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The Ultimate Guide to Kauai

Kauai's Na Pali coast from the air

Looking for a guide to Kauai? You’ve come to the right place! We went for a baby moon, and fell completely in love with The Garden Island. Kauai was a great spot for a babymoon, but honestly, it is really a great destination for anyone. Read along for a full guide to Kauai.

Kauai is the ideal Hawaiian island for beachgoers with a penchant for nature and outdoor pursuits. It is called “The Garden Island” for good reason.  This verdant island gets more rainfall than the other Hawaiian islands and has the beautiful, lush mountainsides and waterfalls to show for it.

Remember the gorgeous setting for Steven Speilberg’s Jurassic Park?  Much of it was actually filmed in Kauai.  

Hiking trails abound, whether on the famous Na Pali Coast or in the Waimea Canyon.  You can start your day with sunrise views from the mountaintops, then spend the afternoon relaxing on a secluded beach surrounded by palm trees.  

Of course, a day in Kauai wouldn’t be complete without shave ice and a Kauai chicken sighting. I’ve got everything you need to know for planning a babymoon or couples trip to this lush paradise.

Planning for a babymoon and looking for other beach towns we love with relatively low zika risk? Check out this post on Santa Teresa, Costa Rica.

Also, make sure to save the link to our family trip to Tulum for when you’re ready to travel with your little one!

monk seals and chickens at the beach
monk seals and chickens | Shipwreck Beach

Getting Around Kauai

A rental car is pretty much required, as you’re going to need it to drive the island and see all of the sights.  A convertible or jeep is always a fun upgrade!  The island is connected from north to south by one main road.    You can drive from all the way in Princeville to Waimea in about two hours or less, which allows so much flexibility in making plans.  You can drive to a completely different part of the island in a short amount of time if you need to avoid the occasional rain.

Weather in Kauai

Kauai, like other Hawaiian islands, is warm year round so there isn’t a bad time to go.  Even in January, the daytime highs still average around 75 F and lows around 68 F.  Don’t be fooled, these temperatures are still warm enough to swim and enjoy the beaches.  It is, by far, the rainiest Hawaiian island.  However, most rainfall occurs at night, even during the rainy season.  The rainy season is comprised of the winter months, but even in February we never had more than about 15 minutes of rain during the day.  The northern parts of Kauai tend to be rainier than areas to the south.  This also gives it a much greener landscape.  The areas to the south offer drier and sunnier days, and in turn aren’t quite as lush. Some of the most popular beaches and resorts are in the south.

Choosing an Area to Stay 

There are essentially three main areas to stay on Kauai, each with its own pros and cons. Keep in mind that driving around the entire island only takes about two hours. Since we visited during the rainy season we chose to stay in the southern town on Poipu. However, many people choose to spend half of their time in the north and the other half in the south.

Staying on the North Side of Kauai

The more rugged North shore is home to the two main towns of Hanalei and Princeville.  Hanalei is a small surfer town with an eclectic feel.  You must cross a one lane bridge to get here, so you won’t see any bus tours here.  There are lots of little restaurants and surf shops, along with art galleries.  The Hanalei Bay pier is a popular fishing spot for locals and sunset watchers.  

Hawaiian sunsets
Hawaiian sunsets

Princeville is a master-planned resort community with upscale condos, homes, and resorts.  There are only a few gift shops, a grocery, post office, and gas station nearby, along with a handful of restaurants.  If you aren’t staying in the resort, there isn’t much else to offer beside the beautiful views and popular beaches.  

Staying on the East Side of Kauai

Kapa’a is the largest city on the island of Kauai.  There is plenty to keep tourists busy, and is the perfect area if you want a central location.  There are plenty of restaurant choices.  However, the beaches aren’t the best for swimming due to bad currents.

Lihue is the second largest city.  This is where the airport is located, along with a Wal-Mart, a major grocery store, and a Costco.  We went into Lihue a few times for essentials, but I wouldn’t really recommend staying here.

Staying on the South Side of Kauai

With the sunniest weather, the south has the largest concentration of resorts and accommodation options.  The famous tree tunnel serves as the welcoming gate to the beaches and towns of the south.  

Koloa is the oldest town on the island and is home of the first sugar plantation in Hawaii.  Several of the oldest buildings on the island are located in the old town.  It is a charming little town that’s worth a visit.  

Poipu is a fairly walkable resort town with shops, retauraunts, and popular beaches.  This is the area we stayed in, and we were happy with our choice. We stayed at the Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu. It had a great location and the room was perfect. Having a kitchen was especially nice.

Waimea is where Captain James Cook first made landfall in Hawaii in 1778.  It is a cute town with a handful of shops and restaurants.  This is in the driest area of the island, so the beaches aren’t quite as pretty and lush.  The nearby Waimea Canyon, known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, is loaded with great hiking trails.

Koloa Landing pool
a pool at Koloa Landing

Things to Do in Kauai

Kauai has a wide variety of things for you to do on your babymoon.  You can spend all day visiting the beautiful sights or just relaxing on the beaches.  If you like to stay active, there are more than enough hikes, with varying degrees of difficulty.  Unless you are from Hawaii, all of the names of the towns, beaches, and sights can start to sound the same.  It really gets confusing when trying to figure out a plan for what to do. I’ve tried to help by separating everything into the three main geographic regions: north, south, and east.

*Just a note- everything associated with the Na Pali Coast is generally grouped in with the north (even though it technically is mostly located on the western side) because it is accessed from the north. This often confused me when I was planning, so hopefully it helps clear up any confusion for you. I’ve grouped it here with the northern areas as well, so keep that in mind.

North Kauai Things to Do

Queen’s Bath: This is a tide pool located in the town of Princeville. It is home to several small species of fish and sea urchins.  It was once used as a royal bathing spot.  While many say that you can swim here during summer months with low tide, I would use extreme caution.  Several people have died here after being caught by unexpected waves.  

Hanalei Bay: This crescent shaped bay is the largest on the north shore.  With almost two miles of white sandy beaches surrounded by mountains, it’s easy to understand its popularity.   

Old Club Med Ruins and Overlook:  This is an easy walk that will give you some of the most beautiful views of Hanalei Bay.  Once the site of the Hanalei Plantation, then converted into a Club Med in the 70s.  Ruins remain here from a failed development that started after the closing of Club Med.  However, most people still refer to it as the Club Med Ruins.  The trail is located at the end of Hanalei Plantation road in Princeville.  There will be a sign that says private road, but this isn’t entirely true.  Once you get to the end of the road take the upper road, not the downhill driveway, and continue through the pedestrian pass to the left of an iron gate. 

Hanalei overlook - Babymoon in Hawaii
views from the old Club Med overlook

Wai Koa Loop Trail:  This is an easy walk located on private ground of the Wai Koa Plantation, so you will need to stop at Anaina Hou and sign a waiver.  Anaina Hou is the community park adjacent to the plantation.  The hike is free and leads you through the Kilauea Forest and the largest mahogany plantation in North America.  There is a beautiful stone dam built in the 1880s to harness the river for a nearby sugar mill.

Na Pali Coast:  This is the shining gem of the North Side of the Island.  With sheer, green cliffs cut by waterfalls and jutting right into the ocean, anyone can understand why this coastline is featured in so many movies.  The area is inaccessible by car.  If you truly want to see it, you either need to go by foot, boat, or helicopter.   

  • Hike:  The most popular hike in the area is the Hanakapi’ ai trail which is an eight mile toundtrip hike leading to a beautiful waterfall. It is part of the longer Kalalau hike that is a daring 22 miles roundtrip.  The full trail is only recommended for experienced (and brave) hikers due to some technical crossings and small ledges.  I’m terrified of heights, and particularly edges, and I’m sweating right now just thinking about it.  If you want to see if from the safety of your couch you can google and find plenty of videos to get your adrenaline pumping.
  • Boat:  There are several boat tours you can do to get amazing veiws of the coastline from the water.  We didn’t do a boat tour as we wanted to do a helicopter instead.  We have some friends who did and loved it, though.   
  • Helicopter tour:  We were so happy with our choice to do a helicopter tour.  It allowed us to see the gorgeous Na Pali Coastline along with several other inland waterfalls and landscapes, including the Waimea Canyon.  We chose Safari Helicopters because they had great pricing and reviews.  There are several different options to choose from depending on how much you want to see.  We chose to do this on the day of our departure flight.  Most flights leave in the afternoon or evening for the mainland and with checkout usually before noon, it is the perfect way to spend a day that you’d otherwise be aimlessly wasting time until going to the airport.  
Napali coast babymoon in Hawaii
the Napali Coast
Safari Helicopter Tour - babymoon in Hawaii
Safari Helicopter Tour

East Kauai Things to Do

Whale Spotting:  Near Kapaa is Kealia Beach, which is popular with boogie boarders.  This huge sandy beach is right off the highway and has pavilions and public restrooms.  We didn’t actually visit this beach, except for a quick roadside stop to spot the migrating whales.  We actually did see a few off in the distance.  

Fern Grotto:  Only accessible by boat, Fern Grotto is exactly what is sounds like.  This lava rock grotto is surrounded by layers of hanging ferns.  You can do canoe trips up the Wailua River and make a day of it. We didn’t get a chance to do this, but I’ve heard great things. 

Opaeka’a Falls:  These gorgeous falls, best viewed on a sunny morning, can be seen from a lookout right off of Hwy 580 (Kaumo’o Rd).  

Lydgate Park:  This is a super family friendly beach park with lots of amenities.  The currents here can be bad, but there are two man-built rock enclosed pools that are perfect for toddlers and young children.  There is also a two and a half mile walking trail along with picnic tables and two playgrounds.

South Kauai Things to Do

National Tropical Botanical Gardens:  This is actually a combination of two adjacent botanical gardens: Allerton, a 100 acre previously private estate, and McBryde.  There are lots of interesting plants and flowers to be seen here.  

Sprouting Horn:  Across the road from the botanical gardens is the parking lot for Sprouting Horn. This is a blowhole caused by waves crashing under the lava rock shelf.  Expect tons of tourists as this is an easy stop for bus tours. Thus, in my opinion, this is a quick few minutes stop.

Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Parks:  Once called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain, the Waimea Canyon is spectacular.  The red valleys are a distinct contrast to those over the ridge on the Na Pali Coast side.  These side-by-side parks comprise most of the western side of the island.  A drive up highway 550 will grant you beautiful views from the roadside lookouts.  There are dozens of hiking trails here with varying difficulty and scenery.  The elevation is much higher than the beachside areas, topping out at over 4200 feet at the final lookout, so plan for chilly weather in the early morning.  This can be even more pronounced when the thick fog rolls in.  Make sure to take a light jacket.  We left early in the morning to enjoy a sunrise drive up into the canyon, followed by a couple of hikes.  

Waimea Canyon at sunrise
Waimea Canyon at sunrise
  • Pihea Trail/Alakai Swamp Trail:  We started our day here after arriving at the Pu’u O Kila overlook.  This 2 mile roundtrip (Pihea Trail) hike along the ridge gives you breathtaking views into the Na Pali coastline.   Try to check the weather before heading out, not just for Waimea but for Na Pali as well, as they are side by side.  Rain or clouds will diminish the views and make for an extremely muddy hike. This area can get a lot of fog.  Sadly, we had a lot rolling in the morning we were there.  It was remarkable to see the fog rolling in and out so quickly, but it hampered our views.  We were still able to see from a few different lookout points.  You can continue on at an intersection with the Alaka’i Swamp Trail for another 2 miles to get to the Kilohana Lookout.  We went about halfway before deciding to turn around as the fog kept getting worse.    
  • Waipoo Falls Trail:  Waipoo Falls is a stunning 800 foot waterfall that can be seen from various lookouts along the main canyon road.  Why would you only want to view it from the road, though?  This moderate four mile roundtrip hike will take you into the canyon, allowing you stunning, unobstructed views.  You’ll actually see two waterfalls- albeit the second only from above- and have a chance to take a refreshing dip if you like.  
hiking the Waimea Canyon- babymoon in Hawaii
hiking the Waimea Canyon
Waipoo Falls trail babymoon in Kauai
small swimming hole | Waipoo Falls trail

Beaches in Kauai

No visit to a Hawaiian Island is complete without hitting the beaches.  Kauai has more sandy beaches than the other Hawaiian islands and they run the gamut from enticingly secluded to large and populous with all the amenities.  I’m not going to mention every single beach on the island.  Instead, I’ll mention the beaches we loved and a few we wish we’d had time to visit.  Note that ALL beaches in Hawaii are public.  So even if there is a sign saying the beach is private, you still have the right to be on it.  Just make sure not to trespass while getting there.  

hiking to Mahaulepu Beach
hiking to Mahaulepu Beach

Kauai several drowning deaths each year, often due to visitors swimming in bad conditions, which can vary by the hour or day, so pay attention to posted signs.  The general rule of thumb is that the beaches in the South get high surf during the summer months (April- September) and beaches to the North have high surf during the winter months (October- March).  

You’ll probably want to keep a pair of water shoes (or some sandals with straps) in your bag to help alleviate the pain from walking on some of the rocky beaches.  Also, please make sure to clean up your trash when you leave. 

Again, I’ll divide them here by region to make it a little easier for planning purposes.  I haven’t listed any of the beaches to the eastern side of the island.  We didn’t visit any of them, save for a quick stop to look around.  

snorkeling babymoon in Hawaii
snorkeling | Poipu Beach Park

Beaches in the North

Ke’e Beach:  This beach is at the very end of the road in the north and is the beginning point of the Na Pali Coast.  Depending on the season, it can be safe for swimming and snorkeling.  The water was rough when we went so no swimming for us.  Get there early, as the parking lot fills up early in the morning with hikers setting out for the Na Pali trails.  

Tunnels Beach:  There is plenty of sand for sunbathing, while the lush mountains create a picture perfect background.  Snorkeling and swimming are generally good here.

Anini Beach:  This was, by far, one of our favorites.  We went here in the afternoon after hiking the Na Pali Coast, so we were ready for some serious relaxing.  This secluded beach is lined by trees and a few homes.  At first you’ll feel like you’re trespassing, but don’t worry…all the beaches are public.  Just find a spot near one of the access roads and walk out to paradise.  The water here was calm and crystal clear, helping make Anini Beach the tranquil paradise we were looking for.

Anini Beach- babymoon in Hawaii
all to ourselves at Anini Beach

Beaches in the South

Mahaulepu Beach:  This beautifully isolated stretch of beach requires some effort to get to; hence, the lack of other beachgoers.  It is actually a series of three beaches: Gillin’s Beach, Kawaiola Bay, and Ha’ula Beach.  You can drive here, but the road isn’t maintained past a certain point, so use caution to not make a total wreck of your rental car.  We chose to hike here.  The two mile trail, starting from Shipwreck Beach near the Grand Hyatt, takes you along the coast by stunning ocean vistas, tide pools, windswept sand dunes, and lava tubs.  The easy walk doesn’t have much shade, so take plenty of water….especially if your’re six months pregnant and easily winded like I was.  Gillin’s Beach, the first beach you arrive at, has expansive golden sand with an idyllic beach house that can now be rented out.  Further along, after crossing a stream you’ll see Kawailoa Bay, and at the cliff’s edge you can continue along the trail to Ha’ula Beach after another 15 minutes.  Ha’ula Beach was our favorite beach on the island.  For a vast majority of the day, we enjoyed complete isolation.  The evergreen trees and high sand dunes against the rocky cliffs to the left side of the beach lend to the feeling of being a castaway. I only wished I had taken some snacks or a lunch to allow us more time.  You’ll often see monk seals basking in the sun on one of these beaches as well. 

Shipwreck Beach: This beach, located in front of the Grand Hyatt is a great place for boogie boarding.  We didn’t spend much time here – it was always too crowded for my taste- save for taking in a few sunsets.  This is also a popular place for monk seals to make themselves at home for a beach nap. 

Poipu Beach Park:  While this isn’t necessarily the most beautiful beach on the island, it is a family favorite because it has plenty of golden hued sand along with pavilions and picnic tables.  The waves here are usually smaller than some areas.  There is a tombola, a narrow strip of land separating the bay into halves (essentially a sandbar running perpendicular to the shore) that provides a fun place for young children to play.  Snorkeling here is great, partly due to reefs near the shore, but mostly thanks to the shops nearby that sell fish food for this particular reason.  You can buy the fish food for a few bucks, but you may not even need if if there are already several snorkelers in the water.  Once in the water, the sand quickly gives way to rocks, so wear water shoes or tread lightly. 

Baby Beach:  This small strip of beach is usually less crowded than other beaches around Poipu.  The usually calm, shallow waters are perfect for babies and toddlers, hence the name.  There are often tide pools that form, along with the chance of spotting sea turtles and monk seals.  

Lawai Beach:  This beach is right off the Lawai Road in front of The Beach House Restaurant.  The small beach, along with a plot of grass is a nice place to rest after snorkeling with the sea turtles.  

babymoon in Hawaii
Ha’ula Beach
Ha'ula Beach
secluded Ha’ula Beach

Food in Kauai

Ok, I can’t go on and on about a babymoon without mentioning the food.  Obviously, seafood is the star, but there are eateries ranging from local burrito joints to fine dining and foodie favorites.  We actually didn’t eat out as much on this trip as with others.  We stocked up on sandwich supplies at a grocery to allow for picnic lunches during the day.  This gave us a little more freedom in making plans.  We didn’t want to be in the middle of hiking the Waimea Canyon and trying to figure out where to go eat once finished.  Not to mention, I usually want to eat about every three hours. That’s everyday, not just when I’m pregnant.  Ha! It’s pretty much become a running joke.  So, David has learned that unless he wants to spend half the day in restaurants, we need to be prepared.  We did find a few places we really enjoyed, though.  

You can’t visit Kauai without having shave ice.  Whatever you do, do not refer to it as “shaved ice” or a snow cone.  There is no “d” at the end.  The ice is shaved from a huge block, whereas snow cones are crushed.  This lends to a smooth consistency.  The toppings can vary from simple fruit flavored syrups to creamy sweetened condensed milk.  There are local favorites and new, trendy shops.  Try one, or better yet, try them all.  You know, for research.  

The Fresh Shave:  This adorable little RV is set up in an unassuming parking lot.  The mustache logo along with organic, homemade syrups are the dream of every millennial hipster around.  The inventive flavors and fresh fruit toppings had me swooning before I even ordered. 

JoJo’s Shave Ice:  This is an island staple.  It isn’t anything fancy, but it doesn’t need to be.  The seemingly never-ending list of flavors can be overwhelming.  Luckily, they have a few combinations already suggested for you to one side of the menu.  What’s more, you can add a scoop of vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream on top.  Now, I wasn’t sure about this at first, but after trying the first bite, I wondered why I ever doubted this genius concept.  There is a location in Waimea as well as Hanalei, so you can try it regardless of which side of the island you are on. 

Eating House 1849:  Go here, and you won’t be disappointed.  The chef has taken traditional Hawaiian plantation foods and given them unique twists.  One of their more popular dishes is the ramen bowl.  Oh my heavens, it was spicy and delicious with a spicy broth, roast pork, and shrimp dumplings.  David got the Hapa Burger, and we still talk about it two years later.  The meat, a combination of beef and wild boar, was topped with smokey gouda, chipotle aioli, and avocado.  Seriously, one of the best burgers we’ve ever had.  The six inch stack wasn’t the easiest to eat, but it was comical watching him attempt it.  

Da Crack:  Da Crack is seriously located in “da crack” between two other businesses in a nondescript strip mall.  The walkup Mexican restaurant left us wanting to return every day.  The portions are huge, but it tastes so good you’ll probably eat until you’re miserable anyway.  

Puka Dog:  It is overpriced, but a unique, island spin on hot dogs.  Choose from a Polish sausage or veggie dog then pick from a variety of sauces ranging form mild to habanero.  Be sure to get the fruit relish to finish it off.  They only have homemade lemonade to drink, but don’t mind if you bring your own.

The Hanalei Gourmet:  We stopped here for a refreshing lunch after hiking the Na Pali coast.  I was craving a cold salad, so I immediately chose the Waioli Salad.  David ordered a fish sandwich.  Both were so good that we ended up splitting them between us.  

Hawaii is the perfect place for a babymoon, especially if you choose to visit Kauai. You can’t go wrong with any island, but Kauai is the best for nature lovers like us. You won’t be disappointed!

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