Welcome to the “garden island”, home to the wettest place on Earth and where you’ll find chickens roaming around freely. I’ll be talking about this gorgeous island in sections: north, east, south, and west. Each side of the island carries a completely different experience and that is how John and I chose to organize our days when we were there and how we ended up choosing where we stayed!
On the North Shore of Kauai you’ll find the town of Hanalei. If you’ve ever been to Julian, CA, Hanalei is basically the surfer beach version of that with local food trucks, shopping and views of lush mountains all on one strip. This town is a cozy and friendly town up with Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Lookout, and the Hanalei Pier. Anyone who has been to Kauai (and visited the North Shore) I’m sure would tell you Hanalei is a MUST SEE or express one of their favorite views were in this town.
Also, on the North Shore you will find one of the best snorkeling spots with the largest coral reef in Hawaii, Anini Beach. John and I didn’t find out about this until the 2nd to last day of our trip, but had we known, it would’ve been one of our top picks for visiting which is why I’m including it here for you! However, if you’re not picky about seeing the coral reef particularly, almost EVERY beach we did visit had an amazing snorkeling experience with an abundance of sea life and I’ll include one of our favorites later in this post.
This is where you want to stay. If you’ve done any searching on where to stay during your time in Kauai, I’m sure you’ve discovered that there are countless options for hotels, resorts, and AirBnb’s around the island. The East-side is the most convenient in our opinion. With the North and South shores being the most active locations on the island and where most of the locations were that we wanted to see, being right in the middle was a HUGE time saver.
If you’re looking for some more guidance on where to stay specifically, we ended up staying at the Sheraton Kauai Coconut Beach and loved every second of our stay. Our room overlooked the Pacific Ocean so we fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing gently on the shore and woke up to ever-changing sunrises. We have stayed at this location twice now and both times the staff and service were above and beyond our expectations.
The food at their in-house restaurant and from their bar was genuinely some of the best food we had on the island. I 100% recommend going even if it’s just for the papaya creme brulee dessert. They have morning yoga every morning at 8am and yes, you can do your 1st session for FREE (which I totally took advantage of). AND, to wrap it up, they have laundry on every floor, which came in handy for us being content creators wearing 3-4 outfits a day to take photos!
While on the East Side there are a few local food spots that I could not get enough of.
- Eat Healthy Kauai – It was so nice to have a go-to place on vacation that wasn’t “junk”. Obvious what we choose to eat is our choice but what I’m saying is that it’s totally natural to go on vacation and eat anything and everything in sight. Some days you just feel heavier than others and this spot was our favorite place to go we needed that healthy boost. Our favorite was their acai bowls which not only were delicious but delicately crafted.
- Kalalea Juice Hale – This is what I would say was the perfectly “stereotypical Hawaii experience” – in the best way possible! If you’re looking for the most authentically delicious coconut water and/or smoothies from an adorable hut, this place will have you feeling addicted. You order from a window and they make everything within their little hut/shack. I would have to say my favorite local spot the entire trip.
- Java Kai – This spot was probably the most crowded coffee shop we went to but so wroth it. This might be because it was also the most “Instagrammable” shop around town so tourists like us were always revolving though. I don’t want to discredit their unique coffee choices and food options. We thoroughly enjoyed every sip and last bite, just as much as we enjoyed taking pictures!
Lastly, if you’re wanting a nice relaxing time to walk around, cool down with some shaved ice and shop for some fun souvenirs for the family and fur baby back home, Coconut Market is the way to go. This is right across the way from the hotel we stayed at too so we loved that we didn’t have to drive. We were able to get all the souvenirs we needed at the ABC store, which, if you are unfamiliar with, is Hawaii’s most well-known convenience store chain. We also tried a local business owner’s banana macadamia bread and then some shaved ice at Jojo’s Shaved Ice. If you’ve never tried shaved ice like I hadn’t, this is your golden ticket.
Our time on the South and West shores was limited due to rain but we still found perfect locations we will never forget and likely visit again when we go back (yes- we 100% want to go back). When passing through the South Shore of Kauai, we found the most exciting snorkeling spot, Poipu Beach. 100% recommend! This beach was our ABSOLUTE favorite snorkeling location the entire trip! I honestly have never seen so many fish before in my life.
Neither of us had ever been snorkeling before but we came prepared with our goggles, snorkel, fins and water shoes. Every time we went out to snorkel we found better and better spots and Poipu was the best. The water was so clear and the sea life was friendly. Definitely a place to wear water shoes though!
To wrap up the shore summaries, on the west side you will find Waimea Canyon. The drive up to the canyon was honestly the best part. There are countless turnouts to pull over and take pictures. If you do choose to go to the top of the lookout, there is a $5 parking fee you must pay to see the lookout. We went when during hurricane season so the lookout was cloudy but if you have an extra $5 to spend, it doesn’t hurt to check out. Plus, there’s a pop-up tent where a local sells fresh fruit and snacks…literally the best mangoes I’ve ever had in my entire life.
If you’re on a tight budget, I would 100% recommend still driving up the mountain. The higher you get, the more cloudy it gets, so go just high enough to where the sun is out and choose a place to pull over. The lookout is the same view as the turnouts!