With a trip to Kauai, you get endless opportunities to enjoy exciting island adventures across truly picturesque landscapes. In order to get the most from your travels, it pays to learn all you can about island life well before you even start packing your bags. With that move, you can travel in style, stay in truly accommodating digs, and experience all the best the island has to offer. Ready to get started on a Kauai learning experience of a lifetime? Here’s everything you need to know.
All About Kauai
As the fourth-largest Hawaiian island, Kauai offers more than 530 square miles to enjoy, much of which is inaccessible by roads. Every month, more than 100,000 people come to the island to spend time on the beaches, explore the parks, and visit all the top attractions. On top of that, nearly 75,000 people call this island home full-time while many others stay part-time in their vacation homes.
Since the tropical climate offers warm temperatures year-round, there’s never a bad time to visit. Winter does bring rough surf along the beaches, however. While this is great for avid surfers, most other beachgoers smartly choose to stay out of the rough water more often than not. Known as the summer hump, tourism does increase from June through August as a result, which is common across all the Hawaiian Islands.
With over 60 miles of shoreline across Kauai, there are more than enough beaches for tourists and locals to enjoy. Since the geological formations vary greatly all along the coast, each beach offers a different experience.
With its reef running along the shore, Anini Beach boasts the calmest waters around, for example, making it perfect for snorkeling, paddle boarding, and swimming. Lumahai Beach, on the other hand, features exceptionally strong waves and currents, which makes it far too dangerous for swimming and surfing all throughout the year.
Beyond the beaches, the most popular natural landmarks in Kauai include:
The sky is the limit to how you can explore the landscape. You’re welcome to go on a guided tour by bus, ATV, or helicopter, walk or bike the trails on your own, or even get a permit and go camping deep within the parks. On the guided tours, you can even hit up all the popular movie sites, including Manawaiopuna Falls that served as a backdrop in the blockbuster hit, ‘Jurassic Park.’
Top Things to Do
Since Kauai has more trails than any of the other Hawaiian Islands, hiking is a popular pastime for both locals and tourists. If you’d like to see the gorgeous trees, flowers, and more without the hike, you can visit the many well-maintained gardens instead, such as Allerton Garden, McBryde Garden, and the Limahuli Garden and Preserve.
After you explore the landscapes to the fullest, you can take a deep dive into the culture of Kauai by:
- Riding the train, going on a rum safari, and attending a luau at the Kilohana Plantation
- Spending the day looking at the exhibits and watching the video at the Kauai Museum
- Going on a fun-filled riverboat ride down the Wailua River to Fern Grotto with Smith’s Kauai
- Shopping your heart out at Old Koloa Town and crossing the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge
- Taking surfing and stand-up paddleboarding lessons from expert instructors along Hanalei Bay
As your adventures help you work up an appetite, you can get a taste of all the best island flavors at the local restaurants. Varied cuisines keep every restaurant visit interesting, while live music, hula shows, and fantastic oceanside views perfect the dining experience.
To travel to Kauai, you will need to buy plane tickets through one of the major airlines. Delta, Southwest, and many of the other major airlines now offer direct flights to the island, although you can save money by selecting flights that have one or more stops.
The amount of time you’ll be in the air will vary depending on your starting point. If you’re coming from Florida, expect at least a 12-hour flight with even more time spent on the ground if you have connecting flights. When traveling from California, however, you can usually get to the island in about five to seven hours while on a direct flight.
Your travel dates will greatly impact the price of your tickets to Kauai, especially if you’re planning on visiting during the summer or the winter holidays. If you’d like to save money on your tickets, plan your visit for the beginning of fall or the middle of spring instead.
Once you get on your flight, you’ll land at the Lihue Airport located along the southeastern side of the island. Right inside the airport, you can find many shops with food, clothing, and souvenirs galore. There are also a couple of coffee shops and restaurants onsite, including the popular Stinger Ray’s Tiki Bar & Lounge.
Upon determining your ideal travel times and booking your plane tickets, you’ll want to work on finding your ideal accommodations. You have many awesome options all across the island, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, and guest cottages.
Out of all the accommodations, resorts are the most popular since they offer a luxury island experience from day one. Depending on which one you pick, you’ll get to enjoy spas, restaurants, swimming pools, fitness rooms, and even access to the golf course while staying at the resort.
Across the island, you can find a ton of resort options, including:
- Princeville Resort Kauai
- Kauai Beach Resort & Spa
- Koa Kea Hotel & Resort at Poipu Beach
- Sheraton Kauai Resort
- Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
- Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach
- Hanalei Colony Resort
If you prefer a more home-like aesthetic, you can rent a private house or condo. Many people put up their vacation homes for rent to earn a little extra money while they’re away from the island. We are happy to offer vacation rentals on the island.
Although Kauai does have a public bus system, it’s much more convenient to rent a car for the duration of your stay. You can rent from Alamo, Budget, Enterprise, Payless, and many other companies right at the Lihue Airport and drop it back off there before catching your flight home. The lines are often incredibly long during the peak tourist season, so be sure to put in your request while buying your plane tickets.
Depending on which company you go through, you can usually complete the advanced check-in process, and then take the shuttle from the airport to their lot. From there, you just have to get the keys and grab your preferred car before hitting the road to enjoy your island adventures. Expect to pay around $50 a day for a basic rental car. SUVs and luxury vehicles are much more.
If you don’t want to deal with driving, finding parking, and the like, you can call for a taxi or use a ridesharing service, like Uber. Although this costs more than renting a car, you don’t have to pay for gas or worry being liable for the condition of the car at its return. The Kauai County bus is an option as well, although it only runs Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4 pm. The buses arrive at each stop once per hour, so you might have a bit of a wait for it to arrive.
Several private companies offer shuttle services to and from the hotel and all around the rest of the island, including:
- Polynesian Adventure
- SpeediShuttle, LLC
- Anytime Island Express
The Kauai Marriott runs their own private shuttle for their guests, but it only goes to and from the Lihue airport every 30 minutes.
You can skip the motorized transportation in favor of feeling the wind in your hair by renting a bicycle instead. All along the coast, you can find rental companies offering mountain bikes, cruisers, and e-bikes for rent, such as Briggs Bicycles, Kauai Cycle, and Pedego Electric Bikes Poipu. Hourly and daily rentals are available, but it’s usually much more convenient just to rent your bike for the full duration of your stay.
Medical Care Centers
During your travels to Kauai, you might start to feel more than a little under the weather or even suffer an injury. If that happens, you have many excellent medical care facilities in your midst.
If you’re in South Shore, visit Urgent Care at Poipu to promptly see a doctor and get the care you need. While on the East Side, you can visit the Kauai Urgent Care for immediate medical services instead. On the North Shore, you have two clinics to consider: Makana North Shore Urgent Care and Hale Lea Family Medicine & Urgent Care.
All the local urgent care clinics treat everything from fevers and migraines to lacerations and sprains. For more acute injuries and illnesses, you’ll want to visit an emergency room instead. In fact, if the urgent care doctors feel that your condition warrants additional care, they’ll send you over to the nearest hospital right away.
The three hospitals on the island are:
- Wilcox Medical Center: 3-3420 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766
- Mahelona Medical Center: 4800 Kawaihau Rd, Kapaa, HI 96746
- Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital: 4643 Waimea Canyon Dr, Waimea, HI 96796
All three local hospitals have emergency rooms that are open 24 hours. If you are unable to get to the hospital on your own or need immediate care, you can dial 911 to have an ambulance come to your location. They will help stabilize you, and then transport you to the hospital for additional care.
Where to Shop for Essentials
When it comes to shopping for essentials, Kauai has everything from mom-and-pop shops to huge groceries stores. There’s even a Costco complete with a gas station located right along Nuhou Street. Since it’s open 24 hours, the Safeway in Lihue gets a lot of visitors in need of fresh, frozen, and packaged food.
If you prefer to shop at a locally-owned and operated grocery store, you can go to:
- Kukuiula Market: 2827 Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
- Sueoka Store: 5392 Koloa Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
- Big Save Market: 5516 Koloa Rd, Koloa, HI 96756
- Lawai Market: 3586 Koloa Rd, Kalaheo, HI 96741
- Times Supermarket: 3-2600 Kaumualii Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766
When you want local produce, artisan goods, and more, go to a nearby farmer’s market instead. To hit up the Waimea Farmer’s Market, go to the Hale Puna on Thursdays from 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm. Want to go on the weekend? Go to the Hale Halawai Hanalei Farmers Market on Sunday from 12 pm to 2:30 pm.
For a true farm-to-table experience, you can go to one of the many farms to check out the goods at their onsite produce stands. Olana Organic Farm, Fehring Family Farm, and Moloaa Organicaa all run their farm stands throughout the week, although you might have to call ahead to get your selections.
For other essentials, you might want to try shopping at the:
- Kukui Grove Center
- The Shops at Kukuiula
- Harbor Mall
- Poipu Shopping Village
- Anchor Cove Shopping Center
- Coconut Marketplace
If you’re ever at a loss on where to go shopping, just travel along the highway for several miles and you’ll come across tons of options.
As far as vacation destinations go, Kauai is a relatively safe place to travel. Despite that, it’s still smart to practice your due diligence while near the water, exploring the landscape, and simply kicking around town.
While vacationing on Kauai, you’ll definitely want to get into the dazzling water for a swim, snorkel, or surfing session. To do that safely, you should try to always go to the beaches with lifeguards on duty, such as:
Even with a lifeguard on duty, always strive to swim with a buddy, so you can watch out for each other while having a great time. Beyond that, avoid swimming near the mouths of rivers and other spots near the shore with obviously strong currents.
Also, you should spend some time watching the water before entering. Although it might look calm at first glance, the currents underneath the surface could prove treacherous. So, upon arriving at each beach, chill on the sand for about 20 minutes and watch for big waves breaking offshore, sections of swirling water, and rapid water movements. If you notice any of those signs, skip the swim in favor of other fun activities.
The best way to completely immerse yourself in paradise is with a hike through the many beautiful trails across Kauai. Since the trails range from short, flat beginner paths to steep and slippery climbs, you need to study what’s ahead before heading out to stay safe on your adventures. You can get the inside scoop by joining a guided hiking tour or just stop by a visitor center for a trail guide.
In addition to learning all you can about each route, stay safe on the trails by:
- Wear good-fitting, closed-toe shoes with plenty of grip
- Bring hiking poles that help give you a little extra support
- Stay on the marked trail and avoid getting near edges
- Skip even the most tempting death-defying selfie poses
- Check the weather conditions before heading out on the trails
In addition, bring a wind-up radio and tune into 93.5 FM KQNG for weather updates and other important information. Through that station, you can hear the emergency broadcasts as they come in, allowing you to get out of harm’s way fast if conditions take a serious turn for the worst.
While in town, you can enjoy all the best that the island has to offer, including great food and awesome entertainment. As you do that, always pay close attention to your surroundings whether you’re driving, biking, or walking down the street. Unless you’re completely familiar with the area, you want to pay close attention to signage, so you can best obey the rules of the road at all times.
Although the crime rate is relatively low, you should always keep your doors locked to avoid crimes of opportunity. Keep all valuables out of sight and out of mind as well. Vehicle break-ins and theft happen most often at beach parking lots, especially in areas with lots of houseless individuals roaming around.
If you feel uncomfortable parking somewhere, heed your gut feeling and go somewhere else. There are plenty of excellent places to visit all over the island. You can always come back later for another try if you want.
Since the sun is almost always shining over Kauai, always wear SPF 50+ sunscreen plus a sunhat and sunglasses. Not just any sunblock will do, however. Always pick a non-aerosol, reef-safe sunscreen to help preserve marine life and act as a steward of the land.
The warm weather also brings out mosquitos and other obnoxious bugs in droves, so grab bug spray from an island store and apply it liberally throughout the day. As you do that, keep in mind that sunrise and sunset bring out the most bugs. You can also protect yourself from bug bites by wearing light-colored clothing that fully covers your arms and legs.
As you enjoy the pristine waters, sandy beaches, and gorgeous landscapes across Kauai, you must act as a steward of the land by:
- Keep your distance from all wildlife, including sea turtles and other marine life
- Avoid touching the coral reefs or getting too close with your fins
- Only wear reef-safe, non-aerosol sunscreen while on the island
- Avoid going off trail at any time during your island hikes
- Leave all shells, rocks, and other items where you found them
Always pack out what you pack in by bringing a sturdy trash bag for your garbage. You can also give back to the island by picking up any trash you come across during your adventures.
In addition to honoring the land, you need to extend that same level of respect to the local culture to leave a great impression wherever you go. For starters, on all your island adventures, always aim to be kind and friendly to your fellow tourists and locals alike. Use “Aloha” as a friendly greeting and a warm farewell, while “Mahalo” is a polite way to say thank you. Also, open the doors for elders and get up if they need a place to sit on the bus or other public area.
If you get a chance to make friends with a local resident and visit their home, be sure to take off your shoes before entering. Do the same at your hotel room to keep it clean and germ-free throughout your stay. When you’re able to catch a hula show, watch this sacred artform respectfully and only join in if invited by the dancers. Plus, as you enjoy meals out, watch live entertainment, and even get room service at your hotel room, always leave a generous tip for good service.
Even with your best efforts to act respectfully of the land and culture across Kauai, you could end up in a dispute with a local resident. If that happens, it’s best to try to deescalate the situation by listening carefully to their grievances. Since you’re new to the area, it’s possible that you made some sort of misstep along the way. So, do your best to learn from the situation and apply their feedback as you enjoy the rest of your travels.
Once they are done expressing their complaints, sincerely apologize and ask any questions you may have about how to proceed next time. Then, thank them for their time and move on with your adventures. You only have so much time on the island, so don’t let disputes get in your way of having fun. Just get the interaction over with, learn from it, and continue enjoying all that paradise has to offer.
If you walk away with more questions than answers, you can get additional information at the Kauai Visitors Bureau. Located on Pahee Street, this center serves as an information hub for tourists, giving you a place to stop by for guidance and support. If they’re not available, you can try one of the other visitor centers instead, like the West Kauai Technology & Visitor Center. Alternatively, you can join a guided tour of your choice and ask your guides all the things you need to know about island life.
Moneysaving Tips and Tricks
Although it might be tempting, you don’t have to break the bank to enjoy the best that the island has to offer. In fact, immediately upon arriving at the Lihue Airport, you can start your money-saving journey by grabbing a few brochures off the racks for coupons to use all around the island.
You can use those discounts on meals out, entertainment, and even at the local shops for clothing, gear, and souvenirs. Also, remember that you can actually rent most of your gear by the hour, day, or week, including kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and surfboards. The rental companies also provide the accessories you need to have a great time, like leashes, car racks, and paddles.
When it comes to food, you’ll definitely want to get a taste of the best island flavors by eating out at least once a day. You can do so affordably by planning your mealtimes for happy hour or by using any coupons you find. Other than that, you’ll want to shop for picnic supplies at Costco, locally-owned supermarkets, and farm stands. If you’d like the best of both worlds, go to the local fish markets for fresh foods and pre-made deli snacks, including tasty poke.
Making the Most of Your Kauai Adventures
If you’d like to make the most of your Kauai adventures, it’s important to create an itinerary well before landing on the island. Look up all the restaurants, beaches, entertainment venues, and other activities available and decide which ones you absolutely cannot miss.
Then, jot down a loose schedule for each day, inputting each must-do activity into two- to three-hour time slots. Allow for plenty of time in between activities for all the awesome opportunities for fun you see along the way. You don’t want to have a schedule so packed with activities that you miss the chance to hit up a decadent farm stand or explore a beautiful beach, after all.
Also, avoid losing a day or more to jet lag by:
- Moving your bedtime to the new time zone a few days before your trip
- Switching your watch to Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time while on the plane
- Staying outside in the sunny weather if you arrive during the daytime hours
- Going to bed on the first day at the same time as you would back home
- Taking a warm bath and melatonin before bed to sleep easier away from home
Above all else, go with the flow and simply aim to relax in paradise while learning all about the history and culture of Kauai. If you encounter any difficulties along the way, consider abandoning your plans in favor of something else. You can always come back at a later date and try again, after all. With that move, you can avoid getting completely derailed and still enjoy a fantastic time on the island.
Now that you’re well-versed in everything there’s to know about Kauai, you can get started in planning your trip. As you do that, keep this guide on hand to refer back to as needed to stay ahead of the game at all times. By practicing your due diligence at all times, you can avoid common pitfalls and have a phenomenal time on the island.