The Best of Kauai: A Neighborhood Guide

We seriously cannot stop raving about our recent anniversary trip to Kauai. It was an AMAZING 4 days. While it has less resorts and nightlife than Maui it more than compensates with outdoor adventure and sheer beauty!

Kauai is comprised of 4 different regions full of neighborhoods with their own unique local flair!

4 regions, 4 days. Challenge accepted.

Kauai neighborhood info graphic

NORTH SHORE

Hanalei 

 Hanalei Beach

Hanalei Beach is on Hanalei Bay and is a wide beach with plenty of sunbathing and volleyball. The beach was surprisingly empty when we were there but the town was full of vacationers.

Kalypso

Kalypso has a great happy hour and a fun atmosphere. In true Hawaiian fashion we ordered mai-tais and the pupu platter. Pupus are basically tapas meets bar food and they are delish! Our platter included wings, coconut shrimp, calamari, and fried artichokes.

Kalypso in Kauai

Waioli Huiia Church

This little church is right off  the road in Hanalei and is so pretty! We only looked at the outside but it is a pretty green and has a backdrop of stunning mountains and landscape. Swing by and take some pictures if in the area.

Waioli Huiia Church

Princeville

Queen’s Bath

Queen’s Bath is amazing and one of my favorite things we did this trip. It is basically a natural infinity pool created from tide pools! Queen’s Bath is located in Princeville, and is fairly easy to get to. However, try to go early as the parking situation is interesting. The trailhead is in a neighborhood and there is limited parking  in a tiny lot so you have to wait until someone leaves. There is no available street parking nearby. Fortunately it is a short hike and most people only spend 30 minutes to an hour exploring so the wait isn’t too bad.

To get to Queen’s Bath you hike down a short but slippery trail (Kauai is very muddy!) which leads you by a small waterfall and to a big tide pool. We assumed this was it and were about to jump in until we saw the sign saying 27 people have drowned here and the tumultuous waves crashing on rocks below! We soon found out the calmer tide pool where everyone takes their envy-inducing Instagram pictures is further down to the left.

Walk over the lava rocks and you will see it. To get in you have to jump off a rock, but it isn’t too high, about 6 ft. The water is crystal clear and gorgeous. The pool is a turquoise color surrounded by rocks with the shimmering bright blue Pacific behind it. Queen’s Bath is a little slice of tropical heaven! You will want to stay and float forever but it is more like and dip and dash because you need to get out of the pool before the next big wave comes crashing in! Since the pool is tide dependent it can be dangerous so do your research and be sure to go at low tide.

Queen's Bath Kauai

Wainiha

Ke’e Beach

Ke’e Beach is located in Ha’ena State Park and is where the trailhead to the Kalalau Trail begins. Apparently the snorkeling is fabulous, but when we visited the water was very rough so it wasn’t good snorkeling conditions. Ke’e Beach is small but gorgeous! It is as far as you can go on the North Shore until reaching the Napali Coast. The huge, jagged mountains of the Napali Coast make an amazing backdrop to this beautiful beach. The topography reminded Grant of some of the beaches in Thailand . Be sure to grab a $5 coconut full of fresh coconut water and stop by the cave in the park on your way to the beach!

EAST SIDE

Kapaa

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay

The Hilton was a great choice for our trip. The rooms and service are nice and there are a few free treats (well resort-fee included treats I suppose) such as welcome leis, 2 free mai-tais a day, and coolers and bikes you can use! We especially loved staying here as it is centrally located to several attractions. But it is still best to have a rental car since things are pretty spread out. Opt for a jeep or mustang to soak up the Hawaii sun (and daily Kauai rain shower) while enjoying all that this awesome island has to offer!

Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay

Smith’s Family Garden Luau

This luau is such a blast! It is a little cheesy, as expected, but it is a must-do for the complete Hawaiian experience. Smith’s is especially great because of the gardens. Lush green plants and strolling peacocks contribute to the ambiance of this tropical paradise. They greet you with a shell lei and a tram tour of the property. It rained for a bit when we were there, but it wasn’t a big deal. The food and stage area are covered so the show goes on even in inclement weather.

The best part of Smith’s is the service. The Smith family owns and runs the business and they are so sincere and friendly! The evening is full of events and entertainment. First, is the imu ceremony where hula-skirt clad men dig up a whole pig that has been roasting underground for hours. It was delicious! Dinner is buffet style and includes all you can drink mai-tais, beer, wine, and Hawaiian Punch! It is open bar but only for the dinner portion of the luau. For a buffet feeding the masses, the food was pretty good. I especially liked the fried rice! While you eat, there is a small band playing live music. Dinner is followed by an hour long hula show. The show was entertaining and the dancers’ rapid hip movements were definitely impressive! The hula show incorporated hula from around the world, live music, and fire dancers.

Smith's Family Garden Luau Kauai

Sleeping Giant Hike

The Sleeping Giant is a mountain in Kapaa that is about 3 miles roundtrip and a moderate hike. It gets its namesake from the human shape the mountain has. Legend says a giant ate too much and then took a nap!  Be sure to bring a rain jacket and some hiking shoes for this one. We were ill-prepared and the hike was very muddy! Due to the rain, we were unable to finish the hike, but the small part we did was cool.

Kintaro

For our anniversary dinner we grabbed some sushi at Kintaro since it is so close to the Hilton. Belly up to the sushi bar for some fresh fish treats. The nigiri is great, the rolls are pretty basic, but the dessert is to die for. The green tea chocolate mud pie is heavenly!

Monico’s Taqueria

Monico’s is a good quick spot for lunch. Located in a type of strip mall, we had low expectations but the Mexican food was great! Order the catch of the day seafood fajitas and you will not be disappointed. The only con is there is only one complimentary basket of chips and salsa, and everyone know you always eat about 5!

Chicken In A Barrel BBQ

We love dirty, down-home BBQ and this spot is exactly that! It is very low key with paper plates and outside seating. There is another location in Hanalei but this is the OG one. Order some smoked meat and dig in. We found the pulled pork to be a little greasy but the ribs and chicken were amazing!

Java Kai Coffee

Java Kai is an adorable coffee shop in the heart of Kapaa. Attached to a boutique, it has a trendy, sleek design.Their coffee list is extensive and has creative blends along with traditional drinks. My chai tea latte was unimpressive, but I would like to go back and try something else! The breakfast meals are pricey (that’s Hawaii!) but the pastries were cheap and super yummy. The cute designs on the coffee bags make for a nice souvenir or gift.

Kountry Kitchen

The Kountry Kitchen was definitely a pleasant surprise. While it has great Yelp reviews, anything that spells country with a “K” is a no-go in my book, but this alliterative cafe did not disappoint! Grant ordered a savory egg dish and I had coconut french toast. I dare say this is the best breakfast in Kauai!

Lihue

Duke’s Barefoot Bar

Go to Duke’s for happy hour or a sunset sesh. It is part of the Marriott and located on Kalapaki Beach. The Barefoot Bar is mere steps from the sand and is much more casual than the upstairs restaurant. The nachos are meh, but the mai-tai’s and pina coladas are a delicious island treat!

The water at Kalapaki Beach is so calm and perfect for paddle boarding. Watch the cruise ships float out to sea as you sip fruity drinks and listen to the bartenders tell stories of the local legend “Duke.” Just minutes from the airport, be sure to swing by Duke’s even if you’re not staying in Lihue.

Wailua

Wailua Falls

This waterfall is amazing! We both couldn’t believe how big it is. Wailua Falls is right off the road and easily accessible for anyone to see. Hop out of the car and take some pictures of the impressive roaring water from this pristine vista.

Wailua Falls on Kauai

SOUTH SHORE

Kalaheo

The Fresh Shave

The Fresh Shave is such an adorable spot! It is a tiny food-truck, well more like an airstream camper, that has the best shave ice. You read that right, it’s “shave” not “shaved” who knew? The food truck is very trendy with a hipster mustache theme, and all of the flavors have cute names like “the handlebar” and “the professor.” Topped with shredded coconut and filled with yummy flavors like acai and mint, the Fresh Shave is the perfect afternoon treat.

The Fresh Shave in Kalaheo

Kauai Coffee Company

We saw Kauai Coffee Company while driving to Lawa’i Beach and decided it was time for a pick-me-up pit stop! The coffee farm is located on a hillside overlooking the ocean and is beautiful. The best part: unlimited coffee tastings! All of the coffee is created on site and there is a variety of flavors. Grab a few bags to take back to the mainland.

Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee Company

On the way to Waimea Canyon, we stopped here for breakfast and it was great! We split a breakfast burrito and pancakes. With big portions and reasonable prices, it’s a no brainer for a quick yummy meal.

Koloa

Fathom Five Divers

We chose Fathom Five to dive with as they came highly recommended and I am so glad we did. It was seriously our best.dive.ever. Led by Captain Charlie and Divemaster Jessie we saw several sea turtles (my favorite!) and lots of big white-tip sharks. The sea turtles were much bigger than the ones we saw in Tulum  and BVI and are so playful and fun! The visibility was great, the staff was knowledgeable, and the overall experience was perfect!

Fathom Five Divers on Kauai

Koloa Fish Market

After diving we were famished so we headed to Koloa Fish Market. This place is awesome! It is very low-key and definitely more of a market than a restaurant. Walk up to the fish cooler and order some fresh poke or a fish plate with delicious wasabi aioli. It is no frills and take out only, but the flavors are insane! Take your to-go bag to one of the nearby food truck parks to get your grub on! Insider Tip: Beware of the chickens who are everywhere on the island and will try to snag a bite of your lunch!

Koloa Fish Market

Lawa’i Beach

After our awesome experience diving we wanted to see more turtles so we headed to Lawa’i to snorkel from the beach. The water is so clear in this cove and the snorkeling was surprisingly great! We saw parrotfish and lots of other colorful fish, but unfortunately no turtles.

Eleele

Captain Andy’s Napali Sunset Sail

Visiting the famed Napali Coast is a must do when in Kauai and it is only accessibly by boat, helicopter, or an 11 mile hike! We chose to see it by boat, naturally, and it was incredible! Captain Andy’s Sunset Sail was perfect. It is a 4 hour long tour of the Napali Coast on a huge catamaran. Did I mention sailing is our favorite hobby and food and drinks are included? Dream come true.

The first half of the tour we were going really fast across the water and it even rained on us for a while so it was a little unpleasant. But once we hit the Napai Coast the sky cleared as if prompted to and the captain slowed down so we could enjoy music, pupus, and cocktails! The Napali Coast is breathtakingly beautiful, it cannot be missed when visiting Kauai! We were very fortunate to see a lot of spinner dolphins within the first few minutes and it was a real treat to see a mama humpback and calf since we were on the cusp of migration season. Insider Tip: If you are prone to sea sickness, prepare ahead of time. Several people were sick on our trip.

A view of the Napali coast

Hanapepe

Downtown Hanapepe

For a quaint small town vibe, stop in Hanapepe and check out main street. We randomly stopped by and it was pretty cool. Hanapepe has a few cafes and boutiques, but there isn’t much else. The highlights are the most Western US bookstore and a swinging bridge!

WEST SIDE

Waimea

Waimea Canyon

Referred to as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon sure is awe-inspiring! The green lush landscape, plunging cliffs, and waterfalls are amazing. Stop at one of the turnout vista points on the side of the road and enjoy. (We even packed a bottle of wine, picnic style!) We hiked one short half mile trail loop but there doesn’t appear to be many other trails. Simply pause and enjoy this vast, humbling canyon.

Waimea Canyon on Kauai

JoJo’s Shave Ice

After our great experience at The Fresh Shave, we were craving some more shave ice! Jojo’s has 2 locations but we visited the original one in Waimea. The storefront doesn’t look like much and the atmosphere is lacking but this is easy to overlook once you realize they donate all of their profits to help out local kids! The menu is huge and there are lots of different flavors to chose from. The shave ice is pretty standard, but the thing that sets Jojo’s apart is the ice cream at the bottom! Macadamia nut ice cream that is… the ultimate Kauai treat.

We went into this trip with low expectations of food quality and hospitality based on our experiences in Maui but Kauai continually impressed us everyday. We packed a lot into 4 days but I could’ve easily stayed longer!

Mahalo,

-Ray

Inspired Recipe: Tuna Poke Bowl from Pop Sugar

We love sushi, but sometimes it is fun to switch it up with a poke bowl! This recipe is a great place to start if you’ve never made one, but get creative and add any toppings you like. My go to mix-ins are avocado, sesame seeds, and seaweed salad. Satisfy your itch to get off the mainland with every bite!

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1 thought on “The Best of Kauai: A Neighborhood Guide

  1. When I go Ill just bring along your blog and my trip will be perfect!

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