Beach Breaks

8 Can't Miss Small Towns On Kauai, Plus What To Do

E komo mai to the Garden Isle’s hidden gems

The Vacationeer
Two palm tree on the sandy Poipu Beach in Kaui, Hawaii

Kauai may be less populated than Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, but make no mistake — the Garden Isle is just as full of things to do as the other islands. Rather than sticking to big cities, visitors can circumnavigate the island and visit laid-back small towns along Kauai’s coasts. Explore hikes through waterfalls and botanical gardens, snorkel or suntan on beautiful beaches and taste island life at a variety of restaurants and bakeries, all on Kauai. There’s something new to discover at every turn, from the rugged cliffs of Waimea Canyon to the tranquil golden sands of Poipu Beach.

Whether you’re putting together a week-long itinerary or just looking for inspiration, here are eight enjoyable small towns on Kauai, plus things to do and places to eat.

South Shore

Poipu Beach on Kauai, Hawaii 

1. Poipu

Things to do in Poipu: See the lava cliffs and beautiful beaches along the Koloa Heritage Trail, perfect for hiking or biking. The trail connects Spouting Horn Park and Shipwreck Beach. Get to Spouting Horn early in the morning to beat the crowds and watch a majestic sunrise over this lava tube blowhole. Add a stop at Poipu Beach Park and learn to ride the waves at Poipu Beach Surf School. Or play a round at Poipu Bay Resort Golf Course, where even the most focused golfers will stop to take in the breathtaking ocean and mountain views. Finish the day at Poipu Shopping Village for shopping, hulu and live music every Monday and Thursday evenings.

Restaurants in Poipu: Start the day with coffee and a quick bite at Little Fish Coffee, which serves locally sourced and fair trade coffee. Pick up Puka Dog for lunch and enjoy Hawaiian-style hot dogs by the beach. Waikomo Shave Ice offers the perfect sweet treat and uses natural ingredients. Dine at RumFire Kauai for a modern meal alongside picturesque Poipu Beach, the perfect place to catch the sunset.

Lawai Bay, Koloa, Kauai, Hawai 

2. Koloa

Things to do in Koloa: Explore Hawaii’s native flora at McBryde Garden at the National Tropical Botanical Garden and learn about the importance of these tropical plants to the history of Lawai Valley. For an adventure with a little more adrenaline, head to Koloa Zipline to soar over the breathtaking jungle and beaches. Relax at Kukuiula Harbor Beach, a hidden gem on Kauai’s coast.

Restaurants in Koloa: Wander through dozens of unique boutiques and restaurants at The Shops at Kukuiula, including traveler favorites like Bubba Burgers, Eating House 1849 by Roy Yamaguchi and Lappert’s Hawaii. For a daytime snack, shop for fresh lychee, coconut, dragonfruit and other tropical produce at Koloa Fruit Stand. Savor fresh seafood at reasonable prices at Koloa Fish Market, or splurge at Tidepools for modern Hawaiian cuisine.


Two hikers enjoying the view from the trails of the lush Waimea Canyon of Kauai 

3. Waimea

Things to do in Waimea: See Waimea Canyon State Park, nicknamed “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” by driving to scenic overlooks or hiking one of its many gorgeous trails. Waipoo Falls is a hike that can be challenging for amateur hikers but the waterfall at the end is worth the effort. Or tan beneath blue skies on a secluded beach at Polihale State Park. For a free tour of Kauai’s history, stop by the West Kauai Heritage Center. The Center also offers lei-making classes that out-of-state visitors will love.

Restaurants in Waimea: Before heading to Waimea Canyon, stop by Waimea Coffee Company for a grab-and-go breakfast and coffee with fun Hawaiian flavors like coconut and macadamia nut. Try Chicken in a Barrel BBQ for mouth-watering pulled pork and a huge selection of beer. Or order mahi mahi tacos on homemade tortillas close to the canyon from Island Taco.

Malasadas, fried balls of dough covered in sugar, just one of the many treats found on Kaui 

4. Hanapepe

Things to do in Hanapepe: Stay busy in Hanapepe, Kauai’s “biggest little town” and art capital of the island. Friday evenings are Hanapepe Art Night, where local galleries and shops open for extended hours. While in Hanapepe, step on the swinging bridge built in the 20th century to cross the Hanapepe River. If you want a taste of Waimea Canyon, Hanapepe Valley Lookout offers views of the valley, which might look familiar to "Jurassic Park" fans. Or check out the Hanapepe Salt Ponds for calm waters and shallow areas, perfect for younger travelers looking to swim or spot turtles.

Restaurants in Hanapepe: Venture to Midnight Bear Breads for fresh baked goods and sandwiches. Munch on malasadas, a fried dough coated in sugar, at Aloha Sweet Delights, or check out Kauai Chocolate Company for decadent chocolates. For something savory, Japanese Grandma’s Cafe is a relaxed sushi and ramen joint with a charming garden outdoor area. Or drive to Port Allen for dinner and drinks at Kauai Island Brewing Company, the island’s oldest pub and brewery.

North Shore

Aerial shot of Hanalei Bay on the north shore of Kauai in Hawaii 

5. Hanalei

Things to do in Hanalei: Kayak and snorkel along the crescent-shaped beach of Hanalei Bay to get up close and personal with turtles and other sea life. Or, if you prefer to stay on dry land, walk Hanalei Bay Beach and pier, watch surfers ride the waves. Snag a tour at Limahuli Garden and Preserve, which is home to endangered flora and fauna and indigenous Hawaiian traditions. Then shop for souvenirs like handcrafted items at the Hanalei Farmer’s Market or antique treasures at Yellow Fish Trading Company.

Restaurants in Hanalei: For a meal with a mountain view, visit Nourish Hanalei for farm-fresh and vegan fare. Enjoy sushi on the banks of the Hanalei River at The Hanalei Dolphin, or take your tuna to go at Hanalei Poke. Craving Indian food? Cafe Turmeric has you covered with delicious Indian food like coconut shrimp curry. No matter the meal, swoon over Holey Grail Donuts, which serve made-to-order donuts made with Hawaiian-grown taro root and fried in organic coconut oil. Be sure to make a reservation at Tahiti Nui for a cozy Kauai luau full of food, music and dance every Wednesday.

Two pineapples on the bush on a sunny day 

6. Kilauea

Things to do in Kilauea: Foodies will find plenty to do in Kilauea. Learn how iconic Hawaiian food is grown, from pineapple to noni, an ancient Polynesian fruit in the coffee family. See how chocolate is made, from cacao pod to candy bar, and sample Hawaiian-grown chocolate at Garden Isle Chocolate, or take a Kauai Kunana Dairy Farm tour to feed goats, learn about the farm and taste goat cheese. Once you’re full, head to Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and Kilauea Lighthouse and soak in the ocean views.

Restaurants in Kilauea: The Historic Kong Lung Market Center, the heart of Kilauea, is home to unique eateries such as Kilauea Bakery & Pizza and Palate Wine Bar & Restaurant. Kilauea Fish Market is the place for poke and ono tacos, and travelers rave about the macadamia nut ice cream from JoJo’s Shave Ice.


Palm trees by the beach, with a view of the Nounou Mountains forming the Sleeping Giant, on the Eastside of Kaui 

7. Kapaa

Things to do in Kapaa: Hike the most iconic trail in Kauai, Sleeping Man, named for the NouNou Mountain’s unique shape. Rent bikes for the crew and cruise the coast along Kauai Path or all the way to Donkey Beach for a secluded swim. Pack a picnic and appreciate a slice of paradise at Lae Nani Beach. Or explore Smith’s Tropical Paradise, lush garden and park by day and traditional luau locale by evening.

Restaurants in Kapaa: Breakfast at Russell’s by Eat Healthy Kauai for vegan food that even carnivores will love. Meat-lovers can dig into Hawaiian-raised beef and beer at Kenji Burger or order a piping hot bowl of beef soup from Pho Kappa. Locals love the beachside Sam’s Ocean View, so you’ll want to snag a reservation to avoid a long wait. Or sip at Hawaii’s only mead brewery, Nani Moon Mead, made with locally sourced honey, fruit and spices. 

Wailua Falls near Lihue on Kauai, Hawaii 

8. Lihue

Things to do in Lihue: No trip to Lihue would be complete without a stop at Wailua Falls, where early birds may be able to catch a rainbow shimmering in the spray. Learn about the history and indigenous Hawaiian culture of the Garden Isle at Kauai Museum. Less than a mile away from the museum is Kalapaki Beach with clear blue water for swimming and surfing. If you prefer bunkers to beaches, Hokuala Golf Course offers spectacular views on the back nine.

Restaurants in Lihue: Watch surfers on Kalapaki Beach with a mai tai or fish taco at Duke’s Kauai. For more of a hidden gem, follow the Kauai locals to Tip Top, an American-style diner with generous breakfast potions. Enjoy a taste of Italian at Kauai Pasta Lihue, then take a tour, taste rum and learn a food history lesson at Koloa Rum Company.

Where to Stay in Kauai

If you're visiting Kauai's South Shore or Westside, stay at The Point at Poipu, a Hilton Vacation Club a charming resort near some of Kauai’s most picturesque locations. If you’ve ventured to the North Shore or Eastside, use your Hilton Honors™ Points to stay in style at Hilton Garden Inn Kauai Wailua Bay, a short walk to Wailua Bay and a 15-minute drive to Lihue Airport.

Read “Malama Hawaii: Give Your Next Vacation To The Aloha State New Meaning” for more things to do on Kauai.

HGV Newsletter Sign Up

The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

Popular Articles