In my unofficial opinion, Kauai is one of the most stunning, varied, and photogenic islands in the world - it wasn't nicknamed The Garden Isle for nothing. Much of the island is lush and green, but beyond the jungles there are jaw-dropping ridgelines, baron hills of red rocks, endless sand beaches on the West Side, waterfalls, stunning beaches, and even it's own Grand Canyon. We drove the island from end to end in search of the most photographable places - read on for the short list.
And if you need more information, don't miss our Ultimate Kauai Adventure and Travel Guide for in-depth information on where to stay, hike, sun, and eat.
1. Tunnels Beach
If you're looking for the ultimate snorkeling and scuba divers beach, Tunnels Beach is the place to go. Located far up on the North Shore and known for its crystal clear aqua water, Tunnels beach often draws big crowds especially during busy travel months. The golden sand is set against a backdrop of lush jungle and mountains making this the perfect beach for all your IG photos. The North side of the island is often covered in clouds (it is very close to one of the rainiest places on earth) But, if you're lucky, you can catch it on a sunny day for unbelievably aqua waters that look more like Bora Bora than most Hawaiian beaches. NOTE: As of May 2019, The road to Tunnels Beach is completely closed to the public and is only accessible to locals - and there is no possible way to "sneak in". Opening date is TBD.
2. Waimea Canyon Trail
Waimea Canyon Trail to Woipoo Falls was given the nickname “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” by Mark Twain for a reason. The hike offers some of the most gigantic and unbelievable views of the island. It may be one of the most popular hikes in Kauai but don't let the crowds discourage you because the view at the end is worth it. But don't look down if you're scared of heights! The trail ends at the top of Waipo’o Falls, and while you can't see the 800 foot cascading waterfall from here (unless you take a peak with a drone), the canyon views alone are worth the trek. Google map location here.
3. Under Wailua Falls
If you've ever dreamt of seeing a double-tiered waterfall, this is the place to go. Wailua Falls is extremely accessible for all level hikers and easily seen from the road from this viewpoint. Located at the south end of the Wailua River, follow Maalo Road in Hanamaulu uphill for about 3 miles. For the extra ambitious, head out early in the morning for best chance at catching a rainbow. If you're lucky, you may be able to catch the sunlight hitting the mist of the falls at just the right angle, making for a beautiful rainbow and the perfect photo opp! NOTE: This is technically not a trail, so climb at your own risk. The hike down is muddy, but short and all together not very difficult for any somewhat experienced hiker.
4. Taro Fields of Hanalei
If you're looking for a scenic wow moment, head over to the Taro Fields of Hanalei. The Hawaiian taro fields of Hanalei are one of the main sources of cultivation for the taro root, one of Hawaii's most popular crops. Taro is a traditional root vegetable in Hawaiian culture. Photo Tip: for one of the best views of the Taro fields, head to the Hanalei Overlook on the way to Hanalei Bay. The lush green vegetation set against the backdrop of the mountains, makes for an ideal photo. If you're interested in learning about the cultural significance of these crops, there are many tours of the fields such as the Ho`opulapula Haraguchi Rice Mill Tour.
5. Polihale State Park
If you're looking a little more privacy, head over to the western side of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. While it’s more challenging to access than many other beaches, Polihale State Park is a great location if you’re looking for a place with less people. You can access the beach by driving through five miles of rough, unpaved road - renting a Jeep or other 4-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended. But once you get there, you will be rewarded with the longest stretch of beach in the state of Hawaii. The gorgeous beach is backed by large sand dunes and a picturesque backdrop of the sunset and high cliffs of Nāpali Coast. You'll have the place all to yourself to get the that perfect IG- worthy photo.
6. Moloa'a Beach
If Moloa'a Bay looks familiar, it's because a few episodes of the first season of Gilligan's Island were filmed here! Located on the northeast shore of Kauai, Moloa`a Beach is one of the lesser-known beaches. The hilly dunes and green vegetation give the spot great contrasting colors for all your photos. If you're feeling more adventurous than just lounging on the beach, you can walk along Moloa'a Trail to Larsen's Beach. The trail is believed to be part of an ancient network of footpaths that once surrounded the entire island.
8. Awawapuhi Ridge Trail
If you're looking for some of the most awe inspiring vistas on Kauai’s Napali Coast, the Awawapuhi Ridge Trail will not disappoint! It is a 6.5 -mile round trip, with an almost 2,000-foot elevation change each way, and the views are worth every step - this as as close to a panoramic of the Na Pali coast you can get without being in a helicopter. Awa’awapuhi Trail is a continual downhill hike from the trail head to the viewpoint overlooking the valleys so be prepared for slippery roads after the rain. Once you arrive at the viewpoint, it will feel as if you are down in a valley, looking up towards to the top of ridges. These dramatic ridges are something you won't see anywhere else in the world. Take some time to take pictures and a grab a break- you'll need it for the hike back uphill!
9. The Roads north of Kapaa
If you keep driving north from Kapaa on Highway 56, you'll drive through the Anahola area of Kauai. Google map location here. Make it a road trip and discover some hidden gems. If you take the first right turn onto Wailapa Road and enter through an iron gate, you'll arrive at the Orchid House Visitor Center of Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden. There's a beautiful maze, waterfall, forest of trees as well as a white sand beach. Other places for some photos include the Kilauea Lighthouse and Kauapea Beach, also knows as the Secret Beach. Driving around the inner-island roads gives you a look into the real lives of the local Kauaians, and stunning views like these!
10. Queen's Bath (And the hike to it)
If you're brave enough to make the trek here, you'll see a bath fit for a queen. The Queen’s Bath is located in Princeville, on the north shore of Kauai. There's a 15 minute hike past a waterfall that takes you down to the lava rocks. From here, another 5 minute walk over the rocks leads you to the bath. There's plenty of spots along this path to stop and snap some photos. Once you get to the pool, you'll see the views of the rocky shoreline and the gorgeous pool that’s separated from the ocean by lava rock. Waves crash over the rocks, filling up the pool with water and creating a tidal pool. But be careful when making the trip, especially during May to October, when the surf can get high. The season is marked with unpredictable tides, which can be dangerous, even for experienced surfers and swimmers. In both of our trips to Kauai, we have not been able to swim in the pool due to high tides and dangerous currents - but one day we will!
11. Baby's Beach, Poipu
Everyone loves a secret beach. Baby's Beach is a hidden gem with its white sand, shallow coast, and calm waters. The beach get its name from being a favorite among families with children. The cove is protected from a reef offshore, making it a safe and ideal place for infants and toddlers. The beach is tucked away, and offers unobstructed sunset views over the tide pools - which look especially dramatic at low tide! NOTE: As of May 2019, The road to Tunnels Beach is completely closed to the public and is only accessible to locals - and there is no possible way to "sneak in". Opening date is TBD
12. The Kap'aa Shops
Set aside a day to explore the small beach town of Kap'aa on the southeast side of Kauai. The area has shops that sell everything from water sports gear to Hawaiian antiques and of course, some of the islands yummiest eats. Here's a list of some of our favorites!
Locals and tourists will tell you to make sure to stop by Java Kai during your visit to the Kap'aa Shops. It's the coffee aficionados heaven. All of their drinks are handcrafted and they offer traditional as well as twists to classical drinks such as macadamia nut latte and Maui Mocha ( a combo of mocha and coconut). They have an extensive healthy food menu ranging from breakfast foods to acai bowls and smoothies. It's a great spot to soak in the sun and grab a meal while exploring the rest of the shops.
A trip to Kauai wouldn't be complete without some poke! Head over to Pono for some adored by locals. Like most great poke places in Kauai, it's located in a small convenience store and packs the flavor.
Now that you've satisfied your poke craving, head over to Wailua for some shaved ice. Their desserts are definitely IG worthy!
13. Ke'e Beach
Kauai is great for hopping into a jeep and just driving on the road. And if you keep driving to the end of the road, you'll reach Ke'e Beach, they very last beach accessible by car on the North Shore. It's best to visit Ke'e's gentle ocean lagoon in the summer when the oceans are calm. The reefs provide a natural barrier from the waves making it an ideal place for snorkeling and swimming. Photo hint: this spot is especially beautiful at sunset where you can get a great view of the entire Na Pali coast. If you're up for a historical adventure, travel 600 yards down the beach to the location of the famous Taylor Camp – a hippie community in the 70s. While the actual structures of the camp are no longer there, it's an interesting area to explore.
14. Hanalei Pier
North Shore locals love to head to the Hanalei Pier to watch the sunset - and when the weather is nice, jump off the end. It's windy out here, but a great place to drink a glass of wine and end your day on the North.
15. Whaler's Cove in Poipu
We spent our stay in Kauai at Whaler's Cove in Poipu Condo Hotel, and loved it! While Poipu is generally the most touristy part of Kauai, it is also the sunniest, and one of the easiest spots to base yourself in for traveling around the island. Our room here overlooked the ocean, and had it's own kitchen so we could make a few of our own meals. We shot the grassy lawn filled with palm trees, our balcony overlooking the ocean, and the pool here - there is a ton to work with! Head down to the pool and hot tub at sunrise to catch the steam in the the light rays like we did here.
16. Red Rocks at Waimea Canyon
One of the most unique features in Kauai is the Red Rocks on your way up to Waimea Canyon State Park - the road opens up to these insane rock features on both sides, you can't miss them! So different and varied from the jungles and beaches the island is known for, this is a site not to miss.
17. Hanalei Town
Hanalei is the most upscale area of Kauai - with nice restaurants, unbelievable views, and high dollar real estate. But! It is still in the sleepiest island of Hawaii, so the area is full of fruit stands, food trucks, and so much undeniable charm. Spend an afternoon strolling through the town to find some hidden gems!
18 The Road-side Jungles
There is just SO MUCH to the island of Kauai - on some days it felt like we could only drive a quarter mile before we had to stop for the next fruit stand, unbelievable view, or natural wonder. Take your time and find the hidden gems - both out in nature, and in the neighborhoods and small towns surrounding the island.
19. Views from a Helicopter
Some of the best views may be from the bird's eye view! If you have the time, book a private helicopter ride with Kauai ECO Adventure Helicopter Tour and see the most amazing aerial views of Waimea Canyon and the Na Pali Coast. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is another company that does private tours. Head out for a midday tour to see more of the deep blue color of the waters with the sun reflecting overhead. Later afternoon has its own charm, highlighting the setting sunlight against the Na Pali coast bringing out the golden tones. No matter what time of the day, you're guaranteed to get some stunning shots. Unfortunately, we were unable to make our helicopter tour due to rainstorms. Definitely book yours early in the trip in case of weather, we booked ours for our last afternoon, and I was heartbroken when we weren't able to take the trip. It's the first thing I'm doing when we head back!
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