Planning a vacation to Kauai? This Kauai travel guide will help you make the most of your trip to this beautiful island! Kauai, Hawaii is nicknamed the “Garden Island” and if you’ve ever spent any time on Kauai you understand why. Its lush green landscape is truly mesmerizing and breathtaking! In addition to gazing across the stunning scenery, there are a lot of things to do on Kauai.
When I travel to Hawaii I definitely want to spend time in nature! Everyone has different preferences when it comes to travel. Personally, I’m not as interested in staying at a fancy resort or going to the spa. I recommend staying in an Airbnb in Kapa’a! Kapa’a is a sweet little town with plenty of restaurants and is a nice middle ground to a lot of activities around the island. Whether you are spending over a week or just a few days in Kauai I hope this helps you make the most of your time! If it’s your first time in the state of Hawaii, I would recommend 6-7 days (including travel days) if you’re able so you can really enjoy all the island has to offer!
**Please visit https://www.gohawaii.com/travel-requirements for the most up to date information on travel restrictions!**
Where to Stay:
Every time I have been to Kauai I have stayed in an AirBnb or Vrbo condo in Kapa’a. There are quite a variety of vacation rental options so you can decide your price point/comfort level. I find it helpful to have a full kitchen and extra living space while I’m there since I usually try to go for a week. Another perk is that a lot of these privately owned AirBnbs have beach & snorkel gear in the unit that you are able to borrow, as well as a kitchen with appliances, dishes and cutlery. However, I understand wanting to stay at a resort or hotel as well. Poipu and Princeville are better areas if you want to stay in a resort in Kauai!
- Kauai is the 4th largest Hawaiian Island
- Several movies and tv shows have been filmed here (South Pacific, Jurassic Park and more!)
- North Shore: Typically more rainy which results in a beautiful lush landscape!
- South Shore: Typically sunnier, larger popular resorts on this side of the island
What to do in Kauai:
- Grab brunch at Kountry Kitchen or something to go at Java Kai in Kapa’a!
- Kealia Beach Swimming
- The first thing I want to do when I get to Hawaii is to go swimming! While Kauai has no shortage of beaches, some are better than others for swimming. I really enjoy Kealia beach and it’s close to Kapa’a which is my favorite area to stay when I’m on vacation in Kauai!
- Hanalei & Princeville
- Go explore Hanalei and Princeville! These towns are just a little further north of Kealia beach. Check out the beautiful Hanalei valley lookout, Hanalei Pier, Kilauea lighthouse, and Wai’oli Hui’ia Church! Another popular spot nearby is Queens Bath (Can be dangerous, only visit if the gate is open). Have a nice sit-down dinner in Princeville or something more casual in Hanalei.
- Snorkeling Tour
- If your budget allows, book a snorkeling tour! These tours allow you to access some wonderful snorkeling spots that aren’t accessible from public beaches. Even if you’re not traveling during peak season I would still suggest booking well ahead of your trip so that you can find a tour that’s right for you. Also, I would try and go on your tour within the first couple of days of your vacation. Sometimes tours need to be postponed due to weather so you may have the opportunity to still go later in the week instead of having to completely cancel.
- Your snorkeling tour will take up a good chunk of the day (and not to mention your energy!) so take the rest of the day a little easier!
- Wailua Falls, Opaeka‘a Falls
- These are both easily accessible waterfalls with viewpoints and places to park right off of the main road. Great photo op!
- Spouting Horn Park
- Worth checking out if you are in Poipu but you probably won’t spend much time here. There are sometimes vendors selling souvenirs there as well.
- Nice dinner in Poipu
- End your day watching the sunset from a beach (maybe see some turtles onshore too!) and put on your dressy island outfit for a dinner in Poipu! (See post here on where to eat & drink in Kauai!)
- Drive Up Waimea Canyon
- Getting up early is hard to do when you’re on vacation, but I promise this will be worth it! It’s important to get to the top of Waimea Canyon before the fog rolls in. The views at Pu’u O Kila Lookout are stunning, but once the clouds come in it’s totally covered up. I would suggest aiming to get to Pu’u O Kila Lookout by 10:00 am or earlier if you are able.
- Once you’ve seen all the sights up on Waimea, stop by Hanapepe to grab lunch. Hanapepe is a little Kauai town that inspired the location for Lilo & Stitch! Get a mixed plate from Bobbie’s (on the more affordable side, big portions, & cash only!) and take it to Salt Pond Park to eat.
- Glass Beach
- While you’re in the area, take a quick walk around the very interesting Glass Beach! There are also some cool cliffs and tidepools to explore. It’s about a 10 min drive from Salt Pond Park.
- Kauai Coffee Company
- Another great spot nearby is Kauai Coffee Company. Get a free tasting and go on a free walking tour to learn more about their coffee growing process.
- It’s been a long day! Go read a book (or take a nap!) and soak up some sun on a beach.
- Poipu Beach or Tunnels snorkeling
- I’m all about getting in several snorkeling sessions when I’m in Kauai! Depending on weather & surf conditions head to North Shore for Tunnels Beach or South Shore for Poipu Beach. Tunnels is my favorite but can be dangerous if there is bad weather (more so during the winter).
- Shipwrecks Beach & Maha’ulepu
- Check out this popular beach! This is also a starting spot to Maha’ulepu Heritage Trail which I highly recommend. This trail offers breathtaking coastline views that cannot be missed! Go as far as you feel comfortable. You don’t have to go far along this trail for it to be worth it! Wear good shoes, there are uneven rocky paths.
- Long Hike Or Mountain Tubing Tour
- Another favorite tour of mine is the Kauai Backcountry Adventure Mountain Tubing Tour! There is really nothing else like it on the island, and it gives you a chance to see some of the mountain you may not otherwise be able to explore! Start this three-hour tour on a jeep ride up the mountain to reach your tubing launch site. Then float along with your guides through tunnels & forests on this man made lazy river! The water is shallow & gentle, it’s a great experience for the whole family! Book ahead!
- If you don’t want to spend your money on the tubing tour, I would recommend getting up earlier in the morning and hiking the Kalalau Trail. The whole trail is 11 miles, but for an easier out & back hike, turn around at Hanakapiai Beach which is about two miles from the trailhead. (Please do not swim at this beach, it is extremely dangerous). This coastline trail is a great place to do whale watching! (You may see whales Nov-May, but the peak season is Jan-Feb).
- For the more experienced hikers, you can turn inland and hike to Hanakapiai falls, but be aware that this is mostly an unmarked, rocky trail and you will likely need to cross a stream a few times. This can be dangerous if it has been raining heavily.
- Want to do the tubing tour followed by a shorter hike? Ho’opi’i Falls (2 miles) or Sleeping Giant (1.5 mi) would be great options.
- Spend some time at a new beach!
- Do some shopping at local shops for souvenirs before you leave!
- Kalapaki Beach
- Kealia Beach (favorite for swimming)
- Poipu Beach Park
- Shipwreck Beach
- Lydgate Beach Park
- Puu Poa Beach
- Anahola Beach
- Lawai Beach (favorite for snorkeling)
- Polihale Beach Park
- Kekaha Beach Park
- Tunnels Beach (favorite for snorkeling)
I hope this itinerary helps you make the most of your time on the beautiful garden isle of Kauai! And remember, please be kind and courteous to people and nature. Wear reef safe sunscreen! Need more travel inspiration? Check out my other guides here: