Most travelers who start planning a trip to Hawaii think about going to the most popular islands, like Maui or Oahu. But if you want to get away from the crowds, be one with nature, and feel like one of the locals, Kauai is the place for you. Nicknamed the Garden Isle, Kauai is filled with tropical rainforests, endless palm trees, and lush greenery. And there are chickens—chickens everywhere. (They're not part of the whole "garden" thing, but it's still good to know.)
Because of the island’s small size, Kauai only has one main road, which means renting a car is a must and it's pretty much impossible to get lost. As the oldest of Hawaii’s main islands, it also has more miles of sandy coastline than any other Hawaiian island, which means yes, more beaches! So if you’re ready to head out to a place often dubbed as one of the most relaxing spots in America, but don't know where to start your explorations, here's a guide to help you get going.
WHERE TO STAY
Wyndham Bali Hai Villas: Get ready to feel spoiled. As soon as you arrive to this resort in Princeville, you will be traditionally greeted with a lei and receive a rundown on the resort’s daily activities. Your condo will have a living room, kitchen, balcony (also known as a lanai in Hawaii), and even a washer and dryer. There's also a game room, a nearby golf course, endless DVDs to rent, jacuzzis, and two swimming pools with waterfalls and sand. It also doesn’t hurt that the hotel is located near several beaches, including Anini Beach, which is known as being the most protected beach among the island’s north shore.
Hotel Coral Reef Resort: Literally steps from the beach, this is the hotel to book if you want an oceanfront view. Located right along Kapa’a Beach Park, this hotel goes above and beyond to make sure you’re having the time of your life. (And the best part? It’s actually affordable!) When you’re not enjoying your view, feel free to rent one of the hotel’s bikes, boogie boards, or beach chairs to experience the joys of the shore. On the other hand, if you’re planning on spending the day out on an adventure, make sure to eat their delicious complimentary breakfast before you head out. Oh, and remember to enjoy your room’s AC, a luxury not many Kauai hotels have.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Sam’s Ocean View: Named one of the 10 best restaurants in Kapaa, Kauai, this restaurant specializes in making the islands freshest foods (and it even offers gluten-free options!) The restaurant serves a variety of dishes, including seafood, globally inspired dishes, and brunch foods, (Sam’s was even named recipient of the 2016 and 2017 Open Table Diners Choice Awards). As if the food wasn’t appealing enough, the restaurant also boasts beautiful ocean views, live music from talented singers, and daily happy hour from 4pm to 6pm. The deal is even sweeter on Sundays with $5 mimosas.
Art Café Hemingway: You have not had brunch until you have been to this café. With dozens and dozens of selections, including omelets, crepes, and croissants, it’s easy not to want to make room for anything else. But keep in mind that this café, also located in Kapaa, does serve cocktails, wine, and Bloody Marys among other drinks, so you might want to reconsider. And if you’re really into eating healthy, this café will become your go-to. The owners have a farm-to-table kitchen, meaning everything they serve is organic, made from scratch, and locally sourced.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
See the real Jurassic Park: What’s better than watching the movie? Seeing where it was actually shot. You only have to walk a couple feet of the Na Pali Coast to know why part of the classic '90s film was filmed there. The coast is widely known for its lush green trees, sea cliffs that rise up to 4,000 feet above the ocean, and huge waterfalls. If you’re a beginner, hike the first two miles of the 11-mile trail to Hanakapi`ai Beach. (The trail is very steep, but the views of the coastline and ocean are definitely worth it.) If you're more advanced, you can hike another two miles to the stunning Hanakapi`ai waterfalls. But keep in mind you don’t have to hike to see these views. You can experience the coast the way Jurassic Park filmmakers did by taking a helicopter tour or even by cruising around the coast in a boat for a different perspective.
Explore the Wailua River: If you’ve never kayaked or been on a paddleboard before, this is the perfect place to do it. Known as Hawaii’s largest navigable river and regarded as one of the island’s most sacred places, the Wailua River is calm enough for you to try out some water sports, and will also provide you with some of the most scenic views on the island. One of the most notable spots to see along your journey will be the Nounou Mountain Range, also known as the Sleeping Giant, which is said to look like a mammoth person lying on their back. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also paddle to the Secret Falls trailhead and hike about a mile to a magnificent 150-foot waterfall.
Hit the beach, obviously: Kauai boasts dozens of beaches, so regardless of which part of the island you’re on, rest assured you’re always going to have the perfect beach day. Poipu Beach, which is located on the island’s south shore and was ranked by the Travel Channel as one of the country’s best beaches in America, is an absolute must. But honestly, there’s no need to be picky, each beach has golden sand and clear blue waves. If you're feeling one with the water, feel free to rent gear to snorkel or even take a surfing lesson at Kauai Surf School. Whatever you do, don’t forget to catch the sunset!