We just got back from a week spent in Kauai and man, oh man – are we missing the island vibes from the Garden Isle! This was our first experience on any of the Hawaiian islands and I think we chose the perfect one to start with. This trip was different for us since it was extra relaxing and restful, perfect for a midyear rendezvous. It was also different for us since we traveled with our friend’s and their 18 month old – who was an exceptional little travel buddy. All the activities we did were family friendly and in 8 days we got to see and do a lot. That was a perfect amount of time to see all parts of the island and spend time exploring things again if we so chose. This post is all about our adventuring, but you can check out our Kauai food tour in this post. Even though we haven’t been to any of the other Hawaiian Islands, we have a feeling this one will still be our favorite!
We caught a killer package deal from Expedia to Kauai that included our flights from Reno, our condo, and our car rental. Altogether our final price came out to be about $1,100 per person for 8 days and that was even with a car upgrade! Considering flights alone were around $700 per person when we booked our trip, I’d say we got a great bargain! Our condo was on the East side of the island in Lihue, although we were further north than the actual town. We really liked being on the east side, it was a good middle spot that was easy to get to both the North and the South shore. We also felt like the area we were in just south of Kapa’a was really local and normal Kauai living. We even asked really nice and got our condo upgraded to oceanfront living at Castle Kaha Lani – there’s never harm in asking, right?! Each condo is privately owned so they’re all a little different, but it was a perfect 2 bed, 2 bath place with a full kitchen and beautiful lanai view. Plus, we were a 2 minute walk to the beach, which we took full advantage of walking to in the mornings with our coffee.
when to visit
From everything we researched, there really isn’t a bad time to visit Kauai – it just depends on what you hope to do and see. If you want to see the whales migrate, you could try to visit from November to March during the winter months – which just means it will be a bit more wet. The lowest seasons are the spring and fall months between April-May and September-October, which will bring less crowds and decreased prices in accommodations. We visited during the first week of June and never felt overwhelmed with crowds and we got AMAZING weather – we might have even prayed for some rain during moments of hiking. Every evening we got a 10 minute rain cloud that dropped a downpour on our balcony for a nice evening cool down. It was perfect!
What to Do
For being as small of an island as Kauai is, there is SO MUCH to do. Whether it’s savoring the sunshine on the beach, eating your way around the island at food trucks, or taking in the breathtaking views from a mountaintop – you’re sure to find something for everyone.
This was hands down the best thing we did all trip. We did the 9 am flight on the second day of our vacation with Safari Helicopter. They recommend doing your flight at the front end of your trip to give you a chance to learn the island and also have time to reschedule in the event of inclement weather. They say that 80% of the island is inaccessible by car, so a helicopter tour is the best way to see all the areas you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. We got to see AMAZING landscape on every part of the island, especially the beautiful waterfalls that are created from the frequent rainfall on the island. Our pilot was not only calm, relaxed, and informative – but he also took us to center of the island, Mt Wai’ale’ale, one of the wettest spots on earth! The tour was an hour long and worth every single penny of the $200 per person that we spent. The photos can speak for themselves.
Kauai isn’t the Hawaiian island best known for its beaches, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some good ones. We caught ourselves a couple of sunny, warm beach days and a few favorite beaches that we hit up more than once. Here are some of our favorite ones.
◊ Hanalei Bay – We found ourselves in the Hanalei Bay area twice to sunbathe and watch the surf lessons. There are 3 different beaches along this 3 mile stretch of water – Waioli Beach Park is the area we think we spent our days, although the three beaches do run together so it’s hard to be sure. We liked the water and the white sand of the Hanalei Bay beaches and brought the boogie boards along to try to catch a couple waves. The best part of the Bay is how big the beach is, there is plenty of room to spread out and have your own space without being on top of your fellow beach lovers.
◊ Poipu Beach State Park – This was one of our favorite beaches to soak in the sunshine and snorkel. On Poipu, you can try your hand at boogie boarding and catch a glimpse of a sunbathing sea turtle and the endangered Monk Seals. Poipu also has a protected lagoon that is perfect for babies to play in and a lifeguard on duty 7 days a week. If the weather is a little wet on the North or East shores you will most likely find the sun in the South so do not fret and always have your swimsuit on you!
◊ Shipwreck Beach – This beach is also located on the South shore and although it’s not a great swimming beach, it’s a perfect place to watch the surfers, boogie boarders, and rock jumpers. Parking is more limited than the other beaches we visited but walking a little shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the sunshine on Shipwreck, even if you only make it to here for a half day like we did!
◊ Anini Beach – This beach was one of the best recommended beaches for snorkeling. This was the only beach we got to swim with sea turtles and also has a really protected lagoon area that is great for kids and swimming. One of our friends may have gotten stung by an eel – which is how we found out that the town of Kilauea has a great urgent care in case you need one – so make sure you know what kind of creatures could be lurking at different times of the year, especially the jellyfish and the Man of War. There is also a boat ramp, food trucks, and crystal clear turquoise water to explore.
We missed Kalapaki Beach in the town of Lihue but got to see a glimpse of it on our last night when we were killing time waiting for our plane. We also didn’t ever spend any time at Lydgate Beach, even though it was the closest one to us and recommended as one of the best for children. This beach is a really good option for smaller kids and families if you’re on the East side since it has two protected lagoons and has a 2 mile sidewalk trail that follows the coastline for a nice sunset stroll.
Some of the hikes we wanted to make it to were closed due to Kauai’s recent flooding, but we did get to experience some of the heights and the views despite the rain. We were able to rent a hiking backpack for the little man so he could come along on the adventuring. For as small as the island is, there is actually a lot of hiking trails, from easy coastline nature walks to 10+ mile hikes deep into the different valleys of the island.
◊ Sleeping Giant – This trail, also known as the Nounou Trail, is located on the East side of the island and is a nice, moderate 4 mile roundtrip hike. The trail is shaded most of the way and offers beautiful views of the ocean and the lush greenery.
◊ Pihea Trail – We happened to find this trail at the end of our drive on Highway 550 through the Koke’e State Park. We stopped at the Kalalau Lookout and continued on to find the Pu’u Kila Lookout where this trailhead happened to be located. We thought we were embarking on an “easy” 1 mile trail, but we were pleasantly surprised to find it was a bit more challenging than what we expected. Because of the rain, it was pretty muddy at certain parts of the trail and we had to get our hands and feet dirty to make it through some of the terrain. We’re still not sure if we actually ever made it to the actual “end”, but we were able to get some incredible views of the NaPali Coast and the Cathedral Valley that sits adjacent to the trail.
Named the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, the Waimea Canyon should not be missed while in Kauai. We got our first glimpses of the canyon on our helicopter tour and then got to experience the views from the scenic highway 550 into Koke’e State Park. Make sure to plan a day to see this spectacular natural beauty and stop along the road’s lookouts to get different views of the waterfalls. You should also stop at the Kalalau and Pu’u Kila Lookouts for incredible views of the Na Pali Coast. There are some really great hikes within Waimea Canyon if you want a different perspective of the 10 mile long canyon that lead to waterfalls, swimming holes, and descents into the bottom of the canyon.
Sunrises + Sunsets
Now, we’re a bit biased because Nevada sunsets are pretty unrivaled when it comes to beauty, but that didn’t stop us from wanting to compare with the ones in Kauai. However, since we were staying on the East side of the island, we never made it to a shore where we could watch the sunset. Instead, we had the pleasure of beautiful oceanfront sunrises – even if we only got up early enough to watch one.
Lighthouse + Bird Refuge
We put the Kilauea Lighthouse and Bird Refuge on here because it was listed as one of the top 10 things to see in Kauai. However, we have to be honest with ya’ll and tell you that we didn’t think it was worth paying to see. The $5 entry fee goes toward the Wildlife Refuge fund, but we were all pretty unimpressed. Maybe we’re biased since we’ve seen spectacular lighthouses on the East Coast or maybe we just weren’t in the mood, but either way we think you get just as good of a view of the lighthouse from the FREE car pullout just before the entrance of the lighthouse. Seriously, save your money and take a nice photo of the birds and spend that five bucks on a shave ice.
Kauai Coffee Co.
This one is for all the coffee connoisseurs, you know we’re always on the hunt for craft coffee to bring home! A visit to Kauai Coffee Co. into so much about the coffee as it is about the experience. You can take a self guided walking tour of some of the coffee plantation grounds, take a guided tour that happens every half hour, or just sample the over 20 different kinds of coffee on the deck overlooking the coffee trees. We didn’t come home with any coffee but it was a fun way to see a little bit of Kauai’s coffee culture.
There are golf courses on just about every shore of Kauai, but we got lucky and had a beautiful course right next to our condo. The boys got an afternoon to the advantage of the lush greens at Wailua Municipal Golf Course, and at $24 for a twilight tee time, it can be an inexpensive way to breathe in the ocean air and catch views like no other gold course can give you.
things we missed
Even though we felt like 8 days was adequate time to see the island, there was a few activities that we didn’t get to partake in. That’s okay though, we’ll use these as an excuse to come back!
◊ Bike Rentals – There is a 6 mile stretch of bike path along the East Shore’s Coconut Coast that is perfect activity for a down day in Kauai. There are many options for bike rentals and places to picnic along the beach and enjoy the sunshine.
◊ Na Pali Coast Boat Trip – We thought we could do this on the fly and book something when we got into Kauai, but we learned our lesson the hard way that it doesn’t work like that. There are many places to reserve a tour and if you pick up a local Kauai coupon book, many of them offer discounted rates with a mention of those ads.
◊ Wailua River – The Wailua River was actually really close to our condo, but for some reason we just never did anything on the river. You can take a boat tour of the river or rent kayaks and paddle boards and paddle to Wailua Falls.
◊ Kalalau Hike – This was probably the number one activity we were looking forward to in Kauai. It is called one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and sadly, it is closed indefinitely right now due to Kauai’s recent flooding. The whole hike is a 11 mile, permitted hike that straddles the coastline high above the NaPali Coast. This is the ONLY land access to this part of the coast and it can be very treacherous. There is also a 2 mile hike down to Hanakapi’ai Beach that is a bit more realistic for travelers who don’t need to experience the camping experience of the whole Kalalau Trail. There’s always next time, right?
We had no expectations going in to our vacation, but if we did – Kauai would have far exceeded them. We can easily say it was one of the most relaxing and restful trips we’ve ever been on and 100% we will be visiting again!
What are some of your favorite Kauai activities that we have to do next time? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out our food tour!