I spent 3 months working remotely on Kauai, Hawaii in 2021. I have seen the island in great detail and compiled my 3 months into a 1 week itinerary for you to know helpful things to do on Kauai.
North AmericaUnited States7 days / March - April - May 2021
Highs & Lows
Nicknamed the garden island for a reason: Kauai is stunning, lush, and full of incredible nature.
Depending on the season, waves are too strong and dangerous to swim at certain beaches.
I spent 3 months living and working remotely on Kauai in the town of Poipu. Here I combine my 3 months into what is the perfect 7 day itinerary on the island for things to do on Kauai.
Coffee: Eden coffee is a small coffee truck near other food trucks. Great to grab and go or to sit outside while eating from other food trucks. Dark Horse is close by but in an actual building. A good place to sit and get work done and they have a wider range of drinks.
Smoothie bowls: 'Anakē's Juice bar is located inside a small grocery store and has fantastic smoothie bowl options. It is a little hard to find at first but so worth it. Its right next to the hole in the wall Mexican restaurant, Da Crack.
Dinner spots: Da Crack is a great grab and go spot. My favorite sit down restaurant in Koloa is La Spezia, it is arguably the best Italian food on the island. The Tasting Room is a great wine bar with some good food options. There food menu isn't huge but still good. Great for getting wine flights.
Dessert: Lappert's Ice cream is a Hawaiian specialty. I highly recommend their Nene Tracks ice cream.
Overrated places to avoid: Don't go to Beach House Restaurant. It is NOT worth it. It is a very pretty view and is maybe worth it for a drink during happy hour but not worth the price of a full meal. But Beach House Beach (Lawai'i beach on google maps) is a fantastic place to snorkel. Plus more experienced surfers will be there in further out.
Natural things to see in the Poipu/Koloa area:
Waimea is the largest town on the west side of the island followed by Kekaha. Waimea is the home to Waimea Canyon State Park which is absolutely beautiful and worth the drive. The hikes can be intense and you NEVER want to risk it. People get hurt or die all the time from pushing it too hard on hikes and the island is unforgiving. Always put your safety first.
Kekaha has a great and huge open beach. It is right off the main road so people park on the side of the road and its relatively easy to find parking. The only downside is because of how open and unobstructed it is, it can often get very windy. The wind can cause the sand to blow and be super obnoxious. So just double check the weather before going to visit.
Polihale is my favorite beach on the island and one of my favorite beaches in the world. DISCLAIMER: to reach the beach you have to drive about 5 miles on bumpy dirt roads and it truly is off roading. Do NOT take that risk if you're in a low ride rental car. Its a hike to get out there but is truly beautiful. It's the absolute furthest west you can go and marks the start of the Na Pali coast. The waters can be very strong over there and there is not typically a life guard. I never went in the water because I knew how dangerous it was. Enjoyed my time on the soft sand and dipped my feet in if I got hot. It is the perfect place to watch the sunset since it is west facing.
Arguably the best thing we did in the three months we lived on Kauai was doing the Na Pali coast tour with Blue Ocean Adventures. The boat departs from Kekaha and it is a half day adventure. They have morning and afternoon departures. The views of the Na Pali coast are absolutely out of this world. Getting right up close to it was magnificent and the boat tour is way safer than a helicopter tour. We got to go swimming and we did encounter some dolphins as well. It is not the cheapest adventure but 10/10 worth it.
Hanapepe is a cute little town that is about one street long. Notably they are the town that the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch is based off of. It is definitely worth stopping to drive around a few minutes on your way to or from the west coast of the island.
The Hanapepe swinging bridge is a small bridge over the river and is fun to walk around on. Plus, it may or may not have a Charlotte from Chicago sticker somewhere on it. Hanapepe is very artsy and there are some nice local art shops to check out. My favorite thing in Hanapepe is the Talk Story Bookstore. It is a beautiful little bookstore at the end of the street and happens to be the furthest west bookstore in all of the US. I bought a book then took it to the beach to read while sunbathing.
Hanapepe also has a fantastic bakery called Midnight Bear Breads. You have to get there early because they sell out quickly. Besides breads they also have coffee and some other treads.
If you like coffee I 10/10 recommend visiting the Kauai Coffee Company and doing a coffee tour / tasting. I am not a huge coffee drinker but it was fascinating to get to learn all about coffee, how its grown, brewed, and see the coffee trees and harvesting process. They are located on the southwest part of the island.
Most people think of Princeville when they say Northern Kauai but I think Hanalei is so much better. Princeville is mostly just very wealthy houses and there isn't much to do. Hanalei has a great beach which is also a very good spot for beginners to learn to surf.
The Hanalei Gourmet is a great place to eat and was the best burger I had on the island. We went to Tahiti Nui for drinks but Hanalei Gourmet has great drink options as well. They have nice bathrooms at Hanalei Gourmet which is where we changed in and out of our swimsuits for the beach. When traveling it is always nice to know where a good and clean bathroom is!
Once you pass Hanalei Bay you will head along the coast and I recommend stopping at Lumaha'i Beach, Tunnels Beach, or Ha'ena Beach. Ha'ena is the only beach that at certain time's will have a lifeguard. It is important to note again that different seasons cause different tides and water levels. Winters on the north shore make the waters incredibly rough and dangerous whereas on the south shore they are more calm. Then that switches in the summer when the south becomes stronger.
The last part of the road is Haena State Park. That is where the beginning of the Kalalau Trail begins. To hike that trail you must get tickets in advanced. They also have limited parking at the state park so its important to research up to date regulations since they are often changing. This is the northern start to the Na Pali Coast.
Lihue is the main city of Kauai. It is where the airport is located and is the most central part of the island. It isn't very glamorous and doesn't have as much beach access as other towns. But it is a very good central location to get around to the rest of the island. I like Wailua and Kapa'a significantly more. Kapa'a has a lot of great food options across the main road. Mermaids Cafe has incredible fish tacos. It is right next to Java Kai which is a fantastic coffee shop with light food and treats. Located just down the street is Island Craves, perfect for any junk food cravings. If you're looking for food in Lihue, Harley's Tropical BBQ is great, cheap, and a good take away option. Duke's is a tropical sit down restaurant that has great views of the water and is what tourists think of as Hawaii. It is a novelty meal and we enjoyed it.
Something I highly recommend is taking a chocolate farm tour and tasting at Lydgate Farms. You can see the whole process of growing and harvesting cacao. You can taste different types of chocolate along with local tropical fruits. Occasionally they have volunteer opportunities to help harvest the cacao. We did the tour once and volunteered at the harvest twice. It was incredible!
I love to plane watch so of course I had to scout out the best spot on the island. Ninini lighthouse is the perfect spot to watch planes. DISCLAIMER: you have to off road to get there and it is not huge once you're at the end of the road. Personally I think it's beautiful and a fun experience but I recognize it's not everyone's cup of tea.
Overall I'd recommend staying at one of the suggested hotels above toward the end of your trip. It's nicer to be close to the airport before leaving. But regardless with all of these activities and experiences, be sure to take some time to just relax. Spend some time on the beach and just enjoy the lush beautiful island. You won't regret it.
Q & A
What would you have changed?Things to do on Kauai. If I were to only spend a week on Kauai I would make sure to book big, can't miss, activities far in advance but also leave time to just relax and enjoy the surroundings. Have structure but flexibility for when you stumble upon hidden gems or decide you just want to stay on the beach.
Tips you would give a friend?Spend time getting to know the locals. Support local businesses and, respectfully, visit places that are not touristy. Kauai doesn't have many chain restaurants but still try to always eat and drink local.
Packing tips?You must bring reef safe sunscreen. Ideally the best form of sun protection is wearing water shirts but I know that isn't always practical. Reef safe sunscreen is critical for the well being of the reef ecosystems.
Transportation Tips?You absolutely need to rent a car to get around Kauai. There is no public transportation and Uber is not really on the island much. Rent a car from one of the places at the airport or there may be a few options on TURO as well. But you absolutely need a car to get around unless you're only planning on staying at your hotel the entire time.
Any surprises?I hate to be the Debbie downer but I really don't recommend the helicopter rides or skydiving here. They are very DANGEROUS. They keep it quiet for tourism reasons but there is on average about one helicopter crash a year which usually leads to casualties. The mountains have their own climate and the weather can often change so quickly which is what makes things so dangerous. The skydiving planes are also risky. I knew someone who worked as a firefighter on the island and they said the skydiving places were one more strike from being shut down. So even though it looks amazing, please be careful. It's a lot more safe to do a boat adventure that you can get up close and still amazing views as well.