The cliffs of the Na Pali Coast in Kauai, Hawaii

The Must-Have Kauai Travel Guide for 2024

Kauai, Hawaii is a lush tropical island that makes for a magical vacation destination.

With its majestic sea cliffs, weeping waterfalls, golden sand beaches, and laid-back ambience, Kauai is an island that can spell adventure or relaxation!

Hanalei Valley viewpoint on Kauai, Hawaii
View from the Hanalei Valley viewpoint on Kauai

Whether you want to hike epic trails, drive around and enjoy the many natural wonders, or savor island cuisine, Kauai delivers.

Our Kauai visitors guide will help you plan the perfect trip to this Hawaiian island!

Na Pali Coast
The cliffs of the Na Pali Coast

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Where is Kauai?

Kauai is part of the Hawaiian archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.

It lies 2,593 miles west of California, and 73 miles northwest of Oahu, separated from Oahu by the Kauai Channel.

The northernmost and westernmost of the four largest Hawaiian islands, Kauai is also the smallest. It covers an area of just 562.3 miles.

A map of Hawaii
A map of Hawaii showing the island of Kauai

What to Do in Kauai: Best Kauai Activities and Adventures

Kauai’s natural beauty makes it a big draw for outdoor enthusiasts, but there are things to do in Kauai for every type of traveler.

1. Visit the Na Pali Coast

The Na Pali Coast is the top reason many people visit Kauai.

This iconic stretch of Kauai coastline features towering cliffs laced with waterfalls, lush narrow valleys, pristine coves, arches and sea caves.

Put them all together and you get jaw-dropping postcard views.

A rainbow at the Na Pali cliffs in Kauai, Hawaii
A rainbow at the Na Pali Coast, seen on a boat tour

There are only three ways to visit the Na Pali Coast: from the air, by sea, or by hiking an arduous trail into the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park.

Most visitors to Kauai book a helicopter tour or airplane tour to view the coast from above, or a boat tour or raft excursion to view it from the water.

2. Gawk at the Waimea Canyon

Exploring Waimea Canyon, known as “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is one of the best things to do on Kauai.

The picturesque canyon, with its striking red and green colors, can be viewed from roadside lookouts along the scenic drive through Waimea Canyon State Park.

The Waimea Canyon in Kauai
The red and green colors of Kauai’s Waimea Canyon

And if you don’t have a car, you can enjoy the canyon on a guided tour.

Want to get up close to the scenery at Waimea Canyon? There are trails in the park you can hike.

And active visitors will want to check out this exciting 12-mile downhill bike ride adventure in Waimea Canyon.

3. Discover Kauai’s Beaches

The golden-sand beaches that wrap around Kauai mean that you can enjoy a beach day on any side of the island.

Ke’e Beach on the north shore, Poipu Beach on the south shore, and Lydgate Beach on the east side are some family-friendly lifeguarded beaches on Kauai.

Ke'e Beach in Kauai
Sunset at Ke’e Beach in Kauai

Apart from swimming and snorkeling when conditions are calm, many of Kauai’s beaches offer spectacular scenery, sunbathing and sand play, and opportunities to see marine life.

4. Snorkel!

Tunnels Beach on Kauai’s north shore is considered the best place to snorkel on Kauai. Ke’e Beach and Anini Beach also have fringing reefs where you can look for colorful tropical fish and sea turtles.

A sea turtle at Tunnels Beach in Kauai, Hawaii
A Hawaiian green sea turtle at Tunnels Beach

On the south shore, Poipu Beach and Salt Pond Beach Park offer great snorkeling from shore.

Lydgate Beach Park on the east side has a shallow manmade lagoon that’s perfect for little ones and beginner snorkelers.

Want to snorkel at the Na Pali Coast? A morning catamaran snorkel cruise offers calmer waters, or you can opt for a wet-and-wild raft snorkeling tour.

5. Hike a Kauai Trail

Kauai has trails for all levels, from avid hikers looking for a real challenge to families seeking a casual scenic stroll.

The mother of all hikes on Kauai is the Kalalau Trail into the Na Pali Coast. At eleven strenuous miles each way, it’s only for the most fit and experienced hikers.

Hiking the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, Hawaii
The Kalalau Trail in Kauai

Koke’e State Park on Kauai’s west side is a hiker’s paradise, with day hikes for all levels.

The Mahaulepu Heritage Trail offers spectacular coastal views on the south shore.

Or try the trail to Ho’opi’i Falls or the Sleeping Giant Trail on the east side.

6. Admire Kauai’s Waterfalls

Lush Kauai is home to many waterfalls. Often framed by vibrant rainforest greenery, many Kauai waterfalls have featured in movies and TV shows.

No visit to the island is complete without admiring at least some of the most beautiful waterfalls in Kauai.

Jurassic Falls on Kauai, Hawaii, seen from a helicopter
Jurassic Falls in Kauai

While you can drive to some nice Kauai waterfalls like Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls, you have to hike to others like Ho’opi’i Falls.

And some of the most dramatic cascades on Kauai, like Jurassic Falls, and the Weeping Wall of Waialeale, are best admired from a helicopter or on a flightseeing tour.

7. Go Kayaking!

As the only Hawaiian island with navigable rivers, Kauai is definitely the place in Hawaii to take a paddling trip on a river.

The Wailua River, on Kauai’s east side, offers scenic river kayaking. You can rent a kayak and paddle on your own, or join a guided trip that combines a paddle with a rainforest hike to Secret Falls.

Paddling the Wailua River in Kauai, Hawaii
Paddling the Wailua River on the east side of Kauai

In the north of the island, you can enjoy the best of both worlds — river kayaking and sea kayaking — on an exciting guided adventure where you paddle to the mouth of the scenic Hanalei River and then onto the turquoise waters of Hanalei Bay.

8. Take a Peek into Kauai’s Past

Kauai has a rich and long history, and from ancient heiaus to old plantations, there are many historic sites to visit on the island.

In the north, you can view the remains of old Hawaiian settlements at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve.

A Hawaiian hale at the Limahuli Garden and Preserve in Kauai, Hawaii
A Hawaiian hale at the Limahuli Garden

In the east, drive the Wailua Heritage Trail and see the Wailua Complex of Heiaus, a National Historic Landmark.

At Kilohana Plantation, you can take a train ride through fields of tropical crops and orchards. The grand plantation house, built in the 1930s, is a historic landmark that has been restored and is now home to dining and shops.

9. Enjoy a Kauai Luau

Many first-time visitors to Kauai (or other Hawaiian islands) have a luau on their wish-list.

Usually an evening affair, a luau combines a feast of Hawaiian delicacies with Polynesian entertainment: music, dance, and story. Many shows have an exciting-to-watch fire dancing display at the end.

Fire dancer at a luau on Kauai, Hawaii
Fire dancer at a Kauai luau

There are many luaus on Kauai from which to choose.

Luau Kalamaku is one of the top Kauai luaus, with an imu ceremony, a Hawaiian buffet, and a spellbinding show.

Another popular luau is Luau Ka Hikina, with a traditional Hawaiian feast and a topnotch show.

10. Zipline over Kauai or Go on an ATV Ride

From mountain tubing to back road driving and big wave surfing to ziplining, there are lots of adventures to be had on Kauai.

Aerial view of Kauai forest landscape
Zipline over lush Kauai forests!

Ziplining is a thrilling (and popular!) Kauai activity for adventure-loving families with older kids and adults. You’ll soar over some of Kauai’s lush landscapes, including forests and water bodies.

An ATV excursion allows to explore Kauai on back road trails, passing through plantations and riding up to an inactive volcano.

The Best Time to Visit Kauai

Typically, the shoulder months of April-May-early June and September-October-early November offer decent weather, relatively lower crowds, and better deals on accommodations.

Average daytime highs at these times of year are usually in the high 70s or low 80s.

Here’s a seasonal breakdown of what to expect:

Spring (Late March through early June)

Average daytime highs tend to be in the high 70s or low 80s. Early spring may still see a fair bit of rainfall, especially on the north and east sides, with rough ocean conditions, although not as bad as the winter months.

Accommodations tend to be better-priced during spring, and you’ll also have the advantage of lower crowds, other than during spring break.

Kauai’s waterfalls have spectacular flow at this time of the year, although trails may still be muddy and slick.

Summer (Mid June through mid September)

Summer is unequivocally the best time to visit Kauai if you want to enjoy lots of beach time. You’ll have a much wider choice of beaches where you can swim or snorkel.

Haena Beach is one of the best Kauai north shore beaches!
Beach time at Ha’ena Beach Park in the summer

Average daytime highs in the summer hit the mid 80s. You might still run into the occasional shower or rainstorm, but typically summer is drier all over the island.

As the most popular season for families to visit Kauai, summer is one of the more crowded seasons, with higher prices on accommodations. Book stays, rental car, and tours well ahead of your visit dates, and make advance dinner reservations at popular restaurants.

Fall (Late September through early November)

With summer crowds departed, fall is a relatively relaxed time to visit Kauai, with average daytime highs falling back to the high 70s and low 80s. Accommodation prices tend to be lower in this shoulder season.

You may run into more rain at the tail end of fall, but earlier in the season should still be good beach weather with relatively calm ocean conditions for the most part. Early fall is also usually still good hiking weather all around the island.

Some waterfalls may be dry (Waipoo Falls, for example), or have a low flow.

A view of the Waimea Canyon in Kauai, Hawaii
Waimea Canyon in early fall

Winter (Mid November through mid March)

Winter is rainy season in Hawaii. The north and east shores of Kauai see a lot of rain in the winter months, making the south shore a safer bet weather wise for a base. North shore beaches may see dangerously high surf for much of the winter.

Average daytime highs are usually in the mid to low 70s.

If you plan to visit the Na Pali Coast by boat in the winter, be prepared for heavy ocean swells. Although the coast looks jewel-green and stunning on a sunny day in the winter, there is a higher chance of boat (or helicopter) tours being canceled or rescheduled in the winter months.

If you want to enjoy whale watching on Kauai, winter is the season humpbacks arrive in Hawaiian waters.

A humpback whale tail in the ocean in Kauai
Winter is the season for whale watching on Kauai

Big wave surfing is popular on the north shore and the rains mean that Kauai’s waterfalls flow powerfully. You’ll likely see lots of temporary waterfalls too!

The holidays see an influx of visitors, and accommodation prices are generally higher during Thanksgiving and in December.

Getting to Kauai

Kauai’s primary airport is Lihue Airport (LIH), located about 1.5 miles east of Lihue, on the southeast coast of the island of Kauai.

Aloha sign on Kauai, HI
Aloha is the traditional Hawaiian greeting

Many airlines offer direct flights from the US mainland to Lihue in Kauai. If it’s more convenient, you can also fly into Honolulu (HNL) in neighboring Oahu and then take a short 25-minute inter-island flight to Lihue, Kauai.

If you are combining a visit to Kauai with one or more of the other large Hawaiian islands, there are inter-island flights to Lihue from Oahu, Maui, and the Big Island.

While most visitors to the island arrive by air, Kauai is a stop on Hawaii cruises. If you are on a Hawaii cruise, your ship will dock at the port in Nawiliwili, southeast of the town of Lihue.

Getting Around in Kauai

Kauai is small — only about 25 miles long and 33 miles wide. There are two highways on the island: the KaumualiÊ»i Highway (Highway 50), and the Kuhio Highway (Highway 56).

Highway on the north shore of Kauai
Driving the highway along the north shore of Kauai

To explore the island of Kauai, it is best to rent a car. Public transport and shuttle services are limited, and rideshare options like Uber and Lyft, although they exist, can be expensive and difficult to find. Holoholo is a local rideshare option available on Kauai.

We always use Discover Cars to book Kauai car rentals. They search across a variety of rental car companies, both budget and brand, to offer you the best deals, AND they offer free cancellations. Plus, there are no hidden fees.

>> Check availability and prices on Kauai car rentals now!

TIP: Plan to rent a car well ahead of your Kauai visit as the availability of rental cars can be low, especially in high seasons.

If you do not plan to pick up a rental car at Lihue airport, and your hotel does not offer a shuttle, pre-arrange round trip transfer from the airport to your hotel and back.

This shared shuttle serves hotels or vacation rentals in Princeville, Kahala, Poipu, Kapaa, or Lihue, and then back again. It’s convenient and inexpensive, and saves time and hassle!

>> Check prices and availability for shared round-trip airport transfer in Kauai now!

Where to Stay in Kauai

Poipu and Koloa on the south shore, Princeville on the north shore, and Kapaa on the east side are the major bases for visitors to Kauai.

You will find a range of accommodations on Kauai, from hotels and resorts to vacation rentals. Budget, weather, and convenience for sightseeing and activities are the main drivers that determine where you should stay.

Sunset at 1 Hotel hanalei Bay in Kauai, Hawaii
Sunset at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay

Read our detailed guide on the best places to stay in Kauai for detailed suggestions on every side of the island, or start browsing VRBO for vacation rentals or Expedia for hotels or resorts, including packages.

Our resort picks for Kauai’s south shore are Koloa Landing Resort for a boutique stay (it’s great for a couples getaway!) or the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa (great for everyone, including families!).

On the north shore, 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay is right on the beach and has some nice restaurants and a lounge that’s perfect for watching sunset. We also like the Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas.

The east side of Kauai has relatively more affordable stay options. Try the Waipouli Beach Resorts & Spa Kauai by Outrigger or the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach Resort (great for everyone, including families!).

Where to Eat in Kauai

From fine dining to food trucks, you’ll find lots of choices for where to eat on Kauai.

On the south shore, visit Roy Yamaguchi’s Eating House 1849 for superb Asian inspired cuisine and tasty cocktails. Tidepools offers the ultimate setting for a date night dinner, and Beach House Restaurant is the place to go for dinner with an expansive ocean view.

Tofu dish at Earing House 1849 in Poipu Kauai
A tofu dish at Eating House 1849 in Koloa

Keoki’s Paradise is a fun option for lunch or a casual dinner, or browse the food trucks at Old Koloa Town: you’ll find Thai, dim sum, Mexican, Hawaiian plate lunches and more.

While on the south shore of Kauai, you have to try a puka dog — a Hawaiian style hot dog — at Puka Dog. There’s a Lappert’s Ice Cream at The Shops at Kukui’ula if you want to indulge your sweet tooth. And for shave ice, head to Waikomo Shave Ice!

On the north shore, Bar Acuda serves delicious tapas. Reserve early or you’ll miss out. AMA Restaurant offers Asian inspired cuisine and the setting of their patio and lawn is drop-dead gorgeous.

We like to hit the food trucks in the Hanalei Food Truck for lunch: Fresh Bite Kauai has hearty bowls with lots of local fruit and veggies. Cafe Turmeric has a killer seafood coconut curry and other Indian dishes. For a sit-down lunch, we like The Sandbox at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay.

Wishing Well has some of the best shave ice on Kauai, and of course you have to try the taro doughnuts at Holey Grail.

Shave ice at Wishing Well on Kauai, HI
Rainbow shave ice at Wishing Well

On the east side, Duke’s Kauai offers an oceanfront setting, great cocktails, and hula pie! The Plantation House by Gaylord’s at the Kilohana Plantation is known both for the food and the setting. Hualani’s has a gorgeous oceanfront setting and the food is delicious.

For shave ice on the east side, head to Wailua Shave Ice.

What to Pack for Kauai

Kauai has a very laid-back, casual ambience, and one of the perks of a Kauai vacation is the ability to spend a lot of your time on the island in tees and shorts.

Bring one nice island-y outfit that you can wear for dinner at a fine dining restaurant, and, of course, swimsuits and a cover-up. We also bring sun-protective clothing, and one long-sleeved shirt and a pair of long pants for hiking. A rain poncho or lightweight rain jacket with a hood is a must on Kauai.

Shop in Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii
You can shop for island clothing at many places on Kauai

Pack comfortable sandals or walking shoes, a pair of waterproof hiking shoes if you plan to hike, and a sun hat.

Reef-safe sunscreen and bug repellent are essentials on Kauai. Also, don’t forget your UV protective ot polarized sunglasses!

Pack a beach bag or backpack, refillable water bottles, one or two reusable shopping bags, and a waterproof pouch for your phone and other small valuables.

Kauai is a photographer’s paradise, so bring your camera and lenses along if you are a serious photographer. An underwater camera is great if you love to snorkel.

Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai, HI
Picture-perfect Kilauea Lighthouse on Kauai

Fun Facts About Kauai

  • At a little over 5 million years old, Kauai is the oldest of the four large Hawaiian islands. It is also the smallest of the large Hawaiian islands.
  • Kauai is called “the Garden Isle” because of its lush beauty. Mount Waialeale on Kauai is the second wettest spot on the planet. It receives a whopping 450 inches of rain on average each year.
  • You can’t drive completely around the island. Roads run from Haena State Park in the northwest corner of the island to the Polihale State Park in the west, the Na Pali Coast in the northwest of the island has no road running through it.
  • You’ll see lots of chickens on Kauai! From the airport in Lihue to all over the island, chickens run wild. And if you are a light sleeper, bring ear plugs, because otherwise you’ll awaken to roosters crowing in the morning.
  • Kauai is home to the largest coffee plantation in the USA: Kauai Coffee. It also grows a lot of taro.
  • Like the rest of Hawaii, there is no daylight savings time on Kauai.

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Discover the ultimate travel guide for Kauai, Hawaii -- what to do, how to get there, renting a car, where to stay, where to eat, and the best time to visit Kauai.

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