Need a relaxing vacation, without having to deal with passports, traipsing around a city, walking miles, trying to see everything while FOMO nips at your heals? Look no further than Hawaii! All of the Hawaiian islands are unique in their own way, but my favorite is the north shore of Kauai. It’s lush, with countless cascading waterfalls and is home to Na’Pali, Kauai’s mysterious and dramatic coastline.
You have to rent a car in Kauai, there’s just no way around it. That said, one of my favorite activities is driving around, exploring different beaches and singing along to some tunes. If you can swing it, get a convertible. It allows you to enjoy the inevitable driving time while breathing in the warm, sweet, and thick air of the island.
Where to stay
I like to take advantage of the fresh produce at the farmers’ markets on the north shore, and cook simple, vibrant meals so, for me, it’s important to find a place with a well-equipped kitchen. However, if cooking just isn’t your thing while vacationing, book a hotel and opt for dining out. There are not many hotels on the north shore, but there are many options to find a place that suits your needs.
This resort is north of Hanalei. The condos are clean and the full kitchens well-stocked. All the units are close to the water and many have ocean views. The grounds are beautiful and well kept. There are several grills on the property as well as a pool and hot tub. It is very remote and a bit far if you want to get to the other side of the island or anywhere else; but it’s close to the best beaches, Ke’e and Tunnels. There is also a beach in front of the property where you’ll most likely be the only person there!
This is the nicest hotel on the island, and the most expensive. It’s located on a bluff in Princeville and has one of the most spectacular views overlooking Hanalei Bay and Bali Hai. Stay here if you want to sit in the lap of luxury and spend some beaucoup dollars. The rooms do not have kitchens so you’ll have to dine out or order room service.
These villas are close to the St. Regis. They don’t have quite the same view, although the ocean views are also beautiful (and far less expensive.) The units have large, full kitchens and the rooms are updated and luxurious. It’s also close to the Princeville Shopping Center where you can get everything you need. If you plan on cooking, opt to stay here over the St. Regis. They also have plenty of grills available for use. Both the Westin and St. Regis are close to one of my favorite beaches–Hideaways. The Westin also has a complimentary shuttle that will drop you off in lieu of parking.
Rent A Condo
Hideaways is a small beach near the St. Regis. It’s a bit of a hike down, so make sure you wear shoes, not sandals. The beach is absolutely beautiful and can have great snorkeling if the water is calm. Parking is limited, but if you wait it out, you can usually snag a spot in the small parking lot. Alternatively there is complimentary parking at the St. Regis, or, if you’re staying at the Westin their shuttle bus can drop you off.
Tunnels is one of my favorite beaches to go for the day. It has beautiful views of “Bali Hai” and the beginning of the Na’Pali Coast. The water is calm and there’s great snorkeling. Depending on the season, the water can be rough on the north shore and it can get windy, but somehow this beach is always protected.
I love this beach so much. Come here with some wine and cheese and watch the sunset over the Na’ Pali Coast. When you get to the beach, walk right about 50 feet so you get a view of the Na’ Pali Coast. It’s also less crowded the further down you go. During the day, it’s fun to snorkel and swim here if the water is calm.
Anini Beach is located near Kilauea. It’s a long, two mile beach stretch with calm water, although it can get windy. It’s a great beach if you are visiting Kilauea or if the waters are rough at the other beaches on the north shore. Also a good place to snorkel.
What to Do
When I go to Kauai, I like to relax and not do too much of anything. My excursions tend to be hanging out at the beach, swimming and watching the sunset with the occasoinal snorkeling. The scenery in Kauai is enough, all you have to do it kick back and enjoy. But, there are plenty of adventures to go on for you active folk. I recommend this guide for more on excursions.
Watch the sunset
it way sound corny but you have to make a ritual of watching the sunset every night in Kauai. It’s always different and breathtaking. Ke’e is my favorite place to watch the sunset. Bring some beach chairs and a picnic. As mentioned before, be sure to walk about 50 feet to the right once you get to Ke’e, so you can see the Na’Pali Coast. The sunset at the St. Regis is also equally breath-taking, just with a different vibe. Grab a seat, a glass of wine and watch the sunset over Hanalei Bay. They have a champagne sunset ritual daily, where they sing a Hawaiian song and share some history, it’s quite nice. Otherwise, find a park bench at the Kenomene Ocean Sunset Outlook in Princeville, just before the St. Regis.
Take a helicopter ride
A helicopter ride is the best way to see Waimeai Canyon (the Grand Canyon of Kauai) without having to drive to the south shore. Although it’s pricey, it is one of the most spectacular views you will ever see. Warning—the overwhelming beauty may bring tears to your eyes. I did a doors off helicopter ride that both terrified and amazed me. Jack Harter is the best company.
Explore the Na’ Pali Coast
This is an absolute must for your first time in Kauai. The only way to see the Na’Pali coast is to fly over it or take a boat ride. I recommend both, but if you forgo the former then a boat or catamaran ride is a great option. My favorite is Na’Pali Catamaran in Hanalei, it’s in the same lot as Big Save. Another bonus is dolphin sightings, which has occurred both times I’ve toured with this company.
I’m not a big hiker but on one of my next trips to Kauai I hope to muster up the energy to hike along the Na’Pali Coast. There are many other hiking options and I suggest checking out this book for more information on that.
Drive to Waimea Canyon
If you don’t take a helicopter ride, then you should definitely make the trip out to Waimea Canyon via car.
Food & Drink By Neighborhood
An adorable little area on the way to/from the airport. Stop here for a bite when you land or on your way back to the airport. My favorite lunch spots are below.
Rainbow Living Foods is a great little vegan cafe serving fresh, organic fare (salads, sandwiches, wraps, etc.) Most of their foods are gluten-free as well.
Mermaid’s Cafe is another cute cafe with fresh fare. The last few times I’ve gone they were closed; their hours are not consistent, so call beforehand.
Kauai Juice has fresh juice and other little snacking options.
A cute little community before you get to Hanalei. A lot of locals live here and there are a few good spots for lunch.
Sushi Girl—this is one of my favorite daily lunch spots after being on the beach for a couple hours and needing some food. They moved from Wainiha to Kilauea a few months ago and just reopened. Great sushi and some vegan options as well. Everything is or can be made gluten-free.
Kauai Juice (second location) has fresh juice and other little snacking options.
Trilogy Coffee Kauai probably has the best coffee on the island.
A picturesque town on the north shore, just past Princeville. It’s set against a back drop of the dramatic mountains of Kauai, laden with tall waterfalls. Hanalei has the most dining options of any place on the north shore.
Trucking Delicious is one of my favorite places for lunch. There is something for everyone!
Postcards is my favorite restaurant to go out to dinner. It’s romantic, local and reasonable considering Kauai prices. There is something for everyone here.
Bar Acuda is highly rated and the most trendy place. The wine list is the best part. It’s worth it to go there for dinner if you aren’t planning to cook. Be sure to make reservations in advance.
Hanalei Bread Company is the best place for morning libations. For breakfast, it’s very casual—order at the counter, sit outside and the view. They also have a delicious, freshly baked, gluten-free loaf of bread.
Tahiti Nui is a locals joint in Hanalei. They have bar food and drinks. It’s the latest place open in town. They also have a little wine bar around the back.
Princeville is located on the bluff just before you go down into Hanalei. Not much here in terms of dining options, but there’s a great little Tiki Bar.
Tiki Niki is owned by Todd Rundgren and his wife Michele. It’s a locals spot and a fun place to get a Hawaiian-themed drink.