If you’ve always dreamed of unplugging and immersing yourself in absolute lush greenery, rugged coastline, and adventure for a few days, Kauai is the Hawaiian island you need to visit. With its lush mountains, dramatic sea cliffs, remote beaches, and endless plunging waterfalls, Kauai is just about the perfect place to get away from it all.
Now the island of Kauai isn’t huge (unlike the Big Island), but there is plenty here to keep you occupied. From taking an epic helicopter tour to ziplining in the rainforest to hiking hidden waterfalls, there are so many fun and adventurous things to do in Kauai!
If you’re planning a trip to The Garden Isle and are looking for some guidance on what to see or what to do on Kauai, look no further. This post is going to break down the island for you in an easy to understand manner. I’ll provide you with some of the best activities by sections of the island so you can map out your itinerary more efficiently. At the end of the post, don’t miss our list of essential tips for Kauai as well as our packing list for Hawaii travel.
Before we dive into our top picks for the best things to do in Kauai, let’s make sure you understand how the island is laid out.
ISLAND OVERVIEW: UNDERSTANDING THE ISLAND OF KAUAI
The island of Kauai can be broken down into four quadrants, North, West, East, and South shores. Each region has quite different characteristics (and even weather). Not only will this overview help you to decide where to stay or spend the majority of your time, but it will also help you pack accordingly!
- South Side
- The South Shore tends to be sunnier than other regions of the island. There are lots of restaurants, shopping, and lots of opportunities to do water sports. However, it can be a little more crowded at times, as this is where a lot of tourists will hang out.
- North Side
- The North Shore is the rainforest part of the island. It’s a lot wetter and rainier, and with those conditions come 360-degree views of beauty, lushness, and greenery. There are a good amount of restaurants, beaches, and activities up north, but not quite as many as on the South Shore. That means you’ll be rewarded with a more quiet, relaxed atmosphere here.
- East Side
- Among the clusters of coconut trees on the East Shore, you’ll find historic landmarks, amazing beaches, and memorable attractions here. There are several little towns along the Eastern coast of Kauai with plenty of shopping, dining, and activities. For first-timers, this is probably the best place to stay. Why? Being situated right in between the North and South Shores means you will have to spend less time driving to all the areas you’ll want to explore. Once you get a feel for which side of the island you like the most, take a mental note for your next visit.
- West Side
- The West Side is where you go for outdoor adventure. For the most part, Northwest Kauai is impassable, filled with mountainous terrain and valleys that make roads impossible to build here. The West Side features Waimea Canyon, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. Koke’e State Park is here as well. Hanapepe Town offers eclectic local galleries, boutiques, and more. The southwest region of the island is pretty remote in comparison to the rest of the island. It’s usually sunny and dry most days of the year (unless you head inland).
MAP OF THINGS TO DO IN KAUAI, HI
Here’s a map of all the landmarks, attractions, and beaches this post will cover. This should help you better understand where on the island things are located.
EPIC ACTIVITIES YOU MUST DO IN KAUAI
TAKE A HELICOPTER TOUR AROUND THE ENTIRE ISLAND
If you want to appreciate Kauai in all its glory, you need to see the island from a bird’s eye view. The island from above is probably one of the most beautiful sights on the entire planet. The most famous landmark on Kauai is the Na Pali Coast, stretching 16 rugged miles across the northwestern coast. Other than by boat, a helicopter tour will allow you to see the coast at its full grandeur.
A helicopter tour also allows you to go deep into the Waimea Canyon, see Mt. Waialeale up close, and experience waterfalls you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. You can expect to fly over waterfalls and beaches, red and green canyons, and weave in and out of the rugged ridges of the Na Pali Coast.
Most helicopter tours are approximately 60 minutes long. If you’re into photography, you can opt for a photography tour which is a longer experience where the doors are actually off the helicopter. It’s certainly not a cheap experience (tours can cost $300+ per person), but it’s hands-down worth saving up for this Kauai bucket list activity. Check out the following helicopter tour options:
- Entire Kauai Island Air Tour – Soak up breathtaking views of natural attractions like Waimea Canyon, Opaekaa Falls, the rugged Na Pa Coast, and Mt. Waialeale — the wettest spot on earth. Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes, departs from Lihue.
- Kauai ECO Adventure Helicopter Tour – This is an FAA Diamond Award tour! Take to the skies above Kauai on a helicopter tour in a new Eurocopter Eco-Star (reduces overflight noise by 50%, business-class style seats with wide viewing windows). A two-way radio allows you to communicate with the pilot and ask all the questions you want! Approximately 50 minutes, departs from Lihue.
SAIL AROUND THE NA PALI COAST
As we’ve said before, if there’s one thing you absolutely cannot miss while visiting Kauai, it’s a visit to the Na Pali Coast. (If you didn’t know, this was where the movie Jurassic Park was filmed.) There are no access roads to the coastline, so the only way to visit is by boat, by air, or by hiking in (11 miles). Let me tell you from firsthand experience, the hike is no walk in the park by any means, and takes an ample amount of planning before you go!
If a boat tour sounds more like your thing, there are several catamarans, sailing, rafting, and snorkeling companies that will take you on a tour up and down the coast! These boating trips usually include a snorkeling stop too. Check out a few of the below:
- Na Pali Half-Day Snorkel Raft Adventure – Explore the dramatic cliffs and crystalline waters of Kauai’s Na Pali Coast on a half-day snorkeling adventure. Cruise along the coastline aboard a motorized raft, then stop to snorkel among native marine life at one of Kauai’s best coral reefs.
- Na Pali Coast Kauai Snorkel and Sail – On this sailing and snorkeling cruise from Port Allen, you’ll get to enjoy the Na Pali Coast from the deck of a catamaran and explore the island’s underwater world during a snorkeling stop. This tour includes a buffet lunch and entertaining stories told by the captain and crew!
- Na Pali Sunset Buffet Dinner Cruise – Experience the Na Pali Coast during the most romantic time of day on this sunset dinner cruise. Experience the epic landmarks aboard a deluxe sailing catamaran as you enjoy a buffet dinner complete with Mai Tais, beer, wine, and fresh juices, and a glass of champagne at the end.
Hawaii is a snorkeler’s paradise–tropical fish are common and plentiful at many of the beaches in Kauai.There are several snorkeling beaches in Kauai. For some of the best snorkeling options for beginners, I suggest checking out the following beaches:
- Tunnels Beach (North Shore)
- Lydgate Beach Park (East Shore)
- Poipu Beach Park (South Shore)
Okay, so now that we’ve covered the no-brainer activities that you absolutely must-do on Kauai, let’s break it down a bit further. The following activities listed below will be broken out by region of the island– we’ll go over things to do on Kauai in the North Shore, East Shore, and South Shore. This should give you a better idea of how to group activities together to formulate the perfect itinerary (and to minimize extra driving).
THINGS TO DO ON KAUAI – NORTH SHORE, KAUAI
Princeville is the resort community of Kauai’s North Shore known for its epic coastline and world-class golf courses. Here you can stay in luxurious condos and resorts and enjoy the finer side of Kauai. Even if you don’t choose to call this your home base (or can’t afford it like me), Princeville is still worth a visit. You can shop and dine at the Princeville Center and enjoy sunset cocktails at the St. Regis Hotel overlooking Hanalei Bay. Princeville also has access to many beautiful beaches including Hideaways Beach and Puu Poa Beach.
HIKE THE NA PALI COAST
If you love hiking, backpacking, and sheer adventure, you can’t not do the 22-mile out-and-back Kalalau Trail, located on the North Shore Kauai. The Kalalau Trail is an 11-mile path that leads hikers into the wild Na Pali Coast, from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach, where there is no land access except by foot. You’ll be traversing through lush valleys, walking alongside sea cliffs, and enjoying some of the most gorgeous views Kauai has to offer. It’s truly an unforgettable experience.
Do note though, that this trail is only recommended for very experienced adventurers and requires a camping permit and quite some preparation, so doing your research before attempting is a must. I backpacked the full Kalalau Trail in 2017 and it was one of the best and “worst” memories of my life. Long story short… It was an absolutely unforgettable experience being able to relax and sleep on a remote beach for two days, up until it came time to hike back out. I ended up slipping on a small downhill and spraining my ankle at the second mile and had to hike the remaining 9 miles out with a painful hobble. As I said, a bittersweet memory (but still one of the most epic adventures of my life).
If a total of 22 miles sounds like it’s out of the question, all is not lost! The good thing is that there are alternatives to the full hike which gives you the opportunity to get a taste of the Kalalau Trail without committing to the whole thing.
- Hike Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Beach (4.2 miles roundtrip) – Take on the first two miles of the Kalalau trail starting at Ke’e Beach. The first section will be tough as you climb over rocks and uneven, muddy ground, but the path does get flatter as you go further in. You’ll end your hike at Hanakapi’ai Beach and then make your way back.
- Hike Ke’e Beach to Hanakapi’ai Falls (7 miles roundtrip) – After the first two miles where you’ll reach Hanakapi’ai Beach, you have the option to continue for two more miles on a side trail to Hanakapi’ai Falls. The path is usually muddy and rocky, so sturdy hiking boots are a must. In the end, you’ll be rewarded with a 300-foot waterfall and a freshwater pool to swim in!
The Queen’s Bath is a unique tide pool worth visiting in the summer months (May through October). Here, the water is semi-protected from the ocean’s waves. In the summer months, the tidal pool’s water is relatively calm, which means you can get in and enjoy a few moments inside. During the cooler months (November to April), the coast here is exposed to very big surf and people have drowned after being swept off the rocks. Take caution when visiting and be sure to check the surf report before you visit.
Pro Tip: For the best chances of a swim in Queen’s Bath, go during low tide. Always be cautious and use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to get in.
VISIT HANALEI TOWN
Hanalei is a charming small, laidback town located on the North Shore of Kauai. The picturesque center of Hanalei Town is filled with many historic buildings that are home to local businesses. Wander through the art galleries, do some shopping for gifts and souvenirs, grab some coffee or ice cream, or even a lunch. You can find some great food trucks at Hanalei–they are often the most affordable (and delicious) places to eat but do take note that most are only open during lunch hours. If you’re in the mood for ice cream, get Pink’s Creamery. If shave ice is more your style, get Wishing Well Shave Ice and thank me later. Lastly, if you happen to be in Kauai on Saturday, don’t miss the large Saturday morning farmers’ market (Hale Halawai Farmers’ Market).
CATCH THE SUNSET AT HANALEI BAY
Hanalei Bay is a crescent-shaped shoreline with a pier located on the north shore of Kauai steps away from Hanalei Town. It’s such a magnificent spot to hang out for a few hours, perfect for relaxing and enjoying the backdrop of the cliffs at the start of the Na Pali coastline! Hanalei Bay has relatively calm waves, so it’s perfect for paddleboarding, boogie-boarding, kayaking, and snorkeling as well. If you don’t plan on doing any water activities, we suggest packing a picnic, heading over to the beach, and watching the boats drift on by as the sun sets over the horizon.
EXPLORE THE DRY/WET CAVES
Kauai has some truly awesome natural attractions on the island, and caves are one of those things! There are wet caves, which means that the cave is filled with water, formed by erosion by pounding waves over the years. Then there are dry caves, where there is no water anymore (making it easier to access). Some of these caves are easily accessible, while the rest require a lot more researching, exploring, and physical effort to get to.
Some of the most popular and easy to access caves on Kauai are Waikanaloa Cave, Waikapale Cave (The Blue Room), and Maniniholo Dry Cave. These three caves are located off the main road in the Haena State Park about 6 miles, or 15 minutes, away from Hanalei Town. They’re easy to get to so I’d recommend starting with these ones:
- Maniniholo Dry Cave is located directly across the street from Haena Beach Park. This dry cave has a large opening and can be effortlessly explored with children. Remember to bring along a flashlight for your cave exploration!
- The Waikanaloa and Waikapale Wet Caves are located a bit further up the road from the lifeguarded beach and involve a quick hike in order to get to. From Ha’ena, take Highway 560 west. Both wet caves are located on the left just before Mile Marker #10, past the Ha’ena Beach Park.
- Swimming is prohibited at the Waikanaloa Cave, but it’s still a wonderful sight to see. This cave is on the right of the parking lot and closer to the road.
- The Waikapale Cave is only a short trail uphill away. This cave does allow swimming. If you’re up for the adventure, take a swim to the back of the main cave, where you’ll find there is an opening to a smaller cave called The Blue Room. You can only get there by swimming. When you look back to where the sun is shining, the whole inside of the cave turns blue due to sunlight reflecting off of calcite. The level of water in the caves is affected by the tide and the blue effect is most striking when the water level is higher.
KILAUEA POINT LIGHTHOUSE AND NATURAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Located at Kauai’s northernmost point, the Kilauea Lighthouse and National Wildlife Refuge is a great historical stop if you’re touring the island. This area is marked by a 1900’s lighthouse and boasts panoramic views of the North coast. This bird nesting sanctuary is home to large colonies of native Hawaiian seabirds like the Red-Footed Booby, Laysan Albatross, and the Great Frigate Bird. The ocean cliffs and tall grassy slopes of a dormant volcano provide a protective breeding ground for many native seabirds. Stay long enough and you might also be able to catch a glimpse of humpback whales and dolphins. Entrance fee is $10 per adult (free if you have an America The Beautiful pass) and there is also a gift shop on site.
Enjoy Kauai’s rugged and beautiful backcountry by visiting Princeville Ranch. This ranch is like a one-stop-shop for adventure and romance on Kauai. They offer guided horseback riding tours, off-road ATV experiences, hiking and kayaking tours, and the best zip lining on the island. They also serve as a venue for weddings and local events. You can choose from 9 different world-class adventures that take you to one of the 6 waterfalls on the ranch. The combo tours are awesome, where you can pair horseback riding with a hike to a waterfall in 3.5 hours.
BEST BEACHES ON THE NORTH SHORE, KAUAI
- Anini Beach – Provides safe swimming in shallow water both during summer and winter. Anini Beach has very calm water protected by a reef (you can also snorkel the longest and widest reef in the Hawaiian islands).
- Secret Beach – Located nearby the small community of Kilauea and the lighthouse. With its wide stretch of sand and secluded North Shore Kauai location, Secret Beach offers one of the most picturesque beaches to explore on the island.
- Hanalei Bay – One of the most popular beaches on the entire island. The protected bay makes this a great place for the whole family to swim, surf and play.
- Haena Beach Park – Boasts beautiful views of the Na Pali Coast, but less ideal for swimming or surfing due to the strong waves. Still worth a visit, especially if you’re checking out the caves.
- Ke’e Beach – Awesome beach known for its incredible views of the Na Pali Coast at sunset. One of the best beaches for snorkeling in the summer, when the water is calm and extremely clear. The beach facilities include restrooms and showers. It is also the start of the Kalalau trail.
- Tunnels Beach – A tourist favorite for snorkeling and diving. The shallow inner reef is perfect for novice snorkelers, while the underwater caverns near the outer reef are loved by more experienced divers. This beach was featured in the 1958 movie South Pacific.
THINGS TO DO ON KAUAI – EAST SHORE, KAUAI
WAILUA RIVER STATE PARK
If you want to experience Kauai’s majestic rainforests without actually hiking through them, then you’ll want to add Wailua River State Park to your itinerary. This park is home to the only navigable river in Hawaii, so you can actually take a boat tour right on the river and through the lush Wailua River Valley! Other popular points of interest in the park include Opaeka‘a Falls and Wailua Falls, both of which you can easily drive to. See below for more details.
There’s also a ton of history within Wailua River State Park. Ancient Hawaiians used to consider this river sacred, so temples and royal sites were actually located here. Check out the Wailua Complex of Heiau, a National Historic Landmark where you’ll be able to see ruins, ancient birthing stones, and stone carvings with petroglyphs.
If you’re looking for a guided tour of Wailua River State Park, this kayak and hike adventure combo tour a great option.
EXPLORE WAILUA FALLS AND OPAEKA’A FALLS
While most waterfalls in Kauai are inaccessible, there are a few that are easy to get to, like Opaeka’a Falls and Wailua Falls. If you’re short on time but still want to experience one of Kauai’s majestic waterfalls, then Wailua Falls will be the most bang for your buck. This beautiful double waterfall is easily accessible (just drive up and park) and often features a rainbow. Follow Highway 56 a few minutes north of Lihue, and stop at the lookout point for Wailua Falls. Conveniently, the best views of this beauty are right off the highway.
Also easily accessible from the highway is Opaeka’a Falls. You’ll find this waterfall on the east side of the island about two miles up Kuamoo Road (Route 580) also on Highway 56. Signs will clearly point to the roadside lookout on the right. This stop offers great views of the falls and access to picnic tables and restrooms.
Pro Tip: These falls are best viewed on overcast days or in the mid-morning when the sun is in the best position for photos.
EXPLORE AND DINE IN KAPAA
Kapaa is the largest town on the eastern coast of Kauai. Here, you’ll find unique shops, restaurants, and opportunities to try out water sports, including water skiing and kayaking. The Kinipopo Shopping Village is a favorite for its fun eateries and small keepsake shops. If you’re looking for something quick (grab-and-go for a trip to the beach) as opposed to a sit-down restaurant, your go-to spot should be Pono Market–amazing hot food at fantastic prices! You know I love my shave ice, so my top recommendation is Wailua Shave Ice in Kapaa (get lilikoi and top it off with that haupia cream).
BEST BEACHES ON THE EAST SHORE, KAUAI
Kauai’s East Shore Beaches are known for their accessibility and proximity to condos and hotels. They typically tend to be on the windier side, but there are still great options, especially for people traveling with families.
- Kealia Beach – Offers a family-friendly environment and is also a prime spot for bodyboarding and surfing. You’ll find lifeguards, full restroom facilities including showers, and plenty of parking.
- Lydgate Beach Park – One of the most family-friendly public places on the island of Kauai. One of the park’s biggest highlights is the large, rock enclosed pools which allow children to play without being exposed to the ocean’s force. The smaller pool on the left is perfect for babies and toddlers while the larger pool on the right is great for children of all ages. There is also a bike path, picnic tables, and multiple playgrounds you can enjoy with children.
- Kalapaki Beach – Located in front of the Marriott Kauai Beach Club. The beach is partially protected from the open ocean, creating calm and safe conditions for kids. Great for packing a picnic, grabbing a cup of shave ice, and watching surfers ride the waves.
THINGS TO DO ON KAUAI – SOUTH SHORE, KAUAI
Taking a drive up to the Waimea Canyon is an absolute must. Waimea Canyon is commonly referred to as “The Grand Canyon Of The Pacific”, known for its dramatic vistas and impressive landscape. Along the Waimea Canyon Road (Hawaii State Route 550) there are plenty of viewpoints and overlooks where you can pull your car over and soak in the views. From the main lookout, Waimea Canyon Overlook, you can see Waipo’o Falls in the distance – an 800-foot cascading waterfall. Bring a sweater because it is usually 10-15 degrees cooler up in the canyon and often windy.
Pro Tip: Clouds can often obscure the views, so it’s best to check the weather before you make the drive. Mornings are usually clearer.
If you’re interested in doing a hike at Waimea Canyon, here are two great options:
Cliff Trail: 2 miles roundtrip, easy
- The Cliff Trail is a great option for beginners, families or first time visitors of Waimea Canyon. Keeping to the ridge top, this trail provides beautiful views of the canyon. Park at the Koke’e State Park entrance off of Koke’e Road and take Halemanu Road to the beginning of the Cliff Trail.
Canyon Trail: 3.4 miles round trip, moderate
- One of the most popular and scenic trails in Waimea Canyon, the Canyon Trail branches off of the Cliff Trail and takes 2-3 hours to complete. Near the halfway point, hikers will be able to get up close and personal with Waipo’o Falls, that 800-foot cascading waterfall. This is a popular spot to stop for a picnic break, so do yourself a favor and pick up some snacks before heading to Waimea Canyon. Continuing to the end of the Canyon Trail, you will reach the Kumuwela Lookout, boasting incredible views of mountains and ocean.
EXPLORE KOKE’E STATE PARK
Koke’e State Park is an adventure lover’s paradise. If you’re looking for a place to camp for a few nights, look no further–there are a lot of beautiful and developed campsites here. Koke’e State Park is also an excellent place to go hiking, bird watching, see wildlife, and learn more about the native plants of Hawaii.
For adventure-seeking hikers in good physical condition, the Nuʻalolo Trail and the Awa‘awapuhi Trail (located at mile marker 17) are the perfect hikes for you. These two trails offer perhaps some of the best views the Na Pali Coast has to offer. Each more than six miles long, they are deceivingly easy at first, but actually require a strenuous ascent on the way back. The Nualolo Trail (3.8-miles one-way) is between mile markers 15 and 16 and the Awaawapuhi Trail (3.1-miles one-way) is located at mile marker 17. These hikes are not recommended for the faint at heart or those with a fear of heights!
EXPLORE A COFFEE PLANTATION
Why does coffee from Hawaii taste so good? Well, this is due to the islands’ ideal conditions–warm sun, rich volcanic earth, cool trade winds, and the ideal amount of rainfall. As such, Kauai is home to the state’s largest coffee plantation, and taking a tour of the plantation is super fun and educational. The best part? Free coffee samples! We did the Kauai Coffee Company farm tour on our last trip and learned so much. At Kauai Coffee Company (located on the South Shore), there are free daily walking tours of the estate available, as well as private, more in-depth farm tours. Reservations are required.
Located on the south shore in Poipu, this beach has crazy ocean waves ideal for the adrenaline junkie. Makawehi Point is located here, the famous cliff-jumping point for experienced cliff jumpers. This beach is best for expert surfers, boogie-boarders, body surfers and experienced swimmers. There is no lifeguard on duty so check to see if any warning flags have been posted by the nearby Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa.
POIPU BEACH PARK
Looking for calmer waves to play in? Poipu Beach Park is the main beach on the south shore and it’s well equipped with toilets, picnic tables, and a children’s play area. It’s also a great place to spot sea turtles and monk seals lounging on the beach! Here the water is protected by a reef, has a lifeguard on duty, and is ranked one of the safest beaches in the US.
SEE THE SPOUTING HORN
The Spouting Horn is worth a quick pitstop and is actually one of the most photographed locations on the entire island of Kauai. What you’ll find is that as the tide and waves come closer to shore, the water shoots up into the lava tube, creating a blowhole of water that shoots as high as 50 feet up. The Spouting Horn is 2-3 miles west of Poipu.
SHOP AT WAREHOUSE 3540
Warehouse 3540 is a warehouse filled to the brim with hip, artisan stalls selling locally-made goods. It’s the perfect spot to do some souvenir shopping as well as to grab some delicious food at the food trucks outside. The warehouse is located 10 minutes northwest from Poipu and is well worth a stop when you’re driving along the southern coast of Kauai. They also host a farmers market on Friday mornings here!
BEST BEACHES ON THE SOUTH SHORE, KAUAI
- Po’ipu Beach Park – Family-friendly beach park where the water is protected by a reef, also a great place to spot sea turtles and seals lounging on the beach.
- Baby Beach – A little protected cove perfect for very young children, located to the west of Poipu Beach.
- Shipwreck Beach – Beach best for expert surfers, boogie-boarders, body surfers and experienced swimmers. Cliff-jumping is available here at Makawehi Point. There is no lifeguard on duty so extreme caution is required here.
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL TIPS FOR KAUAI, HI
- Airfare is a big part of your expenses, so the longer you can stay the better. Five days is the bare minimum, 7+ days is even better.
- You won’t find big cities, tall buildings, or bustling towns in Kauai. What you’ll find is plenty of lush wilderness to be explored though!
- Note that you will need a rental car to make the most of your stay. Public transport is very limited on Kauai so you’ll need a rental car to visit all the spots on this list.
- It’s not a big island, but getting around can take a while. Due to the lack of alternate roads (there are only a few major highways on the island), your destination may only be 20 miles away but it could take at least an hour to get there. Be aware of driving times when planning outings. You’ll usually find some congestion around Lihue and Kapa’a, especially during rush hour.
- Know the one-lane bridge rule. The main road along the north shore has several one-lane bridges. The local custom is to let 5-7 cars go at a time. Be sure to count how many cars are in front of you and be courteous to the local rule!
- Instead of staying at hotels, you can save money by staying at a vacation rental. Using VRBO or Airbnb to book a rental on Kauai to save major dollars on your trip. Not only are they significantly cheaper than the nearby resorts and hotels, but a lot of them also come fully stocked with beach towels, beach chairs, boogie boards, and can even have kitchens and washing machines. Another few bonuses? Free parking and no resort fees!
- If a luxury resort with all the amenities is more your style… you’ll find no better choice than the 5-star St. Regis Princeville Resort near Hanalei. Think full-service spa, golf course, gourmet restaurants, and swim-up bar.
- A helicopter tour and sailing trip around the Na Pali Coast are expensive, but the unforgettable views and memories are 100% worth it. A must-do for first-timers.
- Make sure to book your helicopter tour for earlier in your stay. This will allow time to reschedule if it’s canceled due to weather.
- There is one Walmart on Kauai near the airport. Super convenient. It’s a really good place to pick up snacks to bring home as well as souvenirs.
- Food and other necessities tend to be more expensive on Kauai. No surprise there, Hawaii is made up of islands so pretty much everything has to be shipped in. Before heading to your hotel or condo, you’ll want to load up on sunscreen, beach gear, food, and snacks at Walmart. Trust me, you’ll save so much in the long run. There’s also a Costco in Lihue near the airport as well as a Safeway grocery store.
- Everything in the resort areas is more expensive. On Kauai, that means Princeville on the North Shore and Poipu on the South Shore. Restaurants and bars will always be more expensive in resorts than locally owned businesses.
- Make sure you pack warm clothes, rain jackets, and waterproof hiking boots if you plan to spend any time adventuring in nature. The weather varies depending on which part of the island you’re on, so to be safe, we recommend you always keep these just-in-case items in the trunk of your car.
- Pack water shoes for hiking. Many of the trails on Kauai are muddy or will require you to cross streams. These hikes are much easier and more pleasant if you don’t have to worry about keeping your hiking boots clean or dry. They also work great for boat tours! If you need to buy a pair, I like closed-toe Keens or closed-toed Tevas.
- Things aren’t very well-marked on Kauai. While things are fairly easy to navigate and find on Maui and Oahu, this is not the case on Kauai. Case in point, it can be really hard to know exactly where most beach access points are unless you’ve been there before. There are also a lot of hikes and waterfalls that you’ll never find if you don’t know exactly where to look. The Kauai Revealed guidebook can be a lifesaver when attempting to get around and visiting off-the-beaten-track beaches, hikes, and attractions (such as Tunnels Beach, Hideaways Beach, etc.) Do yourself a favor and go buy this book before your trip.
- There are lots of wild chickens on Kauai. Apparently, the hurricanes of 1982 and 1992 destroyed domestic coops, releasing the chickens into the jungles. These chickens then mated with the wild red junglefowl, resulting in the feral chickens we see today. Don’t question it, just embrace it.
PACKING LIST FOR KAUAI, HI
- Travel Backpack | Personally, I’m a travel backpack kind of person; I love my Osprey Aura 65 so much. It’s extremely comfortable because of its super intense hip belt (if you get it, you’ll see what I mean) and perfect for those warm travel days due to the ventilation technology. I actually went backpacking with this pack and can attest to its greatness. Totally worth the investment. If you’re looking for a new travel bag or backpacking bag, GET THIS BAG! You won’t regret it.
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for a day hike.
- Packing Cubes | You need to get these packing cubes, they are amazing at creating space in your luggage that you never thought you had. However you want to organize your clothes— by day, by outfit, by type—these will be the most useful thing you have in your packing artillery. You’ll no longer need to dig through the entire suitcase for that one thing you’re looking for, because you’ll know exactly where it’s at.
- Clothing | You really don’t need that many shirts, especially if you choose versatile pieces, allowing them to be multifunctional. Do note that on Kauai, mosquitos can be a problem (especially when hiking). Pack 1-2 lightweight long sleeves to protect yourself from unwanted bites. In terms of pants, go with something loose and light. Jeans can be way too hot for summer travel. Flowy dresses and activewear are always a great choice!
- Underwear and socks | Bring five sets and just find a washing machine whenever you can. Or save water and wash them while you’re showering. These are light enough where overpacking is not a problem.
- Bras | Depending on your activity level, 2-3 will do. Because I’m pretty active and tend to do a lot of tropical hiking, I typically bring more sports bras than regular bras. (Plus, your swimming suit tops can function as bras too.) Throw them in the wash as needed.
- Hiking Boots | If you plan on hiking, bring well broken-in boots with good ankle support and good traction. My all-time favorites are the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots. They’re one of the lightest boots in its class, very durable, and provide out-of-the-box comfort, which is extremely important if you want to prevent blisters from the start.
- Hiking Socks | Make sure you have a good pair of cushioned wool hiking socks. For extra toe protection and to prevent blisters from developing from skin-to-skin contact, go with a pair of Injinji toe socks.
- Adventure Sandals | Tevas and Chacos are my go-to brands for multipurpose summer sandals. If you’re planning on spending some time on the river or at the beach, you should definitely consider getting adventure sandals — they’re comfortable for long-distance walking, safe for submerging in water, and super durable.
- Waterproof Rain Jacket | A lightweight waterproof rain jacket is critical for any wet, tropical destination. Since these weigh virtually nothing and are so easily packable, I recommend you carry one with you whenever you head outdoors. Depending on the weather forecast and chance of precipitation, I’ll either go with a rain shell or a puffier windbreaker. Despite the options I have here, one thing is for sure— I’m never without some sort of outer layer. My top recommendations are Marmot Men’s PreCip (for men) and The North Face Women’s Venture 2 Jacket (for women).
- Shawl / scarf | One of my must-haves! I’ll always have a medium-sized thin scarf in my bag. Not only can you use them for warmth or style, but you can also use them as a coverup after beaching, as a towel, as a mat on grass/sand/dirt, as a quick rain shield, or as an emergency skirt if your bottoms get stained or soaked somehow.
- Swimsuit | 2-3 depending on how much you plan on beaching. It’s okay to pack extra, in case you need to hit the beach or pool and the ones you wore previously haven’t had a chance to fully dry yet.
Sleepwear / Loungewear | Yoga pants and a t-shirt or workout clothes are all you need here. Save luggage space; these items can be used as pajamas, loungewear, and airplane/road trip outfits.
Basic Hawaii packing list for men | T-shirts, tanks, polo shirts, shorts, one pair of pants (only if you plan on going to a nicer restaurant), two pairs of swimming shorts, one lightweight jacket. Consider a light rain jacket if there’s rain in the forecast.
- Sunscreen | Sunscreen is absolutely necessary for tropical destinations. Even if it’s overcast and cloudy, the UV index can be very high, so be sure to apply whenever you’re outdoors. If you plan on snorkeling near the reefs, choose a coral reef-safe brand, as traditional sunscreen contains chemicals that damage and even kill the precious reefs.
- Bug spray | Depending on the island you choose and the season you go, there will be mosquitoes and you’ll want to protect yourself against bites. Typically the more undeveloped the island or destination, the more prevalent mosquitos are. If you plan to go hiking, I would definitely recommend packing insect repellent with a high DEET percentage. Sawyer makes some really great bug repellent products, and they’re travel-friendly too!
- Squeeze travel bottles | GoToob travel bottles are my favorite thing ever. Made of high-quality silicone, they are extremely durable, have never leaked on me, and are super easy to squeeze. They have different TSA-approved sizes, but I found the large GoToobs to be the best for the duration of my trip. I put face wash in one of the large ones and it lasted me all 3.5 months without a need for a refill!
- Moisturizer with SPF | You’ll be out in the sun all day. Save your face from premature aging and sunburns with a daily moisturizer with SPF.
- Deodorant | You’re going to be in the hot sun most of the time, so bring deodorant if you sweat or stink.
- Makeup | Some girls have a huge collection of makeup. But it’ll be hot, and you’ll be sweaty or beaching so much that you won’t need too much. Bring only what you need.
- DIY survival kit | Make a little bag of the following: ibuprofen, allergy pills, Immodium, ciprofloxacin (or whatever your doctor prescribes for traveler’s diarrhea), bandaids, floss, hand sanitizer, eye drops, lip balm, a sharpie, tape, and extra contact lenses (if applicable). Think about the ailments you typically suffer from and have to deal with on a regular basis and adjust the contents of the bag as needed.
- Laundry soap | Optional, but extremely useful for minimalist packers. Bring a super-concentrated soap so you can do your own laundry if you’re going to be taking a longer trip. By doing your own laundry, you can save on those insane dry-cleaning fees hotels charge!
- Quick-drying towel | Optional. These are light and quick-drying. Useful if you plan on having beach days but don’t have access to a beach towel. This one is a great option.
- Hat, Bandana, or Buff | Sun protection is key for any outdoor destination. Keep the sun off your skin with a fancy sunhat, bandana, or a Buff. All three can be used to shield your neck or forehead from the sun.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or hand sanitizing wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- Camera | Optional. iPhones are typically good enough, but some higher quality pictures wouldn’t hurt. I typically go with my Nikon D5500, which produces great photos that I’ll cherish forever. If you plan on doing a bunch of adventurous activities (ziplining, skydiving, kayaking, paddling, ATV-ing) and/or want some underwater footage when surfing or snorkeling, you should definitely go with the waterproof GoPro.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures, GPSing… the last thing you want is to be stranded with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Travel adapter | Necessary for many out-of-country travelers. This one here is tried and trusted. It allows for a normal plug and has two additional USB ports.
- Travel belt / money belt | Thief proof! I used a Flip Belt when I went out exploring, which doubled as my running belt. I swear, this thing doesn’t budge or jiggle at all when you run, plus it’s super comfortable!
- Money | A mix of local currency and your home currency for emergencies.
- Tickets and travel documents | Passport, student ID, medical card, proof of travel insurance, printed documents of your flight/hotel bookings, visas if you need them.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles.
- Foldable tote bag | Great for doing groceries or carrying your belongings in a pinch. Please note, Hawaii charges for plastic bags! Bring one of your own, save money, and save the planet.
- Laundry Bag | Outdoor activities = lots of sweaty, smelly, dirty, and worn clothes. Don’t soil your entire travel bag by mixing worn clothes with your unworn clothes! Definitely bring a laundry bag to separate your clean clothes from your dirty clothes to maintain the utmost freshness.
Now, you should be all set for your vacation to Kauai. Stay safe and happy travels!
Subscribe to our monthly newsletter for the latest budgeting tips, travel-related discounts, and exclusive offers that are too good to post on the blog!