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How to Plan a Perfect Long Weekend in Kauai

Pristine beaches, tropical scenery and captivating coastlines await.

U.S. News & World Report

How to Plan a Perfect Long Weekend in Kauai

Rainbow at Kauai beach

Take in postcard-worthy views of the Na Pali Coast, try your hand at surfing and visit tropical gardens on your next getaway.(Getty Images)

After experiencing Kauai's pristine beaches, lush greenery, rainforests and waterfalls, you may be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful island. With only 3 percent of the fourth-largest Hawaiian isle developed for commercial and residential use, it's difficult not to be charmed by the island's utter seclusion and unspoiled natural attractions. And while there are plenty of ways to experience the island's enchanting tropical scenery and unique typography, here are top tips for planning a weekend getaway to remember.

Take in Striking Views on Scenic Hikes, Bike Rides and Zip Lines

To see Mother Nature in full force, make a trek to Waimea Canyon, dubbed the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific." It's a mile wide, more than 10 miles long and 3,500-feet deep. You can soak up impressive views from lookout points or hike into the crater. Ambitious hikers will also relish the opportunity to take on the 11-mile Kalalau Trail along the spectacular Na Pali Coast.

And the fun hardly stops there. Bicycle tours take you from the rim of Waimea Canyon, all the way to sea level. And if you'd rather explore from behind four wheels, rent an ATV. If you're feeling really adventurous, the Koloa Zipline course boasts eight lines, and three of the longest on the island, including the Waita zipline. And if you're not a big fan of biking, driving, or ziplining, fret not. CJM Country Stables offers three-hour horseback riding excursions that take you through hidden valleys and secluded beaches, and include a picnic lunch.

Surf, Kayak or Try Your Hand at Stand-Up Paddleboarding

Whether you like being in or on the water, Kauai offers plenty of enticements. The island offers more than 35 dive sites, along with plenty of places for surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, deep-sea fishing, swimming and snorkeling. On the southern shore, you can't skip checking out Po'ipu Beach for some of the best snorkeling and watersport sites on the island. Catch the wildlife via catamaran or raft and make sure to look out for dolphins, whales, turtles and an array of colorful fish. And if you're feeling daring, ride an inner tube down handbuilt canals and tunnels on the historic waterways of the Hanamaulu ditch system.

Explore the Island's Picturesque Botanical Garden

No trip to Kauai is complete without checking out the National Tropical Botanical Garden. Allerton Garden, which takes landscape architecture to a new level, earns kudos as one of the "50 Places of a Lifetime" from National Geographic Traveler. With garden "rooms" that feature exotic plants, sculptures and water features, there is nothing quite like it.

Savor the Local Cuisine

Despite its small size, Kauai offers a bounty of great food options. One crowd-pleaser is Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi. The award-winning chef combines the simple flavors of a plantation town with modern twists. A staple is the Szechuan Baby Back Ribs. Another top pick is the RumFire, an oceanfront restaurant in the Sheraton Kauai Resort that features 180-degree ocean views at every angle.

The food truck trend is also catching on in Kauai. Across the island, you'll find food trucks serving inventive creations. For example, GoPals Creperie offers gluten-free and dairy-free sweet and savory varieties and Wailua Shave Ice offers all-natural icy treats (think: snow cone with fruit toppings like strawberries and pineapple). If you want to truly immerse yourself in the island's culinary scene, tag along a food tour. The South Shore Food Tour blends beautiful sights, history and unique flavors along Kauai's South Shore. On the tour, you'll make six stops and sample Japanese and Hawaiian plates, along with gelato made with exotic fruit – plus, you'll get to meet local farmers and artisans.

Embrace the Local Culture

During your visit, make sure to soak up the island's rich culture. Attend a Japanese bon dance, visit a Buddist temple, enjoy a luau or visit a museum. Every Friday night is Art Night Open House in Hanapepe, the island's charming town that's home to art galleries and shops. Meanwhile, the Kauai Concert Association brings in artists from around the world, and the Kauai Community College Performing Arts Center features contemporary dance, jazz and more. Many of the area hotels even offer cultural crafts like lei making, hula and ukulele lessons.

Choose the Right Hotel

While you'll likely want to commune with nature for much of your trip, at some point, you'll have to turn in for the day. Standout hotels include the Kaua'i Marriott Resort, the Sheraton Kauai Resort and the Courtyard Kaua'i at Coconut Beach. And if you want to splurge, the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa offers indulgent massages and treatments in sync with the sounds of the swaying palms, soft music and a gentle warm breeze.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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