WHY WE LOVE IT
- Kauai is adored as much for what it lacks (no buildings taller than the palm trees, no crazy nightlife, no big city) as for what it has (funky surfer towns, secret beaches, and arguably the most breathtaking coastline on earth).
- With a largely uninhabited interior and a remote section of shoreline ripe for exploration, Kauai is paradise for couples who want to have pretty beaches and great adventures.
- Hollywood hearts Kauai, too—the Jurassic Park flicks, South Pacific, and Hook were all filmed on the "Garden Isle."
- One of the wettest spots on Earth, Mount Waialeale Crater, soaks in over 400 inches of rain each year. The result? Gushing waterfalls and plenty of magnificent rainbows.
- Jaw-dropper: The Na Pali coast’s jagged green cliffs rise thousands of feet above the Pacific. You can only get there by boat or by hoofing it on one of the world’s great hiking trails.
- Must buys: Pineapple and guava jellies, Kauai honey, and handmade shell jewelry from the many farmers’ markets. Vintage aloha shirts from Yellowfish Trading Company. Red Dirt T-shirts (when you hike on Kauai, you’ll understand).
WHEN TO GO
The weather is temperate all year, but the jungly north shore always gets more rain, usually in the form of brief showers, than the dry south shore does. For dramatic surf and waterfalls, go during the winter months; for calm waters that invite swimming and snorkeling, choose summertime.
ROY’S POIPU BAR & GRILL
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr., Koloa
The Roy’s in Koloa manages to channel the big-city cool of its sister locations on the mainland (as evidenced by its well-considered wine list and evolving art installations) without losing any of its local charm. Celebrated chef Roy Yamaguchi’s signature brand of Hawaiian fusion cuisine continues to pack a punch with its adventurous flavor combinations and fresh ingredients; diners looking for a fail-safe meal would do well to order one of "Roy’s Classics."
5-5075 Kuhio Hwy., Hanalei
Postcards Café’s seafood, vegetarian, and vegan gourmet meals are substantial enough to satisfy your hungry man’s appetites. Plus, the food is mostly organic and the chef uses no refined sugar or any ingredients with chemical additives. Try the taro fritters to start.
What is more romantic than a sunset dinner à deux with all the fancy trimmings (including a personal waiter!) on your favorite Kauai beach? Heavenly Creations is a catering and concierge-style service that will arrange for your very own moveable feast in some of the island’s most dazzling locales. A selection of Hawaiian-inflected dishes like mahi with coconut-lime sauce and guava cream cake only ups the once-in-a-lifetime quality of this experience.
Mile Marker 23, Kaumualii Hwy. (Hwy. 50), Waimea
Shave ice (not "shaved") is a local treat that consists of fluffy ice drizzled with syrups in flavors like lychee, pineapple, and tamarind. We like it over macadamia ice cream; locals enjoy it with red adzuki beans, which tastes much better than it sounds. Jo-Jo’s, an unassuming colorful roadside shack, is known to have the best shave ice on Kauai, but we suggest you try them all and decide for yourself.
__BRENNECKE’S BEACH BROILER
__2100 Hoone Rd, Poipu Beach, Koloa
Right across from the popular Poipu Beach Park, Brennecke’s has a great setup for enjoying fresh fish dinners and tropical cocktails as you watch the sunset. They grill over kiawe charcoal, which gives a nice, smoky flavor, sort of like mesquite.
SMITH’S GARDEN LUAU
174 Wailua Rd., Wailuna Marina State Park, Kapa'a
We know the word "luau" probably conjures up images of cheesy hula and hordes of clamoring tourists, so you’ll have to trust us when we tell you that this one is different on several scores. First, the main culinary event is the unearthing of the tasty kalua pig from an underground oven called an imu. Second, it takes place on a 30-acre tropical paradise. Finally, the show after the feast is one of the island’s best.
5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville
Ask anyone who has stayed at the five-star Princeville Resort on Kauai’s north shore about their trip, and chances are the first thing they will do is gush about the view. Never mind that the resort features a big infinity pool, a pretty and protected beach, and marble decor that is more "European elegance" than "Hawaiian luau" in feel. The views of the mountains meeting Hanalei Bay are what it’s all about.
GRAND HYATT KAUAI RESORT AND SPA
1571 Poipu Rd., Koloa
If swimming pools are your thing, this is your hotel. Surrounded by tropical foliage, the Hyatt’s pool is a meandering creation, complete with hidden grottos and a gentle current to pull you along. Mix up your wet-and-wild adventures by taking a dip in the five-acre saltwater lagoon or jumping waves on the pretty beach. If you want to stay dry, try a Lomi Lomi Hawaiian-style massage in the enormous spa.
__WAIMEA PLANTATION COTTAGES
__9400 Kaumualii Hwy., Waimea
Couples who are averse to sprawling, tourist-filled hotels will love Waimea Plantation’s yesteryear vibe. The cottages are refurbished plantation workers’ homes, a cluster of charming little "honeymoon houses" on the island’s quietsouthwestern coast, where couples can indulge in the simple pleasures of stargazing on their porches, walking along the beach, and hiking in nearby Kokee State Park.
This small complex of condominiums is just steps away from the ocean. All of the condos are individually owned, and renting one is not unlike house-hunting or online dating: you go the Web site, kuhioshores.net, browse through all the photos and descriptions, and choose your favorite. From your windows you are likely to spot sea turtles and dolphins, and people from all over Kauai gather here to gawk at the sunsets.
MARRIOTT’S KAUAI BEACH CLUB
3610 Rice St., Lihue
This big resort on Kalapaki Bay makes the most of its glorious surroundings. A gigantic flower-shaped pool overlooks the beach and the 800 acres of gardens and grounds. It’s all here: five restaurants, a spa, and two golf courses. Just don’t get too comfy and neglect to explore the rest of Kauai!
Soar over the Na Pali coastline, into Waimea Canyon (the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific") and alongside the Jurassic Park waterfall. Two companies that get rave reviews are Inter-Island Helicopters (Tel: 800-656-5009, interislandhelicopters.com) and Air Kauai Helicopters (Tel: 800-972-4666, airkauai.com).
Another way to explore the dramatic Na Pali coast is by boat. Tours leave for a several-hour cruise of the coastline, showing off hidden beaches and caves and usually stopping for snorkeling. Na Pali Catamarans (Tel: 808-826-6853, napalicatamaran.com) is a good bet because it leaves from Hanalei, close to the Na Pali shore.
Kauai has dozens of first-rate hikes—through jungles, over cliffs, and along beaches—but the Kalalau Trail is the most rewarding of them all. The 11-mile trail extends from the end of the road on the north side of the island, but you can only do the first two miles without a camping permit. Every bit of the trail snakes in and out of the woods along the Na Pali cliffs, making for spectacular vistas and great spots to catch your breath and smooch while taking it all in.
Honeymooners with energy to burn can take paddles in hand and explore Kauai with their own two arms. There are two main kayaking adventures: on the rivers or on the ocean. River kayaking is a bit easier, and you can feel intrepid without being sore for days. Kayaking up the Na Pali coast is stunning, but it’s serious work and is best done with a night of camping in the middle. Outfitters Kauai (Tel: 808-742-9667, outfitterskauai) has river- and ocean-guided trips.