Rushing waterfalls, endless rainbows, secret beaches, lush foliage, turquoise water, and endless adventures come to mind when I think of the two week trip that we just returned from. Have you ever traveled to a Hawaiian island? If you are considering visiting Hawaii then I highly recommend traveling to the lush island of Kauai!
As I sit here and listen to my Kauai playlist, all I can do is reminisce about the most epic and beautiful adventure that I have EVER been on. The laid back vibe and true aloha spirit of the Garden Isle will draw you in and tug at your heart strings whenever you think of her. I have all of the details that you need to plan the PERFECT and most unforgettable 2 week trip to Kauai.
Need the perfect packing list for your trip to Kauai? Check out these posts:
Need advice on budgeting so that you can afford an epic vacation? These posts will get you started:
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Where to Stay
The first thing to decide when you make the decision to visit the beautiful island of Kauai is which region (north, south, east, west) that you want to stay on. Some people split their time between two regions during their stay. We wanted to feel like we were making this place our home so we chose a central location to stay at throughout our 2 week stay.
The east side is a great option if you want a central location as a hub for all of your Kauai adventures. We chose to stay in the cute town of Kapa’a. It is close to all of the best restaurants and allows for 30-50 minute drives to other regions of the island. The beaches on the east side have stronger currents than some beaches on the north side. Always pay attention to your surroundings, and don’t go in the water if the conditions are unsafe.
Kapa’a Sands Condos Unit 3
I found this gem of a condo through Airbnb. The cost was $189 a night for an ocean front studio apartment on the east side of Kauai. I fell in love with it! The eastern trade winds blow constantly through the windows. You can see the ocean as soon as you walk through the door. Find out more information on this budget-friendly accommodation here.
Airbnb is a great way to save money while traveling. Haven’t checked out Airbnb yet? Use my referral link to receive $40 off of your first trip! The $40 never expires, and it’s free to sign-up. 🙂
Kauai doesn’t have a lot of public transportation options. It is necessary to rent a vehicle on Kauai. Some people will tell you to rent a car for gas mileage purposes and because it is cheaper. I disagree. We rented a hard-top white 4-door Jeep with 4WD. You will see a lot of pot holes in the beach parking lots on the north shore. We were so thankful to have 4WD several times. Also, the 4-door has SO much more room than the 2-door Jeep. We constantly had ice chests, hiking sticks, towels, beach chairs, snorkel gear, etc. in the back. You will need the room. 🙂
Our Jeep cost $500 for 2 weeks. The key to getting a great price on a popular rental is using Discount Hawaii Car Rental and reserving EARLY.
Discount Hawaii Car Rental is an agency that rents vehicles from various rental agencies. Reserve your vehicle ASAP and then check back every day or so until your trip to see if the prices have dropped. When they drop you can cancel your previous reservation and reserve the lower price. You don’t pay for your rental until you arrive. 🙂 My price drastically dropped in January.
There are not many roads on Kauai. There are technically 1-2 main roads with a couple bypasses to help with traffic flow. My best advice is to travel early in the morning. The busiest times that we saw around Kapa’a was lunch time and 4:30-6:00 pm driving south towards Lihue. There was some construction on the north shore going towards Tunnels Beach after 7:30 am so arrive early to avoid any congestion (and to get a parking spot).
Estimated Driving Times from East Side
From Lihue to:
Port Allen-35 minutes
Kokee State Park- 80-90 minutes
From Kapa’a to:
Port Allen-45 minutes
Kokee State Park-60 minutes
Each region of Kauai has its own beauty. You will more than likely fall in love with one portion over the others, and that is OK! I will share some of our “loves” from each area so that you can have an epic adventure in each region.
Best Breakfast: Banana macadamia nut pancakes with coconut syrup, Kauai coffee, Portuguese sausage Spam and eggs on the lanai. Some of my favorite memories from our trip were making breakfast before the sun came up and enjoying the yummy food on the lanai as the sun rose, and the rooster crowed. 🙂
Best Burger: Street Burger-east-Try the Wailua burger with Spam and get the house made ketchup with piping hot french fries! The chef/owner works behind the chef’s bar where you can see all of your food prepared. The ingredients are fresh, and the sauces/condiments are all homemade. You won’t regret a meal at Street Burger!
Best Dessert from a Restaurant: Hula Pie from Duke’s in Lihue-In fact, eat a meal at Duke’s and enjoy their fish specials and the salad bar for $4 extra. Duke’s is great! Get a seat on the lanai. 🙂
Best Dog: Porky’s Polish sausage with Kalua pork, bacon, and cheese with pineapple relish-west-If you go to the Hanapepe Art Night then check out Porky’s food truck.
Best Drive: Kapa’a to Hanalei-east to north-From Kealia Beach all the way to Hanalei is absolutely breath taking!
Best Farmers’ Market: Kapa’a Baseball Field 3:00 pm on Wednesdays-east-This farmers’ market is one of the largest on the island. Get there on time and move quick. 🙂
Best Hike to a High Point: Sleeping Giant Trail-east-This trail was one of our favorites. It’s a steep hike, but it’s very diverse with great views of the east side of Kauai. Don’t forget to hike to the chin and enjoy the views. 🙂
Best Ice Cream: Tropical Dreams Hawaiian Gourmet Ice Cream-east-I loved Tropical Dreams because they switch out their homemade flavors every couple of days. It was fun trying their unique flavor combinations like peanut butter and guava jelly!
Best Luau: Smith Family Garden Luau-east-We loved this luau! It was our first, but this luau lasts the entire evening with all-you-can eat food and drinks. This made us feel like we were getting our moneys worth ($98 per person). You will see that price all over the island for luaus.
At the Smith Family Garden Luau you check in at 5:00 so that you have time to tour their gorgeous grounds before the uncovering of the pig in the imu and dinner. The food is very tasty, and I loved the dessert! (haupia, rice pudding, and fresh fruit) The dancing included several different cultures which was beautiful to watch and experience. Check them out!
Best Mexican Food: Verde-Kapa’a-east-Get the beef tostada!!! They use all local ingredients:beef, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. So fresh! If you like spicy sauces then try their fire sauce. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart.
Best Path for Exercise: Kauai Path (Kapa’a)-east-Take the time to see this unforgettable bike path. Rent a beach coaster from Hele on Kauai Bike Rentals for $5 an hour. You can’t beat the price, and the ladies working are super sweet.
Best Place to Buy Fresh Fish: Kilauea Fish Market-north east-The sweetest south African worker told us all about the different fresh fish and let us try poke (chunks of raw marinated fish) for the first time! 🙂
Best Place to Buy Kauai Coffee: Foodland ($6.99 a bag) and Walmart ($11 for two bags)-east
Best Place to Buy Kauai-made Gifts: The Kauai Store-east-Everything inside this store is made on Kauai. It is a great place to find souvenirs for you and your family members.
Best Place to Buy Sunscreen: Walmart-east
Best Place to Paddle: Wailua River kayak adventure to the secret waterfall-east-We did the self-guided tour. It is not a “floating” kayak trip. You are paddling up river on the way to the trail and against the wind on the way back. Be prepared with lots of water and some kayak experience. The waterfall at the end is worth it!
Best Place to Practice Snorkeling: Lydgate Beach Park-east-I was so thankful for Lydgate. It is a man-made protected swimming area that is perfect for beginner snorkelers. Lydgate is also perfect for picnics. 🙂
Best Beach to Spend the Day: North side of Moloa’a Beach-north east-Please promise to visit Moloa’a Beach and devote the entire day to it. When you walk down the path make sure you turn right and walk all the way to the north side of the beach. This is the reef protected area that allows for great swimming and snorkeling. We saw fish, turtles, and an eagle ray!
Best Place to Spot a Monk Seal: Poipu Beach-south-We spotted two Hawaiian monk seals sunbathing and molting on the beach in Poipu. 🙂
Best Place to Swim with Sea Turtles: Anini and Tunnels Beach-north-My husband swam with sea turtles at both of these beaches. They will pop up right beside you so keep your eyes open. 🙂
Best Place to Watch the Sunrise: Scenic overlook at Kealia Beach-east-Wow! The sunrise on the east side is amazing. If you decide to stay on the east side then get up early one morning and drive to the scenic overlook at Kealia Beach. You won’t regret it!
Best Rental Vehicle: 4-Door 4WD Jeep
Best Sand: Moloa’a Beach-north east-If you like soft, smooth, perfect sand then you will love the sand at Moloa’a. Tunnels also has great sand. 🙂
Best Shave Ice: Hee Fat, any flavor with real fruit syrup and macadamia nut ice cream (my favorite was POG!)-east-Hands down, Hee Fat has the BEST shave ice on the island of Kauai!
Best Short Hike with Stunning Views: Old Club Med Hike (Hanalei)-north-This isn’t a well-known hike. Make sure that you purchase The Ultimate Kauai Guide: Kauai Revealed. It will tell you all about this hike and how to get there. This hike is short, easy, and leads to luscious views of Hanalei Bay and a secret beach.
Best Souvenirs: Sunrise Emporium in Kapa’a-east-My favorite place to buy hats and tee shirts. Their prices are right, and they are right next door to Hee Fat General Store (grab a shave ice while you are there.;) )
Best Snorkeling: Tunnels Beach-north-I can’t say enough about the snorkeling at Tunnels Beach. The water is crystal clear, and the aquatic life is fantastic! We visited three times and snorkeled on 2 different occasions. Make sure that you arrive early so that you can park in the first parking area. (refer to the guide book for more info)
Best Sunset: This is a tough one because there are several places to view a fantastic sunset. I’ll share my favorites. 🙂 Princeville Sunset Makai Golf-Cart Tour, Salt Pond Beach Park, Kilauea Road-north and south-The sunset golf-cart tour is worth $50. It is so much fun, and the sites on this golf course are phenomenal! You actually see Queen’s Bath from the last scenic hole. You will be rewarded with an unforgettable sunset.
Salt Bond Beach Park also has great views for a sunset. Drive all the way to the end for the best views. We barely made it to see the sun dip down.
Our first evening in Kauai we stumbled upon a great place on Kilauea Road where locals gather to watch the sunset.
Best Trail for a Workout: Kalalau Trail-north-We hiked to the beach which was 4 miles round trip. This trail is not easy, but it is SO worth it. The views are fantastic. We wore hiking sandals that strap on and can get wet. We also appreciated our hiking sticks.
Best Trail with Constant Views: Maha’ulepu Trail-south-You can make this trail as long or as short as you want. The views are start to finish. Make sure you don’t get lost because there are several different trails that people have carved through the forest.
Best Views: Mauna Loa Doors Off Helicopter Tour and Holo Holo Napali Coast Boat Tour (Afternoon Adventure from Hanalei)-east and north-If you can do both of these tours then I HIGHLY recommend doing just that. The views of the Napali coast from a helicopter and a rigid hull inflatable boat are unparalleled and so different. Check out both!
Best Way to Eat Spam: Spam musubi, Spam and eggs, Wailua burger from Street Burger-We love Spam…that is all. 🙂
Best Way to Spend the Day on West Side: Kokee State Park, Waimea State Park-west-My advice is to leave early on a sunny morning and drive all the way to the top of Kokee State Park. Drive up Waimea Canyon Drive and drive down Kokee Road. You will be tempted to stop at all the Waimea overlooks, but you can do that on the way back down. Clouds can move in quickly so drive to the Pu’uokila look out. Hike the first part of the Pihea trail and enjoy the views.
Best Way to Spend Friday Night: Hanapepe Art Night (6-9:00 pm)-south-If you love food then you have to go to Hanapepe on Friday night. There are food trucks galore! Don’t forget to walk across the swinging bridge. It’s funner than you think. 🙂
Calmest Waters on a Beach: Anini Beach-north-Anini reminded me of a large lake. That’s how calm it is. The great thing about Anini is that it is HUGE. Even though it is a popular beach, you will never feel crowded because everyone spreads out. It’s a great place to swim with turtles, but we didn’t see many fish when we snorkeled.
Most Secluded Beach: Secret Beach-north-Wow, this beach is secluded and gorgeous, but you have to work for those views. The hike down and back up is NO JOKE. My advice is to pack light but spend the afternoon here to make the hike to this beach worth it.
Prettiest Scenery from the Beach: Hanalei Bay-north-Oh, if I could buy a home on Hanalei Bay or Moloa’a Bay then I would in a heart beat. The views of Hanalei Pier are indescribable. Pack a lunch and spend the day at Hanalei Bay.
Saving Money on Kauai
If you want to save money while you are on Kauai there are a few ways to do that. I signed up for a discount card from Safeway online. It is linked to your cell phone number so when you check out you type in your number and start saving! The grocery store prices will give you “sticker shock”. We shopped for almost three hours because I was trying to get the absolute best price for everything. For two weeks of groceries in Kauai, we spent $280. I had estimated over $300 so I was pretty happy! 🙂
If you stay in a condo then you can cook a lot of meals on your own. We prepared all of our breakfasts in the condo. Some budget-friendly breakfast options are:
banana macadamia nut pancakes, bacon, pineapple, and Spam and eggs
fresh papaya/mango/pineapple/lychee/apple banana smoothies
bagels, cream cheese, and pineapple guava jelly
fried eggs, bacon (or Spam), and bagels
Several times we packed lunches in our ice chest and ate them on a trail or on the beach (doesn’t get much better than that). We bought packs of the Aloha Iced Tea and Aloha fruit drinks. They are tasty!
For light lunch options, here are some ideas:
chicken salad sandwiches on sweet Hawaiian rolls, Maui onion chips, fresh fruit, water, and juice
ham sandwiches on sweet Hawaiian bread, chips, fruit, water, juice
peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit
We cooked several meals for dinner in the condo. Some of our meals included:
fresh ono fish tacos, black beans, guacamole, local salsa, queso
grilled chipotle chicken sandwiches, guacamole, purple sweet potatoes
grilled striped marlin and ahi tuna, salad, purple sweet potatoes, ranch beans
Kauai beef steaks, baked potatoes, salad, toast (buy your steaks at the North Shore General Store in Princeville)
We ate one meal at a fancy restaurant (Duke’s), the rest of the time we ate at the condo and local food trucks. One of my favorite meals was from a local taco place. We ordered tacos from Tiki Tacos and ate them on the beach at sunset. Perfection and cheap!
Part 2 Coming Soon
There is so much to share about the stunning island of Kauai. That is why this is part 1 of sharing my knowledge, experiences, and planning tips for the most epic Kauai trip ever!
What can you expect in part 2?
detailed 2 week itinerary
more restaurant and activity advice
our favorite tour companies
more epic photos and videos of the best Hawaiian island
what we will do on our next trip to Kauai
Have I convinced you to start planning your Kauai adventure yet? 😉 Let me know in the comments below!