kauai, hawaii, the best of kauai, the best of kauai

Dear Curious SooN Adults of the Internet,

I absolutely love Kauai.  It is my favorite Hawaiian Island — a data set that also includes Hawaii [aka the big island], Maui and Oahu.  In total, I have been to Kauai 6 times.

I have pulled together these highlights.

If you visit — I am curious to learn about your SooN Kauai discoveries and hope to hear about them in the comments section!



I’d love to share how my self-proclaimed super power of bringing process to chaos has influenced it. You can learn about the SooN LIVING origin story on START HERE


It takes time to waste time. Skip right to it!


Air Travel

The main airport, Lihue, is a small international airport. There is basically one main road on Kauai which outlines the island and is shaped like a U.  Lihue is at the midpoint of the U opposite to the part of the island that makes up the gap — which is the Nā Pali Coast.

Ground Travel

Do not go to Kauai if you are unable to afford car rental.  There is so much to do and you simply won’t be able to do the majority of it well if you do not have a car.  I typically used Kayak to find the best rate.  Before kids, I was particular about my car rental type — going “specialty” and getting a Jeep Wrangler with soft-top.  It was incredibly fun to drive around in the Hawaiian sun with a convertible 4×4 vehicle!

One important note: prioritize booking your car. I learned the hard way during my Christmas trip in 2012 that inventory can be limited on this little Hawaiian Island.  Following this painful lesson, I started booking our car immediately after booking our airfare.


Two quick call outs:

1. I have personally stayed at each of the locations listed in this category. I feel Poipu is the best location to stay in Kauai because:

a) It is on the South Shore which is the sunny and dry side of the island.

b) There are a ton of beaches that have little to know current so they are safe to swim. Beach access on my beach vacation is sort of a non-negotiable for me.

2. I prefer to stay in a private rental vs. a commercial rental for a few reasons:

a) I don’t actually spend a lot of time INSIDE the property

b) I can cook my own meals in my own kitchen.  This is important to me because I feel my food is MUCH better than anything I’ve found in an overpriced Kauai restaurant.

c) Private rentals are often more reasonably priced which gives me more discretionary income for my vacation.

d) Private rentals often include a washer/dryer which is SO HELPFUL because who wants to travel home with a large pile of dirty laundry?  [Especially when traveling WITH kids.]

Commercial Rentals

The Princeville Resort Kauai in Princeville| learn more

This was the first place I stayed in Kauai.  It is a beautiful resort BUT it constantly rains on the North Shore due to its proximity to Mount Waialeale [which is one of the wettest places in the world].  Since Seattle is already pretty wet, I avoid staying in Princeville all together.

Kauai Shores in Kapaa | learn more

We only stayed here for one night and it was pretty bad.  [I would liken my experience to one in a budget hotel in New York City].  In this case, “cheap” didn’t leave me feeling too “cheerful”. It looks like it is under new ownership so hopefully that has led to some positive changes.

Private Rentals

Lawai Beach Resort in Poipu | learn more

This is the first place I stayed in Poipu.  The space itself is a great balance between comfortable and convenient.  Pool is good.  It’s right across the street from one of the best snorkeling spots on the south shore.  Also across the street from a popular restaurant/sunset spot where you can enjoy watching surfers as you sip drinks and wait for the sun to go down.  Two thumbs up!

Kiahuna Plantation #123 in Poipu | learn more

This was the first place that Jason and I stayed together in Kauai.  We were on vacation for our second wedding anniversary and I have to say I think that is by far my FAVORITE place that I have stayed in Kauai! The property is directly on Kiahuna Beach which is the same beach as the Sheraton Kauai Resort.  The unit itself is really nice, great kitchen and the owners had great customer focus and customer service. FIVE STARS!

Koloa Landing Resort in Poipu| learn more

This is beautiful luxury property had just opened when we stayed there. The only downside is that it is not beachfront.  The pool is great and I can see this being a real winner with kids.  It was also about a minute drive to the nearby Kiahuna Beach which again is the same beach as the Sheraton Kauai Resort. I would definitely stay here again with our kids.

Poipu Kai #221 in Poipu | learn more

In December 2013 Jason and I stayed here during our winter vacation. My aunt, uncle, his mother and their three children also stayed here. Yes, eight of us! It was THAT big.  It fit all our needs, was about a 10-minute walk to Poipu Beach Park and would definitely be my first pick if you have a large family/group.

Waipouli Beach Resort in Kapaa | learn more

This is a nice property with modern kitchens and a nice pool area. However, the current on the Coconut Coast is too strong and I felt unsafe swimming in it.  I prefer to be in the ocean on a beach vacation vs. the pool which made me realize that the money I saved by staying in Kappa wasn’t worth the longing I experienced by constantly wishing I would have booked somewhere in Poipu.

Provisions & Essentials


Grocery Stores


Costco | 4300 Nuhou St, Lihue, HI 96766 | learn more

We usually go to Costco which is right next to the airport before we head to our private rental.  We load up on essentials like eggs, non-alcoholic beverages [POG – do it!], snacks [Mauna Loa Macadamias], fresh fruit and vegetables [mangos, watermelon, avocados, tomatoes, spinach, etc.], and alcohol [beer, wine, vodka!].  This strategy is both cost effective and efficient.

Walmart |3-3300 Kuhio Hwy, Lihue, HI 96766 | learn more

We have stopped by here a few times for non-bulk and inexpensive purchases such as sunscreen, cheap beach toys and a reusable cooler. It was helpful to have these items and I felt much better about purchasing them and leaving them behind because they were so much more inexpensive vs. buying them at a souvenir shop or paying to pack them. It always leaves me guilt-free by not bringing the stuff home and instead “gifting” it to other vacationers on our last day.

Big Save | 5516 Koloa Rd, Koloa, HI ‎| learn more

This market was a great find for us for non-Costco purchases. We would typically pick up a protein [fish, chicken, beef] for dinner here almost daily.

Safeway Lihue | 4454 Nuhou St Suite #301, Lihue, HI 96766 | learn more

— or —

Safeway Kapaa | 4-831 Kuhio Hwy, Kapaa, HI 96746 | learn more

Depending on your location, it can be helpful for non-Costco purchases as well.

Dining Out

I honestly can’t recommend anything from the North Shore or Kapaa.  Overpriced and underwhelming restaurant food is the main reason why I prefer to cook in my own condo and minimize eating out.  I now only eat out twice in Kauai: a dinner cruise and a luau which is outlined in the Adventure & Entertainment section. That said, here are a two spots on the South Shore that I am happy to recommend:

Lappert’s Ice Cream & Coffee | 5242 Koloa Rd, Koloa, HI ‎| learn more

Get the Coconut Macadamia Nut Fudge – AMAZING! We seriously go every night!

Puka Dog | 2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr, Koloa, HI 96756 | learn more

I’m not a big fan of hotdogs but these are not bad and it is a quick/easy lunch if you need.

Adventure & Entertainment


Two quick call outs:

1. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed.  I found paperback easier then the ebook on Kindle and recommend grabbing one from Amazon before you go so you can dive deep into all of Andrew’s recommendations.

2. There is tons of stuff to do and it would be impossible to do it all.  I do make it a priority to split each day between beach/relaxing and adventure/activity.  For instance, a hike in the morning followed by beach in the afternoon.  Or daytime beach fun followed by a dinner cruise.

These are my “must dos” EVERY time we go:

Captain Andy’s Napali Dinner and Sunset cruise [aka Southern Star Na Pali Sunset Dinner Sail] | learn more

This is a great way to see that Napali coast and enjoy the sunset.  Jay and I do it every time we go and have also recruited other family/friends to join us.  There has not yet been a poor review.

The “Secret” Beach Mahaulepu Beach [aka “Gillins beach] | learn more

BYOC [bring your own chairs] I always have a great time on this secluded beach and see tons of sea turtles!

Smith’s Tropical Luau and Show | learn more

If you have never been to a luau, this is the one to go to.  The grounds are also beautiful and great for pictures — you can also check them out during the day.  I’ve heard the Fern Grotto is cool but we haven’t been on that yet.

Allerton Garden | learn more

I thought this was going to be lame, but it was actually really great.  It is a guided tour and if you can swing it, go on the tour with the Italian guide. He is the best!

Waimea Canyon | learn more

I recommend stopping at all the lookout points [as well as packing some snacks for the drive].  There is an incredible view from the last stop  — enjoy!

Beach House Restaurant | 5022 Lawai Road, Koloa, HI 96756 | learn more

This is that great spot across from the Lawai Beach Resort that I mentioned.  I’ve never eaten here so I can’t recommend it as a restaurant. I do like to grab some cocktails and then watch the sunset [and surfers].  The cove right next to it is one of the best South Shore snorkeling spots. It you happen to snorkel before sunset then you will already have your spot claimed when everyone else moves in.  [You can even BYOB].

Snuba | learn more

Snuba!  It’s snorkeling with an oxygen tank!  I loved this because I always felt like I had to come up for air just when I was getting to the good part while snorkeling [departs next to the Beach House].

Irrigation Tunnel Tubing Tour | learn more

This was pretty interesting — it is a tour via innertubes of the irrigation ditches they made to tap into Mount Waialeale’s water for the sugar plantations.

The Kalalau Trail | learn more

Some people travel to Kauai JUST to do this 22-mile hike.  It is amazing but not for everyone [we only made it to the first milestone which is 2-miles in and then 2-miles out, 4 hours of hiking!]  Here is a great article from the HuffPost on why this is one of the most sought-after hikes in the world.  If you are going to go for the full hike — get your camping permits early because they are limited and go quick!

Ha’ena State Park | learn more

This is right next to the Kalalau trail and is the last spot you can take your car before the Napali coast begins.  It is a beautiful beach with great reefs and snorkeling.

Pro Tips


Hire a professional photographer

Professional photos are a great way to memorialize your special occasion. As long as you don’t mention the word wedding — there are plenty of local photographers that will be reasonably priced. I typically search Craigslist Kauai and aim to book 1-2 months in advance. 


5 Private Rental Must Pack Items

  1. Fire TV/Roku | hook up to the rental wifi
  2. Echo/Bluetooth speaker | make your dance party portable
  3. A great chef’s knife | all rental knives are predictably dull
  4. Your favorite spices | pack small quanties so you don’t have to spend a fortune on garlic powder etc.
  5. Coffee | we consume ~1 pound a week and grew tired of paying the 3x island markup 


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