Nicknamed “the Garden Isle” due to the tropical rainforest covering much of its surface, Kauai is the perfect outdoor oasis for those who like a dash of adventure mixed in with their beach days. Last summer, my family chose Kauai for our vacation out of the six Hawaiian islands precisely for its lush landscape, laid back atmosphere, and endless exploration opportunities. We were anything but disappointed.

The stunning coastlines, secluded beaches, and small-town friendly atmosphere are just a few of the things that made Kauai stand out in my eyes amongst even the most beautiful islands. And although it’s nearly impossible to capture the magic of Kauai in words (or even pictures), I’ve done my best to describe what made this place so special to me in the short time I was lucky enough to be there. Read on to learn more about what makes Kauai so unique, and why you should book the next flight out to see for yourself!

The Na Pali Coast

Without a doubt, the highlight of our trip to Kauai was seeing the famed Na Pali coast. The vibrant colors, hidden caves, and spectacular cliffs make this coastline almost too beautiful to believe. Whether you hike there, fly over it, or see it from the water – the most important thing is that you get there.

My family chose to see it first from the sky, booking a helicopter ride one of our first days on the island. Although we were a mixture of excitement and nerves going into it, we quickly relaxed once we were up in the air taking it all in. Flying over the Na Pali Coast is like something out of a movie. In fact, we flew over many locations used in the filming of the Jurassic Park movies. To get the most complete views of the sweeping coastline, I’d highly recommend going the helicopter route.

Once we’d seen it from up above, we were itching to get up close and the coast from a different perspective. Going off of a recommendation from a friend, we decided to book a small boat tour with Na Pali Experience. I can’t say enough good things about this company. From the moment we got there, our tour guide Nate (who also happens to be the owner), was completely dedicated to showing us a great time out on the water. Not only did he know a ton about the island from being born and raised there, he was also a skilled captain and a ton of fun to be around.

We spent our day out on the boat taking in the views, motoring in and out of caves, and snorkeling alongside the coastline. At one point, were even surrounded by a pod of dolphins in the water. There’s no other way to describe it other than magic. If you don’t book a small boat tour for the views, at least do it for the pineapple. I’m almost positive it was the freshest I’ll ever have.

The Beaches

Anyone who knows me knows I love going to the beach. What’s not to love about long days filled with salt water, warm sun, and sandy toes. So it was no surprise that I fell in love with Kauai’s stunning beaches. What did surprise me was just how many beaches there were, and how secluded they seemed.

A world away from the crowded beaches of the Jersey shore, Kauai’s beaches had a sort of undiscovered charm to them. At one small beach, we were practically the only ones there. And although there is a beach seemingly anywhere you turn in Kauai (it is an island, after all), we especially liked these three, which we visited during our weeklong stay:

Tunnels Beach – Gorgeous beach with plenty of room to spread out, relax, and enjoy some coconut milk from the vendor on the street. This beach is a little tricky to find, but once you do, you won’t want to leave. Great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing.

Poipu Beach Park – This was probably my favorite beach we went to during our stay in Kauai. I loved the size of it, and how calm the water was due to the natural rock barrier. We came here later in the afternoon and spent the evening watching the sun set over the water and making friends with the monk seal relaxing in the sand.

Anini Beach – Anini beach was on a whole other level of chill. There was hardly anyone surrounding us, and the beach felt like it went on forever in either direction. Great spot for long walks and photo ops.

The Hiking

It’s no secret that the Garden Isle is home to some of the best hiking trails in the entire state of Hawaii. Ranging from 3,000 ft ridge and cliff trails to treks along the gorgeous Na Pali coastline, there were simple too many trails for us to explore in just seven days. Instead, we chose to take advantage of two vastly different day hikes: one scenic hike to a beach on the Na Pali coast, and one to a hidden waterfall.

Kalalau Trail – All total, the Kalalau Trail is a 22-mile roundtrip hike that requires a permit to complete. However, the first two miles of the hike do not require a permit and make for an incredible day hike to Hanakapi’ai Beach for you, your family, and friends. Be forewarned, the trail does get steep, muddy, and slippery at times. However, the views along the way of the coastline more than make up for it.

Secret Falls (Wailua River State Park) – I will say that the name of this one is misleading, as it seemed to be one of the more popular destinations for tourists while we were in Kauai. Because the trailhead is only accessible by water, we decided to do a guided tour that included kayaking and then hiking to the waterfall. Beware that the trail to the waterfall is extremely slippery and muddy. We had quite a few people in our group (including my younger sister) get hurt along the way. However, the waterfall itself did not disappoint and was especially refreshing after sliding around in the mud all day.

The Sunsets

Everyone knows that Hawaii has some of the best sunsets. However, it’s impossible to imagine how beautiful they really are until you’re on the beach enjoying one for yourself. Every night we felt like we were living in a post card. Two of the best sunsets we caught were at Poipu Beach Park, and the Beach House Restaurant, which also happened to have delicious food.

The People

No description of Kauai would be complete without mentioning the people who live there. The locals breathe life into the island, and their energy was contagious throughout our visit. Whether it was our tour guide Nate, who has lived on the island his whole life and made it his mission to share it with others, or the locals working in gift shops, restaurants, and grocery stores – everyone we came into contact with was warm, welcoming, and friendly towards us throughout our stay.

Are you convinced yet that Kauai should be your next exotic getaway? If not, which Hawaiian island would you most like to visit? I’d like to see them all someday, but I know Kauai will always hold a special place in my heart.