A Kauai Travel Guide for your next dream vacation.
We’ve only been back on the mainland for four days now but I couldn’t help but get started on this Kauai travel guide right away.
Guys… The place was MAGICAL. So magical I am already thinking about our next Hawaii trip. Kauai seems to be one of those places people keep coming back to and I can totally see why.
I should mention during the planning process I got a little overwhelmed with all of the details of planning a trip to Hawaii. I knew we wanted to go to Kauai but I literally knew nothing about it. All of the different options of places to stay and locations plus prices comparisons and whatnot got my head spinning. So in the end we ended up using a travel agent (Tammy’s Glorious Getaways) who helped us book our hotel and other activities.
But before I start with Kauai I suppose I should mention we actually started our 10 day trip on Oahu. We stayed in Waikiki and did the touristy things – Diamond Head Hike, Hanauma Bay, Pearl Harbor and Waikiki. We also rented a car for one day to explore more of the east shore and north shore of Oahu. Read: Mr. FMK and I desperately needed to get out of the hustle and bustle of Waikiki.
I didn’t expect Honolulu to be so busy but Waikiki felt like 5th Avenue in New York City, except with palm trees and add (a lot) more hotels very close to one another. If you’re the shopping type, Honolulu/Waikiki is the place for you. However, if you’re more into laid back beaches and relaxing I’d say go to the east end of the island (Kailua) or North Shore and check out Haleiwa.
After we left Oahu we were on Kauai for six days and man do I wish we were there longer. We rented a car on Kauai which allowed us to explore ALLLL of the island so I’ve got plenty of details on where to stay depending on what kind of activities you have planned or your travel style.
Where to Stay
- Westin in Princeville – this is where Drew and I stayed. Staying on the north shore was recommended by several people on Instagram so I had that area stuck in my head when chatting with Tammy. I also knew we wanted accommodations with a kitchen so we had the option to cook some meals versus going out every single meal for the 6 days we were there. The Westin was really a lovely hotel and the staff there were great. Plus the views from the cliffside were really pretty. There were quite a few families there which made sense with the villa-style rooms they offered.
- Hanalei Colony Resort – We passed by this on our way to the Kalalau Trail (more on that later) and thought it looked like another nice option for North shore accommodations. We actually spent a lot of time in Hanalei so I could see us staying somewhere similar to this or even checking out an Airbnb somewhere close by as well.
- Courtyard by Marriott, Kapa’a – A pretty standard hotel option but decent price and good location for traveling to the north or south shores of the island. Just a little south of downtown Kapa’a.
- Marriott Kauai Lagoons, Lihue – Villa style resort that is part of the Marriott Vacation Club (timeshare) but you have the option to book rooms as you would like a normal hotel. Convenient location to getting to South Shore.
- Grand Hyatt, Poipu – This is possibly where we would have stayed had we wanted to be on the South Shore. This has a nice beach close by called Shipwreck’s Beach where people jump some of the cliffs into the water. There is also a cool trail right by as well.
- Kiahuna Plantation & The Beach Bungalows, Poipu – Another nice option really close to everything in Poipu. This area seemed very kid-friendly but also kind of busy.
- Waimea Plantation Cottages – I came across these in a search but we heard a couple on one of our sea tours say they had rented a cabin in the canyon for a couple nights. I am not sure I would stay at these plantation cottages the entire time but if you’re looking to explore this side of the island or do a canyon hike, this could be an option.
Things to keep in mind
- Weather – Ultimately the weather was sunnier and less overcast down on the South shore. I found myself being the weather girl, checking the forecast hour by hour looking for the sun. If you’re the type of person that must have the sun on this type of vacation, you may want to stay close to the South Shore. The weather changes quickly on the North Shore but often times sunny mornings would lend themselves to cloudy skies in the afternoon. A couple different days we made a plan to venture down to the East and South shore to do some beach hopping because of the weather forecast. But even on days that they called for overcast skies on the North Shore we’d great breaks of sun.
- Activities planned – What kinds of excursions you have planned may determine where you want to stay on the island. For example Drew and I had two days in a row where we were driving all the way from Princeville (north shore) down to Port Allen (south shore) which was an hour and 10 minute drive at 6am. We didn’t mind the driving as it was a nice way to see the island and get familiar with everything but they did make for longs days. And only two days into our stay on Kauai and we were exhausted. But if you plan to stay on the north shore a majority of the time or have a Napali Coast hike planned, finding accommodations in Hanalei would be your best bet.
What to do
Napali Coast Snorkel & Rafting Adventure
We couldn’t get a ton of pictures here because the swells were so big so you really had to hold on to the boat. Pictures don’t do this place justice anyhow.
We booked our trip through Tammy/Funjet and went with Kauai Sea Tours (in Port Allen). Sean, Jamie and Colin were our guides and they made the trip absolutely incredible. We did a little bit of snorkeling but because of the conditions we couldn’t do all of the snorkeling in the normal spots they go to. However we still had an amazing time seeing the Napali Coast from the water. It was stunning.
Oh AND we saw whales in a few different spots (!!) Sean and Jamie had said it had been a long time since they had seen that many whales plus breaches so we felt pretty special. Some bottlenose dolphins came up close to the raft and we also spotted a few sea turtles in another spot close to the Napali coast. Just seeing the wildlife on that tour was amazing.
Side note: Don’t book a whale watching tour. Just do something like this instead and you have a better chance of seeing the whales.
Kalalau Trail on the Napali Coast
The Kalalau Trail is an 11 mile trail along the Napali Coast. It is known to be one of the most dangerous hikes there is.
But the beginning of the trail is completely safe for beginners so don’t fret 🙂
To get to the trail you’ll essentially take road 560 all the way until it ends, at Ke’e Beach. There is parking about 1/4 mile back from the beach. Once you get down to the beach you’ll see signs for the Napali Coast Wilderness State Park. This is where you’ll do the two mile hike up and then down to Hanakapi`ai Beach.
From Hanakapi`ai Beach you can hike another two miles in to view a waterfall. Drew and I did not do this as the river was very high already and the trail very slippery. The bottom of our legs were covered in mud.
I believe after the waterfall you’re required to obtain a permit. This is also where the hike gets fairly strenuous so do your research before venturing on.
Some notes about the hike
Wear a rain coat – you can always take it off but I have a feeling it rains a lot on the trail.
Wear good shoes – I’d suggest keens or hiking boots. If the conditions are dry you’re likely good to go with Keens. But if it’s wet I’d suggest hiking boots with good socks. I wore my keens and with the trail being super wet, let’s just say I’ve never seen my feet so wrinkly in my entire life. I was legit concerned.
Wear a hat – whether it’s raining or the sun is shining a hat is always a good option. It protects your face from the sun and the rain from hitting your eyes.
All the Beaches
This is where a car is nice. Drew and I counted how many beaches we checked out and it was easily at least 15 beaches. His map said 19 but some spots were possibly counted twice. My favorite beaches were along the north shore but there were some nice ones along the south shore as well.
I had a few (okay, several) favorite beaches so here they are…
A great place to view the sunset with the cliffs in the background.
Nice big beach with pier to check out sunset.
Nice long big beach with easy parking.
This beach had really cool rocks. Maybe not the best for swimming but the weather wasn’t the best for us while we were there so we only did swimming on the big beaches.
Beach access from the St. Regis. Really neat views.
(Hideaways beach was right here too but the weather wasn’t great that day so we decided not to hike down.)
Right next to the Grand Hyatt. The day we were here it was quite warm and actually got in some good swimming with the waves. Just watch out for surfers…
Salt Pond Park
Easy parking with bathrooms and lifeguard. This is where we saw a sea turtle laying her eggs!!
Hard to get to for parking but a neat little spot.
Not to mention ATV or zip lining if that’s your kind of thing. Also helicopter tours. There are also several hiking trails we didn’t get to, as well as loads of other sea tours.
We didn’t get to all of the places I had hope to but we did get to several. Some of the stops weren’t planned and just kind of last minute eats. If I am being completely honest the food was just alright. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t out-of-this-world amazing either. I’ll note my favorites with *
Tiki Tacos – Kapa’a (East)
We stopped here on our way in from the airport for some lunch. The tacos were really big and I could have easily gone with one but ordered two and couldn’t eat it all.
*Java Kai – Kapa’a (East)
I just love this place because the building is turquoise…
Okay that wasn’t the only reason. They had some bangin’ banana bread and made a lovely macadamia nut latte.
*The Fresh Bite Food Truck – Hanalei Bay (North Shore)
Kalypso – Hanalei Bay (North Shore)
Kind of typical bar food but we both liked what we got! I got the pork sandwich and Drew got an ahi sandwich.
Tahiti Hui – Hanalei Bay (North Shore)
We ate dinner here instead of Bar Acuda. I had the crusted mahi with purple mashed potatoes and it was pretty good!
Hanalaei Bread Company (North Shore)
We had a good pesto pizza here as an early lunch one day.
*Da Crack – Koloa (South Shore)
Delicious huge stuffed burrito. Think Chipotle but local with good flavors
*Anake Juice Co – Koloa (South shore)
In this little market next to Da Crack. I got a fresh pressed juice here. It was good!
We actually ate several dinners in at our hotel because we didn’t feel like eating out every meal. Also it saves some money (duh). So we mainly did most breakfasts in and some homemade dinners at the hotel. I kind of wish we would have ventured out for more breakfasts but ah well.
Side note: if you stay on Oahu, Goofy’s Cafe has an amazing brunch menu. As does Sweet E’s Cafe. Oh and definitely check out Leonards for malasadas (Portuguese donuts). Right next to Leonards. We hit those two up when we rented a car that day before heading to Hanauma Bay for snorkeling.
We didn’t get to these places but really wish we would have!
Bar Acuda –Hanalei. Highly recommended by several people. The only reason we did’t get here was because we saved this place for our last night and I didn’t think to put in reservations. They’re only open 5:30-10pm so highly recommend planning this one!
Nom Kauai – Kapa’a
Island Taco – Koloa
Chicken in a Barrel – Kapa’a and Hanalei.
Any of the smoothie/juice shops. They all looked so fun, we just weren’t hungry enough to stop at them when we passed them.
Well I think that covers everything!
If you have ever thought about going to Kauai (or even if you haven’t) I can’t recommend the place enough. It was truly a trip of a lifetime.
Have you been to Kauai or another Hawaiian island? Tell me about it!