Kauai - 2 Weeks
YELLOW ICON: FOOD
RED ICON: WHERE WE STAYED
BLUE ICON: PLACES TO GET UNIQUE SOUVENIRS
Teal ICON: NOTABLE ACTIVITY
BLACK ICON: PHOTOGRAPHY LOCATIONS
green ICON: best Hikes
Kauai is such a laid back island and the small size of it allows you to see it all during your trip! You will need to rent a car to get around the island because they do not have a lot of taxi’s…if any. For a little help on what side of the island to stay close to, here is a quick bullet list of the most popular regions:
Lihue is inland on the southeast side and where you will be flying in to. If a helicopter tour is on your itinerary then this is where that is located.
Waimea is on the west side of the island and is typically very dry. It is known for having Waimea Canyon otherwise known as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. This region has amazing hikes at Waimea Canyon State Park and Kokee State Park as well as one of the best overlooks of the Na Pali Coast. Also, if you enjoy deep sea fishing then the docks are located in this region as well. Finally, every Friday night in the small town of Hanapepe, there is a small festival with artists showcasing their art pieces and food vendors selling all kinds of goodies.
Poipu (our favorite place to stay) is on the south side of the island and is known for its perfect beaches and good weather. It is also a good halfway point on the island which is why we always stay here. Access to Waimea and Hanalei are about an equal distance driving time from Poipu. On top of all of that, Poipu has great restaurants, shopping, hotels, and one of the best boogie boarding beaches on the island, Brennecke Beach.
Hanalei is on the north side of the island and is known for its lush green rainforests, waterfalls, and beautiful green mountains. It is also the rainiest part of the island so just know that along with beautiful rainforests comes intermittent rain showers. Hanalei has a lot of great restaurants and fairly good shopping, but the real highlight is the abundance of activities like surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, hiking, etc. This town also has direct access to the Na Pali Coast’s famous hiking trails.
WHERE TO STAY
***Let me preface this section by saying that you do not have to spend two weeks in Kauai to be able to see and do everything you want***
Like we mentioned above, we have found that staying in Poipu is (in our opinion) the best place to stay on the island! It is the halfway point to both Hanalei and Waimea Canyon. The weather is perfect too!
Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club - We cannot say enough great things about this place. They offer two bedroom, two bathroom condo’s with a full kitchen, and a pull out couch in the living room. Splitting one room among a group makes things so much easier. Their amenities are amazing with several hot tubs, a pool with waterfalls and a relaxation adult’s pool, ponds, large grilling areas, a snorkel gear and boogie board rental shack, and a small store selling Starbucks coffee, groceries, and quick to-go meals. This place really is the best of resort living.
We also love this hotel because it has an amazing sandy beach out front with some amazing snorkeling. There is also a small bay area with a lifeguard on duty so it’s perfect for small kids. This is also a place where spotting sea turtles and seals is very common. Finally, further down the beach is one of Kauai’s best bodysurfing/boogie boarding beach called Brennecke Beach. You will never get bored at this resort!
Kauai Juice Co. - If you like organic juices or kombucha from tap then you'll be addicted to this place.
Eating House 1849 Koloa - Great place for a nice dinner. You HAVE to get the chocolate souffle for dessert!!!
Bubba Burgers - Crazy good burger place!! We ate quite a few burgers here during our stay.
Puka Dog - No lie, you will get addicted to these innovated versions of hotdogs. They take a soft and sweet loaf of bread, stick it on a hit spike to cook a hole in the middle, fill the hole with a fruit relish of your choice their house made secret garlic sauce and Lilikoi passion fruit mustard, then finally stuff it with a hearty Polish sausage. This is seriously life-changing.
Island Taco - Really great change of pace having some Mexican inspired food on the island! Great quick bite for those lazy days.
Lappert’s Ice Cream Hawaii - We went here several times to top off our dinners. They offer ice cream with really unique flavor options.
La Spezia - Cozy Italian eatery. Reservations might be necessary on the weekends or for big groups.
Kauai Nut Roasters - This small shop sells a huge variety of flavored nuts and trail mixes all made in house. We typically load up on these for our kayaking and hiking trips.
Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Company - Great little breakfast spot.
Brick Oven Pizza - We always grab pizza here on the way back to Poipu after spending the day hiking at Waimea Canyon.
Mermaids Cafe - Quick place to grab lunch. Great Sandwiches and healthy food varieties.
Kountry Kitchen - Homestyle breakfast and HUGE pancakes. We really love this place when we visit Kapaa or we are passing through to go to Hanalei.
Java Kai - Really hip cafe with delicious coffee, smoothies and food. They also have some really cool merchandise for sale.
Kalypso Restaurant - Popular sit down restaurant. Look towards the mountain across the street to see a waterfall while you eat.
Bubba Burgers - Again, great burger place. *This location might be closed.
A Pearl Straight from an Oyster - At Maui Divers Jewelry, the saleswomen will have you pick out an oyster, perform an Aloha blessing on it, open it up, and surprise you with your new pearl. You may get a black, blue, pink, or white pearl and sometimes if you’re lucky enough you’ll get twin pearls! Just know that this “pick-a-pearl” option is around $20 if we remember correctly. The saleswomen will try to get you to purchase a mounting option for it, but you can opt to just stick the pearl in a little baggy and continue on with your day. I got a huge pink pearl that I matched with another one so and made earrings out of them and Connor got a beautiful black pearl!
Handmade Aloha Shirt - At Jacqueline On Kaua'i, meeting Jacqueline is worth the visit just by itself, but it’s the perfect place if you're looking for a one-of-a-kind Aloha shirt or some beach shorts/dresses. Pick out some fabric or a style she has made before and Jacqueline will take your measurements and hand stitch it for you. Go early on in your trip and she tries to have them done before you leave the island.
Hawaiian Cooking Spices - Pick up the perfect spice rub to make Kalua pork at home at Aloha Spice Company! Our favorites are the Alaea Kane Red Hawaiian Sea Salt and Pele's Fire Hawaiian Seasoning Salt.
Locally Painted Artwork - Kauai is home to many well known painters and Hanapape is one of the best places to make a purchase you’ll treasure for a lifetime. We’ve mentioned it several times already, but every Friday this little town has the Hanapepe Art Night with art galleries open for viewings and local food vendors selling amazing street food.
MUST DO THINGS
Brennecke's Beach - Best bodysurfing/boogie boarding beach. This beach has really big waves perfect for the fearless to catch a good wave! There are also always turtles hanging out at this beach. I go in with goggles and hangout with the turtles while Connor catches waves.
Kauai Culinary Market - This market happens every Wednesday from 3:30pm - 6pm in the shops at the Kukui'ula Village Shopping Center. Shop locally made foods and locally grown produce while listening to Hawaiian musicians.
Note: Look for "The Right Slice" and sample some of the most delicious pies ever.
Captain Andy's - One of the best ways to see the Na Pali Coast is from the water. Captain Andy’s has so many different options that will get you up close to the most beautiful coastline of Kauai. We did the Na Pali Raft Day Expedition and it was really cool riding through waterfalls, exploring caves, snorkeling, and eating a BBQ lunch on a secluded beach!
Note: If you get motion sick like I do, be sure to take motion sickness medicine before you go.
Hanapepe Art Night - Every Friday from 5pm - 9pm. Hanapepe has a street festival with food, crafts, and art vendors lining the street.
Note: Again, look for "The Right Slice" and sample some of the most delicious pies ever.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters - See the island from above! They offer 45 - 55 minute tours that fly you all over the island as well as get you up close to tons of beautiful waterfalls. Truly a once in a lifetime experience!
Note: In our opinion this is the best helicopter line in Kauai. Safety is their top priority and all of our pilots have been very knowledgable and amazing. Not only that, but Hollywood professionals have used them for Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tropic Thunder, etc.
Wailua Kayak & Canoe - Some people like tours, but we definitely recommend grabbing some kayaks for the day at this spot and just kayaking at your own pace to the Wailua Falls trailhead.
Smith Family Garden Luau - Best and biggest traditional style luau in Kauai! They offer a huge buffet dinner, unlimited Mai Tais and a great show after dinner. Also, the show goes on whether rain or shine and the audience is under a cover so you won’t get wet if a stray tropical shower rolls through.
Tunnels Beach - Best snorkeling on the island! The water is shallow at the start and the current is strong, but once you get past the volcanic rock channels and into deeper water you'll come across vast networks of coral tunnels with Green Sea Turtles swimming in and out frequently.
Tip: We would recommend wearing water shoes for this beach because of all the coral and hard rocks.
Hawaiian Surfing Adventures - We did not try to surf here, but we always use this place to rent Standup Paddleboards. SUPing in the Hanalei Bay among the green mountains, waterfalls, and beautiful sailboats makes for a very chill day.
Queen's Bath - Unique turquoise tide pool that is surrounded by black lava rock cliffs. It is a dangerous pool during high tide so be aware of the timing of your visit and do your research before getting into the water. There is VERY limited parking so waiting for a spot is common. Also, the trail can be incredibly muddy and steep so plan accordingly and bring water/hiking shoes. We wouldn’t recommend this hike for children.
Hike Duration: 0.8 miles. We spent about two hours total in and out. Moderate Trail
Hanakapiai Trail - Bucket List Hike! Start as early in they day as possible for this hike. The trailhead starts at Ke’e Beach and continues around with amazing views of the Na Pali Coastline. The halfway point of the trail is at a beach that is well known for its death count…DO NOT GET IN THE WATER. Seriously, steer clear of the beach because the current is VERY strong and it will pull you out to sea. Just check the death count on the wood board as you walk in. Other than the death count….it’s a really beautiful beach with some really cool black stones that people stack up into towers. From here some people turn around, but you have to keep going to find the most magical bamboo forest and the amazing waterfall at the end of the trail.
Note: Prepare for this hike in advance. Do not go into it thinking you will just wing it. It is a strenuous hike so bring lots of snacks and water. Please check the weather before you go as there are numerous stream crossings and the chances of flash floods increase with heavy rainfall and you don’t want to get stranded on the trail.
Hike Duration: 6.7 Miles round trip. It will take about 4 hours round trip if you take zero breaks. 7 hours round trip if you stop at the beach, stop at the bamboo forest, or stay for a swim in the waterfall etc. Hard Trail
Wailua Falls Trail - Some people like to do tours, but we definitely recommend grabbing some kayaks for the day at Wailua Kayak & Canoe and just kayaking at your own pace to the Wailua Falls trailhead (where all the other kayaks are). From there you will follow a trail through the rainforest along a winding river to the main waterfall at the end of the trail.
Hike Duration: 14 mile kayak round trip. 6.1 mile hike round trip to the waterfall. Moderate Trail
Pihea Trail - This trail has so many amazing photo spots. You are walking on the ridge of a mountain while looking down at the beautiful Na Pali Coast Valley below. You can either do the entire hike or walk just a few minutes in to get a breathtaking panoramic view.
Hike Duration: 4 miles round trip. We normally don’t do the entire hike, but end up spending about two hours here taking photos and hiking around. Easy walk if you just walk down to see the canyon. Moderate Hike if you do the entire hike.
Shipwreck’s Beach - Located right out front of the Grand Hyatt. This is a great spot to get a picture of the cliffs jetting out into the water or get some action shots of locals surfing large shore breaks. Also, go around the backside of the cliffs and follow the walking trail that leads up to the top. There are great photo opportunities looking out over the cliff edge.
Wailua Falls - From the second you grab your kayak, there are so many great photo spots on the way to Wailua Falls. The Wailua river is beautiful and the walk to the waterfall includes several streams, small waterfalls, beautiful canopies of trees and an epic rope swing that hangs over a stream. Once you reach Wailua Falls you can get some epic shots looking up at it or if you’re brave enough, use some waterproof camera gear and get some shots swimming under the falls. All of those create plenty of opportunities for amazing pictures.
Kilauea Lighthouse - This is a beautiful lighthouse. Next to the parking lot, there is a beautiful overlook where you can get an epic shot of the lighthouse sitting on the edge of cliff that jets out into the ocean. It’s a super moody looking shot so we love it. If you want to get closer to the lighthouse and take some coastline shots, you will have to pay an entrance fee because it’s a wildlife refuge.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 10am-4pm. If you happen to go outside of these times you can still see the lighthouse from the parking lot and get a good shot.
Note: The entry fee is $5 dollar for adults over 15. Children under 15 are free.
Secret Beach - One of the best places to take pictures at sunset. This is one of our favorite photo spots in Kauai because the lighting is absolutely perfect! Unfortunately, Secret Beach isn’t so much of a secret anymore due to services like Google Maps and Apple Maps adding it to their maps as an actual point of interest. It really isn’t that big of a problem because it’s located in a very random spot on the island away from other attractions and the hike is really steep so it’s not a destination that has a lot of groups coming back and forth. Just try to go around sunset when people start hiking back out and if you are lucky enough, you might have the entire place to yourself with the perfect golden hour lighting we all love. Take photos on the lava rocks, in the tide pools or use the big crashing waves and pastel purple and gold skies as the backdrop to your photos.
Note: Please DO NOT swim in on this beach. This is another beach that is sneakily dangerous. The waves are massive and break right on the shore. It is known for riptides as well. Feel free to run along the beach through the ocean water foam though :)
Queen’s Bath - The hike down has tons of beautiful photo opportunities, but the prime shot is at the actual Queen’s Bath tide pool. Photo along the lava rock cliffs looking out over the pool and ocean look really cool and obviously photos of you swimming or jumping into the Queen’s Bath are pretty epic too.
Note: Please go at LOW TIDE only. This is the only time that it is moderately safe to jump in and swim around the bath to get those epic photos. High tide runs the risk of being pulled out of the pool and into the ocean.
Hanalei Pier - This is another great spot for some golden hour photos. The bay becomes completely lit with gold and purple hues around sunset. Get some photos of the beautiful anchored sailboats or rent some paddle boards and get some photos paddling over the calm and clear blue water. If you’re adventurous, get some action shots of jumping off the end of the pier!
Waioli Huiia Church - This is a beautiful historic church set in a valley surrounded by green mountains. You can get some really cool shots standing out in front of it.
Ke’e Beach - Surrounded by beautiful lush mountains, Ke’e Beach is an incredible spot to end the day and watch a purple sunset. Like Tunnels Beach, it is also a great place to snorkel and get shots of turtles underwater.
Kuhio Highway (560) - The drive from Princeville to Hanalei is simply breathtaking. It’s winds back and forth along the coast with amazing mountain views and coastline views. There are many opportunities to pull off the edge of the road in order to get some epic panoramic shots.
Hanakapi’ai Falls - Although getting to the falls is quite the undertaking. The hike is filled with amazing photo spots even if you choose to only walk a little ways into the trail. You will find breathtaking shots of the Na Pali Coast and see crystal blue waters from above. There are many beaches, streams, waterfalls, and bamboo forests on this trail.
Waimea Canyon - The drive up to the canyon is filled with amazing panoramic photo spots. Take your time and stop off on the side of the road when you see something you want to get a closer look at! As you get closer to the top you will start to see the giant canyon that is very similar to the Grand Canyon but in the middle of the Pacific!
Pu’u O Kila Lookout - This iconic photo spot of the ocean and valley below is just a few short minutes into the Pihea Trail hike. This is one of the most memorable sights you will see on the island. This is a 100% must-see.