Aloha, friend! Looking for a vacation destination? Pack your sunscreen and prepare for adventure-filled days in gorgeous Kauai! …But if you’re a poolside with a margarita type of sun-chaser that’s cool too—don’t let me bully you into an active vacation unless that’s your jam. There are plenty of beaches and pools in paradise for you.
If you’re planning a Hawaiian getaway, I can’t recommend Kauai enough. Known as “the garden island” there are so many great things to see, places to explore, and things to do that will keep you busy.
Dan and I went for a ten-day trip and even though the days were filled to the brim, we could have stayed there forever. (On a related note, we met a fellow Canadian at our Air BnB complex who went to Kauai for vacation, fell in love with the island, and moved there permanently only a couple months later. Kauai has an effect on people.)
Getting Around in Kauai
For getting around on the island, you’ll want to rent a car so you can get the most out of your trip. There are many other forms of transportation available, but trust me, this is one where you’re going to want to have a set of wheels so you can see and experience everything.
Why You Should Go to Kauai
Kauai is great for so many reasons: there are fewer tourists than you’ll find in Maui, it has lots of nature to explore, there are chickens everywhere (how fun is that?), unbelievable sunsets, and so much more. Overall, it’s a gorgeous slice of heaven. Dan and I spent many moments picking our jaws off the floor because the views were so incredible.
Seriously, check out this stunning view that emerges out of nowhere on the drive from Princeville to Hanalei Bay:
Where to Stay in Kauai
Our Air BnB was in Princeville—a super charming town that didn’t seem to have road signs, but navigation was still super easy. Dan also has a bloodhound’s sense of direction, so even though we’d never been to this part of the world before, he was driving through the towns without a map like he could sniff out our destination. It’s an uncanny skill of his that I wish we could market.
What to Do in Kauai
We filled all of our days in Kauai because there was so much to see and do. Here are some of the highlights that we recommend you check out:
The Queen’s Baths
Since the Queen’s Baths was so close to our Air BnB, we went there a few times. There is very limited parking available and you need to do a little traipse through the trees to get to the water, but it’s certainly worth it. It’s a swim at your own risk location, so play safe. I wouldn’t recommend this place for younger kids, especially if you let them swim in the baths themselves. The second time we were there was right at sunset—I can’t recommend visiting at this time enough. Bring a picnic and make a night of it.
There was so much cloud cover when we first arrived, but when it cleared up, this canyon is bonkers (in a good way!). It’s definitely worth the drive to go and check it out to appreciate this spectacle of mother nature. As an added bonus for snackers like me out there: there is a stand at the entrance that serves the best pineapple that I have ever tasted. I ate so much my tongue became swollen. Regrets? None.
Kauai Humane Society
Located in Lihue, you need to visit the Kauai Humane Society if you’re an animal lover. Naturally, Dan and I needed to get our fix of puppy love since our dog, Siegfried, was not invited on our vacation. You can swing by the shelter and give some love to a dog that’s looking for a forever home. Dan and I played with a dog named Lani Girl for about an hour in one of the exercise yards. Make sure you pick up some swag to support the Kauai Humane Society so they can keep doing their important work!
The bay is only a few minutes from Princeville with so much to see and do. There are several rental companies here to scratch your adventurer itch if you’re into boarding, paddling, or lessons.
A big highlight of the vacation for me: we rented paddleboards and went on an excursion for a few hours. There is a channel surrounded by lush greenery where little turtles sun themselves on rocks. Dan picked me a yellow flower from one of the trees and we had a pitstop on a sandbar to drink in the moment. Happy days for your pal, Kat.
If you’re a surfing newbie like myself, Hanalei Bay is a great beach to learn the ropes. There are a few companies that offer lessons and the waves aren’t too intimidating. Local surf shops offer some really good deals if you’re renting a board. If you plan on hitting the water more than once, rent a surfboard for a few days to save yourself some money (don’t forget to rent the soft board racks for the roof of your rental car!).
On the opposite side of the island from Princeville, Poipu is another beautiful spot. On the drive to Poipu, there is a section of the road that is through a tunnel of trees which is, dare I say, enchanting. If it’s raining in Princeville, head to Poipu to find the sun—some locals gave us this advice which proved to be accurate. If you have surf skills like Dan (who’s pretty darn good if I may throw a compliment his way) Poipu is another great place to surf, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re not a seasoned surfer. If you surf like me, this is where you’ll want to snorkel and make friends with sea turtles instead.
Not far from Poipu, this is a whimsical place to check out. Watch the waves come in and when they hit the rocks, water spouts upwards like a geyser. It’s pretty mesmerizing. After you’re done watching the crash and burst of water, there is a market set up right by spouting horn with local artisanal goods for sale that is also worth checking out. I’m such a sucker for artisanal fare.
The Na Pali Coast Trail
What’s a vacation to the garden state without heading to the trails and through the trees? The Na Pali Coast Trail has some sensational views overlooking the ocean, providing a terrific view as you sweat on the uphill. We met a few hardcore hikers looking to do the full version of this hike, which would be amazing if you’re a seasoned hiker and prepared with all the appropriate gear. Dan and I only did a few kilometres, which was smart because a Google search shows that it’s quite an intermediate hike with some very treacherous sections (look it up, it’s nuts).
Kilauea Point Lighthouse
I wouldn’t call this one a lengthy stop, but there is something poetic about a lighthouse and crashing waves that are always worth a stop. If you’re a bird enthusiast (which I am not), you’ll see several albatross, red-footed boobies, and other birds. The wingspan on some of those creatures is enormous. It’s also fairly windy there, so you’re bound to catch a few fun photos of your wild hair.
The Wet and Dry Caves by Haena State Park
It’s not too often you get to meander around some caves and Dan and I love a good exploration. We wandered through the big dry cave and checked out a couple of the wet caves, but didn’t enter those since there were no swimming signs everywhere. A feast for the eyes, you better believe it.
One warning about the drive is that you need to be safe! Mind the dips in the road and the potholes in the parking lots when you’re en route.
Kauai Coffee Plantation
We stumbled upon this place without intention, but that’s how you make memories in the House of Hodgins. While we were driving back to the Air BnB from Waimea Canyon we saw signs for the coffee plantation and figured it would be fun to go check it out (since we’d never been to a coffee plantation before).
They give you the option of getting a proper tour from a guide at scheduled intervals or you can show yourself around the property where they’ve set up informative signs to help you understand the coffee process. Pretty neat stuff. After the tour, you’re able to sample all their varieties of coffee, which a coffee enthusiast like me appreciates all the coffee you can handle.
Duke’s on the Outskirts of Lihue
Duke’s is an institution of the island that is somewhere you need to pop by. The atmosphere is really chill, with a ton of outdoor seating which was packed. The Hawaiian band that played gave the place a super cool vibe—it seemed that a lot of people were there just for the live music. The food was delicious and the dessert, the Hula Pie was everything I’ve ever wanted as a sweet finish to a meal. This dessert is a generous portion, so unless you’re skipping the meal and going right to the pie, I suggest you share.
Of course, there are plenty of other places to explore on the island including some waterfalls, local farmer’s markets, golf for those who like to hit the links, and other hiking trails (be careful on rainy days, we hiked one trail that was so muddy our hiking boots couldn’t grip the earth properly and one of us—me—ended up on her rear end).
Make sure you leave some unstructured time when you visit Kauai so you can make your own discoveries on the island. It’s island time, after all, there is no schedule to keep.
Have you been to Kauai? Any favourite places that aren’t on this list? Let me know!