The Garden Island: Kauai Travel Guide

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If Switzerland and Costa Rica had a baby, it would definitely look like Kauai. Dramatic cliffs covered in greenery, mixed with beautiful beaches, canyons, skyscraper palm trees, and perfect weather year-round, makes Kauai one of my favorite places in the world. Kauai is Hawaii’s fourth largest island and is also known as the Garden Island. In this post I’ll be breaking down: what to do, where to eat, where to stay, when to go, and how to get there. Enjoy!

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What to do:

Hanalei - farmers market, little shops, Waioli Huiia Church, shaved ice & more.

Waimea Canyon - Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. This giant canyon is over 10 miles long, and located on the western side of Kauai. Drive all the way up to the top for an incredible view of the island. You can even see part of the Na Pali Coast with just a short hike after reaching the top :) The main road, Waimea Canyon Drive, leads you to Kokee State Park, where you can then choose a hike that will take you to the best views. Along the way, there are several look out points where you can pullover and get out to take pictures :)

*Check the weather and try to go on a clear day. The drive up can take a bit of time.

View from the top of Waimea Canyon

View from the top of Waimea Canyon

Beaches:

  • Hanalei Bay - a pretty beach, surrounded by lush green hills.

  • Poipu - a popular, and sunny beach located on the south side of the island.

  • Anini - one of my favorite beaches! Plenty of parking and great for snorkeling.

  • Tunnels - another really great beach for snorkeling. This beach has a lot of corral, but parking is hard to find.

  • Glass Beach - underwhelming, but still a neat place to check out. The beach is filled with little pieces of glass and pebbles.

Glass Beach

Glass Beach

Shop this look  here !

Shop this look here!

Monk Seal at Poipu Beach

Monk Seal at Poipu Beach

Waioli Huiia Church - the most gorgeous church located in Hanalei. This historic Christian church is made up of stain glass windows and placed directly in front of a jaw-dropping background. My family and I went there for a Christmas Eve service and it was a magical memory made together.

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Luau - a traditional Hawaiian feast with Hula dancing. *I haven’t been to a luau, but would like to go in the future.

ADVENTURE:

Snorkeling - Kauai has some amazing snorkeling, and you are almost guaranteed to see a sea turtle. The last time I was in Kauai, I saw 6 sea turtles! For sea turtles, I suggest Tunnels Beach and Anini Beach. For fish and beginner snorkeling I would recommend Poipu. Many of the fish are fed in Poipu, which is a big reason for why there’s so many. When it comes to snorkel gear, you can either bring your own, or rent some on the island. Snorkel Bob’s is an affordable shop where you can rent snorkel gear for the day, days or week. You can also buy your own snorkel gear on Amazon!
*Be mindful of the current when snorkeling! This is very important. Watch the weather and look for strong tide warnings.

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Na Pali Coast - of all the things on this list, this is by far my number one! The Na Pali Coast is incredible and is a must-see. There are several ways to see it, including: a helicopter ride, boat ride or hike. You cannot access the Na Pali Coast by car, which makes it more unique and keeps it somewhat untouched. Many people take the 4 mile roundtrip hike. This is what I have always done and is also what I recommend. Not only is the hike free, but it also comes with stunning views along the way.

Here are a few tips when it comes to the Na Pali Coast Hike:

  • Get there early: this will help you get a parking spot and beat the crowds on the trail.

  • Wear shoes that you can get wet: there are several parts of the hike that are muddy have a small river to cross or stream that flows down.

  • Bring snacks and water!

  • Stop along the way to take in the view: The best view on this hike is not when you reach your destination, but what you see along the way.

  • 2 miles will get you to a small beach that is only reachable via foot or boat.

Na Pali Coast!

Na Pali Coast!

Waterfalls - Wailua Falls, Mount Waialeale, Hanakapiai Falls, Opaeka'a Falls and more.

Queen’s Bath - a hidden gem located in Princeville. Queen’s Bath is a sinkhole, surrounded by jagged rock that fills up with salt water from ocean waves. A short and slippery hike is required in order to reach the bath, but is well worth it. *You must be cautious when going to see it! Many deaths have happened due to high tide and people being swept away or thrown into the rocks. Swim at your own risk. The first time we visited, the tide was low and we were able to swim, but second time was completely different. There was high tide and waves were crashing over the rocks, making the bath very dangerous.

Queen’s Bath low tide

Queen’s Bath low tide

Queen’s Bath high tide

Queen’s Bath high tide

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Where to Stay:

Kaua'i Marriott Resort - located on the south side, this gorgeous hotel has it all. As soon as you arrive you will receive a warm welcome and a drink or drink ticket. *Get the Mai Tai! The resort is huge and includes 5 restaurants and bars, one of the largest outdoor pools in Hawaii, sand volleyball, cabanas, the beach, fitness center and more. The resort is located right on the beach and gets 5/5 stars from me :)

St. Regis Princeville - if I could stay anywhere in Kauai, it would be here. Unfortunately, my budget has not allowed this to happen yet, but hopefully someday! This luxurious resort is perched above Hanalei Bay and located on the north side.

*Insider tip – go down to the beach from St. Regis, and walk along the shore. By far the most beautiful beach view in all of Kauai.

Wyndham Timeshare - Kauai has quite a few timeshare resorts. The two I have been to are: Shearwater and Bali Hai. Both places were located in Princeville and the layout was condo style.


North Shore vs South Shore

North Shore:

  • Waves are much more extreme in the winter.

  • Views are incredible.

  • Close to Queens bath.

  • Close to many of the best beaches in Kauai.

  • Near the start of the Na Pali Coast hike and Na Pali Coast

  • Less rain in the summer and more rain in the winter

South Shore:

  • Less rain in the winter and more rain in the summer.

  • Close to Waimea Canyon

  • More hotels to choose from

  • Closer to the airport

  • Near Spouting Horn

Kauai Marriott Resort

Kauai Marriott Resort

St. Regis Princeville Beach

St. Regis Princeville Beach

Eats & DRINKS:

The Dolphin – amazing sushi and some of the freshest seafood I’ve ever had.

Shaved Ice - a Kauai staple. This isn’t the chunky kind of shaved ice that you get on the mainland. Instead, it’s made with some of the finest ice shavings, and mixed with pure and organic, fruit and flavors. Here are a few places to try:

Farmers Market – there are several different farmers markets in Kauai, but my favorite is in Hanalei. The Hanalei farmers market is open every Saturday from 9:30 AM - Noon. You will find local vendors, live music, fresh fruit and much more.

*A must try at the farmers market is the fresh coconut!

St. Regis - if you can’t afford to stay at St. Regis, you should definitely visit their bar and/or restaurant! The bar is indoor/outdoor and gives you an absolutely stunning view. *If you get a bottle of champagne, you can request to pop it open with a knife

Brennecke’s Beach Broiler - a yummy bar and restaurant with a rooftop bar, located on the south side of the island.

There are tons of other amazing restaurants, but these are my current faves!

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#views at the St. Regis bar

#views at the St. Regis bar


When to Go:

Anytime! Kauai seems to literally have the most perfect weather 365 days a year. Some say the actual best time to go is from April - September, but I’ve always gone in December and the weather has been great.

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How to get there:

I’ve always flown, but there are also cruises that go to several of the islands. The airport you fly into is called Lihue. Many times, our flight will stop in Honolulu and then we will get on a smaller plane that takes you to Lihue.

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