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A Solo Traveler’s Guide To Kauai: Where To Eat, Stay, And Play

*Omicron is spreading in Hawaii but the state has not made changes to its travel policies. Travelers are encouraged to respect local and national advisories.

In 2021, I spent more time on the road than I did at home. As a passionate adventurer, one of my greatest lessons over the past year has been a new appreciation for solo travel. Group trips, couples getaways, and family vacations are great, but there’s something empowering about taking your travels into your own hands. Especially as a woman. Exploring unknown places alone leaves the door wide open for you to create your own itinerary with the freedom to be spontaneous along the way. You learn to have fun by yourself, connect more intentionally to the world around you, and experience people and places in new ways.

Or at least, that’s what I’ve gained from it. And I’m absolutely hooked.

My most recent solo adventure was to Kauai, Hawaii’s wettest, greenest, and fourth-largest island. With 97 percent of the island covered by forests or mountain ranges, it’s a haven for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. The endless stretches of beach surrounding the dense greenery make it a vision of tropical paradise — and a natural stand-in for Jurassic worlds, distant jungles, and far-off planets.

Traveling to Kauai solo, I was able to meet people I never would have connected with had I gone in a cloistered crew. I may or may not have left with new ink because I met a tattoo artist and owner of Tried and True Tattoo at dinner on my first night. I often changed plans on a whim, whether that meant chilling at the resort pool with a Mai Tai or hiking first thing in the morning. Whatever I wanted to do, I did it. By the end of my five days in Kauai, I felt more connected to myself, nature, and my spirituality than I had in a long time.

If you’re looking for a solo adventure of your own, Kauai is my #1 pick on the planet. It’s hospitable, safe, and full of beauty. Below, you’ll find my solo traveler’s guide to the island — but I’ll readily admit that I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to see and do.

PART I — Where to Play

Explore Waimea Canyon

First of all, you’re going to need a rental car in Kauai. Uber is scarce here, and as a solo traveler, it’s nice to have easy transportation access at any time of the day. I spontaneously decided to upgrade my rental to a convertible, and it was 100 percent worth it. (As a rule of thumb, never leave any valuables in your rental car.) One of the best parts of my trip was simply cruising through the jungle with the top down and checking out the views. This was especially enjoyable when I drove through Waimea Canyon State Park, a ten-mile long and 3,000 feet-deep canyon where cliffside views are abundant.

Waimea Canyon wasn’t originally on my itinerary, but a convincing DM from one of my Instagram followers persuaded me to change things up (again, the perks of solo travel!). I spent an afternoon driving through the state park, making stops along the way whenever something caught my eye or I noticed a line of cars parked on the side of the road. From miles of mountainous greenery to waterfalls and running creeks, the island’s vast natural beauty is on full 360-degree display throughout Waimea Canyon.

At the top of the state park, there are lookout platforms where you can take in the views from up above. However, if you find yourself in Kauai during winter, then you’ll realize how quickly the weather can turn on its head. By the time I made it to the peak, it was completely foggy and absolutely pouring (AKA, bring a rain jacket). Luckily, the sun made its way back from behind the clouds on my way back down. I made one last stop in the canyon where I was met with a breathtaking double rainbow and mountain view.

It was truly a magical moment that made the afternoon of driving and rain worth it.

Cacao Bliss & Mindful Snorkeling Tour

I’ve been loving Airbnb Experiences lately. These are first-hand, one-of-a-kind activities hosted by local experts. I knew I wanted to do at least one badass experience during my stay in Kauai, so I signed up for the Cacao Bliss & Mindful Snorkeling Tour. My guide took me on a short morning hike down to a small secluded beach that’s typically only frequented by locals. He then led me in a meditation, served me a warm cup of ceremonial cacao elixir while sharing its various healing benefits, and joined me in the ocean for a swim. Unfortunately, the water was too rough for the snorkeling portion of the excursion, but it was certainly a morning to remember.

This mindfulness experience was the perfect way to start the day, as it encouraged me to get in touch with nature, practice gratitude, and open up to the endless beauty that surrounds me — cheesy, I know, but… it’s true!

Check Out Wailua Falls

Kauai travel guide
Chloe Caldwell

There is no shortage of gorgeous waterfalls in Kauai. If you want to get up close and personal with one, head to Wailua Falls, a 173-foot fall on the Wailua River near Lihue. Not only is it incredible to see, but it’s also convenient. You can drive straight up to the main viewpoint to check out the scene and take photos. This spot is great if you’re on a time crunch but still want to fit in seeing the island’s scenery between meals or activities.

If you’re feeling adventurous and don’t mind getting a little wet, you can even hike down to the base of Wailua Falls. The trek down is a short distance, but it’s often muddy and therefore slippery so it’s a good idea to use caution and take your time walking down. As a safety precaution, avoid any swimming or water activities at the bottom of waterfalls. Keep a lookout for signage surrounding the falls and comply with all warnings against trespassing beyond the designated lookouts. As always, especially when traveling solo, it’s a good idea to text someone where you’re hiking and what time you’ll be done.

Chill on the Beach

I mean, duh. You obviously can’t spend time in Kauai without hitting the beach daily, even if that means you don’t venture from the sand at your resort. There are a plethora of public beaches on the island, and each one seems to have its own character and charm. If you’re on the North Shore of the island, a few notable beaches to check out are Hanalei Bay and Anini Beach. Both of these offer tranquil vibes and scenic ocean views with a jungle backdrop to match. Hanalei is more ideal for families and swimming, while Anini Beach is a great spot to chill out and enjoy a picnic by the water.

For days on the South Shore, check out Poipu Beach, one of Kauai’s most popular beaches. This is another good beach for taking a dip in the waves, as there are lifeguards, picnic tables, and showers nearby. There are also great spots to eat right by the main beach area so you can enjoy your lunch while you sunbathe.

Tour the Kauai Coffee Estate

Have you ever wondered exactly how coffee is made? It’s more intricate than you might think, and the Kauai Coffee Estate gives you a first-hand look (and taste) of the entire process. With over 4 million coffee trees grown on 3,100 acres, Kauai Coffee Company is the largest coffee grower in the U.S.

The farm in Kalaheo offers personalized, guided walking tours where you’ll learn about how the farm’s coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted. You can also opt for a free self-guided tour and stroll through the grounds at your own leisure. After the coffee estate tour, you can chill out at the property’s visitor center for coffee taste-testing and panoramic views of the fields and ocean.

I spent an afternoon touring the Kauai Coffee Estate, and it was certainly the educational highlight of my trip.

PART II — Where to Eat

South Shore Restaurants & Fast Casual:

Kauai travel guide
Chloe Caldwell

You can find everything from beachside resort restaurants to hole-in-the-wall small businesses throughout Kauai. As you can imagine, seafood is one of the primary delicacies of the island. If you’re craving fresh sashimi and sushi, head to Sushi Bushido. Tucked in the far corner of the Coconut Marketplace, a charming shopping center full of gift shops and eateries, Sushi Bushido is a locally-owned sushi bar with both unique specialty rolls and traditional favorites.

Order the Lava Roll and Uni for a mouthwatering meal. As an LA sushi aficionado, I definitely vouch for this spot.

For a more casual bite to eat by the beach that doesn’t skimp on taste, head to Puka Dog. Located next to Poipu Beach, Puka Dog serves Hawaiian-style hot dogs (or veggie dogs) slathered in a mess of tangy sauce and flavors of your choosing. A traditional Hawaiian-style hotdog is made with a freshly-baked bun wrapped completely around the dog. It’s then doused with garlic lemon secret sauce, a tropical-fruit relish, and locally-made mustard.

It just might be the best wiener experience of your life.

For a nicer sit-down outing and lively environment, I recommend Duke’s. I ended up here two nights in a row because I enjoyed the entire dining experience, from the ambiance to the food and fruity cocktails. Between the rainforest-like decor (including a waterfall fountain in the middle of the dining area), the live music, laidback vibes, and good grub, it’s a must-visit restaurant. I ordered the fish tacos and fish ‘n’ chips, and both offered a large portion that did not disappoint. To drink, I ordered the Lava Flow, a blended concoction of pineapple, coconut, and light rum erupting with strawberry. It was the ultimate island drink to celebrate my time in Kauai. Sweet but definitely tasty.

North Shore Restaurants & Fast Casual:

Kauai travel guide
Chloe Caldwell

I didn’t spend as much time on the North Shore, but I did get a taste of the local eats while I was there. If you want to do some shopping and taste the local fare, head to the center of Hanalei where you’ll find boutique shops, clothing stores, local bars, and eateries. Another must-visit spot for sushi lovers is Hanalei Dolphin’s Fish Market. Here, you’ll find specialties like teriyaki shrimp, sushi rolls and fresh sashimi, poke salad, ceviche, seafood chowder, organic salad mixes, and The Dolphin’s homemade salad dressings. It’s basically your one-stop-shop for all things fish.

There are sit-down dining and takeout options available. I got mine to go for lunch on the beach.

Another Hanalei hotspot is Tahiti Nui, a family-run and operated establishment that serves everything from specialty pizzas to coconut shrimp, baby back ribs, and macadamia-crusted chicken. It’s a great restaurant for a post-beach pick-me-up when you need to refuel from a long day in the sun. The menu also offers a selection of specialty cocktails and wine. Go for the Over the Rainbow Martini for a strong kick of Grey Goose Poire, passion fruit, lime, lemonade, and club soda.

PART III — Where to Stay

Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy

Kauai travel guide
Chloe Caldwell

There really isn’t a bad place to stay on the island. You’re in freakin’ Kauai, after all! The North Shore is where you’ll find lush jungle views and a serene atmosphere due to its more frequent rainy weather and untouched natural environment. The South Shore is dryer and closer to the airport, and it’s also a more convenient access point to popular adventure spots like Waimea Canyon. The good news is that no matter what side of the island you stay on, it’s a quick drive to and from each shore.

I stayed in Kapa’a at the Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy, and it turned out to be the perfect location for me. It was nearly equidistant to both sides of the island, making the drive to every excursion a breeze. As for the resort itself, Kauai Coast Resort at the Beachboy made me feel right at home. The rooms themselves aren’t the most extravagant, but the apartment-style layout was comfortable and nice to come back to at the end of the day. The resort is right on the beach, so I spent every morning strolling in the sand watching the sunrise. There’s also a central pool area, a popular restaurant (make a reservation!), and hammocks spread out throughout the property for the mid-afternoon nap of your dreams. The resort is also across the street from the Coconut Marketplace mentioned above, so you’ll always have shopping and a bite to eat nearby.

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