Kauai

Even a nickname like "The Garden Island" fails to do justice to Kauai's beauty. Verdant trees grow canopies over the few roads, and brooding mountains are framed by long, sandy beaches, coral reefs, and sheer sea cliffs. Pristine trade winds moderate warm daily temperatures while offering comfort for deep, refreshing sleep through gentle nights.

The main road tracing Kauai's perimeter takes you past much more scenery than would seem possible on one small island. Chiseled mountains, thundering waterfalls, misty hillsides, dreamy beaches, lush vegetation, and small towns make up the physical landscape. Perhaps the most stunning piece of scenery is a place no road will take you—breathtakingly beautiful Napali Coast, which runs along the northwest side of the island.

For adventure seekers, Kauai offers everything from difficult hikes to helicopter tours. The island has top-notch spas and golf courses, and its beaches are known to be some of the most beautiful in the world. Even after you've spent days lazing around drinking mai tais or kayaking your way down a river, there's still plenty to do, as well as see: plantation villages, a historic lighthouse, wildlife refuges, a fern grotto, a colorful canyon, and deep rivers are all easily explored.

While exploring the island, try to take advantage of the many roadside scenic overlooks and pull over to take in the constantly changing view. Don't try to pack too much into one day. Kauai is small, but travel is slow. The island's sights are divided into four geographic areas, in clockwise order: the North Shore, the East Side, the South Shore, and the West Side.

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  • 1. Alekoko (Menehune) Fishpond

    Ruins

    No one knows just who built this intricate aquaculture structure in the Huleia River. Legend attributes it to the Menehune, a mythical—or real...Read More

  • 2. Hanalei Bay

    Beach

    This 2-mile crescent beach cradles a wide bay in a setting that is quintessential Hawaii. The sea is on one side, and behind you are the mountains...Read More

  • 3. Hanalei Valley Overlook

    Viewpoint

    Dramatic mountains and a patchwork of neat taro farms bisected by the wide Hanalei River make this one of Hawaii's loveliest sights. The fertile...Read More

  • 4. Kauai Museum

    Museum/Gallery

    Maintaining a stately presence on Rice Street, the historic museum building is easy to find. It features a permanent display, "The Story of...Read More

  • 5. Kee Beach

    Beach

    Highway 560 on the North Shore literally dead-ends at this beach, pronounced kay-eh. This is also the start of the famous Kalalau Trail, and...Read More

  • 6. Poipu Beach Park

    Beach

    The most popular beach on the South Shore is Poipu Beach Park. During calm seas, the snorkeling and swimming are good, and when the surf's up...Read More

  • 7. Poliahu Heiau

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Storyboards near this ancient heiau (sacred site) recount the significance of the many sacred structures found along the Wailua River. It...Read More

  • 8. Spouting Horn

    Viewpoint

    If the conditions are right, you can see a natural blowhole in the reef behaving like Old Faithful, shooting salt water high into the air and...Read More

  • 9. Kalapaki Beach

    Beach

    Five minutes south of the airport in Lihue, you'll find this wide, sandy-bottom beach fronting the Kauai Marriott. This beach is almost always...Read More

  • 10. Kilohana Plantation

    Museum/Gallery

    This estate dates back to 1850, shortly after the "Great Mahele"—the division of land by the Hawaiian people. Plantation manager Albert Spencer...Read More

  • 11. Limahuli Garden

    Garden

    Narrow Limahuli Valley, with its fluted mountain peaks and ancient stone taro terraces, creates an unparalleled setting for this botanical garden...Read More

  • 12. Maniniholo Dry Cave

    Cave

    Kauai's North Shore caves echo an enchanting, almost haunting, alternative to sunny skies and deep blue seas. Steeped in legend, Maniniholo...Read More

  • 13. National Tropical Botanical Gardens

    Garden

    Tucked away in Lawai Valley, these gardens include lands and a cottage once used by Hawaii's Queen Emma for a summer retreat. Trams depart on...Read More

  • 14. Opaekaa Falls

    Viewpoint

    The mighty Wailua River produces many dramatic waterfalls, and Opaekaa (pronounced oh-pie-kah-ah) is one of the best. It plunges hundreds of...Read More

  • 15. Salt Pond Beach Park

    Beach

    A great family spot, Salt Pond Beach Park features a naturally made, shallow swimming pond behind a curling finger of rock where keiki (children...Read More

  • 16. Waikapalae and Waikanaloa Wet Caves

    Cave

    These wet caves are smaller (and wetter) than Maniniholo but are still visually worth a short jaunt. Said to have been dug by Pele, goddess...Read More

  • 17. Wailua Falls

    Body Of Water/Waterfall

    You may recognize this impressive cascade from the opening sequences of the Fantasy Island television series. Kauai has plenty of noteworthy...Read More

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  • 18. Waioli Huiia Church

    Religious Building/Site/Shrine

    Designated a National Historic Landmark, this little church—affiliated with the United Church of Christ—doesn't go unnoticed right alongside...Read More

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