In this post we will briefly discuss the highlights of Kauai’s popular towns. Kauai is home to beautiful towns on all sides, and each side of the coast has something unique to offer its visitors. As we travel through the island, we can’t help but amaze at the diversity and rapid change in ambience from one place to another.
Most Kauai towns are perfectly designed for an overall experience with places of historical significance, shopping & dining and natural landscapes being common characteristics across all towns.
Let us explore each town in the order of their location for ease of understanding. This layout is also geared towards facilitating ease of planning when you pay a visit to the Garden Isle.
Located to the west of Hanapepe, is Kauai’s historic seaport town. You will come across Waimea town on the way to the majestic Waimea Canyon. If you notice Captain Cook’s statue in the center of the town, you’re just beginning to get a glimpse of the rich history associated with Waimea. The Cook Landing Site marked the arrival of Captain cook at the mouth of the Waimea river in 1778, who thus became the first European to step on the Hawaiian islands. The site was later declared as a National Historical Landmark.
History aside, today Waimea is one among the technologically advanced towns of Kauai.
Visit the West Kauai Technology and Visitor Center located at the corner Waimea Canyon Drive on highway 550. It is a museum styled resource center that digs into the history of Waimea with historic photographs, exhibits and projects. It also hosts a gift shop offering island made gifts like Niihau shell jewelry, photographs and educational books.
Hanapepe is popularly known as the art capital of Kauai. This angelic “Big Little Town” of Kauai, still has a pre world war style ambiance to it.
Civilizations started flourishing in the fertile land of Hanapepe much before Captain Cook’s arrival to the island in 1778.
Hanapepe was mainly built by entrepreneurial immigrants and their legacy continues to this day with businesses like salt cultivation.
This is a sleepy little town, but not boring. Hanapepe is one of the few places in Kauai where you can have a quiet sedentary lifestyle by exploring bookstores, cherishing the art and music and sometimes, simply do nothing!
The Talk Story bookstore has a wide collection of books and CDs and there’s a good chance that you might stumble on a classic you’ve been looking for.
If you have time, walk over the Hanapepe swinging bridge. The bridge is completely made of wood and was originally built over a water pipe. As you walk over the bridge, feel the pride of having crossed Kauai’s third largest river.
You can also visit the local Farmers Market every Thursday starting at 3 pm at the Hanapepe park.
Finally, do not miss the Hanapepe Art Night! Every Friday from 6 pm to 9 pm this small town comes to life as over 16 art galleries are open for the public. Interact with the locals, enjoy local music and also try the local cuisine for a memorable experience.
Poipu is a popular town along the southern shore of the island. This is the resort destination of Kauai offering a wide range of resorts, condos and elite accommodation options to choose from.
There are ample things to do in Poipu town for the restless traveler- be it snorkeling and scuba diving, horseback riding or whale watching to name a few (and hogging too!)
Along the Koloa road is Poipu’s premier shopping destination- Poipu Shopping Village. Here you’ll find some of the most popular restaurants, cafes and juice shops in the region. The variety of shopping options which include clothing, art galleries and gift shops combined with the hula shows in the region will absolutely cheer you up.
The Spouting Horn, a natural blowhole that shoots water up to 20 ft in height, is only a short drive from Poipu town. This is where the ocean meets a lava coastline and is a popular photography spot. It is a part of the Koloa Heritage Trail.
Poipu beach park is a great place for a family picnic with all the basic amenities like picnic tables, beaches, restrooms and safe playing area for kids. This is also a favourite napping spot for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
Quite opposite to the high end lifestyle of Poipu, Old Koloa Town still carries the legacy of its rich sugar plantation days. The old buildings from the plantation times have now turned into eateries and shops, giving a unique ambiance to Koloa town.
A long lining of eucalyptus trees which were planted almost a century ago, form the gateway to the south shore towns of Koloa and Poipu. This stretch is popularly called the Tree Tunnel Road.
To get a glimpse of Koloa’s history you can visit the Koloa Sugar Mill, which sparked the island’s sugar revolution leading to the multi cultural population of Kauai today.
Also explore the Koloa Heritage Trail as it takes you through 14 sites of historic significance stretching till Poipu. You can either take a walk along the trail or take a drive and stop at the heritage sites.
Old Koloa town is best experienced when you take a casual stroll along the vintage style streets and explore the local shops and eateries. Don’t forget to visit Lappert’s ice cream before you leave Koloa.
To bring out the nature lover in you, pay a visit the Allerton and Mcbryde gardens. The gardens rest on a massive 300 acre land of preserved flora. This is one of the premium botanical gardens in the world. Take one of their guided tours for the best experience.
The Kukuiula Shopping Village will not disappoint you either and will stimulate all five of your senses as you shop and eat with live music flowing around you.
After Poipu comes the commercial center of Kauai- Lihue. With the airport and Nawiliwili harbor located here, Lihue forms the gateway to the island and sees many tourists every year.
Being the commercial center, you can expect some high end lodging, dining and shopping options here.
The Kalapaki beach is a popular destination as it is great for swimming, boogie boarding, stand up paddle boarding and also for people who want to learn surfing. It fronts the Kauai Marriott Beach Resort and has other accommodation options in its vicinity.
If you are a history buff or are interested in learning more about the roots of Lihue, do pay a visit to the Kauai Museum. It was setup to protect and honor the cultures and work of artisans from Lihue and Niihau. It also educates visitors on the geographical formation of Kauai and it’s early native life.
For a fun and exciting experience, plan a visit to the Historic Kilohana Plantation estate and be a part of one of the most popular luaus in the island- The luau Kalamaku.
When you approach Wailua, you will know why this part of the island is called the Coconut Coast. The east side of Kauai is decorated with a lining of coconut trees everywhere and that is how it gets its popular name.
Wailua is a hot destination for tourists, who mainly visit to explore popular sites like the Wailua River, Fern Grotto (accessed via kayak), the Wailua Falls and the numerous Heiau sites in the region.
Wailua has a rich history as ancient civilizations flourished along the banks of Wailua River. This explains the presence of Heiaus (places of worship).
Just like other history rich towns of Kauai which have now seen a modern touch, Wailua too offers plenty of dining and shopping options and takes good care of its visitors.
Like Koloa, though it is called the Old Kapaa Town, it’s a perfect fusion of old and new. Located on the southeastern shore of Kauai, it is just towards the north of Wailua. This is literally a paradise for shoppers and foodies.
The Kinipopo Shopping Village will satisfy your desire for every merchandise you can dream of- whether it be arts and crafts, jewelry, clothing, or souvenirs. You can also visit the Wailua Plaza and the Coconut Marketplace for a great shopping experience. If you want to return home with a perfect takeaway, then Kapaa is the place to look for it.
People who prefer to relax can have a soothing walk along Kapaa’s coconut coast. The serene beaches offer the tranquil atmosphere you need to escape into your own world.
Lastly, do not leave Kapaa without tasting the island’s popular dessert, Shave Ice, from any of the food trucks near you.
Crossing a one lane bridge provides access to this popular north shore town. Well known for the Hanalei Bay, Hanalei also amuses tourists with its less glamorous aspects.
Hanalei bay is a beauty with its white sand beach. The conditions here are favorable for surfing and is a popular destination among tourists and locals alike. While one end of the beach offers rough waters for surfers, the other end remains calm for beginner swimmers to explore the waters. The popular Hanalei Pier is frequented by locals for fishing, relaxing and watching the sunset.
Visit the local Farmers Market here on Saturdays. Along with getting your hands on the island’s fresh fruits and vegetables, the farmers market is also famous for its eateries which offer some of the most delicious desserts on the island. Do try the chocolate dipped banana and the banana cakes. Health conscious travelers will have a blast trying healthy juice shots at various juice shops available here.
Coming to the less glamorous aspects, Hanalei surprisingly doesn’t boast of resorts and is quite low laid. You will seldom see major brand outlets in the region. Still, its original ambiance projects an aura of its own.
If you’d like to, you can explore the dark green taro fields beneath the mountains. The fields are private property, so, make sure you visit during the tour timings. Taro is a part of Kauai’s staple diet called Poi, usually served as a part of luau dinner.
Though the towns seem similar, the experience is different when you visit them. The climate and culture keeps constantly changing as you progress along different parts of the coast. Now get ready to plan for an exciting visit and don’t forget to keep your bucket list ready!