In your head, I’d like you to turn on your internal radio and let the soundtrack for Jurassic Park start to play. What do you visualize? Likely you’re seeing massive dinosaurs emerging from behind lush green mountains. Maybe a brachiosaurus (the long necked herbivores) is grazing on the tree tops. A pterodactyl soars overhead out to the ocean. You’re probably picturing the lush landscaping that is the backdrop for much of the original film, and you may not even know it, but you’re also picturing the beautiful island of Kaua’i, Hawaii. Kauai is Hawaii’s oldest island, over five million years old to be exact. It’s known as the “Garden Isle,” and from the minute my plane approached it I could see why. It was so green, lush, tropical and just majestic. I could barely wait for touchdown and the adventures to come!
A few months back, I shared part 1 of my Hawaiian adventure, which took place on Oahu, in the city of Honolulu. Coming from that to Kaua’i is quite different. Where Honolulu has skyscrapers, infrastructure and hustle and bustle, Kaua’i has mountain, space, peace and tranquility. To my surprise, there were stores like Walmart and Target, because it’s still America after all, but the minute you’re off the main road and away from the airport, it’s a different world.
I arrived to the island hungry so sought a place not too far from the airport to grab a bite to eat. A quick Google Maps search yielded one of my favorites, and a Hawaii classic, Duke’s. (At this point I think I ate in almost all the Duke’s in Hawaii.) Little did I know that this restaurant would grant me what I felt was the best view of my entire trip! Duke’s Kaua’i is in the town of Lihu’e on the Nuwiliwili Bay. The word stunning doesn’t do it justice, breathtaking might get close. After a delicious meal with an incredible backdrop, and some time lounging on the beach, I knew this island would have so much more to show me, and I was ready to see it all.
While some people come to Hawaii with dreams of just lounging on a beach and enjoying the views, and you certainly can do that, there is a lot to see on each island, and a lot of exploring and adventuring to be had – if you want it. Below I am sharing my top 5 must visit places on the island of Kaua’i. This will give you a taste of what’s out there and help you decide which are worth taking your time away from the beach. (Thankfully, you’re always close to the water on an island, so even when you’re exploring, you’re enjoying it.)
- Cruise Along the Napali Coast: Those scenic Jurassic Park images you were just picturing, well, the real-life footage is from the Napali Coast. While you could take a helicopter around this part of the island, the views from the sea are just as extraordinary. I took a tour with Capt. Andy’s and it was a day well spent. We boarded the catamaran early in the morning and had breakfast as we cruised. I got to take in the larger than life mountains and valleys from the net of the catamaran as sea water was spraying up and dolphins swam by (it was whale season, but didn’t see any). The tour includes snorkeling – which was my first time! I am terrified of fish, so thought I would chicken out, but it was absolutely incredible and I am so proud and thankful I braved the waters. (Thank God I didn’t see the manta-ray that our captain said was 20 yards from our boat.) Capt. Andy’s provided lunch at sea, then we had a lovely cruise back to the dock. Definitely a highlight of the trip!
- Visit Hanalei Town: This to me felt like the most authentic Hawaiian town I visited during my entire trip. It’s literally at the end of the road, across a one-lane bridge, past many taro fields. Hanalei’s shops are full of local treasures, there’s plenty of yummy restaurants and shave ice stands (but some close early, since it’s a very small, local town), the surf is inviting and the views of Hanalei Bay are impeccable. It’s where much of the movie South Pacific was filmed, and it does transport you there. On your way back out of town, enjoy a sweet treat from Pink’s Creamery.
- Take a Shaka Tour: This was the best travel hack of the trip! My mom found these tours as she was researching Hawaiian tours. The Shaka Guide is an app based live tour and it was outstanding. The app guides you along scenic drives, giving detailed info along the way, insider tips, times for breaks and picture taking and it does it all by tracking your location. The guide was a native Hawaiian and was so much fun to listen to. Pretty sure I was quoting him for weeks after! Shaka Guide offers tours for all the islands, but on Kaua’i you’ll see things like the beach where they filmed the opening of Gilligan’s Island and the stunning Kilauea Lighthouse.
- Drive Through Waimea Canyon: The Waimea Canyon is referred to as the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. We used Shaka Guide for this tour as well and it was so interesting to hear stories of this canyon and old folklore. What was most impressive was hearing about the people who used to live down in the canyons. I just kept wondering, how – how did people get down there without roads and modern amenities? The drive was a twisty-turvy one, with lots of steep drop offs. So, if you get car sick at all, be prepared. The views from the lookout are jaw dropping – and sometimes nauseating! But, I have to say my favorite part of this little road trip was the lunch stop at the end of the long drive, Koke’e Lodge. This little lodge was straight out of the 1950’s and charming in every sense of the word, plus the food was homemade and delicious.
- Enjoy a Beach Day at Nuwiliwili Bay: I talked about Duke’s and the best views I saw on the entire trip, and you too can spend a day in this gorgeous spot. Nuwiliwili Bay is in the town of Lihue and offers a beach, water sports, a path for walking, and plenty of restaurants and bars nearby. Plus the name is so fun to say. If you’ve ever spent time along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, this is very reminiscent of it, but Polynesian style.
While you’re visiting Kaua’i, you’ll need accommodations. Personally, whenever I visit a brand new place, I struggle to decide where to stay. Which town/neighborhood will be the best location? Which hotel or Airbnb will have the best amenities or nicest rooms? If you’re like me, you’ll want a little guidance, so let me help you out! I stayed at the Kaua’i Coast Resort at the Beachboy in Kapa’a. The location was directly in the middle of the main road around the island, making it easy to get to each end on different day trips. The hotel was close to grocery stores and markets, restaurants and shops. The pool and grounds were lush, the suite-style rooms were spacious (and clean), and the views were spectacular. The onsite restaurant, the Hukilau Lanai had live music and a great atmosphere. (If you’re a Blue Hawaii fan, it’s also just down the street from the hotel featured in that film, the Coco Palms. Sadly it was mostly wiped out in a hurricane years ago, but it’s still so fun to see it and know Elvis walked the grounds.) I have also heard Po’ipu is a great town to stay in and I definitely wouldn’t have been mad with the views from the Marriott in Lihu’e.
Use this interactive map, with my must visit places marked, to help guide you around the beautiful island of Kauai, Hawaii!
If you’ll be visiting other islands while in Hawaii, check out this post for general info on Oahu, and some of my favorite spots there. To find out where to stay in Honolulu, check out this post. To find out what to do while visiting Oahu, check out this post. And stay tuned for more on the final stop on my Hawaiian adventure, Maui.
Signed with Style,
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