Kauai Travel Guide

While on our honeymoon, Tim and I took inventory of all the trips we loved most in 2017. Mine was Miami (ugh, Miami, how I love you so). His was our trip to Maui in March of 2017. I was kind of surprised, as he doesn’t love snorkeling as much as I do and that was far and away my highlight of that trip. But as it turns out, he found Maui was super relaxing in both pace and ambiance. And I realized I agreed. We’re so busy — and I focus on doing and seeing and eating and drinking everything possible — that a relaxing trip is SO. IMPORTANT. So a few weeks ago, we decided to book a long weekend to a different Hawaiian island: Kauai.

You probably already know that not only do I travel a lot, but I am also fiercely passionate about giving you my recommendations for any city I’ve visited. This is no exception. We stayed in Kapaa and were there during a bit of a storm, so we have a heavy bias on easy-to-access things here.

 

Photo opps

 

Opaekaa Falls: Twin falls that are easy to spot from an accessible parking lot — aka no hiking required. 

 


Spouting Horn: I thought this was going to be lame but it was really really cool. Basically the waves crash into this very hole-filled rock bank and in a couple spots there’s HUGE explosive geyser-like activity from the force of the waves. 

 

National Tropical Botanical Gardens: So, so much gorgeous plant life. (Also saw a lot of spiders, so beware.) This place is huge and long and narrow in shape, so usually you have to take a tram to the other parts of the garden. We didn’t have enough time so we just went to the first zone and it was still awesome. There were vanilla bean pods, mangos, all sorts of flowers, trees, and bananas. It’s like a zoo for plants. They recommend allotting a couple hours here.

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Hanalei Valley Lookout: Get an amazing view of classic Kauai from an easily-accessible parking lot. 

 

Activities

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Kealia Beach: Just north of Kapaa, this is a perfect spot for boogie boarding. We had a great time here. Tip: Drive all the way to the northernmost parking area to be right at the non-rocky, wavy area for activities! The rest of the beach is gorgeous, though shallow. It’s also great for whale watching.

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Kapaa Beach Shop: Super affordable rentals if you’re in Kapaa. Snorkel sets were I think $15 for the week, and boogie boards $20. (Note that the above boogie-boarding photo was censored for modesty. #ladyprobs)

 


Kipu Ranch Adventures: Our original boat activity was canceled due to weather. We ended up finding this fun excursion and LOVED IT. You drive ATVs through the gorgeous landscape of Kauai and stop at movie filming locations (esp. Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones!). It’s great for families, too. The ATVs have 4 seats and only one person drives. Prepare to get muddy if it’s been raining — and bring black clothes, because my white tee and jean shorts got permanently dyed/ruined from the mud. But so worth it!

 


Poipu Beach: On the south coast, this was the rare beach where we were able to snorkel during the storm. I got a TON of fish action when snorkeling, a vast area of living coral reef, and got up close to a giant turtle (like 3+ feet long) for a long time here. Highly recommended for any weather! And lots of space for kids to play — plus a playground. PS: I thought “snorkeling here must not be good; it’s so shallow” and how wrong I was. It’s no Molokini (off Maui) but it’s awesome.

Queens Bath: We didn’t end up going because the trail was super muddy and we were in street clothes, but I wish we could have gone. Bring your snorkels, cameras, and play clothes!

 

Food/drink


Tiki Iniki: I loved this Princeville bar! It had a bunch of really neat, authentic tiki drinks — including the Flaming Zombie, which involved fire. Super cool. It lacks a good view, but otherwise so great.

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The Local Kitchen + Bar: We ended up going here 3 times in our trip. It was the best food and cocktails in Kapaa, we thought. And they use a ton of local ingredients, which is what we always seek out when traveling!

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Ono Family Restaurant: Also in Kapaa, we ate at this place EVERY. MORNING. for breakfast. I always got the Lindsay Special: Two eggs (I got over-easy), fried rice (WHY don’t we have this for brekky in CA?), and bacon (or your choice of sausage). Seriously amazing. Add a few dashes of hot sauce if you’re feeling spicy.


Nalu Kai: Poolside bar/resto at the St. Regis in Princeville. We went here at the suggestion of some people we met. It is overpriced, sure, but the St. Regis has a private beach and gorgeous views, and this bar is RIGHT. THERE. Somehow I don’t have photos from down on the beach, but you get the gist here.

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Uncle’s Shave Ice: They also have “shaved snow,” a creamier option to regular ice. Really close to the Lihue airport. You can squeeze in a quick treat before your flight home!

 

Things we did that we don’t necessarily recommend
:
  • Kauai Museum: Not that rich in things that we cared about. And we like museums a lot. But some of it was cool, so if you really want to learn some history, go for it.
  • Hotel Coral Reef: It was so highly rated on TripAdvisor but I hated it. Amazing location though, right on the beach and very walkable. But just shell out a little more per night for a … brighter hotel. The person who cleaned the rooms didn’t seem to have much attention to detail or will to clean up sand. We found a dead cockroach as soon as we walked in, too. Cockroaches happen and I totally get it’s not preventable, but a dead one the day that a new guest checks in is. (Side note: The bed was comfy, which means a lot.)
  • Big Wave Dave’s: A bar in Kapaa. It was a typical dive bar. The reviews made it seem cooler/more interesting than it was.


Bonus hot tip:
I don’t own a GoPro, but I rented one — along with a stabilizing stick — from BorrowLenses and I absolutely loved it. It only cost $80 total for the week. If you live near one of their two offices (San Carlos, CA; Waltham, MA) and can pick it up yourself, you don’t have to pay for shipping!

Have you been to Kauai? What spots do you love?

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