Hawaii (Kauai)

Part of a shield volcano rising three miles above the ocean floor, Kauai is the oldest of the major Hawaiian islands and arguably the most beautiful. Through its rich volcanic soil, the island features an enormous amount of vegetation, hence its Garden Island nickname. Add soft, sandy beaches, beautiful blue water, and a long list of amazing natural sites, and it's plain to see why Kauai ranks as one of the world's most spectacular destinations.

Kauai is the smallest and least developed of the four most popular Hawaiian islands, but still manages to attract an impressive amount of visitors thanks to its wild, lush, and mountainous terrain. The island, rugged throughout but only reaching about 5,000 feet in top elevation, can also be separated into several distinct areas.

Lihue is the island's business hub, yet still retains a certain charm and sleepiness. In the south, Poipu features gorgeous beaches and the biggest conglomeration of resorts and hotels. From Lihue to Kapaa on the eastern coast, you'll find a decent amount of resorts and plantation-era mansions. Also, the north shore is an outdoorsman's paradise with incredible surfing, hiking, kayaking, and golfing at Hanalei.

The most developed destination area is Poipu on the southern shore, the location of many hotels and businesses. Despite the development, the area still manages to feel intimate. And while the beaches perhaps aren't quite as soft and sandy as those on Oahu and Maui, there are plenty of beautiful stretches ideal for romantic walks and picturesque views.

What to Do

Kauai Hawaii cave underwater

  • Kayaking - From the Wailua River Valley to the Huleia River, and to miles of ocean terrain, Kauai boasts some of the most remarkable kayaking pursuits in the world. For instance, paddlers can take the meandering Huleia River into Huleia National Wildlife Refuge to visit hidden waterfalls and spot rare tropical birds. Paddle out with Kayak Kauai or Outfitters Kauai, two of Kauai's most reputable tour companies. Outfitters Kauai offers a variety of different kayaking trips (e.g. waterfall tours, sea kayaking, inland river outings, and more), including full-day tours of the Na Pali Coast complete with food, drinks, and first-rate equipment.

  • Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Park - A can't-miss destination while visiting Kauai, Waimea Canyon is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific due to its 3,000-foot gorges. While there's numerous lookouts scattered throughout the park for road trippers, visitors can truly experience the canyon through its miles of hiking trails. Notable paths include KuKui Trail, Iliau Nature Loop, and the Alakai Swamp Trail (great for up-close views of rare plants and birds). Also, make your way over to the Kokee History Museum to plan out your hiking treks.

  • Na Pali Coast Excursions - These soaring and majestic cliffs are only accessible by rugged trail, boat, or helicopter. For a deserted island-type experience, be sure to head to the remote sands of Polihale Beach. Avid hikers will want to make their way along the Kalalau Trail. The unforgiving cliffs here make it impossible for a road to continue west of Kee Beach, but hikers can follow this trail along the coastline for more than 11 miles. It's easily one of the most beautiful hikes in Hawaii. You'll notice how the trail gets drier as you proceed west. For instance, hikers will first trek through dense, green vegetation with dramatic views and have options to make detours inland to gorgeous spots like Hanakapiai Falls.

  • Kauai Water Sports - With stunning beaches, tropical waters, famous waves, and an abundance of sea life, it's no surprise that Kauai boasts fantastic water sports opportunities. Newlyweds looking to hang ten should test their mettle at Poipu Beach. Head out with Windsurf Kauai, which rents out boards and offers lessons to beginners and even more advanced surfers.

    Looking to charter a boat? Look no further than Captain Andy's, which provides romantic sunset sails, rafting expeditions, snorkel tours, and even whale watching tours during the winter months. Meanwhile, for the best snorkeling and diving experiences, check out Anini Beach, Kee Beach, Poipu Beach Park, or Salt Pond Beach Park during your visit to the island.

Where to Stay

Kauai luxury hotel resort

  • Princeville Resort - Located on the north shore of Kauai, overlooking picturesque Hanalei Bay and Makana Mountain, this luxury resort is well worth the five-star price tag. Highlights include oceanside dining, a private beach with a water sports center, and a 5,000 square-foot infinity pool.

  • Ko'a Kea Resort Hotel at Poipu Beach - Location is the prime amenity at this boutique property, located in the heart of Poipu, a popular resort area. In addition to excellent service, notable features include an award-winning modern Hawaiian restaurant, a full-service spa and fitness center, surf lessons, guided outrigger canoe rides, and more.

  • Aqua Kauai Beach Resort - Here, couples will find an ideal alternative to the island’s larger, more pricey resorts. Couples will particularly enjoy the four swimming pools (complete with cascading waterfalls and man-made lagoons), four restaurants, salon and spa, and state-of-the-art fitness center. But perhaps its greatest asset is seclusion: Kauai Beach Resort is situated on a rural stretch of Kauai’s eastern coast, offering picturesque views and peaceful environs.

  • Waimea Plantation Cottages - If 1,000-thread-count sheets aren’t high on your honeymoon priority list—but seclusion, authenticity, and affordability are—consider Waimea Plantation. You don’t come here for picturesque beaches, you come for the old-school Hawaiian vibes. The hotel is set on a former sugar plantation, with no-frills (but not lacking in amenities) cottages sprinkled across the grounds.

  • Koloa Landing Resort at Poipu, Autograph Collection - You need not travel off-property to witness the perfect sunset at Koloa Landing. At the edge of the newcomer hotel, located in popular Poipu, is the “Sunset Wall,” a favorite gazing spot for both locals and travelers alike. Sip on a cocktail or a coconut water as you watch the daylight sink into the Pacific.

Where to Eat

Kauai Hawaii restaurant

  • Makana Terrace - Located at the St. Regis Princeville, Makana Terrace is the perfect spot to wake up and forget about your wedding diet. Daily brunch features a carving station, handmade sushi, specialty omelets—with sides of panoramic mountain and ocean views.

  • Caffe Coco - Situated on the Coconut Coast, this charming cottage café serves fresh fish, local produce, and creative bistro-style dishes in a lovely garden, perfect for alfresco dining.

  • Bar Acuda - Chef Jim Moffat made a name for himself in San Francisco (42 Degrees and The Slow Club) before opening this tapas-style wine bar in Hanalei. The plates may be small, but they pack major Hawaiian-inspired punch: Moffat’s priority is showcasing fresh, regional ingredients such as ono, ahi tuna poké, and ali’i mushrooms. Pair your plates with a bottle from the extensive wine list, which even includes organic vintages.

  • Merriman's Fish House - There are three Merriman’s restaurants (on Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii island), so honeymooners who visit one island or more are almost guaranteed the opportunity to sample some of the most pioneering cuisine in the state. Chef-owner Peter Merriman has been at the forefront of sustainable farming in Hawaii for decades, when he had the (now ironically) genius idea to grow vegetables locally, rather than use ones that had to arrive by lengthy boat journey. Today, he partners with local farmers and fisherman to turn out dishes like macadamia-nut-crusted kampachi, seafood linguine, and Kalua pig and sweet onion quesadillas.

Getting There

Lihue Airport (LIH) is Kauai's main airport and provides regularly scheduled flights to and from other Hawaiian Islands, plus several other designated U.S. cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The airport is located on the eastern side of the island and close to many of Kauai's top tourist areas such as Poipu Beach and Nawiliwili Bay. You will find all of the major rental car companies, plus taxi service, bus transportation, and hotel shuttle service on the premises.