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The Definitive Guide To Kauai Vacations in 2020

information iconAbout This Guide

This is the ultimate guide to Kauai, Hawaii in 2020. And let's do this the right way:
This is NOT your average “Top 10 things..." list.
Yes, we’ll cover the most-visited favorites. But you’re also going to find hidden experiences that our clients remember for decades. So if you’re looking to explore Kauai, you’ll love this new guide.

About Kauai iconGet Your Bearings on Kauai

Overview of Kauai

Considered to be one of the most beautiful locations in the world, Kauai surrounds you with lush tropical beauty. The abundance of forested environments makes this "The Garden Isle". Treat your senses with our Kauai vacations. Enjoy beautiful horizons, magnificent rainbows, jewel-tone oceans, exotic flowers and colorful birds. Kauai is a serene island with a multitude of spectacular beaches. You could spend months here and still not get to them all. Driving time from one end of the island to the other is approximately 1.5 hours. It is not possible to circumnavigate the island by car.

Kauai Facts

  • Size: 552 Square Miles
  • Length: 33 Miles
  • Width: 25 Miles
  • Coastline: 90 Miles
  • Population: 61,929

Kauai Airports

  • Main Kauai Airport: Lihue Airport (LIH)
  • Driving from the airport:
  • From Lihue airport to: Poipu: 14 miles (30 min)
  • Waimea Canyon: 36 miles (1.5 hrs)
  • Wailua: 7 miles (15 min)
  • Princeville: 30 miles (1 hr)
  • Haena: 40 miles (1.25 hrs)

Kauai Weather

The wettest spot on Earth" can be found on the island of Kauai. Although the city of Waimea averages only 21 inches of rain per year and Poipu averages 85 inches, Mt. Waialeale averages an astounding 486 inches of rain per year, more than anywhere else in the world. Temperatures on Kauai are comparable to the other islands, with average temperatures on the coast averaging 70 to 77 degrees, and the mountains averaging 55 to 65 degrees throughout the day. Occasionally at night in the winter the temperatures in Kokeie state park can drop into the thirties.

A Brief History of Kauai

Kauai was the first Hawaiian island to break the surface of the Pacific ocean, over 5.1 million years ago, and last island to join the Hawaiian Kingdom. After a series of planned invasions by King Kamehameha which went awry due to weather and epidemics, Kauai was peacefully submitted to Kamehameha in 1810. It was also the first island in the Hawaiian chain to be visited by Capt. James Cook, in 1778 when he landed on the shores of Waimea, Kauai's former capital. The seat of Kauai County is now Lihue, the most populated city on the island. The people of Kauai were once known for their distinct version of the Hawaiian language (before the language went extinct). Their dialect was known for pronouncing the letter "K" as "T", making the name of the island "Tauai". The island of Nihau is one of the only places on Earth that the original Hawaiian language is still spoken, and until recently the small island off the coast of Kauai was only allowed to be visited by native Hawaiians. The beauty of Kauai has made it a favorite for movie directors looking for a tropical setting, the most notable example of which is the 1993 film Jurassic Park. The fact that it is also one of the most westerly points in the United States makes it the ideal site for the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility.

Things to do in Kauai iconThings To Do in Kauai

Land Experiences4

Luaus on Kauai

The traditional Hawaiian luau can only be found in Hawaii and thus your visit to Kauai would be incomplete without attending at least one Hawaiian feast. There are a number of Hawaiian luaus on Kauai and they all include luau food, hula dancing the fire dance and other aspects popularized most recently in the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch.

Kauai luaus are essentially a giant feast which includes Hawaiian entertainment such as the hula dancing and a considerable amount of socialization in the tradition of the "aloha spirit".

THE FOOD: No Hawaiian feast is complete without luau food and the sharing of the "gift of food" is an integral part of every Hawaiian luau on Kauai. The main ingredient in any of the luaus is what is referred to as the "Kalua Pork" or pig. Preparations for the cooking of the pig are begun early in the morning of the day of your Kauai luau. A large pit is dug in the sand, which is called the "imu". Dry, Kiawe hardwood (known in North America as Mesquite) is placed into the pit with many rounded river rocks assembled on top. The wood is lit on fire and after a couple of hours all that is left on the bottom are hot coals and incredibly hot rocks which will maintain the heat for hours to come. The rocks are then evened out on the bottom of the pit and juicy fresh cut banana stalks are placed on top followed by banana leaves to provide a bed to place the pig upon. The pig is then place in the pit and covered with more banana leaves and ti leaves and usually a gunnysack to keep the heat in. A tarp of some kind is then placed over the whole affair and then the pit is covered with beach sand. The rocks heat the juicy banana stalks causing a steam or pressure cooker effect in the imu and after about 6 to 8 hours the pig is unveiled. The intense steam has cooked the meat to the extent that it just falls away from the bone and the moisture from the banana stalks has kept the meat moist and delicious.

Other delicacies which are usually provided at Kauai luaus are chicken long rice, lomi lomi salmon, haupia (coconut desert), poi (very nutritious), veggies, salad, steaks, roasted chicken, fresh fish, rice, lots of specialty items, deserts and much more. An open bar is also usually provided on most Kauai luaus which includes Mai Tai's and other adult beverages. The children are provided with lots to drink as well. Although you will probably find a number of the items on your plate at your Hawaiian feast that are unusual to say the least, you can rest assured that there will still be plenty of luau food available that has some semblance of what you are familiar with.

Eco Adventures - Outfitters Kauai

The Zipline is designed, built and operated according to the highest safety standards as set by the ACCT (the Association for Challenge Course Technology). The setting is magnificent: a 1/4 mile foot trail through the jungle leads to a steep valley at the confluence of two streams with a 150 foot waterfall tumbling over fern covered black basalt boulders on one side and a lazy 80 foot wide tropical stream on the other.

The steep terrain allows for a ground level launching platform that wraps a huge Banyan tree with a 30 ft diameter trunk. Participants (Zippers) are outfitted with mountain climbing harnesses and helmets and walk through a labyrinth of aerial Banyan roots to arrive at the gated take-off area.

A protocol is followed in which the Outfitters Kauai Guide runs through an equipment checklist and attaches a tether from the Zippers' harness to a two-wheeled trolley that rides on the zip cable. The gate opens, the Zipper takes a giant step and zooooom: you are sailing 50 ft above ground, over rivers and waterfalls and through the treetops at a speed of 35 mph.

Working your way back to the starting point is half the fun! You'll cross streams and waterfalls on a foot trail that leads to a Swiss Family Robinson style system of aerial platforms and stairs that take you back to the launching pad to do it again.

Minimum 6 passengers Maximum 13 passengers.

Horseback Riding on Kauai

Horseback rides on Kauai are among the most exhilarating and beautiful of any riding tours that can be found in Hawaii and are among the most fun Kauai activities available. Horseback riding Kauai is an experience not to be missed if you have a passion for horses combined with unbelievably beautiful scenery.

There are a number of stables on Kauai and they offer a variety of different types of horseback rides. Another less lengthy ride allows you to trot and canter into a forest reserve with panoramic ocean and mountain views. Taste a guava, smell the camphor, and feel the paper bark trees.

This is an exceptional opportunity to learn about Kauai's history and culture. Still other horseback rides take you along the spectacular ocean bluffs in the Princeville area or back along jungled streams to a delicious waterfall and pool where you can swim and have a picnic lunch.

Other horseback rides are similar but also include a kayak river ride. Horseback riding tours are tailored to both beginners and the experienced horseman.

Hawaii Movie Tours on Kauai

SEE KAUAI THROUGH HOLLYWOOD'S EYES - Travel in a theater on wheels, beautiful 15 passenger vans with TV's and surround sound, to filming locations of some of Hollywood's most famous movies.

Check-in: Pick-up available on East Shore (Kapa'a/Wailua) and South Shore (Poipu area) Capacity: 14 Passenger, Custom Mini-Buses and 15 Passenger, 4X4 Touring Vans Equipment: Air-conditioned vans with TV's, VCR's and surround sound system

Water Experiences6

Dolphin Excursions on Kauai

The ultimate fantasy of visitors to Kauai would be swimming with the dolphins in the wild in the waters off Hawaii. The Hawaiian name for dolphin is nai'`a, and refers to all species of dolphins found in Hawaiian waters. Four species of dolphins are regularly found in the waters around Hawaii. They are the Pacific bottlenose dolphin, the Rough-toothed dolphin, the Spotted dolphin and the Spinner dolphin. Other dolphin species have been known to pass through the islands but are relatively rare.

The two most popular species of dolphins located in Hawaiian waters are the bottlenose dolphins and the spinner dolphins. Spinner dolphins are the smallest of Hawaii's common dolphins. They are generally between five and six feet in length and weigh 130 to 200 pounds. Hawaii has its own subspecies that is easy to recognize by its distinctive "three-tone" color pattern which consists of a sharply defined dark gray "cape" on their backs, a stripe of lighter gray on their sides and a white or pink belly. This species gets its name from its spectacular habit of leaping high into the air and spinning several times on their tails before falling back into the water. Researchers are not sure why the dolphins spin, but most people who have had the opportunity to watch the dolphins don't seem to mind, and find it a real treat. Around Hawaii, spinner dolphins congregate at night in large herds in the deep channels between the islands to feed. During the day, they break up into smaller groups and come near shore to rest and play. A few of the places where they can commonly be seen are in Kealake'akua Bay on the island of Hawaii, off the Leeward Coast of Oahu, on the southern boundries of Maui and off the coastline of Lanai.

The life cycle of dolphins is similar to that of other cetaceans. As mammals, dolphins bear live young and the mothers nurse them on milk and provide care. A dolphin calf is born tail-first with eyes open, senses alert and enough muscular coordination to follow its mother immediately. At birth, the mother helps her calf to the surface to get its first breath. While nursing lasts between one and a half to two years, the mother will remain with her calf for a period between three and eight years. There is some variation in the age at which sexual maturity is reached, the reproduction rate and the life expectancy among the different species of dolphins. Most species tend to bear one calf every other year or so during their reproductively active years and are believed to have an average life expectancy of about thirty years.

As anyone who has had the opportunity to watch dolphins perform in a show can attest, dolphins have an impressive ability to learn and imitate behaviors, often for what appears the sheer pleasure of doing so. This observation, together with their large brain size, has led to numerous studies of dolphin intelligence. Dolphins' brains are about the size of our own. *Much of the information found above was provided by Earthtrust and the Hawaii Department of Education.

Snorkeling on Kauai

Kauai snorkeling, with its attendant snorkel boats, snorkeling trips, snuba adventures, snorkeling from shore, family snorkeling activities and various other tours are among the most interesting activities that Kauai has to offer. Kauai's coastline is both varied and beautiful ranging from the more gentle inlets and coves of the Poipu and south shore region to the dramatic, isolated and incredible shoreline of the Na Pali Coast.

Kauai has a large fleet of snorkeling boats and snorkeling charters offering trips that traverse the Kauai shoreline which is often teeming with marine life. Dolphins are very often a part of the marine landscape on many of the snorkeling charters and the whales seen off the Kauai coast during whale season are often many more than the island is generally given credit for.

Many snorkeling areas also include extensive coral reefs and a full complement of reef fish. Kauai is also one of the few islands that provide snorkeling trips that depart from the shoreline rather than from a boat. These trips will take you via van to some of the very best snorkeling locations and the water entry from the beach often makes the snorkel experience a bit less intimadating for the less initiated. These are great family activities for snorkeling. Snuba tours are also included in the complement of Kauai snorkel trips. Snuba is a cross between scuba diving and snorkeling. A scuba tank is allowed to float on a floatation device at the surface above you. You swim perhaps twenty feet or so below and inhale air through a tube or hose. There are no tanks on your back.

These tours also have entry from the shoreline so many beginners feel a bit more comfortable in trying this new experience.

Sunset Cruises on Kauai

Of all the evening activities or Kauai activities in general available on Kauai perhaps the most romantic are the Kauai sunset cruises, Kauai sunset sails, the so called Kauai booze cruises or Kauai cocktail cruises. The sun sets into the blue Pacific in the west and behind your sunset sail to the east the emerald mountains and cloud shrouded peaks with perhaps a rainbow or two light up with every vivid color imaginable. If there was ever a moment that will be etched into your memory forevermore it will be this one.

A sunset sail or sunset cruise is a good call for any evening of your vacation but perhaps the very best time would be your last evening on the island for a fond farewell. The Na Pali coastline on Kauai is a favorite destination for most sunset sail boats. This uninhabited and uniquely beautiful setting is one of the most famous coastlines anywhere in the world.

Many of the blockbuster movies you've seen back home have been filmed here and your vantage point from the sea is the only way this coastline can be viewed other than from the air.

The rugged beauty of this area makes it impassable via land vehicles and this makes your sunset cruise all the more special.

Kayaking on Kauai

Whether you're interested in river kayaking, ocean kayaking, kayaking tours, kayak eco-tours, Na Pali Coast kayaking tours, kayaking Kauai through its rainforests and jungles or waterfall trips via the various kayak companies found on the island you will not be disappointed. Kayaking on Kauai is an experience you should not miss.

The island of Kauai is the oldest of the major islands in the Hawaiian chain and is the only Hawaiian island that has navigable rivers suitable for river kayaking, kayaking tours and other forms of Kauai kayaking. Its volcanoes have been extinct for about 5 million years. Being the northern most island in the chain also means that it is most often the first island that clouds from the northern and western Pacific basin are drawn to as they gather from thousands of miles in all directions.

Three of the most beautiful rivers are the Wailua River, the Hule'ia River and the Hanalei River. The Wailua River is probably the most traveled and winds kayakers deep into the islands interior. Its waters are very calm and beautiful. They are so calm in fact that the first portion of the river is actually used for water skiing as well. The Hule'ia River is located in the Lihue area and winds through the beautiful Kipu Ranch which has been the site of many Hollywood movies including Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Arc. The beautiful Hanalei River is the least traveled and can be found in the unbelievably beautiful Hanalei Valley emptying into picturesque Hanalei Bay in Kauai's northern sector.

Most of Kauai's kayaking companies which feature river kayaking, eco-tours kayaking, and kayaking in rain forests, waterfalls and jungle can be found on the Wailua, Hule'ia or Hanalei rivers. Kayaking on Kauai can also take the form of ocean kayaking as much of Kauai can only be seen from the vantage point of the ocean or the air. The ocean kayaking tours on the famous Na Pali coast are particularly spectacular but are generally reserved for the Winter months when the northern ocean swells and giant surf have subsided.

Diving on Kauai - Mana Divers

Boat Dives are eco-informed and completely full service. The first dive will be the deepest dive with an average of 70-80 feet. The second dive will be the shallower dive with an average of 60 feet. Beginner dives are limited to a depth of 40 feet. Snacks and refreshments are available throughout the tour.

Exploring the Napali Coast of Kauai

The Na Pali Coast on Kauai is one of the most spectacular, picturesque and beautiful coastlines to be found anywhere in Hawaii. The Napali Coast features many of the Kauai tours and Na Pali Coast tours which include eco tours, Na Pali Coast hikes, a variety of cruises, and kayaking the Napali Coast. There's no doubt about it! The Na Pali coast is simply spectacular.

The Napali Coast is isolated from the rest of Kauai by its tremendous and almost impassible cliffs which descend thousands of feet from the mountains above directly into the ocean. This coastline is believed to have been the original home of the first Hawaiians arriving on Kauai.

Although the environment with its steep cliffs and often harsh ocean conditions may seem inhospitable, it actually provided very nourishing living conditions. There was plenty of fresh water, the valleys were lush with abundant fruit and plant life which also allowed for a certain degree of cultivation and the ocean waters provided amble quanties of fresh fish and marine life. Small villages were established and thousands of Hawaiians were known to have lived back up in these beautiful valleys. The Na Pali Coast is very, very special.

The cliffs consist of a robust tapestry of deep and narrow valleys ending abruptly at the sea. Geologically speaking, this type of valley is referred to as a "hanging valley". Instead of the valley continuing onward along the sea floor out to sea it ends abruptly at the sea shore where the constant and vigorous wave action carves the valley floor away at cliffs edge. Waterfalls and raging streams continue to this day to cut these narrow valleys. Extensive stone walled flat terracing can still be found on the valley floors where Hawaiians once lived and harvested their taro.

There is a vast array of boats that ply the waters off the Na Pali coast to witness natures spectacle from the perspective of the ocean, to snorkel the beautiful waters and to experience the numerous dolphins and whales (in season) along the way. Our "fleet" varies from large and stable power driven vessels to sail boats to zodiac rafts. The majority of boats will depart from Port Allen or Waimea areas. Trips also vary with the time of year.

Summer is the most opportune time to visit the Na Pali coast as the sea conditions are usually much milder. The winter time brings in the northern swells and often makes the waters along the Na Pali coastline very treacherous and impossible to negotiate, however some winter days can be excellent as well.

Air Experiences1

Kauai Helicopter and Air Tours

Kauai helicopter tours are arguably among the best helicopter rides of any in Hawaii. Helicopter tour companies on Kauai abound as the helicopter rides are spectacular beyond words. Kauai was the first of the major Hawaiian Islands to rise from the ocean floor and it was the first to become extinct some 5 million years ago.

Nature has also had the most time to carve her spectacular features providing the unbelievable landscape for Kauai's sensational helicopter flights. Kauai boasts the wettest spot on the planet at Mount EleEle averaging over 400 inches a year. The tremendous rainfall has produced the most remarkable sheer valleys, razor sharp ridges descending to the sea and most amazing array of waterfalls to be assembled anywhere in the world.

The extreme sea and wave action has also had a tremendous effect upon Kauai's spectacular coastline producing the famous Na Pali coast with pristine cliffs and caves stretching 11 miles on Kauai's northern shore.

Kauai was the first of the Hawaiian Islands to offer helicopter tours, helicopter rides and to provide helicopter charters. Helicopter tour companies on Kauai now include a number of helicopter charters many of which are world famous. These are a few of the helicopter companies now in operation on the island of Kauai: Jack Harter Helicopters, South Sea Helicopters, Will Squires Helicopters, Ohana Helicopters, Island Helicopters, Bali Hai Helicopters and Heli-USA Helicopters. Kauai is just about the perfect size for a helicopter flight. You can easily and thoroughly see the entire island in just one hour.

If it fits within your budget, a helicopter ride is the one activity that is a must for you on Kauai. You will never see anything like this again, anywhere in the world. Kauai helicopter tours and Kauai helicopter flights are as good as it gets and the helicopter tour companies on Kauai are among the best you will find.

Resort Areas in Kauai iconExplore all the Resort Areas in Kauai

Poipu

Hanalei

Princeville

Kapaa

Wailua

Coconut Coast

Anini

Lihue

North Shore

Haena

Kapaa / Wailua

Waimea

Hanapepe

Kalaheo

Hanalei / Princeville

Best Beaches in Kauai iconFind the Best Beaches in Kauai

Poipu

Mahaulepu Beach

Mahaulepu Beach is two miles of lovely natural Kauai shoreline, virtually untouched by modern life. One of the island's major coastal hiking trails leads straight to the beach's idyllic stretch of red-gold sand at the foot of the 1,500-foot high Haupu Ridge's sea cliffs.

The gorgeous isolated ocean wilderness ambiance is beautiful but there are no lifeguards or facilities.

Scientists spend much time studying this unspoiled tropical spot, but it's also a popular place to swim, windsurf, shell hunt, and take leisurely private strolls.

Just west of the sandy parking lot is a reef-sheltered lagoon that's ideal for a dip. Outside of that location, large waves and strong currents can make swimming risky.

To reach the secluded beach, drive about 3 miles east past the Hyatt Regency on Poipu Rd., pass a golf course and stables along the dirt road and turn right at the T intersection. Turn let at the big sand dune and park in the small lot under the trees about a half mile down.

Poipu Beach Park

The two sections of Poipu Beach are divided by Nukumoi Point (a strip of sand called a tombolo, created by ocean currents rushing from opposite directions). The left side is a protected sandy-bottomed pool of water surrounded by lava boulders perfect as a wading spot for small children, and the right side is an open bay great for swimming, snorkeling, and surfing.

Hawaiian Monk Seals are critically endangered and usually solitary creatures that weigh 400 - 600 pounds each, but one momma seal has delivered and weaned her pups on this beach for the past couple of years and her small family now comes with a Monk Seal Watch team to protect them.

The human swimmers are watched by lifeguards on duty and there are restrooms, showers, and free parking facilities available. The park's grassy picnic area is a nice place to eat under shady coconut trees.

Poipu is a popular and safe beach with crystal clear water, great reefs and tide pools to explore.

To get there, turn off Hwy. 530 onto Poipu Beach Rd. then right onto Hoowili Rd. where you'll find the beach parking lot.

Prince Kuhio Park

Prince Kuhio Park is an historical and cultural site in Kauai, marking the birthplace of Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole, one of Hawaii's most cherished royals and the last heir to the royal Hawaiian throne. He worked tirelessly for native Hawaiian rights and was a delegate to Congress for 20 years; his birthday, March 26, is still celebrated as a state holiday. The park includes the foundation of his royal home, a fishpond, and a temple made of lava rocks.

It sits across the street from rocky Ho'ai Bay, where swimmers usually don't venture but divers relish the offshore reef and snorkelers love the turtles and other sea life they find in the shallow protected areas among the rocks.

Take Poipu Rd. toward the ocean and veer right onto Lawai Beach Rd.

Spouting Horn Beach Park

Erosion has carved openings in the top and side of a lava shelf at Spouting Horn Beach, where waves now crash through and force water and air up to create a cool blowhole with sound effects. It's part geyser (just not caused by heat and steam as real geysers are) and part blowhorn since somehow air alone is pushed through one of the holes.

There are multiple legends to explain the resulting eerie roar: a dragon god mourning the loss of his sisters fell into the lava tube when tears blurred his vision and he continues to cry for them; a trapped lizard goddess who chased a fisherman into the cave and became stuck continues to moan and growl in anger.

Another blowhole actually used to sit nearby and spray water up to 200 feet high, but that one was dynamited in the 1920's because the salt water spray was ruining the area's sugar cane crops.

The rocky shoreline is very slippery and the large waves are powerful, so enjoy the sights and sounds but don't try to inspect the blowhole phenomenon too closely. When the waters are calm, there is a small swimming beach just west of the hole, but that sand virtually disappears when the surf kicks up.

Mostly diving, snorkeling, and tour groups enjoy the area from offshore and there is free parking available in a paved lot that includes arts and crafts vendors and restrooms. Go early if you can, since lots of visitors and tour busses drop in later in the day.

Take Poipu Rd. towards the water then take the right fork in the road where it curves onto Lawai Beach Rd. Signs will mark the beach parking lot a couple miles up on your left.

Hanalei

Hanalei Beach

Famous Hanalei Bay is a spectacular location with a picturesque Hawaiian beach. It's a sort of natural circle, half of which is a beautiful wide curve of sand set against ancient volcanic cliffs, the other half made up of coral reefs underwater, sprinkled with what's left of an ancient king's sunken ship to complete the ring.

It's a diver's paradise, but also perfect for sunbathing, Frisbee-throwing, sunset strolling, and swimming, especially at the westernmost curve where the water remains relatively calm most of the time. The beach's gentle surf is always soothing, but in summer the swimming is more carefree as the water turns into a smooth glassy lake.

The beach has 2 miles of shoreline and runs almost a full mile inland (travel a couple miles farther inland and see waterfalls falling from 4,000 feet!). It's almost always busy and is also a great spot for surfing, fishing, snorkeling, windsurfing, and kayaking. There are lifeguard, picnic, parking, and restroom facilities, plus a boat ramp on the Hanalei river bank leading into the bay.

Pass Princeville on Hwy. 56 then turn right onto Aku Rd. (off what is then Hwy. 560) in Hanalei town. Take another right onto Weke Rd. and the parking lot with beach access is at the end.

Princeville

Kapaa

Wailua

Coconut Coast

Anahola State Park

Anahola State Park beach provides Kauai's safest swimming for small children, with a shallow reef just offshore protecting its coast from high surf. Surfers are actually required to stick to the northern end of the beach so there are no boards near the shallow swimming area, either.

The narrow sandy beach off Anahola Road receives shade from lush trees and is wonderful for picnics, snorkeling, wading, and scuba diving. Lifeguards are on duty on the weekends and holidays and there are restrooms, showers, and picnic table facilities.

Some slippery rocks and sharp coral are scattered in the water though, and you must watch out for occasional strong currents, high surf, and large wave breaks.

The beach park is off of Hwy. 56 - go north from Lihue, take a right on Anahola Road(by mile marker 13) and go about a half a mile down to the park.

Anini

Anini Beach County Park

Anini Beach is a 3-mile curve of golden sand with shallow sparkling blue lagoon waters along the north shore of Kauai. With emerald cliffs on one edge and one of the longest and widest fringing reefs in all of Hawaii protecting it from the deeper ocean on the other, Anini's 5 or so feet of warm water provides the best snorkeling location on the island. Paddle around there for hours and enjoy the brightly colored fish and reef scenery, or venture to the northwest side where a 60-foot drop in the reef's channel allows for deeper scuba diving expeditions.

This is one of the island's safest beaches for swimming, windsurfing, and kayaking, although there can be occasional dangerous rip currents when the surf is particularly high. It's relatively secluded and less crowded than some of the other Kauai beaches, but you'll definitely have some company there too, especially on weekends. Anini is classified as a County park. There's a campground (pick up a County permit to stay overnight), picnic, barbecue, and restroom facilities, and even a boat-launch ramp provided.

From Hwy. 56 to Kilauea, take the second exit called Kalihiwai Rd. After a half mile, turn left on Anini Beach Rd. (You can also walk there from Wyllies beach via a casual tree-lined footpath down from the road that is actually an historic route that once circumnavigated all of Kauai.)

Lihue

Hanamaulu Beach

Hanamaulu Beach is at the edge of a large bay near Lihue shielded from the open ocean where the Hanamaulu stream enters the larger body of water. It forms a lagoon area where fish school for periods of time as they migrate so there's great scuba diving, fishing and sometimes swimming.

The best picnic spot is in the tree-shaded area on the quiet little strip of sand. If you walk upstream from the bay, the wooded banks of the water are particularly fun and camping is allowed with a permit in the 6 ½ acre park.

The beach is off of Kuhio Hwy. (go to Hanamaula Rd., then right onto Hehi Rd.) and there is no lifeguard but restrooms and showers are nearby.

Kalapaki Beach

Kalapaki Beach is a lovely crescent-shaped sand beach in front of the Kauai Marriott Resort and the Kauai Lagoons championship golfcourse.

The Hoary Head mountains and Haupu Ridge that protects the bay can be seen from the sand and the beach faces the shimmering Nawilwili Bay and Harbor itself.

You can find volleyball, sailboat rentals, catamaran cruises, and surf lessons nearby and there are some nice swells so it's a great spot for swimming, surfing and boogie boarding (with occasional strong currents and dangerous shorebreaks to look out for).

A popular picnic area is in the adjacent Nawilwili Park and facilities can be found in the nearby Anchor Cove Shopping Center.

Although there's no Kalapaki Beach sign, follow the "Shoreline Access" sign just past the Marriott to find one of the best east coast beaches on Kauai. (Or turn right off of Nawiliili Rd. onto Wa'apa and the harbor will be on your left).

Ninini Beach

Fresh water pours out from under a bluff and across Ninini Beach during heavy rains, so the name is appropriate (Ninini means "pouring"), but it actually got its nickname, Running Waters Beach, because of an irrigation runoff that used to flow into the area.

It's a relatively small and secluded spot at the northern end of Nawiliwili Harbor where two sandy coves are separated by a lava rock formation.

It's a wonderful spot for snorkeling, swimming, and occasional bodysurfing (but can be hit quickly with dangerously high surf from sudden southern storms) and is sometimes frequented by nudists, although that's not legal in the state.

The larger of the two coves slopes slightly towards the sparkling water and is a great place to lay in the sun. The beach is about ¼ mile from Ninini Point, where the Nawiliwili Bay Lighthouse sits.

Drive along Akukini Road towards the ocean, turn right on a dirt road that follows the water, then walk from the lighthouse down trails to the beach. Or park at the golf course clubhouse near the Kauai Marriott Resort.

There's no lifeguard on duty, though, and you'll need to walk back to wherever you parked to find facilities.

North Shore

Kee Beach State Park

Kee Beach State Park on Kauai's north shore sits at the foot of the Napali Coast trail that leads up to the volcanic cliffs surrounding this beautiful cove. A reef protects its waters, making it wonderful for swimming and snorkeling (the open ocean's strong current and huge waves make it dangerous to go out past the reef's edge, though).

Gentle waves from the generally tranquil waters crash against the small strip of golden shore and the amazing view of the cliffs create a wonderful ambiance. Make sure to avoid it at high surf times, though, since waves can kick up to 20 feet high.

It's also a somewhat famous scenic spot, since part of the "Thornbirds" movie was filmed here.

There is no lifeguard on duty, but there are restrooms and showers plus free parking.

You need to park in the same spots as the hikers heading up the trails use, though, so get there early and bring any food or drinks you might need. At the end of Hwy. 560, about 7 ½ miles past Hanalei.

Haena

Lumahai Beach

Lumahai Beach has been photographed from almost all angles (among other claims to fame, it served as the setting for the 1957 film "South Pacific"). It's a very wide stretch of sand backed by cliffs with lush vegetation and is about ¾ of a mile long.

Lumahai sits between Haena and Hanalei Bay on Kauai's north shore and is great for picnics under the trees, photography, and wave watching.

There is no offshore reef protecting this beach, so the waves are very large and very strong. The force moves the sand around so much that it actually changes the shape of the beach itself each year.

There are no restrooms or lifeguards around and swimming is not recommended, but the scenery is fantastic and it's a wonderful place to hear the roar of the waves.

Sit back from the shoreline to enjoy the view, though, since the strong high surf can arrive quickly, break dangerously, and pull back powerfully. You might like seeing some professional (or daredevil) body and board surfers around, but keep the strong current and waves in mind before you consider joining them.

Park at the scenic lookout off Hwy. 560 just after Hanalei, then take the trail to the beach below.

Kapaa / Wailua

Lydgate State Park

Lydgate State Park sits along the Coconut coast near the mouth of the Wailua River and includes a rock-walled fishpond that takes the edge off of direct ocean waves. The one-acre beach park offers some of the only protected waters on Kauai's east coast and is a fun place to swim, snorkel, and feed the clouds of fish that will appear if you sprinkle frozen peas in the water for them.

Lydgate also has lifeguards on duty and they, along with the calm and clear water of the enclosed pool, make it a very safe spot.

The sandy beach is also popular for picnics, kite flying, and strolling, and includes restrooms and showers. Volunteers built a playground at this park, where the coconut grove once served as an ancient safe ground for Hawaiians who had broken the law.

It's about 5 miles north of Lihue on Hwy. 56, just before the Kauai Resort Hotel. Turn right on Leho Dr. at mile marker 5 then take the second right into the beach parking lot.

Wailua Beach

Wailua Beach on Kauai's eastern Coconut coast is a popular half mile long (and 100 feet wide) belt of white-sand with mountains, waterfalls, and scenic tours nearby. Wailua River State Park and Wailua Bay are both part of the beach, where surf conditions are great and swimming, water-skiing, kayaking, and canoeing are a regular part of the activities.

Strong rip currents and sudden drop-offs can become dangerous during winter, though, and conditions at Wailua are sometimes unsafe.

There are ancient Hawaiian temples and sacred sites within the state park, near the mouth of the Wailea River, and although there are no restrooms, a lifeguard is on duty part time.

The beach is just past the intersection of Hwy. 56 and Hwy. 580.

Waimea

Polihale State Park

Polihale State Park is Kauai's westernmost point at the end of Old Mana Rd. and includes both Polihale and Barking Sands beaches to form Hawaii's longest beach - a 17 mile stretch of sparkling white sand that's hundreds of yards wide. It starts just beyond Waimea by Kekaha plantation town and the cliffs of Napali can be seen from the northern end.

Surf, breaks, and currents can be extremely strong since the beach is unprotected from the ocean and waves come crashing in. Swimming is particularly dangerous in the winter but the small, shallow pool called Queen's Pond (near mile marker 3.4 along the cane road) is protected from the waves by a circle of reef and is almost always the safest spot to swim.

The park includes ancient Hawaiian burial and temple sites and a view of the forbidden island of Niihau plus sand dunes that can reach nearly 100 feet high. There are restroom, shower, picnic, and camping facilities but no lifeguard.

Follow signs to Polihale off Hwy. 50, where you'll pass Barking Sands Missile Range and sugar cane fields before you get to the park. Continue onto the dirt road at the end of the paved one but be careful when driving on the sand.

Hanapepe

Salt Pond Beach Park

Salt Pond Beach Park in West Kauai just outside Hanapepe is the only natural salt pond in the state still in production - descendants of ancient Hawaiians still use the salt crystals dried in sun beds to make tangy sea salt.

You need permission to enter the salt-making area but the rest of the crescent-shaped white sand beach is open to the public and it's a great place to windsurf, swim, and collect shells.

A reef partially protects the waters and rocks create a shallow bathing pool, small lagoons, and tidepools to explore. Swimming is generally safe year-round in the clear-watered cove created by two lava shelf rock outcroppings on either end of the pond. Snorkel, swim, scuba dive, fish, or explore the sea life.

Sunsets are particularly stunning, with coconut trees swaying nearby and colorful reflections off gentle waves.

Camping is allowed with a permit and this beach has a lifeguard, picnic area with pavilions and grills, parking, and restrooms with showers.

Located at the end of Route 543 from Hanapepe (take Hwy. 50 past Hanapepe and turn onto Lokokai Rd.).

Kalaheo

Hanalei / Princeville

Golf in Kauai iconWhere to Golf in Kauai

Poipu

Kiahuna Golf Club

  • Address: 2545 Kiahuna Plantation Dr. Koloa
  • Fees*: $90
  • Par: 70
  • Yards: 6,885
  • Slope: 134

Description: Kiahuna Golf Club, designed by world-famous golf course architect Robert Trent Jones, Jr., is skillfully structured around many ancient remnants of authentic Hawaiian culture.

The course plays to a hearty 6,885 yards from the new Championship tees to a par 70 with a rating of 73.5 and slope of 134. Abundant water hazards, bunkers and challenging trade winds make this a golf course for all levels of shotmaking.

Poipu Bay Resort Golf course

  • Address: 2250 Ainako St. Poipu
  • Fees*: $145
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 6,959
  • Slope: 132

Description: This 18 hole par 72 course for 6,959/5,241 yds has ancient native archeological sites preserved on site. Views look off to the mountains, beach, and cliffs of Keoneloa Bay.

It is located 16 miles south of Lihue. It opened in 1990 and was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. There are no caddies and carts are included in greens fees. High season is January to May and golfers can call up to two days in advance for tee times.

It is the site of the MasterCard PGA Grand Slam. Golfers rate it a tough course with windy conditions and great ocean views and scenery. Green fee includes range balls, bag tag, towel, water, tees and marker.

Hanalei

Princeville

Kapaa

Wailua

Coconut Coast

Anini

Lihue

Mokihana Course at Kauai Lagoons Golf Club

  • Address: 3351 Hoolaulea Way. Lihue
  • Fees*: $120
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 6,960
  • Slope: 127

Description: The 6,900-yard course was crafted for players of all skill levels. The course is marked by Scottish-style rolling links, open fairways and a relative lack of forced carries. Indigenous island landscaping flourishes in exquisite harmony with its tropical setting.

The Mokihana's challenges come within 150-yards of the hole, where undulating greens, serpentine waste areas and creative bunkers can add strokes if one is not mindful.

The Mokihana has been rated by Golf Magazine as one of the ten most playable courses in America. It has breathtaking views of Mt. Waialeale, the extinct volcano that gave birth to the island of Kauai.

Puakea Golf Course

  • Address: 4150 Nuhou Rd. Lihue
  • Fees*: $125
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 6,061
  • Slope: 135

Description: Rainbows, views of the Pacific Ocean and lush landscape that was used in the Jurassic Park films are what you will experience in addition to the great golf at Puakea Golf Course.

Robin Nelson, Hawaii's most prolific golf course architect, designed the course to play around deep ravines and streams fed by fresh mountain rain water. With the inspirational terrain and calming mountain range backdrop, you'll find Puakea Golf Course to play differently with the Hawaiian tradewinds coming into play.

Nelson's masterful architecture clearly conveys the routes one should take to achieve textbook pars. He hints enticingly at ways to achieve challenging birdies. Being able to read the greens will be key in this challenge.

Kiele Course at Kauai Lagoons Resort

  • Address: 3351 Hoolaulea Way Lihue
  • Fees*: $170
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 7,070
  • Slope: 137

Description: This resort, which was named to "GOLF Magazine's" 1998 list of "Gold Medal Resorts," features two regulation eighteen hole courses. The Kiele Course is very demanding and requires several shots over ravines. The Lagoons Course is a bit easier and much more forgiving off the tee.

Carts are mandatory on the Kiele Course, while golfers may walk the Lagoon Course at designated times. It's said that when Jack Nicklaus created the Kiele Course, the terrain lent itself so well to his vision that he made but a single change to his original design. So it's no surprise that this incredible 7,070-yard resort course is hailed as one of the finest golf gems in the Pacific.

The Kiele has a sense of style uniquely its own. Fairways weave along imposing ocean cliffs, over promontories high above Nawiliwili Harbor, and among some 40-acres of fresh water lagoons. Lush groves of exotic foliage thrive amongst the holes. A solitary rotunda sits on the water off the 17th tee: an exquisite wedding chapel.

Every hole is marked by a white marble statue of an animal or mystical being: Happy Buddha, Elephant, Swan, Dragon, and of course, The Golden Bear, in tribute to the master golfer who master-minded the course.

North Shore

Haena

Kapaa / Wailua

Wailua Golf Course

  • Address: 3-5351 Kuhio Hwy. Kapaa
  • Fees*: $35
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 6,585
  • Slope: 125

Description: This course is situated along the shores of the Pacific Ocean with mountains also being visible in the background. The front nine holes are fairly flat and wide open, while the back nine holes feature several elevation changes.

Many coconut and pine trees, as well as numerous sand bunkers, are found throughout the course. The greens are undulating and well-protected, making them very challenging.

The club hosted the USGA National Public Links Tournament in 1985. Locals consider it one of the best municipal courses in the state. "Golf Digest" ranked it 25th among the "Top 75 Public Courses" in 1990, and 2nd best under the category of "America's Top 75 Affordable Courses" in their list of "America's Best Golf Courses Everyone Can Play" for 1996.

Waimea

Hanapepe

Kalaheo

Kukuiolono Park & Golf Course

  • Address: 854 Puu Rd. Kalaheo
  • Fees*: $7
  • Par: 36
  • Yards: 2,981
  • Slope: 116

Description: This public golf course was built in 1929 and later donated to the state by Walter McBryde. It was only the second course to be built on Kauui. Today is one of the finest, and certainly the least expensvie course in the state.

For only $7 per day, a person can play to their hearts content. The park features a small Japanese Garden, legend stones and beautiful panoramic views.

Hanalei / Princeville

Princeville Makai Golf Course

  • Address: 3080 Lei papa Rd. Princeville
  • Fees*: $125
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 6,306
  • Slope: 145

Description: In collaboration with nature, Robert Trent Jones, Jr. has fashioned 45 of the most beautiful, tropical holes of golf in the world. They range along green bluffs that skirt mountains and the bluest ocean, offering stunning views everywhere you look.

Golf Digest has named The Prince Course the Number One golf course in the State of Hawaii. It is also included in their prestigious list of "America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses."

The Prince is one of Hawaii's most challenging golf courses, with a USGA course rating of 75.3 and a 145 slope. But fear not. Five different tees on each hole allow you to set your own challenge. Makai Course was on Golf Digest's list of the best American golf courses for seventeen years.

Three nine-hole courses, each with a distinctive flavor, the Ocean, Lakes and Woods nines provide unique challenge, unparalleled beauty and great fun in equal parts.

Prince Course at Princeville Golf & Country Club

  • Address: 5-3900 Kuhio Hwy. Princeville
  • Fees*: $175
  • Par: 72
  • Yards: 7,309
  • Slope: 145

Description: The Prince Course at Princeville is part of the Princeville Resort located on the island of Kauai. The course was designed with the Scottish links-style in mind. The deep ocean blues, hotel amenities, and great Hawaiian vistas not only make for a great game of golf, but also an incredible trip.

This resort is more than just another vacation spot. There are five sets of tees on every hole, and from each one you can see the ocean. The resort was named to GOLF MAGAZINE's 2002 list of "Gold Medal Resorts." In addition GOLF MAGAZINE ranked the Ocean Course 20th in its "Top 100 You Can Play in the U.S."

This is one of the most difficult course designs in the state. It features many deep ravines and plenty of hills. The undulating greens vary in shape and size. This is one of the few double-dogleg par fours you will see: downhill off the tee and downhill to the green, but with a serpentine stream lined with tropical undergrowth dictating an all-carry approach to the green, or a bail-out pitch to the fairway.

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