Yearning to visit someplace with lush-as-can-be scenery, majestic jade mountain views, and beaches perfect enough to live on? Welcome to the North Shore.
The North Shore of Kauai consists of the Princeville resort area, the town of Hanalei, and mostly undeveloped stretches of gorgeous beaches, rainforests, and mountains. It rains a lot here. That’s why it’s so tropical and magical here.
From taro fields to the lagoon, from the pier to the Hanalei Mountains, Hanalei Town just might be the quintessential beach town we all dream about. And then there’s Princeville, home to some of the best secret beaches on the island, framed by stunning cliffside views that overlook the Pacific.
If you’re staying on any other part of the island, I implore you to take a day trip (or two) over to the north shore of the island!
We absolutely fell in love with Kauai’s North Shore. The small, laidback surfer town of Hanalei ended up being our favorite town in all of Kauai. It’s no wonder, there’s literally so much you could do there.
You can browse shops dotted along the charming streets or eat at casual food trucks, visit the famous Saturday farmers’ market or try your luck at surfing at Hanalei Pier. There’s enough stuff to keep you busy for days on days!
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Table of Contents
KAUAI IN A NUTSHELL
Here’s a quick overview of all the useful info you need to plan an awesome trip!
- When To Go: December through March (peak season). September to November or April to June (off-season, for pleasant weather and fewer crowds).
Where To Stay: Hanalei Bay Resort or Hanalei Colony Resort for beachfront vibes.
- Nearest Airport: Lihue Airport (LIH)
How to Get Around: You will need a car on Kauai. We recommend using Rentalcars.com to find the best deal. Book early because rental cars in Hawaii go like hotcakes!
Must-Do’s: See the Na Pali Coast by boat, see Hanalei Valley Lookout, and eat at Hanalei Poke.
Before You Go: Pack your snorkel gear to avoid having to rent! And remember to pack a rain jacket too — Kauai’s weather can be unpredictable, and rain is possible at any time of the year.
WHAT IS HANALEI TOWN KNOWN FOR?
This lovely small town is home to picturesque views, historical buildings, good eats, and contemporary art galleries. Here are a few reasons why you should look forward to a trip to Hanalei:
- Hanalei Valley Lookout is here, the ‘most photographed’ and arguably also one of the most attractive locations on the entire island of Kauai.
- The historic Hanalei Pier, built in 1892. In 1957, the pier became world famous when it was featured in the classic film South Pacific.
- Taro farms! Many of which offer engaging and fun farm tours.
- Lots of art–Hanalei is a great place to shop for made-in-Kauai art and carvings made from rare, native Hawaiian woods.
- Limahuli Garden and Preserve, named the Best Natural Botanical Garden in the U.S. by the American Horticultural Society!
BEST THINGS TO DO IN HANALEI TOWN, KAUAI
1. NAPALI COAST BOAT TOUR
This has got to be the most memorable thing I’ve done on Kauai. Boat tours on Kauai are not cheap, but boy are they worth the money you pay!
Being able to get up close and personal with the Na Pali Coast, its waterfalls, sea caves, and marine life while learning all about ancient Hawaiian folklore and culture grants you a pretty amazing time.
Booking a raft tour leaving out of Hanalei (instead of a catamaran tour leaving out of Port Allen on the South Shore) will give you the ability to zip in and out of sea caves, something larger boats can’t quite do. Plus, departing from Hanalei gets you to the Napali Coast a lot quicker than leaving from the south shore.
Traveling to Kauai’s North Shore in the winter? Unfortunately, boats only leave out of Hanalei in the summer (April to October). However, I do highly recommend still booking a boat tour leaving from Port Allen–there are some really great options from Port Allen, listed towards the bottom of this post.
We had a total blast on our last Napali Sail and Snorkel Tour with Holo Holo Charters (from Port Allen) and made some pretty amazing memories. Read more about our experience here!
2. HANALEI VALLEY LOOKOUT
This iconic spot is one of the most photographed spots on Kauai and is even in the running as being one of the most attractive locations on the entire island of Kauai.
At the Hanalei Valley Lookout, you’ll get to experience enchanting views that put on display gushing waterfalls, lush taro fields, gorgeous green hills, and even a rainbow on occasion!
This spot really is postcard-perfect, so don’t forget your camera! Try and stop by during different times of the day (or even during different weather conditions), the view you see at the lookout is ever-changing.
3. HANALEI PAVILION BEACH PARK
This beach was by far our favorite beach on the entire island of Kauai! It’s situated at the center of Hanalei Bay, a crescent-shaped strip of land, meaning it’s flanked by the amazing scenery on both ends. Doesn’t matter if you look left or look right, the surrounding view is just perfect.
Looking to swim? Waters are typically not as calm here as it is right beside the pier, but swimming is usually possible in summer. We came here one day and the waves were practically non-existent! Perfect for floating and swimming in the ocean.
Pro Tip: If you’re adamant about finding a swimmable beach, be sure to check the surf report on the morning before your visit.
Facilities include restrooms and outdoor showers. There’s only a small parking lot, but street-parking spaces are often available.
4. BLACK POT BEACH
Black Pot Beach, also sometimes referred to as Hanalei Pier, is the easternmost stretch of Hanalei Bay, alongside the river mouth. This area usually offers the calmest surf among the North Shore and is therefore popular with novice surfers.
In the summer when waves are calmer, it can be a great spot to swim, snorkel, and SUP! Before you leave Hanalei, make time to take a quick sunset stroll onto Hanalei Pier, the views are gorgeous at this time of day.
Pro Tip: Looking to pack a beach picnic? Pick up snacks/drinks at the nearby Big Save Market (and if you’re feeling like a real meal, get some really delicious poke next door at the Hanalei Poke food truck).
5. KAYAK AND SNORKEL TOUR
This family-friendly activity is a popular option for kids and adults alike. On this kayak and snorkel combo tour, you’ll get up close and personal with the spectacular scenery of Hanalei Bay in a super fun and exciting way.
Over the course of this half-day tour, you’ll take a kayaking trip along the Hanalei River before heading onto the bay to enjoy the views from there. Then, swap your kayak for a snorkel for an underwater nature expedition.
Don’t be shocked when you catch a glimpse of those sea turtles! Finally, unwind with an included lunch on the beach.
6. TAKE A SURF LESSON
If you’ve ever wanted to try surfing, there is no better place to learn than on one of the most beautiful islands in the world! Learn to surf Kauai’s famous waves with this 2-hour surf lesson on the shores of Hanalei Bay.
Your instructor will teach you the fundamentals of paddling, reading the waves, and standing up. It’s a great introduction for beginners, and group sizes are super limited to ensure a personalized experience.
Toward the end of your lesson, enjoy free time in the mellow waters of Hanalei Bay to practice your new skills.
7. LIMAHULI GARDEN AND PRESERVE
Limahuli Garden and Preserve is a lush 17-acre botanical garden situated smack dab in one of the most biodiverse valleys in the Hawaiian Islands. It’s so scenic, as it’s flanked by the Pacific Ocean on one end and the Makana Mountain on the other.
This botanical garden is filled with tropical plants at every turn. It’s even been named the Best Natural Botanical Garden in the U.S. by the American Horticultural Society!
If you have extra time, definitely take the 3-hour guided tour to learn about the importance of the relationships between ancient Hawaiians, land, plants, and water. Self-guided tours are also available.
8. BROWSE AND SHOP AT THE VARIOUS PLAZAS
Hanalei Town is one of the best places in Kauai to take a stroll. As you drive into Hanalei, it’ll be hard to miss the shops and boutiques dotted along the Kuhio Highway.
The center of Hanalei Town is filled with many historic buildings that are now home to several local businesses.
Take a quick stroll around and almost immediately, you’ll find it oozing with charm. During your downtime from all the water activities, visit some art galleries and do some shopping!
You’ll also find various spots with fascinating outdoor displays that will educate you on Hawaiian/Polynesian history.
Once you’ve got your fill of shopping, stop for ice cream, a smoothie, or a delicious lunch plate! More on food below.
9. GET LUNCH AT TRUCKING DELICIOUS
The name can be confusing as they are no longer a food truck, but once you’re able to locate them (inside of a cafe), you’re in for a treat. Trucking Delicious is probably one of the best places in Kauai to get a garlic shrimp plate.
This was one of the best meals we had on the island! Don’t be surprised when you find yourself wanting the buttery, garlicky, shrimpy experience two or three more times.
10. GRAB A POKE MEAL AT HANALEI POKE
Make sure you stop and grab some poke from this spot because it is so ono! Tucked away to the left of Big Save market, Hanalei Poke could very easily be missed. But make it a point to try it while you’re in Hanalei–you won’t be disappointed!
You may end up waiting a little bit in line, but trust me, it is so worth it. Even Guy Fieri loves the poke here, as it was featured on Diners Drive-Ins and Dives.
It was by far our favorite poke spot on the island, granted we haven’t had them all… yet! They have a variety of flavors that I personally have not seen at other shops and I’m definitely one to appreciate delicious unorthodox creations such as these.
Pro Tip: Grab yourself a can of ice-cold coconut water from Big Save next door while you wait for the grindz. You’ll want something cold and refreshing as you wait in that line!
11. HAVE A SIT-DOWN MEAL AT AMA
Feeling like a fancier Japanese-style meal after a long day of exploration? Ama Restaurant is a no-reservations restaurant that features Hanalei’s most spectacular outdoor seating. Grabbing a table in their outdoor patio means you’ll be facing mountains, lush greenery, and cascading waterfalls.
Dishes include ramen noodles topped with seared ahi (tuna), chicken or pork, grilled skewers, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, and homemade donuts.
Pro Tip: Wear bug spray to deter bugs if you’re sitting near the vegetation (just in case).
12. GET TARO DONUTS AT HOLEY GRAIL
“Holey” moly, the taro donuts at Holey Grail Donuts are absolutely amazing. Crispy on the outside, warm and pillowy-soft on the inside… they really are the ultimate donut. Plus, they’re made-to-order, so you’ll be getting the freshest donuts each and every time.
If you’ve never tried taro, trying it in the form of these donuts is a great introduction. As they’re made with taro flour, they are also gluten-free!
If you already know you love taro like we do, snatch up the tasting box (pack of 6 different flavors). They won’t disappoint. During our last trip, we really wished we had picked up more to bring home to our friends and family!
13. TAKE A STROLL AND CHECK OUT THE VACATION HOMES
There are some really epic-looking vacation homes located in Hanalei. If you have some time to spare in the early morning or evening, take a light stroll in the neighborhoods and check out some of the houses. You’ll find yourself ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the massive multi-million dollar ones.
Pick out your favorite, then fantasize about what life would be like if you were the owner of the property!
14. WAI’OLI MISSION HOUSE
Founded in 1834 by American Christian Missionaries, the Wai’oli Mission House is a building that was home to missionaries from 1837 onwards. This historic house is located at the far end of a footpath that leads behind Wai‘oli Hui‘ia church.
It’s so picturesque, given that it’s set in lush greenery and surrounded by a white picket fence. Inside, you’ll find it furnished in authentic decor reminiscent of the time period.
The Wai’oli Mission House offers guided tours to walk-in visitors (no reservations required). When you arrive, ring the large bell beside the outdoor chimney and a guide will emerge to show you around!
15. GET TIKI DRINKS AT TAHITI NUI
Tahiti Nui is the perfect end to your day of surfing, shopping, and hiking on the North Shore. This funky tiki bar is a Hanalei institution and has been an island favorite since the 1960s.
It claims to be the oldest tiki bar in Hawaii and its mai tais are some of the best on the island! If you can get patio seating, that really adds to your experience.
Stop by during the day for drinks, or head here for a luau dinner. Yup, skip the overpriced resort luaus and head here instead! Tahiti Nui has an intimate and casual luau complete with talented local musicians and a pig roasted in the backyard!
16. GET SHAVE ICE AT WISHING WELL SHAVE ICE
The Wishing Well Shave Ice has been a household name on the island of Kauai for over 30 years! Try one of their refreshing treats after a long, hot day of island exploration. The shave ice concoctions are great, as are the smoothies and the açai bowls!
The açai bowls are particularly delicious–generously topped with fruits and fixings, just as we like it! Considering a smoothie? Get the Dragon’s Breath (pitaya-based).
They even sell merch (hats, t-shirts, keychains, cups, etc.). This was some of the cutest merch I’ve seen on the island. Though pricey, they make such wonderful souvenirs to bring home!
17. HANALEI FARMERS MARKET
Visiting the Hanalei farmers market is a lovely way to immerse yourself in Kauai’s beauty, aloha and abundance. If you happen to be in Kauai on Saturday, don’t miss the large Saturday morning farmers’ market!
This market features fresh-squeezed juices, locally made honey, fresh-baked goods, salsa, and other tasty treats that highlight the culinary talents of the area.
Before your trip, check for the latest farmers market hours – Hale Halawai Farmers’ Market.
18. TAKE A RICE MILL AND TARO FARM TOUR
Ho`opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill is a museum located in the taro fields of Hanalei Valley. It dates back to the 1800s and is the only remaining rice mill in all of Hawaii! Run by the sixth generation of a local Japanese family, the farm and taro operations are so fascinating to learn about!
On this tour, you’ll learn about Hawaii’s agriculture/cultural history and explore the cultivation and uses of taro, a traditional Polynesian food source. You’ll then enjoy a complimentary picnic lunch featuring unique items prepared with taro (grown on the very farm you visit!).
A tour includes a taro smoothie, farm-fresh tastings, hands-on activities, lunch, drinks, and desserts.
You’ll also get the chance to view endangered birds & wildlife in areas that are normally closed to the public.
HANALEI TARO AND JUICE COMPANY
Serving farm fresh taro products from their six-generation family farm, Hanalei Taro is a must-try when you’re in Hanalei! Among Hanalei Taro’s unique products are Taro Mochi Cake, Zesty Taro Hummus, Hanalei Taro Veggie Burgers, Kulolo, & Taro Smoothies.
The taro smoothies are made of fresh fruits, fruit juices and a special kalo (taro) base — super good for you and super delicious!
Their menu features authentic Hawaiian food such as laulau, kalua pig, poi, lomi lomi, and kulolo. They also have daily specials that can include roast pork with gravy, shoyu chicken, furikake baked fish, and kalua tacos.
HANALEI TOWN PRO TIPS
- To get to Hanalei, you will need to pass over a one-lane bridge. Drivers should use local etiquette and take turns crossing: all the vehicles on one side cross, followed by all the vehicles on the other side.
- Hanalei Pier is where you will find the calmest spot for children to play in the surf.
WHAT IS PRINCEVILLE KNOWN FOR?
- Princeville is known for its beautiful, dramatic cliffsides, lush valleys and tropical forests
- This is where a lot of the resorts are located (such as the St. Regis Princeville, now 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay)
- Because of its historical significance, ranching culture is still embraced here–cowboys, horseback riding, family-operated farms, etc.
- Hideaways Beach–a great place to snorkel during calm weather!
- Queen’s Bath–one of the best places to get that IG-worthy shot!
- Fun Fact: Because of its natural beauty, lots of movies were shot here. Most of Jurassic Park’s dinosaur scenes were shot around Princeville and Hanalei, as well as scenes from the first Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN PRINCEVILLE, 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.
Pro Tip: We always make at least one stop in Princeville during our trip because the only Foodland (local supermarket selling Hawaiian snacks, hot foods, and delicious poke) on the island is located here!
19. PRINCEVILLE SHOPPING CENTER
Groceries, prepared meals, coffee, souvenirs, hardware, clothing, shoes, and restaurants–this place has got you covered. At the Princeville Shopping Center, you can find small restaurants, gift shops, a wine shop, and a few art galleries.
Don’t miss a stop at Foodland, even if you don’t need groceries! Foodland has a large section of Hawaii-made products and food, as well as awesome poke bowls. We love picking up loaves of guava bread, bags of coffee, mac nuts, and li hing candy here.
20. PRINCEVILLE BOTANICAL GARDENS
Princeville Botanical Gardens is a family-owned and operated garden paradise located in the Princeville area on the north shore.
Established by The Robertson Family with the help of their close gardening friend Michael in 2001, this 9-acre property has been transformed into a breathtaking garden with dramatic landscaping in two steep valleys.
The chocolate tasting/garden walking tour includes homegrown honey and fruit samples, as well as a chocolate tasting that’s paired with a history lesson in chocolate making. Reservations are required.
21. PRINCEVILLE NIGHT MARKET
The Princeville Night Market brings together Kauai’s finest artisans for an evening of shopping, live music, and food trucks. Shop for handcrafted gifts ranging from paintings, wood carvings, hot sauces, and handmade soaps–all made in Hawaii!
After you get your fill of perusing and shopping, head over to the food trucks and dessert vendors for a few bites, then sit back and relax while listening to the free live music.
Princeville Night Market is free and family-friendly. It is held on the second Sunday of every month from 4-8pm at the Princeville Shopping Center (from May to December).
22. PRINCEVILLE RANCH
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.
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.
23. QUEEN’S BATH
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.
24. TUNNELS BEACH
Tunnels Beach is probably the best snorkeling spot in Hawaii. You’ll have to bring your own gear because there’s nowhere to rent nearby (worst case, you can rent some in Hanalei nearby if you don’t have your own).
Snorkeling is best in the center portion of the beach with its half moon-shaped reef. You can swim over the coral, but be mindful not to step on the coral!
Once you’re done snorkeling, take your time and walk along the 2-mile white sand beach. You can hunt for seashells and admire the views of Mount Makana.
This spot is pretty hidden, located down the way from Ha’ena State Park (which you’ll need reservations for), but so worth the effort. Beach access is located just past the 8-mile marker on Hwy 560.
When you get there, you’ll find that there’s no parking lot and plenty of “no parking” signs on the street. That’ll be the cue that you’re getting close to the beach.
If you’re having trouble finding it or if parking is an issue, you may need to go to Haena State Park and walk back (beach will be to your right).
25. HIDEAWAYS BEACH
One of the north shore’s best beaches is… you guessed it, sort of hidden! Hideaways Beach, or Pali Ke Kua, is a beautiful spot for snorkeling. This aptly named beach near Princeville requires quite an adventure to find, but if you’re up for the quest, we highly recommend you make time for it.
How to get there: From the main road in Princeville, make the turn into the resort area where you see the sign for St. Regis. You’ll go in about two miles through Princeville and then turn right into a small, public parking lot just before you reach the St. Regis’ gatehouse.
Just outside the parking lot, you’ll see a small pathway between the two fences. You’ll need good shoes in order to get down this trail, as there’s a pretty iffy staircase you have to conquer before you get to the series of rope handles that will lead you to the hidden beach.
Pro Tip: This secluded beach is worth the trek, but it is advisable to use extreme caution. If you’re going to attempt this adventure, bring shoes with traction and be in good health/physical condition!
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE NORTH SHORE
26. KAUAI NORTH SHORE TOUR
Discover Kauai’s highlights and hidden gems on an epic full-day Kauai North Shore private tour that offers a personal glimpse at the island’s local culture and history.
As you navigate the Garden Isle in a private minivan, you’ll stop by to see a pair of beautiful waterfalls, followed by a stop at the Kilauea Lighthouse and Hanalei Bay, where you’ll get to watch for whales and endangered geese at a wildlife refuge.
Next, you’ll visit a few hidden beaches and ancient sites, all the while learning about Kauai’s history and local culture along the way. The tour includes bottled water, juice and minivan transport from Lihue.
27. 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.
28. 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.
29. HIKE A PORTION OF THE KALALAU TRAIL
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 (8.2 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!
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Kalalau Trailhead is located within Ha’ena State Park. This park has become so popular in recent years that the state has taken measures to alleviate the traffic and parking situation. You’ll now need a reservation to park (and even enter as a walk-in) at Ha’ena State Park. You can make reservations 14 days in advance here.
30. 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.
31. 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).
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, all departing from Port Allen in the south shore:
- 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! We did this tour, and it was completely and utterly amazing.
- 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.
BEST BEACHES NEAR HANALEI AND PRINCEVILLE, 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.
WHERE TO STAY IN HANALEI AND PRINCEVILLE, KAUAI
Just a quick disclaimer before we get into it. Compared to the rest of the island, the towns of Hanalei and Princeville are home to more luxurious accommodation options.
These resorts aren’t going to be cheap, but they are going to provide you with a drop-dead gorgeous, comfortable, and unforgettable stay!
Hanalei Bay Resort – This resort is tucked away on Kauai’s secluded north shore and features an awesome pool, beach, and even tennis courts. You’ll be spending your nights in a beautiful, spacious, and comfortable room that will put you at ease. It was voted #1 for Mid-Range Hotel and Boutique Hotel by Best of Kauai 2018, and is also a popular spot for destination weddings.
The Cliffs at Princeville – This resort features 2 swimming pools, a children’s pool area, and 2 hot tubs. Full kitchens and dining areas are provided in all suites. Upon waking up, step outside onto your 2 private balconies featuring panoramic garden views! Also conveniently located is Princeville Golf Course, just 1 mile away.
Hanalei Colony Resort – If you really want to get away from it all, this resort is the way to go. This is Kauai’s only north shore beachfront resort and it’s nestled on a gentle curve of golden sand beach. Rooms include spacious 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath suites with complete kitchens. A beachfront restaurant, day spa, hot tub, and coffee shop are all located on the beautifully manicured grounds.
If you’re looking for something more budget-friendly, I’d recommend staying in the town of Kapa’a, located on the east shore. We love Kapa’a because of its proximity to everything–it’s also where the majority of locals live!
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST FOR KAUAI, HAWAII
- Snorkel Gear | Bringing your own snorkeling set means you can choose to snorkel anytime you want without having to track down a rental shop to rent gear. Seavenger, one of the best snorkel gear makers in the game, sells a Hanalei Anti-Fog 4-Piece Snorkeling Set that’s really loved by both kids and adults.
- Sand-free beach mat | There are actually beach mats that are quick-drying, waterproof, and sand-proof, making setting up on the beach super, super easy. This beach mat is all those things, plus it has sand anchor pockets and 6 ground stakes so that your beach mat is wind-resistant even when you’re not laying on it!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Osprey Daylite Daypack. 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!
- 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. Trail runners are a great alternative if you’re visiting Kauai during the dryer seasons.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Here are a few travel-sized biodegradable sunscreens you can easily buy online:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 has completely banned 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.
- WayAway | This site compares flight ticket fares from hundreds of agencies. You’re going to get the best prices on the market, at least $10 lower than those on Skyscanner, Kayak, and Priceline.com. The best part is? The WayAway Plus membership. With the membership, you’ll get up to 10% cash back on airline tickets, hotel bookings, car rentals, and other travel services.
- DEAL ALERT! Use code ‘travelswithelle’ for 10% off WayAway Plus.
- Booking.com | Honestly, this is my go-to accommodation booking site. This site has free cancellation and no prepayment required on reservations which is huge for me. It also has amazing abilities to filter accommodation options by rating and price. Honestly, it’s shaved off so many hours of endless research for me and has made booking hotels and other accommodations a breeze.
- Viator | Viator is a huge online marketplace for all things tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, ATV tours, sailing trips, walking tours, hot air ballooning, and more.
- Go City | Go City offers great value-for-the-money attraction passes in various destinations around the world. Whenever I want to play tourist in a city, I always check to see if Go City operates in that city. The money you can save with this pass is unreal (as opposed to buying admission tickets for various attractions separately).
- SafetyWing | SafetyWing is by far one of the best travel medical insurance for travelers as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those heading abroad.