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Okay, here you go folks — my Kauai North Shore Travel Guide! A little recap of some of my favorite places to eat, things to do, and more from Kauai!
Now, to be clear, when we have visited Kauai, we typically stick to staying on the north end of the island, so this list of recommendations will focus on that area. The south and northern shores have characteristics of their own. Where you choose to stay depends on your preferences and the kind of vacation experience you are looking for. It is important to note that there is no need to worry too much about it either because Kauai is a small island and you can drive from one tip to the other in less than an hour. We intend to explore the south shore a bit more next summer but just wanted to clarify that this list is specifically focused on the North Shore. If you are curious to learn more about North vs. South Shore, this blog does a good job describing the differences to help inform your decision.
For us, the North Shore is our absolute favorite place for a family vacation (now that our kids are older and can explore more with us) and just a more relaxing getaway. I love that we can really slow down, unplug, connect with nature, and just adventure together! Plentiful and stunning beaches, beautiful hikes, picturesque views everywhere you turn, delicious food and restaurants, and so much more! We first discovered its charm and beauty about 8 years ago at some of our best friends’ (hi Rachel and Jeff!) wedding. Rachel grew up going to Hanalei Bay with her family in the summertime, which is why they chose the location for their wedding. We quickly fell in love and knew one day we’d take the kids when they got a little bit older. It’s quickly become our favorite family vacation spot and one we intend to travel to often with our kids each summer.
Now, let’s hop into my recommendations for my Kauai North Shore Travel Guide!
Where to Stay:
Vacation Rentals: We typically rent a vacation home when we visit. While I don’t feel comfortable sharing our exact home rental (as we like to rent the same one each time), I recommend searching through Hawai’i Life Real Estate for vacation rental options. There are also listings via VRBO, AirBnB, and more. As far as location goes, I recommend looking for places in or near Hanalei, Princeville, and Kilauea. All are in close proximity to one another and near all the great beaches, hikes, and more.
Hotels/Condos: The beauty of the North Shore is that there aren’t a ton of resorts/hotels. In Princeville, however, you’ll find it’s the North Shore’s resort town as many of the condos and resorts are found here. There is a beautiful hotel property (formerly a St. Regis Hotel) that is currently being renovated by 1Hotels and will be reopening in the Winter/Spring 2023. There are a lot of condos and other smaller resorts there, too, that you can look into!
Where to Eat:
Okay, now for the stuff I know best for this Kauai North Shore Travel Guide — FOOD. Keep in mind that many of the restaurants on the island do not take reservations and are short-staffed, so come patient and not too hungry as there is typically a wait at most of the popular spots!
- The Dolphin (Sushi & Seafood) — No reservations. Usually easy to get a table.
- The Dolphin Fish Market — Located behind the Dolphin restaurant, a MUST go to buy fresh fish to cook at home/make sushi/ceviche. I practically went here daily to get fresh fish and cook OR to grab some sushi rolls/poke for easy lunches/snacks by the beach.
- Ama — One of the “nicer” restaurants in the area but also very family-friendly. Can make reservations on Yelp. Go ahead and make them now, they will be sold out every night. If you go early enough (5 PM) you can possibly get a table without a reservation!
- Bar Acuda — Same owner as Ama. Awesome Tapas! Not quite as family-friendly but depends on your kid’s ages/their ability to hang in a restaurant environment. The food here is at the top of our list!!! It’s DELICIOUS. Make reservations 30 days in advance on Yelp, they go fast! Will also be sold out every night.
- Hanalei Pizza — A great spot for take-out pizza to just hang out at home
- Tahiti Nui — Our #1 favorite spot on the island that I absolutely needed to include in this Kauai North Shore Travel Guide! Live music most nights and our absolute favorite for Mai Tai’s and fun times! Can’t make reservations so go early and get a table and just hang out and listen to music. (must get their Famous Mai Tai, the coconut shrimp and the Ahi Carpaccio!)
- Hanalei Gourmet — A great lunch spot that has been around forever. No reservations.
- Pat’s Tacos — Opens daily at noon near Hanalei Pier, great to grab tacos when hanging on the beach!
- Tropical Taco — A favorite lunch spot; great fish tacos and the best chips! Also- the beef tacos are fantastic here.
- Hanalei Poke — A great spot to stop and grab poke!
- Wishing Well Shave Ice — The best shaved ice on the island! Usually a long line, but well worth the wait!
- JoJo’s Shaved Ice — Another option near the grocery store if Wishing Well is too long.
- Hanalei Bread Co. — Coffee & avo toast every morning. The best breakfast spot in town.
- Aloha Juice Bar — We love grabbing acai bowls for a late breakfast or an afternoon snack! Doesn’t open until 10 AM.
- Hanalei Farmers Market — Typically open on Saturdays and a great place to wander around for local goods, fresh produce, and fun!
- Village Snack Shop — Great local food, get the Chili Pepper Chicken and the Chocolate Haupia (coconut pie). Also, great cinnamon rolls for breakfast if open (hours are inconsistent, so just be aware).
- Hanalei Market- this new grocery store is stunning! It’s packed with all of our favorite health food products if you need to stock up. They also have great pre-made salads, sandwiches, etc. if you are wanting to grab and go something in a hurry or for a beach picnic.
- Fresh Bite Kauai- This food truck is filled with delicious organic foods. If you are wanting a scrumptious, healthy lunch– this is a no brainer! I love the Gaucho Salad!
- Holy Grail — Amazing, made fresh to order donuts. Fried in coconut oil and made with Taro! So good!
- The Big Save — If you are staying in Hanalei and planning on cooking, this is the closest grocery store to stock up on basic pantry staples/produce. It’s got a decent selection for running in and grabbing things, but I also recommend driving to Kilauea Market for more organic/specialty items or FoodLand in Princeville for a larger selection. Both are very close.
- Tiki Iniki — Tiki bar and casual food
- Welina Terrace– for a more upscale dining experience with incredible views, Welina Terrace at the 1Hotel Hanalei is a great spot to go for cocktails, sushi, and watch the incredible Hanalei Bay sunset. Make sure to book your table a little before sunset for great views! I also recommend this spot for just cocktails at the bar and sunset if you don’t want to dine here.
- Saenz Ohana Breakfast — for breakfast burritos.
- The Spot- Another great ‘spot’ for breakfast! Get the Eggs Benedict Bowl!
- FoodLand — Great local grocery store and great poke!
- Princeville Wine Market — Great liquor and wine store to stock up
- Hideaway Pizza- super casual pizza pub for an easy breezy pizza night.
- Kilauea Fish Market — The best tuna wraps and food for a quick lunch! Plus you can grab fresh fish for cooking at home!
- Trilogy Coffee
- Sushi Girl Hawaii — Great food truck for sushi + sushi burritos.
- Pau Hana Bakery — Awesome pizza.
- Kilauea Bakery — Wonderful fresh-baked bread and great for pizza by the slice. Try an ube (purple sweet potato) pastry for something local and different!
- Kilauea Market and Cafe —The best grocery store in the area!! Great selection and worth the drive!
- Kilauea Farmers Markets — Typically open on Saturdays! A wider selection than Hanalei!
- Kauai Juice Co- this place is just all around fabulous. For organic pressed juices, healthy grab and go eats, and delicioius lunch– this spot is a true gem in Kilaeua!
- Java Kai- For amazing coffee, breakfast or lunch!! We are regulars at this spot when we visit Kauai.
- Kountry Style Kitchen Restaurant — Great breakfast + local fare. A good spot to get the popular local dish, Loco Moco, on the island.
- Hukilau Lanai — Top-ranked restaurant on the North Shore.
- Lava Lava Beach Club
- Pono Market — Great for poke.
- Oasis on the Beach — Looks like a fun new American seafood spot.
- Sleeping Giant Grill — Tacos, poke, seafood. Some of the BEST fish tacos I’ve ever had (get the fried ono). A must-go to.
- Java Kai— Great coffee shop!
- Mermaid’s Cafe — Brunch/breakfast spot– very good!
- Paco’s Tacos — Really great tacos/Mexican food. Great margaritas too!
- Olympic Cafe — Recommended by a friend for Hawaiian fare.
- Mark’s Place — Another really good plate lunch spot (in Lihue), their Korean fried chicken is fire. Katsu chicken is also really good.
THINGS TO DO:
The best thing about Kauai, is that there are so many things to do and you can be as active and adventurous as you want! If you are an outdoorsy type, this is the place for you! We usually do a moderate amount of activity (as we have a 6-year-old and 9-year-old) and then a lot of beach/chill time. There are plenty of hikes to do, wonderful kayaking adventures, boat rides, secret beaches, and so much more. The world is your oyster in Kauai and I am probably going to only scratch the surface by sharing a list of recommendations here and will add more as we continue to explore the island.
Boat Tour — The only boat tour that departs from Hanalei for Na Pali Coast is Na Pali Catamaran. This is the best way to see the Na Pali Coast without having to do a difficult hike. There are a lot of tours that depart from the south side of the island, but the drive will be 1.5-2 hrs just to get there. We loved this tour so much and got to explore caves, waterfalls and see the coast all in 4 hours! Do not do it on a rainy/windy day as it is not a traditional catamaran. If you are staying on the South Shore, I recommend doing the Captain Andy’s tour!
Surf Lessons — Sutton and I took surf lessons with Titus Surf School and had so much fun! I know there are a ton of different surf lesson groups though that are also great. Sutton fell in love with it and took multiple lessons!
Kayak Wailua– we absolutely LOVE this adventure. In fact, it’s a top must do for me. We did the guided kayak adventure, where you kayak up the Wailua River (approximately 2 miles). You’ll park your kayak and then begin an expedition on foot through the beautiful canyons and tropical rainforest of the Wailua River Valley interior to the Uluwehi Falls (aka ‘secret falls’). The waterfall is absolutely stunning and a big reward for the work put in to getting there. You’ll then venture back to your kayaks, and then kayak back to the marina. A few notes:
- This is approximately a 5 hour adventure. We did the one that started at 8am and finished around 12:30pm.
- Bring your own lunch, water, drinks and towels. We did a picnic by the falls, which you’ll want! We worked up an appetite. Kayak Wailua provided dry bags and coolers that we could pack once we got there. I just packed a sandwich for each of us and through a few bars in for the kids in case they needed a snack on the kayak, too!
- Wear sturdy water shoes for the hike for best results! You’ll walk through some river/water areas as well as some muddy areas, too. (They sell them there if you need).
- We did take our kids (7 and 10 years old at the time) on this adventure. We had 2 double kayaks- 1 adult + 1 kid per kayak. This does make for more work on the adult (my kids weren’t great help!) but totally doable. With that said, it is moderately challenging— but my kids loved it and it was worth the work!!
Hanalei Hiking Options: https://www.alltrails.com/hawaii/kauai/hanalei
- Queens Bath – a beautiful, short and fairly simple hike, although the first portion of the hike is a steep downhill and not great to do if muddy. The end result is a big reward with stunning views and a unique, natural tide pool. Pleae note that this hike is also known to be dangerous, as hikers have been swept off the edge of the cliffs. (you should always do your own research before hiking ALL trails to understand potential dangers!)
- Okolehau Trail — This leads you up into the mountains overlooking Hanalei. It’s an amazing view.
- Sleeping Giant — This is on the East Side and has many access points and trail options. One of the most popular on the island.
- Koke’e State Park/Waimea — This a bit of a drive, about 2 hours, but it’s absolutely worth it if you’re up for the day trip.
- Ho’opii Falls — A fun one we did with the kids and big reward at the end, as you get to see two waterfalls– the second waterfall has a rope swing. Pretty easy hike, although a few steep areas.
- Kalalau Trail — Kauai’s most popular and one of the world’s most popular as it takes you along Na Pali Coast. We have never done the full hike as it is also known to be very scary/dangerous. The trail runs approximately 11 miles (18 km) along the island’s north shore from Keʻe Beach to the Kalalau Valley. The full trail requires a permit/an overnight camping pass/and a lot of planning. The first section of the trail is a 2 mile stretch from Keʻe Beach to Hanakapiai stream and beach. This section is moderately strenuous and does not require a camping permit and this is the hike that Clayton and I did together. A few takeaways:
- Please note that no matter which hike you choose, you will need to plan in advance and reserve a pass (www.gohaena.com). If you book far enough in advance you can do the “parking and entry pass” option, but there is very limited availability. We did the “shuttle and entry pass” option and it was very easy and smooth. They have *all* the information you need on their website.
- We did the day pass and hiked to Hanakapiai stream and beach. It’s a little over 2 miles there, so about 4 miles total. It took us about 3 hours to complete the hike and we didn’t stop for too long at the beach. Depending on how “leisurely” you hike- I’d plan for 4 hours round trip.
- If it has rained a lot, the trail can be more treacherous
- Don’t show up in flip flops for this- wear proper hiking shoes and bring water/snack! You could also pack a sandwich for a picnic at the beach.
- The Hanakapiai Beach is the most deadly on the islands of Hawaii as it has no reef barrier to resist the powerful ocean currents which hit the shore with full force. Do not swim in the water here and be aware of your surroundings always.
- We haven’t taken our kids on this hike, but we did see some families on the hike. I will say, it was a little more challenging than I had anticipated, but you can go at your own pace and it is a wonderful, beautiful hike. I think my 10 year old could have done it at a slower pace, but not my 7 year old.
- I recommend booking earlier in the morning for the hike (we had a 7am shuttle pick up time). The earlier, the less busy the trail is— and less hot!
Beaches to See/Other:
- Hanalei Bay — Big and beautiful, this is the perfect family beach day spot for relaxing, boogie boarding, and surfing!
- Tunnels Beach — Be sure to rent snorkel gear (there are rental shops in Hanalei) and snorkel the reef here!
- Anini Beach — We also rented snorkel gear to explore this reef and the girls saw multiple sea turtles! This beach also has a lot of tree coverage and shade, which is super nice!
- Rock Quarry Beach — Beautiful, quiet secluded beach
- Kalihiwai Beach – Love the ocean and river views here! You can also rent a kayak and go up the river. For about 30-40 mins you continue onto a small hike and can see a beautiful waterfall.
- Na`Aina Kai Botanical Gardens — Stunning spot to explore the gardens, make reservations!
- Shop! Both Hanalei, Kilauea, and Kapaa’a have great shops to bop around and look for locally made goods and more!
The best thing to do in Kauai, relax and connect with your loved ones!! While there are a million things to do, our favorite part about visiting the North Shore is really just relaxing at the beautiful beaches and enjoying some down time! Leave your phone at home and read a book by the ocean! Or, my personal favorite, go grab some fresh fish at Dolphin sushi, watch the sunset and cook a simple, delicious dinner at your rental house. It’s the perfect place to truly get away!
I know there is so much more to discover and I plan to continue to add to this Kauai North Shore Travel Guide as we spend more time on the island over but hopefully this is a great start for you as you begin to plan your own travels! Please comment below if you have any other recommendations for others to see!!