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Best Places to Visit in Kauai

       Kauai Overview   Best Places to Visit in Kauai




















Overview     Top of Page  



Climate is the long term weather for a place.  We provide climate charts for Lihue and Wiamea   to give you some insights on the weather in Kauai throughout the year.
Kauai's nickname is the Garden Isle and we think this little spot of green is the most beautiful of the Hawai'ian Islands.  It is also the rainiest island, averaging 100 inches of rainfall a year, which accounts for the adjectives most commonly describing its vegetation - lush, rich, and verdant.  Kauai is the oldest and northernmost of the Hawai'ian Islands.  Its size is approximately 550 square miles (33 by 25 miles). 

2006 was a record setting year from precipitation in Kauai.  Lihue Airport's rainfall measured almost 36 inches in March alone.  The March total for Mount Waiaeale was 130.4 inches.  Of course, Mount Waiaeale, topping out at over 5,000 feet in elevation, is one of the rainiest places on earth, averaging slightly over 460 inches of rain each year (and its rainfall is not typical of the resort areas).  Generally more rain falls on the windward side of Kauai (Princeville), while less rain falls on the leeward side of the island (Poipu), a rule that is true for all of the Hawai'ian islands.

Kauai was severely damaged by hurricane Iniki in 1992 , a category 4 hurricane that roughed up the island's south and central shores, destroying residences, hotels (including the Cocoa Palms Resort where the movie Blue Hawai'i was filmed) and large swatches of the island's vegetation, although causalities were remarkably light. The island was back in business the following week, but total recovery took a much longer time.  (An interesting aside here is that Iniki destroyed most of the chicken coops on the island and the escapees have prospered.  Bet you never thought your morning on Kauai could mimic one "down on the farm"!  Be prepared.)

Heavy rains in 2006 caused the Ka Loko Reservoir Dam to burst (between Princeville and the airport in Lihue), killing several people and isolating Princeville from the rest of the island for a short time. The overall damage from the rains was relatively minor and the island is once again in top operating condition.

The threat of rain, hurricanes and flooding has not steered vacationers away from Kauai, which on the average attracts slightly over a million visitors a year.  So, just what is it that attracts so many people to this small, northern island in the Hawai'ian chain?  Well, the scenery is fantastic, the ocean and beaches majestic and Kauai manages manages to beguile most visitors into coming back again and again. to We hope to show you why  in the travel guide that follows.

One more thing, Kauai is a very popular destination for newlyweds and considered something of a honeymoon paradise.  Heck, even if your are not newly married, visiting here makes you feel that way - but that's another story.

Finally, we have created a map of our recommendation for the best places to visit in Kauai.  Clicking the map symbol in the text will show you the location of the attraction on a detailed map of Kauai.  The base map is from Google and you can select map view or satellite view. In either case, you can use the scale tool in the upper left hand corner to magnify the map or satellite image.   In addition, you can route between the locations on our map of Kauai to find out how long it might take to drive between destinations.  


Where Should We Stay?

There are three major resort areas on Kauai.  Princeville/Hanalei  in the north offers more solitude, provides, perhaps, the most beautiful landscapes and great golf, but the beaches can be treacherous and the north shore is rainier than the other vacation areas.  Poipu , on the south side of the island is the most popular of the resort areas, has great beaches, offers a lot to see and do and attracts the largest crowds during the tourist season.  Poipu is a favorite vacation spot for families.  Wailua, about halfway between Poipu and Princeville provides access to the island's historic core and to its main commercial areas .  This is also the closest area of the Wailua River State Park and the Fern Grotto.

Poipu and Princeville are the areas on the island favored by most visitors.  As noted above, each area offers a unique set of attractions.  Both areas offer a variety of a resorts and hotels, although the Grand Hyatt in Poipu and the Princeville Resort in Princeville are the two top rated resorts on the island.  So you can find luxury at both locations, but the real difference may be that Princeville has more of secluded and mature feel to it, while Poipu seems to be the place for having great fun with the family.











Kauai Waimea Canyon and Wailua River

From Viator Tours





Na Pali Kauai Snorkel Expedition

From Viator Tours




Entire Kauai Island Air Tour

From Viator Tours








Waimea Canyon Bicycle Downhill

From Viator Tours

Best Places to Visit in Kauai   Top of Page




Wailua River State Park/ Fern Grotto  

Near Kuhio, the Wailua River State Park along the Wailua River provides lush, tropical scenery, including waterfalls (Opaeka'a and Wailua) and the island's number one tourist attraction - Fern Grotto. If you are looking for romantic settings, this is it.

The Wailua River, the only navigable river in the Hawai'ian chain of islands, is an idyllic pathway to Fern Grotto.  The Grotto is a beautiful fern covered cave, tucked away in a tropical oasis.  The popular boat ride to Fern Grotto departs from the Wailua Marina for the two mile cruise to this exotic destination.  The boat ride is popular and touristy but provides a pleasant, scenic journey.  During the short cruise you will be serenaded with Hawai'ian music and stories. Hula lessons are an optional part of the tour.  Visit  this site for detailed information on schedules and pricing: http://www.smithskauai.com/fern_grotto.html

Wailua Falls in Wailua River State Park.

Waimea Canyon State Park 

Although, Kauai is a relatively small island, it contains one of the State of Hawai'i's most recognized, natural scenic treasures, the impressive and colorful Waimea Canyon.  Often called Hawai'i's Grand Canyon, it is considerably smaller than and not quite as deep as its sister canyon in Arizona.  Waimea Canyon offers an amazing palette of colors and is a real crowd pleaser. 

The trip to Waimea Canyon State Park will take you to the western side of the island and into unpopulated areas once you pass the town of Waimea. Be sure to have a full tank of gas and bring and water and food that might want during your day's travel, as you will not find facilities once you turn onto the road up to the Canyon( Highway 552 - Koke'e Road ).  Parts of the trails edging the Canyon actually occur in adjoining Koke'e State Park  ,which is further up highway 550 (also Koke'e Road)

There is excellent hiking along the rim of the Canyon, but you should be in good shape if you are going to try the more strenuous trails into the canyon.

Waimea Canyon State Park


Poipu Beach

Kauai's southern coastline is the location of Poipu Beach, which is one of the most popular areas on Kauai.  In the Poipu Beach area, there are several other fantastic beaches and , collectively, they provide the best sunbathing, swimming and water sports setting on the island. 

The climate here is sunnier than the north and usually quite a bit drier, although showers do occur. Even if you do not choose a hotel in this area (although there are some very nice resorts), you should take time to explore the beaches, towns, restaurants and shopping in the Poipu Beach area.  For more information, see the Poipu Beach Resorts Association website at http://www.poipubeach.org/

  • The Mahaulepu shoreline lies to the east of Poipu Beach .  It is an area favored by day hikers due to its beauty and easy access from most of the resort areas.  Kauai Nature Tours provides guided tours of this and other areas of the island.  Visit their new website for more information.


Napali Coast State Park

The Napali (Na'Pali) coast on Kauai is a scenic wonderland of sea cliffs and valleys.  It is tough to get to by land and many tourists see it by helicopter or during a boat ride.

The hike across the park to the coast is worth the overnight hike, if you are willing to hump, or a few days if you are feeling more leisurely. The overnight trip usually stops at Hanako and continues to the "rustic" camp at Kalalau the next day.  You will find tour operators willing to transport people and/or gear in by boat, avoiding the eleven mile hike each way. If you decide to hike in, the trail you want is the Kalalau Trail at the end of Highway 56 (Kuhio Highway) in Ha'ena State Park on the northwest side of Kauai

There are stream crossings about each third of the way in that make for good day-hike destinations for those in the mood for a shorter hike or you can choose the official day hike (4 miles roundtrip) to Hanakapi'ai.  Bring your own drinking water as none is available on the trails or in the campground.  Hiking in this area provides some spectacular rewards but is strenuous with rough trail conditions and primitive camps. In other words, if you are not an experienced hiker, this is not the adventure for you.

By the way, the beaches in Napali only look inviting.  Swimming and wading are not advised as the surf can be treacherous.  Of course, you are also in the middle of nowhere without the advantage of lifeguards.

The Napali Coast

Helicopter tours

Kauai is an extraordinary sight from the air. Due to the island's mountainous nature and the lack of roads, much of the island's beauty is hidden from land travelers. There are a number of aerial tours available  that can help to expose the island's incredible beauty.  If you are planning on taking a helicopter tour, be sure to take advantage of clear weather, as most flights are "weather permitting".

Evaluate the providers of helicopter rides based on their safety records and other factors  important to you. We list several providers of helicopter rides below. (Please note that we have listed them for you only as a convenience.  The listings should not be considered as a recommendation on their safety or suitability.)

Sunshine Helicopter Tours   http://www.helicopters-Hawai'i.com/

Jack Harter Helicopters http://www.helicopters-kauai. com

It is possible to snag a discount by booking online, in advance.  Alternatively, you may want to wait until you arrive in Kauai and ask your hotel's concierge to suggest their recommended helicopter tour operators.

During your helicopter tours of the island, you may have seen all of the major attractions in Kauai, often from a better perspective than will be available during a land tour.  So, we suggest taking your helicopter flight first, and then deciding if you really want to drive or hike to all of those areas that were on your list.


Oh so touristy, but so much fun in the right setting!  Although a variety of food is offered, we look for luaus with an Imu ceremony, where a pig that has been roasting in an underground oven is uncovered to start the feast.   Fees are around $65 per adult (depending on the package) and, thankfully, less for kids. Before you make your reservation, do a little homework and find out what types of food are served and the type of entertainment presented.  Before you make your reservation, do a little homework and find out what types of food are served and the type of entertainment presented. The professionalism and enthusiasm of the luau staff have a lot to do with the success of any luau.

Rating luaus is a tricky things and often a person's memory of the event is influenced by the factors unrelated to the food or entertainment.  The three we present below are considered by many to the be the best on Kauai, but we urge you to take a look at the websites we reference and decide for yourself.

Smith Family Garden Luau

This famous luau is held at Smith’s Tropical Paradise Located in the Wailua River State Park (Marina Section).  It may be the attractive setting (a 30 acre botanic garden), but the Smith Family Luau is considered to be the best luau in Kauai.  The proceedings start at 5pm on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (Monday through Friday during the summer months).  See the Smith's Kauai website for detailed information   http://www.smithskauai.com/

Other Attractions

Hanalei Bay

Hanalei is one of the premier attractions of Kauai's north shore.  It is a crescent shaped bay sitting in a little piece of paradise.  The ocean conditions on the north shore are usually rougher than the south and the large waves make the bay a favorite of professional surfers and others who enjoy watching powerful waves.

Haena Beach  Park

Some of the beaches in Haena Beach Park are well-known for the quality of snorkeling they provide and most are treasured by collectors of shells. The Kauai Visitor's Bureau recommends Tunnels Beach at Haena for snorkeling, due the beauty and protective nature of its reef.  Remember to avoid snorkeling or swimming when the surf or currents are strong. 

  • Haena Beach Park is just east of  Haena State Park .  On the map we use it is labeled Haena Park.

Other Beaches

Kauai has a number of excellent beaches, although it is unlikely that you will have an urge to visit any beach other than the one that you can reach from the door of your room.  It's not that the other beaches are inferior, it's just unlikely that you will want to lug all that swim stuff and food around the island to sample the beaches.  Also, many of the more remote beaches do not have facilities - always an issue for families.  Of course, you may be an explorer and, in that case, we recommend this site as being a good authority on Kauai's beaches http://www.kauaiexplorer.com/

Menehune Pond

The Menehune Fishpond is a site right out of Hawai'ian legends and one that is hyped by most guides.  Unless you are really looking for something to do, consider skipping this stop.  Legend has it that the pond was built by the Menehune's, a race of Hawai'i's "wee people" who were challenged to construct the fishpond in one night.  We are told that the Menehune Pond was quite a sight several decades ago.  Unfortunately, it suffers from a lack of upkeep and it is being swallowed by the incursion of local Mangrove trees.


The three leading courses in Kauai were designed by Robert Trent Jones and are worth visiting just to see their beautiful settings.  Expect to pay a premium to play at these courses, but you will have the golfing experience of a lifetime.

The Makai and Prince Courses, part of the Princeville Resort at Princeville, are among the most attractive golf courses in the world.  In addition, these two courses are frequently ranked in the top 10 courses in the U.S.

Poipu Bay Golf Course, next to the Grand Hyatt, is home the PGA Grand Slam of Golf. The course, a 210-acre links style design, is stunning and the surrounding landscapes are gorgeous.  The game here is challenging but well worth the effort.

If you need information about another travel destination, try our Destination Guide Index or Googling ThereArePlaces.

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