How to take a World’s Best trip to Kauai.
It may be the most dramatic vista anywhere in Hawaii: from the bluffs above the eastern tip of Hanalei Bay, on the North Shore of Kauai, you look out on a crescent-shaped beach. Tireless waterfalls spill from jagged cliffs in deep green valleys. Clouds hover and vaporize. A rain shower rolls across the far side of the bay while the sun blazes down on you. Anchoring this ridge is the recently renovated St. Regis Princeville Resort, 252 spacious rooms carved into a cliff. On one side of the property is the Makai Golf Club, one of Hawaii’s most famous courses. On the other, after clambering 100 feet down a steep, rocky trail, you’ll find a more private piece of paradise: Pali Ke Kua Beach, where the only other living creature might be a sea turtle laying her eggs. Nature still calls the shots on Kauai, something you’ll notice whether you’re hiking the Kalalau Trail, which clings to the Napali Coast for 11 miles of views and switchbacks; kayaking through rain forests with Outfitters Kauai; or dining at 22° North, a restaurant in Lihue that uses ingredients sourced from its own two-acre farm. Perhaps that’s why you always feel like a better version of yourself when you’re in Kauai, and why you’ll keep returning.
Kauai Affordable Tip: On the sun-drenched western coast, the Waimea Plantation Cottages are scattered around 27 acres of wide lawns, coconut palms, and empty hammocks—pure old-school Hawaiian aloha. Doubles from $215.
Kauai Family Tip: Stop for a delicately flavored shave ice—the beloved island version of a snow cone—at Wishing Well Shave Ice, a stand in Hanalei. Shave ice from $4.
Kauai: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 8 island overall
No. 2 island in Hawaii
Kalalau Trail Napali Coast State Wilderness Park; 808/274-3444; hawaiistateparks.org.
Makai Golf Club 4080 Lei O Papa Rd., Princeville; 808/826-1912; makaigolf.com; greens fees from $140.
Outfitters Kauai 2827A Poipu Rd., Poipu Beach; 888/742-9887; outfitterskauai.com; kayaking trips from $102 per person.
Pali Ke Kua Beach Also known as Hideaways; off the community path in Princeville.
St. Regis Princeville Resort 5520 Ka Haku Rd., Princeville; 877/787-3447; stregisprinceville.com; doubles from $875.
22° North Restaurant & Bar 3-2087 Kaumualii Hwy., Lihue; 808/245-9593; 22northkauai.com; dinner for two $90.
Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa
The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa isn’t intimate—it holds 602 rooms—but travelers can still find some Zen calm here. The resort is set along 50 acres on the southern coast of Kauai, with lush grounds that meander alongside the ocean and a saltwater lagoon, allowing for leisurely strolls. Rooms near the Anara Spa—one of the best on the islands—are the farthest from the bustle of the large lobby area and its collection of exotic birds. An adults-only pool flows into a lava-rock river pool, which segues into a 150-foot-long waterslide, which drops into the “active” (read: lots of kids) pool. Six restaurants offer something for every palate.
Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach
Formerly the Kauai Marriott Resort & Beach Club
Contemporary, convention-friendly hotel with Hawaii's largest single-level swimming pool—plus a central location between the north and south shores.
Waimea Plantation Cottages
A former oceanfront sugar plantation on the western side of Hawaii's "Garden Isle" is a perfect base-camp for travelers who want to explore Kauai's natural wonders, including the nearby Waimea Canyon and the geologically magnificent Na Pali Coast. The Waimea Plantation Cottages once housed plantation workers and have been renovated to retain their authentic Hawaiian roots: furnishings are made of wicker and rattan, and the upholsteries feature cheerful aloha prints. A hammock suspended between two palm trees offers the best seat to watch the sun set. With lanais and barbecue grills in each cottage, dining in is equally enjoyable.
St. Regis Princeville Resort
Unveiled in September 2009 after its conversion from a Starwood Luxury Collection property, this resort on Kauai’s North Shore borders two of Hawaii’s most famous golf courses (the Makai Golf Club and the Prince Course, which were both designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr.). In its new incarnation, however, the property now also offers enough amenities to tempt even the links-averse—including an 11,000-square-foot spa doling out taro-clay wraps and maile-oil massages; Kauai Grill, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant; a 5,000-square-foot infinity pool; and a sheltered beach good for snorkeling and for families. The 251 rooms—some of the largest on Kauai—are all gleamingly new and done up in pale blue and warm wood tones; Premium Ocean View rooms and suites overlook Hanalei Bay to Mt. Namolokama and, in the distance, Mt. Makana (famously depicted as Bali Hai in the South Pacific film).
Wishing Well Shave Ice
A stand serving delicately flavored ice cream cones.