With an impossibly lush landscape and a laid-back feel, Kaua‘i is the perfect destination for achieving bone-deep relaxation.
The northernmost — and oldest — island in Hawai’i, Kaua‘i is famous for its uncrowded, sugar-sand beaches. But as dazzling as the beaches are, there’s much more to this verdant place, nicknamed the “Garden Isle.” Here are five ways to experience Kaua‘i, no matter what type of traveler you are.
The Nāpali Coast is a spectacular, largely untouched coastline. To really explore its sea caves and remote beaches, you’ll need to take a guided expedition via a Zodiac inflatable or with a kayaking tour. Insider’s tip: the Zodiac trips are pretty lively and bumpy; catamaran tours are another option for those seeking smoother sailing.
Known as “the Grand Canyon of the West,” Waimea Canyon is 14 miles long and more than 3,600 feet deep: a sun-washed gorge that feels totally unexpected in the middle of the Pacific. Visit for panoramic views and both easy and more challenging hikes that meander through the native rainforest.
Rent a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) to leisurely travel the Wailua River, which boasts two waterfalls and a lava rock grotto filled with ferns. For a shot of adrenaline, some local tour outfits offer wakeboarding, waterskiing and hydrofoiling on the glassy water.
Relax at the Spa
Work out the kinks from the flight — or the wakeboarding — with a massage inside an oceanside beach cabana.
The Alexander Day Spa and Salon has outposts in Poipu or in Lihue. The popular Pohaku Lomi option blends the traditional long, flowing strokes of lomilomi massage (lomilomi means to knead or rub in the Hawaiian language) with hot rocks to unwind both body and soul.
Filled with galleries nestled inside old buildings reminiscent of the Old West, Hanapepe Town is the de facto art capital of Kaua‘i. One of the best times to browse is during Hanapepe Art Night, held every Friday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. That’s when the galleries and shops stay open late, the food trucks roll in, local artisans sell their wares and the sound of live music fills the historic main drag of town.
For only-in-Kaua‘i gift shops and local boutiques, check out Kapa‘a, a beachside town on the island’s east side. A few spots to try: Shipwrecked Kauai, which features local, natural beauty products, clothing for men, women and children, and home goods, or Kiko Simple Goods, which offers jewelry, books and locally made gifts.
Get in Touch with Local History
Step back in time at the Grove Farm Sugar Plantation Museum, where tours of the old Wilcox plantation and home shed light on the sweet crop that shaped much of Kaua‘i’s history. The plantation was started in 1854 by a German immigrant and was one of the earliest sugar plantations in what was then the Kingdom of Hawai’i. George Wilcox later bought it, and his family remained for nearly a century. You will want to reserve in advance to visit this historic site, and the tours of the mission home, garden and grounds are extensive. Wear comfy shoes.
Sample the Local Crop
Taro, or kalo, has been an important food in the native Hawaiian culture for thousands of years, and cultivated at W. T. Haraguchi Farm for six generations. The farm, on Kaua‘i’s North Shore, has now birthed the Hanalei Taro & Juice Company. Find the food truck at 5-5070A Kuhio Highway, Hanalei, where you can sample taro-based foods like veggie burgers, smoothies and hummus. Or learn more about taro and rice production by taking the family’s eco-tour.
The Kōloa Rum Co. takes Kaua‘i’s history of sugarcane production and “rums” with it. The company uses locally sourced ingredients to craft libations such as Reserve 12 Barrel Select Aged Hawaiian Rum. Stop by the company’s tasting room for daily tastings every half hour, starting at 10:30 a.m.
Coffee-flavored rum first thing in the morning? Well, after all, you’re on vacation.
No matter which way you choose to do Kaua‘i, you’ll find plenty of activities, from engaging with the island’s cultural legacy to checking out the dining and shopping options. And yes, make sure to save some time to relax on those famous beaches.