As a multigenerational Kauaiian, my family has spent our entire lives growing up and enjoying the experiences and stories throughout our communities across the island. Between local vacation trips with the family, the stories told by our grandparents and the legendary history found throughout the island’s local communities’ historical sights. Safe to say, I’ve seen, heard and experienced many wonders of our beautiful Garden Island of Hawaii.
The last few years over the COVID-19 pandemic have been an experience on its own and impacted the island our island in many ways. And through that journey, brought our people and communities, even more, closer together where it has been an emotional opportunity to reconnect and share stories and experiences.
2023 brings a new beginning for many, and now that travel has reopened to Hawaii, it’s an opportunity to share and reflect on some of the top things to do and places to visit around Kauai that have engrained memorable experiences in my life. These beautiful memories are simply a sample of what I’ve come to experience and will share a few of them with you. This includes times spent with my family and many wonderful new friends and people I’ve met along the way who have travelled from across the globe to vacation in my tropical home of Kauai.
Yes, you will find many stories online about our island’s world-class beaches and Kauai’s majestic waterfalls and breathtaking landscapes. But Kauai also offers a variety of activities and experiences that are sure to enchant and invoke similar memories as I and other travelers to Kauai have come to experience.
So here we go, my top things to do in 2023 when vacationing in Kauai. I will admit, it’s by no means covers everything you should do in Kauai, or the best things to do, but just a sample of what I would do if I were visiting Kauai for the first time.
I will cover more of my experiences and things to do in other pots, but this I hope offers you a glimpse into what you can do when planning a vacation to Kauai this year, or spark some inspiration and ideas to plan for your next trip to my home island.
Best month to visit Kauai
Anytime is a great time, but this all depends on what you’re seeking to do on a vacation. In general, however, the best time to visit Kauai is from September to November or from April to June when the weather is warm, and the crowds are smaller.
The winter months (December to March) are also a popular time to visit, but airline and vacation rental prices can be higher, and the crowds can be larger. The summer months (June to August) are the busiest, with the highest prices, and more crowds.
1. Hungry? My top 5 restaurants in Kauai
Ok, ok ok. I won’t say these are the best of the best restaurants in Kauai, but some come close. There is so much great food and incredible restaurants across the island that trying to land on my top 5 restaurants was not an easy feat. And ask me tomorrow, I may have a different view and palette. But let’s start with a view of a few of my top 5 favorite restaurants to try if I were visiting Kauai for the first time. So when it comes to dining in Kauai, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are my top 5 restaurants to eat at:
- Eating House 1849: This restaurant is named after the year that Hawaii’s first restaurant opened, and it serves up delicious farm-to-table cuisine inspired by Hawaiian, Asian, and European flavors. The food is sourced from local farms and holds true to the history of Kauai. The Hawaiian spot is run by Roy Yamaguchi who serves up an incredible selection of traditional & modern home grown ingredients.
- The Beach House: Located on the south shore of Kauai, The Beach House is known for its seafood dishes and stunning ocean views. Make sure to make a reservation ahead of time, as this popular restaurant fills up quickly. What I enjoy most about the Beach House is their simple good old-fashioned Hawaiian hospitality, mixed with a fabulous food experience using local ingredients. Oh, and the views from the restaurant, wow! Peter and William run the restaurant and work with their executive chef Marshall Blanchard to offer a true experience that will keep you coming back.
- Kauai Grill: Located in the St. Regis Princeville Resort, Kauai Grill is a fine dining restaurant that offers a modern twist on traditional Hawaiian cuisine. It’s the perfect spot for a romantic dinner or a special occasion as the ambiance at Kauai Grill in Princeville has a romantic and refined mood to the dining experience against a backdrop overlooking expansive views of the water and mountains. Oh, and they have food options for kids, which is a big plus in my books!
- Hanalei Dolphin: This family-owned restaurant is a local favorite of mine after a long day at the beach with the family. It’s by no means fine dining but offers its own unique local character where I’ve had countless memories with the family. Hanalei Dolphin is known for its fresh seafood dishes and super casual and laid-back meal after a day at the beach. One of my favorite dishes is their sushi. Fresh, delicious and unique twist from most other sushi on the island. Safe to say I was happy to hear when they opened a second location in the Shops of Kukui’ula on Kauai’s South shore in Poipu.
- The Fresh Shave: Now for the sweet tooth. Located in Old Koloa Town, The Fresh Shave offers fresh organic fruit and shaved ice. Sounds simple, but at the same time it has its own twist on a classic treat offering unique flavors like lavender honey and lilikoi cream served out of their ice truck. This is one of the local favorites on those hot days spent at Poipu beaches, and a short drive or bike ride up Poipu road.
It would not go without saying to also mention 3 other favorite places to eat, Hanalei Bread Company. Red Salt and Duke’s Kauai. Again, not an exhaustive list of my favorite eateries, but definitely on my top list if I were visiting Kauai for the first time.
2. Top 3 beaches I would spend the day
I will admit, and not bragging, we have too many incredible beaches around the island, so this was not an easy one to narrow down a top 3. Each of these top beaches in Kauai offers its own uniqueness, so it really depends on what you want to get out of the day. For example, where you want to have a beach picnic or watch the sunrise, or sunset, snorkel, surf, hike, etc. But with all that considered, right now these are my top 3 beaches in Kauai to visit
- Hanalei Bay Beach: Located on the north shore of Kauai, Hanalei Bay Beach is a picturesque crescent-shaped beach that’s perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. The beach is surrounded by towering mountains and lush greenery, making it one of the most beautiful beaches in Hawaii.
- Poipu Beach: This beach is located on the south shore of Kauai and is a popular spot for families. It has a calm, protected cove that’s great for swimming, as well as a snorkelling area where you can spot colorful fish and sea turtles.
- Ke’e Beach: Located on the north shore of Kauai, Ke’e Beach is known for its natural beauty and clear water and the perfect spot for hiking and adventure seekers. The beach offers stunning views of the Na Pali Coast, and it’s the starting point for the Kalalau Trail, a challenging hike that leads to a secluded beach.
3. A view from above: Take a Helicopter tour
There is no argument that one of the best ways to truly appreciate my home island of Kauai, and understand why its nicknamed the Garden Island, is to view the island from the sky. Yes, it’s not one of those typical activities you’d do every time you vacation in Kauai, but highly recommended to do at least once.
A helicopter is the best to see the natural beauty of Kauai, taking you on a breathtaking journey over the island’s coastline, majestic mountains, and lush rainforests. You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of some of the most stunning scenery in Hawaii, including the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
Check out some of the local businesses offering helicopter tours in Kauai here.
4. Kauai’s own Grand Canyon; Waimea Canyon
Locals and tourists alike have labelled Waimea Canyon as the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific”. It’s another must-see destination for anyone vacationing in Kauai.
Located on the west side of Kauai, this geological wonder is over 10 miles long, one mile wide, and over 3,500 feet deep. There are several lookout points along the canyon where you can take in the panoramic views and snap some unforgettable selfies.
5. From sea to sky; snorkeling at Poipu beach
Go from spending 1,000 feet in the air on a helicopter tour of Kauai, to a day at the beach and snorkelling at Poipu. Yes, you can snorkel at many of Kauai’s best beaches, but snorkelling at Poipu beach is one of my family’s favorite places to go.
Why? The clear, calm waters of this Poipu beach are perfect for exploring the underwater world of Kauai island, where you’ll experience an entirely new world of colorful fish, sea turtles, and other marine life in their natural habitat. And after a long day snorkeling in Poipu’s waters or just spending the day at the beach, head up the road to The Fresh Shave for some fresh, organic shaved ice treat.
6. Romantic dinner?
You cannot go wrong with having dinner with your loved ones over looking the water and sunset. But if you’re looking to go above and beyond, try a sunset dinner cruise. Watching the sunset over the ocean will without a doubt brand an experience and memory like none other with your loved one. You’ll enjoy a delicious local Kauaiian dinner while cruising along the coast, taking in the stunning colors of the sunset as the day comes to a close.
6. Adventure seeker? Try ziplining
For those looking for some adrenaline, surfing our world-class waves or a helicopter tour are not the only ways to get that adrenaline rush. Ziplining is a thrilling way to experience Kauai’s lush and tropical rainforests. You’ll fly through the treetops on a series of ziplines, taking in the breathtaking scenery from a unique perspective. Some zipline tours even include hikes to secluded waterfalls and swimming holes.
7. Spend the day at Hanalei Bay
Hanalei Bay is home to me. It’s one of the most picturesque spots in Kauai, with its long crescent-shaped beach, towering mountains, turquoise waters and a local community that’s bustling with a variety of history and local everything! This iconic spot is perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and relaxing in the shade of a palm tree. Lots of local places to lounge about, grab a coffee or a local tropical drink and people watch too. Oh, and some of my favorite restaurants are nearby here too. You cannot go wrong spending the day, or even most of your vacation trip in Hanalei Bay. There are tons to do and see and nearby to the town of Hanalei.
8. Get some exercise and hike Kalalue Trail
For the more experienced hiker, the Kalalau Trail is a challenging but rewarding adventure. This 11-mile trail runs along the Na Pali Coast and offers stunning views of the ocean and mountains. The trail is steep and rugged, but the payoff is a secluded beach that is only accessible by foot. For travelers to Kauai with children or more beginners, there are many other wonderful and picturesque trails to try. I’ll try to cover those other hiking trails in another post.
9. Hang 10! Try surfing for the first time
If you’re willing to try riding a wave at one of Kauai’s wonderful beaches, try surfing at Hanalei Beach.
Hanalei Beach is one of the best surf spots in Hawaii (and in my opinion in the world). Hanalei Beach offers consistent waves and beautiful scenery. I had my kids first learn how to surf here, so regardless if you’re a seasoned pro (which I am not!) or a beginner, there are plenty of surf schools and rental shops in the area that can help you catch some waves and hang 10!
If you’ve traveled much like myself, coffee seems to be that one dirty secret I like to try at different places to compare. While I fought (and lost) to trying a home Nespresso machine ;-), I would highly recommend if you’re vacationing in Kauai, try the Kauai Coffee Company. To be fair, I have my go-to cafe’s and coffee shops to grab my favorite drink, but if you’re a first-time traveler to Kauai, The Kauai Coffee Company makes Starbucks look like an amateur.
The Kauai Coffee Company is perfect if you’re a coffee lover. Why? It’s a 3,100-acre coffee farm!! and is THE largest in the United States and offers tours, and tastings.
There you have it. My top 10 things to do if you’re visiting Kauai for the first time in 2023. I hope that sharing a diverse range of activities, places to visit, things to do, and places to see and eat helps you plan your trip to my beautiful island home of Kauai. These are again just a sample of places that I hold true in my heart having had wonderful memorable experiences with my friends and family.
So whether you’re looking for relaxation, adventure, food, or all three, my home of Kauai has something to offer everyone. If you have questions don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or browse some of the common questions about Kauai many of my friends, family, guests and travelers I’ve met over the years have come to ask.