Updated: December 2017

Kauai Vacation Planning: Best Places to Stay on Kauai

The Hawaiian Islands include: Hawaii (the big island), Maui, Lanai, Molokai, Kauai, and Oahu. This guide will focus on introducing you to Kauai, also known as the Garden Isle. Kauai is one of the least commercialized islands, it tends to be quieter, without a lot of raucous nightlife. The main cities on Kauai are Lihue (near the airport in the southeast), Poipu (southeast), Wailua and Kapaa (heading up the east side), and Princeville and Hanalei in the north east. Interestingly, you CANNOT drive all the way around the island of Kauai, as the northwest corner is dominated by the Napali cliffs, which no road manages to cut through. Poipu and Lihue have the biggest concentration of tourist hotels and condos, while the northeast section is a little more remote and quiet.

Kauai Sightseeing Activities

Of course some of the most popular acitivites on Kauai involve lying on the beautiful beaches, enjoying cool drinks by the pool, and snorkeling. But there is much more to do here once you look around. A lot of movies have been filmed on Kauai, from scenes from Jurassic Park to Indiana Jones and Fantasy Island. The lush tropical vegetation give that ideal island setting we expect - so if you are vacationing on Kauai, make sure you get out and spend some time in the jungle. An easy way to do this is with a boat tour up the Wailua River, the longest navigable river in Hawaii. Just north of Lihue, boat trips depart daily, taking you up river into the heart of the lush tropical forests of Kauai, ending at the Fern Grotto. You'll have a chance to get out and walk around, amazed by the tree-size plants that you are used to seeing in small pots in your home - here they are in their natural element and thrive in the warm, sunny, wet weather. You can also take kayaking tours here along the river.

Best Kauai Sight Seeing Tips

While the eastern side of Kauai gets plenty of rainfall and is lush and green, when you visit Waimea Canyon on the west side you will discover a dry, deserty canyon experience, looking much like the Grand Canyon. The road here climbs almost 4000 feet giving you great vistas into the mutli-colored canyons. No trip to Kauai is complete without visiting the north Napali coast. This rugged coastline is forbidding, but can be easily reached via hiking trails just past Hanalei Bay, or via zodiac raft and catamaran tours that depart from Hanalei. A watery approach is the most convenient, allowing you to gaze on miles of great cliffs and steep valleys without much effort. Most tour companies offer stops for lunch and snorkeling, making it a good half day adventure. If you'd rather hike, park and take the 11-mile Kalalau trail deep into the hilly terrain. You may also want to consider a helicopter tour, but they can be expensive, running $75-$200 per person; that being said, the aerial views of this magnificent island are like nothing you will ever see again - it may well be worth the splurge.

Best Kauai Beaches

Kauai's lovely coast is punctuated by many delightful beaches. Poipu beach (about 20 minutes south of the airport in Lihue) in the south is considered one of the world's best. Poipu is really a series of 3 beaches, starting at the Sheraton Kauai and stretching to Poipu Beach Park. There is great swimming, snorkeling, and surfing here - but don't feel bad if you just relax on the white sand and enjoy a drink or a book. Brennecke Beach at the far east end of the park is known for its consistently good body and boogie board surfing. There are showers and restrooms at the park, and a number of small restaurants nearby for an evening meal or cocktail after a day at the beach. Hanalei Bay Beach on the north shore is a spectacular natural wonder. It is a large circular bay with 2 miles of white sandy beaches melting into green mountain jungles behind you. There are 3 parks here, but this area can be quite stormy and unpredictable in the winter, with the roads here often battered by waves. Kee Beach, at the western end of the Napali coast, has a shallow lagoon that is a good location for families and children. Lastly, Kalapaki Beach is next to the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club, with a crescent-shaped sandy beach, looking out on Nawilwili Bay. The bay is partially protected and is popular and crowded at times. A number of restaurants and bars are right within walking distance, making it easy to grab lunch or a cocktail.

Our Kauai Guide Continues: