Here is our Best of Kauai roundup, where you will discover some of our favorites from around the island!
The island of Kauai is known as the Garden Island, and for good reason. Once you step off the plane, you’ll know why. Scents of ocean breeze, plumeria leis, and mai tais will call your name, and the slow pace of the island life will leave you feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy a Hawaiian vacation.
Kauai is where I was born, it was where I grew up and spent hours on end creating memories. Even though I now live in Seattle, Kauai will always have a close place to my heart.
Fun fact: Kauai is the oldest main Hawaiian island, at 5 million years old, but also the least populated with an average population of 66,000 people. It truly shows how small and yet historical and beautiful this island is.
Andrew had never visited Kauai, so with ten days to explore the island we set out for an adventure and created this fantastic roundup of what to do, where to stay, and where to dine, while visiting the beautiful Garden Island.
Let’s start on the beautiful North Shore of Kauai, where you can find taro farms, homes of many celebrities, and best of all, some of the most beautiful beaches on the island.
Where to stay: St Regis Princeville Resort
Located on a secluded beach cove, this luxury resort is surrounded by beautiful green mountains and crystal clear water. Upon entering the hotel you feel welcomed and notice the historic architecture that begins in the lobby and runs throughout the property into each guest room.
The guest rooms offer modern features including mini fridges, flat-screen TVs, iPod docks and free Wi-Fi. If you are looking for something a little more, the upgraded rooms have terraces, ocean views and even whirlpool tubs.
We started our day relaxing poolside in a cabana, enjoying the waves crashing on the shore. They have an incredible infinity pool looking out to the ocean, and a few saunas to unwind. They also have poolside service to make your life even more relaxful.
After a relaxing day at the pool, we headed to the Kauai Grill for dinner. The hotel features several options including a casual cafe, a stylish cocktail lounge and a refined restaurant with a terrace.
Where to dine: Kauai Grill
After a long day of enjoying the sun’s rays and paradisiacal views from the St. Regis beaches, you can walk over to the restaurant located on the floor below the lobby. It was the absolute perfect place to watch the sunset and end our evening in style.
The building is decorated in extreme luxury. The lobby is full of high ceilings and floor to roof windows showing off the spectacular views of Hanalei Bay. Wooden columns, cream white walls and ornate chandeliers pepper this resort, and the open air architecture makes it feel roomy and huge everywhere you go. The manager of the restaurant, Cailon, welcomed us with open arms and let us know we were being taken care of with whatever we needed.
Local tip: Grab a table during sunset for grand views
Drinks of choice on Hawaii usually include their signature fruit, the pineapple. Sweet and unique in flavor, it’s just the sort of thing we like in our hard drinks. We tried the Tahitian Pineapple, a tasty concoction of fruit and vanilla vodka. For something a little stronger, we tried the Passion whiskey fizz, which includes the passion fruit, lesser known than the pineapple but certainly not lesser tasting.
The opener included whole grain wheat sourdough bread, and a unique butter made with rosemary sea salt. In addition, we had a small fruit salad to wet our appetites for dinner.
Our server highly recommended a wine to pair with our dinner, and the wine of choice was a merlot by Stag’s Leap, which came from Napa valley. We always like merlot, and this was just as good as you’d hope. Of course, if you prefer another red or even white wine, the wine list is plentiful and full of great choices.
Where to stay: Kauai Shores Hotel
Looking for ocean views, comfortable rooms, and easy access to the beach? These and more await all who stay at Kauai Shores. A mere ten minute drive from the airport and boasting beach views right off of a postcard, this is the place to be on the Coconut Coast.
Just upon entering you know you’re in a special place. The decor of the driving entrance and spacious lobby reflects classic sixties style minimalist design, with bright oranges, aqua blues and muted greens dominating the color scheme. The lawns surrounding the property were all well manicured, and the exterior gave off a vibe of openness, truly reflecting the spirit of Aloha.
Complimentary valet parking is available, and self parking is also allowed. This was not only convenient but a relief after a long day exploring the island when we couldn’t wait to crash into bed. The staff was friendly and accommodating, and always able to get us what we needed, whether it was an extra blanket or even an extra bed.
Local tip: Take advantage of the complimentary valet parking
The rooms are spacious and comfortable. Large beds with a television, refrigerator, small safe, coffee maker, and a small comfy chair. There’s even complementary WiFi if you need to connect your devices. Air conditioning and a ceiling fan were present, which made sleeping easy and cozy. Especially since we were afforded a second floor space, which tend to be quieter just to our liking.
There’s always the ocean mere feet away to dive into, but if you prefer a fresh water swim then the pool, sauna and outdoor showers are right at the entrance. There are two pools on the property so you can choose which one is closer or more convenient to your tastes.
And then there’s the prime location! In addition to the adjacent restaurant Lava Lava, there are a half dozen restaurants and shopping areas within minutes from the hotel. Truly, they have it all.
Where to dine: Lava Lava Restaurant
Right next door to the Kauai shores hotel is the fabulous Lava Lava restaurant. Sidle up to their bar, sit in a typical table, or get comfortable on the beach and dig your toes into the sand as you eat a delectable meal. No seat is a bad one, and you’re never out of view of the ocean. Dig in to their numerous dishes and you won’t leave dissatisfied or hungry.
The drink menu packs many surprises, but we were most interested in a tropical tasting drink. The Gillian’s girl cocktail had a coconut pineapple taste with a ginger twist, and even came in a unique coconut souvenir cup. If you prefer a more blended tropical drink, try the Lava Lava flow, which was made of strawberries and bananas with coconut cream. It was just right for a hot evening on the beach.
Local tip: Join them for live music and hula
Starting off a meal right is important, and a Caesar salad is always a favorite of us both. But to properly sample a taste of Hawaii, you need to get the Bambu pupu platter. It comes packed with the best seafood of the area, like ahi poke fish, and deep fried coconut shrimp and fritto misto. It also came with a thousand island dressing that was delicious to dip. And to satisfy the non fish eaters, the Tipsy tots are fabulous. The ranch sriracha sprinkled on top gave them just enough spice to satisfy.
The entrees to try are their specialties, the fish dishes. The best would be the Chinese five spice rubbed ahi. Set on top of yakisoba noodles and tendril salad, it comes with a tender taste and such intense flavor. The spices blend and create a fish dish unlike any other I’ve tasted. Otherwise, there’s the Huggo Teriyaki steak, a flank steak with sauce on top of fried rice and some bok choy on the side.
If you manage to keep some room in the stomach for dessert, there’s plenty to taste there, but we always have a weakness for Lava cakes. A small chocolate cake filled with melted chocolate liquid, and I just melt myself. But for the opposite end to get a cold dessert, you have to try the Sleeping Giant Ice Cream Pie. It’s a specialty of Hawaii, and is espresso ice cream and oreo cookie crust covered in a chocolate exterior. It finished the meal perfectly, and we couldn’t recommend it more.
Sitting on the ocean and under the sun, Oasis is the place to be for any meal of the day. We stopped by one day for lunch and have some grub to shout out in case you want to stop by.
The typical drink of Hawaii is the ‘Mai Tai,’ a concoction of pineapple, orange juice and coconut rum that even on the mainland transports you to the island. The other local favorite is the Lava flow.
We started our meal off with sweet potato chips covered in poblano cheese sauce, a nice twist on the typical chips and dip. They also looked neat, since they were made from sweet potatoes they gave off a purple hue. Then we chose the pork wonton, a dish we hadn’t tried before. It delighted us since it was a new deep fried food we weren’t familiar with, and came with a sweet teriyaki sauce.
Local tip: Grab and seat with a view
The entrees we singled out were the Makaweli Ranch Burger and the Fish Tacos. The burger is covered in deep fried onion bits and cheese, and is delicious. The fish tacos are delightful, especially since the fish inside them changes depending on the catch of the day. The day we were there it was kahala, a light fish that was augmented perfectly with avocado and veggies. After the fact, manager Brian recommended the Philly cheesesteak, so should we return, that will be first on our list to try.
Ending the meal was a special dessert plate filled with new delicacies for us to try. It started with two scoops of ice cream of pistachio and coffee flavors, which is known as the Beach Rock. Then there was a small gelato scoop of lemon and lilikoi taste, called the Phito cup. Finally, the surprise hit of the meal, was the Apple Banana spring roll. Unlike anything we’ve had before, it combined apple and banana into a cinnamon covered deep fried confection. If you order anything while there, get this!
Anyone visiting Hawaii who wants a genuine experience should visit the Hukilau Lanai, a genuine top place to dine and enjoy an evening. Manager Chrissy took special care to ensure we were comfortable and well fed.
To start out with drinks, we tried the Lilikoi Lemon drop. Lemons you are no doubt aware of, but you might be unaware of the other. Lilikoi is a variation on the passion fruit, and is immensely popular as both a shave ice topping, a toast topping, and a cocktail flavor. If you want something more salty than sweet though, their margarita is one of the best.
Appetizers included a sweet potato ravioli pupu platter, a unique variation of a dish familiar to us. It also came drenched in a butter sauce that was delicious. Then upon a relative’s recommendation, we gave the lobster and goat cheese wontons a try. We had just been introduced to wontons not long earlier and we weren’t sure it would work with lobster and goat cheese as the filler. Then we actually gave it a try and it bowled us over. If you don’t have a seafood allergy, you absolutely must give them a taste.
Local tip: Try their wine and food tasting menu
For entrees, there was one of their signature dishes, Wally’s steak. Cooked as you specify and soaked in a steak sauce, it is savory and comes with your choice of soup, Wally’s salad, or Caesar salad.
Dessert included the warm chocolate cake, a frequent favorite of ours, and it came covered in powdered sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Heavenly!
However, the show stealer of the night was the Food & Wine Tasting menu. A predetermined five course meal that can be ordered with or without drinks, it is a delight. The drinks are all wines specially picked to pair with the course they are served with.
The openers of the tasting menu were a small platter of various meats, and a small tasty soup called Island Gazpacho. The paired wines ranged in origin from Spain, to Germany, to Italy! The entrees included a shrimp & clams linguini and a short rib. Tender beef accompanied by sweet potatoes and cooked to a tender? Yum! The dessert of this menu offered two choices, and I had to go with the Hawaiian Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee, which was also paired with a fabulous dessert wine.
All the while we ate, local musicians serenaded us from afar and added great atmosphere to the place. We couldn’t have been happier with our visit and urge you to go their way should you find yourself on Kauai.
What to do: IronBridge Tattoo
Tattoo art decorates the walls of this cozy little studio right off the Kuhio highway. Our site founder Chloe has several tattoos, and wanted to add one to her roster that reflected her Hawaiian upbringing and the beauty of her homeland. For that, we turned to IronBridge Tattoo, the best place on the island to get one.
IronBridge is run by Matt Hoyme and Kobi Yasutake. Their portfolios are easily accessible on their Instagram account, but upon entering you can look at books on his front desk or just the walls to get an idea of what kind of work he does. His style reflects a heavy Asian influence, with a great variety of color.
The space is welcoming, and our artist Matt was very open and accommodating in discussing what was the right piece of art to get tattooed. He made some good suggestions, and based the image off a previous turtle he had drawn before.
Where to stay: Kauai Marriott Hotel
If you’re looking for a hotel to stay near the airport, the Lihue Marriott is in the right place and provides the best of convenience and luxury. Especially after a recent renovation, its rooms and amenities are all up to modern styles tastes and needs.
The hotel was established in the sixties as the Kauai Surf Hotel. Beginning with a basic building and growing with additions over the years, the hotel eventually was taken over by Westin, and later Marriott. The hotel is proud of its rich history, and around the first floor you can see various placards and photographs of the different iterations before it bloomed into its modern form, a sprawling resort with second to none amenities.
Local tip: Be sure to enjoy the architecture and artifacts
We were provided with a room on the second to highest floor, and it really is the place to stay. The views not only show off the extensive pool and grounds of the hotel, but also the adjacent beaches and ocean. We always felt like we were at the center of everything the hotel had to offer, and it showed!
The room included a king bed, a sofa, large tv, refrigerator, and spacious bathroom. In addition to the beautiful room, we were always able to call up room service, use the coin operated laundry, or if we liked, gather a group together for an outdoor barbecue.
The real attraction here was the pool area, though. Enormous in scale and grand in scope, the pool is legendary for being the largest out of any hotel on Kauai. If you do anything while staying there, it’s visiting the pool or one of its many covered hot tubs. There’s even waiter service if you feel like ordering a drink or a meal while you swim.
There’s plenty to see and do if you settle inside the Kauai Marriott. Swim in the enormous pool, relax in your fanciful room, dine in their restaurant, admire the interior garden or see the historical wooden canoe. From passive to active, Kauai Marriott has you covered.
Where to dine: Kukui’s
Kukui’s is located on the Kauai Marriott property and features breakfast, lunch and dinner options. For breakfast they have a large buffet-style option where you can choose from meats, waffles, eggs, potatoes, fruits, cereal and more.
There also is an omelet bar where you can choose a customized omelet. The restaurant is located on the ground level right next to the large open air pool and ocean.
During the day, pool-goers can take advantage of this open-air dining establishment for lunch and cocktails. There also cater to poolside guests, as a plus!
For dinner, guests can enjoy amazing Pacific Rim inspired cuisine with local favorites including, fresh catch of the day, local-style meats and veggies.
Where to stay: Koloa Landing Resort
Palm trees, drinks, and waterfalls await at Koloa Landing, the most impressive place to stay in Poipu. Koloa Landing offers expansive condo style places to stay with hotel style amenities, so comfortable you’ll feel like it’s a home away from home.
Entering your own condo is like moving into a richer person’s house. Our place was a two bedroom condo with two bathrooms, a full size kitchen, and a sweeping porch that allowed for panoramic views of the resort and ocean.
The kitchen came with a full refrigerator, microwave, oven, various appliances, and ample cabinet space. Adjacent to it was a full dining table, so it’s extremely easy to host many people over if you wish.
The master bedroom had its own entrance to the balcony, and both bedrooms had a television and were at least close to a bathroom.
Where to dine: HoloHolo Grill
When you’re ready to recline and enjoy a meal at Koloa Landing, head on down to the restaurant connected adjacent. The HoloHolo Grill offers an open air place to dine in, with tables covered and uncovered in case you don’t want to be exposed to the sun.
To drink, there’s the Strawberry lihing pop, a sweet confection that was pleasing to the eye. Then of course, the mai tai was as good as any we’ve had.
If you’re the breakfast type, there’s plenty to pique your interest. A traditional Hawaiian starter to the day, eggs and bacon with rice is available, but for an American south dish with a Hawaiian twist, we liked the chicken and waffles. With a side of syrup but dressed in strawberries and flower petals, it looked good and tasted even better.
Local tip: Try their local housemade desserts
For lunch or dinner entrees, we liked the chicken and rice dish. An old standby, but they make it so well! We then tried the poke ahi bowl, spiced and distinctive to taste. The manager’s entree of choice was the club sandwich, so you can get less exotic items like that if you prefer.
For dessert, we couldn’t resist our normal favorites of the lava cake and the cheesecake. To switch it up however, we tried the banana pudding, a divine combination of banana and crumbly wafers.
Holoholo is where you want to eat in Poipu if you stay at Koloa landing or are just passing through the area.
Built on the site of the manor house of Hawaii’s first sugar plantation, Plantation Gardens continues to make magnificent food for its patrons just like it did seventy years ago. The location is beautiful, surrounded by gardens, trees with colored lights, and water lily ponds. Plus, if you ever wanted to get a look at the biggest cactus you’ve ever seen, this is the place.
We were seated out on the porch section during sunset, just the time and place to relax like the old folks did back in the 1930’s. We drank the lavender pina colada, and the plantation breeze, two cocktails that delivered fruity flavor with a cool texture just right for the ending of a hot day.
Local tip: Take time to browse their expansive garden
We were also accommodated with Dreaming Tree wine, a nice alternative to the typical cocktail fare. The caesar salad always receives a recommendation from us, but there was also the dinner rolls, which were purple since they were made from sweet potatoes.
For entrees, I was attracted to the Seafood laulau. Laulau is a uniquely native Hawaiian dish, that usually consists of pork and veggies wrapped in a taro leaf and cooked in an underground oven. This version of the dish had opa fish and shrimp, so it gave its own distinctive flavor. Chloe is a big chicken fan, so she went with the chicken linguini.
We ended the meal with the ice cream and sorbet, a mix of chocolate ice cream and marshmallow almonds. However, the dessert that stole the show was the Baked Hawaiian, a hula pie style dessert with chocolate peanut brittle, which just might have been my favorite dessert of the trip.
Right off the main road and looking like an old boathouse, Keoki’s Paradise whisks you away on a journey to a classic Hawaiian restaurant, with boisterous atmosphere and amazing food.
The drinking menu included an attractive looking concoction, the blue room, which came with a beautiful aqua hue and was sweet to taste. The highlight may have been the Poipu Pina Colada, which came in a hollowed out pineapple!
We liked the warm spinach and artichoke dip, which came with chips and garlic bread. One of the more interesting sides we had ever heard of was the muffins. They were made of pineapple carrot, and came with a honey cinnamon butter. It was a combination we didn’t think would work upon hearing it, but we ordered it upon recommendation, and it was a hit with both of us.
Local tip: Try the fresh catch of the day!
Entrees included the Kushiyaki chicken, an Asian inspired dish grilled over a charcoal fire with veggies for a distinctive shish-kabob-style flavor. For a fish plate, there is the Chef Fish Duo. It’s a daily catch special that depends on what fish they have caught that day, which in our case was Monchong and Ono. They were both augmented with fabulous miso cream sauce and citrus vinaigrette, which elevated it to terrific heights.
Dessert included the classic Hula pie, drizzled in nuts and chocolate sauce to make the perfect cap to our evening.
Wonderful food, friendly atmosphere, and native style music made visiting this place an experience to remember. Sitting next to a small creek with palm trees hanging over and men singing and strumming ukuleles in front of you as you sip a pina colada out of a genuine pineapple.
What to do: Holo Holo Charters, Sunset Dinner Cruise
Everyone familiar with Hawaii and Kauai in particular knows about the extraordinary natural beauty of the islands. But pictures and videos are one thing, it’s another to actually see it up close. That’s where Sunset Dinner Cruises comes in.
Sightseeing the Kauai coastline is unlike sightseeing any other place in the world. Not just the imagery of the land and water, but even occasional wildlife to be spotted in the ocean. So get ready to set sail, look at some of the greatest views on the island, eat wonderful food and connect with cool people.
Upon checking in, we were welcomed outside the offices by our Captain, Drew. He gave us detailed explanations of what we were going to see, and just as important, what we were to expect as boat riders. He was an effective communicator and made clear right up front we were going to have a good time.
Local tip: Keep an eye out for popular filming locations
We sailed out around the Napali coast on southern and western Kauai, taking in extraordinary visuals like the green mountainous terrain, majestic sea edge cliffs, numerous waterfalls, and even filming locations for several well known Hollywood movies like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ ‘The Descendants,’ and Jurassic Park.
Throughout the journey he provided narration as he piloted the boat, explaining where we were and what significance it had related to the island’s history. Our attendants Jay and Jess were equally accommodating, serving complimentary drinks, answering any questions we had about the landscapes or wildlife, and taking pictures for anybody who wanted to pose.
Food for dinner began with nice small appetizers like carrots and celery with ranch dip. The dinner comprised of tacos with pork and black beans, and were just divine. Do be cautious that you don’t get easily seasick though, as the boat does float over some choppy water! The staff are on hand to get you ginger sodas and sweets to keep your stomach settled.
As the sun set, everyone on the boat got a million dollar view. After a journey that took about three hours, it was a worthy end to the festivities. The views were top notch, the food great, the service extraordinary and the experience unforgettable.
Getting around: Discount Hawaii Car Rental
Once you’re done planning where you’ll stay and eat, it may be easy to forget to plan how you’ll get around Kauai. Public transportation is available, but then you have to operate by their schedule, and its stops are limited to more popular places. Plus, sitting in the Hawaiian heat waiting for a bus isn’t the best use of your time in paradise, so a car is much preferred.
But where to rent your car? Discount Hawaii Car Rental is the premier place online to set up getting your rental car on Kauai so transportation during your vacation is hassle free. Here, you’ll get the most affordable rates around the island.
You’ll also save hundreds of dollars as opposed to using a separate car rental service, or having to deal with locals who are prone to overcharging, since they know the options are limited. But not here!
You’ll have a variety of options from top rental car agencies, whether it be Dollar, Avis, or Enterprise.
Sea-Tac parking, lodging: Seattle Airport Marriott
We caught a late night plane out of Kauai to get back to Seattle, but since we have a hard time sleeping on airplanes we knew we wouldn’t be up to the long drive back home upon arriving. That’s was where the Seattle Airport Marriott came to our rescue, accommodating us with a one night stay so we could recover after our hectic vacation.
The hotel itself experienced a recent redesign that emphasized a more sleek, modern look. An expansive lobby, dining hall, and open pool area greet any guest upon entering. The rooms themselves make the most of their space, with huge beds, sizable bathrooms, and a large tv and desk that make you feel right at home.
Whether you need a place to stay the night before a flight out, or a place to rest after a long red eye, the Seattle Airport Marriott has you covered.