Hawaii Vacation Ideas: Tips For Visiting Kauai

By Kaeli Conforti
October 26, 2012
The view from the Kalalau Lookout on Kauai's Na Pali Coast
Courtesy <a href="" target="_blank"> ayashbasu/myBudgetTravel</a>

I've got Hawaii on the brain. I recently wrote about the best places to see on the island of Oahu, the can't miss attractions of Maui, and recommendations for visiting the Big Island. Now here are my tips for things you shouldn't miss on the island of Kauai.

Visit Waimea Canyon, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific"
The western side of Kauai is home to Waimea Canyon, about an hour's drive on scenic curvy roads that offer views of the nearby island of Ni'ihau (only accessible to native Hawaiians) and gorgeous views of the mountains, valleys, and the bluest ocean you've ever seen. "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" features many of the same geological traits as its namesake—think crested buttes, deep gorges, and colorful rock formations—and is more than 3,600 feet deep, measuring 14 miles long by one mile wide. Stay on Waimea Canyon Drive and keep driving until you reach the Waimea Canyon Overlook.

Honeymooners—Elvis fans—shouldn't miss a trip to the Fern Grotto
If thoughts of Kauai have you picturing scenes of The King in Blue Hawaii, the Fern Grotto is a spot you shouldn't miss. Entry to the grotto used to be forbidden to all except Hawaiian royalty, but nowaways anyone can catch a 40-minute cruise down the Wailua River to the site for about $20 per person ($10 for children ages 3-12) and take in views of one of Kauai's greatest natural wonders. Folks have been known to get married or renew their vows here, and if you're engaged, newlyweds, or celebrating a wedding anniversary, be prepared to come forward for a slow dance to Elvis Presley's Hawaiian Wedding Song—the Hawaiian lyrics in it were sung here long before the film.

Hike, kayak, camp, and explore Kauai's secluded Na Pali Coast
If you're an outdoorsy person, nature lover, or just want to see some of the best views on the island without dealing with the tourist crowds, make sure you visit Kauai's beautiful Na Pali Coast. There are no roads on the westernmost side of the island, making it one of the last isolated, untouched, natural places in the Hawaiian Islands. Determined travelers can view the rocky terrain from the air with any number of helicoptor tours, or view the coastline from a boat tour or guided kayak trip, while more adventurous types can try hiking the 11-mile Kalalau Trail from Kee Beach to Kalalau Beach—the full hike is best broken up into a two-day trip, and camping permits are available for $20 per person per night (with a five night maximim stay) thorugh the Hawaii State Parks Department. Kokee State Park offers more challenging hiking trails, like Awaawapuhi Trail, that lead to scenic overlooks while other hikes like Cliff Canyon and Black Pipe Trail are better suited for family hiking trips.

Drive up to a beautiful waterfall
Kauai is home to a number of impressive waterfalls, two of which are accessible by car alone. Wailua Falls is located just a few miles from downtown Lihue and can be viewed from the road, so there's no need to hike for a great view. Just drive north from Lihue to Ma'alo Road in Halamaulu, and follow the road uphill for another three miles. Another beautiful waterfall, Opaeka'a Falls, is viewable from Kuamo'o Road, but those wanting a closer look can brave the tough half-hour hike from the two-mile marker past the lookout point on Highway 580.

Get a slice of Hawaiian history
Hanapepe Town on Kauai's southwest coast is home to a bustling Hawaiian art scene, with an art celebration every Friday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when the town's painters, sculptors, and other artists open their gallery and studio doors to showcase their work. Those seeking an authentic trip into Hawaii's past should visit the museums and historic sites along the Koloa Heritage Trail—visit the Kihaha'ouna Heiau (an ancient Hawaiian temple), Poipu Beach Park (home to the island's endangered Hawaiian monk seals), and other sites dating back to Kauai's former days as a sugar plantation hotspot. The Kilohana Plantation in Lihue is a 16,000 square-foot restored plantation estate that offers a chance to see what life was like in Kauai during the 1930s—also on-site is the Koloa Rum Company, where you can sample the island's best rum every half hour on the half hour beginning at 10 a.m. daily. Located on Kauai's North Shore about a 45 minute drive north of Lihue is the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, great for stunning views of the Pacific and access to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a safehaven for a number of native bird species found on the island including the endangered state bird, the nene goose.

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Vintage Travel: Eating at the Airport in 1941

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Can a Chain Hotel Offer Unique, Boutique Touches?

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Five Museums You Won't Want to Miss

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Where to Stay in Istanbul

Gumusyan Hotel &amp; Restaurant BeyogluThe folks behind this city-center newcomer, opened in October 2010, stripped the century-old residence to its elements. The original brick walls, wood-plank floors, and 130-year-old-walnut slab headboards now lend an authentic patina that newer hotels can only approximate. There's more to this property than just great bones, though. The owners also filled the 14 rooms with a stylish mix of modern furniture (lime-green sofas, Bertoia-style wire-mesh chairs) and classic Ottoman details such as suzani fabrics and Iznik tiles. The hotel has even begun luring locals to its ground-floor restaurant, an upscale take on a meyhane, a traditional Turkish tavern. 9 Asmali Mescit Cad.,, from $119.  House Hotel GalatasarayBeyogluA recent makeover at the hands of urban-cool Turkish design firm Autoban wed the best features of this 19th century building (a sweeping marble staircase, ornate plasterwork) with crisp, contemporary, Scandinavian furnishings. The hotel's 20 guest rooms don't skimp on the creature comforts: king-size, pillow-top beds with goose-down duvets; marble baths stocked with L'Occitane products. But guests may still find themselves haunting the top-floor atrium, where they can lounge on Chesterfield sofas in front of the fireplace or take in the views of Suleymaniye Mosque and the medieval stone Galata Tower. 19 Bostanbasi Cad.,, from $142.Villa DeniseArnavutköyThe ancient fishing village of Arnavutköy, 30 minutes from the old city by bus, has served as a waterfront retreat for centuries. The last sultans of the Ottoman Empire chose this spot along the Bosphorus for their grandiose hillside homes, and today Istanbul residents make day trips to explore the district's winding cobblestoned streets and celebrated seafood joints. Villa Denise, with its narrow, wallpapered hallways, canopy-draped beds, and tufted fainting couches, evokes the area's haute history—just overlook the odd veneer side table or shabby fixture that tempers the elegance. Two of the five guest rooms have balconies, and all have at least partial views of the Bosphorus. 50 Birinci Cad.,, from $144.Ascot Hotel Büyükada At a glance, this 22-room hotel could be just another spruced-up Victorian mansion. Then you notice the neon lights that wash its Doric columns in blue and purple and the Hollywood Regency décor (damask wallpaper, lots of lacquer) in the lobby, and you realize: This hotel is no mere relic. Rooms aim for opulence—most have crystal chandeliers and private balconies—while the large pool, sundeck, and Finnish sauna underscore the resort-escape feel. It's a bit out of the way, on car-free Büyükada island; ferry rides from town take 35 minutes to an hour, depending on the boat. But that's the whole point: You won't find this kind of lost-in-time peace and quiet anywhere on the mainland. 6 Cinar Cad.,, from $118.