Here's everything you need to know about Kaua‘i in Hawai'i. The Garden Isle of Kaua‘i certainly lives up to its name as it boasts miles of verdant mountains and valleys made famous in many movies and TV shows. Breathtaking views and picturesque beaches can be found islandwide, from the world-renowned Na Pali coast to the south shore’s surf breaks. The charm of Kaua‘i lies in the fact that it is largely undeveloped and has maintained a sense of charming Old Hawai‘i.
The rains from Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, one of the wettest spots on earth, empty into the Wailua River, the only navigable river in Hawai‘i. Various tour companies will take you to see its famed Fern Grotto.
Kaua‘i was the only island not to be conquered by warfare by King Kamehameha in his quest to unite all of the Hawaiian Islands. Instead, he came to a peaceful agreement with King Kaumuali‘i.
For lunch or Sunday brunch featuring seasonal, local ingredients and views of Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, head to Gaylord’s Restaurant (Kilohana Plantation, 3-2087 Kaumuali‘i Highway, 245.9593, kilohanakauai.com). Take easy uphill drives to ogle the twin waterfalls of Wailua Falls above Līhu‘e and broad ‘Ōpaeka‘a Falls above Wailua. For a memorable sunset dinner, Hualani’s at Timbers Kaua‘i Ocean Club & Residences (3770 Ala Oli St., 320.7399, timberskauai.com) features expertly prepared seafood and freshly harvested produce from the resort’s on-site farm. No visit to Kapa‘a would be complete without a visit to Shipwrecked Kaua‘i (4-1384 Kuhio Highway B-106, Kapa‘a, 821.0805, shipwreckedkauai.com), a well-curated boutique of island and designer favorites.
Sit on the left side of the plane when flying into Līhu‘e for spectacular views of the pristine shoreline of Kipu Kai below the towering ridge of Mount Hā‘upu. After arriving, head to Kauai Beer Company (4265 Rice St., 245.2337, kauaibeer.com), where the island-inspired food is just as tasty as the craft brews.
Miles of unspoiled rainforest, picturesque taro farms and charming small towns define the north shore of Kaua‘i. The village of Hā‘ena at the end of the road is the kickoff point for visiting the glorious Na Pali coast, accessible only by boat or by hiking.
The pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Mount Makana was made famous as a fictional island in the 1960 movie South Pacific and is still known colloquially as Bali Hai. Catch spectacular sunset views of this famous landmark from various resorts in Princeville.
Head to venerable Tahiti Nui (5-5134 Kūhiō Highway, Hanalei, 826.6277, thenui.com), which you might recognize from The Descendants, for live Hawaiian music and owner Aunty Louise Marston’s irresistible Famous Tahiti Nui Mai Tai. Bar Acuda (5-5161 Kūhiō Highway, Hanalei, 826.7081, cudahanalei.com), the place to see and be seen, boasts unique tapas and cocktails. Known for red-topped Kīlauea Point Lighthouse (fws.gov/refuge/kilauea_point) and its surrounding wildlife preserve, the quiet town of Kīlauea also offers excellent charcuterie and wine at Palate Wine Bar (2474 Keneke St., Kīlauea, 212.1974, palatewinebar.net). For the ultimate wellness escape, stay at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay's new Bamford Wellness Spa.
Beware when planning a visit to the north shore during the rainy season. The picturesque Kūhiō Highway is often closed at the Hanalei Bridge when the flood waters are too high.
Head to the south shore for Kaua‘i’s best surf spots during the summer months. Take the Maha‘ulepu Heritage Trail from Shipwreck Beach in Poipu to see stunning surf, lava rock cliffs and limestone caves.
The shade of a milelong tree tunnel, formed by 100-foot-tall eucalyptus trees planted over a century ago along Maluhia Road, welcomes visitors heading to the resorts of the sunny South Shore.
Pick up a day pass to the Grand Hyatt Kaua‘i’s serene Anara Spa (1571 Po‘ipū Road, Kōloa, 742.1234, anaraspa.com). The seaside Māhā‘ulepū Heritage Trail leads to the fascinating Makauwahi Cave Reserve (631.3409, cavereserve.org). Savor upscale island comfort food at Holoholo Grill, the poolside restaurant at Koloa Landing Resort (2641 Po‘ipū Road, Kōloa, 742.2538, koloalanding.com). Executive chef and Kaua‘i native Noelani Planas creates notable dinners at Red Salt at Ko‘a Kea (2251 Po‘ipū Road, Kōloa, 742.4200, koakea.com). Both shopping and dining options are first-rate at The Shops at Kukui‘ula (2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka, 742.9545, theshopsatkukuiula.com).
Hanapepe is the place to be on Friday nights, when hundreds flock to the delightful town as it hosts its weekly Art Night. Come peruse local art galleries and dine on tasty treats in the historic buildings originally built by Filipino, Chinese and Japanese immigrants.
In stark contrast to the humid east side, the rugged leeward coast is dry but not desolate. The landscape is colored by the famous red dirt that leads up to the dramatic Waimea Canyon and down to wild, empty beaches.
In 1778, Capt. James Cook became the first European to come ashore in Hawai‘i, landing near the mouth of the Waimea River. The British explorer named the islands the “Sandwich Isles” after the Earl of Sandwich, and a statue now stands in his honor in Waimea Town.
The West Side is all about the outdoors. Waimea Canyon and Koke‘e State Park (dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp) are must-sees. For the most thrilling views of “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” ride with Blue Hawaiian (745.2583, bluehawaiian.com) and enjoy 360-degree views. In summer, explore the sea caves and marine life of Nāpali Coast State Wilderness Park—one of the most spectacular attractions in the world—aboard one of Na Pali Experience’s (napaliexperience.com) six-passenger boats, departing from Kekaha.
Catch the sunset at the dramatic Polihale State Park. This wild and remote beach is only accessible through a rough, 5-mile drive on a dirt road, rewarding travelers with campsites and stunning scenery.
Photography by: IJfke Ridgley