Kauai is often cited as the favorite island among local Hawaiians, and with its incredible natural beauty, it’s easy to see why. Nicknamed the Garden Isle, this verdant dot in the Pacific Ocean, where wild chickens likely outnumber people, truly holds a place in your heart that implores you to come back. Here’s a guide to all Kauai has to offer:
Where to sleep
One of the things that separates Kauai from more touristy islands like Maui or Oahu is the lack of accommodations—in a good way. There are high-end options, like the St. Regis Princeville Resort and celebrity estate enclaves on the north shore, and there are midrange options that have popped up more recently.
St. Regis Princeville Resort
If you want to be close to the glitz and glamour of celebs, check into the ritzy St. Regis Princeville Resort on the north shore. With five-star butler service and sweeping views of Hanalei Bay (former home to Julia Roberts), you might not even want to leave the property.
Hilton Garden Inn
St. Regis not in your budget? Try the newly revamped Hilton Garden Inn right on Wailua Bay and next to Lydgate State Park on the south shore. The property is very close to can’t-miss sites like the Fern Grotto and Wailua Falls. Its picturesque location and wallet-friendly accommodations plus its proximity to natural sites make Hilton Garden Inn a favorite for me.
What to eat
It’s easy to eat healthy and hearty while in lush Kauai. Fresh fish, fresh greens, and fresh fruits will make up your diet staples while in Hawaii.
The Dolphin Restaurant in Hanalei is a yummy local spot on the banks of the Hanalei River that has been operating since the 1970s. There is no better place to go for fresh sushi in a laid-back Garden-of-Eden setting. There’s even a fish market on-site so you know you’re getting the best cuts. Try the delicious spicy poke, a raw fish salad akin to ceviche.
Puka Dog is one of my guilty pleasures. Make time for a pit stop at this restaurant in Koloa to try its namesake menu item, the Puka Dog. It’s not a corn dog. It’s not a hot dog. Maybe it’s a bit of a hybrid between the two? But sweet and savory, it’s one of the most sensational fast-food snacks that you’ll ever have.
What to do
TLC must not have made it to Kauai, because you should absolutely chase waterfalls while on this island. Spend a day exploring the island’s many waterfalls, like Wailua Falls. You might know this one from the opening credits of the ’80s TV show Fantasy Island. In ancient times, Hawaiian men jumped off the top to prove their manhood. If you’re lucky, you might spot someone taking the dive.
Another fun way to see the island is to zip-line across it. Book a tour with Koloa Ziplines and traverse 22,000 acres of Hawaii’s first sugar plantation. You’ll get to zoom across lakes, wildflower fields, and tree canopies. You can even book a stunning sunset tour; imagine zipping across a marshy field of wildflowers in full bloom during the magic hour of a golden setting sun!
If you like zip-lining, how about getting a little bit more aerial with a helicopter tour of the island? While its laid-back vibe makes Kauai feel worlds away from Hollywood, you’d be shocked by how many films have had the island’s vistas as their backdrops. Movies like The Descendants, Tropic Thunder, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and the Jurassic Park movie series were all shot here. Even the CGI animation of Avatar was inspired by the rainforests of the Garden Isle. There is no better way to see all of these far-flung locations across the island than by helicopter. Take a tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters to overlook canyons, waterfalls, and jungles otherwise inaccessible by foot. It’s definitely a splurge, but when you see the landmark Honopū Valley along the Nā Pali Coast—you may have already seen it in the original King Kong or Jurassic Park—you’ll understand why this tour is well worth it. Only accessible by water and a spiritual place of temples and burial grounds, Honopū Valley is bathed in greens and deep terra-cotta colors making the views from a helicopter spectacular.