When one thinks about Hawaii, many will conjure thoughts of Honolulu on the island of Oahu, The picturesque Maui, and also the volcanic Big Island. That is 3 islands of Hawaii and you have not even thought about my favorite island out of them all Kauai.
I am turning about telling you about this island since I really hope Kauai continues to be a secret for the select few that knows about its own miracles. Thing is, if you have been to Honolulu and Maui, then you understand that there are A LOT of vacationers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the sheer raw beauty of Kauaian island that doesn’t take itself too seriously and enjoys to be under the radar.
Where to stay in Kauai?
I have been to Kauai several times and the two trips, I have stayed at what used to be the St. Regis Princeville. It’s an epic property in my favorite part of the island.
Kauai’s laid-back setting, infinite strips of the shore, lack of large industrial locations, rich civilization, dramatic scenery, and world-class hiking are the reasons I keep going back to the particular island. The appeal is the fact I can do a few of the crazy adventurous outdoors but also slow down the clock to do a whole lot of nothing at one of the numerous secret beaches or see a different brilliant sunset.
They do not call it the”Garden Island” for nothing.
The emerald valleys that fold and twist such as accordions towards the Na Pali Coast present a jaw-dropping landscape. Then factor in the tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and jagged canyons weathered by time and you really start wondering where you actually are.
From the small cities, you will find an ABC store here and there and obviously, a Foodland is never too far away but then you will encounter small local restaurants and trendy upstarts. It feels like a place for locals. You can just take your time and not be troubled with the trappings of daily life and things.
At the conclusion of the day, Kauai is an island where you’ll never see a tour bus, tourists are friendly, towns are modest, and shores will call your name.
A VIEW FROM ABOVE
If there are 3-ish minutes that may convince a person to add Kauai to their travel-to-next list, this is it.
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI
1. Kalalau Trail
The Kalalau Trail is a famous 11 mile (22 miles round trip) trek that starts from Kee Beach in the North Shore and runs along the Na Pali Coast.
For the majority of people that come to Kauai, the Kalalau Trail is the ideal day trip where you hike in two miles for to Hanakapi’ai Beach, detour up into the 100-foot Hanakapi’ai waterfall that’s perfect for a refreshing dip. This alone will probably be the trip as you switchback through the contour of the start of the jagged coast and includes a flow that you will need to leapfrog over together with the assistance of rocks that lead your way. It is all worth it because it is one of the few ways by foot which you can really enjoy the grandness of this coast.
The full epic-ness of the increase doesn’t happen until you perform the full multi-day hike which demands a license in the nation’s Department of Land and Natural Resources. It’s an arduous trek that is not for the faint of heart as you are going to need to scale sketchy full drop off ridges but you’re rewarded with completely isolated beaches, magnificent hills, and seaside caves.
Kee Beach — If you plan on doing Kalalau as a day hike, be sure you start early and intend to spend time in the beach that’s right facing the trailhead. It’s a wonderful place to snorkel and has a number of the most amazing sunsets on the island.
2. JoJo’s Shave Ice
Shave ice is a staple in Hawaii and in regards to the best, I have to recommend JoJo’s. While I still think Maui’s Ululani’s and Oahu’s Matsumoto’s are much better overall (mainly because of mochi), I loved JoJo’s mix flavors that include their own mac nut ice cream that’s definitely to die for.
3. Waimea Canyon
The telephone Waimea Canyon the”Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and having done hikes around there twice, there’s little doubt in my mind that this is accurate. I think the mind-blowing part about all of this is that you need to bear in mind that this is a little island that we’re talking about and to possess the size and vibrant beauty the canyon places on display is wonderful.
Today Waimea Canyon itself is a little bit of a generalized name since this covers a huge area on the west side of the island. It is the region of the island that’s impassable by car which is a frequent question when anyone comes to Kauai which is”why can’t I drive around the entire island?”. When you depart the town of Waimea, it is a continuous uphill climb into the clouds since the soil turns reddish that the lookouts become more and more glorious and you enter into the deep of Waimea Canyon State Park, Koke’s State Park, then end off at the Kalalau Lookout.
To me personally, Waimea Canyon is a tiny choose-your-own-adventure kind of place. It’s probably the only place on the island where you can see tour buses and across the street, you will encounter numerous easy to access lookouts where all you are going to need to do is get off your car, walk up to the rail and take in the beauty of the canyon and Na Pali Coast. On the flip side, if you are down for a little adventure, there are a slew of hikes to perform that range from easy to hard. Depending on what you’d like to see, how much time you’ve got, along with your physical fitness, it is up to you which one you wish to do. Just be sure you decide beforehand and have instructions on where to locate your trailhead because trust me, things are not especially well researched on the island.
I personally have completed the Canyon Trail and Awaawapuhi Trail on two separate trips and I would highly recommend both. The Canyon Trail is an excellent one which rewards you with severe overlooks deep inside the canyon while the Awaawapuhi Trail is a path that takes a little patience but after you get into the end you are suddenly on the ridgetop with stunning views of the coast and the Pacific Ocean. I’ve also heard very great things about the Alakai Swamp Trail that’s once-in-a-lifetime.
4. Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail in Poipu
As the final stretch of undeveloped coastline on the south coast, this heritage trail is both unique because sailors have fought hard to preserve those regions and also that it is so distinctive with its sand-dune cliffs and limestone formations when compared with the jungle and volcano hikes which you find on the remainder of the island. This increase is one where you can go as far as you need and turn back but it’s 2 kilometers in each direction and can be classified as”Easy”.
What’s really different about this trail is that a good portion of it’s a sand dune. Sure it makes it your measures a little bit harder but take the backdrop of the flying sea into sharp limestone cliffs that’s something which feels quite odd on an island like Kauai that’s known because of its dense rainforest and mountainous ridges.
Where we had trouble with coming here last time was discovering the parking lot to begin the hike. I believe one of the main gripes I have with lifts on Kauai is there are not just huge signs to guide you in the ideal direction. It’s a bit of an insider’s club but I will not lead you astray. The key when you head into Poipu and push towards the massive Grand Hyatt is to pass it because you drive East and instantly before pavement turns to the dirt road and you see signs for your Poipu Bay Golf Course, turn right and go all of the ways down until you find a parking lot. From that point, you’ll be at Shipwreck Beach and the road starts to your left where you’ll see people jumping off the cliff.
5. All The Secret Beaches
As much as I’m all about the adventure, let’s be fair, Kauai is a place to relax and soak in some sun. What I love about Kauai is just how the beaches here aren’t all the sort in which you drive your car up to the parking lot and the beach is right there. No, in Kauai, you have to do your research you need to be using a neighborhood. Notably up in the North near Hanalei and Princeville, every other shore seems to be a key beach. They are never marked, there is hardly any parking, and you have to hike down a seemingly treacherous (ok I’m exaggerating a little here) path.
So why go through the trouble of going to a hidden shore than to visit one of those easy-to-access public shores? The most important advantage of these beaches is that they’re completely secluded. While it’s not quite as secret as it was before the internet came along, you are likely to be dealing with fewer crowds and certainly will be by its nature more peaceful compared to non-secret types.
Some of my favorite beaches on Kauai are:
When I looked this up online, there were not many obvious instructions to get there and when we walked to the area it was almost impossible to locate but luckily a regional pointed us in the right direction.
Along the way down, there are fantastic views of the ocean crashing to volcanic stone before descending down into the hidden cove where the beach lay. It is rather small and the sand is rough but the water is protected by a reef further out and so it makes for a fantastic spot for snorkeling and swimming. There is also a fantastic quantity of shade here by the cliff or by shadow as the sun gets coated by the crescent cove at particular angles.
This is not so secret anymore as there’s literally a pin on Google Maps that call it Key Beach. It is originally called Kauapea Beach and also to arrive, follow Highway 56 about a half mile past Kilauea. Turn right onto Kalihiwai Road and directly on the first dirt road. Follow the road to the end, where you are able to park and discover the trailhead.
This is an immense golden sand beach that is so great that it’s well worth spending a full day. In summer time it’s a great place to see dolphins and even has a small waterfall on the hillside at the rear of the shore. You’ll find lava rocks that dot the shore and shrub cover nearer to the hill. In the summer it is swimmable for non-novice swimmers but will tend to have strong currents and large tides so that you really will need to be mindful.
This is a fan favorite for anybody that has spent time in the North. To get there, you have to take a steep path between the Pali Ke Kua Condos and St. Regis which includes metal handrails. At the base, you get to a crescent-shaped beach that’s great for snorkeling and seeing sea turtles. Just be sure that you do it through low tide.
This beach connects to the larger Ha’ena State and Beach Park so it is perhaps the least secret of all. What I love about this wide-sweeping beach is the fact that it has simple tides, great views of the mountainous coast to the left, an overall great spot for suntanning, along with a very long stretch of beach where you can run for miles. Since it is also easy to access because there is no hiking through a jungle or forest to get to, it’s also very family friendly. Personally, I come to Tunnels shore for your snorkeling so be certain you pack your equipment with you.
What makes it somewhat hard to get to is your somewhat stinky parking lot that is sandwiched between two possessions which you can tell is a point of contention for locals in the area where you’ll find”No parking” signs all over.
6. Kilauea Lighthouse
You’ll find this lighthouse standing tall on the North which was a beacon for traveling ships. It has since been decommissioned but has now been restored to its original condition and is also a refuge for many birds including the albatross, shearwater, and red-footed booby.
Parking is somewhat challenging here and once it is full, the Rangers will control the circulation of cars coming in and out of this lighthouse. Additionally, it costs $5 per person in admission and once in, you will have high odds of seeing all the numerous birds that call this region home either flying or flying. There’s also a gift shop, information center, totally free rentals for hand-held binoculars, and additionally fixed flashes which are also free.
7. Mountain Tubing
They’ve since closed down and today, Kauai Backcountry Adventures has obtained over this 17,000-acre plantation and converted it into a park for eco-tourism activities including mountain tubing and zip-lining.
There are not too many places which you could tube during the lush green inside of Kauai and 5 hands dug tunnels. While it may not be a high-speed adrenaline rush, consider this of a lazy river where the canals are narrow, there is a lot of (secure ) bumping and spinning and you also get to go through stone tunnels.
The manuals are super professional and confirm the safety of guests the whole time while sharing tales about the farm. At one of those tunnels, we got a chance to turn off our headlamps to float in complete darkness while they told a ghost story. It is a unique experience that you truly can’t find anywhere else.
8. Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is a lot of things. To some it is a wonderful spot to catch a morning cup of Joe in The Hanalei Bread Company, to others, it’s the perfect place to grab some surf, and for someone like me, it was the perfect spot for photography during sunset.
This is the main happening spot from the North Shore so you’ll wind up here quite a bit. The views here are absolutely stunning with the jagged green mountains in the backdrop along with also the water that comes in from the ocean to form this bay.
Activity wise, it is actually an excellent place to learn how to surf and you can also rent a kayak here to get you through the river which runs through or if you want to stick to the coastline to get to say Hideaway Beach.
My favorite area to take here is from the Hanalei Pier that makes a perfect backdrop to the sunset which always falls directly from the mountain to make shining beams of light. The colors are always so vivid here so stay patient even after the sun falls behind.
9. Kuilau Trail
If you end up in the Kapa’a or Wailua area and are wanting to do good hike, Kuilau Ridge is a path that takes you deep into the woods which not just provides you an opportunity to find many different plants and many different trees but there’s a significant lookout that provides sweeping views of lush valleys and Mount Waialeale and the Makaleha Mountain Range.
If you’re looking for a hike that takes you to a summit, this one isn’t it yet as the picnic table area with all the scenic views is as good as it gets. As you go farther into the road, it eventually connects at a bridge into the Moalepe Trail which finally just contributes to the parking lot of that trail.
This is among the most popular summer attractions in the Princeville area of Kauai as natural tide pools form in the volcanic stone right along the coast.
10. Queen’s Bath
To get there, there’s a pleasant hike down beyond a waterfall and flow before the rocky landscape of lava stone begins. From there, it’s just a 5-minute trek over these rocks to get into the real Queen’s Bath.
Your adventure at Queen’s Bath will largely be based on the time of year which you go. In my instance, I was there in February and throughout the winter months, this place is exposed to some seriously major surf. We could walk up near the border but dare not stay out there too long as there’d be occasional enormous crashes of water that would come from nowhere. We were very cognizant of the danger here as there were indications laid out anywhere about beyond drownings.
In the summertime, you will have the ability to experience the true Queen’s Bath experience with considerably calmer waters and safer conditions.
Raveling IN A LARGE GROUP?
One of the big differences for my latest trip to Kauai is that I was there with a massive group. Doing the math, it did not make sense for every couple in the group to book a hotel. As a result, I started looking at my favorite home-sharing websites — Airbnb (free charge ) and HomeAway.
Having a bunch of 12, I was laughing my way during my hunt because even though properties in Princeville were $500 per night, we were still talking about $60 USD per person per night.
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The property we had was that this beautiful house in Princeville and it was the ideal spot for every one of us to situate ourselves in Kauai and I daresay may have been an even better than when we moved around to the Princeville Resort (formerly St. Regis Princeville).
You likely think I’m crazy for saying so.
Now I am not saying that the St. Regis Princeville is not nice. In reality, it’s an incredible hotel with topnotch service and impressive rooms with bar none some of the best views of Hanalei Bay. It’s really nice. All that said though, it’s sort of nice to be with a lot of buddies under one roof together with the capacity to hang out at a living room to just chat or play boardgames. The house also had the added benefit of getting its own BBQ, the capability to cook your breakfast in the morning, brew your own pot of java, and also do a little suntanning in the backyard. It is a pretty sweet deal.
Okay so let’s say you’re a small family or traveling as a couple or small group, where should you consider booking when it comes to finding the ideal place to stay in Kauai?
Let us start off with my favorite area to stay in Kauai. While you know I am not always one for high-luxury, this chic neighborhood is a great choice Due to the selection of properties which are available, proximity to Hanalei Bay which is absolutely amazing, the secret beaches along the coast,
On the opposite side of the island is the gateway into the gorgeous mountain gorge that is known as the”Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. The advantage of staying here is that you would be close to the state park which would normally take 2 hours to drive from Princeville but of course, that could place you both up to the other side.
On the southern part of Kauai is a popular place where you will locate Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail, Shipwreck’s Beach, and Sprouting Horn Park. Second, to Princeville, this is a neighborhood that is a wonderful place to stay since it places you closer to Waimea Canyon.
On the western beaches of Kauai are those three neighborhoods that you can string together that starts with the airport as well as Kapaa. This is the most commercial part of the island and as close to a”downtown” as you’ll find with strip malls and chained restaurants and shops. An advantage of staying here is that you are basically in the middle of the island so it’s near equidistant to Princeville or Waimea Canyon.