Kauai is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited, and this lush island really does have it all - perfect weather, incredible hikes, and views on views. With over 50 miles of beaches, Kauai has more beach per coastline than any other Hawaiian island, and I promise that you will never want to leave once you experience this magical place.
WHERE TO STAY
We flew from Honolulu to Kauai one evening, which is only a 20 minute flight (shortest I have ever been on), and from there, we rented a convertible and drove 45 minutes to Princeville, where our hotel was located. I had asked Melissa for suggestions on where to stay in Kauai since I trusted her judgment after she thoroughly explored the island last year. Princeville was an immediate response, and we ended up loving the location we chose since it was close to a few of the sights we wanted to see (Queen’s Bath, Hanalei Lookout, Hanalei Bay) and pretty central to other areas of the island.
The Westin Princeville layout is like a traditional resort with spacious 1 or 2 bedroom villas centered around a beautiful pool and Jacuzzi area. Grab a drink at the bar and head over the pool at night for some stargazing and quiet moments. The piña coladas here are BOMB.COM! What makes this hotel so unique is that it overlooks the rugged, North coast cliffs, so make sure to check it out during the day.
THINGS TO DO
Take a dip in Queen’s Bath
Queen's Bath is a unique tide pool surrounded by igneous rock, and is one of the most coolest places we visited in Kauai. The hike down to the bath takes about 20-25 minutes and is clearly marked, and once you see the coast, continue walking until you find the crystal clear pool of water. Swimming here is not really during periods of high surf in the winter (7 people have drowned after being swept off the rocks). However, the water is extremely calm in the summer, and plenty of people jumped in for a swim and to snorkel since there are sea urchins, small fish and other sea life to be enjoyed!
If you are using Google Maps, the GPS directions will guide you into a neighborhood where you will find a very small parking lot that can hold about 10 cars. The wait time was only about 10-15 minutes (At around 11am on a weekday), but definitely try to get there early so you don’t have to wait forever to find parking.
Tip: Wear a swimsuit and bring snorkeling gear! I made the mistake of not wearing one, which I regret since the water looked so inviting and refreshing.
Check out Hanalei Valley Lookout
I quickly added this lookout spot to my list when I saw Mel's gorgeous Hanalei Valley photos in her Kauai post last year. There is a parking lot so you can quickly hop out, snap a few pics, and enjoy the gorgeous views of the valley, mountains, and waterfalls. This stop is also extremely convenient since it is located pretty central in Princeville along one of the busier roads. We were able to stop by right after checking out the Aloha Juice Bar, which is really close by.
Drive to Wailua Falls
A visit to this beautiful double-tiered waterfall is an absolute must on the island! Wailua falls is an 83 foot waterfall that feeds into the Wailua River. It's actually located pretty close to the airport (Lihue) on the East side of Kauai, so plan your driving route accordingly since many of the major sites are on other parts of the island. I did see a few people swimming at the base of the falls, and it looked absolutely exhilarating. I read that the hike down is a bit treacherous, so if you do decide to hike down to the bottom instead of just enjoying from the lookout, definitely be careful!
Visit Hanalei Bay
With nearly two miles of beach and surrounded by mountains, Hanalei Bay boasts some of the best views in town. Princeville is located just Northeast of the Bay and was only a 5 minute drive from our hotel. After a long day of exploring and driving around the island, we went home, changed, and headed out for to the Bay for sunset. It wasn't crowded at all, and I thoroughly entertained myself by munching on onion rings and dog watching as the sky lit up in the most beautiful colors as the sun set.
Hike Waimea Canyon Hike
Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and since I never had a chance to visit Arizona before, I really had no idea what to expect. What a grandeur experience it was to see this in person after looking at photos for months; I really had to take a moment at the top take soak it all in. The Canyon is about to miles long and up to 3,000 feet deep, and although I only got to experience a bit of it during our short hike, I can only imagine the views of a longer journey.
The trail we took was less than an hour and a half round trip, and I would categorize it as a medium-difficulty hike. There are definitely rocks to climb with some steep inclines and declines along the way, so be prepared for a pretty strenuous hike to the top. The view once you reach the top of the canyon is absolutely breathtaking, so keep that camera safe and snap plenty of photos as a reward for your trek!
Book Captain Andy’s Na Pali Experience
Melissa’s Kauai Diaries made sailing around the Na Pali Coast an absolute priority, and I made sure to do my fair share of research in the short time I had to plan to find the perfect boat tour for our last day in Kauai. Captain Andy’s Na Pali Experience was by far the most popular option on TripAdvisor, and I read plenty of rave reviews before deciding on the “enter name of tour”. The boat fit a total of 7 (Capt. Included), which was the perfect tour size.
This 5 hour journey took us on an adventure that began at the south end of the island at Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor, and ended with a beautiful sunset at the end of the evening. As we sailed toward Na Pali, Captain John pointed out various landmarks along the way, including the U.S. military base along the coast and the privately owned island that is home to 150 Hawaiians that are “basically like their own Amish community”. Apparently, you can visit the island, but can only step foot on the public beaches. As we continued sailing, we sailed in and out of the beautiful seacaves along the coast, which was one of the most unique and exhilarating experiences. It was interesting to see how diverse the different caves were, and even more exciting when we got to sail inside and hear the waves crashing against the cave walls.
We also got a crash course on the history of the beautiful coast; one of the most interesting facts I learned was that different parts of the island get a vastly different average amount of rainfall every year, which contributes to the diverse landscape we saw as we sailed. After 3 hours of exploration, Captain John secured our boat near shallow water, and we were able to jump in and snorkel with the fish! My main mission in the 25 minutes we had in the water was to find and swim with a sea turtle. Luckily, I was able to spot one in the last 5 minutes and got to be up close and personal with one of the most beautiful creatures. It was probably one of my favorite parts of this whole trip! After snorkeling, we sat back and enjoyed some freshly cut pineapple and snacks as we started sailing back toward our drop-off location. I definitely recommend choosing the 2-7pm cruise since you get to end the tour with a prime view of the famous Kauai sunset.
Hike the Na Pali Coast
The famous Kalaulau trail is a whopping 22 mile round-trip journey that many hikers take on when they visit Kauai. However, for those who are short on time or would rather not hike and camp out for 2-3 days, there are shorter trail options that also boast some fantastic views for a fraction of the energy! The first two miles of the trail are quite difficult, and even though I would like to say I am pretty in-shape, I did have to catch my breath once or twice in the first hour. We started the shorter 2 mile hike on our last morning, which meant we were in a bit of a time crunch and had to cut our walking short. But rest assured, there are lookout spots at the .25 and .5 mile mark, so you can get in those photos without having to trek too far. If you have more time, you can apparently hike to a beach, so bring some food for a lunch picnic.
Tip: Go earlier in the day since it’s not as crowded or hot. It also helps to plan out your time carefully so you aren’t hiking in the dark after sunset.
Kauai's food options didn't quite measure up to that of Oahu's (check out my Oahu Diaries), but I did thoroughly enjoy the meals I had on this island. Check out some of my top spots!
Aloha Juice Bar
I’ve always loved a good acai bowl, and I am frequently at my local spot in East Village in the morning for a yummy (and healthy) fruit bowl. Aloha Juice Bar is located in Princeville across the street from the Hanalei Valley Lookout, and is easily one of the cutest juice shacks I’ve come across in both Oahu and Kauai. You can customize your own acai bowl or choose from one of the many juice and smoothie options here. Prices range from $5~$8 depending on how much you add to your bowl or drink, but it is definitely a great spot to spot by for a light breakfast or afternoon pick-me-up. Make sure you snap some photos here because this shack is totally Insta-worthy.
We visited Java Kai twice in our two short days in Kauai, which says a lot since exploring new places to eat is always a priority. However, this local hot spot was just too good to visit only once! Their menu has an expansive range of unique latte flavors, smoothies and yummy food, and we always seemed to pass it as we were driving back to the hotel or while exploring the Island.
Recommended Food: The Croi-sean-wich and Avocado Toast (one of the best acovado I’ve ever had) Recommended Drinks: Shark Bite Latte and Go-Green Smoothie
Island Taco Since we had to drive to the South of the island to hop on our boating adventure after our morning in Waimea Canyon, we stopped by Island Taco for a quick lunch. We washed down our yummy (and HUGE) tacos with some even bigger coconuts from the fruit stand across the street (they also sell Thai food). Seriously, the coconuts were bigger than my head, and they cost $10 a piece. It was definitely worth it though and didn't hold as much water as you would think!
I've been very spoiled when it comes to good food, and my prawn dish at The Bistro was one of my top 3 meals on this vacation! This is one of the few places that I would love to come back to and try other items from the menu.
Back: Beef Tenderloin (with balsamic reduction, creamy polenta, and asparagus) Front: Kauai Prawns (tossed with saffron risotto, asparagus, and shaved parmesan)
Duke's was a last minute Yelp search for dinner, and we went around in circles trying to find it since it is located on Kauai Marriott Resort property, and was slightly difficult to find. After parking in a shopping strip parking lot, we took a short walk over to Duke's. The restaurant itself is super cute, and has great tiki vibes all around. It even has a Koi fish pond inside! I debated for a while between getting seafood or steak, but I ultimately settled for the prime rib (which was a great decision). We sat and ate outside overlooking the palm trees and under the warm torches, and it was the perfect ending to our last night!
Left: Slow Roasted Prime Rib
Right: RR Signature Top Sirloin
"Sometimes in life, we are so focused on the finish line that we fail to enjoy the journey." Hawaii was such a dream that it almost feel like it didn't happen now that I am back in NYC. Good thing I have 3000 photos to remind me of this beautiful place! Thank you so much for reading my Hawaii Diaries. I loved capturing these moments, and I look forward to revisiting these memories time and time again.