The island of Kauai feels blissfully untouristy. Diverse and compact, with no building taller than a coconut palm, it's an easy-to-explore paradise with an authentic local vibe. Here is the best the island has to offer.
Cool off at this Coca-Cola-red food truck, oceanside in Kapa'a, where huge portions of icy sweetness are made with fresh local ingredients. The local's "ono-licious" favorites are Coconut x Coconut x Coconut—a combination of coconut milk, haupia foam, and roasted coconut flakes; and Lava Flow, with pineapple juice, coconut foam, strawberry puree, and fresh fruit on top. // Wailua Shave Ice, 4-1306 Kuhio HighwayKapaa, HI; wailuashaveice.com
Celebrating Kauai's plantation heritage along with modern culinary techniques, Eating House 1849 is the latest venture from chef Roy Yamaguchi. Located in the upscale Shops at Kukui'ula, the breezy second-floor restaurant pays homage to one of the first restaurants in Hawaii. The menu blends worlds old and new with pupus such as Portuguese bean and kale soup, sizzling ribeye tataki, and pork and tofu lumpia. Must-try entrees include the smoked Makaweli beef tostada and crispy whole snapper. // Eating House 1849, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Rd A-201, Koloa, HI; eatinghouse1849.com
This non-descript, casual noodle place on a quiet side street in Lihue is popular amongst locals for its steaming bowls of ramen-style egg noodles with an array of toppings. Save room for a slice of light-and-sweet lilikoi chiffon pie. // Hamura Saimin, 2956 Kress St, Lihue, HI; (808)-245-3271
Tahiti Nui's homespun luau is a small but very charming celebration of local food and music. The family-run shindig kicks off with an imu (pit-roast pig) ceremony, and captures the essence of Hanalei. // Tahiti Nui, Hanalei, thenui.com
At the other end of the spectrum is the more extravagant luau at the Grand Hyatt, which welcomes both malihini (newcomers) and kama'aina (long-time residents) to their all-out meal and show on a wide lawn overlooking Shipwrecks Beach. Jam out to traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music, and kick back for a Polynesian hula revue. // Grand Hyatt, kauai.hyatt.com
Kauai's farmers markets are open yearround, luring foragers to feast on fresh island produce and locally made foods. Depending on the season, you'll find lychee, mountain apples, mango, papaya, and flowers, as well as island-made goat cheese and honey. On the east side, the Kapa'a farmers market is filled with dozens of farmstands. On the south shore, the Koloa market is a gathering for farmstands only. In Kilauea, the Namahanafarmers market is located next to Kauai Mini Golf and runs twice a a week. The best Lihue farmers market is every Saturday at the Kauai Community College and features hosts more than 100 vendors selling fresh fruit, vegetables, plants and Kauai-made products.
During this five-hour adventure, you'll harness up for a thrilling zipline course that crosses thickly wooded valleys and ravines before finishing up with a short nature walk to hidden Hali’i Falls. Here you'll picnic, swim, and soak up the magnificent Kauai backcountry. // 3-4131 Kuhio Highway, Lihue, HI; kauaibackcountry.com
Channel your inner Hawaiian cowboy during a chill half-day horseback ride that's perfect for novice riders. A gentle steed will take you for an easygoing trot through a working cattle ranch with views of the mountains, valleys, and the ocean. // 80 Kuhio Hwy, Princeville, HI; princevilleranch.com
Paddling in Hanalei River
Start with a warm-up paddle up the scenic Hanalei River from the rivermouth at Hanalei Bay, then go explore the shoreline. The panoramic views are magnificent.
Just outside the private Kipu ranch, Outfitters' guides will give you a quick lesson in stand-up paddling, and outfit you for your river ride with a long, stable board, paddle, and a dry bag for your lunch and shoes. A two-mile paddle will take you into the heart of the Hule'ia National Wildlife Refuge, surrounded by jagged peaks of the Hau'pu mountains. Step ashore for a guided, two-hour hike through the ranch's rainforest trails and stop for rope-swing plunge into a river. // 2827A Poipu Rd, Koloa, HI; kayakkauai.com
Get your sea legs in one of the most legendary surf spots in the world. Hanalei Bay, located on the verdant north shore, has a forgiving sandy bottom and waves of all sizes. Summer's gentle waves are best for beginners, while winter is world-class. Most lessons are held near a spot called Pine Trees, where your instructors, all local beach boys, will show you proper surf stance before you head out. Hang ten—at least for a second or two! 5-5134 Kuhio Hwy, Hanalei; hawaiiansurfingadventures.com
The newly christened Lodge at Kukui'ula offers luxurious plantation cottages, villas, and an indulgent spa on Kauai's sun-kissed south shore. Hidden by high volcano rock walls, spa treatments begin with an aromatic outdoor shower, followed by hot and steamy saunas, and a cold plunge. Order up the Hawaiian lomi lomi massage with custom-blended botanical oils and lotions. // 2700 Ke Alaula Street, Suite B, Koloa, HI; lodgeatkukuiula.com
Jagged mountain ranges set the scene for this peaceful hideaway near the verdant Na Pali Coast. Stay in a premium ocean suite with a private lanai for front door access to the beach and panoramic views. // 5-7130 Kuhio Highway, Haena, HI 96714; hcr.com