The Ultimate Guide to Staying in Kauai
Brandon and I recently got back from breathtaking Hawaii. We went with his mother and stepdad to help celebrate a massive wedding anniversary milestone and the big Hawaii 5-0 (aka Wes’ 50th birthday).
This was my first time in Hawaii and I must say, the weather and environment are just truly beautiful and photos do not do it justice. Brandon and I kept saying the entire time that we didn’t feel like we were in America. If the signage wasn’t the same, I could have been convinced we were in the Philippines or an Asian country. Since Kauai is the only island I’ve been too, I can’t speak to the big island or Maui or Oahu, so what I’m speaking to is unique to this island am my bias experiences.
Best Hawaiian Island to Visit
Before I get deep down into my debrief, Kauai is known to be the best island in Hawaii. It is the oldest island, and one of the wettest places on Earth (I first-hand experienced this - it did rain a lot while we were there). Therefore, the landscape is just absolutely beautiful.
Also, I would say it’s more of a sleepy island. Most places are shut down early at night - try going to a grocery store after 9 p.m. or out to eat at 8 p.m. and you’ll see what I mean. Where we stayed was not very touristy. I’m talking no chain restaurants, only two chain resorts, no chain stores, no luxury shopping. It was a true, authentic Hawaii experience. And, no one was mean to the locals, or at least, not what I experienced.
Kauai is perfect if you’re super outdoorsy and adventurous because there is so much to do outside. Whether it’s hiking, water activities, golf and obviously surfing, you could spend every waking moment here outside and never get bored - or sunburnt because it was overcast or cloudy most days.
Lost and Jurassic Park were filmed here if that gives you a mental image of just how green and luscious it truly is.
Where to Stay in Kauai
The north shore. Brandon’s mother booked our place in Princeville, and when we got there, the locals attested to the north shore being the best place to stay on the island. It’s about 45 minutes to an hour to get to from the airport, but it’s only like 20 miles away. The island is tiny, so anywhere you stay will be perfect because everything is a short drive away. However, there’s only one major road that wraps around the island. So, you do have to plan if there are activities you want to do in another location, you’ll need to make a half-day out of it.
If you’re not staying in the north shore in Princeville or Hanalei Bay, the next best recommendations would be Kiluea which is just down the road or Poipu on the south shore. Both are a little more touristy and here you’ll find your Shell station or a Starbucks and some big-name resorts like the Hyatt or the Sheraton.
We stayed at the Ali’i Kai in a two-bedroom, two-bath condo off of the ocean’s cliffs. It’s about a mile from Queen’s Bath and prior to landslides a few years prior, was a destination to hike down into to look at sea turtles. The Ali’i Kai is situated on the mile-long road entrance to the Princeville Resort (previously the St. Regis) and between the Wyndham and the Westin villas properties. It’s also sandwiched between the most beautiful golfing you will see in your entire life.
Fun fact: She chose this location because it had air conditioning. I didn’t know this, so sharing is caring because I guess there’s a lot of places you’ll stay at in Hawaii that do not, or it will only be in the living room. It was in the 80s or 90s every day while we stayed, so I was ever-so appreciative of this commodity. Most of the restaurants and stores are open-air, so you’ll feel a breeze throughout the day, but make sure you do your research!
We would wake up every morning between 3 a.m. - 5 a.m. Hawaiian time (could not get adjusted to that time change), make Hawaiian coffee and sit outside near the cliff edge and watch the sunrise. I never got sick of it. The sky is pure orange and the clouds look like cotton candy. Photos do not do the tranquility justice.
Where to Watch Football in Kauai
This sounds like a joke, but when your boyfriend is a die-hard Saints fan and LSU fan, and it’s in the heart of football season, this was a genuine concern for him because unless we were in our condo, cell service could sometimes be spotty, there was a five-hour time difference, and we were assuming we weren’t going to be able to find Direct TV. Man, we were blown away at the fact that we found a place that legitimately opened at 7 a.m. and served breakfast with TVs showing every single game on at the time. If you’re itching to try and find somewhere to watch the NFL in Kauai, Kalypso Island Bar & Grille was the true MVP. I was cracking up at the fact that I was eating Mahi Mahi eggs benedict at 8 a.m. with a boozy coconut drink watching the NFL - and the place was packed. Their food was amazing, drinks were amazing and the service was great. We ended up coming back. Highly recommend the ahi tuna trio and the shrimp ceviche.
Another place that has TVs is the Happy Talk Lounge at the Hanalei Bay Resort, but they do not open until 3 p.m. This place really makes you feel like you’re in Hawaii with the beautiful mountainous views, tiki torches, koi pond and a poke bowl that is out of this world. They also had an adorable live band playing while we were there on a Friday night. We loved it!
Best Restaurants in Kauai
I don’t even know where to begin on this one, because we ate like kings and queens, so I’m going to try to list out by city - so know that these are by no means in ranking order.
Little Fish Coffee
We went to Little Fish Coffee on our way to the canyon. It’s so quaint and has a nice outdoor patio area. I highly recommend a cold brew (with coconut milk, because, Hawaii) and an Acai bowl - that’s about all I ate on the trip. Shippy’s bowl was delicious with fresh coconut and pineapple.
Poipu Beach, HI
Keoki’s Paradise is your staple Polynesian-style restaurant that’s outdoors and breezy under a hut. The salsa is addicting, the daiquiris are plentiful and Brandon swears it was the best fish tacos he had on the trip.
HA Coffee Bar
Eat here. Just do yourself a favor and come here. This was the best coffee I’ve had in my life (cold brew + coconut milk) and the best acai bowl I’ve had in my life. Even if you’re not staying here, you need to go out of your way to visit HA Coffee Bar, even if it’s on your way back to the airport because they only have 3 food options. It has some LA vibe and is located in the heart of Lihue, so it feels very local. This was my favorite food on the trip, hands down.
The Princeville Bar has the best view of the sunset on the entire island. I’m not going to even share a photo because it won’t do it justice. The views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s located on the main level of the Princeville Resort, right when you walk in. Valet is $20 if you’re not staying there. We split a bottle of rose, and then explored their cocktail menu. My Kea Colada was one of my favorite drinks the entire trip. We made our way inside to the sushi bar after the sunset for the sunset over Hanalei sampler - if you love raw fish, this is the dish. Plus, some shisito peppers for the group and we were stuffed.
We spent one afternoon at the Princeville Resort/Hanalei Bay Resort beach. However, it was overcast, so we weren’t there too long, but we did enjoy lunch at the bar at the Nalu Kai. Brandon claims the fish tacos weren’t as good as the Keoki’s Paradise, and I didn’t eat, but I had Coco-jito Freeze and it might as well been a meal by itself because it was so filling. One of my favorite drinks on the island.
My breakfast at the Makana Terrace was amazing. This, again, is at the Princeville (are you seeing the common theme that we were only a mile away?). I had a purple sweet potato, pulled pork and poached egg dish that was heavenly. The coffee was delicious, too. Brandon’s parents went for the breakfast bar, but just a head’s up that it was I think $43 per head, so if you’re on a budget, that’s something to keep in mind, but it really was one of the nicest breakfast buffets I’ve seen - gauva juice, poached eggs - this isn’t your standard continental breakfast.
We also want to Nanea at the Westin for breakfast one morning. The views at this hotel are absolutely beautiful and their pool was amazing - the kind with the dark bottom. It was very calm and quiet here, and the staff got us in and out, which isn’t par for the course at most places in Kauai.
PV Eats is a new restaurant in Kauai. It’s also part luxury marketplace as well if you wanted to get literally any bottle of wine or any cheese. Their dining area is intimate, so I recommend coming early or later so you don’t have to wait as long for a seat. We split a meat and cheese tray, obviously paired with wine, and I ordered the fish. It was very light - just what I needed after tons of poke bowls and daiquiris. The vibes here didn’t feel like I was in Hawaii. The crowd seemed more hip/locals than tourists. I would have loved to go before sunset to see the views because it was pitch black out by the time we got there, but you could just tell that the views were impressive.
Smith’s Family Luau
When you’re in Hawaii, it’s a right of passage to do a Luau. Smith’s Kauai Luau is supposed to be the best Luau on the island. It had some Disney vibes to it - you took a tram around the property to tour the gardens, and they pack people in. I would estimate there were every bit of 300 people there, and at dinner, it made sense because the woman next to me said they were stopping there as an excursion from a Hawaiian cruise. The bartenders there deserve all the tips in the world because they were so fast and so polite. Go for the wine or a pina colada but beware, the drinks are strong. They serve you buffett style and you get to eat the pig that they were cooking underground all day. It was delicious. I also tried the local delicacy that everyone else was too scared to try - poi. It was fine; its gelatinous texture is what I think scared them away, but it was very bland tasting. But, when in Hawaii, do as the Hawaiians do.
If I am being honest though, you can get by with passing on the show. We only enjoyed the last skit where they did the fire dancing; everything else was fairly slow. Also, a girl passed out while we were there due to heat and hit her head on the stairs, so we were a little distracted. Also, two ladies were yelling at one another about flash photography. So, it could have just been that we didn’t pick the best seats…
Where to Golf in Kauai?
The best golf course in Kauai is the Princeville Makai Golf Club. If you thought Pebble Beach was beautiful, this takes it to a whole new level. It’s actually voted one of the top five scenic golf courses in the world. I kept telling Brandon that it was so beautiful, it should be illegal. Plus, the people that work there are so nice. We were playing in the evening, while they were doing a sunset golf cart tour, and there was probably 50 - 75 people watching Brandon and Wes play a hole, PGA tour style. They all cheered them on and golf clapped. It was hysterical. We ate lunch before we started at their little outdoor restaurant the Makai Grill, and they had the best beers from Maui on the island called Bikini Blonde - super refreshing.
We also golfed at the Puakea Golf Club in Lihue. It doesn’t have ocean views, but the views of the mountains are absolutely stunning. You’re in the heart of Lihue but surrounded by volcanic cliffs. There were a ton of ravines and different levels that made it challenging. It also cracked me up because there were a ton of chickens and roosters running around.
Is it worth renting a car in Kauai?
Yes, you’ll need to rent a car in Kauai. Everything is very far spaced apart, even though it only takes about two hours to get around the island. The cities are not anywhere near one another and there isn’t reliable public transportation or a lot of shuttle services. I saw people rent little Vespas though, so that would totally be fine. We rented a Jeep, which was super cool, and we spent a lot of time driving around. The roads there are interesting on the north shore - lots of one-lane roads. I get very car sick, so I sat up front most of the time because the roads were so windy, so pack non-drowsy Dramamine if you get queazy like me!
Overview of Kauai
All-in-all, it was very off the beaten path and it was a once in a lifetime trip that I am extremely grateful for. I highly recommend you explore it at least once in your life. It didn’t even feel like it was real at times because I had never seen such beauty in nature. Pack casual. Pack for rain. Pack for bugs. Don’t pack sunscreen - buy it there because they have a particular kind that’s safe for the reefs. Pack water shoes for hiking - it is super slippy.
There’s a reason why they’ve filmed so many movies here. It is absolutely beautiful, and I cannot emphasize it enough.