Honey-dipped sunsets, chocolate-sand beaches, aquamarine skies—Kauai has mastered seduction. But the oldest island in the Hawaiian chain doesn't have to resort to over-the-top luxury or tourist traps to entice; instead, it appeals to a no-muss, no-fuss type of traveler. You prefer rural to resplendent? Kauai's your island—there are only two major highways, and some regions can only be explored on foot. Resorts are no taller than a coconut tree (literally). continue»
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The best time to visit Kauai is between September and November or from April to June, when the weather is pleasant and airfare and hotel rates drop. Rain from December to March doesn't deter visitors looking for a winter getaway, but a word to the wise: You'll face the highest markup on rooms and flights if you visit at this time. If the fall is out of the question and the winter is just too pricey, consider the spring months as a compromise: Kauai sees a slight dip in prices after the peak season concludes and before families take summer vacations.Best Times to Visit Kauai»
The oldest of Hawaii's main islands, Kauai has few real cities and a low population, considering its land mass. Towns are dispersed throughout the island.
Lihue and Kapa'a
The most crowded area of the island lies along an eastern stretch between Lihue and Kapa'a. The city of Lihue houses the main government and transportation facilities on the island, including the Lihue Airport. It also contains the island's largest shopping mall and the Kaua'i Museum, one of the most authoritative museums on the island's history. Just north of Lihue, the city of Kapa'a, which contains an assortment of hotels, shops, and restaurants, is also infamous for its rush hour traffic. In between Lihue and Kapa'a, you'll find a number of resorts and hotels from medium to high-price ranges. For the best Hawaiian experience, try staying in a hotel between the two towns.
This charming town of Hanapepe is an artist's enclave and makes for a great place to visit after a day of hiking or sunbathing at Salt Pond Beach Park.
Accessible via Wapaa Rd.
Most tourists head to Kauai for the island's natural offerings, especially its beaches. And Kauai beaches do not disappoint. On this side, hit the shores of Kalapaki Beach, which has a long and wide beach with shores protected by a jetty. The beach also offers great views of the Haupu Ridge around Nawiliwili Bay.
Accessible via Highway 50, Mile Marker 4.
This beach, just north of Kalapaki, is seldom crowded and stretches for about two miles. Swimming conditions can vary, so check the tide reports before entering the water.
Accessible via Highway 56, Mile Marker 5.
Located farther north of Nukoli'i, Lydgate Beach is excellent for families and amateur swimmers. Lydgate's water is usually calm and clear and—unlike many beaches in Kauai—is monitored by lifeguards. You can also kayak along the nearby Wailua River, which flows 20 miles from the foot of Mount Waialeale and empties into the Pacific Ocean.
Accessible via Highway 56, just north of the Highway 580 intersection.
Wailua Beach includes the Wailua River State Park and overlooks Wailua Bay, just north of Lydgate Beach. Too rough for plain swimming, Wailua Beach is very popular among surfers.
Accessible via Anahola Rd., Mile Marker 13.
North of Wailua, the peaceful Anahola Beach has a protective reef that makes for calm blue waters, perfect for amateur swimmers and children.
Accessible via Highway 56, past Kilauea.
According to most, the safest beach for swimming on Kauai is Anini Beach County Park, located on the island's northern shore. This beach is also one of the island's most beautiful, with a scenic lagoon that attracts snorkelers, as well as a 60-foot cliff that draws thrill-seeking cliff-divers.
Trail begins seven miles west of Hanalie, at the end of Route 560.
Writers also recommend exploring the Na Pali Coast along the island's northern shore. The Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile hike through the coast's lush green landscape and narrow valleys, ends at the secluded Kalalau Beach. But come prepared; it's often a dangerous challenge to reach the beach and can take two days (or about six to ten hours) of hiking and camping. Those who would rather not make the hike to the beach can still explore the Na Pali Coast via boat tours and kayaking trips.
On the west, or leeward side of the island, Polihale State Park is accessible along a five-mile road at the end of Highway 50 in Kekaha. The waters at Polihale can be very dangerous and are not recommended for recreation. That said, recreational swimming is usually safe in nearby Queen's Pond.
Also on the western side of the island, the Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," offers panoramic views of a 3,000-foot gulf on the west side of Kauai. The area is accessible via the Kaumualii Highway (Highway 50).
Salt Pond Beach Park
Accessible via Highway 50, Mile Marker 17.
This beach has a protective cove that is excellent for swimming and snorkeling, and its breezy shores are great for windsurfing. The area also contains a natural salt pond still used by indigenous Hawaiians for sea salt production.
Accessible via Highway 50 at Poipu Rd.
By far the most popular and safest beach in the south shore, writers say Po'ipu Beach features great swimming, snorkeling, grass and shade areas, restrooms, showers, and lifeguards.
Your greatest safety concern in Kauai is in the great outdoors. Ocean tides can become especially rough in the winter, particularly on the north and west sides of the island. Never hike, swim, or snorkel alone. Writers also advise travelers against walking on beaches at night.
The best way to get around Kauai is in a car—actually, the only way to get around Kauai is in a car. The bus system, though inexpensive, does not cater to tourists, nor does it stop at any of the hotels. Taxis are virtually nonexistent, though you will see them congregate at Lihue Airport (LIH), which is near the town of Lihue on the south-eastern side of Kauai. Many hotels also provide shuttle service to and from the airport.Getting Around Kauai»