48 Hours in Kauai
Kauai is known as the “Garden Island,” but “Paradise” is equally as fitting. This Hawaiian island is the most lush and green of all the islands. Kauai is a vacation hot spot but surprisingly low-key. Now that you have your trip booked, I’m sure you’re going to start researching like crazy about what to do, see and eat while you are on the island.
The great news there are plenty of options! … The not-so-great news is that you most likely won’t have time to do everything this island offers. Lucky for you, I have outlined the very best of the island so you can use your time wisely.
First things first – transportation. Once you land at the Lihue airport, the first stop you will want to make is to pick up your rental car. Kauai’s attractions are spread out all over the island so you definitely want to be able to get around on your own. And if you have a little extra dough to spend, rent a convertible! Despite the occasional passing shower (mostly on the North Shore), there will be plenty of chances to cruise around with the top down!
The Kauai vibe is unlike any of the other Hawaiian islands. The island has an extremely laid-back tone and a very rich and respected culture. The locals mostly reside in the small – yet charming – towns, prefer to keep to themselves and seem to cherish their privacy. Many streets have handmade signs saying “Residents only”, so out of respect for their way of life, try to stay on the main roads. The other tourists you meet will all pretty much be in a good mood because it’s Kauai! It is really fun to get to know the other island visitors because you will meet a variety of people from all over the world.
This is definitely a trip you want to leave your pup behind. The island has some dog-friendly places but I don’t think it’s worth it to put Rover down with the luggage on a 5 1/2 hour flight. This is the perfect vacation to be free of responsibility and time limitations. You really don’t want to miss any beach time because you have to get back to the room to let your pup out to potty! As much as my husband and I love our dog, we both agreed he is much better off at Grandma’s house for the week.
Once you land in Kauai and pick up your rental car, you will have worked up quite an appetite. One of the best places to stop after your flight is Bubba Burger (3 locations). It is conveniently located on the main Kuhio Highway in Kapaa and is a quick 15 minute drive from the airport. You can’t go wrong ordering their traditional Bubba Burger with fries and a shake. No need to feel guilty either because you are on vacation!
Your first night in Kauai is a great night to try one of the local restaurants. Head over to the Shrimp Station in Waimea (9652 Kaumaualii Hwy) and try the Thai Shrimp. You will want to go back every night after you try this dish! The restaurant is very casual and a good way to start off your vacation. If you are staying on the North Shore, Kalypso Island Bar & Grill in Hanalei (5-5156 Kuhio Hwy) is a great place for dinner. When you go, make sure to order the coconut shrimp. It is nothing like what we have here on the mainland!
The following day, before you start your day packed with activities, stop at The Feral Pig (3501 Rice Street) for brunch. Try their beermosa (wheat beer and orange juice) and if you are a fan of banana bread, I would highly recommend the banana bread french toast. Delicious!! The restaurant is located in a small shopping mall so after you stuff your face, you can browse the shops and pick up some souvenirs.
No matter what reason you are visiting Kauai, the fact that you are there is cause for a celebration. One of the best restaurants to dine at and really celebrate your occasion is The Beach House located on the South Shore, in Poipu (5022 Lawai Road). Reservations are a must, so make sure to call in advance of your trip. They have a gorgeous ocean view and incredibly fresh entrees. Make sure to save room for the famous bananas foster dessert!
Another great spot on the island is the St. Regis in Princeville. This is one of the most beautiful hotels on the island. Rooms at this luxury spot range anywhere from $395 to $4900, so if that doesn’t fit into your budget, the next best thing you can do is wine and dine here. Depending on the time of year you visit Kauai, you can attend the St. Regis Mailani Dinner Show or try some exclusive items from the chef’s unique tasting menu.
In between meals, you must stop for shaved ice at least a few times! Almost all of them only accept cash, so be prepared. They have some really unique flavor combinations to try. Order your shaved ice with some vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream at the bottom!
A Place To Lay Your Head
There are a TON of places to stay on this beautiful island, which makes it really hard to choose from all of the beautiful beachside resorts, hotels, vacation rentals and condos. Let’s narrow down your options.
First, decide which part of the island you would like to stay on. The South Shore is the most popular but the other areas are equally amazing. When my husband and I went this year, we stayed on the North Shore, at the Cliffs Club in Princeville. We loved the Cliffs because it was much smaller and private than the huge resorts, it was very clean, and our room had a full kitchen so we didn’t have to eat out for every single meal. It also had beautiful views since it is located right on a cliff. The only down side was that there was no beach access from the resort. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but it would have been really nice. Princeville was a great location and is very close to shopping and a few of the best snorkeling and swimming spots.
The best place in the South Shore would be the Grand Hyatt in Poipu. This is one of the most impressive hotels I have ever seen. My favorite thing about the Hyatt is their pool area. They have large pools with a slide and they also have a salt water lagoon. This hotel has great beach access as well. It is a great spot for surfing and snorkeling and the views are exceptional.
There are so many things to do in Kauai and chances are you will not have time to do them all, unless you are staying for more than two weeks. Of all of the options, here are the ones I would recommend for your 48 hours in Kauai:
KAYAKING – There are plenty of great locations to kayak around Kauai but my favorite is the Wailua River. This is my #1 spot because you have the option to kayak for a while, then take a hiking trail to Secret Falls. It is a short 30-minute hike under a canopy of lush trees to a picturesque waterfall. Take a swim in the falls and hike back to your kayak. Make sure to bring your water shoes because you will need to cross a few streams to get to the Falls. Along this river there are also swimming holes, a fern grotto and a perfect area for cliff jumping. Make sure to rent your kayak from the Kamokila Hawaiian Village in Wailua and are located right on the river. The friendly staff will provide a map of the area and offer self-guided rates or if you prefer, you can pay extra for a guided tour. Following your kayaking trip, take a walk around the reconstructed village and explore the historical exhibits in each hut and learn how life used to be for this community.
HELICOPTER TOUR – Although these tours can be pretty pricey ($200+ per person), they are definitely worth it and provide the most bang for your buck. If you are going to do any island excursion, this is it! You will not regret the money you spent because you will see stunning sights that can’t be seen or accessed by boat or car. On this ride, you will be able to explore the beauty of the island including two sensational sights – the Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. The pilot’s are generally very informative and have a lot of historical knowledge to share about points of interest you will fly over. They will also talk about areas where Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean and other popular movies were filmed.
BOAT TOURS – Boat tours of the Na Pali Coast are also very popular in Kauai. On these tours, you will see some pretty amazing sights of the Coast. Make sure you book a boat tour that includes snorkeling! And don’t forget to bring your waterproof camera, as it is a wet ride no matter where you are sitting on the boat. Keep your eyes peeled throughout the ride; chances are you will see some of the playful spinner dolphins jumping around in the water as well as plenty of sea turtles. Something to keep in mind is this boat tour is very long. We really enjoyed the tour we went on….for the first three hours. After that, it got pretty messy. People were throwing up off the back of the boat which kind of ruined the fun. If you are choosing between the boat tour or helicopter tour, I would definitely suggest the helicopter!!
BOTANICAL GARDENS – If you to want to take it slow for an afternoon, head down to Poipu and visit the Allerton Garden. Make sure to book this reservation well in advance of your trip since the tours are guided and are only given at certain times throughout the day. The Garden’s trail allows you to stroll the paths alongside fountains, statues and perfect showcases of Kauai’s exotic plant life . During your two hour tour, you will hear some fun facts about the Garden and find out what blockbuster movies were filmed there!
SNORKELING – One of the best snorkeling areas is Tunnels Beach. This was the place to go if you want to see some amazing underwater activity. The ocean conditions at Tunnels are more calm and clear compared to other areas in Kauai. While snorkeling, expect to see an assortment of colorful fish, lava rock formations, sea turtles and maybe even a monk seal laying out on the beach! Parking along this beach is unpredictable, so try to get there early in the morning.
HIKING – The Waimea Canyon was called “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain and when you see and experience it for yourself, you will know why! This trail has something for everyone; there are beginner level trails for those that want to take it easy and advanced trails if you are up for the challenge! Remember to bring plenty of water and wear sunscreen and some good hiking shoes! Canyon maps are available at the Koke’e Lodge and Museum in Kekeha. If you don’t have time to hike the Canyon, you can always just visit the lookout point on Highway 550, past mile marker 10. The view from the lookout point is extraordinary but there is something a little different about taking in the sights while on the trails!
Regardless of which excursions you choose to do and not do, you will have a blast in Kauai! I guarantee you will board your plane home with a smile on your face, way too many pictures, and a ton of unforgettable memories!!!