Updated: Jun 12
Mount Waialeale on Kauai is one of the wettest places on earth, averaging over 450 inches of rainfall annually.
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Top 8 things you should not miss on Kauai
[4.1 mile out & back; 1,286 Elevation Gain; Rated moderate]
This hike was our absolute favorite hike we did while on Kauai. The views are truly surreal and it feels as though you are hiking within a postcard. Never have we witnessed such lush green and vibrant blue colors in nature. With that being said, this hike is not for everyone and comes with a bit of prep work. There are several requirements to hiking the Kalalau Trail, modifications you can add, and reasons you may chose to skip it all together.
Next Read: Hiking the Kalalau Trail
2. Hanalei Pier
Hanalei Pier is at the northern end of Hanalei Beach. We recommend heading to the Hanalei Pier parking in order to enter the beach with a breathtaking view of the mountainous backdrop. Walking the pier also allows you to head out into the middle of the ocean for even better panoramic views. With Hanalei Beach being nested in a bay, this makes for great swimming, paddle boarding, or kayaking.
Also Read: 2 Week Hawaii Travel Itinerary
At the parking lot for Hanalei Pier you will even find the mouth of the Hanalei River feeding into the bay. This is a great spot to start a kayak journey down the beautiful Hanalei River. Get your kayak rental or book a tour at Kayak Hanalei.
J&L Recommended: Best beach on Kauai
3. Hanalei Valley Lookout
A quick stop at Hanalei Valley Lookout off of the Kuhio Highway will not disappoint. At this lookout you can gaze into the wildlife refuge and beautiful Hanalei Valley. The Hanalei River runs through this valley, creating postcard-worthy views of water, valley, and mountain.
J&L Recommended: Easy photo stop!
[2.8 Miles; Out & Back; 1167 Ft Elevation Gain; Rating moderate]
The Waimea Canyon Trail is located within Waimea Canyon State Park. Entry/parking tickets are available for purchase at parking lot kiosks and must be displayed within your vehicle. There are two places that you can start this hike. The first being at Pu'u Hinahina Lookout and the second being at a road-side pull-off by Halemanu Road.
Both trails meet up after about the first half to three quarters of a mile. The trail that starts at Halamanu Road is a bit easier of a descent due to hiking on a dirt road rather than a narrow hiking path. However, if you want more time in the dense woods you may consider starting at the Pu'u Hinahina Lookout parking lot. We started at this parking lot and although challenging and muddy, found the views to be incredibly rewarding.
Tip: Start early for highest visibility
Top viewpoints in Waimea Canyon State Park:
Waimea Canyon Lookout
Pu'u Hinahina Lookout
Pu'u O Kila Lookout
Additional Hikes with More Time
(for non-cloudy days)
Awa'awapuhi Trail: Moderate; 6 Miles; Out & Back; 1945 Ft Elevation Gain; Estimated Time: 4 Hours
Pihea Trail: Moderate; 2.5 Miles; Out & Back; 456 Ft Elevation Gain; Estimated Time: 1.5 Hours
5. Poipu Beach
Poipu Beach is a very popular beach with swimming protected by a cove and shallow waters. It is great for snorkeling, seeing sea turtles & beached monk seals, and watching surfers. Head to the beach in the mornings or evening to witness the wildlife and stay for the sunset after a Puka Dog dinner.
Note: Great beach Monk Seals, Sea Turtles & Sunsets!
6. Kayak Wailua
Such a wonderful, organized day-trip down the Wailua River with a hike to Secret Falls. Our guide was extremely informative as he shared history, lore, and botany throughout our five hour kayak and hiking excursion. We started with a 45 min kayak ride up the river, we then parked our boats and hiked in the Wailua River State Park.
After about a mile hike, we arrived at the Secret Falls where we ate our picnic lunch and swam in the pools beneath the waterfall. We would highly recommend booking one of the morning tours as the weather becomes more variable in the afternoon. This tour was well worth the money and a fantastic way to appreciate the natural beauties of Kauai.
Tickets: Book with Kayak Wailua Here
7. Kukuiula Small Boat Harbor
A serene and peaceful beach with calm waters that make it great for swimming or paddle boarding. This is a fantastic beach to watch the sunset and admire the spouting horn across the bay. We found ourselves frequenting this beach several times to swim, picnic, or just relax at the uncrowded beach surrounded by beautiful, tropical scenery.
J&L Recommended: Hidden gem!
8. Shipwreck Beach
One of our favorite beaches on Kauai for action and adventure. This beach had crazy waves, cliff divers, Maha'ulepu Heritage Trail along the Makawehi Bluffs, and monk seals sunbathing on the shoreline.
Tip: great place to see Monk Seals!
What food is Kauai known for?
A lovely café in the quaint town of Hanalei. This is a wonderful place to stop for some excellent coffee and breakfast pastries along the way to an early morning Na Pali Coast hike. Not solely a coffee house, Hanalei Bread Company serves a wide variety of breakfast options including avocado toast, burritos, and smoothies.
J&L Recommended: Stop here for breakfast before hiking the Kalalau Trail
2. Da Crack
You know a place is good when you go there multiple times over the course of a few days. Da Crack is one of those places that fills you up and leaves you craving more the next day. With affordable prices and ginormous, completely customizable burritos, there is something for everyone to enjoy at this local taco stand.
J&L Recommended: large portions at and affordable price
3. Tiki Taco
Serving delicious Kauai-Mexican fusion at a great value. Tiki Taco will fill you up and keep you satisfied throughout a day of exploring the island. We recommend trying the fish tacos or pulled pork. Neither will disappoint!
[Poipu & Hanalei]
You cannot leave Kauai without trying their famous Puka Dogs. Polish sausages with a Hawaiian twist, these sausages slide into a bun with a puka (hole) baked right inside. Choose from their garlic secret sauce and tropical relishes such as mango, papaya, coconut, banana or starfruit. Puka dogs are large, filling, and the perfect way to refuel after a long day on the beach.
J&L Recommended: Unique local food worth trying
Keoki's Paradise is an authentic Hawaiian restaurant that serves traditional Hawaiian foods, entertains you with live performances, and offers open-air dining adorned with tiki torches. Due to its popularity, reservations are generally required. However, we dined at Keoki's Paradise for dessert and were able to get seated immediately at their bar. We indulged in their Hula Pie, a pie slice of ice cream topped with cookie crust, hot fudge and macadamia nut shavings. There is nothing like a slice of Hula Pie to put you in the aloha mindset!
J&L Recommended: Favorite Hawaiian sweet treat!
Where to find craft brews in Kauai
Recommended Brew: Tropical Armadillo [5.3% ABV; 49 IBU]
There are few breweries on Kauai, however, one that stood out to us was Kauai Beer Company. Their tasty brews paired perfectly with their delicious entrees and made for a great stop after arriving at the Lihue Airport. We would recommend trying their Tropical Armadillo, a light bodied pale ale with citrus and tropical flavors.
Tip: With limited craft breweries on Kauai, head to a local grocery store for a variety of local Hawaiian craft beers (our favorite being Maui Brewing Company) to enjoy in your hotel room.
If you like coffee, you certainly have to add Kauai Coffee Company to your must-visit list. The Kauai Coffee Estate is the largest coffee farm in the US and has a free self-guided tour of their coffee growing, harvesting, and roasting process. Not to mention, free samples of their latest flavors! You can truly taste the difference in this tropically grown coffee. We hope you get to taste for yourself!
Fact: This is the largest coffee farm in the US!
Planning your Trip
What are the travel guidelines for visiting Hawaii during COVID-19?
With travel restrictions constantly changing, we recommend you visit the state of Hawaii's COVID-19 portal for the most up-to-date information.
Also Read: Maui Hawaii Complete Guide
Which side of Kauai is best to stay on?
This depends on your preference and the amount of time you plan to spend in Kauai. Most choose to lodge in the south side (Poipu area) or north side (Princeville area). Below outlines the pros and cons of each:
North Side Pros:
Close proximity to Na Pali Coast hike
Surrounded by the lush postcard-worthy views
Close proximity to the quaint town of Hanalei and many scenic beaches
North Side Cons:
It rains much more frequently on the north side (this is why the terrain is so lush here).
Far distance to Waimea Canyon State Park (1.5-2 hours without traffic).
Typically more expensive lodging due to beautiful scenery.
South Side Pros:
It rains much less frequently on the south side of Kauai
Waimea Canyon State Park and the Na Pali Coast hike are easy day trips from Poipu
More areas for snorkeling and higher probability of seeing Monk Seals/Sea Turtles on the beaches.
South Side Cons:
Located in the valley, farther from the lush post-card worthy backdrops
Hikes are a day-trip away (30 min to Waimea Canyon State Park and roughly an hour to Na Pali Coast).
Once you decided which side of the island meets your preferences, we recommend searching for a great hotel deal in Kauai during your travel dates below!
Weighing the pros and cons above, we decided to stay in Poipu on the south side of Kauai. We stayed in a wonderful Airbnb right across from the snorkeling beach, Lawa'i Beach. We found our location to be perfect for a 4-day trip on Kauai. Should we have stayed any longer, we may have considered splitting our time between Princeville and Poipu to minimize driving. We also recommend looking for a great deal on hotels here!
Recommended Lodging: Wonderful Airbnb in Poipu
How long do you need to spend on Kauai?
We recommend staying for at least 3-4 days in order to fully appreciate all that Kauai has to offer. Of course, spending more time only increases your duration in paradise.
J&L Recommended: 3-4 Days
When is the best month to visit Kauai?
To take advantage of the pleasant weather while experiencing a minimal amount of tourists, we would say the best time of year to visit Kauai is September through November or April through June. Kauai is home to the wettest place on earth, therefore, be prepared for rain regardless of when you visit. After all, rain is what leads to the incredibly lush and vibrant terrain of this gorgeous island.
Recommended: September-November or April-June
Getting Around Kauai
What is the best way to get around Kauai?
The best way to get around Kauai is by car. If you are planning to visit multiple areas of the island, the best thing to do would be to rent a car. Depending on the activities you plan on doing on the island, a SUV or truck may be your preference due to less maintained roads. However, if you plan is to visit the popular attractions and state parks of Kauai, a sedan will suffice.
Is there cellular service in Kauai?
There is cellular service within most towns of Kauai. However, be prepared for limited to no cellular service when hiking in Kauai's state parks. SAFETY TIP: learn how to download interactive maps to your phone that can give you driving, walking, & biking directions even without cellular service! Visit our Exclusive Content to learn more.