Kauai is Hawaii’s fourth largest island and is sometimes called the “Garden Island,” which is an entirely accurate description. The oldest and northernmost island in the Hawaiian chain is draped in emerald valleys, sharp mountain spires and jagged cliffs aged by time and the elements. Centuries of growth have formed tropical rainforests, forking rivers and cascading waterfalls! Some parts of Kauai are only accessible by sea or air, revealing views beyond your imagination. More than just dramatic beauty, the island is home to a variety of outdoor activities. You can kayak the WAILUA RIVER, snorkel on POIPU BEACH, hike the trails of KOKEE STATE PARK, or go ziplining above Kauai’s lush valleys. But, it is the island’s laid-back atmosphere and rich culture found in its small towns that make it truly timeless. Make your escape to Kauai and discover the undeniable allure of the island.
Kauai’s dramatic North Shore is an enchanting setting full of rugged mountains, lush taro fields, heavenly beaches and spectacular sea cliffs. You’ll be amazed at how much beauty can be found in just one area of Kauai.
Begin your journey on the island’s northernmost point. Historic Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse is a wildlife sanctuary and a scenic spot during whale watching season. Visit lovely Hanalei Town, home to stretches of green taro fields alongside colorful shops, galleries and restaurants. You’ll also find some of Kauai’s best beaches here including Lumahai Beach, the setting for the film “South Pacific,” and Kee Beach, ideal for sunbathing. You can also learn about native plants and see scenic ocean views at Na Aina Kai Botanical Gardens or at the 17-acre Limahuli Gardens, part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
But the most stunning feature of Kauai’s North Shore is the magnificent Napali Coast. This 17-mile stretch of coastline is lined with cliffs up to 3,000-foot tall, accented with lush green valleys, cascading waterfalls and sea caves. Inaccessible by car, you can hike or take an air or boat tour to view this breathtaking natural wonder.
The North Shore is also home to the upscale resort area of Princeville where you can indulge in world-class hospitality and play at some of Kauai’s premier golf courses. You can also find other accommodations here ranging from historic bed and breakfasts to rental homes allowing everyone the opportunity to experience the beauty of Kauai’s North Shore.
Kauai’s East Side is sometimes referred to as the Royal Coconut Coast for the groves of coconut palms that grow in its resort areas. The most populated district on the island, about 16,000 of the island’s 71,000 residents reside in the Wailua/Kapaa area. Amongst the clusters of coconut trees you’ll find historic places, amazing beaches and memorable attractions.
In Wailua, you’ll find a variety of sightseeing opportunities and outdoor activities. Kayak the Wailua River in Wailua River State Park, take a boat ride to the Fern Grotto, or take photos at Opaekaa Falls. Don’t forget to try and spot the Sleeping Giant in the Nounou Mountain or take a hike up this scenic ridge. Sacred places like Poliahu Heiau can also be found on the East Side. And be sure to visit Kapaa Town to discover fine Hawaiian craft pieces, aloha-print shirts, jewelry and art.
But the golden beaches of the Coconut Coast may be the area’s biggest draw. Unwind at Lydgate Beach Park in Wailua, where you’ll find two lava rock enclosed ocean pools that are perfect places for families and first-time snorkelers. Fun in the sun awaits you on the Coconut Coast.
Lihue is the government and commercial center of the island, as well as a cultural and historical area. This may be the most traveled town on Kauai since it is home to Kauai’s main airport (the Lihue Airport) and Nawiliwili Harbor, the island’s major commercial shipping center and cruise ship port.
Lihue has a variety of natural wonders to explore. Kalapaki Beach is the home of the Kauai Marriott Resort and Beach Club and the Hokuala Golf Resort. Bodysurfing, SUP, surfing and swimming make Kalapaki a popular destination. Ninini Beach is home to an automated lighthouse, in operation since 1897. And just north of Lihue, don’t forget to stop at the Wailua Falls lookout for an amazing waterfall view.
The Lihue area also has numerous historical spots including Alekoko Fishpond, a roughly 1,000-year-old aquaculture reservoir; Kilohana, a historic plantation estate home to one of the island’s most iconic luau; and both the historic Kauai Museum and Grove Farm Homestead Museum.
Drive through a tunnel of trees to arrive on the warm and beautiful south shore of Kauai. The biggest attractions here are the perfect beaches around the Poipu area and Spouting Horn, a blowhole that releases a spout of water up to 20 feet into the air. Poipu stretches around Makahuena Point and is a spectacle to any onlooker. At night, you can stroll through charming boutiques and dine on Pacific Rim cuisine at ocean-side restaurants. Other towns you’ll find on the south side include Old Koloa Town, Kalaheo, Lawai, and Omao. Filled with resorts, golf, shopping, beaches and sights, there’s never a dull moment on the South Shore of Kauai — that is unless you just want to take a break and nap on the beach.
About an hour’s drive from Lihue and other major towns on the Coconut Coast, Kauai’s West Side feels like it’s a world away. Here, spectacular natural wonders and historic sites meet funky small towns, rewarding visitors with a glimpse of Kauai mainly seen by locals.
The most famous attraction on the West Side is breathtaking Waimea Canyon, also called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Hiking trails and scenic overlooks offer sweeping views of rugged crags and plunging valleys dipping more than 3,600 feet into the earth. There’s nothing else in Hawaii quite like it.
Neighboring Kokee State Park offers 45 miles of trails and endless opportunities to see native plants and wildlife. At the north edge of the park, Kalalau Lookout and Puu O Kila Lookout provide panoramic views of the vibrant, green cliffs of one of the valleys of the Napali Coast—two of the best (and safest) ways to see Kalalau Valley from land.
The two small towns of Waimea and Hanapepe are also worth a visit on the West Side. In 1778, Captain James Cook first landed in the Hawaiian Islands here at Waimea Bay. Today, a statue of Cook stands in Waimea Town commemorating this historic event. About seven miles south of Waimea, Hanapepe is the island’s art capital, with eclectic galleries, shops and eateries lining the streets of “Kauai’s biggest little town”
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