Kauai Guide

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Traveling to Kauai? Then start here with our Kauai Guide.


Matt Anderson's Take
Guide Series: Guide To Hawaii
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Kauai is the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands and known as The Garden Isle. It holds the distinctions of being the oldest of the major islands as well as the northernmost island. The island is covered in lush plant life, epic cliffs, and amazing valleys.

Some of the best parts of Kauai can only be accessed by boat or aircraft. In fact, some of those amazing landscapes you remember from movies like Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost ark were filmed here (see Popular Movies & TV Shows Filmed In Hawaii). This is also the only island that has a navigable rivers.

Getting Around

The main airport here is Lihue Airport (LIH) and this is likely how you'll be arriving to the island. It's located in the city of Lihue which is on the southeast part of the island.


Like most of the islands, Kauai has a main road that runs along much of the outer perimeter of the island. For the northern and eastern parts, this road will be the Kuhio Highway (Highway 56 & 560). For the southern parts it will be the Laumualii Highway (Highway 50). Note that the northwest part of the island does not connect to the southwest part.

The bulk of your travel will be along these routes. Because of that, the answer to "Do I need a rental car?" is a big yes! You'll also need to keep in mind that travel times can be significant. For example, if you were driving from Princeville on the north side to Koloa on the south side it will take over an hour by car. If traffic is heavy, like during rush hour times, expect delays.

Kauai Regions

The island is generally broken out into a few key regions as listed below:

North Kauai

Starting at the west end of the north shore is where you'll find Ha'ena State Park. This park is home to the popular Ke'e Beach Park and the north end of the incredibly difficult Kalalau Trail. As you head east you'll find the town of Hanalei, which is a popular tourist stop for food and shopping.


Next to that will be the resort area of Princeville, home to one of our favorite luxury resorts, The St. Regis Princeville Resort. Keep traveling clockwise and be sure to stop by Kilauea Lighthouse / Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The views there are incredible and worth the trip.

East Kauai

The east side of Kauai is known as the Coconut Coast for the large amount of coconut trees that dot the coastline. This side includes a few major towns like Kapaa and Lihue.


If you're arriving by cruise ship then you'll be docking at the Nawiliwili Harbor in Lihue. From there you'll find some nearby shops and restaurants you can walk to. If you need to get to the nearest beach as you step off your ship you can walk to Kalapaki Beach as well.

South Kauai

This is the sunny part of Kauai. And where there is sun you will find beautiful resorts. Starting from the east and heading west, follow the Kaumualii Highway to Maluhia Road and you'll enter the touristy town of Koloa. It's worth a stop to shop and maybe grab a bite to eat.


Once you're done there head further south to the resort area of Poipu. This is where some of the best beaches on the island and popular resorts are located. On your way out, if you hug the coastline heading west you'll be able to stop at Spouting Horn Park / Spouting Horn Blowhole. After that, you'll need to head inland towards Lawai and the main highway.

As you continue west now you'll pass through Hanapepe, home to Port Allen. You're getting close to the popular Waimea Canyon now. It's worth a stop for most visitors but keep in mind the drive is still over 30 minutes once you head north towards the park.

West Kauai

Kauai's west coast is truly a wild, wild west. Much of it can only be accessed by boat. Other parts require some serious hiking via the Kalalau Trail.


A hike that the average visitor shouldn't attempt! Even places like Polihale Beach State Park along the southern end of the west coast are difficult to get to because of bumpy roads. That's 4x4 country for sure!

Explore Kaui

For more information try one of these links:

Kauai Home Page


Kauai Beaches


Kauai Activities / Things To Do


Kauai Hotels / Resorts


Kauai Restaurants / Bars


Kauai Shops / Services


Kauai Information


Or head over to our Guide To Hawaii for an overview on the Hawaiian Islands.

Still Have Questions?

We're here to help! If you have a question about something, want to post a trip report, or just wanted to say Aloha then please post a message in our community forums. We read everything that is posted and do our best to answer any questions you have. If you'd like to contact us for another reason please drop us a line here.
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Matt Anderson
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Vickey W
Joined: Mar 2017
Reviews: 123
Likes Received: 45
So far Kauai has been my favorite island. I knew as soon as I got off the plane this was a place I would return to many times over and thus far we have been lucky enough to make 3 visits here, having HBR and Sealodge as our go to places to stay.

The lushness of the island is enticing and the beaches are beautiful. There is not an inch that I did not fall in love with. Had the most beautiful gardens to visit. My highlight was visiting the Hindu Monastery, it was so spiritual. We were greeted with such aloha spirit we felt like family. We took a Cessna flight from Wings over Kauai and was amazed by the views.
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Pam S
Joined: Apr 2016
Reviews: 3
Likes Received: 3
We have visited all the Hawaiian islands, having vacationed there for the last 15 years. Our favorite island, without a doubt, is Kauai. The towns are charming and quaint, the scenery is more than spectacular, the beaches are some of the prettiest in the world and very often uncrowded, and the people are friendly and welcoming. We have many favorite spots around the island; the north shore is definitely the place we gravitate to more often. The beaches are less populated and the scenery is breathtaking.
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