Kauai, Hawaii Guide for First Time Visitors

Kauai Itinerary

I’ve been to other islands in Hawaii, but nothing beats Kauai. From all Hawaiian islands, it is by far my favorite due to its lushness, remoteness, and beauty. We planned our 5-day trip a month in advance in order to minimize expenses as Kauai is not cheap. However, my boyfriend had points to use for our hotel stay, which helped shape our Kauai itinerary. Here is a short overview of our trip.

Covid Restrictions

Traveling during these times one should include looking into COVID restrictions no matter your destination. Our trip took place immediately after Thanksgiving weekend, so Hawaii had removed covid restrictions. We did not have to quarantine or submit any covid tests other than uploading our vaccination cards on the Hawaii government visitor site. Be sure to check before you travel of any Covid restrictions as the mandates are constantly changing.

Kauai Island Breakdown and Accommodation

With the expanded access to media today, I was able to gather enough information to give me a better sense of the island and compile an itinerary based on what we wanted to do. You can choose from four areas on the island where you can stay. Here’s how it’s broken down below:

North:
Princeville, Hanalei
Great spots for surfing
& snorkeling.

South:
Poipu, Koloa
Known as the “sunnier side” of the island where most resorts are located. Good sandy beaches and plenty of restaurants to choose from.

East:
Lihue, Kapaa
The main airport and helicopter tours are located here.

West:
Waimea, Hanapepe
More local with family owned stores.

We chose to stay at the Sheraton Kauai Resort in the south of the island. It was largely based on the fact that it was our first time in Kauai, and we wanted to be able to walk to the beach from our hotel room. The resort also had other amenities we needed including restaurants, free parking, it was within walking distance to a nearby promenade, and ultimately, it was centrally located to most things.

Whenever I return to Kauai, I would stay in the Northshore and in an Airbnb accommodation (if possible) near Hanalei Bay. It rains a lot more in the northern part of the island but, there are a lot of things to see that we didn’t get to do during this trip. A trip to Kauai is likely to have the largest accommodation expense, with prices starting from $190+/day. If you saved enough points for travel, now would be a good time to use them.

Transportation and Airport

From LAX, we flew into Lihue airport. We used Uber to get to and from the airport although there aren’t many Uber drivers on the island, but we were fortunate.

People who come to the island typically rent a car. At the time when we were looking to rent a car, we found it to be expensive and there weren’t many options. Luckily, we stumbled across an app called TURO. We never heard of it before until now and I highly recommend it. Like any other app, you can choose the type of car you want to use, its pricing points and what not. The company we chose had good ratings, was affordable and had the ability to deliver the car to our hotel and pick it up on our last day. In the end, we saved at least $100 per day on transportation alone.

Food

G's Juicebar Acai bowl
G’s Juicebar

There were plenty of restaurants and food trucks on the island. We lived off of açai bowls during our entire trip because they were so delicious. You don’t have to eat Açai bowls since they have other food types as well. Here are a few of my recommendations:

Japanese Grandmas Coffee – West
We made reservations ahead of time for dinner here. Dinner was served at their outdoor patio so, make sure to bring warm jackets as it could get very cold at night. For the food, we tried the Eel Bomb rolls, Ramen and Grandma’s Chicken Karaage with Spicy Yuzu Kosho Eel sauce. They were all very good.

Little Fish Poipu (Açai bowls) – South
This is located right next to the Poipu Shopping Village and a few minutes walk from the Sheraton hotel. They are known for their Açai bowls and having been there twice I can vouch that their Açai bowls are pretty good. Their small bowl is a good portion with all of the fresh fruits you’ll need. Make sure to head over early to avoid the long lines.

G’s Juicebar (Açai bowls) – East
A fantastic local spot that we stopped by on the way to Waimea Canyon. We saw one guy behind the counter taking orders and making the bowls. He was very patient with us since we couldn’t decide what to order but, we ended up getting the Kauai and Rambla Açai bowls that were both equally delicious.

Hanalei Bread Company (Coffee & Sandwiches) – North
This was the first coffee house we went to when we drove up to Northshore early in the morning. They had good reviews and they were one of the few places that opened early (at 7am). Their menu includes a variety of options from toasts to sandwiches. We ordered the Avocado and Fancy Toasts. Both were a good size portion for us and healthy too.

Activities

If you’re into hiking, swimming, snorkeling or surfing this island is meant for you. Kauai has plenty of hiking trails from moderate to extreme and beautiful beach that you can choose from. We opted for easy to moderate hikes due to time but, there are other trails you can find that have better views of the island.

Hoopii Falls – East
Easy to moderate hike. One of Jurassic Park’s filming locations and an absolutely beautiful forests that you walk through on the way to the falls. It is one of my favorite hike on this trip and I highly suggest that you at least see it once if you do go to Kauai. A few things to note is that one, the entrance of this area is located through a neighborhood street. We attempted to come here the first time and a local in the neighborhood turned tourists away because someone was badly hurt. Be aware that there are times the area will be inaccessible.

The second thing to note is that the pathways of this hike are not well marked. However, since it is a popular area you’ll likely see other people around. We got lost on the way there and had to ask a few hikers who were kind enough to direct us the right way. There are two falls in the area and the first one is about a 10 minute walk from the entrance; while the second fall is another 15-20 minutes further down from the first fall.

The third and last thing to note is that it rains a lot in Kauai so, expect hiking trails to be muddy. Luckily, our hikes were on a dry day and we didn’t have issues dealing with mud but, having the experience going through the trails I can see how slippery it could get. Also, people have been known to twist their ankles from hiking in Kauai so, be very careful!

Queens Bath – North
The hike to Queens Bath is very similar to Hoopii Falls. It has a beautiful scenery, lots of vines, lush trees, accessible through a neighborhood street but, a bit more rugged in the beginning of the path. Also, there’s only see one fall in this location and it’s not as close as the falls at Hoopii Falls.

On this hike, be prepared to get ready to use your hands and knees because the beginning of the hike has several dips through rocks and if you go on a muddy day this could be very slippery. After you go through the hike you’ll eventually reach Queen’s bath. Sadly, we did not get to see Queen’s Bath in all its glory because the tide was rough and pretty high. I was actually re-thinking about our decision of being there because it looked dangerous!

Tunnels Beach – North
This is one of the most beautiful beach I’ve seen. The beach is known for its protected reefs, which make it an excellent spot for snorkeling. It has public parking, but get here early to find a spot since the beach can get crowded.

Hanalei Bay – North
This is a large cove with benches and beach space, plenty of parking, the calmest water I saw on the island, and a place to take surfing lessons. There is a food truck nearby that serves the best tacos, but they only accept cash or Venmo. It was quite busy here so be prepared.

Wailua Falls – Lihue
It was worth stopping by to take a quick look and snap a photo of the 173 foot falls. I would’ve loved to hike to it but, the entrance was closed. There’s also parking available that goes all the way down to the dead-end with about 7-10 spots. It wasn’t busy at all when we got there.

Helicopter Tours – Lihue
Taking a helicopter tour was one of the most unique things I’ve ever done on any trips. It was my first time being on a helicopter and seeing the island from above makes the trip all worth it. On this tour, we were able to see several waterfalls that can only be seen by air. It also takes you along the Napali Coastline, and with some luck, we saw a full rainbow appear. It was a memorable moment for us.

Others

For more recommendations see my full itinerary here.

Volcano Night Tour (Hawaii, The Big Island)

volcano cave

My last day in Hawaii was spent doing a packaged all-day Volcano Tour. Many suggested, base on research, that the Volcano Tour was one of the Big Island’s top attraction for tourists. The tour, in a nutshell, was about getting a general idea on The Big Island that eventually leads you to a live volcanic site at night. I was at the visitor center at the time flipping through several activity brochures and I learned about the tour in one of the brochures I was looking at. The more I read about it the more my curiosity grew and next thing I knew, boom, a ticket was in my hands and I was on my way to do the tour.  Continue reading “Volcano Night Tour (Hawaii, The Big Island)”

Exploring Ali’i Drive (Hawaii, The Big Island)

I woke up the next day after the wedding with a massive headache from the party. Immediately I forced myself to get up. I head over to a store nearby to find something that would save me from this pain.  Thankfully, ABC store much like CVS was only a few steps away from my hotel.   Continue reading “Exploring Ali’i Drive (Hawaii, The Big Island)”

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Salty Kisses at Hulihe‘e Palace (The Big Island, Hawaii)

On time and on cue, guests including myself paraded through the lawn in our floral dresses (Hey, we had to keep the Hawaiian theme going here). On the other hand, the men (I thought) looked dapper in their suits. It was another warm day in Kailua-Kona with the sunset that seemed to be present on a daily basis. I wondered how can you not get spoiled by this? Continue reading “Salty Kisses at Hulihe‘e Palace (The Big Island, Hawaii)”

Swimming in Coral Reefs (The Big Island – Hawaii)

I think I was a mermaid in another lifetime because I love swimming and I can stay in the water all day especially when it is clear and warm. Our boat called Fairwind Big Island Ocean Guides arrived mid-afternoon after our 1-hour ride in the ocean. We docked at Keauhou Bay a.k.a. Captain Cook’s Monument. Continue reading “Swimming in Coral Reefs (The Big Island – Hawaii)”

Checking In at The Royal Kona Resort. (The Big Island, Hawaii)

Aloooha! After 5 hours or so minutes, my plane finally landed in Hawaii. The fresh ocean smell was apparent as I descended from my plane. Ah, the sun, palm trees and the calm nature of Hawaii really set the mood of my entire trip. This was exactly what I was looking forward to, take a swim in the pool, sightsee and explore whatever the island has to offer. After all, it is The Big Island!  Continue reading “Checking In at The Royal Kona Resort. (The Big Island, Hawaii)”

Top 5 Challenges for Beach Wedding Destination as a Guest.

One early morning, still half asleep, I grabbed my phone to check on possible missed text messages. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing things correctly but, there it was in a blue bubble w/ white texts were written words that said: “I’m getting married…..in HAWAII!” My dear cousin was finally getting married to her boyfriend of over 10 years. Under my breath, I mumbled, fantastic! A destination wedding would be my first. There was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t have a good time. Although, I stumbled upon the fact that I was clueless in how to prepare for such event. And so, I decided to research.

Continue reading “Top 5 Challenges for Beach Wedding Destination as a Guest.”