When you picture the perfect Hawaiʻi vacation, you probably imagine much of the best of Kauaʻi: dynamic dining featuring unique local ingredients, lively lūʻaus, challenging golf courses, and incredible scenic landscapes. Kauaʻi offers all this and more. Here are some ideas for exploring the best of Kauaʻi’s attractions.
Kauaʻi’s Abundance of Natural Beauty
Glorious beaches, breathtaking waterfalls, and stunning scenery all contribute to Kauaʻi’s practically limitless abundance of natural beauty. And did we mention beaches? Everywhere you look, you’re bound to catch a glimpse of truly unforgettable scenery.
Endless Supply of Beaches
Head to Poʻipu Beach if you want a family day trip touched by magnificent Hawaiian beauty. This beach is easy to access by car, and it’s next to Poʻipu Park, which features a playground — making it perfect for picnics with family members of all ages. Plus, because it’s located on the island’s south shore, the surf is typically gentler than other areas of Hawaiʻi. Swim and snorkel as a family, or discover the exhilarating fun of surfing in the safety of less intimidating waters.
Tunnels Beach, known by locals as Makua Beach, gets its name from the underwater lava tubes that make it a favorite spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. The wide, white-sand beach is one of the most photographed in all of Hawaiʻi, so you can imagine how beautiful it is. Located on the north shore of Kauaʻi, it’s best to park at Haena Beach Park and arrive early to secure your spot!
For something a little off the beaten track, head to Kauaʻi’s northernmost beach, Keʻe Beach, located in Haʻena State Park. This beach requires a shuttle, so tickets must be booked in advance. But those willing to make the extra effort are rewarded with an incredible natural reef that provides unforgettable snorkeling and swimming. Keʻe Beach also offers all the conveniences you would expect from a popular beach, with restrooms and shower facilities on-site for your comfort.
Go Chasing Waterfalls
Kauaʻi is often called the “Garden Island” because of its legendarily lush landscape. You’ll find unique and exotic flowers, abundant forests, and mist-making waterfalls cascading from glorious green hills. Get out, explore the island, and make sure you take some time to chase waterfalls while you’re here.
Red Dirt Waterfall
Start with Red Dirt Waterfall, located in the Waimea Canyon State Park. This unique waterfall is surrounded by red volcanic soil, providing a one-of-a-kind photo opportunity that is anything but expected. There is actually a series of waterfalls here, with the highest being about five feet tall. You don’t have to work too hard to get there. It’s accessible by car and just a short 0.5-mile hike from the closest road. Exercise caution if there has been recent rainfall, as the terrain can be quite slippery when wet.
What could be more enticing than accessing the Secret Falls, also known as Uluwehi Waterfalls? The truth is, these falls aren’t really a secret, but they do require a guided tour to access. Located on the east side of Kauaʻi, Uluwehi is near the Wailua River Basin. Guided tours include a kayak trip and a hike through the rainforest to reach the waterfall basin, where visitors can plunge in for a swim beneath the waterfall.
Hawaiʻi has been the setting for countless famous moments in pop culture, and Wailua Falls has certainly spent its share of time in the spotlight. If you’re a fan of classic television, you may recognize Wailua Falls from the opening credits of Fantasy Island. Fantastical though they may appear, they are completely real and utterly breathtaking. The awe-inspiring dual chute falls are around 800 feet high, offering a truly spectacular scene. Getting there is easy: you can drive right to the parking lot and complete a short walk to the observation area without any challenging terrain.
Plenty of Outdoor Activities
With such spectacular outdoor terrain to explore, Kauaʻi vacations can be as active as you like. Golf, snorkel, and hike in this endlessly intriguing landscape.
Kauaʻi is Hawaiʻi’s fourth largest island, which means there are plenty of opportunities to golf. In fact, there are eight golf courses on the island, many of them award-winning and all featuring stunning Hawaiian scenery and memorable playing experiences.
Ocean Course at Hokuala, Timbers Kauaʻi
Head to the east side of Kauaʻi, near Lihue, for the Ocean Course at Hokuala located at Timbers Kauaʻi. This is the island’s only Jack Nicklaus-designed signature course. Beyond the famous pedigree of one of golf’s greatest legends, MSN Travel has also named it “one of the most beautiful courses in the world”. And it’s no wonder! The entire back nine of this 18-hole course features breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.
Poʻipu Bay Golf Course
There aren’t many places in the world where you can play golf surrounded by scenic places of worship, but Poʻipu Bay Golf Course is one of them. Heiau (ancient Hawaiian temples) dot the course, and the prospect of spotting Hawaiian wildlife also adds to the appeal — sea turtles, humpback whales, and nene (Hawaiian geese) are sometimes seen near the course. Located on the south shore of Kauaʻi, the course was home to the PGA Grand Slam series from 1998 to 2006, meaning it has hosted some of the world’s very best golfers.
Makai Golf Course
Located in Princeville on the North Shore, Makai Golf Course is a public course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., golf course architect and son of legendary course designer Robert Trent Jones Sr. Makai was the younger Jones’s first solo course design and has been named one of the Top 100 Public Golf Courses in America by Golf Digest, one of the Top Three Golf Courses in Hawaiʻi by Golf Week, and one of the Top Five Golf Settings by National Geographic. The Makai experience even goes beyond golf. Facilities include a swimming pool and recreation center, pickleball and tennis courts (membership purchase required), and dining at the Makai Grill restaurant.
Snorkeling in the Kauaʻi reefs
Snorkeling is a favorite pastime in Kauaʻi, but the time of year you visit will dictate the ideal location for your exploration. Depending on the month, calmer water will favor either the north or south shore. Check weather conditions before heading out on Kauaʻi Beach Status.
Visitors who take a snorkeling excursion will be rewarded with stunning views of tropical fish, sea turtles, rays, and even seals. Of course, it’s important to keep your distance to avoid disturbing any wildlife. Here are some snorkeling spots favored by the locals.
Lawaʻi Beach (South Shore)
This large stretch of beach on the south shore of Kauaʻi has a lifeguard on duty, making it a safe choice for exploring the beautiful underwater world. It also features food service provided by Lawaʻi Resort, meaning you can have your lunch delivered right to the beach for the ultimate convenience.
Anini Beach (North Shore)
With a calm, shallow bay, Anini Beach is excellent for families with children. It’s also easy to access and offers public parking. Protected by the longest fringing reef in Hawaiʻi, this area draws a wide variety of fish, turtles and rays in the summer months, making for exciting snorkeling opportunities.
Lydgate Beach Pools (East Shore)
The Pools at Lydgate Beach are two rock-enclosed sections off the main beach that protect swimmers from the surf and allow sealife to enter. As a result, snorkelers will enjoy calm waters that are safe for kids and beginners and filled with plenty of breathtaking sea life.
Hike to Your Heart’s Content
Kauaʻi is a hiker’s paradise. There are hundreds of miles of trails across the island and excursions for every skill level, from beginner to expert. Here are some of the most popular places to get out and explore nature with a Hawaiian hike.
Makawehi Lithified Cliffs Trail
Located on Kauaʻi’s south shore, near Shipwreck Beach, this gorgeous trail takes hikers along the limestone cliffs of the rugged coastline. One of the special aspects of this hike is how it combines beautiful scenery with Hawaiian cultural and geological history. Expect to see fossils, petroglyphs and signs of the ancient people of Hawaiʻi who once worshiped here.
Sleeping Giant Trail
This popular 3.2-mile hike is considered fairly challenging as it leads up 1,000 feet to the top of Sleeping Giant, providing gorgeous views of the east coast of Kauaʻi from high cliffs. This is a sunny trail without much shade, so you may wish to start early in the day to avoid the heat.
If you’re looking for a family-friendly and easy-going hike, head to Kuilau Ridge. This hike takes you through tropical forests where you can view many species of Hawaiʻi’s unique plants and flowers. The best part for those who are hiking with kids? There’s a picnic area at the trail’s midpoint where you can fuel up on snacks and rest up for the remainder of the hike.
Discover the Best Restaurants in Kauaʻi
Hawaiian cuisine has a rich heritage and culture that continues to flourish. In recent years, local chefs have been reframing the popular perception of Hawaiian food, offering new takes on old favorites and finding inspiration in global flavors. A visit to Kauaʻi opens up a world of memorable culinary experiences.
Focus on Local Ingredients
Traveling to a new place often means discovering new local ingredients. Hawaiʻi features some meal staples you will find familiar and many that may surprise you. Expect to see local produce and ingredients used in dishes to update (and improve) traditional recipes as well as local delicacies on offer. Hawaiians love spam, and the canned ham product is featured in many of their dishes. Other foods you’ll find in many Hawaiian recipes include lilikoi (passion fruit), taro root, kukui (candlenut), macadamia nut, and ulu (breadfruit). When it comes to seafood, ahi (yellowfin tuna), mahi-mahi, opah and ono (wahoo) are all delicious options.
Classic Dining Options in Kauaʻi
Hualani’s at Timbers Kauaʻi
Head to Timbers Kauaʻi to experience Hualani’s, a Kauaʻi classic that is now helmed by Chef Alex Amorin. Chef Amorin has created a diverse menu featuring locally sourced food, including ingredients sourced from the on-site organic farm, The Farm at Hōkūala. Hualani’s is ideal for indoor/outdoor dining in a stunning oceanfront setting.
Duke’s is a popular chain named after Hawaiian legend Duke Kahanamoku, a six-time Olympian known as the father of modern surfing. Duke’s provides casual dining on Kalapaki Beach with a menu of casual Hawaiian favorites. Think poke tacos, the freshest local seafood, and delightful signature cocktails.
Merriman’s features local seafood and a farm-to-table approach to food. It’s a casual dining spot where you’ll spot tourists and locals alike. Anyone seeking a locally sourced, simple yet elegant dining experience should make their way to Merriman’s for a meal to remember.