different machines, and you can even choose whether you want a doors-on or doors-off experience! Once again, special mention for Epic Hawaii Adventures, as it is owned and operated by Native Hawaiians.

It’s true that helicopter sightseeing is an expensive sightseeing option and isn’t in everyone’s budget. But of all the islands to take the splurge and do it, Kauai would be our number one pick for the unbelievable terrain you will experience.

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Kauai has a number of surf schools ready to teach you how to build your ocean confidence and ride the waves. Most schools teach on soft-top surfboards in calm conditions. Don’t blame us if you get hooked on surfing.

If surfing isn’t for you, then why not give stand up paddle boarding a try? You can even take advantage of SUP delivery service to bring you a rental board if you’re staying on the North Shore.

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Best Beaches

Poipu Beach Park

Spend your day soaking up the sun at Poipu Beach Park in Koloa on the island’s South Shore. Under the watchful eyes of lifeguards, you can swim, snorkel, surf and more at this beach park. Although you’ll find free parking, it’s liable to get crowded on weekends with both tourists and kamaaina (residents).

The park is a great opportunity to spot animals in their element, with Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles and even humpback whales swimming by to say aloha. Keep yourself and the wildlife safe by admiring them from a distance – and never touch them, no matter how cute they are.

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Makua Beach (Tunnels Beach)

If you’re looking for a more remote beach experience, then Makua Beach is a prime choice. Also called Tunnels Beach, its nickname is due to underwater lava tubes in the reefs where sea life abounds, contributing to this spot’s reputation for incredible snorkeling. On the island’s North Shore, this beach is one you might recognize from photographs, as it’s often captured in pictures as a place where the sea and mountains meet. 

You won’t find any amenities at Makua Beach, but you can take in its natural beauty from the handmade swings. A small parking lot is located nearby at Haena Beach Park, but be prepared to face challenges finding a space. 


Due to the extremely limited parking availability, you must either reserve a parking space or make a shuttle booking online to access Haena State Park, including Makua Beach. Bookings open 30 days prior and schedules may vary, visit gohaena.com for more information and to make a reservation.

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Hanalei Beach

There’s no better place to enjoy the splendor of Hanalei Bay on Kauai’s North Shore than from Hanalei Beach. Because of its sheer size, it’s typically uncrowded. The beach includes facilities like bathrooms, fish cleaning stations and a pier. You can also visit nearby Hanalei Town to enjoy a community that dates back to ancient Hawaii, but has maintained its rural charms. If you’re looking for a snack, then you won’t find major fast food chains, but plenty of local spots like Hanalei Bread Company and Hanalei Taro & Juice Co.

At Hanalei Beach, you’ve got a limited window for swimming – typically the summer months – because winter sometimes leads to unsafe conditions in the water. But it’s a good spot to learn to surf or tackle big waves.

Anini Beach

There are several excellent beaches to explore between Kapaa and Princeville and Anini Beach is one of the best, with a sandy shoreline and water that is almost always calm. There are shady trees to help you enjoy a longer day at the beach too. Anahola and Moloaa are other beaches in this section of the island that also normally provide protection from the open ocean.

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Best Sunset Spots

Shipwreck Beach

Named after – you guessed it – a shipwreck, Shipwreck Beach in Poipu offers an ideal vantage point to watch the sun sink below the horizon from the top of a 40-foot (12-meter) cliff. There, you’ll witness ke alaula, or the light of the sunset. You may also watch as brave souls dive down into the ocean below because it’s a local spot for cliff jumping, in spite of the signs warning of danger. However, if you’re afraid of heights, then the beach below might be a better option. 

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Kalalau Lookout

Take in the most breathtaking sunset at Kalalau Lookout in Kokee State Park. You’ll drive for close to an hour along a scenic route to the point, which rises thousands of feet above Kalalau Valley on the island’s northwest side. It’s a place where the hues of the landscape are seemingly amplified in Technicolor. Pack a jacket because it’s slightly chillier that high up, with ever changing winds. The lookout area also offers prime hiking opportunities, so pack your boots or sneakers – and be wary of loose dirt.

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Kekaha Beach Park

On the island’s west side, Kekaha Beach Park is a place where you’ll be able to watch the day turn to dusk in relative privacy. It’s a quiet spot to contemplate, with the added bonus of seeing the sun set over Niihau in the distance. Although lifeguards are on duty at the beach, it’s recommended that only experienced swimmers and surfers take on the strong waves here.

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Kauai, Hawaii with GuideAlong Driving Tour App

Local Food You Have To Try


Musubi counts as the quintessential snack food of Hawaii, fitting perfectly in your hand for a snack on the go. Its ingredients are simple: a base of rice, typically topped with a thick, glazed slice of Spam, yes Spam, and wrapped in nori, or seaweed. Dip it in some shoyu – soy sauce – for the full flavor experience, giving preference to Hawaiian brand, Aloha Shoyu Co., of course. 

Rumored as the creation of Kauai woman Barbara Funamura, musubi’s humble beginnings as a lunchbox staple mean its best iterations can be found at roadside snack shacks all over the island. So, if you find yourself feeling peckish while you adventure, be brave and try one, or two.  

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Shave Ice

You’ve likely heard of the frozen sweet treat craved during the summer throughout the US – snowballs, also called snow cones. Let us introduce you to its island cousin, Hawaii’s shave ice. What makes it unique from others is in its name: the ice is shaved, then flavored with syrups of your choosing. 

On a warm day, stop by Old Koloa Town to visit Koloa Mill Ice Cream & Coffee to try Hawaiian flavors like guava and lilikoi, or passionfruit. And don’t shy away from adding the sweet, soft red azuki beans as a topping to your cup. Shave Ice shack are everywhere!

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Haupia Pie

Join Hawaiians in falling in the love with the distinct purple color of purple sweet potato haupia pie. Called uala in Hawaiian, the purple sweet potato is also referred to as the Okinawan sweet potato. It’s been considered a staple food since ancient times.

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The Haupia part – a coconut pudding – also calls back to tradition. Combine them together for a hearty dessert to savor by the spoonful. Stop by Koloa Fish Market in Poipu for a plate lunch and piece of haupia pie as a midday meal. Speaking of which…

Plate Lunch

There’s nothing more Hawaiian than a plate lunch. And trust us – you’ll be full until dinner time. A standard plate lunch is as follows: a couple scoops of white rice, a scoop of mac salad (macaroni salad) and an entree. 

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Koloa Fish Market in Poipu is known for its kalua pig, which is shredded pork, and lau lau, or pork cooked in luau and ti leaves. Another reliable option: L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, a chain established in Honolulu that operates four locations on Kauai and many more throughout the islands and the continent. Its menu includes plate lunches with chicken katsu, fried shrimp and loco moco. What’s loco moco, you ask?

Loco Moco

Loco moco is a dish of layers: rice at the bottom, then a hamburger patty, with a fried egg at the top. But the pièce de résistance is the brown gravy, which drowns the dish. No one’s 100% sure who created this dish, but most accounts point to teenage boys with a specific hankering at a Hilo, Hawaii, diner in the 1940s. As with most Hawaiian fare, it’s stick-to-your-ribs filling, so be prepared to bring leftovers back to the hotel.

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Guava Bread

Guava bread is a sweet, moist bread that’s guaranteed to start your day off right. It features – you guessed it – guava, incorporating it into the batter as a paste, juice or concentrate depending on the recipe. The island’s Portuguese immigrants who worked on the plantations are often credited with creating the baked good. And you’re in luck if you’re staying at the Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu because guava bread is sold at the hotel’s store on the main floor.


Poi has persisted as a Hawaiian staple since ancient times, rivalling rice as a major carb. The finished product looks like a purple pudding, but it starts as kalo, or taro root. Farmers have grown kalo in swampy patches similar to rice paddies for more than 1,000 years in Hawaii. Poi is still traditionally pounded into a paste. Although it tastes bland initially, locals vary in how they like to eat it as a side dish: hot or cold, sweet or seasoned, even just plain.

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Many cultures enjoy their own version of noodle soup. The quintessential Hawaiian noodle soup is Saimin. It draws on a variety of different Asian flavors all beginning with springy wheat-egg noodles and a dashi-based broth. Topping will vary and are customizable, add eggs, fish cakes, char siu, and yes – even Spam.

For a true, authentic Saimin on Kauai, head to Hamura’s in Lihue, and pull up a seat with the locals and pick your bowl size.  Insider tip: if you still have room, finish with a slice of lilikoi chiffon pie.

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Kauai Packing List

Swimwear: The majority of your suitcase should be bikinis, one-pieces and swim trunks to enjoy Kauai’s beautiful beaches – or even just your hotel pool. And you can’t go wrong with packing a beach towel, just in case your accommodations are lacking. The standard Hawaiian uniform is swimwear, a cover-up and some “slippahs” – local slang for flip-flops – because you never know when you’ll come across the opportunity to take a dip. You’ll also thank yourself for packing a wet bag for your soaked garments in advance when your luggage doesn’t smell like mildew upon your return home.

Other Clothing: When the rare occasion arises to change out of your swimsuit, you’ll want some comfortable clothes to don before seeking out your next Mai Tai. Casual is the name of the game here. While Kauai is home to a few fine restaurants where you can dress up, you’ll do just fine for most of your trip with a few pairs of shorts, tank tops, t-shirts and a sundress or two. A jacket can be helpful for hikers who plan to hit some high-elevation trails. Don’t forget some pajamas to cozy up in.

Footwear: In Hawaii, they are called “rubbah’ slippahs”… elsewhere, “flip-flops” or “zoris.” Whatever you call them, “pack ‘em if you got ‘em.” If not, look to buy some when you arrive. You’ll have about a zillion choices. If you are planning some hikes, well, you know what to do. Just be assured that your feet will get wet. And of course, throw in a pair of sneakers or hiking shoes if hiking is on your Kauai activity list.

Sun Protection: If you heed any advice on the packing list, then let it be this one: your skin is an organ, so you should protect it like any other. Expect to get lots of sunshine on this trip, and prepare accordingly. Pack a floppy hat or baseball cap. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses for UV protection. And most importantly, invest in a quality sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or above and doesn’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. The last part is crucial – Hawaii maintains a strict ban against those chemicals to protect the ocean and coral reefs that you’re enjoying in Kauai. Respect the environment and local rules by examining the ingredients list of your sunscreen before spraying.

Cash: Because Kauai is a predominantly rural island, it’s best to keep your US dollars on hand. You’ll be fine to pay with cards within most of the resort areas, but, if you plan to take any excursions throughout the rest of the island, then cash is king.

Phone Charger: If you’re taking pictures with your phone, running out of batteries may result in missed opportunities. A DC car charger is best, so that you can charge your phone while driving.

Wet Bag: Hawaii banned plastic bags a while back, so it’s handy to have something to throw your wet beach gear, muddy trail shoes, or if you’re like us – to pick up any trash that you might find along your journeys.

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Top Tips for Kauai

  • Kee Beach, Haena Beach and Kalalau Trail to Na Pali Reservations: Due to the extremely limited parking availability, you must either reserve a parking space or use the shuttle service to access these superb areas at the northern end of the Kuhio Highway. Bookings open 30 days prior and schedules may vary, visit gohaena.com for more information and to make a reservation.
  • Kilauea Lighthouse Reservations: Reservations are now required to visit Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where the Kilauea Lighthouse is located. Bookings open 60 days prior and advance bookings are mandatory, reservations typically sellout one week prior. Visit recreation.gov for more information and to make a reservation. Lighthouse tours are suspended from time to time and it's always a good idea to check and book in advance.
  • Waimea Canyon Timing: As the prevalent afternoon trade winds pick up, clouds form in the high lookout areas. It is not predictable, but in general, visiting Waimea Canyon and the incredible Kalalau Lookout is best in the morning - before clouds begin to generate. No guarantees of course, but chances of those perfect clear views are best in the morning. But no reason not to visit in the afternoons if that's your only option.
  • Channel the Aloha Spirit: While you’re in Kauai, live by the aloha spirit bringing kindness, pleasantry, humility, patience and harmony to every interaction. Maybe you’ll even bring the island’s positivity back home!
  • Embrace “Malama Aina”: In Hawaiian, this translates to “care for the land.” While you’re on Kauai, it would suit you well to take this saying to heart as a guest. Leave no trace in any area you visit, use reef-safe sunscreen to protect the ocean and enjoy wildlife from an appropriate distance.
  • Respect Pele’s Curse: Legend says that Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the volcanoes, lightning and fire, brings bad luck to anyone who takes lava rocks or sand from Hawaii. This ties into the “malama ‘aina” philosophy, as the islands’ resources are limited and must be protected. Instead, take photographs and buy keepsakes from local artisans.
  • Bring Cash: In case you find yourself in a rural community that doesn’t accept cards, be prepared by keeping cash on hand.
  • Remember Island Time: Once you land in Kauai, you’re officially on island time, which means that minutes, hours and days move a little slower. Leave behind your preconceived notions about lateness, and forgive and forget if your reservation starts five minutes late.
  • Try New Foods: Musubi, plate lunch, loco moco, poi - these may be unfamiliar foods, but they’re worth a try. One of the best ways to experience a culture is through its cuisine. You could find a new favorite dish in the process.
  • Listen To “Kapu” Warning Signs: “Kapu,” the Hawaiian word for “forbidden,” dates back to ancient Hawaii. While the kapu system once existed as a spiritual code of conduct, you’ll still encounter the word today in Kauai to tell you to keep out of a certain place. Don’t venture beyond those signs, as you’re likely entering private property.
  • Support Local: Whenever possible, try to support local businesses like restaurants and stores. As a guest on a centuries-old island with costs continually rising for residents, it’s common courtesy to try to keep income from tourism within Kauai, which helps locals afford to live in their homes for generations to come.