Kauai North Shore Travel Guide

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! 

Hanalei Eats:

  • 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. 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!
  • 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 loved 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! 
  • Postcards Cafe — We haven’t been here yet, but it looks great! 
  • 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).
  • 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. 

Princeville Eats:

  • Tiki Iniki — Tiki bar and casual food
  • Saenz Ohana Breakfast — Amazing breakfast burritos.
  • FoodLand — Great local grocery store and great poke! 
  • Princeville Wine Market — Great liquor and wine store to stock up.

Kilauea Eats:

  • 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! 

Ka’apa Eats:

  • 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. 


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. https://napalitours.com/hanalei-tours/na-pali-sight-see-adventure/

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! https://www.tituskinimakahawaiianschoolofsurfing.com/

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.  
  • Hanakapia’ai — Kauai’s most popular and one of the world’s most popular as it takes you along Na Pali Coast. We have never done this hike as it is also known to be very scary/dangerous. The first two miles are easy and great to do, and pretty easy to do with the whole family depending on the ages of your kiddos. Further than that, I recommend you doing your research before. You will need a pass to enter the state park (Gohaena.com), and you’ll need to plan things out! Our friend is doing it and it requires some camping/major planning.

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
  • Kalihewa 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 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!! 


  • Reply
    Oahu Venues
    May 18, 2023 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for sharing this great guide to the North Shore of Kauai! I’m planning a trip to this beautiful island soon and this guide has been so helpful. It’s great to get tips about the best places to stay, eat, and explore. As the owner of https://meleluau.com/outdoor-party-venues-oahu/ I’m looking forward to having an amazing adventure!

  • Reply
    Oahu Venues
    May 17, 2023 at 3:25 am

    I recently read your travel guide to Kauai’s North Shore on The Defined Dish, and I wanted to express my gratitude for such a comprehensive and insightful article. Your descriptions of the stunning natural beauty, cultural highlights, and local recommendations truly brought the destination to life.

    Your attention to detail, from the picturesque Hanalei Bay to the awe-inspiring Na Pali Coast, painted a vivid picture of the North Shore’s allure. The inclusion of practical tips and advice on accommodation, dining options, and outdoor activities was incredibly helpful for anyone planning a visit.

    As the owner of https://meleluau.com/outdoor-party-venues-oahu/ I appreciated how you highlighted the unique aspects of the North Shore’s food scene, such as the fresh seafood and farm-to-table experiences. Your personal recommendations and mentions of local favorites added an authentic touch to the guide.

    Overall, your article captured the essence of Kauai’s North Shore and left me feeling inspired to visit. Thank you for sharing your expertise and providing such a valuable resource for travelers seeking to explore this enchanting part of Hawaii. I look forward to reading more of your insightful content in the future.

  • Reply
    Melissa Ellis
    May 14, 2023 at 9:28 pm

    Thank you for this guide! Cant wait for our trip in November. We are staying in Hanalei looking for a great spot where we may be able to have a Thanksgiving. Dinner doesn’t need to be traditional. If you have any wrecks, let me know.!

    • Reply
      May 14, 2023 at 11:50 pm

      Hi Melissa,
      All the ones I listed here would be fabulous, but I am not sure what is/isn’t open for Thanksgiving!! I would check: Ama, Bar Acuda, Tahiti Nui, or The Dolphin for Thanksgiving if we were in town, personally.

  • Reply
    Lori D
    January 26, 2023 at 11:00 pm

    We love North shore Kauai!!
    Tiki Tacos in Kapaa’a is fabulous hole in the wall place. We really enjoy Hukilau Lanai for special occasions. I agree with the boat tour of Napili Coast. So beautiful and fun.
    We enjoyed the Lydgate chocolate tour. It’s pricey but we enjoyed it. If you love chocolate, you might too. It’s fun to check out the Koloa Rum as well. We didn’t do a tour or tasting. Just visited their gift shop.

  • Reply
    Trina Keathley
    November 24, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    We are here in Kauai for Thanksgiving and someone just shared your blog post with me and now I want to come back so we can see the north side. We are staying in Lihue. It has been amazing! Highly recommend the Blue Hawaiian Helicopter Tour and Kauai Hiking Tours. Both were amazing experiences for us and our two teenagers!

  • Reply
    Katherine B
    October 30, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Thank you for the recommendations, Alex! If anyone wants a phenomenal dinner experience, also recommend Aina Kauai. It’s a 9 course set menu, so pricey, but SO worth it!

  • Reply
    October 19, 2022 at 8:07 pm

    Wowowow! My husband and I used a bunch of your recommendations and it made our trip that much more incredible! We can’t wait to go back and try some of the others out. Thank you for this guide to the north shore. For anyone looking for a romantic getaway spot we stayed at O’Luina (an incredible Airbnb) and it was insanely beautiful and remote. We didn’t mind making the drive around the island to get to the beaches and restaurant recommendations.

    • Reply
      October 19, 2022 at 8:36 pm

      Aw I am so glad you enjoyed some of these recs. It’s truly a magical island.

  • Reply
    September 7, 2022 at 6:38 pm

    Do you think this island would be easy to explore and enjoy with a 1 year old in tow?

    • Reply
      September 15, 2022 at 7:30 pm

      it totally depends on what kind of trip you are looking for. It is a very adventurous spot with a lot of hikes, trails, wonderful adventures that wouldn’t be 1 year old in tow friendly. however, if you’re just looking to hang by the beach, yes!! all the restaurants are casual and you can take a kid practically anywhere– but if you’re wanting to do the entire trip and see the full island and it’s hikes, etc…. I would wait util they are older.

  • Reply
    Gina Moore
    August 9, 2022 at 6:18 pm

    Love this guide. My in laws bought a cottage in Kukui’ula last year on the south shore and we went 4 times in the last year but we didn’t make it to the north shore (my kids are now 5.5, 3.5, 1.5) and Kukui’ula is so amazing and kid friendly (highlyyyyy recommend you stay there if you stay on the south shore next time). We definitely plan on venturing over to the other side next time!!! Thank you so much for these recs!!!

    Here are mine for the other side:
    -Fave restaurant is def Kiawe Roots (insanely delish and they don’t use any refined sugar- their sauces are insane)
    -Other faves- Japanese Grandma’s for sushi and very kid friendly, La Spezia is some of my fave Italian ever- so random but the owner Elizabeth’s family is from Italy! Beach House is great for the view and the sea turtles- the food is good (but the service is very bad), and Tasting Room is delish for a date night.
    – Fave Açaí bowl is Anake’s Juice Bar
    -Fave thing to do that the kids love- Plantation Farm train (you get to feed the pigs etc so fun) and lunch at Gaylord’s plus Pua Flower bar and the chocolate shop!
    – Agreed Napali coast boat is the best and most beautiful (we do Captain Andy’s)

    There is just something about Kauai!!!!

    • Reply
      September 16, 2022 at 3:00 pm

      Thanks so much for sharing!! Can’t wait to try some of these the next time we go!

  • Reply
    August 8, 2022 at 1:51 pm

    Thank you so much for all these recommendations! I will be in Kauai in November. Are any of these particularly well suited/east for someone who is gluten & dairy free?

    • Reply
      August 17, 2022 at 11:42 am

      Because most all of the restaurants in kauai have fresh fish– you can easily navigate most menus or customize a plate for yourself!

  • Reply
    August 8, 2022 at 4:07 am

    Thank you!

  • Reply
    August 8, 2022 at 2:14 am

    2 additional recommendations: Nourish in Princeville has delicious lunch and an incredible view into Hanalei. The best beach in the world is Ke’e. You need a reservation but if you can make it out, it’s absolutely stunning.

    • Reply
      September 16, 2022 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks for the recs!!! sounds amazing

  • Reply
    Donna M Peterson
    August 7, 2022 at 11:57 pm

    Next time you are on Kauai try JO2 in Kapaa. It is an amazing restaurant.
    If you are at Pono Market early enough in the morning get manju (red bean is my favorite).
    Also, Lumahai is a magical beach just north of Hanalei Bay.
    My dad lives in Anahola and my brother in Kapaa near the mountains (Kapahi) and I’ve been going there for 40+ years – it is my favorite place and has my whole heart.

    • Reply
      August 8, 2022 at 1:18 am

      Fabulous!! A friend we met told us to go to Lumahai and we didn’t make it out there, this and your other recs are now at the top of my to-do list!!! Thanks so much for sharing!

      • Reply
        Meagan Koepp
        August 8, 2022 at 10:13 pm

        My family and I spent a lot of time in Hawaii growing up and we just got back from a big family trip (all the siblings + spouses + little babies) to the North Shore of Kauai after being away for 10 years! One place we tried out that was a new one for us was Sam’s Ocean View in Kapaa. It had great cocktails and we got a bunch of different apps that were yummy. The views are incredible as it is right on the beach. Pretty easy to get in with a large group! Also Nourish was a great spot for breakfast/ lunch that we stopped at on the way to Poipu. Great smoothies/ fresh juices and they had “Sarah’s Cookies” to buy which are incredible.

        I loved seeing all your hiking and beach recommendations as we have been visiting and revisiting all these spots over the years and they just keep getting better and better. I have been following you for the amaze recipes for years now and makes me so happy your family gets to experience the magic of Kauai- especially Hanalei as that is my most favorite place in the world. So special to take your girls there as I have so many great memories of being there with my parents when I was their age!

  • Reply
    Raye-Lynn Marquez
    August 7, 2022 at 11:26 pm

    We were on Kauai the same time you were. These are all great suggestions. Please note that Queen’s Bath can be a very dangerous place, and to use caution if going there.

  • Reply
    August 7, 2022 at 10:53 pm

    Is it Mike’s Place or Mark’s Place? I couldn’t find Mike’s Place on Yelp.

    • Reply
      September 16, 2022 at 3:01 pm

      Opps you are so right, thanks for catching that, will edit.

  • Reply
    Ashley Felicity
    August 7, 2022 at 10:26 pm

    Just went for my honeymoon in January- this post has me wanting to go back! Need to use this next time we go! Glad you had a wonderful time! Mahalo!!

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