Although Oahu is my home and will always hold a special place in my heart, Kauai is my favorite island to visit. The oldest Hawaiian island, its beauty stretches from the depths of Waimea Canyon to the high cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. Today, I want to share with you a few of my Kauai must dos, especially if you are planning your first trip to the island.
By law, development can only take place on about four percent of the land on Kauai. No building may be taller than four stories, about the height of a coconut tree. Each island is unique, and visiting Kauai is a very different experience than visiting any other islands.
People come to Kauai to relax at one of the top resorts, to enjoy the tranquility, to see the beautiful Na Pali coast, and to hike the beautiful trails. The natural beauty of the island coupled with the incredible food and quiet, slower pace, makes Kauai my favorite island to visit, especially for a romantic vacation.
Here’s what I think you should try to see and do while you are on Kauai:
See the Na Pali Coast
I think that the Na Pali Coast- a 15 miles expanse of rocky cliffs – is the most beautiful part of Kauai. There are many different ways to experience it, and there truly is something for everyone.
For experienced kayakers who crave adventure, there are guided tours that take you kayaking along the coast. Or, you can relax and see it from a boat on a dinner cruise. Helicopter tours allow you to view the beauty of the coast from the air.
And if you just want to stick to land, you can hike the Kalalau Trail. The trail itself is 11 miles each way. I don’t recommend most people do the entire hike, but it is divided into three sections so you can just do part of it. The first section is the Kalalau Trail begins with a 2-mile hike to Hanakapiai Beach. Many people turn around here. It’s a really great way to get a taste of the Na Pali Coast because of the beautiful views that you get pretty much the entire time.
Visit Waimea Canyon
On Kauai’s west side, Waimea Canyon is nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” and it is an incredible sight to see. The many different colors took my breath away the first time I saw it.
Waimea Canyon is about ten miles long and reaches 3,600 feet deep. An accessible attraction, you can drive up to the Waimea Canyon Lookout for panoramic views. Keep your eyes peeled for waterfalls and maybe even a rainbow.
While you don’t have to do any hikes to see Waimea Canyon, there are many different hikes to do here that give you a deeper view. My favorite hike is the Awa’awapuhi Trail. A little over 3 miles each way, this hike brings you over 2,000 feet above the Awa`awapuhi and Nualolo valleys.
See Wailua Falls
Wailua Falls is double-tiered waterfall located about 15 minutes from the Lihue airport. I always recommend this hike to people who are visiting Kauai because it’s a quick stop and because it is very accessible. You don’t have to hike to see this waterfall. Just park your car and walk over to the lookout spot.
For people who love waterfalls, Wailua Falls is worth a stop. It’s very impressive at over 80 feet tall! You might recognize it from the opening of the TV show “Fantasy Island.” Note that there is no hike into the waterfalls, so you should not attempt to go any further than the lookout point.
Eat at Oasis on the Beach
Oasis on the Beach is a farm-to-table restaurant serving locally caught fish and grass fed meat. Offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the restaurant works with local farmers to bring the best, freshest ingredients to its dishes. Oasis on the Beach is easily the best place I’ve ever eaten on Kauai.
What I love most about this restaurant is that they offer small plates, enabling you to get to try many different dishes. For dinner, you can order entrees in half or full portions. When I went with my husband, we opted to try a few half portions and an appetizer. It was a great experience. Their drink menu also features local craft beer and incredible cocktails.
The restaurant is located in the Waipoul Beach Resort in Kapa’a. The stunning views you get while you eat makes an amazing dining experience even better. I highly recommend this restaurant, especially if you are looking for a romantic night out.
Hunt for treasure at Glass Beach
Glass Beach is a beach made entirely out of sea glass. I collect sea glass from everywhere I go, so I knew I had to visit during my first trip to Kauai.
Glass beach is located 10 minutes from Port Allen, a little town with a strip of shops and restaurants – including a brewery and a chocolate store. But, Glass Beach is about as far off the beaten path as you can go – right the middle of Kauai’s industrial center. You will drive through the industrial area and onto a dirt road in order to find it. The view is nothing special, but you will find a treasure trove of sea glass. It’s not the kind of beach you will bring your towels and beach chairs to, but a quick stop here is definitely worth it, especially if you love sea glass.
Take a dog on a field trip
If you want to give back while visiting Kauai, you might be interested in this program run by the Kauai Humane Society. Visitors to Kauai can visit the Kauai Humane Society and check out a dog for a day. You will be matched up with a dog and will have the entire day to spend together. You can bring your new companion on a hike or to a dog-friendly beach, giving them much-needed exercise and socialization while you get to enjoy their company.
There is no pressure to adopt these dogs. Getting them out for the day is the most important part of this program. However, some people do fall in love with their dogs. If that happens, you do have the option to adopt them and take them home. For more information about this Kauai Must Do, click here.
Eat at Kilauea Fish Market
Kilauea Fish Market is a casual spot with incredible food. You walk up to the counter, place your order, and pick it up when it’s ready. This is the perfect place to stop after a long hike or with children. You don’t have to worry about dressing up and you can eat outside at picnic tables. I love this place because they offer such great food in such a laid-back atmosphere.
Along with local, fresh fish, Kilauea Fish Market also offers Hawaiian food, an ahi burrito, fish tacos, salads, vegetarian options, poke, plate lunches, and grass fed beef. My favorite thing on the menu is the Ono fish tacos with a garlic sauce.
Or, if you are staying somewhere with a kitchen or grill, you might want to pick up a piece of local fish and cook it yourself!
Visit the Kilauea Lighthouse and Wildlife Refuge
This beautiful wildlife refuge costs $5 to enter. You will get stunning views of the coastline and you might even see Hawaiian seabirds including the ‘Ā (red-footed booby), Mōlī (Laysan albatross), ‘Ua ‘u kani (wedge-tailed shearwater), and other Kauai wildlife in their natural habitat. The coastal front also provides a safe haven for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, Hawaiian green sea turtles, and humpback whales.
Although I didn’t stay long, I loved stopping here and I highly recommend it.
Watch Spouting Horn
Spouting Horn is a blowhole that’s worth the visit. It might be a bit of a detour for you, but it’s so cool to see the water splash up through the blowhole! The coastline is beautiful and you will get some amazing pictures here. It is located near Koloa, where there are many shops and restaurants.
Before you reach the blowhole, you will walk through a shopping market. For sale are local crafts, trinkets, and gifts. So, you can get some souvenir shopping done at the same time as you see the sights. That’s how I like to shop!
Visit Hanalei Bay
Nestled on the north shore of Kauai is a beautiful small town called Hanalei. The town itself is definitely worth visiting for its cute shops, art galleries, and historic buildings. There are also many places to rent snorkel gear or surf equipment that you can take with you to Hanalei Bay.
The crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches on Kauai. There is a beautiful view of the Wainiha mountain range from the beach, and it is the perfect place to watch the sunset. After you watch the sunset, stop in at one of Hanalei’s delicious restaurants. The Dolphin Restaurant, Bar Acuda, and Postcards Cafe are a few of my favorites.
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