I initially made this guide a few years ago when Kauai was simply a place that Daniel and I were obsessed with and the idea of living there felt like a far dream. Fast forward 7 years and Kauai is now home. Even after traveling here basically my whole life and living here over two years, there are STILL things I haven't seen, places I haven't eaten, and beaches I haven't explored.
A few things to keep in mind when visiting :
The ocean is deceptively dangerous. Multiple visitors die every year on Kauai from ocean related accidents - usually due to a lack of knowledge of the power of the ocean. If you have small children that are going to play in the water, or you are an unskilled swimmer, stick to beaches with lifeguards:
Lifeguard Tower Map
Thing move slowly here - thats probably why you want to visit! Be patient and respect the pace.
Don't touch the wild animals. So many of them are endangered (like the monk seals you'll often see napping on the beach). Watch them from a distance and move on.
If you see a piece of trash, pick it up, even if it's not yours. Leave the island cleaner than how you found it.
Don't geotag. It's a big no no.
East Side - Eats
4-1384 Kuhio Hwy, Kapa’a, HI 96746
This is always our first stop after we land on the island. Great coffee and eats plus the cutest gear! Pro tip: if you’re in a rush, head to Kai Bar in the back of Java Kai for a shorter line.
Kaua'i Juice Co
4-1384 Kuhio Hwy, Kapa’a, HI 96746
Located behind Java Kai. Cold pressed locally-sourced juices, wellness shots and healthy eats.
Fish Bar Deli
4-1380 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaʻa, HI 96746
Located two doors down from Java Kai - this hip eatery has a speciality food market and fish deli in the front, and a killer restaurant in the back. Food is consistently SO tasty and it's usually pretty easy to walk in and get a seat. Love the fried chicken salad and vegan caesar salad!
3-4301 Kuhio Hwy #102, Lihue, HI
This gem may not look like much from the outside - but I'm telling you - some of the best poke on the island! Also, their Ginger Fried Chicken are what foodie dreams are made of. Grab some lunch to-go and head to the beach!
4548 Kukui St, Kapaʻa, HI 96746
My favorite treat to get when I'm on the East Side. This cute food truck serves up the classic Hawaiian spam musubi alongside creative combinations like ahi katsu and Kalbi beef. My go to order is the "Deep Fried OG." While you're waiting for your order grab an Ube Boba next door at the Bubble n Boba truck!
East Side - Shop
4-1384 Kuhio Hwy B-106, Kapaʻa, HI 96746
In my opinion, the cutest boutique on the island, owned and curated by my sweet friend Xochitl. Great assortment of clothing, bikinis and homewares. I recently picked up a pair of Beatrice Valenzuela sandals that I haven't taken off since! Best part - it's connected to Java Kai (Xochitl and her husband Sean own both) so you can do some caffeine-fueled shopping!
East Side - Adventure
Sleeping Giant (Nounou Mountain) Trail
The Nounou Mountain Trail is one of the most popular hikes on the island and will take you to some amazing 360 degree views of the East Side. The ridge formation resembles a human body laying flat on its back - hence, the popular trail is known as ‘Sleeping Giant.’ It’s only about 2.5 miles each way, but the climb up is pretty steep and strenuous. If you’re down for a sweat, 100% worth it!
Ho’opi’i Falls Hike and Cliff Jump
Ho’oip’i Falls Trail is a short but action-packed hike taking you to 2 waterfalls. The first falls is a great spot for cliff jumping or a refreshing dip. The second falls is one you may recognize from the film Jurassic Park! The trail can be muddy at times but leads you through some unbelievable scenery. Great for all levels. Plan on spending a few hours here so you can jump in the pools and soak in the lagoons.
The Wailua River
This is the longest navigable river in Hawaii. Take ‘Smith’s Boat Tour’ up to the fern grotto or do a kayak rental and you can stop off there on your way up. The kayak is awesome and you can hike to secret falls at the end!
East Side - Stay
Gorgeous resort with oceanfront residences. Definitely more of a splurge but worth it if you are looking for a more luxurious accommodation.
South Side - Eats
Koloa Fish Market
3390 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
An amazing place to get classic Hawaiian plate lunch and the freshest fish in town! My go-to is the ahi plate lunch with wasabi cream, side of mac salad!
Anakes Juice Bar
2827 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
Don't judge this place by it's facade - set in the very back of Kukuiula Market - this juice bar is NOT to be missed. Best acai bowls on the island! The market also has great sushi and poke bowls.
Eating House 1849
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Rd A-201 Koloa, HI 96756
Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s newest restaurant - great for a nice dinner out! My recommendations: Kamameshi (Hot Pot Rice Bowl), Hapa Burger and the Ramen Bowl!
South Side - Shop
Salt + Sea
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St, Koloa, HI 96756
Cutest little boutique that I always hit up when I'm on the South Side - local brands plus favorites like Acacia Swimwear and Mai.
South Side - Adventure
Also known as as Lawai’i-kai. This 80-acre botanical garden is stunning! (Fun fact: this garden has been featured in films like Jurassic Park and Pirates of the Caribbean!)
South Side - Stay
The perfect place for families! The beautiful plantation style condos sit right on gorgeous Poipu beach which is gentle and great for swimming.
Airbnb/Vrbo In my opinion Airbnb and Vrbo are the way to go - the Hyatt and Sheraton are incredibly overpriced for the experience (pretty dated and you can find tons of well pried condos and houses within walking distance of the beach. I also think cooking on vacation here is super fun so having a kitchen is a plus! The Hyatt does have a nice spa and you can book treatments and get a day pool pass!
West Side - Eats
9894 Kaumualii Hwy Waimea HI 96796
Touted by locals as some of the best poke on the island. The perfect place to pick up lunch - they’re best known for their poke, sushi and plate lunches. Wasabi poke is our favorite (pro tip - pair with Juanitas tortilla chips sold at the market for a killer combo).
3586 Koloa Rd, Kalaheo, HI 96741
/ Open daily 6:30am - 8pm
This sweet local market / general store is the perfect place to pick up local beef, fresh baked breads and local cheese. But their prepared food is fantastic. My favorite is their falafel wrap and sweet potato fries!
Japanese Grandma's Cafe
3871 Hanapepe Rd, Hanapepe, HI 96716 /
Open W-M 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm
The coziest cafe in Hanapepe town - a must visit when on the West Side. You can either sit inside in their cozy dining room or take your meal outdoors on their patio - often times they have live music. Incredible, authentic Japanese food and the freshest sushi!
Midnight Bear Breads
3830 Hanapepe Rd, Hanapepe, HI 96716 /
Open Wed-Sat 8am - 2pm
Best pastries and bread on the island! Case in point: when they set up shop at our local farmers market on the North Shore, they sell out in about an hour. Grab a coffee and one of their fresh pastries - you won't be disappointed!
West Side - Shop
3540 Koloa Rd Kalaheo HI 96741
Step inside this old glass factory and you’ll discover a wonderful montage of boutiques and goods from local artisans. Grab a gourmet burger or shave ice (their shave ice is AMAZING) as you stroll through the shops
8309, 2-2535 Kaumualii Hwy, Kalaheo, HI 96741
Cutest surf shop selling everything from boards, outdoor gear coffee mugs and bikinis – their logo apparel donned with the shop’s credo “Aloha Brings Change” – it’s the perfect place to pick up a little piece of paradise!
West Side - Adventure
Waimea / Koke’e
Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is truly breathtaking. There are countless hiking rails in Kokee State Park. Our favorite hikes are Awa'awapuhi and Waipoo Falls
Na Pali Coast Exploring With Na Pali Explorer Boat/Snorkel Tour
If you're going to spend money doing one touristy activity - I would tell you to spend it on a boat tour of the Napali Coast. Stunning doesn't even really begin to describe the 16 mile uninhabited rugged coastline.
West Side - Stay
Waimea Plantation Cottages
Built in the late 1800s, around 60 cottages that once housed workers on this former plantation dot this beautiful ocean front property. I truly think this is one of the most special places to stay on the island - not only because Daniel and I got married here, but because there really aren't many places that exist like it anymore. The perfect place to unwind - Waimea is a sleepy town (even by Kauai standards) so bring a good book and be prepared to relax!
North Shore - Eats
Kilauea Fish Market
4270 Kilauea Rd Kilauea HI 96754
Open daily 11am-8pm
Two words: FISH. WRAPS. We crave these seared ahi wraps on the daily! Ask for extra sauce on the side (we’ve asked them for the recipe multiple times - they won’t tell!). A must have while on the island — maybe more than once! Pro Tip: Call head to place your order to avoid 30 min + waits.
2555 Ala Namahana Parkway #600, Kilauea, HI 96754
Open daily 6am - 5pm
Same owners as Java Kai Coffee Shop on the East Side. Perfect morning pit stop for coffee and pastries!
5-5161 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, HI 96714
The most popular dinner spot on the North Shore for both locals and tourists alike for a reason. Food is always solid and has a fun, lively ambience. Our tried and trues are the cucumber salad, patatas bravas, lamb riblets, pizza and the calamasi tart for dessert! Menu is tapas style but we often order our own dishes because they are way too good to share!
5-5134 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei HI 96714
Tahiti Nui has a local atmosphere in the heart of Hanalei. This place is a ton of fun, with live Hawaiian music every night from 6:30-9pm! Great cocktails and great local food, too!
Village Snack Shop
5-5190 Kuhio Hwy Ching Young Village Shopping Ctr, Hanalei HI 96714
Casual at its best - this local jaunt is known for their chili pepper chicken plate and the (to die for) chocolate haupia (coconut) pie - both insane. You won’t be disappointed.
The Dolphin Fish Market
5-5016 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei HI 96714
Pick up some cut maki sushi rolls or fresh poke to-go for your beach day!
5-5161 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, HI 96714
Enjoy delicious Japanese style Ramen noodles while taking in Hanalei’s iconic, waterfall-drenched mountains.
5225 Hanalei Plantation Rd, Princeville, HI 96722
A food stand with tasty sweet and savory bowls - my go to lunch order is the Hanalei bowl with grilled chicken! Eat at the picnic tables and take in some of the most incredible views of Hanalei Bay.
North Shore - Shop
The Barn 808
5080 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei, HI 96714
I always look forward to paying a visit to this amazing store owned by Donavon and Petra Frankenreiter. It's a clear reflection of the couple's personal aesthetic - a thoughtfully curated mix of ceramics, linens, art, textiles and clothing that feels like it was collected during their travels. I spend my days looking at A LOT of retail and I love that every time I come here I see something new.
North Shore - Adventure
This hike starts at Ke’e Beach. Definitely is not an easy breezy hike. It’s tough - but totally worth it. 2 miles in and 2 miles out, you will see caves, rivers, beach, views and wildlife. Hike 4 miles longer to see the Hanakapiai falls. Due to a devastating flood that hit the North Shore last year, you now need to get a day permit in advance to do this hike (get one here)
The Okolehao trail is on the North Shore near the town of Hanalei. The whole hike is about 5 miles and is strenuous - it will take you all the way up Hihimanu Ridge - however if you’re not feeling like doing the whole thing you will still get incredible views of the Bay.
North Shore - Stay
Again, I think a great way to find an affordable accommodation is through Airbnb or VRBO. Hanalei Bay would be the ideal place to stay because you are walking distance to shops and restaurants, but Princeville can be much more affordable and it's only about a 10 minute drive to the Bay. If you're up for more of an adventure I'd recommend looking at rentals in Haena - you'll feel much more "out there" but it is incredibly magical, and you'll be able to find something close to or even on the beach for less than $1k a night!
6867 Koolau Rd, Kilauea, HI 96754
For something a little more special check out The Palmwood guesthouse. The hilltop retreat, inspired by the mountain Ryokans (country inns) of Japan, is nestled amongst the rolling green hills of Moloa'a - a lesser known enclave on the North Shore. If you are looking to be in the middle of the action, this is not the place for you. If you are looking for a quiet sanctuary, this is the place for you - perfect for a romantic getaway.