HAWAII!!! My favorite place on earth, so far at least! Although, I think it will always be up there at the top of my travel list. It is just magical. I feel like I turn into a different person when I am on the islands- a barefoot, salty-haired, more adventurous goddess and I absolutely love it.
So without further ado, I would like to jump in with my favorite island, Kauai. Ben and I have been to Kauai 4 times now. We first went on our honeymoon a little over 4 years ago and fell in love with everything about it…I am sure you will too if you get the chance to go.
Before you go anywhere in Hawaii, download the All Trails App. It is a life saver! It allows you to load trail routes on your phone so when you lose service, which you will, you can easily make sure you are on the right track and see how far along you are etc. Not a sponsored thing, just something I really use and love! Actually, just so you are aware, none of these tips, hotels or anything in this guide for that matter is sponsored. I am just giving my honest opinions and preferences and I hope you find it helpful!
Also RENT A CAR! On all the islands! You need to drive to get to the best locations, so plan ahead and rent a car.
Insane. Tropical. Paradise. No building is allowed to be built taller than a mature palm tree. That is an actual law on the island! There are wild chickens EVERYWHERE running around and it may be the cutest thing ever. There are something like 110 waterfalls on the island, a huge amount of the island is privately owned and not built on, and they shot a lot of Jurassic Park here. Just absorb that visual. Pure. Magic.
BUY BUG SPRAY YOU GUYS! Seriously, don’t go on any hikes without it…and get a heavy duty one!
Must Do Hikes, Adventures and Sights:
♥ Hanakapi’ai Beach and Falls
A lot of you asked me about this hike! This is on the North Shore of the island, which is called the Na Pali coast. It is miles and miles of the craziest/most beautiful cliffs you’ll see in your life. The trail snakes along the cliffs (it’s moderately difficult, but you’ll see people from all walks of life on the trail). You can hike 2 and a bit miles to a “secret beach” (only accessible by the hike) and turn back around, or continue through the jungle to a secret waterfall, which is what you saw in my Instagram stories! The additional 2-2.5 mile hike into the jungle is more strenuous than the first half, so if you’re feeling up for it-awesome! Be prepared to cross a river about 3 times each way, trek through mud and have to climb rocks. The miles go by pretty slowly because you need to take it slower due to mud and just a more challenging terrain. But, at the end is an insane waterfall in the jungle you can swim in that’s only accessible to other people who have trekked through the jungle. So you definitely feel very accomplished! It is very cold in the water and it is advised to not swim with any open wounds and DON’T drink the water…keep it out of your mouth. That part sounds pretty obvious to me…but you never know! Other than that, swimming under a waterfall is one of the most amazing feelings I have felt. Each time we have done this hike, I just swim in my outfit. I take of my tank top and swim in my sports bra and shorts….you will dry off very quickly and there isn’t anywhere to change into a bathing suit!
Getting there- get directions via your All Trails app– you basically take the one road in the north shore of Kauai until it ends and then park in the parking lots around there. This is a really popular hike so sometimes the lots are full and you have to circle back and park down the road somewhere. Worth it though. Bathrooms are at the trail head- USE THEM THEN!
Hike will take you 2-3 hours for the beach or 5-7 if you do the whole waterfall route. Plan accordingly.
To bring in you backpack:
Bug spray- reapply a few times during the trip, the mosquitos are relentless on this one.
LOTS of water- 2 big bottles a person…it is a long hike.
Snacks- apples, protein bars, almonds, a sandwich etc. because you will need the nourishment and energy.
Water shoes– for crossing rivers easily and swimming in the waterfall!
Sunscreen- definitely needed for the beach portion of the hike.
♥ Waimea Canyon
This is the “grand canyon of Hawaii”. Pick a clear day. There are lots of lookouts on the way up the mountain, all of which are awesome, but the best lookout is at the top of the canyon called the Kalalau Lookout. Well worth it to do the drive. From the main road you can turn off and do different hikes. Plan before you go, it can be pretty confusing and you lose cell reception halfway into the drive!
We did a hike here this past trip called Waipoo Falls and it was about 4 miles, nice and dry, amazing views and a waterfall at the end!
Make sure you look up the exact start location of the hike before you go though- you won’t have service up there! We loaded the All Trails app, again with this app you guys, and made sure to follow along with that to make sure we were heading the right way
There are longer hikes you can do that are a little muddier too. We did the Alakai Swamp hike during a previous trip and it was LONG. It was swampy, muddy and not super fun but the pay off at the end was insane! If you love long hikes and want to do a bunch, look into this one too.
♥ Hire a Hiking Guide: Kauai Hiking Adventures
We hired Dave on our last trip to take us on a private hike to an off trail waterfall…aka: a trail that no one else wuold be on….a secret trail. AND OMG it was amazing! It was a trail we never would’ve found on our own and it was very clearly something that only a seasoned local would know about. It was also pretty difficult. BUT, you tell him your comfort level and he can customize an experience to your needs. Our needs always involve: make it hard, we don’t want to see any other people, and we want to see a waterfall. So that is what we got! TOTALLY recommend this!! He also showed us a natural water spring on the side of the mountain that we drank from- so so cool.
♥ Surfing lessons in Hanalei Bay
We have done this twice with the same company. The most surreal place on earth to learn to surf. Hanalei Bay is a sleepy surf town, but the bay itself is surrounded by beautiful mountains that really take your breath away. And since it is a bay, the surf is great for beginners…although you will see some total surfer dudes out there too. This company is awesome and family owned…feels like you’re taking lessons from Paul Rudd’s character in forgetting Sarah Marshall- you know what I’m talking about! HA! And in fact, they remembered us from a year and half earlier when we took our first lessons and called us “New York” and invited us for a drink after the lesson at Tahiti Nui…their vibes are just amazing. A must do!
There is also the cutest juice shack nearby where you can get fresh smoothies, bowls, juices and coconuts! Perfect for after surfing!
♥ EAT Poke…Foodland and Big Save
One of the best parts of Hawaii is the fresh fish! “Poke” is a Hawaiian food that is raw fish seasoned in different ways. Poke spots have popped up all over NYC and LA the last few years, but it is NOTHING like the Hawaiian Poke. Seriously worlds of difference…so much better than in the states. Foodland and Big Save are the local grocery stores in Hawaii and in the back there is a Poke section where they have tons of different poke varieties. You can sample all the poke, and then you can order by the pound or in a bowl with rice. It’s a pound of the freshest and best fish you’ll ever eat in your life AND it is really cheap and very good quality there. We ate poke every day, usually for lunch and would just go to the market, pick it up and eat it on the beach or at a picnic table. PLUS it is insane that the best poke is found at the supermarkets (this was a local tip) because I would usually never trust someone who told me to get supermarket sushi..right?? Always choose Foodland first, and Big Save if there isn’t a Foodland (my tip)!
♥ Zodiac boat tour of the Na Pali Coast
Even though you will have seen part of the Na Pali coast from the north shore hike, there is WAY more you can’t see from the land. I highly recommend taking a boat tour around the north shore. There are different types of boat tours you can take, but we took a “zodiac” boat tour along the coast. Zodiacs are essentially fancy, motorized rafts that were made for the military. They usually dump Navy seals close to where they need to be dropped off…point being, they are more nimble than bigger boats so for touring a cliffside, they can get closer than any other type of boat. When we went on our tour we were able to go in and out of this amazingly cool cave along the coast and we could dock at certain beaches that are inaccessible to other boats. Also-we saw tons of dolphins swimming around next to the boat. This is the company we used.
Really worth it!
♥ Doors Off Helicopter Tour
Ok, this is kind of an expensive one, but well worth it, if you can swing it. There is so much of Kauai that you can’t see from the ground or from the sea because a lot of the land is privately owned and not drivable. So when you are above land, you can see SO much and really get in there- it felt like we were in a movie! We went with this company and chose the “doors off” helicopter tour since sometimes normal helicopter tours can be annoying because the windows are actually really small. With a door-less helicopter you can see everything and it is very safe..once you get past the initial scary feeling. It was amazing and totally worth it! The views were unlike anything else. The day we went was kind of overcast but the pilot, who used to be a military pilot, knew the island so well that he navigated to parts of the island where we’d still be able to see and even gave us extra time sweeping and swooping us around! We felt totally safe the whole time and I’d definitely recommend it.
♥ Shipwreck Beach
Right in Poi’pu near the Grand Hyatt hotel. An easy hike that takes you to the most beautiful cliff! We hiked around for a while, climbed down one of the cliffs and explored all over! A great little adventure that won’t take more than an hour or so!
*We really like nice hotels and generally are willing to pay more for an amazing experience. If any of these are out of your price range, I totally get it and would recommend you do some od your own research. I typically use the Hotels.com App to book hotels at a discounted rate and I watch rates like a hawk to make sure I am getting the best deal. They also give you points and reward you, so it’s a nice little perk!
We have only stayed at two hotels in Kauai. One is on the north shore and the other is on the south shore. We like the hotel on the south shore better, but the north shore of the island is more spectacular in my opinion. SO, we will often spend a few nights on the north shore and a few nights on the south shore to fix this issue and get a little bit of both. This past time we just stayed on the south shore because, like I said, we like this hotel SO much better!
The Grand Hyatt Kauai: South shore hotel located in Poi’pu. AMAZING in every single way. Pricey, but really worth it. The lush grounds and offerings of the hotel are insane and the service is great. We have stayed here 3 times and will keep going back for years and years.
The St. Regis Princeville: North Shore hotel and the most stunning location ever! The hotel needs a facelift…even though it is a St Regis, it doesn’t really live up to its name in my opinion. BUT it is the nicest north shore hotel and right on the beach and they basically have everything going for them so they get away with charging you a lot without upgrading their rooms. I am nit picking here, but when you pay a lot, I think you should GET a lot you know?
I have some friends who have used Air B&B for Kauai, and I plan to try that myself next time… so once I do, I will update you on that whole situation!
If anyone has a recco for me, please send them my way!
♥ The Beach House in Poipu
This is really pretty. If you are staying in the north shore the whole time it could be a drive to get down here, but worth it. I you’re staying up north the whole time, maybe after seeing the Waimea canyon during the day you can come down to the beach house for sunset drinks. The beach house does not have amazing food, but the reason people come here is because the views of the sunset are totally unreal. Everyone goes here at sunset, so you have to make a reservation ahead of time, or show up early and just sit at the bar for drinks (these spots fill up too so get there early). Once the sunset starts, you can leave your seats to go outside and take pictures and the bartender/waiters will hold your spot and watch your drinks.
♥ The Dolphin
Two locations…one in Hanalei Bay (the original), and one on the south shore. Amazing fish and very good food.
♥ Tide Pools in the Grand Hyatt
Fancy AF-expensive but amazing food, and a beautiful location. Definitely a special night out splurge.
♥ Sunset at the St Regis
Even if you aren’t staying here, you should drive to the hotel about 30 minutes or so before sunset…they will valet your car. There is a bar there overlooking the beach where you can watch the sunset, or you can walk down to the beach and watch it. They do a toast every night and it is so stunning!
♥ Bar Acuda on the north shore
Tapas and really nice drinks. Make a reservation.
♥ Postcards on the north shore
Super cute, and has been there for so long! A must do.
♥ Merrimans In Poipu
A local chain, but AMAZING! Such great food, and delicious seafood. One of our favorites.
And now…moving on to…
Must Do Hikes, Adventures and Sights:
♥ Pill box hike
Just type that into maps- it is such an amazing hike on the Eastern side of the island! Stunning views and old military pill boxes built into the mountains that you can go into, sit on top of etc. A steep hike, but the views are insane!
♥ Hamama falls
When you enter, there is a sign that says private property, but just go around the fence like everyone else does! We had our local friends take us to another waterfall off this trail where no one else was- I’m sure you can dig a little and find out how to do this…it is worth it! Once we got to the off trial waterfall, we used ropes that are tied to trees already to climb higher into the waterfall, which sort of went up in tiers! I posted about it in my stories…it was insanely fun and not too difficult to do. After we did this off-trail falls situation, we went to Hamama Falls a little way up the trail and it is also a beautiful site. LOTS of bug spray here and water shoes may come in handy. Go back and watch my Instagram Story Highlights to see more details of this fun hike! including the ropes!
♥ Kaena Point
This is a north west hike that is about 5 miles round trip. It is a mostly flat path that takes you through an albatross sanctuary and to a beautiful look out point where you can often see Hawaiian Monk Seals! It isn’t the most exciting hike, but once you get to the end, it is beautiful!! The beach is also filled with coral.
♥ LOST plane crash beach and “Others”
If you’re a Lost fan, like Ben and I are, the lost plane crash beach, Mokule’ia beach, is on the north shore and right across from it is “the others” settlement, which is actually an active YMCA camp for children! The beach is stunning, super empty and an amazingly easy thing to go check out! These are both on the way to the albatross sanctuary hike I mentioned above…so it may be a great thing to do before that!
♥ Koloa Ranch
We did an ATV tour here and had the best time!! They film a lot of movies here like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Godzilla and there are free Range cows all over. It’s stunning, the tour was great, and we had a lot of freedom to drive around…and we typically hate “tours” on vacation…but not this one! Would totally recommend this! Plus an ATV is always a good time.
♥ Makapu’u Lighthouse Trail
We did this last time we were on the island at sunrise and it was incredible!! You’d have to wake up early but it’s worth it to see the stunning colors of the sunset as a backdrop to the ocean, mountains and lighthouse.
♥ Swim with Dolphins
This is not the captive dolphin situation that may come to mind. I would NEVER support something like that in a million years! This is a day trip on a boat where the knowledgeable caption and crew navigate the sea and find wild pods of dolphins (they have typical places they like to hang out). And when a pod is found, we quietly put on our snorkel gear and slide into the water as the pods swim around us! It is magical! As long as you are quiet and respectful of them , the dolphins don’t get scared and they swim really close to you! The dolphins love to come near the boat because they like to play in the wake the boat makes in the ocean and you can see them jump out of the water, play and spin in the air! INSANE. We saw babies too with their mommas- the cutest thing ever! On this trip we also saw humpback whales breaching and huge sea turtles. WORTH EVERY PENNY AND THEN SOME! In Oahu we used this company and I would suggest going on a day where they don’t have a full house- you’ll get more one on one time.
Along the north shore there are also all these super cute swings on the beach that people put into trees! I would totally stop at a beach, take some pics etc…I mean it doesn’t get much cuter than that! Plus they are easy to get to and right off the main coastal highway.
We have only stayed at two hotels in Oahu. One in the bustling area of Waikiki Beach and the other on the cool, sleepy North shore. I MUCH prefer staying on the North Shore. But, there just aren’t as many hotels up there…only one resort actually. We loved the resort, but for those who want options…staying in the Honolulu area may make more sense. Just make sure you rent a car and get up tp the north shore- it really is the best part of the island in my opinion!
Modern Honolulu: In Waikiki beach and very nice and modern.
Turtle Bay Resort: North shore resort, and our favorite to stay at. This is where the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall was shot! It is in an amazing location, gorgeous sunsets, all ocean view rooms, and the staff is wonderful. We will definitely stay here again.
♥ Beach House on the North Shore
So cute and yummy food.
♥ Roy’s Beach House
At Turtle Bay and a lovely experience.
♥ Lei Lei’s
Also at Turtle Bay and our favorite place we ate!
♥ Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors
We went here for poke after a local recommended it to us! Very good….super weird that it is in a liquor store but hey, it was good!
(PHOTO ABOVE- MY LEFT LEG- THOSE ARE MOSQUITO BITES FROM WHEN I DIDN’T REAPPLY SPRAY AFTER A WATERFALL SWIM-CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED FOR THE 10TH TIME!)
There are also SO many restaurants in Waikiki…you will have no trouble finding something- these above are more off the beaten track suggestions!
That about covers it my friends! If you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to reach out!
I will also do a guide of the other islands next time I go to them (Maui and Big Island).
*For ALL BIKINI details, head to my instagram for tags!