I was in Kauai for 5 days and 4 nights and wanted to share what I did, ate, and where I stayed to hopefully help you plan your trip.
WHERE TO STAY:
For the first two nights, I stayed at the Grand Hyatt Resort (click for an in-depth review). It is the perfect place to sit back and relax because its located right next to the beach and there are tons of food and drink options.
For the next two nights, I ended up camping in Anini and Haena Beach. I HIGHLY recommend camping in Kauai! The campground is pretty much anywhere with grass near the beach. At both beaches, I camped pretty much right next to the water and fell asleep to the waves crashing. In the morning, I watched the sunrise with rainbows appearing in the sky. It was one of the most magical experiences I have had. HOWEVER, there are a LOT of roosters on this island and they are very loud. At Anini beach, roosters were crowing at 11pm, 2am, 4am, and 6am. Do bring ear plugs. You also need a permit to camp at these beaches. They are roughly $3 a night per person (so cheap!) and you can buy one by mailing in a cashier check. You can also get it the day of, but I have heard that the beaches get full pretty fast. At Haena beach, there is also a cave across the street that is fun to explore. Haena beach is also very close to the famous Kalalau Trail, so it is convenient to camp within close proximity to the hike to avoid the morning rush.
WHAT TO DO:
If you are renting a car, I recommend listening to the Shaka Guide for fun historical stories at each of the main tourist attractions in Kauai (#notsponsored).
There are so many great snorkelling places on this island. During the winter, snorkelling occurs on the South Side of the island due to the extra high currents on the North Shore. In the summer (you guessed it), snorkelling happens on the North Shore. I snorkelled in Poipu Beach, right next to the Grand Hyatt, and there was a convenient shop right next to the beach to rent gear (for only $8). You can also buy fish food, but the fish get aggressive when they're fed. Just by walking in and dipping my head in, I already saw so many different coloured fishes. It was incredible.
I would say Kauai is probably one of the Hawaiian islands with the most hikes. First, the West side of the island has Waimea Canyon and Koke'e State Park. The most popular hike in the Waimea Canyon is the Canyon Trail, which is roughly a 2.9 mile trail. If you are going during December, the paths are extremely muddy, but worth it. Don't forget to grab one of the sticks at the entrance of the trail. It will help a lot.
On the East side, there are many hiking trails by Wailua and Opaeka'a Falls. I personally opted out because I was there during my last day, but I saw people swimming in the falls below and it looked fantastic.
On the North side, we have the famous Kalalau Trail. This 11-mile one-way trail is one of the hardest trails in the world because of one cliff edge where people literally crawl to get across. At the very end, you reach a remote beach that can be only accessed by the trail. It is also the only trail along the famous Na Pali coastline, which is something so beautiful that most cameras can't capture it. You must see it in person. But, don't fret if you're not ready for the 22-mile round trip hike. The first 2 miles actually takes you to the remote Hanakapiai Beach. In December, the trail was extremely muddy, so make sure you add an extra 30 or more minutes to your estimated time because its hard to walk fast on this trail. There is also a stream you have to cross. Do read up on the warnings of this trail because the stream has killed people before when there flash floods. Beyond Hanakapiai Beach, you can hike another 2 miles to reach the beautiful 120 feet tall Hanakapiai Falls.
You must see the Na Pali Coast from either boat or helicopter. It is the prettiest part of the island for sure. I opted for the helicopter tour and took a helicopter with no doors. I don't recommend this if you do not like wind. Otherwise, this is definitely worth it even if you get airsick. The views were absolutely stunning and the helicopter gets really close to the canyon walls. You get to see Waimea Canyon, most of the waterfalls, Hanalei Bay, and Na Pali Coast. The pilot also tells you where all the movies were filmed.
On the other side of the North Shore, there was the Kilauea Lighthouse. It is a $5 entrance fee to get in, but there is also a lookout point before the gate. You can see so many different types of birds flying around and nesting. You can also spot a Nene, which is the endangered Hawaiian goose. Be careful, they can be mean if you get in their way.
In Koke'e State Park, there are many lookout points as well if you are not interested in hiking. Each of the points gives you a view of the canyon or part of the Na Pali Coast (and of course many rainbows!).
In the East Side, all the waterfalls have a lookout point and there are many stop points to see Heiaus.
Just relax on a beach! There are seriously so many beaches on every side of the island. In the East, there is Polihale. In the South, there is the Shipwreck Beach in front of the Grand Hyatt and Poipu for snorkelling. In the North, there were many including Anini, Haena, Tunnels, Ke'e, Secret Beach, and more! My personal favourite was Moloa'a because there was no one there.
Although I did not personally do this, I saw many people kayaking and stand-up paddle boating in the Wailua River. It looked very fun. If you have done it, leave a comment down below and share with us your experience!
WHAT TO EAT
I am a huge foodie, so of course the first thing I do at a new place is eat all the traditional local foods. Here's a list of Hawaiin food you must try and where to find the best ones:
1) Loco Moco
Loco Moco is my all time favorite Hawaiian dish. It features rice, beef, egg, and a thick sauce. It is so filling and will fuel you up after a long day of hiking. Mark's Place had amazing Beef Stew and Loco Moco.
2) Spam Masubi
When spam was introduced to Hawaii during WWII, it became incorporated into Hawaiian dishes and became a staple. Spam masubi can be found pretty much anywhere. I found them in local grocery stores and also at the other restaurants that I mentioned.
3) Kalua Pork
Kalua Pork from Smiley's Local Grinds was hands down one of the best things I ate on the island. The pork was so flavorful and it was wrapped up in seaweed that just fit perfectly. Together with rice, I was so full and happy. They also have amazing oxtail soup.
4) Shaved Ice
With the warm weather, shaved ice in Kauai will make you instantaneously happy. They have many fun tropical flavors, such as lilikoi and coconut. I went to JoJo's and boy were the servings huge.
Haupia is a Hawaiian traditional coconut dessert. It tastes like a mushier, more solid jello and is definitely a fun treat. I found Haupia at the Koloa Fish Market and Village Snack Shop & Bakery.
Poke on the island is nice and simple, no extra ten toppings you can add like the stores here in Cali. Instead, the poke is each flavored differently and you pick and choose. On the south side, Koloa Fish Market was bomb. My favorite was the Kimchi poke. On the East Side, Pono Market had nice fresh poke and other seafood options, such as octopus. I was told that Ishihara Market is the best on the island, but I didn't have a chance to try since it was on the West side.
7) Local Fruits
Island weather also means amazing tropical fruits. The avocados here are HUGE and the papayas were insanely sweet. Of course, you also have to get a coconut. Moloa'a's Sunrise Juice Bar had amazing tropical smoothies and lots of fruits to choose from. Highly recommend. It is also located across the King Kong Mountain so you have a nice view while eating. The taro on the island is also supposed to be very good, but I did not have a chance to try.
Of course, every place needs some good breakfast places. My personal favorite was the Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza. There were SO many options to choose from. I was there at 9:10 am (the place opens at 9am) and everything was already selling out. I got a breakfast strombolini, sweet bun, fruit bread (honestly can not tell you what was inside, but it was so good), guava macarons, lilikoi cream puffs, coffee, and fresh OJ. I pretty much stuffed it all down my throat because everything was so good. Another good breakfast option is the Village Snack Shop & Bakery for their fun tropical pancakes (coconut, lilikoi, and macademia nuts).
As an island, they have great seafood dishes aside from poke! I ate at the Tidepools in the Grand Hyatt and have a review of the food in this blog post.
WHAT TO WEAR
I packed three dresses and a whole bunch of workout clothes and bikinis because Kauai is all about the hikes and beaches! For the resort life, I highly recommend a cute maxi dress that can blow in the wind because it makes you feel like an island princess (and who doesn't like that?) and a formal dress for fancy dinners. The two dresses I wore is from ShopSugarSands and I absolutely love them (click on the link to shop Dress #1 and Dress #2). I also brought a shorter dress to use as a cover-up that won't drag in the sand when I went on the beach. For athletic clothes, I recommend long pants if you're going in December because the paths are very muddy. It is rainy, so I also recommend bringing a light rain jacket, waterproof hiking shoes, and waterproof socks.
I hope all of this was very helpful and would love to hear what you did in Kauai (if you did go) or what you are planning on doing (if you have not) down below!