North Shore Vacation Guide: Popular Activities, Attractions, and Things To Do
(Part 1 of 5 of the Kauai Vacation Guide – Which Side of the Island is Best For You?)
North Shore: Haena, Wainiha, Hanalei, Princeville, Kilauea, Moloaa
Full of charming towns, lush scenery, and gorgeous beaches, the North Shore is perfect for the outdoor enthusiast, those that want adventure, and for those experienced surfers that are looking for some great waves. About a 45-minute drive from the Lihue Airport, the North Shore is relatively remote. There are no stoplights, fast food restaurants, or shopping malls, but there is plenty of beauty and endless things to do here.
With an impressive selection of popular, stunning beaches, this is the side to go to if you’re looking for a unique tropical experience. Eclectic restaurants and great boutique shops can be found scattered among the breathtaking views of the North Shore mountains, waterfalls, and palm trees. The North Shore boasts towns seemingly custom-designed for soaking in the sights. Forget about that phone and those unchecked emails for awhile, and experience Kauai at its best.
The farthest North town located on Kauai is quite a drive, but is worth visiting, and is called Haena. It is home to some great island attractions, including Tunnels Beach, one of the best places to snorkel on Kauai, Limahuli Gardens, Ke’e Beach, and the Kalalau Trail.
The best places to visit in Haena are:
- Ke’e Beach
- Tunnels Beach
- Limahuli Gardens
- Wet & Dry Caves
This part of the island is commonly referred to as “deep country” and is a good hour and a half maybe even two hour drive from the Lihue Airport. After you leave Hanalei, travel North on Kuhio Hwy. over several one-lane bridges and you will discover Haena.
A great place to explore, Haena is full of natural wonders, which can be found around every corner. Here you get a little glimpse of what Kauai was like back in the day. There are no stores. There are no gas stations. (Don’t forget to fill up in Princeville.) This area is, however, full of beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, dry caves, and waterfalls.
Some noteworthy places on the North Shore include:
Limahuli Garden: “Limahuli Garden was selected by the American Horticultural Society as the best natural botanical garden in the United States, having demonstrated the best sound environmental practices of water, soil, and rare plant conservation in an overall garden design.” Be sure to check out Limahuli Garden and Preserve, the gorgeous botanical garden in Haena. You’ll see endemic plants and learn a lot about them and how they played a leading role in making the island of Kauai what it is today. After touring botanical gardens like this one, you’ll have a much better understanding as to why Kauai is known as the Garden Island.
Ke’e Beach: Also known as “the end of the road,” this area boasts stunning views of the Na Pali Coastline, one of the most iconic and photographed views on the island. Definitely a must-see, must-do. It’s a great place to snorkel, swim, and spot whales and dolphins. This is also where you will find the Hanakapiai Trail, which is one of the only ways to get to Kalalau Beach.
Kalalau Trail: One of the most famous and highly sought after Kauai hiking trails, the Kalalau Trail offers a one-of-a-kind hiking experience. Hike along Kauai’s rugged North Shore mountains, with a jaw-dropping ocean view for most of the way, until you get to beautiful Kalalau Valley and Beach. During the winter months, you may even see some whales as you navigate the trail. Stop by Hanakapiai Falls on your way, explore Kauai’s magical and lush interior, and discover secret pools and caves. This is an extreme hike, totaling 11 miles one way, but it progressively gets more challenging, so can only be completed part way for smaller, easier hikes.
Note: If hiking past Hanakapiai Valley, you must have a permit.
Other Attractions in Haena: On your way to Ke’e, don’t miss the dry and wet caves or Cold Pond, which can be easy to miss if you don’t know about these places, but they are located right off the road. Keep your eyes open for people and parked cars.
Known For: Tunnels Beach, Limahuli Garden, Dry & Wet Caves, Cold Pond, Ke’e Beach, the Kalalau Trail
Places to Visit: Tunnels Beach, Limahuli Garden, Dry & Wet Caves, Cold Pond, Ke’e Beach, the Kalalau Trail
Best Restaurants: Mediterranean Gourmet Restaurant, SushiGirl
Best Beaches: Tunnels Beach, Pukas Beach, Haena Beach Park, Ke’e Beach
Weather: Tropical, Rainy
Distance from Lihue Airport: 1.5 – 2 hours
After you leave Haena, the next town is world-famous Hanalei. You could easily spend your whole vacation simply exploring the shops, lounging in the sun, playing on the pier, and swimming in the crystal clear water in this quaint Kauai town.
The best places to visit in Hanalei are:
- Hanalei Bay
- Hanalei River
- Hanalei Pier
Hanalei Bay: This beach is arguably the most desirable vacation destination on Kauai, definitely on the North Shore of the island. This is a place where you can enjoy almost every ocean activity and provides one of two access points to the world-famous Na Pali Coast, the West Side being the other access point. Kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or just enjoy sunbathing on the beach, Hanalei is a magical place to enjoy being outdoors. It’s a popular place to find surfers and recreational boaters and fisherman, and is one place where locals and visitors regularly intermingle. Don’t forget to stroll down Hanalei Pier for an amazing view of the Bay.
Hanalei River: This is another fun and popular place to stand-up paddleboard and kayak. Venture up the river for an amazing time on calm waters. With the majestic North Shore mountains and waterfalls above you and the wildlife all around you, Hanalei River offers a unique opportunity to see some of Kauai’s interior beauty.
The Hanalei Dolphin & Fish Market: Also located in Hanalei, this is the first restaurant you’ll see after crossing the one-way bridge into town, and is one of the best places on the island to get some sushi. A highly recommended place to grab lunch or dinner, the Hanalei Dolphin & Fish Market uses locally-sourced ingredients from nearby farms and from the ocean. It is hands down one of the most popular restaurants on Kauai.
Shopping in Hanalei: Hanalei is a great town for shopping and a great place to find some souvenirs for yourself or for friends and family back home. Sand People, On the Road to Hanalei, The Bikini Room, and The Root are all great places to shop. Art galleries and surf shops are also scattered around Hanalei. The best way to shop in Hanalei is to walk around and explore all that the town has to offer. It’s not too big and is beautiful and charming. It’s easy to spend the day here.
Known For: Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Pier
Places to Visit: Wai`oli Hui`ia Church, Hanalei Bay, Hanalei Pier, Hanalei River
Best Restaurants: The Hanalei Dolphin & Fish Market, Hanalei Gourmet, Bubba Burgers, BarAcuda, Kalypso, Puka Dogs, Hanalei Pizza, Hanalei Village Snack Shop, Bouchons Hanalei, Tropical Taco
Best Beaches: Lumahai Beach, Hanalei Bay, Pinetrees
Weather: Often Rainy, Sunny Afternoons, Breezy
Distance from Lihue Airport: 1.5 hours
Shopping: Ching Young Village, Hanalei Surf Company, Backdoor, Bikini Room, The Root, On the Road to Hanalei
The North Shore is also home to Princeville, the next major town after Hanalei (heading East), where you can find two great places to golf, the Hanalei lookout, and some shopping. The Princeville Library and local craft fairs are also great places to stop by especially if you have little ones with you. Local craft fairs are usually held once a month and offer unique Kauai-made keepsakes at affordable prices. Keep your eyes open for advertisements and signs announcing when and where they will take place.
The best places to visit in Princeville are:
- Princeville Golf Course
- Queen’s Bath
- Hanalei Lookout
- Princeville Ranch
Princeville Golf Course: The Makai Golf Course and the Prince Golf Course are both scenic courses and offer some of the best sights on the island while enjoying a round of golf. They are regularly rated as some of the best golf courses in the U.S. They are both challenging courses that will satisfy any golf enthusiast. Be sure to call and ask how the weather looks before heading that way.
Activities in Princeville: Princeville Ranch is the place to go to if you’re looking for a scenic horseback riding adventure. Fun ziplining tours are also offered in Princeville.
Queen’s Bath: If you’re looking for a great hiking trail in Princeville, try the trail to Queen’s Bath. You’ll pass waterfalls and end your adventure at small, protected saltwater swimming holes cradled between lava rocks. This is one of the best places, actually probably the best place, to see Hawaiian sea turtles. You are guaranteed to see a couple, if not dozens, and it is definitely part of what makes this a hot spot with both locals and visitors. Recommended for more experienced hikers, and it is always recommended that you allow yourself plenty of time to explore the area safely.
Hanalei Lookout: Don’t forget to stop by the Hanalei lookout, located across from the Princeville Shopping Center, where you can see gorgeous mountain views, the Hanalei River, and overlook the Hanalei taro fields. It’s a popular place to stop for photos and just admire part of what makes Hanalei so special – its unique scenery and taro fields.
They do offer tours of the lighthouse every hour (for up to 15 people), but you have to sign up for their waiting list, which offers no guarantee that you’ll go on the tour if that many people are ahead of you. It costs five dollars per person (children 5 and under are free) to get into the gated area. Don’t forget to stop by their office and ask to use some binoculars (free of charge). There’s a lot to see here and it’s a great place to get some pictures, even if you don’t pay to go exploring inside the gates.
Kilauea Art Night: Kilauea Art Night is a monthly festival that features live music, local artisans, and trendy food trucks. “Walk around the Historic Stone Building to discover 40+ local artisans. Find pottery, paintings, photography, apparel, jewelry, wood workers and more!” This free event usually takes place on the last Saturday of every month.
Kilauea Fish Market: If you’re hungry on your way to or from the Kilauea Lighthouse, stop by the Kilauea Fish Market. Featured on Food Network’s popular TV show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate – Road Trip,” we highly recommend trying their Ahi Tuna Wrap. Grab some of their homemade hibiscus tea or a coconut water for a satisfying dining experience. In the field next to the restaurant, you will often see nenes (Hawaii’s state bird) hanging out, which is always a fun sight.
Anini Beach: This beach boasts the largest protected reef in the state of Hawaii and is a great place to swim, snorkel, and watch for sea turtles. It’s also one of the great beaches to go to if you have kids. A popular place to swim laps, this beach is protected by reef a little ways offshore, so big waves are not a problem. There are plenty of shallow areas and calm water to enjoy.
Kauai Mini Golf: Located in Kilauea is an 18-hole mini golf course meandering through koi ponds, waterfalls, and bamboo “forests,” and is a great place to bring the kids. It is the only mini golf course on island, and has a great playground and grassy space behind it for the kids to run around. They also have a nice little gift shop here where you can find delicious ice cream and coffee.
Secrets Beach is also a great beach to visit while you’re in Kilauea. It is good to know that the beach does require a little bit of hiking. It is located down a steep trail, which can be especially challenging on your way back up. Try to bring as little with you as possible as it is somewhat of a long walk. Beach umbrellas and plenty of water are recommended items to bring, as there is little shade at this beach.
Secrets Beach is a long beach, commonly referred to as Secrets Beach 1, 2, and 3 (1 being the beach to the left of the trail, 2 being the beach you “land” on coming off of the trail, and 3 being the beach farthest away, to the right of the trail when facing the ocean). This is a great beach to come to if you enjoy a good hike and if you enjoy lots of space and sun.
Moloa’a Sunrise Juice Bar & Fruit Stand: Past Kilauea, on your way to Anahola, don’t forget to stop by the Moloa’a Sunrise Juice Bar & Fruit Stand for some great local produce or a delicious snack. Moloa’a is in between Kilauea and Anahola, and the fruit stand is easily visible and found on the left-hand side of the road when driving East. If you want to try a really good smoothie, their “Date with Fate” smoothie is highly recommended. It is sweet, delicious, and slightly addicting.
Known For: Kilauea Lighthouse & National Wildlife Refuge, Anini Beach
Places to Visit: Kilauea Lighthouse, Kilauea Mini Golf, Anini Beach, Na Aina Kai Botanical Garden & Sculpture Park
Best Restaurants: Kilauea Fish Market, The Bistro, Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza, Banana Joe’s Fruit Stand
Best Beaches: Anini Beach, Secrets Beach, Kalihiwai Beach
Weather: Tropical, Rainy
Distance from Lihue Airport: About 45 min – 1 hour
Shopping: Kong Lung Village
Kauai’s North Shore: Make Sure to Visit at Least Once
The North Shore of the island is a place that you should definitely plan to visit at least once. It really does give you a glimpse of what the island was like back in the day. Nature puts on a fine display here and offers absolutely breathtaking views not to mention the perfect outdoor playground. There are plenty of activities and attractions to enjoy free of charge, and several activities that you can also pay to enjoy, like deep sea fishing charters and sunset cruises down the Na Pali Coast. Whatever you decide to do on the North Shore, we are confident that you will have a blast and plenty of amazing memories to share with friends and family back home.