I recently took a sister trip to Kauai, Hawaii (Sorry, Tanner!). I had never been before and was continuously amazed by the beauty of the island. We know many people who have gone to the island and others who have it on their bucket list. We explored the entire island, took people’s recommendations and discovered other things on our own. We did a few touristy things, but also a lot of "live like a local" things as well.
Below, you can find recommendations based on our favorite things we did and saw, enjoy! In this guide, you’ll receive recommendations for what to do in Kauai, our favorite places to stay in kauai, the best places to eat in kauai, plus some useful Hawaii travel tips.
Hawaii Travel Essentials
My Away suitcase — It is compact and fits all that I need. I HATE checking bags so this has become my best travel companion.
The proper clothing — Board shorts, 2 swimsuits, 2 tanks, 2 pairs of sandals (a casual and more durable adventure shoes), a pair of jeans, a raincoat, some t-shirts, PJs, and toiletries. That's about it for me!
My Anker phone charger — This thing has saved me more times than I can count. I used my phone for everything-pictures and navigation were my biggest so I was able to take it with me everywhere and didn't have to worry about my phone dying on me. One charge on this will charge many phones for a good week over and over.
Headphones — There was about 7.5 hours of flying time and United was offering TV for free so I got to catch up on some movies I've wanted to watch!
My Southwest credit card — I use this card for just about everything so that I can get points. I took about 12-15 flights last year and didn't pay for one of them because of the points I have earned. I also earned the companion pass so Tanner gets to travel with me for free for an entire year anywhere that Southwest goes. FREE FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. I tend to use the card and pay it off almost immediately so that I can earn points and build my credit score.
50 States Traveled — This product of ours was actually initially made as a birthday present for my sister when we vowed to go to a different state together each year until we've hit them all. When other people wanted them, we turned them into a product that has grown really fast in popularity. It's fun to use it now for the purpose that it was created for because you don't realize how fast you forget things if you don't write them down.
My Rumpl blanket — I get cold really easily so I wanted to bring a big cozy blanket that wouldn't take up a bunch of space. What I like about Rumpl is that their blankets are big yet compact, really warm and don't get dirty really fast.
My Topo Designs Klettersack — I am a long-time fan of Topo (our headquarters are just down the street from each other too) and use this backpack for just about everything. You can fit so much in it, but it never looks ridiculously bulky. It is comfortable for long days of travel and has an easy access pouch up top to easily get to your wallet, sunglasses or any other small thing you travel with.
The Best Places to Stay in Kauai
We stayed at two different places in Kauai to get two different experiences. We highly recommend both places!
The Westin at Princeville
We stayed at the Westin at Princeville to get the more resort-like experience. We ended up getting upgraded for free to a room double the size with a kitchen and bathroom bigger than mine at home. They had multiple beach view pools, restaurants on site, and nice amenities. It was pretty calm because we went in the slow season, but this is definitely the type of place you would find a bunch of families running around.
After we paid $13 each for a cocktail, we decided to go to the nearby Foodland to buy tequila and juice to make our own cocktails for the entire week (ended up being under $2 each, so duh!). We also picked up food for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners during our time at the Westin. We knew our next place wouldn't have a kitchen and we'd be eating out more there, so we saved where we could here.
The Palmwood was a much different experience. The Palmwood is a three-room bed and breakfast with the most stunning view. Eddie, the owner, cooked us the most amazing breakfasts every morning, we had our own private hot tub, and even when it was fully booked, the B&B felt so private. The view was to die for and we enjoyed getting recommendations from Eddie about which local spots we should check out.
We were so sad to leave this place. We were glad that we got our cocktail supplies ahead of time because it was more secluded, and what's a vacation without a cocktail and Eddie's homemade juice?
What to Do in Kauai, Hawaii
Kauai isn't a very big island so we were determined to see most of it — at least what's along the coast. We spent sections of each day discovering new places. It was rainy and cloudy most of our visit. We really wanted to see the Napali coast by boat, but the clouds were hanging too low so we did plenty of other things instead.
Here are the Kauai attractions we highly recommend experiencing for yourself. These truly are the top things to do in Kauai, and I think you’ll really enjoy them!
The town was really cute and had places to eat and shop at. We took surf lessons at Hanalei Bay which was amazing. The water was warm, the waves were calm, yet perfect for surfing. When surfing in he water you can see the lush mountains with waterfalls streaming down. If you keep driving north, you will end up at the farthest point north which is where you can hike along the Napali Coast. It was rainy and muddy so we passed this trip but we've heard it's gorgeous.
This is the "Grand Canyon" of Kauai. It is a bit of a trek south (though it only takes about an hour and a half to go from all the way north to all the way south so nothing is THAT far) but well worth the drive. We hadn't even researched it ahead of time but once we got to the top we were kind of speechless. The beauty was just amazing and pictures don't do it much justice. You will also see.
Polihale State Park
I'd make sure to rent a Jeep if you're going to go here. It is just about the farthest point south of the island. Once you get close, you start driving down a dirt road which is by far the worst road I have ever driven on. The bumps were unreal so make sure you don't have to go to the bathroom or haven't had just a big plate of tacos.
Once you get past the bad road, you are greeted with a stunning beach. It seemed so far out there but we quickly realized that all the locals go there to hang out. In hindsight I wish we brought a picnic and hung out there longer after the trek we had just made. It was the warmest beach and sunny. We heard that in general, the south is more sunny than the north which became quickly apparent.
We spent actually quite a bit of time in Kapaa throughout the week. It has just about all you need. It has many hotels but also has a bunch of restaurants, shopping and some bigger boxed stores like Ross (you know in case you forget your rain coat).
This is where you will fly in. It is home to the airport but also has some good restaurants to go to as well.
Outfitter Kauai Tour
In general, I like to get a taste of touristy things but enjoy doing things locals do more. That said, we signed up for a tour with Outfitters Kauai and had such an awesome day. We Kayaked on the river to a point where we took a hike through the most beautiful forest. We then took a tractor ride through parts of where Jurassic Park was filmed to where we ate lunch then zip lined above the trees. On our hike back we stopped at a watering hole where we zip lined into the water. We hiked back to a boat which took us back for the day.
The Best Places to Eat in Kauai
There are so many great eats in Kauai, Hawaii! Below are a few of our favorite places to eat in Kauai.
Chicken in a Barrel —The BBQ is really good!
Wailua Shave Ice —We went here so many times that I got a punch card.
Ono Char Burger — They have $5 burgers. This was recommended by a local and is somewhere you will need to drive to but is really good.
The Dolphin — This was actually our only sit-down restaurant experience. It was a bit pricey and we had to wait, but it was really delicious.
Kauai Beer Co. — We went for the beer, but my sister got a pork sandwich and said it was really good.
Foodland — We enjoyed going here for groceries. They are dispersed throughout the island so really wherever you're staying you probably aren't far from one. We used it for our liquor, for our breakfast food, for snacks and for a few dinners. My sister signed up for their card (even though we realized there was one on our rental keys) that saved us a bunch of money.
Kalapaki Joes — So we heard ads the entire trip and then ended up stumbling across it and was like what the hell, let's go. They ended up having the BEST HAPPY HOUR I have ever seen. I do believe it's in the middle of a retirement community based on all of the old people there but for $.25 wings and big $5 margaritas, I'll take it! Food was actually good too.
The Palmwood — You won't be able to eat here unless you stay here but if you have any interest in staying here than I can say that the food is such a big perk. We had such unique breakfasts every morning cooked just for us and the few others by the owner. She is a great cook and feeds you well.
Hanalima Bakery — We had one of their cookies and loved them so we visited their facility and bought about 10 boxes.
Useful Hawaii Travel Tips
Before visiting Kauai, here are a few key Hawaii travel tips you should know about ahead of time.
- You will see roosters everywhere.
- The Nene's (they look like geese) can be a bit mean. Take my advice and keep your distance or they might try to attack. I may or may not have been driven away from our balcony by a group of them.
- There are a lot of one-lane bridges up north. They rely on local courtesy to have people go through a few cars at a time. I thought it was weird at first, but the system actually seemed to work really well.
- It's sunnier down south than up north.
- You can see the island Ni'ihau from the beach at Palihale.
- We only had 40 people on our flight from LAX to Lihue because of the slow season.
- Not sure if it was just us or not, but we kept seeing the same people over and over again.
- They filmed a lot of Jurassic Park in Kauai (and many other movies/TV shows as well!) so it was really fun to watch them after I went home and connect with where we have been.