I’ve been dying to visit the island of Kauai ever since I fell in love with Hawaii on my first trip to Maui a few years ago. Called the Garden Island, Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands and arguably the most beautiful. The island is little bit more untouched than the rest and its yearly rainfall makes the island super lush.
We spent most of our time on the north shore of Kauai which is why this is a great guide to Hanalei Bay. The town is one of the most stunning, cool and laidback towns you will travel to. It certainly has the Hawaiian surf town vibe, which was exactly what we came for.
The lush and rigid mountains, filled with waterfalls, meet the ocean down at the bay. You can stand on the beach and spin 360 degrees and have a stunning view in each and every direction.
Our days in Hanalei were spent walking around barefoot, relaxing at the beach, surfing, eating good food, and drinking a mai tai… or two. Keep reading for recommendations on where to stay, eat and explore on the north shore of Kauai.
It’s fun to see more than one island while you are situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. See my guide to 48 hours on the North Shore of Oahu and the review of The Laylow hotel in Waikiki!
Hanalei Bread Company – the cutest little coffee shop right in the center of town with coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and loaves of bread. I recommend coming here multiple times, it’s that good.
Bar Acuda – this was my favorite dinner in Hanalei! We sat outside on the patio with a group of 6 and it was such a lovely and special evening. We ordered lots of tapas and lots of drinks, EVERYTHING was good.
Kalypso – a sports bar right on the main street in the center of town. Great for an easy food option and best place to watch a game on TV. I recommend the nachos to share!
The Dolphin – come for the sushi. The sushi here is next level but also on the expensive side. But you do get 10 pieces of sushi per specialty roll and it might be some of the freshest fish you’ve had. Worth the price tag. They also have a fish market next door – get some local fresh fish to grill up at home!
Wishing Well Shave Ice – the acai bowl was out of this world. The bowls are big and filling – great for breakfast or lunch.
Hanalei Poke – located to the left side of the Big Save store in town at the Ching Young market, Hanalei Poke has 30 different poke combinations to chose from so you may want to come a few times to try different variations and find your favorite.
Pat’s Taqueria – right next to Hanalei Poke this taqueria food truck has awesome tacos!! Perfect beach snack.
Tahiti Nui – one of the best Mai Tai’s I had on the island. A local dive bar with live music! You can’t go wrong.
1 Hotel Hanalei Bay – if you aren’t staying at the new 1 Hotel (formerly the St. Regis), you must experience the sunset here. We pulled up in a beat-up 4-Runner and felt incredibly out of place but the view was 100% worth it! Drinks are expensive so budget for only one or two rounds.
Kountry Kitchen – We ate here on our first morning and it was maybe the best breakfast I’ve ever had. We had eggs, pankcakes, and fresh fruit. Kountry Kitchen is in the town of Kapa’a which is close to the Lihue airport. This place is a MUST! But it does get crowded so try to get there before 8am or be prepared to wait a little.
Brennecke’s Beach Broiler – we had lunch here the day we went to the beach in Poipu. I recommend the fish sandwich at Brennecke’s.
Airbnb – to really get a feel for the town I always think best to stay in a house. If you can afford the budget, definitely rent an Airbnb in Hanalei, but Princeville is a great area as well and only a 10 minute drive into town.
1 Hotel Hanalei Bay – Formerly the St. Regis, the 1 Hotel is definitely a luxury property and has the best views of Hanalei Bay from up high. Excited to see what the 1 Hotel Group does to update the outdated decor of the St. Regis!
Hanalei Colony Resort – This resort was past a point where residents could enter by convoy after the floods months prior, but this is the closest ‘resort’ in Hanalei apart from the St. Regis (which I found a little stuffy!) The reviews on Trip Advisor are great!
There are great hotel options for any price range on the southern side of the island near Poipu.
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The Sleeping Giant – this is a great hike near the town of Kapa’a on the east side of the island. It is not super easy but not super hard either. It took us about 2 hours to hike up and down with a photo op and break at the top. Expect slippery surfaces and mud on parts of the trail if its rained recently.
Shipwrecked Kauai – super cute little boutique in the town of Kapa’a. They also have an online store here!
Na Pali Coast – this is hands down a must see if you are on Kauai. We were unable to hike the Na Pali Coast due to flooding that happened months prior but we did go on a boat tour with Hoho-Holo Charters that took us around the coast with an open bar & taco bar.
Poipu Beach – great sunbathing and swimming beach on the southern side of the island. If you are staying on the north side of Kauai and it’s raining, its a perfect day to head south where they experience more sunny days! There is also a Marriott where we went and got afternoon Pina coladas.
Hanalei Bay – we spent the most time at the beach in Hanalei. Days here can’t be beat.
Secret Beach – just 5 minutes from Princeville this beach was beautiful but not so secret anymore. You must hike down a path for about 6 minutes to get down to the beach. The beach had golden sand and turquoise waters. We were there when the beach break was dangerous for the average swimmer but we hear on calm days its a great place to snorkel and swim.
The Queens Bath – another must do, weather permitting. Do not go if its recently rained a LOT or if the surf is really high. People have been swept out to sea here. It is a 20-30 minute hike down a treacherous mountain side that is extremely muddy the whole way down. Don’t wear nice clothes because the mud will not want to come out. I made the mistake of not wearing any shoes. Once you finally get down the hill side you’ll see why so many people come to see the Queens Bath. Jump off one of the rocks and enjoy the natural pool. It’s also a really great photo-op!
Hanalei Pier – pack a cooler with beers and bring your camera at sunset – it is one of the best spots to watch!
Hike in Hanalei – we didn’t get to do this hike but it was one of the things i really wish we had! Okolehao Trail is close to town and you get stunning views of the Bay from the top.
Surf in Hanalei – Surf the Bay, Pine Trees or Middles depending on your skill level. Take a lesson with Hanalei Surf School if you are a beginner or paddle out to one of the famous breaks in Hanalei.
Luau – we didn’t get a chance to do a luau while we were here and although they sounds super tourist-y (as I am sure they are) it sounded like a really fun thing to experience. We were recommended Smith’s Luau & the Tahiti Nui’s Luau.
- Expect rain. It rained almost daily while we were on Kauai. Not all day everyday but in the morning or in the afternoon. Bring a light rain jacket!
- Book a few months in advance as the Air Bnb’s get booked.
- High Season: Christmas-March & July-August
- Low Season: Spring & Fall
Planning a vacation to Hawaii? Don’t forget to check out our guide to 48 hours on the North Shore of Oahu and review of The Laylow hotel in Waikiki.
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Nicole1 year ago
I feel like you missed a few things for Hanalei, worth sharing. The break spot Wake up Delicious is the best place in Hanalei (or all of Kauai) for breakfast. Churro French toast, need I say more? The Aloha Juice Bar in the red hut has delicious acai and dole whip. Chicken in a Barrel is good too, as is Kohl’s shave ice next door.
If you hike up at the north shore point of Ke’e beach (the most beautiful spot on the island to me) area to the Napoli Coast, you need to make a shuttle reservation first, up to 30 days prior to your visit. This is for Ke’e, Ha’ena State Park, Napoli Coast, which takes you to the Kalalau Trail! Happy travels!