I just spent a fantastic active week with my family exploring the gorgeous island of Kauai, so now it is time for me to share all our favorite adventures with you! As I am usually a budget traveler, this week in my parent’s timeshare at the Marriott was of course a little bit different than my usual style (not that I am complaining whatsoever :P).
I felt a bit out of place at first, having just been scraping mush off the ground in a hostel in Hong Kong a few weeks ago (okay I’m exaggerating a little). But then I remembered what it was like growing up to go on family vacations with them as a dependent child, so I basically reverted right back to that state and was happily stuffing my face with fancy dinners and pleading for nice tours like the little brat that I forgot I could be, making use of this rare time I’m not poor. Okay I’m exaggerating again, sorry. Or am I? You’ll never know.
In case you need some packing inspiration, here is a Hawaii packing list with some ingenious items on it!
Adventure Spots in Kauai
Na Pali Coast
THIS IS A MUST when in Kauai. See it from the sea, see it from above, see it from the trail that winds through it. This is Jurassic Park in real life, folks; I thought I would see T-Rexes tearing their way through the trees or maybe a pterodactyl cruising by above us. The dramatic, jagged cliffs of the Na Pali coast look like something that couldn’t possibly have been formed by nature, with the growing shadows accentuating their razor-like edges more and more as the day goes on.
See it from the Sea
Tons of companies run day boat trips to see the Na Pali from the sea and snorkel, dive, or dine. We signed up for one with Captain Andy’s, which was pretty much my number one goal for the weekend, buuuuut when we got there the waves were too high to safely boat out there. Le sigh. But, we still had a fantastic day on the boat on the south coast with a super fun and engaging crew who helped us make the best of it. We ended up seeing tons of whales (it is migrating season here in January!) and a few dolphins, and I swam with a monk seal (which is apparently really rare!) and a sea turtle! So, it was kindof still ok…. just kidding it was an awesome day. But next time I’m making sure to boat out to the Na Pali no matter what!
Hike the Na Pali
Kalalau Trail – This was one of my number one bucket list trails of ever. You need a permit to go past 2 miles of the 11 mile trail, and we didn’t get one in time. So, we just did 2 miles in and 2 out, which was actually perfect for my parents. The Kalalau trail runs along the jagged cliffs and through tons of tropical plants, secluded beaches, and streams, often with audible waves crashing a few hundred feet below you off the side of the trail. People who do the entire 11 miles usually camp at the end, on Kalalau beach, and spend a day or a few out there in the ruggedly beautiful place. This is on my lifetime bucket list 10000%.
Above the Na Pali – Pihea Trail – After you drive up past Waimea Canyon, you get to a couple lookouts the have stunning spanning views above the end of the Na Pali coastline. Check out the Kalalau Lookout and the Pu’u O Kila Lookout, which then gives way to the Pihea Trail. This trail runs above the coastline with stunning views before turning inland towards the wet part of Kauai (the wettest place on earth is in Kauai actually!) for some more mileage. You can take the Pihea trail in a bit of a U-shape, or change to the Alaka’i Swamp trail halfway through which ends at another viewpoint.
Waimea Canyon, or the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is ridiculously impressive. With jagged cliffy canyons resemblant of the Na Pali and an opulent massive waterfall visible from the entire canyon, it’s a sight not to miss.
If you take the 155 road up from Waimea, you will start to get unbelievable views as you ascend the mountain – many people pull over for photos! You can stop at the Waimea Canyon Lookout, or the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout as well.
The Pu’u Hinahina lookout is the start of the Waimea Canyon Trail, which is just under 2 miles each way and takes you up and down a few mountains, over a stream, and across an amazing hilltop path right in the center of Waimea Canyon which ends right at the top of the big waterfall. The only issue? You can’t exactly see the waterfall when you’re standing at the top of it. Womp womp womp. However, the view coming up the the waterfall is definitely worth it to see. I was there right during golden hour with a delicious warm, soft light, but if you;re there in the morning you’re sure to have a pristine view of the whole canyon from within it… besides the waterfall. You’ll hear it though! 😛
More Hiking: Sleeping Giant
We did this one on our first day in Kauai, pretty close to the airport and near one of my favorite towns, Kapa’a. It’s called Sleeping Giant because from the ground the whole mountain looks like a giant man laying on his back! This was about 2 miles either way as well, and had great views from the top and yummy strawberry-guavas growing on bushes to eat on the way up.
This place is supposed to be really cool at low tide, where you can jump in and swim. When I went it was very high tide with a massive swell, so we just stood and watched the waves come in. It’s a gorgeous place though!
Dry Cave/ Wet Cave
These are two caves close to the beginning of the Kalalau Trail/ Ke’e beach that are right next to the road. You can walk into the dry cave, and apparently with the correct guide you can swim into the wet cave and into what is called the ‘blue room’ where the cave walls reflect blue.
This is a scenic landmark on the north coast that is not only pretty to look at but is also home to nature reserve.
Glass Beach, which is situated right next to Port Allen, apparently used to be a glass dump of Kauai. After just over 100 years, all the glass was subjected to the forces of mother nature (aka waves) and crushed up smaller and smaller. Today, it looks like a normal sand beach, but when you look up close all the ‘grains’ are small pieces of sea glass!
These falls are really impressive and easily accessible by car!! There are so many waterfalls in Kauai it’s hard to keep track of 😉
We did an awesome day tour kayaking the Wailea river and hiking to ‘Secret Falls’ from a little inlet up the river. It was a fun, active, and adventurous day kayaking about a mile and a half to and from the 2 mile (round trip) hike to another stunning waterfall.
I know they also have kayak tours on the Hanalei river too, but we didn’t get the chance to do it!
Towns to check out:
Hanalei has an adorable little town shopping center with gorgeous wall murals to see, and is also of the best places to rent a board and go surfing. A surfer we met told us that the waves along the outside of Hanalei are usually always small and good for learning!
I think if I had to live anywhere on Kauai, I would live here. Kapa’a seemed to be the biggest town, although still tiny and very local. Shops, healthy eateries, thrift stores, food trucks, and markets lined the long main street, which was all pretty trendy and cool to wander around. See below for some of the places we ate here, including amaaaazing shaved ice!
This is where our fancy timeshare was, and where most of the other fancy timeshares on Kauai are!! Apparently Poipu is the richer area of Kauai, which did not surprise me. We spent one morning wandering through all the other resorts, some of which were mind blowing! There is a great shopping center in Poipu with restaurants and eateries, and some fantastic beaches and a beach park that are great to hang out.
Sunset Spots in Kauai
Because of the whole way the world works and everything, the west coast is the clear option in Kauai to see the sun set over the ocean. Some southern bits face the right direction for the sunset as well. Here are some ideas:
Na Pali Coast – here we are again! Since the Na Pali is on the west coast, it shapes up for one of the best view combinations ever.
- Sunset dinner cruise – There are a lot of sunset dinner cruises out here, from a lot of different companies!
- From above – check the ‘Na Pali’ section above to see the best hikes/trails/viewpoints looking west over the Na Pali to see the sunset from as well.
- Surrounding beaches – Ke’e Beach is where the Kalalau trail starts, which also faces due West to present a gorgeous sunset behind rolling waves.
Poipu is on the south coast but it juts out perfectly to just about face the sunset! Watch it on the beach!
This is almost the westernmost town on the island you can reach from the south, and faces the sunset perfectly. This is also home to the longest white sand and longest black sand beaches in Hawaii!
FOOD IN KAUAI
POKE – Get poke, and get it everywhere. I think I had poke nearly every day here, and it was so fresh I did not tire of it at all! (if you’ve been living under a rock, poke is fresh raw fish heavily marinated in all sorts of good stuff. The markets here had dozens of different kinds!) Our boat tour guide said that Ishihara Market was the best poke on the island. I’ve also had recommendations to get it from Pono market in Kapa’a and Fish Factory in Lihue!
SHAVED ICE – Also get shaved ice, and get it a lot. It’s the perfect refresher on warm Hawaiian days! I went to Waimea shaved ice company (a parked food truck in Kapa’a) multiple times – they actually use fresh fruit on their shaved ices and they are to die for! There are also some great places in Hanalei, and another called Tege Tege in Kapa’a that was closed when we were there, but I have been recommended it by multiple people.
IMPORTANT: one of our tour guides actually told us that one of the beach resorts sells alcoholic shaved ice. Like, a pina colada shaved ice with actual rum. I am greatly saddened we didn’t have a chance to try it but you totally should because it sounds like it could be life changing.
Sam’s Ocean View
Let me preface this with the fact that pretty much none of these are places I would have gone to unless I was with my parents. I would probably have survived off poke and spam the whole weekend if I was by myself, but again in my temporary reverted-to-dependant-child state I was all about the fancy cocktails and experimental culinary awesomeness that was Kauai. A lot of our meals were like a Hawaiian-Asian-American fusion, with really creative and interesting dishes and ‘pupu’s’ which are like Hawaiian appetizers. Here are the best:
Oasis Bar & Grill – We stumbled upon this place while walking along the waterfront in Kapa’a, and were at first reluctant because it is part of a hotel. But the atmosphere and view were perfect, so we took a chance and were so glad we did! It had a super creative mixed gourmet menu, and awesome cocktails (try the agony & ecstasy 😉 ) . Try the beets 5 ways (no joke) and the dark chocolate kahlua terrine with almond absinthe biscotti for dessert!
Keoki’s – This was a Japanese fusion fish/steak restaurant in Poipu with an awesome menu and open atmosphere, amazingly lit with wooden panels and tropical vegetation adorned throughout, even with a waterfall! I recommend the calamari, the purple sweet potato gnocchi as a side, and all their super fresh fish!!
Sam’s Ocean View – This was our favorite restaurant view of the whole week. It looks directly out onto Kapa’a’s beach path, park, and waterfront (pictured above), and has amazing cocktails and pupu’s. Get the sliders and the poke nachos! And the painkiller cocktail might knock you out 😉
The Eating House – This great little spot in Poipu was the perfect mix of casual and upscale. We got a fantastic kale salad and poke, but the burgers looked the best to me!
Brenneke’s – located right on the beach park in Poipu, Brenneke’s is apparently home of the world famous Mai Tai and also has fantastic fresh fish and other cocktails. (Get the brown nipple… just trust me on that.)
Well that’s about it for now! Pin this if you enjoyed it, or if you want to save some of these recommendations for later 🙂