Kauai is an island like no other. One main road almost circles it, but never invades the sacred Na Pali Coast. That area can only be described as divine, and glimpsing the razor-sharp cliffs and lush greenery of that region certainly takes some effort. With minimal resort development, local culture and landscape take center stage. Waterfalls emerge around every corner. Wildlife flourishes on beaches and in flight. Kauai has adventure for everyone. From the snorkeling at Anini Beach, to driving through Waimea Canyon, or attempting the two-day hike on the Kalalau Trail, it's a paradise that feels instantly like home.
I could wax poetic on Kauai forever, but I'll spare you and go straight into my 4 favorite things.
1. Kalalau Trail
If you googled "things to do on Kauai" you would likely see Kalalau Trail in every single result. With good reason—it's one of the most beautiful places on earth and affords incredible views of the Na Pali Coast.
If you've already researched then you've likely heard the words "dangerous" or "hard", and that's true, but usually, those words describe the 11 mile (one way!) hike that requires two nights of camping, multiple permits, and serious hiking skills. Fear not! There are other, safer options.
The easiest is the 3 mile hike that will take you to Hanakapiai, a beautiful yet treacherous beach. Note that Hanakapiai Beach is great for a picnic, lounging, and dipping your toes in the water, but NOT safe for swimming. All-in-all this is a great option for families, and people who aren't prepared to slip on rocks all day long. Allow about 6 hours for this hike.
We chose to next option, an 8 mile hike to Hanakapiai Falls. It follows the same path to Hanakapiai Beach, and then veers uphill following the stream. While it isn't as physically exhausting as some hikes packed with elevation gain, it is mentallty draining. It's essential to be aware of your surroundings. Rocks are slippery and must be utilized to cross streams safely. Some portions must be climbed. When you make it to the falls, all of this effort becomes worth it. Swim in the falls, enjoy a packed lunch picnic, and savor the beauty before you head back. Allow at least 8 hours for this hike, perhaps more.
2. Snorkeling at Pali Ke Kua (Hideaways) Beach
On the North Shore of the Island in Princeville, in between a tennis court and a parking lot, there is a narrow little pathway that leads to a sheer cliff. You might never know that you could scale it, but you can. A peek over the edge reveals a set of "steps" complete with handrails and, in some places, rappelling ropes. Make it to the bottom and you'll be greeted with a secluded and usually quiet beach. With a view of Na Pali on your left and wide open ocean everywhere else, it's an amazing beach, but probably the coolest sight is seeing local surfers climb down the cliff you just scaled with a surfboard in one hand.
I love Hideaways for the views, but I love it more for the snorkeling. I used to be afraid of the ocean and never swam in it. That is until I married a man obsessed with all things coral and ocean, and he convinced me that I would love snorkeling. Not wanting to be left behind I reluctantly stuck my face in the crystal clear water and...I completely forgot that I was afraid. Snorkeling here is amazing and, when the tide is a little bit higher, is great for beginners or timid swimmers like I was. My first time out I saw a sea turtle, and a puffer fish. While there are beaches in bulk on Kauai, this is still one of our favorite places to go when we visit.
3. Waimea Canyon
Couldn't hike Kalalau? No problem. Hop in your rental car and do the Waimea Canyon scenic drive. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the view is jaw-dropping. I found myself wide-eyed the entire time. Do the entire drive for a unique view of the Na Pali Coast.
Reds, greens, blues, and oranges intermix to give the canyon its unique appearance. Every turn reveals new wonders and waterfalls abound. While it may not be the most intense experience you can have on Kauai, I loved every second of it. The drive in its entirety takes about 2 to 3 hours both ways and you should definitely get an early start. By 10am the road and viewpoints can be crowded.
4. Zip Lining in Princeville
Sometimes I'm quintessentially touristy, and I don't care. Other times I want to do something a bit different. While there are tons of ways to see Kauai off of dry land (helicopter, boats, kayaking), we were bit by zip lining bug.
Once you suit up and get the hang of landing (landing is surprisingly scarier than you think), it's all fun and games! It lasts about 3 hours and you get great views of Na Pali and the surrounding northern region. Plus, at the end you get to race on a 1200 foot double zip line.
How can I honestly be expected to pick 4 things? Some other ideas for Kauai fun include albatross spotting at Kilauea Lighthouse, kayaking or helicopter tours, stumbling across beaches anywhere on the island, finding new hikes, and hanging out at Hanalei Bay. With countless things to do, see, and experience Kauai might own my title for my favorite place in the world (so far).
Where to Stay
When we go, we prefer to stay in an Airbnb in Princeville to be close to Hanalei Bay and the Na Pali Coast, but you can find great places to stay all over the island. I don't recommend staying near the airport as its a little less relaxing and quiet.
Where to Eat
Piazza - For a nice night out and savory comfort food. In Princeville.
Bar Acuda - A really nice atmosphere with small plates. Ideal for a night out. Reservations highly recommended. In Hanalei Bay.
Dolphin Sushi - Roadside spot with poke bowls to die for. Hanalei Bay.
Sam's Ocean View Restaurant - Probably my favorite place so far. Great views, great food, and great atmosphere. In Kapaa.
Java Kai - Heavenly breakfast and coffee! Be prepared to wait for a table (I checked out the boutiques nearby). In Kapaa.
Bistro - An open-air vibe with sophisticated cuisine makes this place really special. In Kilauea.
Kalypso Bar - For hot nights or days when you are really hungry (and thirsty). In Hanalei.
Big Save Market - Ok. It isn't a restaurant. But it is a necessity for packing lunches for hikes and buying food for your Airbnb. In Hanalei Bay.