Kauai Travel Guide

Geographically Hawaii’s oldest island, Kauai is also one of its most spectacular. Living up to its nickname, the Garden Island is lush, tropical and has everything you would expect from an island in the South Pacific. Indeed, if you’ve ever seen the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, then you’ve also seen Kauai’s north shore, where the movie was shot in 1958. Kauai has also served as the backdrop for a few Jurassic Park films.

Best things to do in Kauai, Hawaii - NaPali Coast
The NaPali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii

The island’s south shore is often referenced as the sunny side of Kauai. That’s where you’ll find Poipu Beach, frequently listed as one of the world’s best beaches, boasting perfectly golden sand, clear pools of water for wading and pristine reefs for snorkeling. No matter where you stay on Kauai, you’ll want to spend a day at Poipu Beach Park, which also features lifeguards, restrooms and food vendors.

An added bonus you’ll find at Poipu Beach: the Hawaiian monk seal. They, too, are attracted to the perfect conditions at Poipu and often pull themselves out of the water to sunbathe, right alongside humans. But keep in mind that monk seals are endangered wildlife, so it’s best to keep a distance and admire from afar. There are fewer than 1200 monk seals left in the world, so treat them with care.

Hawaiian monk seals are frequently spotted relaxing on Poipu Beach
Hawaiian monk seals are frequently spotted relaxing on Poipu Beach

There are a plethora of adventurous things to do in Kauai: tubing adventures on mountain rivers, ATV rides to remote waterfalls, or spelunking through fascinating caves. The dramatic beauty of the Napali Coast can only be seen via sea or air, so plan a sunset cruise or helicopter tour of the island to get a glimpse of the iconic mountainous shoreline.

Nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, geological wonder Waimea Canyon stretches 14 miles long and more than 3,600 feet deep. The state park features lookout points and hiking trails through the canyon.

Kauai’s Waimea Canyon is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific
Kauai’s Waimea Canyon is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

See how chocolate is made at a cacao plantation (Kauai is the northernmost place on the planet where cacao grows), or learn about flora and fauna with a tour of one (or all three) of the National Tropical Botanical Garden locations.

A note about nighttime on Kauai: First-time visitors may be concerned about the lack of streetlights and lighting around hotels and restaurants, but there is a good reason for this. Kauai is home to a number of endangered nocturnal sea birds, to which man-made lighting is disorienting and dangerous. You may wish to pack a few small flashlights for your comfort in getting around at night on this beautiful garden island.

Wailua Falls served as a backdrop for the opening credits of the TV show Fantasy Island

Where to Stay in Kauai

There are a number of Kauai hotels to suit all types of travelers. If beachfront access if what you’re after, these beach resorts offer stand-out amenities (think golf courses, spas and creative cuisine) with a close proximity to the Pacific.

Kauai is inherently romantic, so it’s not surprising that the island is just as popular with those just starting their love story as it is with couples celebrating decades together. If you’re planning a romantic getaway, opt for one of these best Kauai hotels for couples.

With so many kid-friendly adventures, a family vacation to Kauai is a no-brainer. So when you’re looking for a place to stay with your whole crew in tow, the best Kauai resorts for families will entertain the whole lot.

The beauty of Kauai often comes attached to a hefty price tag, but if you think a vacation on the Garden Isle is inaccessible, think again. We rounded up ten affordable Kauai hotels and resorts that are surprisingly wallet-friendly, not spendy (relatively speaking, at least).

Things to Do in Kauai

If you’re a fan of outdoor adventures, Kauai has plenty to choose from. From zip-lining through the jungle to kayaking down the Wailua River to hiking through the Waimea Canyon, there’s so much adventure to find on the Garden Isle.

Take a snorkeling excursion to spot sea turtles (called honu in Hawaiian) and colorful fish indigenous to Hawaii. Soar over the Napali Coast via helicopter. Tour the filming locations for more than 60 movies and TV shows. Or just spend the day relaxing one of Kauai’s pristine beaches.