Kauai is the oldest of the chain of Hawaiian Islands at 5.1 million years; you could call it the Granddaddy of Hawaii. It also happens to be the filming island of choice for famous Hollywood Blockbusters such as Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, King Kong, The Descendants, Tropic Thunder and hundreds more. Located just a 30-minute plane ride Northwest from Oahu where we live, Kauai is the perfect weekend getaway for us. Whether you’ve visited the island numerous times, or are planning your first trip to Kauai, this blog post will help you get the most out of your trip to the Garden Isle. Our most recent trip was my 8th time visiting Kauai and it most certainly won’t be my last.
All photography is my own. 🙂
I work as a concierge for Expedia Local Expert (the activities branch of Expedia.com) on Oahu, and sell many of the activities listed in this post. I have personally participated in these activities myself (numerous times) and can highly recommend them. If you would like to book one of these tours, or if you have any general questions about traveling on Kauai, feel free to email me directly at: Lromanov@expedia.com. My concierge services are free, and if you book any activities, I would be happy to provide a discount. 🙂
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Whether you have 3 days, 5 days or two weeks on Kauai, here are five awesome fun-packed day itineraries to do on Kauai:
ATV with Kipu Ranch Adventures – Four-Hour Waterfall Adventure
During my time as a concierge, I have had the lucky job of getting to participate in many fun activities, and this has been one of my favorites! The ATVs seat four people (but you can go solo or with two or three), and this four-hour waterfall tour is both fun and interesting as you get to learn about the history, culture and all the movies that were filmed on Kauai!
FUN FACT: Did you know that bamboo can grow over six inches per day?!
This tour includes swinging on the very same rope swing that Harrison Ford used during his escape in “South America” in the first Indian Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. And you’d better believe I reenacted it! At the very end, it culminates with swimming (optional) in a waterfall!! If you walk away from this tour not covered in mud, you’ve done something wrong. 😉
**If you’d like more information or would like to book this excursion, please email me.**
NEXT: After the tour, go for the a fresh spicy ahi tuna roll at Makai Sushi (located inside Kukui’ula Local Market.) I’m starting to see a trend on Kauai that the best food is located in sketchy-looking dark parking lots or inside of grocery stores! You really can’t judge a restaurant by its cover here.
After sushi, make a stop at Anake’s Juice Bar (at the very back of the store in the same place as Makai Sushi) to grab a fresh juice, smoothie, acai bowl or our favorite chia seed oatmeal with coffee-infused yogurt and fresh strawberries. Double yum.
Visiting Oahu? Be sure to read my posts on A Local’s Ultimate Oahu Foodie Guide and Things to Do on Oahu’s North Shore next.
NEXT: Visit Waimea Canyon & The Red Dirt Waterfall
Known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”, Waimea Canyon is a must on your things to do on Kauai list. On the drive up to the Canyon, there’s a pull-off on the side of the road with the reddest clay-like dirt you’ve ever seen. This area has soil that is high in iron, and there’s a cute little waterfall that you can hike around and explore.
For a moment we thought we were in a national park in Utah!
Once you reach the top, the views are breathtaking. During winter season, bring a jacket as you’ll reach nearly 4,000′ (1,200 meters) so it can get chilly.
There’s a little stand at the parking lot selling fresh and dried fruits and other home-baked goods, which are perfect for bringing along on day hikes!
There are several short hikes around the area to check out different views of the canyon. Locals joke that Kauai’s state bird is the helicopter. Literally every 10 seconds a helicopter will fly overhead no matter where on the island you are.
*FUN FACT* – Mount Wai’ale’ale receives 450 – 600 inches of rain a year and is one of the wettest spots on Earth.
NEXT: Check out Koke’e State Park and Lookout
This is where you’ll find that picture-perfect, most Instagrammed spot on Kauai:
NEXT: Visit Hanapepe Artwalks (Friday night)
Hanapepe is a tiny town, about three blocks long, but comes to life on a Friday night when all the art galleries stay open late (9:00 PM is late on Kauai), and food trucks line the street with hungry passerby.
Be sure to try Porky’s – hot dogs with a twist. With 536 five-star reviews on Yelp, we had to give it a go! The queue went pretty quickly, and boy oh boy was it worth it! (Sorry I don’t have a photo; it was too dark.)
Breakfast at Hanalei Bread Company
This is my go-to breakfast place on the North Shore. We couldn’t decide to order the breakfast burrito, ham & cheese croissant, or the brekkie sandwich, so we ordered all three!
Take a photo of the beautiful Wai’oli Huiia Church (also known as “The Little Green Church in Hanalei”. Its picturesque mountain backdrop blends in with the beautiful shades of green all around.
NEXT: Walk the Wai Koa Loop Trail
These perfectly aligned trees provide a shaded forest to escape from the heat and take a relaxing stroll through nature; the perfect place for a zen meditation walk. These are all mahogany trees.
After your walk, visit Anaina Hou Saturday Farmer’s Market (Saturdays only) for local produce (located in the parking lot where the trail begins.)
NEXT: Drive to Hanalei
The drive going South to North into Hanalei is a gorgeous one.
Be sure to make a stop at the taro fields and be on the lookout for the Nene Goose, Hawaii’s (actual) State bird.
NEXT: Check Out the Food Truck Scene on the North Shore
Food trucks have become the latest craze on Kauai because rents are too expensive to own a restaurant, so instead they invest in a food truck to keep overhead costs low. This is a well-respected community on the islands, as most of the time the owner is both the chef and the person taking your order and payment, so you’ll get to connect with them and find out where the food comes from, what their concept was inspired by, etc. Locals call this “talking story”.
We decided on Trucking Delicious (cash only) because I was craving some local Kauai shrimp – one of the food staples the island is known for! The mermaid turquoise-colored truck lured me in, and the girls working inside were friendly.
I’m not gonna lie, de-shelling the prawns was not an easy task! I made a make-shift bib out of my paper napkin.
By the way, that neon pink-colored drink is all-natural; it’s their home made dragon fruit lemonade!
NEXT: Kayak Down the Hanalei River
Rates as of January 2019:
Single kayak: $25
Double kayak: $45
(Prices are cheaper after 1:00 PM)
If you’re a local and present your Kama’aina ID, you get 25% off!
This was Sasha’s favorite activity on Kauai. Floating down the river and looking out for wildlife was so peaceful.
NEXT: Relax or go for a Surf at Hanalei Bay
This beach is huge with a long stretch of soft white sand. There are mangroves where the river meets the bay that were fun to explore, and when the tide is low, it forms a natural sandbar. You’ll also find lots of driftwood; perfect for making wooden structures and doing yoga poses on.
NEXT: Watch the sunset from Hanalei Bay Pier
This area was badly damaged by the flooding in April of 2018, and some homes are still partially sunken into the ground. It’s unclear when this area will be repaired and re-opened, but it is still possible to get to the pier and Hanalei Bay from a residential area where you park and walk about a quarter of a mile to the beach.
NEXT: Eat dinner at Ama in Hanalei
The mountainous views are stunning and there’s even an outdoor fireplace for those chilly winter nights! (It does actually dip into the 50’s F. on the North Shore of Kauai in the winter! To us locals, this is freezing!) 😉
We loved the poke with coconut milk; an interesting diversion from the normal shoyu (soy sauce) flavor. Other than this dish, we weren’t overly impressed with the food here. The ambiance, however, is what sold us.
NEXT: Visit First Saturday in Old Kapa’a Town
If your trip happens to fall on the first Saturday of the month, be sure to hit the music and street food scene down South in Kapa’a Town. If you fancy live music and food trucks, this night-time event is the place for you!
Hike the Kalalau Trail along the Na Pali Coast
This strenuous hike is 11 miles round trip and is usually done over the course of several days of backpacking. (Depending on conditions it is also possible to kayak one way and hike out.) If you plan to hike the entire Kalalau Trail, please do proper research and come prepared, as this is an extremely advanced trail and very dangerous in many parts.
If backpacking along jagged slippery cliffs isn’t your thing, the first two miles will get you to the beautiful Hanakapi’ai Beach, and then you have the option to go on another 2 miles each way (4 miles round trip) to Hanakapi’ai Falls, which is 300′ (100 meters) tall.
If you have a full day to hike, I highly recommend this trail, which will end up being 8 miles total round trip if you include the additional two miles each way up to the waterfall. If you skip the waterfall, the hike from the start of the trail to Hanakapi’ai Beach is 4 miles round trip. I recommend going very early because parking is limited and will likely add on another mile to your distance just walking from the car park to the start of the trail. Allot at least 6 – 8 hours for this hike, especially if you’d like time to relax at the falls or the beach. Pack plenty of food and water and wear closed-toed shoes with good traction.
*UPDATE* – As of January 2019, the town North of Hanalei and the Kalalau Trail still remain closed due to the floods in April of 2018 and hiking is not permitted.
NEXT: Frolic at Ke’e Beach in Haena (this beach is also still closed due to the floods)
This is probably the most photographed place on Kauai, as the waves create almost animal-like creatures when they crash along the shores. This is also one of the best places to watch the sunset.
NEXT: Relax at Hideaways Beach
Get here early, or take an Uber as there are only 10 parking spots inside Princeville. (Located by the Saint Regis Princeville Hotel.) This beach is great for snorkeling.
NEXT: Tour Haraguchi Rice Mill
Learn about Kauai’s agriculture and cultural history on a tour of one of the largest taro fields in the U.S. in Hanalei, kept alive by 6 generations of farmers who share their love of their land. Tours are offered on Wednesdays from 9:45 AM – 12:45 PM. For more information or to book your tour, click here.
Eat a Delicious Breakfast at Java Kai in Kapa’a and Get a Juice at Kauai Juice Company
Oh, and obviously take a picture of the mermaid with starfish boobs.
NEXT: Go Tubing Down the Old Sugar Cane Flumes with Kauai Backcountry Adventures
*FUN FACT* – When Hawaii became a state in 1959, they had to join the union and pay a minimum wage. They couldn’t afford to pay the workers at the sugar cane mill and still make a profit (the average daily wage was around 12 cents), so they converted most of the sugar cane fields into cattle ranches or burned them down completely.
This portion of the sugar cane flume ditch carried the water to irrigate the crops and has now been turned into a fun tourist attraction. It’s basically the equivalent of a lazy river, only in nature and with fresh mountain water! Kauai Backcountry Adventures provides the tubes, gloves, helmets and headlamps, and you just have to show up in your water shoes and swimmers! The water is quite brisk, especially in the morning, so a long sleeved rash guard top is recommended. You’ll be tubing through man-made caves sparkling with what looks like gold on the rocks. You’ll also tube through pitch black tunnels (you turn your headlamps on, but the very last one they have you tube through without any light!)
**If you’d like more information or would like to book this excursion, please email me.**
NEXT: Get a Buzz at Koloa Rum Factory on a Free Rum Tasting Tour
Tours are held every half an hour inside the tasting room (this is a standing tasting). You’ll need to sign up in their shop when you arrive. Groups are limited to 16 people max, and the first tour begins at 10:30 AM. You must show your ID to prove that you are over 21 years of age. This tasting is free, but the bartender appreciates tips. 🙂
NEXT: Drive through Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel
This road is lined with overhanging greenery, forming a tunnel of trees. Don’t go out of your way to see this, as it’s only a short two-minute drive and nothing spectacular, but if you’re headed to Koloa from Lihue, it’s a nice visual bonus.
NEXT: Walk Across Hanapepe Swinging Bridge
The only thing on the other side of the bridge is an art gallery owned by a sweet older couple (who are also the photographers of the art they sell). Most visitors just cross the bridge and come back.
NEXT: Check out the Sleepy Town of Hanapepe
This tiny three-block town inspired the story plot of the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch. Hanapepe has that true small town original Kauai vibe where everybody knows everybody’s name, and the town is run by little mom and pop shops.
*FUN FACT* – The characters from the movie Lilo and Stitch were actually based on real life people from the town of Hanapepe.
A note about Ele’ele Glass Sand Beach: this is the industrial area in Port Allen, and the place where cars, bottles and other glass go to die. After years of being smashed up and spit out, the area turned into a glass sand beach. However, over the years, people have greedily taken parts of it home, leaving nearly zero trace of what was once a beautiful beach with multi-colored rounded glass dotting the sand like glistening mermaid scales. The last time I was on Kauai was 2016 and there was still some brown and green glass left over. Sadly when we went in 2019 there was nearly no glass at all, and the beach had an empty ghost-like feeling. Please do not take from the land. 🙁
NEXT: Eat at Nixtamal Food Truck
These are some of the best tamales I’ve had in my life! Run by a sweet younger couple, this food truck can usually be found in Kapa’a. And a rooster will photobomb you. Hey, it’s their island, we just live on it.
Take a Chocolate Farm Tour at Steelgrass Farms
This tour is conducted on a working cacao farm and will leave you with a nice high from overindulging in over 10 different types of chocolate samples! Learn how the cacao pods grow and the production process from seed to bar with interesting facts on Kauai’s agriculture along the way.
**If you’d like more information or would like to book this excursion, please email me.**
NEXT: Hike Down to Wailua Falls (Lihue)
Everybody makes a stop at Wailua Falls during their visit to Kauai. However, hiking down to greet it face-to-face is a whole different experience. The hike down is not on a particularly clear trail, but there’s usually a local “uncle” weaving baskets for tourists, and if you ask him nicely he might tell you how to get down. (That’s me doing standing mermaid pose at the bottom of the falls) 🙂
NOTE: do not leave any valuables in the car or trunk, and wear closed-toed shoes with grip as it is steep and slippery. Swim at your own risk. The photos below are from a camping trip I took in 2014 with three of my guy friends, who all swam around it to show off their masculinity. I was the photographer. 😉
NEXT: Bike Downhill from Waimea Canyon at Sunset with Outfitters Kauai
This photo was from a trip in 2012 I took with my girlfriends. You check in at Outfitters Kauai shop in Koloa, and they will drive you about 3/4 of the way up Waimea Canyon, outfit you with your cruiser bikes and helmets, and off you go cruising downhill the whole time! This is a safe ride, as the van follows the group the entire time and every now and then you have to pull over to allow other cars to pass.
Ahh, yes, the famous Kauai roosters. There are more roosters than humans on Kauai. (This is not a known fact, but that’s how it feels; kind of like sheep in New Zealand.) Roosters are somewhat famous on Kauai; they’re printed across t-shirts, tourists love snapping photos of their beautiful feathers (they know they’re pretty, too), and they’re even the island’s form of security! 😉
Stay on Kauai long enough and you will grow so used to hearing the sound of roosters all day and night that when you return to wherever home is, you’ll feel somehow empty without it, and find yourself angry that you’re now being woken up by an alarm clock instead of an obnoxious “cock-a-doodle-dooooo!!!”
WHERE TO EAT ON KAUAI
There are so many incredible food trucks on Kauai, as well as brick-and-mortar restaurants. Below are just a few of our favorites and top-rated restaurants on Yelp during the time of our travel:
“FT” = Food Truck
- Eating Healthy Kauai (formerly Caffe Coco) – Lihue
- Street Burger – Kapa’a
- Koloa Fish Market – Poipu
- Olympic Cafe – Kapa’a
- Living Foods Market – Poipu
- Small Town Coffee (FT) – Kapa’a
- Makai Sushi (inside Kukui’ula Local Market) – Kapa’a
- Anake’s Juice Bar (same location as Makai Sushi above)
- Kauai Island Brewing Company – Port Allen
- Porky’s (FT)
- Hanalei Bread Company – North Shore
- Midnight Bear Bread Bakery – Hanapepe
- Haole Girl Sweets – Kapa’a
- Java Kai – Kapa’a
- Passion Bakery Cafe – Kapa’a
- Pono Market – Kapa’a (great lau lau and authentic local Hawaiian foods)
- Little Fish Coffee – Hanapepe
- Japanese Grandma’s Sushi – Hanapepe
- Kauai Juice Company – Kapa’a
- Art Cafe Hemingway (view of the river; uses local ingredients) – Kapa’a
I hope this Kauai blog post helped you a bit in planning your trip! Please feel free to reach out if you have any general questions about traveling in Kauai or any other Hawaiian Island for that matter!
How Much Money We Spent in Three Days on Kauai
While this post outlines a five-day itinerary, Sasha and I only traveled there for three days. The reason I included five different itineraries is because I have traveled to Kauai 8 times and there is so much to do! However, the below pricing is just for our three-day trip.
*Prices are for the two of us
|CATEGORY||TOTAL SPENT IN 3 DAYS||PER DIEM|
|Entertainment & Leisure (includes tips for activities) – as a concierge working for Expedia, I get to do all activities for free, plus a guest (my lucky husband) 😉 So the only expense we pay are tips to our guides||$76||$25|
|Gas (surprisingly even though we drove all over the island, we only had to fill up once in three days)||$24||$8|
|Airfare (Hawaiian Airlines)||$326||$109|
|Accommodation (Airbnb is illegal on Kauai) We stayed with a friend’s family member||$200||$67|
|Rental Car (Enterprise)||$136||$45|
|TOTAL||$1,184||$395 PER DAY OVER THREE DAYS|
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