Kaua’i, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, is a lush tropical landscape known as the Garden Isle, and for good reason. Days spent exploring the microclimates and topography of its interior are complemented by relaxing beach days and the rich history of Hawaiian cuisine and culture in the communities along the island’s single ring road. Here is a selection of our handpicked favorite spots.
The beaches on the south shore of Kaua’i are sun drenched and breezy in summer. Mahaulepu Beach is isolated and charming, near the end of the Mahaulepu Beach Heritage Trail. Poipu Beach is perfect for families and has been rated as the best beach in America. Hanalei Bay Pavilion, on the island’s north shore, is in the center of a two mile crescent bay with facilities perfect for a day trip in winter. Fuji Beach, on the east side, is popular for exploring tide pools, while Polihale Beach on the west side is great for enjoying Kauai’s spectacular sunsets.
For hikers, there are two of the world’s most incredible landscapes to explore on foot. The Na Pali coast on the north shore offers a multi-day backpacking route, or a day hike on the Hanakapi’ai Trail to a breathtaking waterfall with a rewarding swimming hole. On the island’s south shore is Waimea Canyon, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” with views deep into the earth, waterfalls, and rainbows. For paddlers, the Wailua River is a lush boulevard into the island’s interior. And on the south shore, adventure seekers can choose zip lines, horseback, or 4x4 excursions to get intimate with the open landscape.
Locally grown ingredients take on new meaning when you’re on a 552 square mile island. Kaua’i boasts deep agricultural roots, and the cuisine is a paradigm of Hawaiian culture. Restaurants by Roy Yamaguchi and Peter Merriman are in The Shops at Kukui’ula, while more traditional eateries on the south shore showcase noodle bowls, laulau, loco moco, poke, and musubi. There is also a vibrant food truck scene on the east shore, excellent shave ice all over the island, and the popular Kaua’i Juice Co. has three locations.
The Arts & Culture scene on Kaua’i is anchored by the Kaua’i Museum as well as the Grove Farm Sugar Plantation and Museum in Lihue. Each summer, Bon Dances are held at the Japanese Buddhist temples around the island. In the fall, there are hula competitions, and slack key guitar and ukulele competitions are a regular fixture in Hanalei.