Kauai: The Garden Island
Kauai, also known as the Garden Island because of its lush and vibrant landscape, is the fourth-largest of the Hawaiian islands. The exquisite island is a favorite destination for people who love adventure and appreciate natural beauty. More Kauai facts…
Golden beaches ring this island paradise, and mountain trails draped with tropical forests lead to incredible vistas. Epic sea cliffs can be found on Kauai’s Na Pali Coast, and at 3,000 feet deep, the island’s Waimea Canyon is appropriately called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” The island’s tropical North Shore features the stunning Hanalei Bay where movies such as South Pacific and The Descendants were filmed.
In the island’s vast, mostly inaccessible interior, is a scene straight out of Jurassic Park. In fact, the movie was filmed here. Mt. Waialeale, near the island’s center, is one of the wettest places on Earth. Frequent rains in the interior nourish the island and bring waterfalls and rainbows.
Kauai is best experienced with a range of outdoor activities. Hike or kayak the Na Pali Coast for the ultimate adventure. Paddle up the Wailua River to a secret waterfall. And snorkel the clear waters of the world famous Tunnels Beach reef.
Though Kauai is an island for adventure, it is also a place for serenity, rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. The island’s zen ambiance, aloha spirit, laid-back style, surfer vibe and natural energy, combined with refreshing breezes, nourishing foods and soothing ocean sounds, will soothe and restore the soul.
A resident population of only about 70,000 reside in small towns along the coastline. The towns aren’t fancy, but they all have a small-town charm with unique establishments and delicious eateries set between blue waters and green mountains. It is, in many ways, the Hawaii of yesteryear.
Canyon Trail at Waimea Canyon
Kauai is a place for nature lovers and adventurers!
Kauai is unlike the other Hawaiian islands. It stands out for its raw beauty and adventurous opportunities. Here you won’t find thousands of people laying on the beach. On Kauai you will find unpretentious lovers of nature actively pursuing a range of outdoor activities, including hiking, surfing, swimming, snorkeling, fishing and much more.
Na Pali Coast
The best things on the island are free, including Kauai’s many beautiful beaches, trails and waterfalls. There are also a number of tours and activities that allow you to experience the island in varied and unique ways. Na Pali Coast sunset cruises and helicopter tours offer unique perspectives of the jaw-dropping island. ATV tours, zipline rides and a water tubing experience are also high on the list of exciting things to do on Kauai. And after an exciting day, a luau and dinner is a nice way to spend a Hawaiian evening. More Kauai activities…
Rain showers at Hanalei Bay
Though often humid, temperatures generally stay in the 75-85 degree range year-round. At higher elevations, including the Waimea Canyon area, temperatures can dip into the 60s, and even the 50s, so a light jacket may be in order. Rains are common, especially on the North Shore, but they bring waterfalls, rainbows and green mountains. Alas, there is plenty of tropical sun too, notably on the island’s south and west sides. If it’s raining in your area, you might find sunny skies elsewhere on the island, so have backup destinations in mind. More Kauai Weather…
People who visit Kauai are often seeking peace, solitude, relaxation, beauty and adventure in nature. About one in six visitors are from California which is just a hop, skip and a jump away on direct flights. Kauai is a favorite honeymoon destination. You’ll meet more than a few doctors and dentists on Kauai. The exquisite island attracts professionals and entrepreneurs who could visit or live anywhere, yet they choose Kauai over all else. Nature lovers, hippies, free spirits, new agers, treehuggers, flower children, free thinkers and people who believe in past lives are also prominent on the island. More Kauai visitor demographics…
Where to Stay on Kauai
We’ve talked about the rain, but there’s plenty of sun on Kauai also, especially on the island’s southern shore. Sun worshippers will love the resort town of Poipu, where sunny beaches beckon. The town boasts a number of resorts, including the Grand Hyatt Kauai, perhaps the best resort on the island. Nearby are some of the island’s best restaurants and shopping.
Kapaa, on the island’s eastern “Coconut Coast” is another favorite. This town boasts a number of mid-range hotels and accommodations, including Kauai’s only two hostels. Centrally located, Kapaa is a good place to be in the middle of it all.
The resort community of Princeville
On Kauai’s tropical North Shore you will find the resort community of Princeville and the quaint surf town of Hanalei at beautiful Hanalei Bay. There are some houses to rent in Hanalei, however, most people stay up the hill in Princeville where a multitude of condos and houses are available for rent. 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay (former St. Regis Princeville Resort) is also here, and is basically the one true hotel on the North Shore. The hotel reopens in 2023 after an extensive makeover. More best locations to stay on Kauai…
What to Wear on Kauai
Kauai is a laid back island where the attire is best-defined as “island casual.” Here, no one is trying to impress anyone. In fact, people come to Kauai to chill, relax and get away from it all, and that is reflected. Shorts, surf tees, swim wear and flip flops are the standard attire of the day. Often this attire becomes wet or muddy in various Kauai activities, and that’s how many people show up for lunch and dinner, no problem. Moisture-wicking shirts work well on the humid island. Hiking shoes should be suited for wet and muddy trails. Moreover, white shoes do not fare well with the island’s signature red dirt (and mud). For luaus and nice restaurants the attire is nice shorts, nice shirts (including Hawaiian shirts), or perhaps resort/beach/sun dresses for the ladies.
The sun shines bright on Kauai, and you’ll want to dress appropriately with wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved board shirts during certain outdoor activities. Most importantly, be sure to wear plenty of reef-safe sunscreen!
Where to eat on Kauai
The restaurants aren’t necessarily fancy on Kauai. In many cases you’ll be dining outside or on a patio, with food ordered from a food truck or roadside stand. But that doesn’t mean the food is any less. In fact, in our opinion, the food is way above average on Kauai.
Kauai is home to a number of small eating establishments that include mom-and-pop diners, food trucks, joints, roadside stands and family-owned independent restaurants. The food is often fresh, with local ingredients, well-prepared and sometimes with a Hawaii twist. Since Kauai is rather isolated from the mainland, local ingredients play a big role in selections. Seafood, pork, chicken, beef, vegetables and fruit are some of the foodstuffs that are often locally-sourced. Acai bowls and fruit smoothies are popular on the island, as well as hearty hamburgers with grass-fed Kauai beef. And all the major categories are covered nicely, including burgers, pizza, seafood, Mexican food and Asian food. Following are some of our favorite Kauai places to eat. (There are many more, and we apologize to the many establishments that we do not mention.)
Burger lovers will appreciate the choices on Kauai. For starters, the island is home to the tourist and local favorite Bubba Burgers with locations in Kapaa and Poipu. (The popular location in Hanalei has unfortunately closed.) Bubba Burgers features juicy fresh-ground Kauai “grass fed” beef garnished with a delicious relish sauce. Kenji Burgers, in Kapaa, is also a favorite that serves up some of their burgers with an Asian flare. Down the road in Wailua, Street Burger is regarded by more than a few as having the best gourmet burgers on the island.
Chicken in a Barrel is the place to go on Kauai for smoked BBQ, with three locations (in Hanalei, Kapaa and Waimea). For Kalua Pork, head to Porky’s Kauai, a food truck in Waimea!
For the best steak on Kauai, there’s Wrangler’s Steakhouse in Waimea. This is a local favorite so the food must be good. The Bull Shed Restaurant, with ocean views in Kapaa, is also a favorite and is often mentioned as having the best steaks on the island.
Puka Dog in Poipu is Kauai’s version of a hot dog and has been featured on the Travel Channel and Anthony Bourdain’s TV show “No Reservations Hawaii.”
Mexican food is well-represented on Kauai. Verde, a gourmet Mexican food restaurant in Lihue, is ranked No. 1 on the island. (The location in Kapaa has closed.) Mariachi’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant, with locations at the Harbor Mall in Lihue and in Kapaa, is truly authentic and will more than satisfy your Mexican food cravings. Our favorite Mariachi’s location is at the Harbor Mall with views of the Nawiliwili Harbor area. On the North Shore, Federico’s Fresh Mex Cuisine has two locations, in Princeville and in Hanalei (in the old Bubba Burgers location).
Fish tacos can be found throughout the island. Our favorite is Pat’s Tacos in Hanalei. Island Taco, in Waimea, is another favorite. Stop by on your way to or from Waimea Canyon!
Seafood naturally stands out on this island in the middle of the Pacific and we have two favorites for seafood on Kauai, the Kilauea Fish Market and the Hanalei Dolphin. The Kilauea Fish Market, where you’ll be eating on the patio, is best for a casual lunch, while the Hanalei Dolphin is a popular restaurant best for dinner (reservations recommended).
In Poipu, the Shops at Kukui’ula has several nice restaurants including The Dolphin Poipu and Merriman’s. Other notable restaurants in Poipu include Brennecke’s Beach Broiler at Poipu Beach, Keoki’s Paradise (with a unique tropical interior) and The Beach House Restaurant, perhaps the most preferred restaurant on the island due to its oceanfront location and sunset views.
In Hanalei, the trendy Bar Acuda in Hanalei is a popular spot. Across the street is the tourist favorite Kalypso Island Bar and Grill with a delicious selection of nachos, burgers, steaks and more. Around the corner is Pink’s Creamery, a favorite for families with kids (you can’t go wrong with grilled cheese sandwiches and ice cream)!
If you’re staying at Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club at Kalapaki Beach, there are several nice dining choices including Duke’s Restaurant and Cafe Portofino, an upscale restaurant with Northern Italian dishes accompanied by harp music. Nearby is JJ’s Broiler, a favorite place to watch sports and the beach.
Kauai Frequently Asked Questions
Is Kauai expensive?
The simple answer is yes. Airfare is often more expensive to Kauai than the other Hawaiian islands. Remote and isolated, prices on essentials such as food and gasoline are significantly higher than on the mainland. If you’re looking for real estate, prices start at $500,000 for the basics and quickly rise to $1 million or more for nicer properties. However, the best things on Kauai are free including epic beaches and a myriad of beautiful hiking trails. A little planning can make a vacation to Kauai just about as affordable as any other destination. Consider non-peak travel periods including May and September through November. Don’t pay the exorbitant prices found at many island hotels, but find a condo with kitchen on VRBO or Airbnb. Purchase your food and essentials at Walmart or Costco in Lihue after renting your car at the airport.
Is Kauai safe?
Kauai is safe, but potential dangers lurk everywhere on this island of jagged mountain peaks surrounded by roiling ocean waters. First, the best news. Despite being covered by tropical forests, there are no wild animals or snakes whatsoever on the island. There are a few centipedes, ants and spiders hanging around, but they are usually not a problem. The island’s wet tropical climate presents more than a few problems to watch out for. Trails are often muddy and slippery. Normally placid streams can become torrential during or after heavy rains. Some popular attractions such as waterfalls and isolated beaches can have steep trails where one slip can result in broken bones or worse. Ocean waters inherently present safety challenges. Strong surf, powerful riptides (especially at the mouths of rivers) and waves crashing onto rocks where people are standing are just some of the dangers. And recently there has been a trend of snorkelers getting into distress or drowning, possibly caused by problems with full-face snorkel masks. In most cases you will find drivers on Kauai much more courteous than other parts of the world. However, much of the island is serviced by two-lane highways which creates problems with oncoming traffic and vehicles pulling into the roadway from side streets, so watch out! As for crime, tourist areas are generally safe but vehicle break-ins are known to happen. Do not leave your valuables in your vehicle, even in your trunk, especially when parked at hiking trails and beaches. In summation, be smart, be observant and don’t try to do anything “stupid” or beyond your capabilities.
Are there sharks on Kauai?
Again, the simple answer is yes, however shark sightings are rare and shark attacks are even more rare. Nevertheless, there are several shark incidences per year on the island. If there is a shark sighting, lifeguards will close the beach and possibly nearby beaches. Sharks rarely get close to the shore, however surfers and snorkelers who venture out from the shoreline are more likely to experience a shark incident. Heavy rains may increase the shark presence near stream mouths as runoff may contain dead fish and animals, rubbish and other matter that may attract sharks. And of course, do not go in the water if you are bleeding or have open wounds!