From stunning beaches to premiere hiking, there is so much to see and do on Kauai! Click on the icon in the upper left corner of the map to see a list of the activities, shops, and sights discussed below. This is our personal Kauai Travel Guide, an assumes that you're staying at our place in Princeville. Particular care is given to driving times.
If you want to research other things to do, get the Ultimate Kauai Guidebook. It’s the standard, most comprehensive guide available. They also have an app that shows your location and all of the activities on a map to help you navigate. Some of the best things to do are hikes and the app makes finding some of the trailheads easier.
Princeville at Hanalei is a beautiful master planned golf course community on the north shore of Kaua'i. Princeville Center, just 1.5 miles from the house, offers all the necessities and more: gas station, grocery store, post office, restaurants, and boutique shopping. Princeville is also host to several beaches, but all have a hike down to the water. (Princeville is elevated above sea level, and may be dangerous depending on the time of year and water conditions.) Hele Hale is a half mile to Queen's Bath, 1 mile to Hideaways and St. Regis beaches, and 1.5 miles to Sealodge or Wylies beaches. Hele Hale overlooks the Princeville Makai Golf Club, ranked in the top 100 public courses in America since 2013, and the 10th best public or private course in Hawaii since 2015.
There are many, many other worthy beaches - crowded or secluded, with rough water or smooth, on all sides of the island. We encourage you to explore, but please be safe if you visit any beach, especially beaches without lifeguards. Some of these beaches may be unsafe, especially when there is high surf, and especially during the winter.
You may have read that Poipu Beach is one of the most popular beaches on the island. It's a good beach, but is over an hour's drive away from Princeville and is usually really crowded. Don't make a special trip to go to Poipu Beach, but you might want to go if you plan to be in the area.
St. Regis & Hideaways
Princeville is elevated a bit, so all of the closest beaches require a - sometimes steep - walk down to the water. These beaches are a great option if you're a little more athletic and want something fun to do that doesn't require a drive. Princeville Resort is just a mile or so up the road, and the public access to their beach is a very well maintained paved path with lots of stairs. Just follow the sign to the left of the entrance that reads "Public Beach Access." If you're looking for a more rugged hike down to the water, stop by Hideaways, on the right, just before you get to the Princeville Resort parking lot. On the way out of the neighborhood towards the main highway is Wylie's beach, near with Westin.
Anini Beach, just a 10 minute drive, is our favorite beach. Anini is special because of the large reef protecting it. The reef makes for great snorkeling - we've seen tropical fish, huge coral and sea turtles! But the reef also provides much calmer waters and softer sand than other Kauai beaches. The crystal clear water gets deeper very gradually and the bottom is mostly white sand where you get in, and the coral starts maybe 50 feet from the shoreline. Plenty of space for kids to play, but there are no lifeguards at this beach. There are lots of shade trees, some overhanging the water. And if you like collecting shells, this is one of the best beaches on the island. This beach also has plenty of parking (hint: keep going past the lot, and park perpendicular to the grassy area) and good public bathrooms.
Hanalei is just 10 minutes down the road from Princeville, and is one of the island's major tourist attractions. Hanalei has a cute little downtown area with lots of little shops and restaurants. We like the happy hour at Kalypso - an excellent value - and the nachos are a meal for two! We also recommend going to the Hanalei pier after dinner to watch the sun set - just incredible.
From beaches to kayaking to boat tours, Hanalei also offers a lot in the way of activities. On your way into town, you'll notice the kayak tours on your right. You'll also find Napali Catamaran in the parking lot of Ching Young Village, where you can book boat tours of the Napali Coast. There are also helicopter, zip line and ATV tours available.
Because Hanalei is so close to the house, it's an activity that doesn't take a long time or require much planning. Just pop down there for an hour or so when you feel like it.
Shops & Restaurants
You'll find a wide variety of locally owned and operated shops, restaurants and food trucks in Hanalei. This is the perfect place to spend an afternoon with a large group because there are so many options for things to see (and eat!). We like the happy hour at Kalypso - an excellent value - and the nachos are a meal for two!
Hanalei Farmer's Market
The Hanalei Farmer's Market is on Saturdays from 9:30 to noon. You'll find excellent local produce, hot food vend0rs (hint: go for breakfast), art, jewelry and textile vendors, as well as live music. While you're there, make sure to buy whatever fruit is in season and at least one avocado. You'll find that these are MUCH better than supermarket varieties.
Kilauea, also 10 minutes from Princeville but in the opposite direction from Hanalei, is known for its beautiful lighthouse and bird sanctuary. You can view the lighthouse from the lookout, or you can pay a small entry fee to see it up close. Either way, the views are beautiful, and you can often see turtles floating off the cliffs in the ocean.
Kilauea also has a little shopping area with several interesting local shops and restaurants. The Kong Lung store is great for attractive gifts, and the Bistro is our choice of restaurants.
The Napali Coast is on the far northwest side of the island, and is not accessible by car. It's an absolutely incredible bit of mountainous landscape. Tours are available by boat, plane or helicopter. You can also skip the tours all together and see the Napali Coast from the top of Waimea Canyon (see below).
We prefer a boat tour because it’s less expensive than a plane or helicopter, lasts longer, and you have a shot at spotting dolphins, turtles, whales, and monk seals (depending on season). A boat tour can also include snorkeling! Napali Catamaran and Holo Holo Charters are both great operators. Make sure you leave out of Hanalei - the other ports are farther from Princeville by car, and farther from the Napali Coast by boat - more travel time over both road and ocean. Call ahead to reserve your trip and make sure that seas are calm.
Kapaa is a cute little town with lots of restaurants (including a food truck park) and shopping. It's about 30 minutes south of Princeville. Please note: Traffic can back up between Kapa'a and Wailua, so going south of Kapa'a can be a bit of an inconvenience.
Bike / Walking Path
We love to rent bikes in Kapaa. There are many rental companies at different price points, but we typically rent beach cruisers for around $20 per person. There is a 5-mile-long paved path that runs along the water. Along the path, there are several nice covered picnic spots, one on a bluff elevated above the water for an amazing view, so definitely pack a lunch. There is also a great beach with public bathrooms along the path also.
Arboretum / Kuilau Ridge Hike
One of our favorite hikes is very near Kapa'a - just up into the center of the island a bit. The Kuilau Ridge hike is 3.5 miles long and will take around 3 hours to complete. The trailhead is back up the road maybe 50 yards from the arboretum parking lot. There is a metal gate, and you'll see a little structure with trail info. The trail is easy, but can be slippery when wet. It provides gorgeous up close rainforest views that allow you to appreciate the scale of some of the trees and plants. On clear days, you can also see into the crater from the top of the hike. If you choose to stop by the arboretum, you will want both bug spray and flip flops to wade a shallow river. There are picnic tables if you want to take a lunch.
The Secret Falls tour is one of our favorites. You begin at the harbor in the mouth of the Wailua river, near where the river flows into the ocean. You take 2-person kayaks up the river into the rainforest. Don't worry if you've never kayaked before - the tour is for beginners, and the guide is a very good instructor. You park the kayaks, and wade across the river, knee deep at this point. Then, you hike into the rainforest to a "secret" waterfall. The waterfall flows more at certain times of year, and the hike itself can be very muddy, so you might want to call the tour company to inquire about conditions. Tours are a half day, and leave early in the morning or at midday. We typically go with Wailua Kayak Adventures, which is conveniently located in Kapaa, and the prices are very reasonable at around $90 per couple (before tip).
Waimea Canyon is nicknamed the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. From the very top, you can look down on the Napali coast. The west side of the island is hot and dry, with more desert-like conditions and bright red dirt. As you head up the mountain, temperatures will be cooler (maybe take a light sweater). Definitely get out at the overlooks. Waimea Canyon is on the far other side of the island. It will take at least 2 hours to get there, so you may want to plan a whole day around the south and west sides of the island. See everything you want to see, and don't make the drive twice.
South & West Side Day Trip
It takes a long time to drive anywhere south of Lihue, so when we visit the island, we make a single trip to the south and west sides. We see it all in one very big day so we can avoid the drive more than once. Here's our ideal day: Get up really early, and head up to Kalaheo Cafe for breakfast. It's a little more than half way, a little over an hour drive. This is easily one of the best restaurants on the island. If you arrive by 7:30am you probably won't have to wait too long.
After breakfast, go to Waimea Canyon - an hour from the Cafe, but be prepared to stop at the outlooks - they're amazing. The Pihea trail is at the top, where you can get an unbelievable view of the top of the Napali coast. The trail is only about a mile long, but it gets slippery at the end (it's super near the wettest place on earth - a bog on top of the mountain).
On your way back down, stop at glass beach near Port Allen to see the black sands and thick layers of tiny sea glass pebbles. Then, go to the Hawaiian Trading Post on your way through Lawai for souvenirs. (We love the trading post because of their excellent variety of quality souvenirs - including fine jewelry - at varying price points.) Next, head down towards Poipu. You'll pass a little food truck park on your right with a little warehouse that has some artisan shops. Definitely stop there if the Fresh Shave truck is there. Shave ice is a huge Hawaiian tradition, but if you want to skip the sugary artificial syrups, you need to find the Fresh Shave truck. They make artisan flavors from fresh scratch ingredients every day. Next, go to Makai Sushi (hint - it's inside a little old grocery store) and get a poke bowl to go. It's easily my favorite meal on the island - the chef makes it from fresh-caught fish while you wait.
Take your meal "to go," and head down to Shipwreck Beach, just a few minutes away. You can eat your meal on the soft grass under the palm trees and enjoy the waves. Then, take the trailhead from the beach to hike the Sandstone Cliffs. The trail is both long and easy with gorgeous water views. It also leads down to some rocky beaches with lava tide pools.